David A. Prior isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with but you may have seen one or two of his films. Working with an array of talent ranging from the likes of his brother Ted, character actors Charles Napier and Stacy Keach, to pin-up starlet Pamela Anderson, Prior is responsible for a long list of the kind of low budget titles that covered video store shelves in the ’80s and ’90s. Most fondly remembered of those titles is Deadly Prey, a bare bones, no frills, arm-ripping action film that has seemingly found a second life within the last five years. I had the opportunity to speak with David about this new audience and their involvement in motivating him to create a sequel in the form of Deadliest Prey.
Cinedelphia: What I wanted to do was start by asking some questions about Deadly Prey and Deadliest Prey … So my first question is, what motivation went into creating Deadly Prey?
David A. Prior: What motivated me?
C: Yes, was there anything that drove you to create the first film beyond the financial interests?
DP: You know, it was primarily financial. We were starting a company. It was the beginning of AIP, which was originally Action Films, and we had a very little bit of money considering in those days we worked on 35mm film. And I had to come up with a way to make what I thought would be the most action-packed picture I could make for almost nothing.
C: I think you certainly accomplished that. It’s full of a lot of memorable scenes. Were there any hurdles you had to overcome in trying to create it and then later in getting it released?
DP: Well no, getting it released was actually pretty easy, because in those days there was a huge market for that kind of stuff. A lot bigger than it is today. But making it was tough. We had thirteen days to shoot it in which was incredibly fast to shoot 35mm, and a very small crew — four tiny boards and no lights of any kind to speak of. It was basically all in, all hands were in. No one person had the one job sort of thing going on.
C: That’s really interesting because you had said with Deadly Prey there was a big market for those types of movies when it was made, but it’s also found an audience two decades after it was released. How do you feel about the Internet helping movies like Deadly Prey find a second or third life years after their release?
DP: I think it’s great that they’re finding that life. I’m not entirely sure how much life it really is. I think we’re going to find out to some degree with the Deadliest Prey now. But it’s certainly cool to see people appreciating the movie all these years later. We started finding this out a few years ago when my brother Ted started getting invited to Deadly Prey screenings and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. Ted went to L.A. and it blew him away.
C: So you’re still skeptical that it might be finding another life? You think it might just be random occurrences?
DP: I don’t know. I hate to be that…I’m losing the word…positive and then not have something turn out. I don’t know if there’s a hundred fans out there, or a thousand fans, or tens of thousands. You know what I mean?
C: That makes a lot of sense. But it’s really interesting that Ted was invited to a number of screenings. I guess that fan interest is leading me into my next question with Deadliest Prey; is the fan interest in Deadly Prey what drove you to create the sequel, Deadliest Prey?
DP: Yes absolutely, it was.
C: When you made both films you were obviously at different points in your career. What differences did you encounter as a filmmaker in making the two films?
DP: Well, with the second one, it was easier in every way possible. Just because everybody knew what they were doing, there wasn’t a lot of guesswork, and it’s just easier, especially for me. I sort of edit in my head when I’m shooting. We shot this one again in thirteen days and I don’t think we ever worked more than a nine hour day. Anybody whose shot any kind of low budget movie knows that’s unheard of. But we didn’t have to. If I thought I had a lot more extras I could’ve spent a couple more hours each day killing more people, but that wasn’t happening, so there was no need to shoot more than eight, nine, ten hours a day at all.
C: With that, since you said it was easier for this film to get made, did you find that there were things you attempted with this film that you wouldn’t have been able to do, or even try, with the original film, maybe for budgetary reasons or the fact that you were a young filmmaker still trying to figure out the process?
C: So you were just trying to put as much action into the film as possible, for the audience?
DP: Yeah, pretty much. That, and stay about as true to the original story as we could, which I know there wasn’t much of.
C: I think for that kind of film it works. And that’s what you were going after, wasn’t it?
DP: Oh yeah. And back in those days, I used to call it with my partners, any time I wrote dialogue, I used to call it “functional dialogue.” That was the only dialogue I would write, functional dialogue. I wouldn’t write to hear people talk. You know, like a lot of writers will and I’ve done it in other scripts, actually. I don’t write dialogue just to make a character sound good. I only write the things you absolutely have to hear or know. There’s a little more of that in the original Deadly Prey, actually, because Cameron Mitchell and Troy Donahue were thrown into the mix literally just a couple days before the shoot and those roles weren’t written at that point.
C: On the topic of actors like that, you’ve worked with a varied list of talent throughout your career. People like that, or people like Charles Napier and Stacy Keach in Raw Justice. Is there a specific kind of personality you look for when you’re casting your films?
DP: Not really. You don’t get a lot of choice in that.
C: So it’s basically just an issue of availability and financial concerns, then?
DP: Yeah, that’s it. You go after people you hope will bring some value to your production, obviously, and then after that you just deal with them, obviously. You never know what you’re gonna get. I heard a lot of stories about David Carradine, a lot of negative stuff people told me about, and I worked with him twice and never had a problem. We got along great and everything was fine. You just never know. But with actors, it’s primarily money, and it’s what value they bring to the movie. That’s why Cameron Mitchell and Troy Donahue were thrown into the original Deadly Prey. I was only a couple days away from shooting it when David Winters grabbed me, one of my partners. He said, “Dave, I got Troy Donahue and Cameron Mitchell.” I said, “Wait a minute, there’s no roles.” He said, “Well, write something.” And that was that.
C: Earlier you mentioned Action International Pictures — I was interested because it shares a bit of a link to the original AIP, American International Pictures. Was that an influence in the formation of the company, those ‘60s and ‘70s films from Roger Corman and others?
DP: No actually, it didn’t. We started the company as Action Films. We went within a couple months to incorporate that but couldn’t because the name was registered in the state of California already under corporate things. And we just kept coming up with names until we got Action International Pictures.
C: So it was purely coincidence, then?
DP: Yeah, absolutely. At the time none of us were thinking of the other AIP. We were aware of it.
C: Were there any issue over trademark when you formed the company?
DP: No, no.
C: When you made Deadly Prey, that was very early in your career. Did you have any formalized training in filmmaking?
DP: No, I call it the “David Prior School of Filmmaking.” My training was Sledgehammer, Kill Zone, and Aerobicide.
The early films of David Prior
DP: I was already in my early 20s. I thought about trying to get into USC or something like that, but I was thinking I’d rather spend that time trying to get into the business. So I just started writing scripts, talking to people, trying to raise money, and make things, even though I had no idea what I was talking about because I honestly didn’t, but along the way I convinced people that I did. I got a chance to make some movies. For some reason I’ve always been kind of lucky with talking people into things and getting behind the movies. I don’t know why. I’m not a particularly good salesman. I’ve just been lucky to get it somehow.
C: Do you see yourself as having any contemporaries, anyone you see a link to from that era or since then?
DP: Guys like Fred Olen Ray. He’s probably done three times the amount of movies I’ve done. And my brother Ted has worked with him on a couple of his movies. There’s guys like him, and other guys I guess, who have done pretty much the same thing. I really got into it at the end days of filmmaking. As far as being real film.
C: You came during the transition from film to video, and then digital video after that.
DP: Yeah, it makes some things easier but other things it makes tougher.
C: Do you see yourself as being different from today’s filmmakers, anybody who can just pick up a prosumer grade camera and make a video and somehow maybe even get it into a film festival?
DP: Well, the problem is going to be making money. I can promise anybody that right now. You have to make a movie today so cheap that there’s really no point in it. The market is so saturated with everybody doing what you’re saying, there’s almost no market at all. It used to be back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, especially mid-to-late ‘80s, if you could put a film on 35mm film and edit it together with a little bit of action in it, shoot ‘em up, bang ‘em up, whatever, you’re going to do a minimum of six to seven hundred thousand dollars worldwide. Absolute minimum.
C: So you see the competition now and oversaturation as killing the market?
DP: Oh, it’s already killed it. The same movie that would do six or seven hundred thousand would do twenty to thirty today, maybe.
C: Following that idea, today it’s become popular for many young filmmakers to turn to crowdsourcing to finance their films. Have you considered something like a Kickstarter or Indiegogo as a way for funding your films?
DP: We originally tried a little Kickstarter thing.
DP: For Deadly Prey 2, to see what would happen. It really didn’t come together. I don’t know if we were really able to reach enough of the fans, you know what I mean? That’s that question mark that’s out there again. I don’t know if there just weren’t fans or if we weren’t able to reach them. That’s something I still don’t know. But I had the opportunity last year to make a movie called Relentless Justice while I was setting that up. I decided to go and write Deadliest Prey and tack it onto that movie. We literally shot them back to back.
C: So how did you find funding for Deadliest Prey then, if Kickstarter wasn’t an option?
DP: I went to friends and other people I know and got a little bit here and a little bit there. It wasn’t a whole lot of money.
C: The more traditional kind of path, is that something you find you followed your entire career?
DP: Pretty much. When I made Sledgehammer and Kill Zone, that money was primarily raised from little one-inch ads in the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety looking for investors — meeting with people who aren’t going to give you a dime. Eventually you find enough of them and someone gives you money. And it worked out on those two movies.
C: I know you said your career has been pursuing film not necessarily for purely financial purposes although that’s been a motivator, so beyond that what kind of legacy do you see yourself as wanting to leave behind when you eventually stop making films?
DP: Wow, that’s a big question. I’m not really certain about that. I would like to get the chance once to make one of my screenplays how it’s written, and what I mean by that is have enough of a budget to actually do what I’ve got on paper. All my movies throughout the years are written, they’re not written to be low budget movies, they’re just written. Then you go out and get the best you can with whatever money you’ve got. Instead of fighting that fight, I’d like to fight to make the best movie. That’s really what I’d like to do one time before that’s all over, and I’d call that my legacy. Other than that, it’s been fun. I used to make movies from the point of view that I was in a fight. Literally, every day on the set I was yelling and screaming at everybody and running things like I was a drill sergeant. It seemed to take that to get things done, but nowadays, on the last four or five pictures, I hardly speak up on set. I just tell the DP what I wanna shoot, the actors what I wanna do, and we shoot it. We take it easy, we have fun, and that’s really what I think it’s all about.
Deadly Prey and Deadliest Prey will screen as part of a double-feature at PhilaMOCA on Thursday, October 3, at 7:30 pm. Admission is $10.