Exclusive: J.J. Abrams Talks '10 Cloverfield Lane' and Its Connection to the Larger ‘Cloverfield’ Universe

Fans were quite understandably shell-shocked to learn of the existence of 10 Cloverfield Lane two months before its release. Not just because we’re used to hearing about movies months and even years in advance these days, but also because of its connection to 2008’s Cloverfield – a unique and thrilling monster movie that infiltrated popular culture in all sorts of nerdy ways. From its groundbreaking viral campaign to its game-changing use of found footage, Cloverfield was an intimate character-driven thriller housed inside a big, blockbuster idea.

Cut to eight years later and Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams is back with what he’s calling a “blood relative” or “spiritual successor” to Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane, due out on March 11. And like the original Cloverfield, not much is known about this film other than that it tracks the story of a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up after a car accident to find herself trapped in some kind of end-of-the-world bunker owned by a guy (John Goodman) who claims he’s holding her there for her own protection. But is he?

And what, exactly, is the connection to Cloverfield, other than the street address? Fandango recently sat down with mastermind J.J. Abrams and attempted to extract some answers from one of the few major Hollywood titans who still cares very deeply about preserving the mysteries and surprises that tend to make his films so successful with audiences.

So what did we learn?

For starters, this is not Cloverfield 2.

The one thing we know for sure is that this isn’t a straight-up Cloverfield sequel, right?

“This movie is very purposefully not called Cloverfield 2, because it’s not Cloverfield 2,” Abrams says, adding that “the association is clear and there are multiple connections – and there is a bigger idea at play for us with these movies and this connection. “

So does 10 Cloverfield Lane take place during the first Cloverfield?

“No it doesn’t, but there’s a larger thing at play with these connections,” Abrams continues. “And the fun of it is that some of these connections – and there’s a lot of them – are not the kind of connections you might think. So if you’re approaching it as a literal sequel, you’ll be surprised to see what this movie is. But while it’s not what you might expect from a movie that has the name 'Cloverfield' in it, I think you’ll find that you’ll understand the connection when you see the whole thing.”

The word “connections” comes up often in our conversation with Abrams, who’s a master at teasing without revealing. What are the connections, exactly? He won’t say.

One thing Abrams will say is that there are different monsters this time around. The original Cloverfield monster isn’t in this movie, and, as the poster suggests, these new monsters come in different forms.

“The story of this movie – and it came to us originally as a spec that was very different in a lot of ways and an unrelated thing altogether – is definitely about different kinds of monsters,” he says. “And while the Cloverfield monster isn’t in this movie, there’s a new monster and there’s something else that happens… but I don’t want to ruin the ending.”

Fine, BUT… what about that scene in the trailer where Mary Elizabeth Winstead is staring at a glowing house? What is she seeing?

“Without ruining anything in the movie…“ Abrams says with a grin, “…I will say that what she’s looking at is something this character is seriously ill-prepared to handle, and like anyone is utterly terrified by it.”

You know what’s terrifying? Announcing a movie and unleashing its first trailer only two months before release. While many studios would shy away from such a bold and ballsy tactic, Abrams and Paramount embraced it.

Why announce what’s essentially a follow-up to a major movie in Cloverfield only two months before it hits theaters?

“The decision to connect it to Cloverfield happened a long time ago, but it was a very conscious decision not to announce it as such,” Abrams says. “We didn’t announce anything. We very purposely kept quiet. We thought that instead of putting something out a year or nine months in advance, let’s try something else. It wasn’t to save marketing money – we thought if we released a trailer for a movie no one’s heard of, we were hoping we’d have the same reaction we ourselves would have, which is that thrill of the unexpected present under the tree -- that unexpected fun surprise.”

What’s unique about 10 Cloverfield Lane is that it’s an original story wrapped in familiar paper. It allows Abrams – and, by extension, first-time director Dan Trachtenberg – the freedom to essentially have their cake and eat it too.

“The thing that was great was not just watching people react to the surprise that this movie clearly had a Cloverfield association, but that it was coming out in two months,” Abrams says. “We just thought that this would be the way this movie could make its mark.”

Why not just make Cloverfield 2?

“We had so much fun making Cloverfield that when we were done, we felt like we were done with that movie,” Abrams explains. “And there were a lot of ideas [for a follow-up] – at one point there was this really big idea for doing three different things at once. A lot of things were thrown around. But we now live in that post-Godzilla, post-Pacific Rim era where those movies have been made, so what would we do?

I was actually talking to Drew [Goddard] last week about what would happen if we continued that specific story [as told in the first Cloverfield], and there are some fun ideas, but still not 'the thing.' There’s a reason why the movie we’re talking about right now isn’t Cloverfield 2, but something else entirely.”

So will there ever be a Cloverfield 2? Is the Cloverfield story becoming an anthology of sorts?

“A larger franchise or anthology would suggest multiple movies, and we’re just focusing on this, which is the second of two,” Abrams teases. “But I will say that there is something larger at play that if we’re lucky enough to get to do I think could result in something pretty cool.”

For more on 10 Cloverfield Lane, check out our other story featuring interviews with director Dan Trachtenberg and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.

 

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