Watch the Short That put 10 Cloverfield Lane Director Dan Trachtenberg on the map
10 Cloverfield Lane will be released this Thursday, and while the film has generated considerable hype, including embedding subliminal images into the trailers it released to theaters, we actually don’t know that much about it. A few things we do know is that it’s peripherally related to Cloverfield (but not a sequel), it was written by Drew Goddard (the Oscar nominated screenwriter of The Martian), it was produced by J.J. Abrams, and it will be the first feature film of director Dan Trachtenberg.
Some pop culture buffs might recognize Trachtenberg as one of the three hosts of The Totally Rad Show, a pop culture video podcast that ran for five years and a total of 182 episodes. On this show Dan and his co-hosts Alex Albrecht and Jeff Cannata met up to discuss movies, video games, comics, and television. The show is no longer running but episodes can be found on Youtube for the curious.
In May of 2011 Trachtenberg directed a horror short called More Than You Can Chew for the Youtube channel Black Box TV, about a paramedic’s first day of work that goes horribly wrong.
However, it wasn’t until later that year that Trachtenberg got mainstream attention for his virally popular Portal: No Escape, a seven-minute short film that currently has over 17 million views on Youtube. The film is set in the fictional universe of the video game Portal, a puzzle game centered around placing “portals” that the player must use to solve a series of physics based puzzles.
This short got Hollywood’s attention in a major way, and less than two months later Trachtenberg was hired by Universal pictures to direct a scifi heist film written by Fast and Furious scribe Chris Morgan. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard anything about the project since, but it wasn’t the last time he was approached to direct. In 2013 Trachtenberg was attached to a film adaptation of the comic Y: The Last Man, although the project was ultimately canceled. While no details have been announced yet, J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot is working on a feature length Portal film as well as a film of another hugely popular video game, Half-Life. Trachtenberg would be the logical choice to helm one or both of these films considering his familiarity with video games and the fact that he is currently working with Bad Robot on 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The silent protagonist of Portal is Chell, a test subject for a mysterious corporation called Aperture Science, and the game’s narrative centers around her escape from the lab where she’s being held prisoner. While Chell never speaks and can only be seen by looking through portals, Portal: No Escape sees Chell from a third person point of view trying to break free of her captors.
Trachtenberg brings a grittiness to this short that isn’t present in the game, which is cynical but unserious and often very funny. In contrast to Portal’s squeaky clean laboratory environments and color palate consisting almost exclusively of white and light gray, Trachtenberg imagines this world as grimy and dark with deep shadows and an overall murky green hue. Based on the trailers we’ve seen Trachtenberg brought the same aesthetic to 10 Cloverfield Lane, which similarly finds its protagonist trapped in squalid and fluorescent-lit room in a dystopian future.
This brief but stylish film has a difficult task of depicting the game’s disorienting laws of physics, and Trachtenberg perfectly simulates the way a player would shoot portals in order to move quickly through space. The way Chell uses these portals appeals to players, who will recognize techniques used in the game, while staying grounded enough that her movements seem natural and realistic
This film is spatially and technically very complex but still easy to understand, which speaks to the skill of the director. In the many places where conventional editing would only make things more confusing Trachtenberg uses deliberate camera movements that make it easy to follow Chell’s path through the space. The film also has impressive visual effects that fit the familiar iconography of the game seamlessly into a live action setting.
Watch this short film on Youtube above, and watch Trachtenberg bring the same technical mastery to 10 Cloverfield Lane when the film is released on March 10.