The sci-fi thriller “10 Cloverfield Lane” tells the story of a woman named Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who after getting into a car crash, wakes up and finds herself being held captive in a mysterious bunker. Her controlling captor is named Howard (played by John Goodman), who tells her that she is being held there for her own good. It’s not long before she meets another person living in the bunker: Emmitt (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who seems to be there by choice. Because “10 Cloverfield Lane” (which was produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber) was shrouded in a lot of secrecy before it was released in theaters, there’s a lot of spoiler information about the movie that won’t be revealed in this article.
What can be said, however, is that most of the movie takes place inside the bunker, and it’s a tense, psychological mystery about whether or not Howard is a hero or a villain and if he’s really telling Michelle and Emmitt the truth about why they are being forced to live in the bunker. It’s also worth noting that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is intentionally related the 2008 sci-fi movie “Cloverfield,” which was about an apocalyptic tale about space-alien invading Earth. (People may or may not call “10 Cloverfield Lane” a sequel.) Here is what Goodman, Winstead, director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriters Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken said at a recent “10 Cloverfield Lane” press conference in New York City.
What inspired the idea for “10 Cloverfield Lane”?
Stuecken: It actually started where I had an opening scene in my head. Josh and I were working separately at that point. And I pitched him the idea of an opening scene, and he liked it so much, that we decided to collaborate on it. It was the first project we had done together, and less than two months after we started writing it was when Bad Robot [J.J. Abrams production company] and Paramount decided to acquire the screenplay. We were so excited, because you just can’t do better than Bad Robot. It’s pretty amazing.
Dan, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is your first feature film that you’ve directed. You have also been a journalist covering movies. What’s it like to be on the other side of the film industry now? Is it scary? Is it exciting?
Trachtenberg: It’s both of those things all the time. It was very exciting. It was something I’ve wanted to do since I was 3 years old, making movies in my backyard. The actors were my best friends. And it was really exciting to do this thing.
Growing up, I really loved movies that moved me physically, when my heart would race and my palms would sweat. And to make something this exciting and to really move people to the edge of their seats or back in them, was an absolute thrill. I couldn’t have been more lucky to have made it.
John, your character in “10 Cloverfield Lane” could be considered an evil villain. Do you find it more satisfying as an actor to play someone of dubious morality?
Goodman: You get more lines. The flip side of that is that you have more lines to memorize. And at my advanced age, you know. But John [Gallagher Jr.] and Mary Elizabeth were very patient with me, and I had an excellent director.
Mary Elizabeth, “10 Cloverfield Lane” basically has only three main characters. Was that more challenging for you?
Winstead: When you’re lucky enough to have the other two people be John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., it’s the best opportunity ever. I just got to sit through a master class of acting, just sitting opposite him every day. I couldn’t have been luckier. I think it depends on the actors. I lucked out on this one.
A lot of movie trailers give away the plot of the entire movie, but that obviously wasn’t the case with “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Since most of the movies produced by J.J. Abrams have a lot of secrecy about them, at what point in the production process was it decided that it would be so secretive? And to the actors, what kinds of things did you have to do to keep things secret? Did you have to sign confidentiality agreements or have watermarked scripts?
Goodman: [He says jokingly] We only get the rewrites on toilet paper, and it would slowly come to light in a microwave. The unfortunate thing was when we had to eat the script.
Trachtenberg: You weren’t supposed to talk about that.
Goodman: I broke the confidentiality agreement. I will now be part of the waterfront around 65th Street if you want to visit.
Trachtenberg: It was very much J.J.’s thing, and it was something that I hoped would come to fruition in terms of the marketing and the trailer and all that stuff not really giving much away because the movie itself is full of secrets and surprises. And I think now people are able to engage with the movie the way it was designed to. And I also think it’s so exciting to harken back to a time when we only found out about a movie from its trailer.
I remember vividly going to the movies to see “Dave,” that awesome Kevin Kline presidential movie, and the trailer for “Jurassic Park” played, and I was like “What is that movie, it looks so awesome!” And to recapture that and to also have this thing to come out two months after the trailer was just so exciting and very necessary for a movie like this, I think.
To the actors, what was going through your mind when you first read the script for “10 Cloverfield Lane”?
Goodman: [He says jokingly] Just another day at home. [He says seriously] It was different. That’s the first thing that hit me. It was different from anything I’d read before. It was interesting. It was a page-turner, which is always a good sign. It’s like reading a good book. You want to see what’s going to happen next.
Winstead: Yeah, I didn’t expect the turns to happen whatsoever, and I certainly didn’t know where it was going and where it was leading. And selfishly, as an actor, I really wanted to play this role and go on that ride of the character. It seemed like I would be able to do a lot of fun stuff. It was really refreshing, in terms of the drama, as well.
Did you ever see the 2008 “Cloverfield” movie?
Winstead: I remember seeing it in the theater and loving. I thought it was such an inventive new take on the monster movie. They really flipped it on its head and told it in a fresh, new personal way. So I can see how it’s connected in spirit, in terms of that.
Goodman: I’m going to go see it.
Dan, were there any movies or video games that influenced the tone of “10 Cloverfield Lane”?
Trachtenberg: I drew a lot from “Rosemary’s Baby.” I’m a big Hitchcock fan. “Notorious” is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies. That has a great sequence with a set of keys, and I think we have an equally — not equally — but also a very cool sequence with a set of keys in our movie. I looked a lot at sub movies. I looked at “Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide,” because those are also very contained movies but that feel really big. I looked at those.
Video game-wise, “Fallout,” I drew on. And the reason I did that “Portal” short is I really loved that game, and it shares something with this movie in that you’re really putting a puzzle together, and you’re really trying to piece everything together alongside the movie’s protagonist, which is a unique experience, to be so one-to-one, for that relationship to be so linked that you really feel connected to what’s happening in the movie.
Campbell: It was really important to us to play with genre expectations. People think when they see a trailer they know what a movie is these days. Audiences are really savvy towards entertainment, and we did our best to zig when people expected us to zag as much as possible in the plot and with the characters. So we pulled on a lot of different influences as a result because we did not want to go down the same road that other people had previously.
What can you say about the production design of the bunker?
Goodman: I just want to thank them for all the books they put in the library, because when I had down time, I’d read the books and put them back. I got through “The Catcher in the Rye” and I think “Farewell to Arms.”
Trachtenberg: We had an awesome production designer: this guy named Ramsey Avery, who not only is a joy to be around, but he worked with J.J. on the “Star Trek” movies. It was a lot of fun digging into the personalities of the place. We really tried to make it as feel like, “Oh, that’s possible,” but we didn’t want to be hamstrung by that. It’s not the most realistic bomb shelter in the world, but it’s the most characteristic.
It all came from Howard. It was also important for us to feel like we didn’t know exactly when it was built. There’s a lot of things from the ‘50s and ‘60s and even things from the ‘80s. There were a lot of added details.
Even the structure of it, there are some rooms that feel quite familial, like a room in a house boat, but there’s also a shape that feels like it’s part-submarine. I had some ideas, but our production designer really dug in for a lot of it. In fact, the jukebox wasn’t actually in the script originally. It was where we were prepping in our offices. And we were like, “Oh my God! We’ve got to put that in the movie.” That became the fifth character in the movie. It’s really cool.
For more info: “10 Cloverfield Lane” website