Drew Goddard Interview: The Director Takes Us Inside the ‘Cabin in the Woods’
Drew Goddard is making movies just for you.
The writer of many ‘Buffy,’ ‘Angel’ and ‘Alias’ episodes (as well as ‘Cloverfield’) has planted his butt firmly in the director’s chair for ‘Cabin in the Woods,’ a film made by horror fans, for horror fans. Co-written by Joss Whedon (‘The Avengers‘), the film was shot for MGM just in time for it to sit on a shelf while that studio roiled in financial difficulty.
After a triumphant screening last year at Butt-Numb-a-Thon and, a few weeks back, at SXSW, ‘Cabin’ and all of its secrets are coming to a theater near you. We had the good fortune to speak with Mr. Goddard about the film, the secrets and its inspirations.
Hi Drew, I’m so happy movie lovers are finally going to get a chance to see this. I saw it last year at Butt-Numb-a-Thon and it blew the roof off the place.
I really wanted to go to that screening, but they wouldn’t allow us to go to that.
Well, we had already agreed to premiere at SXSW, but since everyone is friends with Harry Knowles we were allowed to show it at his event. But if Joss and I came then it would feel like a premiere, which makes sense, but I really wanted to see how it would play in that late night setting. I mean, 2 o’clock in the morning is kinda what we made ‘Cabin in the Woods’ for.
What are some of your memorable late night movie watching experiences?
How much time do you have? Okay, I won’t limit to horror. Number one is ‘Big Trouble in Little China.’ And, frankly, everything John Carpenter did.
Well, that one isn’t high on the list, but all of Carpenter’s movies have something I adore. When Carpenter was shooting ‘Vampires’ in New Mexico when I was living there I desperately tried to get a job working on that film, and I couldn’t. So my first job as a PA was on a CBS movie of the week that was shooting next door, and whenever I could I would sneak over so I could watch.
And the CBS movie of the week was. . .?
‘Scattering Dad’ starring Olympia Dukakis and Andy Griffith.
Scattering? Like, his ashes?
Yes. Andy Griffith dies and Olympia Dukakis has to scatter his ashes. If you made a mathematical chart, it could not have been more different than John Carpenter’s ‘Vampires.’
Okay, so, in keeping with the tone of ‘Cabin in the Woods,’ what were your favorite VHS box covers?
This is rapidly becoming my favorite interview. Uh, ugh, okay, well, I already said this, but ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ is so good, and I have it right in front of me with Carpenter’s signature. Also, the first ‘Evil Dead.’ There’s some great ‘Friday the 13th’ covers, better than some of the films inside of them – ooh! And ‘Sleepaway Camp’ has is a good one.
‘Cabin the Woods” script is very tight and very precise, but you have Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS.] Did they have an opportunity to improv?
You don’t hire two guys that talented to not let them do their thing. They knew when to respect what was written but they have incredible instincts. The longevity of their careers show that they get it, they are pros. They do what we ask of them, they come up with their own stuff and both times it is fantastic.
Between you and Joss Whedon which is Whitford and which is Jenkins?
[Laughs. Starts to answer. Laughs again.] Uh . . .a little of both in all directions.
Any thought to tie-in fiction, prequel comics, exploration of the ‘Cabin’ world? Collectibles?
We’ve absolutely thought about it, but we don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We’re in a day and age where the tie-ins come out first and it makes me weary. Makes me think I have to do homework before I see the movie. If it comes out after it becomes a celebration; we don’t want to lead with it. In terms of collectibles? Ohmygod, yes, I’m on the phone all the time. I want one of everything in the movie.
I hear ya. We didn’t need a ‘Prince of Persia’ prequel comic coinciding with the movie, but you’ve created such a fascinating world here that I think people will really want to know more. ‘Cabin in the Woods’ shows just enough to get the imagination really rolling. We want to know more about [REDACTED] and what happens over in [REDACTED]. I guess my related question is, when you are are “world building” in a movie, how do you know how much to show and where to pull back?
You let the story dictate what is needed. If you take too many detours you are getting away from the story. You have to let all the extra stuff feed the story. There’s no hard rule, but you try your best to stay on point. We didn’t want it all to devolve into C or D stories, but, hell, there’s nothing Joss and I liked more that to talk about than what was happening in the [REDACTED] storyline at the same time.
Okay, no spoilers, but the first thing all the other nerds and I are going to do when we get the Blu-ray is freeze-frame on the shot of the white board. How much arguing did you, Joss, the Production Designer get into on that?
Here’s the thing about ‘Cabin of the Woods.’ I did virtually no research on this movie. When I’m not working, I’m thinking about what would go on that white board. So, I remember Joss and I just looking at one another and saying “we need to figure out what’s on the white board,” because they needed to build it. So we took 20 minutes and sat down and made each other laugh and said, “that’s it!” because it’s just the type of thing we like to do. In time other people threw an idea or two in there, but the point is at no time did it feel like work.
You shoot your movie, then, through no fault of its own, it ended up in limbo. How rough was the MGM Chapter 11 situation?
It took a little longer but we’re at a studio know that loves the movie and wants to push it. I feel like, even though it took a while to get the movie seen, it’s all working out for the best. Our actors have since gone on to become slightly bigger stars so there has absolutely been a silver lining to the wait.
You’re making a reference to Chris Hemsworth, obviously, who didn’t get cast as Thor until after you wrapped. Had he been cast as George Kirk in ‘Star Trek’ yet?
Yes, but no one had seen it. And I didn’t even realize that he’d been picked until after we cast him. It’s been great to see him rocket after this. He’s got the goods and . . .
And a handsome boy!
It’s good to be a Hemsworth.
Now that there’s been some time to reflect, ‘Cloverfield’ was not the first “found footage” movie in history, but it was among the first of this new wave, and certainly the biggest. Now there’s a “found footage” movie every other week, and there’s a festival movie like ‘V/H/S,’ which is almost a parody of the subgenre. Do you feel like you’ve created a monster?
Like you say, we weren’t the first to do it, we felt like we were inspired by those that came before. If others felt inspired by us, that’s nice to know. Like anything, there are good ones that have come out and there are bad ones. I’m happy for the good ones, but I can’t worry too much about a style or subgenre because it will all change and evolve anyway. I’m happy, though, if our film had a positive influence on some of the better films.
As you can tell, I’m dancing around topics because I don’t want to divulge too many spoilers, more so than with most films. Can you talk a bit about how to remain unspoiled and how important that is for you?
It’s tricky, it’s not a movie about one twist. It isn’t like “if you find out X it will be ruined.” We made the movie to reward repeat viewings. It isn’t one thing.
It isn’t ‘The Crying Game’s’ big [thing] in your face, it’s an escalation of big [things] in your face…
That is, in fact, the only way to describe it, thank you. However, I feel like most people want to be surprised. They don’t want to know. So I am concerned with protecting the average person and their experience. If someone really wants to be spoiled, they can find out. There are ways to find out, we’ve been screening it. But most people don’t want that and I want to protect those people because in this day and age there are many opportunities to be accidentally spoiled. Don’t ruin it if people don’t want it ruined!
Okay, cool, thanks for taking the time to speak to me to–
I’m still thinking about cool VHS boxes! Good titles will come to me later. ‘The Beast Within’ and ‘Scanners’ and all the others…
‘The Cabin in the Woods’ hits theaters this Friday