Interview with director Drew Goddard about ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard on the set of 'The Cabin in the Woods'. Courtesy Alliance Films.

For over 10 years, Drew Goddard has worked as a writer (and sometimes producer) for two of the nerdiest men in Hollywood: J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon. Whether it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, Alias, or Angel, Goddard had a hand in breathing life into each show and getting loyal viewers tuning in each week. He also wrote the Abrams-produced monster flick Cloverfield and is currently writing Steven Spielberg’s next sci-fi film, Robopocalypse. Having proven himself to these two masters over and over (and getting hired by Spielberg), it only made sense that when Whedon had the idea for The Cabin in the Woods, an Evil Dead-esque horror-comedy, he handed it over to Goddard as his first job in the director’s chair. Goddard ran with it and made a modern day cult classic that is arguably one of the best genre films of the last decade.

Criticize This! was lucky enough to speak with Goddard during a press stop in Toronto. Read our Q&A below.

There’s obviously a lot of influences that went into the film. Which was the biggest one that you kept coming back to?

The biggest influence was the genre itself and we just built it from there. It’s not disingenuous to say that every horror movie that I’ve ever watched influenced this film in one way or another because so much of this is about the horror movie as an experience.

Did you ever consider bringing in characters from other genres?

We didn’t want it to become a mashup of other people’s stuff. We wanted to create our own thing while still tipping the hat to the people that came before us. It was very important that this felt like its own thing.

Did you plan it to be as self-conscious as it was or did that just come naturally?

A lot of that came out in the writing. The idea is a conscious commentary so it is inherent in the DNA, but it’s not like we set out to do any of that. We just set out to make the best horror movie we knew how to make and went from there.

Years ago Joss Whedon said Buffy was a deconstruction of the horror genre and I found similarities here.

That’s sort of who Joss is. He’s very good at looking at something we all take for granted and finding empathy in it.

How was it working under Joss as a director?

I’ve worked with him for years and we have a very easy relationship. We’ve really developed a rapport working on Buffy and Angel and it just felt very natural.

How long ago did you start throwing this idea around?

It was after Buffy. I think I heard about the idea around 2007 when I was writing Cloverfield.

Do you feel regular moviegoers are going to get the movie?

The thing we keep hearing over and over is people saying that they don’t like horror movies and that they loved this. If you love horror movies I’m confident we got something for you, something that you’ll enjoy. The truth is that we can’t worry about it too much. We just have to make the best movie we can make and hope the audience follows along. I find that if you pandor down to the audience you just make bad movies.

Did that make it hard when you were pitching it?

We didn’t pitch it around for that reason. We wrote the whole thing and then did budgets and everything on our own and put the package together. We knew it was a very easy film to start pulling threads at and changing. That’s what studios do and we wanted to prevent that as much as we could.

This was supposed to come out a few years ago, was it frustrating that it took so long to hit screens?

There were certainly frustrating days. What happened was our studio went bankrupt and got caught in the financial crisis the whole world got caught in so we weren’t the only people suffering. When we saw The Hobbit get delayed and James Bond get delayed… when heavyweights are going down you realize there’s not much you can do. Weirdly that made it easier. My biggest concern was protecting the movie because whenever there’s a change in management you never know what you’re going to get. Luckily Lionsgate saw it and didn’t want us to change a frame.

How much of the film do you want to keep secret with regards to the marketing of it?

Part of our deal is that we are very involved in marketing. So nothing has happened without our approval. It’s tricky because we want to say we’re a horror movie but also that we’re something a little more. I don’t want to give too much away [with the marketing], but in this day and age you have to show you have something more to offer.

Were there any concerns over the rating of the film?

All studios always want to make you change it to PG-13 even if they say they want it to be R. I didn’t know how to make a PG-13 version of this movie so we put it in the contract that it has to be R. And the ratings board were fine. We definitely get violent, but there’s fun with the violence and that helped us a lot .

How difficult is it to find an original idea within the horror genre?

That’s not limited to the horror genre. It’s hard to find a unique story and whenever Hollywood does it everyone just copies it and destroys it. That’s the nature of the beast. I feel that if you come from a place of love as a creative entity you’re going to do much better than if you try to guess what everyone likes. It doesn’t always have to be innovative, it just has to have love in it. The audience can sense when somebody cares. I’ve seen plenty of good recent horror films that don’t break boundaries or change the game, but you can tell [the people who made it] love the movie and they just wanted to make a good horror movie. Just care about it as much as the audience wants you to.

Do you plan to stick with the horror genre?

The answer is yes, I would love to be back here eventually, but you never know what’s going to be next. My career has been very much being open to everything and just going with whatever sounded cool at the time.

Are you still working on the rumoured Cloverfield sequel?

We haven’t started the script or anything. We’ve just had discussions. I was doing Cabin, [Cloverfield director Matt Reeves] went off to do Let Me In and his next movie, and J.J.’s doing Star Trek. The three of us are so important [to make the film] that nobody wants to do it without the other two. We’re all just trying to schedule it so we can all get in the same room together, which is more difficult than it should be.

Going back to the marketing of the movie, have you found that people are being respectful and not spoiling it for others?

One of the things that’s been really nice is that people who watch the movie get that it’s more fun to not know anything going in. We hear that over and over. And they don’t want to ruin that for someone else.

What do you know about filmmaking now that you didn’t before doing The Cabin in the Woods?

It’s hard [laughs]. The main thing that you learn is that there aren’t any rules. You go in thinking you know how to talk to actors and what’s important about cinematography. Then you get on the set and none of that goes right and you realize that filmmaking is about adapting. Filmmaking is about getting everyone onboard and then being ready to roll with the changes. It’s about finding the right moments and capturing them instead. That’s hard for a writer because a writer has a very clear view of what the movie should look like.

Having worked on Buffy, Alias, and Lost, are you comfortable being labeled as one of the “nerdy masterminds” of our time?

Certainly the reason I’ve done this stuff is because I love it, but I also love the adult drama. My favourite film of last year was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The nice thing, the thing that’s served me so well, is that I haven’t been doing the same old thing.

Do you think that directing a feature will change the way you write scripts now?

Absolutely. I’m never writing NIGHT again. It’s so hard [laughs]. And EXT: RAIN is just brutal. Also, you realize just how little you need in terms of dialogue. As a writer you put all this dialogue in and then you get on set and find you can say it with three words. With good actors they make your job so much easier.

Having been with J.J. and Joss from pretty much the beginning and seeing where they have gone, have they become megalomaniacs at all?

No. When I started working with them they were both on these fringe TV shows where it felt like we knew they were good but the general public didn’t. And I never saw either of them change. They just kept doing what they were doing and the public came to them. They never did anything because they thought it would be popular. If anything, they’d go the opposite direction. And it worked and people came to them. That’s the lesson. They don’t have to do anything. They’re at the level now where whatever they want to do they can do. The secret is that once you reach that level keep doing what you were doing in the first place, which is making things that make you happy.

What is that you hope the audience takes away from The Cabin in the Woods?

First and foremost, to have fun. I love that communal experience of the horror movie. I love when everyone is in a theatre together screaming and laughing and cheering. I miss it. You can’t make them fast enough for me. We wanted to make the ultimate fun horror movie and I just want people to have a good time. If they get anything else that’s a bonus.

Would you consider a sequel?

We set out with the film not worrying about it turning into a franchise. It was all about making one good movie. That being said, you never say never.

The Cabin in the Woods is currently in theatres. For our review of the film, click here.

Top image: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard on the set of The Cabin in the Woods. Courtesy Alliance Films.

Brian McKechnie

About Brian McKechnie

Brian McKechnie is the founder and editor of Criticize This! Email him at brian@criticizethis.ca.