Drew Goddard Interview: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and Bringing Monsters (and Unicorns) to Life
Drew Goddard made his directorial debut this year with the highly-anticipated horror comedy ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ a genre mixer that he co-wrote with longtime collaborator and ‘Avengers’ director Joss Whedon. We had a chance to speak with Mr. Goddard while he was promoting the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, which is now available. Among the topics discussed: drunken commentaries, practical effects, and unicorns — obviously.
Hello Mr. Goddard!
How are you?
You know, I couldn’t be better.
I imagine not. I am so excited to talk to you. I woke up and the first message I had was from my editor asking if I’d like to speak with you today, and I was absolutely thrilled.
That’s good to hear!
What was your favorite monster listed on that infamous white board in the film?
My favorite monster… I have a special place in my heart for Kevin, I have to say.
I particularly enjoyed the “angry molesting tree.”
You know what? I may change my answer. Angry molesting tree really delighted me when we were talking about it. That just made me very happy.
How many creatures did you flesh out stories for? Between the ones listed on the white board and all the ones we saw in the giant elevator cubes, there seemed to be a ton.
(Laughs) That’s a great question. I mean, hundreds? I don’t know, I never really tallied, but boy we spent a lot of time talking about monsters and thinking about monsters on ‘Cabin.’
And how many of them did you contemplate using as the main antagonists before settling on the zombie family?
I think the family got decided really early. I feel like we sort of knew the family before we knew the other creatures, so yeah, I think it was early.
You clearly designed a lot of these creatures. In the elevator sequence there’s just a dizzying amount, and they all seem fully designed. There’s no duplicates or short-cuts that are apparent.
We worked for years on those monsters. It was really just digging in and designing the creatures with this team. They just did an incredible job of giving me hundreds and hundreds of monsters with no budget. And that can only happen if you just roll up your sleeves and do the work, and it’s a real credit to them that they were able to pull it off.
There seems to be a lot of practical effects used in the film rather than CG. Was that something you guys were really pushing for?
Yeah, absolutely, without question. It was the rule that I told the crew, that if we can figure out a way to do it practically, that’s what we’re doing. So no one’s thinking we’re gonna get by using CG as a crutch. CG is only a last resort, and that was the rule everyone stuck to and I think the movie really benefited from that.
With the Blu-ray and DVD coming out next week, what can we look forward to in terms of special features?
(Laughs) There’s a commentary track from me and Joss where we get a little too drunk, and get a little too obnoxious on the commentary. At this point I’m a little too mortified to listen to it because I have a feeling it’s just going to be filled with me saying embarrassing things. I’m told it’s fun for other people to listen so they can mock me. We’ve got a great documentary for the making of the movie. The making of ‘Cabin’ was almost as fun and ridiculous as the movie itself, and we wanted people to see how we did it, and the DVD guys did a great job putting that all together for the fans.
I bet you have some awesome stories from the making of the film. Is there one experience in particular that stands out?
One of the things I saw on the special features that really delighted me is… there was a guerrilla filmmaking aspect to this film where we were sort of flying by the seat of our pants and I was just watching in the documentary this point where we’re all in the lobby for the bloody third act, spraying blood all over with giant hoses, and it’s just a group of us talking about how do we make this scene better. And I turned to David Anderson, our creature guy, and I said, “Dave, I need a giant bag of guts.” And he actually says, “What size?” And I responded, “Like a hippopotamus stomach filled with guts,” and he immediately goes and just makes one of out garbage that he has in his trailer. He just makes up a bag of guts and then we throw it in that scene, where we just drop it from the ceiling. It’s amazing to see just how ridiculous the making of this movie was. We can all just say, “Yeah, this scene needs a giant bag of guts dropping from the ceiling,” and within five minutes the team knows how to make it and put it together. It was really delightful. And it just illustrates the making of this movie in general.
“Delightful” is one of my favorite adjectives, and definitely one I would apply to ‘The Cabin in the Woods.’ I’ve never been more delighted by a horror film since Peter Jackson‘s ‘Dead Alive.’
‘Dead Alive’ was a big influence on this movie, for sure.
That scene with all the blood you were just talking about — I was thinking you guys totally out-bloodied ‘Dead Alive.’
That was one of our goals! To out-blood ‘Dead Alive’ and to out-blood the elevator scene in ‘The Shining,’ which I don’t think we outdid it — that one had more blood, but we were close.
You came pretty close.
We did our best, I’ll tell you that much.
You happened to use a unicorn in a way I’d never seen before.
If nothing else, I feel like we really did break ground in unicorn violence, which is groovy. I feel like if we’re known for only that, I’m okay.
I was actually on Tumblr the other day, which I am sadly addicted to, and people had already been posting GIF images from the film. Someone had posted a GIF of the unicorn scene, and I feel like I’ve been waiting for that for six months.
That’s really amazing. I’ve gotta go track that down! I do feel like there’s a lot of GIF-able moments in ‘Cabin.’ I look forward to seeing what the internet comes up with.
I saw one of the Merman scene, as well, with the blowhole spurting blood.
That was another moment where that was just delightful, where we figured out that we could shoot blood out of the Merman’s blowhole. That really made us all very happy.
It’s such a great payoff. You know it’s coming the whole time, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of finally seeing the Merman and how messy he is.
It’s tricky because you want the audience to feel like, no, no, you’re gonna get to see it, but then you also know that we better bring it when it’s time because it’s gonna really disappointing if this is a boring Merman, and luckily it wasn’t. We only had one take because once that blowhole blew, we were never going to be able to clean it because it’s a white set and that was the last thing we shot on that set because as soon as the Merman blew his blowhole, that entire set was ruined. The clean-up was, indeed, a mess.
And it’s also such a great moment for Bradley Whitford. How did you guys get Whitford and Richard Jenkins involved?
You know, they were our first choice and we just handed the script to Richard and said, “Do you wanna do this?” And he immediately said he was in, and same with Bradley. We kind of looked at each other thinking, did we send them the right script? I can’t believe they said yes so quickly! But they just got it, you know? They just understood what we were trying to do with the movie, and that’s what you’re looking as the director. You’re looking for actors who are in sync with you and luckily they were.
It shows. They’re both so fantastic in the film.
It was the most fun in the movie working with those two guys. They really were a joy to work with.
This was your directorial debut and it’s really impressive — not just as a first outing, either. Were you learning a lot from Mr. Whedon over the years, and was this something you always planned on eventually doing?
It’s definitely been a goal of mine and I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of great filmmakers over the years between Joss and JJ [Abrams], and the hundreds of episodes of television that I’ve worked on. So it definitely — it was not an overnight thing. I felt like I spent 10 years in film school working on all these different shows, preparing myself to do this.
Are you planning on directing any more in the future?
I am! Once you get that bug, it’s hard to get rid of, so I hope they let me.
It seems a little tricky to discuss the idea of a sequel with how ‘Cabin’ ends, but is it something you and Mr. Whedon have talked about?
We talk about it. The truth is that we love this universe so much and working on ‘Cabin’ so much that we’d be crazy not to explore it and see… I don’t think either Joss or I want to make a sequel just for the sake of making a sequel. We’re not interested in a money grab. It’s more about, is there a way to have fun that’s not going to step on what we did with the first one. So it’s really just the two of us sitting down and figuring out if it’s worth doing.
You guys are both incredibly busy now, too.
I know! ‘The Avengers‘?! Why couldn’t that have been a less of a hit, man? Every time I talk to him it’s all about, “Oh, Nick Fury this, Hulk that.” It’s like, talk about something other than the Hulk for once, please.
Now that Mr. Whedon is the Marvel movie universe, I thought I’d ask you about a rumor that you once pitched a story for ‘Daredevil’ at Fox. Is that true?
No, I never pitched anything. At some point somebody asked me if I would ever be interested in doing a ‘Daredevil’ movie and I said sure. That sort of became, “Oh, Drew’s doing the ‘Daredevil’ movie!” No, no. I just like ‘Daredevil,’ and so I think that kind of got blown out of proportion.
Would you ever consider directing a superhero film?
I loved comic books growing up. I certainly loved that world, and if there’s a way of making it work I’d love to do it. It really just comes down to — I found with directing that you better love it, and you better love it enough to devote three years of your life. And certainly there are comic book characters that I do love that much, but it’s just a question of do the studios love what I would want to do with them? And the answer is I don’t know, we’ll see!
I mean, that is definitely… If you had told 12 year-old Drew that one day he’d be sitting in a room talking to Steven Spielberg about robots, my brain would have exploded. I’m always aware of how lucky I am in this business in general, and working with Steven has just been beyond my wildest dreams. It really — it still feels surreal. I can’t believe that that happened.
You seem to still possess some humility and gratitude for what you do, which is great to hear.
You may have caught me at the… You know, I can be really cocky and pretentious as well. You caught me at the right moment. After lunch is when the real pretension comes in.
You also worked on the script for ‘World War Z.’ Can you tell us about some of the rumored issues with production?
Yeah, there’s not really anything to report with ‘World War Z.’ They asked me at Paramount to take a look at it and give some thoughts, and you know, that sort of thing happens all the time on movies. I’m not sure why that one got reported while others don’t.
I think the big deal there is the names that are attached and how long it’s been in production. There have been reports of re-shoots and new writers coming in, and sites love to jump on that stuff and assume there are major problems.
All those things you just described happen on every movie. Every movie, particularly every big budget movie. Big budget movies tend to — they plan for re-shoots. It’s more common than people think. All I can is I can’t wait for people to see the trailer for ‘World War Z’ because I really believe it’s gonna blow people’s minds when they see some of the stuff Marc Forster’s come up with for that movie. There’s some gorgeous, amazing scenes and seeing Brad Pitt fight zombies is something that I’m happy that the world is going to get to witness in their lifetime. It’s gonna be awesome.
But it’s not going to be as cool as ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ right?
Nope! We can’t hold movies to that standard. No one could get away with trying to be as cool as us. Uh, do they have a unicorn stabbing someone? No. At least not yet. Maybe they added that. I better keep my mouth shut.
Actually, my friend sent me a video clip from the TV show ‘Supernatural,’ which also features someone getting stabbed by a unicorn.
Oh, those sons of bitches.
I know! I don’t think it was intentional, though.
I’m sure. We shot ‘Cabin’ in like, 1999. That’s how long ago it seems. You know what? The more unicorn stabbings, the better. I hope it shows up in more television shows and movies from this point forward.
I agree. The unicorn has been looked upon as this fancy, majestic, peaceful creature for way too long.
I know! They can be real sons of bitches!
It’s time for the truth to come out.
It’s important that we see both sides in this unicorn issue.