How do you keep a $25 million movie project about a giant monster smashing Manhattan a secret? Tell the actors they’re making Felicity ’08.
By Bryan Reesman
The J.J. Abrams–produced Cloverfield attacked multiplexes and scared up a surprise earlier this year: It was a hit. A big hit. The movie about a group of self-obsessed 20-something New Yorkers fleeing a large-scale reptilian assault on their city made more money during its opening weekend in January than any other movie has ever earned during an opening in that chilly month. For a monster movie that stars no big-name actors and was shot in a herky-jerky style -- through the camcorder viewpoint of one character -- that is an impressive feat. Even more impressive, though, is that the filmmakers managed to simultaneously build buzz about their movie and keep its details, especially those about the starring monster, a secret.
Given Abrams’s Alias past, it makes sense that the film relied on a little deception along the way. The filmmakers released cryptic trailers and even created MySpace pages for characters that never appeared in the film. But the hoodwinking started even earlier than that. From the beginning, the scope of the project was kept under wraps, even from the cast.
But now the veil can be lifted. With the completion of its profitable run at the box office, the movie’s heading to DVD, so director Matt Reeves and his cast members have agreed to declassify their cinematic secrets.
“We didn’t have a script at that point. And when we finally started making the movie, the actors had scripts with their names on them. So if the script ended up on the Internet, we would know who it got down to.”
Luckily for the actors, no such leak ever occurred. That’s probably because the stars didn’t care to be mocked by the filmmakers anymore than they already had been during auditions. Lizzy Caplan, who plays Marlena Diamond in Cloverfield (and whom you may remember from her role as Janis Ian in Mean Girls), says one of the scenes the actors were tested with was about a group of young people squabbling as they prepare for a party. “It seemed like a coming-of-age movie,” she says. “For the callback, we had that same scene, coupled with a new scene in France. The girl in the scene was plunging an adrenaline shot into the heart of this guy. They asked us what we thought this movie was about. We guessed, and they just laughed maniacally at us because we had no idea. They later told us that scene was from Alias.”
Secrets Numbers Two and Three: Set the movie in New York; shoot mostly in Los Angeles. But when shooting in New York, don’t always bother with permits. “We shot about a week and a half in New York, and that’s it,” says Odette Yustman, who plays Beth Mc- Intyre in the movie. Ah, but what a week and a half it was. For a pivotal scene that takes place on the subway line to Coney Island, the filmmakers had not secured permission from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to film. “We just got on the train with some equipment,” says Michael Stahl- David, who plays Rob Hawkins in Cloverfield and formerly starred in NBC’s short-lived New York–based series The Black Donnellys. “That was wild, thinking, ‘Wow, this is the $25 million J.J. Abrams movie that I’m doing?’ It was like six people on the F train.”
Secret Number Four: Tell no one; hope for the best. “We were sworn to secrecy,” Yustman says. For her, that was difficult. For other actors, it made making Cloverfield more enjoyable. “I found it kind of fun, actually,” says Jessica Lucas, who plays Lily Ford. “Most of the time when you’re doing a movie, everyone knows what you’re doing. It was fun when any time my friends asked me, to be able to say, ‘I can’t tell you.’ ”
Still, with that deep-undercover approach comes inevitable hype, which in turn leads filmgoers and critics alike to wonder whether the movie is hiding something good or just covering up its flaws. “I was nervous when I went to see it -- I’m not going to lie,” Stahl-David says. “But love it or hate it, I think it’s unconventional. It’s original.”
Count Cloverfield’s “Clover” as one of our five favorite giants of the big screen.