Prey is as a story about a skilled Comanche warrior, Naru, who fights to protect her tribe from a highly evolved Predator that hunts humans for sport. In an exclusive interview, costume designer Stephanie Porter shares her insights and experiences working on the Prey which has now become part of the beloved Predator series. With a deep appreciation for the script’s emotional depth and suspenseful storytelling, Porter embarked on a journey to honor the franchise’s legacy while accurately representing the Comanche tribe in the Prey costumes. We delve into the extensive research she conducted, discussing the challenges of uncovering authentic historical details and her collaboration with Comanche producer Jhane Myers.
Spencer Williams: It’s such an honor to talk to you. I’m a big fan of this film. It’s so much fun. It’s beautiful and emotional while still being horrific. Let’s get into it. Prey is an exciting film that’s now part of a broader legacy of the Predator films. What was your initial reaction to signing onto this film and the overall Predator series that’s so beloved as the costume designer?
Stephanie Porter: It definitely was one of those multi-tiered emotional responses. It was such a good script. It was so good and well put together, and it was the first script in a while that felt great to read. It was empowering when it needed to be and suspenseful when it needed to be. And most importantly, the dog didn’t die.
Spencer Williams: That is the most important.
Stephanie Porter: It was also so interesting from a costume and research perspective that took me on a knowledge-gaining journey. Then it kind of started to sink in. There is a huge legacy behind the Predator films and the pressure that comes with that. You want to be as true to the franchise as possible. Plus, with the Comanche people, I did not want to misrepresent such an important part of world history and culture. While it was very exciting, it was also a little intimidating, and I wanted to make sure that I did everything right.
Spencer Williams: That brings me to my next question because my favorite part of the film really was seeing the realism and the authenticity you brought to the costumes. Prey followed a Comanche tribe in 1719. What was your research like in prepping for this film?
Stephanie Porter: The Comanche that we followed were probably contact adjacent, meaning that the European colonizers that came to what’s now the United States was definitely there in the country. While this band of Comanche had not necessarily made direct contact with them, they had probably made contact with other nations that had. When European colonizers came, you know, strangely, a lot of the things that we associate with native regalia, art, seed beads, there is a European element, so we stayed away from that. Our modern-day perception frame of reference was post Trail of Tears when many different nations, from Cherokee to Comanche to Navajo, Osage were all brought together in modern-day Oklahoma. A lot of their ancestral traditions were erased or combined. I wanted to get back to the true authentic history of the Comanche people. Unfortunately, I learned that there’s not a lot out there. Some of it comes from the fact that they are a nomadic people, and so archeologically speaking, there isn’t much to refer back to. But also, we, unfortunately, don’t treat Native history the same way that we treat European history. There are just not as many resources available. I combed through books, the internet, scholastic papers, and dissertations, and I worked with our most invaluable resource, Jhane Myers, who was our producer and is Comanche.
Talking to her…she probably was very sick of me! I would call her and ask her a million questions. I set her up with a workspace office in the costume department so that her eyes could be on everything. It was just so important to do it correctly. Since it’s not my ancestry, I didn’t, not, want to honor it as best as I could or in any way inauthentically.
Spencer Williams: From an outsider’s point of view, it really feels like every detail was thought of throughout this film, and I’m so glad to hear that you brought in a direct perspective who really has an idea of what this would’ve looked like. It really comes through on screen. I want to talk about Amber Midthunder, who plays Naru, a warrior who ends up in a rather horrific battle with a predator. What was your collaboration like with Amber? It was probably quite intimate.
Stephanie Porter: Amber is amazing. We work with so many different personality types in this business, and being a performer, I cannot imagine how difficult that is on so many levels. For Amber in this role, in particular, it was so physically demanding. It was also pretty emotionally demanding. You’re tired just watching her! She does it, and it’s so spot on. She was a pleasure to watch.
That being said, every time I collaborate with a performer, they’re playing a role. I’m making a costume. As much as we’re honoring the text, honoring the script, and the story, we’re also bringing a part of ourselves to the craft that we do. As important as it is that we don’t go too far outside of the script, the story, the character… Amber is as much a part of Naru.
We talked a lot about shapes. We wanted her to accentuate the strength that she shows with her body. We talked about shapes, proportions, about movement. There were a lot of twisted fringes that you see all over her dress and on her pants. That’s a very Comanche detail. I wanted to have it as long as possible but not in a way that would get in the way of her performance because she’s constantly moving and running. Amber worked that fringe!
I don’t even know how many fittings we had because Buckskin doesn’t stretch. Well… it stretches, but it doesn’t return. I utilized a lot of sneaky little tricks, such as adding in hidden stretch panels to make sure something could be as form-fitting as possible and also as functional as possible. Amber was amazing and patient and gave phenomenal feedback with all of the fittings and showed up, which is something that I can’t say for every performer that I’ve worked with.
Spencer Williams: That’s so exciting. You can really tell that it was something that she really enjoyed. The collaboration between you two really worked out. I love watching those costumes move. But what I love more than anything in costume is watching a costume get destroyed. Unfortunately for Naru, that happens quite a bit in this film, as there’s lots of blood, water, and action. What did your costume breakdown process look like?
Stephanie Porter: Something that drives me absolutely nuts more than anything is when I see a movie and the clothes are perfect with no weird stains or wrinkles. That’s not real! It’s taking me out of the story. So costume breakdown is my jam. We were fortunate enough to have Amy Mann as our lead breakdown artist, and we also had Kristine Berg, who was our lead craftsperson and an amazing breakdown artist. Amy was with me on Army of the Dead I did with Zach, and it had a lot of zombies in it. She was familiar with how far we like to take things in our world. The language was already there between us.
I can’t remember how many sets of costumes we had for Amber and for her stunt person. But it was a lot! We got wet, we got muddy, we got bloody; as you said, there was a lot of action. Things need to be rigged differently for different action harnesses. Javier Arrieta was my costume supervisor and a dear, dear friend, is a magician when it comes to the logistics and setting up a workspace. We were out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. It was beautiful but also not super friendly for trying to set up a workshop. Javier got us a shipping container and turned it into a mobile workshop complete with heaters. When we were in the muddy pit, for example, we were able to get Naru’s costumes reset pretty quickly. We were able to give Dan (Dan Trachtenberg) as many takes as he needed without having to be limited by as many costumes. We could provide infinite costumes because of that setup.
Spencer Williams: That’s so Right. I forgot she fell into a pit of mud. A costume designer’s worst nightmare!
Stephanie Porter: Yeah! We thought about it so much. We had to make sure that the design of the costume and the look of the costume held up. I feel pretty confident that we were able to do that. Lots of people came together to make it work.
Spencer Williams: While this film was full of horror and gore, much to my liking, I can’t help but appreciate the true beauty we see throughout the film, whether it be the environment, wildlife, or the authenticity of the costume. So I just want to ask you, Stephanie, what did this project mean to you?
Stephanie Porter: Oh gosh. This was kind of the project of my dreams in the sense that it was such a great story! Dan was a literal dream to work with as he was so creative, so kind, and so collaborative. Prey involved a piece of history that is marginalized and overlooked. Yet it is so rich and interesting. I got to talk to people and learn things that I didn’t know. I worked with some amazing craftspeople, such as Adejoké Taiwo, who was my assistant costume designer. I collaborated with her and made some really beautiful pieces. We made everything that was in that movie with our hands in our shop, and that was really, really rewarding. It was unique and special.
Spencer Williams: Costume designer Stephanie Porter, thank you so much for joining me. This was such a joy!
Stephanie Porter: My pleasure. Thank you. And it was lovely to meet you.