Matt Reeves has written and directed a feature film before – the 1996 rom-com The Pallbearer starring David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow – but it’s his long-term collaboration with J.J. Abrams, including their co-creation of TV series Felicity, that saw him put into the director’s chair for Cloverfield, one of this year’s most highly anticipated monster movies.
Ahead of the UK release of the film, RT sat down with Reeves to learn more about the film, which seemed to come out of nowhere with a teaser trailer last year, and his plans for the next step in the ongoing saga of the Cloverfield monster.
It was quite a surprise to see a film come out of nowhere with a teaser trailer all done and ready…
Matt Reeves: Yeah, well the thing about it was that from studio pitch to release in the States was under a year, which is very, very fast for a movie like this. That was part of the original concept which was that when J.J. Abrams and Drew Goddard, who’s the writer, went in to pitch the story originally they loved the idea so much that they said, “We have the perfect place for this in our schedule.” But at that point there was literally no script. Drew wrote up an outline and they came to me and we started developing that outline and then we just started prepping the movie.
The one thing we knew was that we had an opportunity, because Transformers was coming out, that if we could make a teaser trailer by a certain date then we could take this movie that didn’t have any traditionally marketable elements – and that was part of the fun of it, to feel real we’re going to cast unknowns – and put a little teaser trailer on the beginning of Transformers we can take our under-the-radar movie and sort-of tease people. And that’s exactly what we did but we didn’t expect the level of reaction that we got. That was crazy.
At the point that teaser came out, was that all there was of the movie?
MR: Well we had a twelve-week prep which is already very short for a movie of this size with all of its visual effects, but it was out of necessity for the amount of time we had to deliver the film. At that point, when we started, we didn’t have a script still. Drew and I had been meeting on weekends – he was writing on Lost during the week – and he was basically off during the first eight weeks of that prep writing the script while we were making the teaser trailer. We spent the first eight weeks of our twelve-week prep basically just making the teaser trailer.
And it became a kind-of think-tank workshop to try and figure out how to make the movie because we were shooting a handheld visual effects movie which is very unusual. Initially our visual effects people came to us and said, “Maybe you need to shoot this on Steadicam,” and I said, “If this movie is going to feel authentic to the people it’s being made for, they’re going to smell Steadicam in a second, we can’t do that.” So we used the teaser trailer to learn how to do that, but as a result we were only shooting the movie about a month after that so when the teaser trailer came out on July 4th we’d only been shooting for about a week and a half.
We’re so used to the weeks-long process of “This film has been announced,” “this person is playing this part,” that we see in the trades – for a film to go from non-existent to teaser trailer in our minds was quite unusual.
MR: Specifically that was part of the goal of this film – to make it a throwback to this era when you could still discover a movie. Today, you know so much about a movie before you see the trailer and you’re right, when you see the trailer not only are you seeing a trailer that probably gives away every good scene in the movie in about thirty seconds to a minute’s time, but also you’ve probably read about it so much and even if you don’t know much about it you’ll probably know the cast. So it’s very unusual to see something that you haven’t heard of to a great degree before you see it.
When we were kids there was a great teaser trailer for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You’ve probably never seen it but the way that teaser trailer worked was that it had this real scary music and in the States we have this show called Frontline with this really scary voiceover and this trailer had a voiceover that was very-much like that. That voice said, “Close encounters of the first kind,” and then it showed all this footage that was grainy and stills that looked like they could be flying saucers and it said, “Sightings.”
Then it said, “Close encounters of the second kind,” and showed these images, and they all looked like they could be documentary photos, of footprints in sand and some weird thing that looked like maybe part of an autopsy, and it said, “Evidence.”
And then it said, “Close encounters of the third kind,” and the music built and then all of a sudden it just said, “Contact.” And then it cut to black. You’re like, “Whoa, what is that?! I have to know!”
As kids we were so taken with the idea of something like that and it was a different era so we thought this was an opportunity to hearken back to that era where people can take a movie like this and make it their own, and that’s very-much why we did it.
It’s also amazing how protective people have been since the film has come out. Only a couple of sketches of something approximating the monster have hit the web, everyone wants to keep that secret for people who haven’t seen it…
MR: That’s what’s been one of the cool things about it. The only reason we wanted to do that is that it protects the experience and it makes it possible for you to have an experience of discovery. That’s a fun thing to have happen at the movies.
And one of the things about shooting this movie from a handicam first-person style is that it takes this monster movie and, by restricting the point of view to the point of view of someone going through it as opposed to having that point of view with the military and the president saying, “Let’s bring in the attack,” and all that stuff, it makes it a more visceral experience.
The movie, I think, is an experience that is singular in a certain way and what I think is fun is that maybe some of the reason people aren’t giving the information away is that they know that it is an experience and they’re trying not to ruin the experience for someone else. I hope that’s what it is.
It’s not a big, unfeeling studio blockbuster either. It is just about this group of characters.
MR: One of the things about it, and part of the thing that was exciting to me as a director, was that it was basically an opportunity to take an epic-scaled story – a giant monster smashes up New York City – and do it from a very intimate point of view and be really locked to that intimate point of view. That makes for a very different experience and it doesn’t end up being, again, something that is completely distancing. It has the potential to be very immersive and it does make it and intimate experience. So it’s cool, I’m glad you felt that way.
The only slightly frustrating thing with that point of view is that we never discover what’s going on. We never find out how this began.
MR: Sure, absolutely. That would be the experience of those people too except that they’ve just survived the experience. I think part of the fun of the movie, again, and what’s different about it is that it doesn’t provide you with all the traditional answers you’re used to getting, although by looking through various different means or through the internet or various Easter Eggs here and there that picture does become a bit clearer. But they’re only clues and the whole idea is that these people would not have those answers and if we started forcing those answers in the whole movie would feel inauthentic and phoney and it wouldn’t be as fun. You’re right there with them and you have limited knowledge and that’s how you experience it.
You’ve been talking about a sequel.
MR: The truth of the matter is that we really have no idea. The experience of making the movie was so challenging and fun in a different way. When you make things professionally for so many years, the idea that you can take something and do it differently is exciting, it’s a challenge and it’s fun and it’s refreshing. The idea of doing something so differently is exhilarating. We hope that it created a movie experience that is different.
The thing about doing a sequel is that I think we all really feel protective of that experience. The key here will be if we can find something that is compelling enough and that is different enough for us to do then it will probably be worth doing. Obviously it also depends on how it does worldwide and all of those things too, but really, for us creatively, we just want to find something that would be another challenge.
I think one of the things you probably picked up on was that I was talking about something that I love in the film just as an idea which is the notion that from this intimate point of view, in an age where people are documenting their lives in the way they are, this is probably just one of many windows into this evening. But it’s more the concept of that which intrigues me. There’s a guy on the Brooklyn Bridge who’s filming the experience and he’s looking out and then we look out to see what he’s looking at and there’s a second where the two lenses cross. Just in my head I thought what was cool was that there was two movies crossing right there. It doesn’t mean we’d ever actually make that movie, I don’t think we’d make that parallel universe. I just loved the idea of that Rashômon point-of-view.