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A Set Visit to Predators: Part One

And an in-depth chat with Greg Nicotero!

Let me start out by saying I’m a major “Predator” geek. I had the movie on VHS in the ’80s and watched it over and over again. I know every cheesy one liner from the film. I had a subway poster from “Predator 2″ that I hung in my dorm room at college. I read the Dark Horse comic books as well as the novels. I was also on board for the “Aliens vs. Predator” comics and movies, for better or worse. So when the chance to visit the set of Predators came up in December 2009, I was ready hang the other Shock Till You Drop writers from a tree by their feet to get the opportunity to go.

It’s a short ride from Houston, TX where CS is based to Austin, TX. I knew Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios was in our capital city, but didn’t know exactly where. As the other online press and I rode a bus to the studio, I saw it took us near the new airport. As it turns out, Troublemaker Studios is located at the site of the old airport. In fact they shot their green screen footage in the old hangar that used to house the Texas governor’s private plane.

As we arrived at the rather nondescript looking studio, we were ushered into their office building and into a conference room. As we walked in, we saw pre-production art and storyboards all over the walls. That’s when we got our look at the new Predators. There was the “Dog Handler” which had an alien-looking dog. It looked like a cross between the dogs in “Ghostbusters” and something off of a heavy metal album cover. Then there was the “Falconer” which, of course, used an alien hunting falcon. The falcon looked metallic and robotic – yet another new device in their arsenal. Then there was the “Super Predator”, or “Black Predator” as they were alternately calling it. If the one from the first “Predator” (which they referred to as the “Classic Predator”) was Tom Cruise, then this one was the Mickey Rourke of Predators. He was bigger, badder, and uglier. When I got a look at its face later in the production art office, I saw he looked like he had a bigger head with a much more crab-like face than the original. He was one ugly…well, you know.

Also seen on the wall was a different type of alien. He was tall, pale, and a little Giger-esque. He vaguely resembled the aliens from “Independence Day”. As we discover later in the film, he’s a bit of a red herring for our newly captured humans.

On the far wall were dozens of location photos from forests, deserts, rain forests, and waterfalls. These were the locations where the movie would be shot with Earth doubling for a Predator hunting planet, not their home planet. It is, in essence, a game preserve.

After taking in all the pre-production art, we were ushered out into the parking lot to the outdoor “Predator Hunting Camp” set. There were a bunch of large shipping containers stacked up in a circle. On the inside face of them, fake rock had been built up all over the place. We found a passageway through the containers and walked through a fake cave. We then emerged into the Hunting Camp. Inside the “rock” enclosure, dead trees were all over the place. Hanging from them were skeletons stripped to the bone. Littering the ground were various bones and skulls. A large angular piece of metal was in the middle of the camp. Was it crash debris? A device of some sort? We didn’t know. There was also a large metal cage to one side. And nearby was a frame for tanning skins. If you stumbled upon this in the real world, you’d think you had run across some sort of satanic cult camp.

Adrien Brody described shooting on the set when we spoke with him later in the day: “I was sitting with the Predator on this totem pole and we’re in this horrific environment. The camp that we’re shooting in, once it’s done up and things are burning and carcasses are hanging, it is hell. It is hell. I looked around and I was like, ‘Wow, this is hell. This is what hell would look like.’ I’m interacting with the Predator and it was a dream-like moment because it was so surreal that I’m in this situation with something that I grew up with and had such a significance. Yet like, in between shots he was like, ‘Are you all right, brother? Did I hurt you?’ It’s just funny chit chatting with this monster and articulating jaw.”

While there, we met the greens keeper for the production. He showed us how they extensively used real plants on the set to give everything a more realistic feel. This made things a bit difficult when Austin had one of the biggest freezes on record a couple of weeks earlier. He said at one point they had even done some reshoots in the Texas pine forests and they were able to dress them up with other real plants to make it double for the alien forest. When I asked if they had problems with local birds flying through the alien set and ruining scenes, he said the bigger problem were deer. They’d wander through the set at the studio in the morning and eat the plants. They had to be shooed away. I’m sure the Predators could have taken care of them.

As we walked out of the Hunting Camp set, I was met by an amazing sight. Maybe 100-feet away on the other side of a chain link fence was a preschool playground next to Troublemaker Studios. It was hilarious to think that just out of sight of this little playground was the hellacious world of the Predators. While the kids couldn’t see the skeletons or Predators, they could see stored props of helicopters, prison watchtowers, and other awesome things. My school was never that cool growing up.

We were then ushered into a large building that used to be the hangar that held the governor’s plane. In its place now was a large rock set with some bits of alien machinery. It turns out this is part of the quarry set where our heroes discover a massive abandoned alien mining machine. Off to the side and out of sight you could see storage for props for various other Rodriguez movies including “Spy Kids”, “Shorts”, and “Sin City”.

The tour then took us deeper into the building to the green screen area. This was where much of “Sin City” was filmed. There I got my first look at one of the Predators in full costume. We saw Carey Jones decked out as a “Dog Handler” Predator and taking photos for various reference stills. As he posed, the most notable feature on the costume was the large tusks on the mask. While departing from the original design, it still very much fit the style of the world. After shooting, Jones came over to chat with us. Now I’m about 6’6″ inches tall. I expected the Berserker to tower over me. But much to my surprise he was maybe only an inch or two taller than me thanks to the tall shoes he was wearing. We joked that maybe I could play a Predator in the movie! One could only hope!

While we were standing there watching everything, creature effects supervisor Greg Nicotero came over and spoke with us. He started out by telling us about the new Predators…

CLICK HERE FOR THE GREG NICOTERO INTERVIEW



Source: Scott Chitwood