Cloverfield: The Birth of an American Monster

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The seed for Cloverfield was planted in June 2006 while J.J. Abrams and his son visited a store in Japan and noticed a plethora of Godzilla-themed toys.

“It struck me that here was a monster that has endured, culturally, something which we don’t have in the States,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Abrams conceived the idea of making a movie involving a new monster and contacted frequent collaborator Drew Goddard, the screenwriter with whom he had worked on both Alias and Lost. Together they worked on a five page treatment which Goddard then expanded.

Director Matt Reeves said, “What was intriguing to me about this project is the idea of taking something that has such a huge scale, but filming it on an intimate level. The mood emerges from being with these characters.”

As such, the focus of the movie hinged on Abrams’ original concept of shooting a film from the point of view of Hud’s camcorder.

“You really feel like you’re going through this experience with these characters,” said Jessica Lucas, who plays Lily in the film.

The challenge for the filmmakers was how to recreate this kind of footage for narrative cinematic purposes.

Doing so required the development – or, rather, replication – of a visual grammar that gave the impression of a novice using a video camera and trying to capture the frantic chaos around him.

Reeves said, “It had to feel like something that was not made by experienced filmmakers but by people who just found themselves in the midst of this situation.”

The technique also added to the mystery and horror of the monster for the director. “There’s something very scary about what you can’t see.”

The concept for the monster (affectionately known simply as “Clover” to the team) was simple. Abrams said, “He’s a baby. He’s confused, disoriented and irritable.”

For the monster’s design, Abrams engaged veteran creature designer Neville Page, who had just finished creating characters for James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar.

Another facet of the design was added at director Reeves’ suggestion. “I wanted him to have that sort of spooked feeling, the way, when a horse is spooked, you can see the white of its eyes along the bottom. And you see that when the military is firing on him, where he becomes completely agitated and confused.”

Cloverfield was first teased in 2007 and later shown before Transformers.

“The reaction was just what we’d hoped for,” said Abrams. “No one had heard of this movie yet.”

Interest in the film, based on just the trailer, was intense. People snuck onto the set in order to take pictures and find out more about the mysterious project – forcing the team to refer to it by nicknames Slusho, Cheese and Greyshot.

Interestingly, the name Cloverfield came about somewhat unintentionally. The name comes from a street near Abrams’ office, and they used it simply to be able to refer to the project as something. Later, as more about the movie leaked, the name stuck.

Adapted from Paramount Pictures Production Notes.