PREDATORS Set Visit – Collider Goes to Troublemaker Studios in Austin and Leaves Very Impressed

     May 6, 2010

Adrien Brody is crawling towards the camera.  The tunnel is dark and claustrophobic and as he crawls along he’s shining a flashlight back and forth to see what’s around him.  The tunnel looks like it’s been empty for years.  As he moves further along, the camera’s dolly pulls back to reveal just how far he has to crawl and it’s much further than you originally suspected.  With the low lighting, and the darkness, it’s the perfect place to enter the world of director Nimrod Antal’s Predators.

While you’re going to be reading my words very close to the release of Predators, I’m actually writing them on December 18, 2009.  As I type this, I’m flying back to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas as I spent all day yesterday (along with a number of other online journalists) on the set of Predators.   Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to set as I have been vocal against the movies 20th Century Fox has been making over the past few years, I’ll admit that I left very impressed and also very confident that the Robert Rodriquez-produced Predators movie is going to kick some ass this summer.

Hit the jump to read my full report on the set visit.

Before I begin, you should know that I’m going to limit the spoilers in this article.  While we were told a lot of what happens in the movie while on set, I don’t want to ruin the experience or fun of watching what I think is going to be an awesome movie this summer.  So you can read my report without worrying.  Also, if you haven’t seen the Predators trailer, I’d watch that first:

As I’ve said on other set reports, every set visit is never the same.  Some set visits can have you sitting around all day waiting for interviews, and other set visits can have you watch filming for hours and you never get more than a few moments with the director and the actors.  The Predators set visit was a lot of interviews and a little bit of watching them shoot.

We started the day around 11am, as the group of journalists lucky enough to go to Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios boarded a bus and we traveled to the set around 20 minutes from our hotel.  After arriving, we were immediately placed in a room that had a lot of production artwork on the walls.  The first thing we all noticed was the different Predators that would be in the movie.  We saw some images of a dog-handler Predator, a black Predator, a falconer Predator, and some other concept artwork.  It was clear why this film had the plural version for the title.

The other thing we were told was how Predators was more of a character piece like the first film, and how the movie would ignore the Alien vs. Predators movies and Predator 2.  That was to my music to my ears.

After checking out the production artwork, we ventured outside into the cold and walked over to an outdoor location at Troublemaker Studios.  Since a lot of the movie takes place in the jungle, the team at Troublemaker had to recreate the setting on the concrete backlot.  The team explained to us how they also had to recreate the Hawaii filming locations for pick-up shots and close-ups and the challenges of keeping warm climate trees alive in the cold winter of Texas.  While you might think you couldn’t create a jungle on concrete, I can tell you that not only can the team at Troublemaker handle the job, they can make it look real and ruin your sneakers with the mud of a jungle. I was very impressed.

The first outdoor set we walked through was the death camp.  The location was a large setting with high walls all around so the outside world couldn’t be seen and the location would feel like another planet.  The ground was littered with skulls and bones, and all around were big shipping type containers with Predator writing on the front gate.  While I couldn’t be sure, I think the containers were either how they shipped in the prey, or where they placed the prey they captured.  Also, the location was filled with mulch on the ground and trees that ran pretty high up.  I think when you see this location on screen, you’ll think they everything was filmed in a real forest.

From there we walked along a small path and that led us to a jungle setting.  Richard Bell, the one in charge of the greenery at Troublemaker, explained to us the challenges of building the jungle.  He explained they were reusing the same jungle location again and again as they constantly redressed the limited location with different foliage and trees to make it seem like they were in different locations.  He also explained they would sometimes only have a day to set up.  With a team of ten guys working 90 hour weeks, they had their work cut out for them.

The next location we walked to was a large hanger.  The first thing we learned was this hanger was where they filmed most of Sin City. In fact, this was where Troublemaker Studios does most of their green screen work.  After checking out the area, we looked to out left and noticed a massive looking Predator standing on a step with a green screen behind him.  There was a team of people taking pictures, and I think it was for the poster.

It was at this location that we met up with Greg Nicotero (make-up and effects guru from KNB Studios) and he explained his role in the production and how KNB had built all the Predator suits.  He went on to tell us about the different Predators in the movie and how the classic Predator from the first movie would be involved, but in Predators, there would be three new “super” Predators.  He explained to us that each of the Super Predators had their own personality and the ultimate one was called the Black Predator.  He also told us a great analogy about the difference between the original film and Predators.  He said something like the original Predators are cassette tapes and the super Predators are like iPods.  That got a good reaction from everyone.

Here are some other interesting facts:

– Most of the film is being done practically and it’ll have limited CGI work

– No CGI Predators

– CGI will be used to cloak and de-cloak the Predators

Nicotero came on the project at the end of July and they were shipping stuff to the Hawaii location at the end of September.  That is an extremely fast pre-production schedule.

He talked to us about the Predator dogs and how one of the Super Predators was a dog handler.  He said the dogs were like hyenas with unique horns that line up on their head.

We then briefly spoke to the Super Predator getting photographed and he explained to us that it takes him 20-30 minutes to get into costume.  When he walked over, he had his mask removed, but the costume didn’t allow much air to get in and we could see the sweat pouring down his face.  While it must be a lot of fun to play a Predator, I cannot imagine what it’s like to spend day after day in that costume.

Like every set visit, after a short while we were again on the move.  While we were on the Troublemaker Studios lot, we had to board a bus to get to where filming was that day.  As we approached the soundstage, we found out Danny Trejo would be available for a few minutes, so we took advantage of his availability and conducted an interview.

After talking to Mr. Machete, we finally got to where director Nimrod Antal was filming, and we walked into the very smoky soundstage and stood behind the monitors.  The first thing I noticed was how calm everyone was.  We were informed that the crew has worked together for years and years on most of the films at Troublemaker Studios and it showed.

As we stood around and watched, we could see most of the cast in costumes walking by.  First I saw Adrien Brody, then Topher Grace, and then rest of the cast.  While I’ve been lucky enough to visit many film sets, I always get excited when actors are getting ready to work.  Predators was no exception.

However, before filming was to begin, director Nimrod Antal came over and had a quick informal chat.  We talked about working with Robert Rodriquez (who was walking right in front of us), the actors, the production – everything you’d ask a director.  Finally, someone involved in the production came over and said they were ready for him, and he disappeared behind a curtain to direct the scene.

From where we were standing, we couldn’t see behind the curtain, but they had set up a monitor so we could see what the camera would record.  The shot was Adrien Brody and some of the other members of the human group in very tight quarters.  The location was a long dark tunnel corridor and Adrien was going to have to crawl his way down the tunnel at the camera.

The first take had Adrien using his flashlight to illuminate the tunnel and he crawled his way towards the camera as it dollied backwards.  As he crawled, the flashlight went back and forth and the light sometimes would come straight at the lens.  It looked very cool.  The second take was exactly the same, except in this take he had to crawl twice as far.

Since Predators was being shot on the Genesis camera and it’s digital, the camera never stopped running from take to take.

Something else I took away from watching the filming was just how good the shot was composed and how the framing looked awesome.  All throughout the day people were raving about director of photography Gyula Pados, and if this shot is any indication of the film’s style, Predators is going to be a great looking film.

The other bit of news that surprised us was Laurence Fishburne had just been cast in the film and it was his first day on set.  Not only that, but the tunnel the cast was crawling through was the entrance to where Fishburne’s character lived.  We learned that Nolan (Fishburne’s character’s name) had lived on this planet for years and years, surviving without the company of any other humans.  While we didn’t get to see the cave where he lived or what Fishburne’s costume looked like, everyone we spoke to was incredibly excited to have him on set and the other actors sounded like kids on Christmas when they spoke of working with him.

After watching a few takes, Nimrod Antal came back over to us and answered a lot more questions.  He talked about the use of in-camera effects and how he was going to try and limit the CGI, why they were using the Genesis camera, and much more.  The link to the interviews are at the bottom of this write-up.

With the set so smoky and some of the crew wearing masks, we left after I shorter time than I would have liked. We left the stage to conduct more interviews with the remaining cast.  Since the production artwork room from the beginning of the day was far away and the cast was constantly working, we actually spoke to everyone while standing outside the soundstage in the cold Austin air.  It was an unusual way to conduct interviews, but sometimes that’s the way set visits go.

After almost an hour and a half of non-stop interviews, we eventually got back on the bus and went to the production office to speak with Rodriguez and actress Alice Braga.  Sitting in the warm offices, we were all happy to be sitting down for the last couple interviews.

When we finally finished the interviews, we were given an awesome tour of the main Troublemaker Studios offices.  We were shown how they are able to produce and create everything they need for any film.  We got to see the costume department, the prop department, where the artists work, and we also caught glimpses of old movie posters adorning the walls.  While the building wasn’t that big and the crew wasn’t that large, I could see how Rodriguez was able to keep costs down and churn out great looking movies.  It’s also why everyone loves working for him, as it felt like a family that enjoys working together.  It was a great set up.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt in my mind, Predators is going to be a very cool movie.  I loved how we learned the film is very character based and that it’s not relying on CGI as much as I expected.  I thought everyone in the cast, director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez said all the right things.  Also, if Antal’s enthusiasm is any indication of what this movie is going to be like, it’s very possible 20th Century Fox is going to finally reboot the Predator franchise correctly and fans are going to be very happy.

But I’ve left out the best part:

Predators is not some PG-13 cop-out of a film.  Instead, the team at Troublemaker Studios is making a hard-R with extreme fighting and violence that should make every Predator fan excited for this film and counting down the days till its July 9th release date.

For more Predators coverage:

Director Nimrod Antal On Set Interview PREDATORS – Read or Listen Here

Adrien Brody On Set Interview PREDATORS – Read or Listen Here

Topher Grace On Set Interview PREDATORS – Read or Listen Here

Alicia Braga On Set Interview PREDATORS – Read or Listen Here

Danny Trejo On Set Interview PREDATORS – Read or Listen Here

Walton Goggins On Set Interview PREDATORS – Talks THE SHILED, JUSTIFIED, More

Gregory Nicotero On Set Interview PREDATORS (KNB Efx Group)

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