A day on the set of The Predator is peppered with heavy gunfire. First a warning – plug your ears or put in a pair of foam earplugs — then loud clack clack clack. It’s not interminable. There are breaks, cut, and then director Shane Black‘s voice chimes over a loudspeaker as he works with his actors. But it’s never too long before the bullets are flowing again, and so are the F-bombs for that matter, and if that ain’t just exactly what you’d want to see (and hear) on the set of a new Predator film, then I just don’t know what is.
For the latest installment in the Predator franchise — a sequel that keeps all the previous films in continuity — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys director Shane Black takes the helm. It’s a nice bit of full-circle for the filmmaker, who played the minor but memorable role of Hawkins in the original film. The cast culls an unexpected but intriguing roster; a young boy (Jacob Tremblay), an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), and a team of troubled veterans headed up by Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and Moonlight breakout Trevante Rhodes. Perhaps the only character who fits the bill as a classic Predator character is Boyd Holbrook’s lead Quinn McKenna, a deadbeat father (to Tremlay’s character), working as a mercenary fixer in Mexico.
I landed on the set of The Predator (working title, Ollie, also the name of Black’s dog) on day 34 of a 66-day shoot. Production is bustling, spirits are high, and unfortunately for me and my group, there’s not a Predator in sight. No Predator scenes filmed that day, so I can’t speak to how this version of the creature plays, but even without the iconic alien on the scene, we caught plenty of high-action moments.
What becomes clear quite quickly (and these things are always clear, good or bad), is that everyone on set believes in the film they’re making. The creatives are eager to talk and share their vision (as much as they can) and the actors across the board talk about a sense of empowerment and freedom in creating their characters, and perhaps more importantly, creating moments on set that feel alive. Black has allowed room for a lot of input on the characters and the ad-lib moments they may spark on camera. It should be noted that an enthusiastic crew doesn’t always translate to the quality of the final film, but suffice it to say, the vibe on day 34 is good. “[Quote] I’d usually be in a worse mood this far along,” Black quips in the press tent, giving up half of his lunch to squeeze in an interview with us.
The energy translates to the raw shots, which we observe in our mini-video village between interviews. Tremblay, the cutest button in the biz, is giving an utterly Spielbergian performance, his big little eyes alight with wonder and fear as he reacts to an unseen menace offscreen. On set, he’s looking at blocky maquettes, vaguely shaped like dogs. Well, not quite dogs, Hellhouds, the creatures seen in the AvP films. They’re bearing down on the young boy in a sports park, or what will be transformed into one by the power of movie magic. From where we are, it’s not much more than a grass field and a set of bleachers, surrounded by a massive wall of green-screen. Cut, next take. Black gives a note we can’t quite hear, Tremblay translates it with a workmanship that belies his age and oh-so-adorable in-person manner. This time, there’s more urgency and fear. “He’s amazing, this kid,” Black says later in the day. “He’s playing a kid with a learning disability, he’s playing a kid who’s emotionally traumatized, he’s got six different things to do and, I just-it’s uncanny.” He’s not wrong.
Later in the day, we watch a subsequent scene set on the same field, featuring Jane, Key, and newcomer Augusto Aguilar — three members of the so-called Loonies, a group of war veterans who emerge from a group therapy spat an wind up embroiled in a Predator attack. The trio forms a line of fire, spouting off profanities and fatigued grunts, deploying their automatic weapons at full capacity; looks of disbelief, frenzy, and straight-aimed determination plastered on their faces. The actors are free-wheeling from take to take, keeping the same vein of intention and experience, but changing the exacts of their lines. A stray shell flies back and hits Key in the chest. He grimaces and leans into it, makes it a part of the scene. Watching them go all-out with their macho moment, chewing their lines like cuban cigars and spitting F-bombs out like pitchers on the ball field — it’s full-on Predator and it’s full-on Shane Black. It’s just a micro-moment in the larger film. The wild thing about film production is that we observed that scene for at least an hour, but it won’t amount to more than minutes (at the most), but if the rest of The Predator carries that energy and intensity, we’ve got a firecracker on our hands. Grunt. Fire. Swear profusely. Repeat. Pow-pow-pow.
Such was the vibe last year, when I had the opportunity to join a small group of journalists on the set of The Predator in Vancouver, Canada, where we watched filming, toured the set (admittedly, mostly green-screen that day), got a peek at the costumes, and spoke with the cast and creators of the film. We learned a lot while we were there, and you can stay tuned for more as I roll out the full interviews in the coming weeks (be sure to check out our extended on-set chat with Black, if you missed it), but for now we’ve got a smorgasbord of highlights and need-to-know details in the list below.