I know I’m in the minority on this, but I am no fan of 2008’s Cloverfield. The creature is cool, but the film commits pretty much every sin of the found footage format much to the movie’s detriment. My interest in a sequel was practically nil, but that changed when Dan Trachtenberg’s feature debut was revealed to be a companion piece ‐ a non-found footage companion piece.
The resulting film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, is a terrifically intense thriller elevated by three strong performances that help leave viewers on edge throughout. The film was a surprise hit ‐ deservedly so ‐ and as it hits Blu-ray this week we decided to give the commentary track a listen. It features both Trachtenberg and his lesser-known producer, J.J. Abrams.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for 10 Cloverfield Lane.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Commentator: Dan Trachtenberg (director), J.J. Abrams (producer)
1. Trachtenberg is as excited recording his first commentary track as he was making his first movie. “I grew up listening to commentaries,” he says after suggesting it was different for Abrams as he grew up before such things existed.
2. The opening exterior shot of the bridge and river is a still image. It’s “a moving matte-painting… a still image that they manipulated and added CG elements.”
3. They toyed with various opening for the character of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and settled on “this elegant, silent tale that would be so much more rewarding for audiences to follow because you sort of have to do the math yourself.” I love this. We need more movies that not only require but trust viewers to put pieces together for themselves.
4. Abrams credits Bear McCreary’s score in the early scenes as it “helps in a very sort of Bernard Herrmann way give this opening an emotional and epic feel.”
5. They point out the gas station’s Slusho sign at the 3:30 mark. The drink is of course an ongoing Easter egg staple in Abrams’ film and television universe including appearances in Alias, Star Trek, Fringe, and the original Cloverfield.
6. The gas station is itself a reference to Kelvin Optical, the visual effects department of Abrams’ Bad Robot production company.
7. Abrams reached out to Bradley Cooper, who he first met on Alias, to record the brief phone call from Michelle’s fiance, Ben. Cooper recorded the audio on his phone, sent the file to Abrams, and the entire process was completed without the pair speaking to each other about it at all outside of text messages.
8. It was Abrams’ idea to cut during Michelle’s car crash to the title credits.
9. They originally shot some of the crash using a gimbal to shake Winstead around, but they decided to achieve a more intimate look by using a blue screen.
10. They shot the film chronologically.
11. Trachtenberg points out the scene where Michelle makes a weapon of her crutch saying “in the screenplay this was just words on the page.” “That’s sort of what screenplays are though Dan,” adds Abrams, “to be honest.”
12. They weren’t sure how much fun the physical action scenes would be for John Goodman (who plays Howard), “but he lit up. I felt like he felt like a kid. He really enjoyed doing all the physical stuff.”
13. They shot tonally different versions of most scenes ‐ from light and humorous to angry and mad ‐ so they could find the right mix as a whole.
14. This is editor Stefan Grube’s first feature after working primarily in trailers including the first couple for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “I remember being shocked when you guys suggested him for the movie,” says Trachtenberg as he thought one first-timer ‐ him ‐ was enough and that he would be surrounded by veterans.
15. The ceiling fixture visible at 19:35 annoys Trachtenberg as he feels like it looks like something left behind by a grip that should never have appeared on camera.
16. One of the re-shoots they did was Emmett’s (John Gallagher Jr.) introduction. Originally the shot was looking down at him and he played it as “less consoling to her, less caring for her, and it made him feel more odd and more suspicious.” His side of the re-shoots were done at Bad Robot.
17. They wanted Gallagher Jr. from the beginning, so much so that they were sending sides (dialogue scenes) from Short Term 12 to various actors being considered for the part. They accidentally sent him his own scenes too.
Short Term 12
18. The shot of the dead pigs outside the bunker “was not working for a long, long time.” They had originally used stuffed mannequins but then eventually went with CG for a better effect.
19. Abrams asks how long Trachtenberg things these characters have been underground, and he says they “worked under the idea that it was two months.”
20. The film was shot under the code name Valencia, and it was named after a three-minute speech by Howard about the siege of Valencia, “all in one take, camera slowly pushing in on him, a tremendous piece of performance from him.”
21. The first dinner scene featured “a lot of improv here.” Emmett’s “pilgrimage to Waco” line is one of their favorites.
22. “I do feel like he was looking at the camera in that one shot,” says Trachtenberg around the 34:41 mark, “and it kills me.” Abrams thinks it works, but yeah, Gallagher Jr. is definitely looking into the camera.
23. The close-up of Howard’s hands at 36:14 actually belong to the camera operator.
24. There are two shots of the keys in Michelle’s hands, and Trachtenberg had a bet with the camera team ‐ they said he would only use one of them, either the under the table shot or the side shot. “I thought it was silly for them to bet me.”
25. Abrams asks if Trachtenberg was surprised by anything regarding making his first feature, and he says that “it was too fun to be scary.”
26. The appearance of the woman outside pleading to get in was re-shot to increase the drama, emotion, and anger. Everything behind her is blue screen.
27. Trachtenberg points out a continuity error at 47:00 as the can of compressed air flips upside down in Howard’s hand. “I think that was what the New York Times called the biggest problem,” adds Abrams.
28. There was originally more of Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in the script with Michelle getting texts from him later and eventually heading out to save him, but they decided they didn’t want her efforts to be about a guy. “It was reductive,” says Abrams, “and also felt impossible to invest in a character would not know.”
29. The ending with Michelle choosing to join the fight against the invaders was suggested by producer Lindsey Weber. “That really unlocked everything for us,” says Trachtenberg. “It was a great, smart, clean idea.”
30. Abrams points out that Michelle’s hair is shorter around the 52:30 mark than it was before, and it’s because these scenes were re-shoots. Trachtenberg does not apologize for the continuity error.
31. The happy montage sequence was the idea of Mark Evans, president of Paramount Studios, who suggested they “have some brightness” down there.
32. No one on set in New Orleans was familiar with fluffer nutters sandwiches, a favorite of Trachtenberg’s, so he had craft services provide one to each member of the cast and crew. “Everyone loved them.”
33. The scene where Michelle looks out the laddered hatch window originally featured a jump scare involving a “disgusting” bird, but Abrams suggested it was a little too convenient that every time she looks out a window something surprises her.
34. Early in-house screenings saw viewers confused regarding the girl in the photographs ‐ they thought they were two separate girls ‐ but after making plans for re-shoots they finally resolved it when Grube suggested simply adding a mole over her lip in both pictures.
35. Trachtenberg points out another continuity error as Howard opens the vat of acid. The bandage that was on his head disappears and then reappears in the very next scene.
36. They shot a more graphic version of Emmett being shot in the head, “and it was horrifying.” Gallagher Jr’s girlfriend was visiting the set that day and became very emotional at watching her boyfriend be murdered. The pair says it should be on the Blu-ray. It is not.
37. It was Grube’s idea to show the brief cuts to the various empty rooms of the bunker after Emmett is killed. “It really does tell you that essentially act 2 is done,” says Abrams.
38. Trachtenberg doesn’t like fixed-camera rigs like the one used from inside Michelle’s improvised gas mask, but he felt compelled to do so here as it keeps viewers “in there with her.” They used a stripped-down RED camera, and “it mostly did not work.”
39. Michelle’s breath and the birds in the sky are both CG creations.
40. Michelle’s “Come on” line was based on a note from Abrams and accomplished via a re-shoot, and it went through some variations including one where she said “Fuck me.”
41. There was an additional sequence of Michelle fighting the smaller alien after she falls back to the ground in the truck, but they nixed it as unnecessary. Again the pair mention it should be on the Blu-ray. Again, it is not.
42. Co-producer Ben Rosenblatt is the one who suggested the mailbox at the end reveals the street name as Cloverfield. “It was a joke,” says Trachtenberg, “and we all laughed and then paused and said ‘wait a second!’”
43. Trachtenberg loves that they end the film with their character heading into danger but that it is still actually a happy ending. “The secret was that it was the origin story of a heroine,” adds Abrams.
44. Abrams is asked if he wants to add anything regarding the “Clover-verse” and replies “I’m thrilled that this ends up being the second dot on the line of what Cloverfield began as and what it will become.” Let the speculation begin!
45. Movies mentioned as inspirations or references, big and small, include Vertigo, Kill Bill, Rosemary’s Baby, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Mission: Impossible III, Das Boot, Die Hard, Pretty in Pink, Inglourious Basterds, Sunshine, No Country for Old Men, Smashed, North by Northwest, The Lost World, and An Inconvenient Truth.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Can’t Hardly Wait was the first commentary that I listened to, and I learned so much.”
“There are a lot of invisible effects and tricks in the movie.”
“I think my favorite thing about this scene is that moment, like, that look at her? Where you just go ‘what the fuck.’”
“Of course this is the sort of controversial ending that some people feel like the movie goes crazy, but what I love about it is it’s been set up in the movie throughout.”
“There’s so many movies that don’t have this ending, you can watch any of those. It’s so great that now a movie exists that does that crazy thing that everyone jokes about.”
10 Cloverfield Lane [Blu-ray]
It’s easy to appreciate the style and craftsmanship of 10 Cloverfield Lane even with Trachtenberg and Abrams talking over it. Everything from the production design of the bunker to the actors’ expressions to the way the camera takes all of it in works together to tell a claustrophobic and increasingly tense tale. Both men are highly complimentary of each other, and while Abrams argues with humility the director credits his guiding hand on multiple decisions and issues. It’s a great commentary for a great movie, and I recommend a listen after you’ve seen the movie once or twice.