Back to Reeves, though. He remained pretty tightlipped about plot points throughout our interview, but he did have some very interesting things to say about the project even as he managed to avoid giving up the film's secrets. Which isn't to say that we didn't try.
For starters, we asked him what was up with all the name changes?
"There were various titles along the way, but the first title and the end title has always been Cloverfield," explains Reeves. "When I read the outline it was Cloverfield. And 'Cloverfield' is the case designate. And when the first draft of the script came out it was Cloverfield. It's always been Cloverfield. And then we started changing the name over the course of making the movie because the irony was that when we first started no one knew anything about the movie and there was no danger in people finding out where we were and stuff. But then there was such excitement, and we were just in the early stages of shooting when the trailer came out, and that excitement spread to such a degree that we suddenly couldn't use the name anymore. So we started using all these names like Slusho and Cheese. And people always found out what we were doing!"
Reeves adds somewhat cryptically that there was another title that they almost used…
"There was this other title that we really loved," he recalls. "And it was again another title that had to do with an aspect of the movie… you would have to see the movie to understand what it was called. And so it was in a way another mysterious word. And when it finally came down to it, we thought, 'Well, first of all, it's been Cloverfield in our heads for all this time. And second of all, the idea that everyone already knows that it's Cloverfield, and we're going to change it from one word that people think is mysterious to another word that people think is mysterious? What's the point of that?' So we were like, 'You know what? The movie is Cloverfield.'"
As for that "case designate" reference, anyone who has seen the clips from the film knows that "Cloverfield" is the case name that the government has assigned to whatever or whoever is doing all that destruction in New York.
"In the way that the Manhattan Project was the name of that program, that's what this is," says the director, though he specifies that doesn't mean that it was created by the government the way the Manhattan Project was. "And it's not a project per say. It's the way that this case has been designated. That's why that is on the trailer, and it becomes clearer in the film. It's how they refer to this phenomenon [or] this case."
The top-secret nature of the film has always been a part of the plan. In fact, it came as a reaction of sorts to the current trend (thanks largely to Internet sites like IGN) among movie fans towards knowing everything about a movie long before it ever hits theaters. Cloverfield is an attempt to get back to that youthful innocence about movies that the film's makers recall from their childhood.
"You know what we thought?" asks Reeves. "When I got involved with [the project], one of the things that J.J. was talking about that we all got excited about was the idea that because the film was going to feel realistic, that meant we could cast unknowns. And that meant also that we were going to be making it in a way that would be made quite quickly. And people didn't know about this movie. And we thought, in today's environment … you know everything about every movie before it comes out. There's so much information that comes out, people are so media savvy. And we were just remembering when we were kids and movies would come out and you'd see a trailer and you were like, 'What was that?!' There was that sense of discovery. And so we all got very excited about the idea of putting together this trailer for a movie that no one had heard of. And because of the accelerated schedule and knowing exactly when it was going to come out, we knew that we'd be able to make this trailer and then put out this movie, and people would know nothing about it. And that would enable there to be that sense of discovery from when we were all younger, that there wasn't so much media saturation. And so that was definitely part of the concept."
Adding to the mystery and excitement of that first trailer was the suggestion from Paramount marketing guru Rob Moore to not include a title with the clip. This notion only further excited Reeves and Abrams and the rest of the team, and of course in retrospect we know that it was a decision that added to the allure of the project immensely.
"We thought, 'That's very interesting. Who's ever done that before?'" says the director with a laugh. "And we actually went to the MPAA and said, 'Can we do that?' And they didn't know what to say at first because no one had ever done it. And we thought, 'Well, I guess that makes sense because when you're marketing something you want people to know what it's called.' But this idea of kind of throwing this thing out and seeing people that you didn't know [in it] and seeing them in this story that you've never heard of, and that not even having a title, we just thought that would be incredibly fun for people to discover. And then what we didn't anticipate was that the response to it would be as strong as it was, and that was very exciting."
Part of that response, of course, has been (in some quarters anyway) an almost obsessive attempt to uncover every little detail possible about the story. Is it a giant monster in the film? Monsters, perhaps, as in plural? Little monsters? Voltron? The speculative permutations have been as various as they have at times been ridiculous. Reeves will not confirm or deny any of this talk, besides acknowledging that, yes, Virginia, there is a monster in his movie.
So Reeves read the outline for the project which had been put together by Abrams and Drew Goddard, who eventually would go on to write the Cloverfield screenplay. Reeves found it to be "just fantastic," but he wasn't certain as to why they had asked him to direct their monster movie.
"I was very taken with it, but I was like, 'This is huge, it's visual effects, it's a monster movie. Why are you thinking of me?'" he remembers. "The big thing for J.J. and for Bryan was that my concerns primarily -- and everything that I've done so far and everything that I'm interested in and the movie that I was going to make with J.J. that I wrote -- it's been all character-based. I'm very interested in naturalism and realism and we tried to have that kind of tone between the characters on Felicity. They were like, 'Look, there's no question, we know you love movies and you can get the monster part. And there's a million people who you would think of for the monster part, but we're interested in what you would do in terms of the tone. In how you would do that and what you would do with the characters.' And then I got very excited because the idea of doing sort of an outrageous idea, but doing it sort of naturalistically with a real aesthetic, was a real exciting idea. So that got me hooked. I jumped in."