Dan Trachtenberg owes “Whiplash” a big thanks. He wound up directing “10 Cloverfield Lane” — the semi-sequel to 2008’s J.J. Abrams-produced alien invasion romp “Cloverfield” — only after Damien Chazelle, one of the writers, decided to make the jazz drummer indie instead. And so the hotly-anticipated thriller, tied to a unique blockbuster, became the 34-year-old Philadelphia native’s feature debut.
Trachtenberg first caught Hollywood’s attention with “Portal: No Escape,” a short that became a viral sensation in 2010. (He was also one of the three hosts of the geek-centric podcast/webseries “The Totally Rad Show.”) “10 Cloverfield Lane” allows him to start small: It’s set almost entirely in an underground bunker with only three main characters, including a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who finds herself the captive of an unhinged stranger (John Goodman), who claims there’s been a mysterious, massive attack above ground. (The third is John G. Gallagher, as one of his neighbors.) We might know where this is going (see: the title), but what happens to them below the surface is plenty scary, too.
It wasn’t revealed that this had anything to do with “Cloverfield” until the trailer went online two months ago. Till then it was called “Valencia.”
That was the codename. It came from a moment during the dinner table scene. Howard [Goodman’s character] gave this really intense, menacing speech about the Siege of Valencia, which he did in one take. It was a great moment, but it was already a really long scene and we were trying to keep the pace up. My editor found this awesome moment when he sits down and gives this odd, creepy, intense look. That look said more than any of those words could say. It’s like that story behind the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” scene, where they had choreographed this whole fight but Harrison [Ford] was sick, so he just pulled out his gun and shoots the guy. It says everything succinctly.
This being your first big movie, how nervous were you?
The first shot we did on the movie was the shot of her waking up. It starts as a close-up on her face and wraps around her. We had moving walls, so the shot was this crazy choreographed dance, where the camera wrapped around her and the grips had to fly the walls away then bring them back in. We did so many takes. I felt like the audience watching the movie; I was on the edge of my seat, saying, “Please happen, please happen, I’m an idiot for starting out this way.” I worried it would set the tone for the whole shoot — “Who’s this guy who can’t even get a shot done?” We finally did get it and that was incredibly rewarding.