10 Cloverfield Lane has been shrouded in secrecy. Produced by Paramount and J.J. Abrams‘ Bad Robot, the details of the film have been carefully guarded. The full trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane was released just two months before it opens this Friday. Nothing specific about the plot has leaked; just that it is a sequel of sorts to that hit monster movie from 2008, Cloverfield.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a young woman who wakes up after a car accident in a survival bunker. Disoriented and terrified, her captor or possibly savior, is Howard (John Goodman). He tells her that they have survived an apocalypse. Michelle’s also surprised to find another occupant, Emit (John Gallagher Jr). That’s all you really need to know before seeing the film. There are more than a few twists in 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and first time Director Dan Trachtenberg discussed the film during a recent press event in New York City. Trachtenberg made his hay as an internet blogger and online host before becoming a filmmaker. The pair discuss the epic secrecy shooting 10 Cloverfield Lane, working with such a small cast, and whether this is the first of many films to come in the Clover-verse.
Your character is presented without a backdrop. We know you’re leaving your boyfriend. Did you create a history for Michelle? Did that change throughout filming? We’ve also read that everything was very secretive and you got updates/revisions all along.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: It was a very collaborative experience as far as the back story of Michelle. There’s a scene where she talks about what she’s gone through and the regrets that she’s had. That was collaborated on as we working. I wanted her to feel who I was and what I can bring to Michelle. That did change as we were working. Who is she? Where is she coming from? I love that the audience never fully knows her story. I love that as an actor. I get to have that bubbling under the surface, without it being explained. That way, the audience can kind of come to their own conclusion who she is to them. You make your judgments on how resilient and resourceful she is. How clever she is, as opposed to all of this exposition about who she is on paper.
The trailer gives nothing away about the actual plot of the film. At what point was it decided to shroud the film in such secrecy? What was the process of guarding the scripts, making sure nothing was leaked?
Dan Trachtenberg: It’s very much J.J. Abrams thing. And it was something I hoped would come to fruition with the marketing and the trailer. We don’t want to give much away. The movie is filled with secrets and surprises. I think that now people are able to engage with a movie the way it was designed to. It’s also exciting to hearken back to a time when you only found out about a movie from its trailer. I remember vividly going to see Dave, that awesome Kevin Kline movie, and the trailer for Jurassic Park played. What it that movie? It looks so awesome! To recapture that and to have a movie that only comes out two months after the trailer drops. That is so exciting and very necessary for a movie like this. It was also important for us to play with genre expectations. People nowadays think that when they see a trailer they know the plot of the film. Audiences are really savvy. We did our best to zig when people expected us to zag.
At what point during the writing and development process did this film become a sequel to Cloverfield?
Dan Trachtenberg: We wrote an original screenplay. Cloverfield was not in our mind at the time. During the development process, the idea came up that it could be in the Clover-verse. We were a bit surprised initially, but now when you see the movie; it makes a lot of sense in terms of tone, twists, turns, and the thriller aspect. It was definitely the right decision.
Michelle is kind of a badass. What was your favorite thing about her?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: What I like the most about her was that she’s a badass from the beginning. In reading roles, I generally see a lot of movie roles that if they’re badass, they’re kind of weak in the beginning and have to go and find their strength. Something happens to them, they find strength, and persevere on. With her, she’s smart and strong and capable from the get go. As I think a lot of women are. It was cool to see that play out. As soon as she gets there, she’s active, she’s thinking about her next tactic, her next move. How is she going to get out of this situation? There isn’t a second of the movie where she’s passive. I was really excited to play someone whose brain never stops working.
Were you nervous working with a first time director?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I never noticed a moment when he seemed nervous or worried. He was so confident, but also incredibly relaxed. For me, I loved the way Michelle was written in the script, but for me, playing the lead role in a horror film, the execution of it is very important. When I met Dan, we talked about how he perceived her. I could tell he was looking at this in Michelle’s shoes, as opposed to looking at her from the outside. To me, that made all of the difference, total confidence on how he was going to handle this character.
What was your initial reaction to the script?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I didn’t expect the turns to happen. I certainly didn’t know where it was going. And where it was leading. Selfishly, as an actor, I wanted to go on this ride. I wanted to see where the character was going. I though it was really refreshing in terms of the genre as well.
So you enjoy scaring the crap out of people?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I love it. (laughs) That wasn’t the experience making the film. It was quite pleasant. There’s something odd about having it come out this way, so terrifying to people. But ultimately that is what we want. That’s what we were trying to accomplish all those days we were having a good time.
Did you see Cloverfield?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I remember seeing it in the theater and loving it. It was such an inventive new take on the monster movie. They really flipped it on its head. They told it in a fresh, new personal way. This film is connected in spirit, in terms of that.
As a former blogger and internet host, you’re now on the other side as a first time director. What’s that like?
Dan Trachtenberg: It was very exciting. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was three years old making movies in the back yard. Growing up, I loved movies that moved me physically. I loved when my heart would race and my palms would sweat. To make something that was this exciting, to move people to the edge of their seats, that was an absolute thrill. I couldn’t be more excited to have made this film.
How did you make the journey from internet press to directing for Paramount?
Dan Trachtenberg: Even when I was hosting the internet show, I was directing commercials. A lot of the commercials I did was very slice of life, documentary style, but not big or cinematic. So I decided to make a short film based on the videogame Portal. That really struck a nerve and caught a lot of people’s attention. That opened the door to making movies. The script for this film was sent to me, and I said emphatically yes.
Were there any films or videogames specifically that inspired your direction?
Dan Trachtenberg: I drew a lot from Rosemary’s Baby. I’m also a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. I loved Notorious. I love a scene in that film with keys. I think we also have a great scene here with a set of keys in our movie. I also drew from The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide. Those are films also set in contained spaces, but feel really big. Videogame-wise I drew from Fallout. And the reason I did that Portal short film is because I love that game. In this movie, you’re really putting a puzzle together. You’re piecing everything together along with the protagonist. That’s a unique experience, to be so one to one, to be so linked. You really feel connected to what’s happening in the movie.
Was it a challenging experience acting with only two other actors?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think when you’re lucky enough to have the two other people be John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., it’s the best opportunity ever. I got to sit through a master class of acting. I couldn’t have been luckier. It kind of depends on the actors. I lucked out on this one.
John Goodman is so great as Howard. How did you direct his performance?
Dan Trachtenberg: The cool thing about his menacing role as Howard is that it’s so intense. He’s so funny at times. You’re not only scared by him, but you really enjoy being scared by him. That’s something that’s very unique to John.
You stated previously that you were more inspired by video games. How did you apply that in this film?
Dan Trachtenberg: I’m especially into the third person action games like Uncharted and The Last of Us. The original Cloverfield was told in this very unique, first person perspective. It made the film very experiential. I really wanted this film to be less like something you’re watching and more like something you’re experiencing. In those games, you’re looking at the person you’re controlling and feeling everything that character feels. Luckily, Mary, who I think is the best special effect in the movie, she gives a nonverbal performance. You always feel like you know everything that she’s thinking. And feel everything that she’s feeling. That’s something unique to video games. I was very excited to take from that and use it in the movie.
The car wreck in the very beginning is absolutely jarring. Talk about that initial scene.
Dan Trachtenberg: It’s funny because it ended up being very different than how we shot it. It was very gimmicky, with one long take. We shot some stuff with a gimbal on a sound stage. J.J. Abrams, who loves doing things very homespun, was a real champion of making it feel more intimate, from Michelle’s perspective. He was like, honestly, go to a sound stage, against blue screen, shake the camera, it will look better that it would from the gimbal. I think the worst shot in that sequence, very brief, is that only shot from the gimbal. It’s really a testament to Mary. Once again, that’s the best special effect. It’s easy to shake a camera, but her throwing herself all over the place…
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: They got me a massage after. (laughs)
Dan Trachtenberg: We got her a few massages. We needed to. She really put herself through the ringer. It’s a pretty intense sequence that’s amplified by the great sound design we were able to accomplish.
What was your most difficult scene, without spoilers? And did you ever confuse your two co-stars both named John?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: John Gallagher Jr. was JGJ. (laughs) There was always like a negotiation in the scenes with John Goodman that was physical. I was like; it’s fine, go for it. The acting wasn’t challenging because you have such a great script. But the physicality, the scenes where I’m in an air vent, that became the running joke. We had to re-shoot a couple of scenes. Every day they were like, you’re going to have to go back into the air vent. They knew that was the thing that would get me.
Dan Trachtenberg: Yes, there was a line we changed, because we didn’t want it to look like a movie air duct. I didn’t want it to be like Die Hard, where he’s got plenty of room to move around.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Yes, there were takes when I was genuinely stuck in there. I didn’t feel I could make it out. It was long, like this table, and then went straight up to where this ceiling is. I had to climb it. That was the only way to get out. I couldn’t turn around to go back, and there are no footholds or ladder. I just had to figure out how to wedge my body up…like a hamster. (laughs)
Dan Trachtenberg: Wasn’t it great that when you were scared…then I did it first. (laughs) That’s a lie, I never did that.
Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane do not exist in the same continuity correct?
Dan Trachtenberg: Yes, they are not in the same timeline.
Do you see a direct sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane or other films in the Clover-verse?
Dan Trachtenberg: Yes, but that’s definitely a question for J.J. Abrams. The cool thing about this movie is that it feels like there could be a sequel. And it would be awesome to make a sequel to just this movie. But it also would be badass if this was its own thing, and the character goes through the journey she goes through, and that’s it. Leave the rest to your imagination as to what she tackles next. The movie has a real Twilight Zone feel to it. It would be cool, if there were more, for them to have that vibe. I think that J.J. Abrams sees this film as a platform. There are parts like other films, but no whole movie has an experience like this one.