What a crazy thing! Out of nowhere, in mid-January of 2016, a mysterious new trailer hits theaters about three people trapped in an underground bunker (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.) prompting a chorus of, “What’s this?” Then, the title pops up and it has the word “Cloverfield” in it, prompting the Internet to freak out.
Cloverfield was released in January of 2008 to similar mystery and buzz. (So much mystery that, for the longest time, people thought it was a movie about five robotic lions that combine to form the robot Voltron.) What we ended up getting was a movie about a group of people trying to escape the wrath of a monster or alien (it was never 100 percent explained) that was ravaging New York City.
Now, eight years later, here comes 10 Cloverfield Lane, a (as it’s being called) “spiritual sequel” that doesn’t have much to do with the original other than tone and secrecy. All anybody who hasn’t seen it yet knows is that three people are living in an underground bunker and something crazy will probably happen. (I can confirm, yes, a lot of crazy stuff happens.)
When Dan Trachtenberg signed to direct it, it wasn’t yet part of what’s now being called “the Cloververse,” as it was supposed to be a standalone project. But then J.J. Abrams had the idea to turn Cloverfield into a Twilight Zone-esque way of telling original stories. Ahead, Trachtenberg gives some clues as to what to expect from 10 Cloverfield Lane and explains how this movie happened in the first place.
This movie is hard to talk about without giving anything away.
I know, it’s weird because there are so many secrets and surprises and twists and turns and it’s a hard movie to even discuss a little because you really want people to experience it the way it was intended to be experienced: knowing as little as possible.
We can give away one spoiler: John Goodman does not play the Cloverfield monster.
[Laughs.] Right. That is true.
While watching, I was trying to think what the craziest twists would be. That was one of them even though it’s dumb.
If there was An American Werewolf in London transformation scene where he started growing limbs and scales and became the Cloverfield monster, it would be ridiculous — but potentially awesome in its own right, just not this movie.
J.J. Abrams has called this a spiritual sequel. I get the feeling you want people knowing this is not a direct sequel to the first movie.
Totally. We very specifically did not call this movie Cloverfield 2. Even the style and sound of 10 Cloverfield Lane sounds, to me, like a Twilight Zone episode. I love it evokes that because I do think this movie is one giant Twilight Zone episode.
I kept thinking of Amazing Stories.
Different tales with the same tone.
You feel like they are of the same DNA, the same parent. Yeah, Amazing Stories, I’m so glad you referenced that. I may argue it even has the better opening theme.
The Spielberg one with Kevin Costner and the bomber, “The Mission,” that one makes me cry. It’s one of the greatest things he’s done, I think.
Why doesn’t Amazing Stories have the life Twilight Zone does?
I don’t know. And it wasn’t just Spielberg.
It was everyone.
It was everyone. And Brad Bird, “Family Dog” was Amazing Stories, as well. I also watched Twilight Zone, but our generation was the only one to watch Amazing Stories. I don’t think my dad had a fondness for it like I did.
You were on this movie before it was a Cloverfield movie. How did you find out this was happening?
Yeah, it was a spec [script] Bad Robot had acquired. Then Damien Chazelle came in to rewrite it to make it much more like the movie you see today. So, even when I got to it, it was something that already fit into the Cloververse.
So, at what moment was it changed to 10 Cloverfield Lane? Were you called into a meeting?
We were spitballing titles throughout the entire course of production and J.J. had an epiphany one day. Because we were trying to find a way for it all to be incorporated smoothly and for it to sound really cool on its own. And when he mentioned 10 Cloverfield Lane, it was so smart because not only does it incorporate the name in the title, it invokes Twilight Zone.
So, what’s that like? I could see that being exciting from a marketing standpoint, but also could see it being shocking to have this original thing you were working on morphed into an existing franchise?
I certainly felt all of the emotions you described. On the one hand, not thinking about what the expectations are is helpful – and there not being any expectations, or overselling and under delivering is an exciting thought, but there’s downfall to that, as well. And then having expectations that have to be met are also equally daunting. I was constantly having to work on the movie up until the bitter end, so there was never a point I was done with the movie and thinking about the marketing. The marketing team at Paramount has been doing an awesome job, but even while that’s been happening, I’ve still been working on the movie. And as you can imagine, that was my primary focus and a really stressful one. I knew that mattered more.
Remember when the first Cloverfield came out and a lot of people thought it was Voltron?
I do! I was a person that thought that. I 100 percent thought it was a lion and I got super excited. It’s because it was attached to Transformers and that’s why we thought that. I was totally one of the people who was telling my friends, “He totally says it’s a lion, it’s going to be Voltron!”
That was my other “craziest thing that could happen” in 10 Cloverfield Lane, that Voltron showed up at the end.
That would be cool.
And you could tell all your friends you were right.
[Laughs.] “By the way…” That would have been awesome. Maybe next time.
In the original script, was there any sort of supernatural element?
You know, I never read the original draft. But, I do believe it was a different kind of thing than what’s happening in our movie. And throughout the script, some of the characters were quite different. And in the end, stuff was totally different. It was as large of a third act.
I know we can’t say anything about that third act…
Awesome. Awesome. I’m excited for people to be with the characters in such a pressure cooker, and having it erupt so fiercely is one of the more exciting parts of the movie for me.
In the first act, John Goodman’s Howard is trying to convince Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle that there’s been some sort of large-scale attack. That seems like a thin line to toe between tipping the audience if he’s telling the truth or not.
It is exactly as you say. There was a balance that we were always placing on the teeter totter; we were always placing more plates on one side, then take them off and put more plates on the other side and we finally struck the right chord. That’s why I was so stoked to get John Goodman, because I thought he could be kooky and weird and crazy, but also very convincing. That speech he gives about “building an ark after the flood’s already come,” that wasn’t in the original script and I wanted it to be there because I wanted to empathize with his point of view and think for a second, “Well, maybe he is right?”
You don’t wait the whole movie to give the audience the answer.
Right. But, on the one hand, there are so many threats in the movie, that even when you establish that, there’s a new one there. But, even still, I found people questioning the veracity of what Michelle is told and hears until the very end. Well, not the very end, but very close to the end. For some reason, we are always wondering, “it could be this or that.” People really are pursuing the truth constantly that things are even taken at face value even where there is a face with a lot of value telling you something.
Was there any thought at any time to putting the exact monster from the first movie into this movie?
Yeah. I think all of that we thought about. But it wasn’t what we wanted to do. We didn’t want it to be that, we wanted it to be its own thing. And my boss has lots of awesome ideas and giant ideas, so who knows what he has in store down the road. You have to look at this movie as its own thing that has its own engine. And J.J. speaks to this all the time now, which is that it’s in a market filled with sequels, prequels and reboots. This is sort of a platform now to tell really cool, original stories. Even though it’s a part of what can be considered only in name, but it really is this cool way of being able to make original movies … and there’s not a lot of movies you can compare this to, for specific reasons.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.