12 Angry Men was Sidney Lumet's first feature film. After cutting his teeth with work in the theater, Lumet was pegged by star and producer Henry Fonda to help adapt the beloved teleplay. It is the film that brought Lumet attention as a film director and paved the way for what would become a lengthy career directing movies.
Lumet was praised at the time for his thoughtful and detail-oriented direction of a story that could easily grow stale, given its taking place in one location, with a very straightforward premise. The actors rehearsed quite a bit, before completing shooting in less than 3 weeks, in New York. Lumet shows the relationships between the jurors through the angle and positioning of the camera. At the beginning, he shoots the men from a wide angle, but as the discussion progresses, we see the characters in close-up more frequently, creating a claustrophobic and high-stakes atmosphere.
Of this approach, Lumet is quoted as saying, "Technically, it’s an enormously complicated movie...You’d think that shooting in a tight space would be the easiest thing in the world, when in fact the easiest thing to shoot is a cattle round-up! Just put six cameras on it and all the footage will be so marvelous you won’t know what to choose because the action is so terrific. Here, through the slow intensification of performance, and then also through a very subtle use of the camera: use of lenses, use of lighting… not trying to avoid the claustrophobia, but trying to take advantage of it. Make it more claustrophobic. Make the ceiling feel lower, make it seem as if the walls are closing in on them. We weren’t kidding anybody. We were going to be in one room. Let’s use it dramatically!”