2 weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview the co-writer/director of the crazy new genre defying horror film, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Drew Goddard began his career working as a writer for Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for JJ Abrams on Alias and Lost. He also wrote the script for CLOVERFIELD.
Enjoy the interview!
Austin Kennedy (AK): How’s it going?
Drew Goddard (DG): You know, it couldn’t be doing better. Really...
AK: Oh Jeez, where to begin... Thank you for making an awesome movie! I saw it last week.
DG: Oh, thank you! Thank you for saying that.
AK: It’s so awesome!
DG: It really means a lot.
AK: I loved it! It was one of those things though, when I was sitting watching it... I was like “Okay, I think I know where it’s going...” and then, “OH MY GOD!”
DG: (laughing at me geeking out)
AK: I was like, “YES!” I love how it opens with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, and I was like “What’s going on?” and then, BOOM! “CABIN IN THE WOODS” (I was regarding how the titles appear on the screen) That’s awesome!
DG: That’s right. We wanted to send out early to people that this was not your typical movie.
AK: How did the project start, was it an idea started by you or Joss (Whedon)?
DG: It was Joss’ original idea. We were looking for something to do together. And we were just talking about horror movies. We were sort of brainstorming sub-genres and stuff. He said, “I got this idea about a cabin in the woods...” he sort of had this basic construct of it worked out, and when I heard it, I was like “Oh, this sounds good”.
AK: I really think it turns the horror genre on it’s head. Do you think maybe that came out of frustration or a kind of retaliation on what was being turned out by the studios at the time?
DG: A little bit, but the truth is it came much more from a place of love than a place of hate. I think our goal was to celebrate the horror film than it was to tear anything down. I just love horror films. I love the genre. And certainly , when you’re celebrating something there is the need to sort of poke and prod it. Certainly we poke fun at certain places, but it all comes from a place of love.
AK: Was there any film specifically that influenced you?
DG: I can honestly say with this movie... every horror film I’ve ever seen.
AK: It’s like the kitchen sink thing.
DG: It really is.
AK: I definitely have some questions about some spoilers a bit later, but you’ve been writing for a while now. What decided you to choose this one, and how did you prepare for it?
DG: During my whole career, I’ve had so little of a plan. I’ve really just gone with what sounds fun at the time. Part of that is just working with people I like. Just finding my friends and just keeping that 12 year old spirit of “let’s just get our friends together and have fun”. You didn’t worry about stuff when you were 12, you just said “Hey, let’s play monsters”. And that’s been the spirit of my career. JJ (Abrams) calls and says, “Hey, you want to do a monster movie, but want to shoot it with a video camera?” and I’m like, “Yeah”.
AK: Did Joss suggest you direct it (CABIN), or did you jump up and say that you wanted to direct it?
DG: A little of both. I don’t remember “chicken or egg”-wise who said it first, but he knew I wanted to direct. He was actually pushing me to direct. He wanted me to direct as early as Buffy (The Vampire Slayer). He said, “You should direct an episode.”, but I wanted to get a little more experience. I knew enough to know that directing wasn’t easy. You need to train for it. You need to prepare. And so I felt like that the first few years of my career that I was preparing for this job.
AK: Did you feel like you were ready this time?
DG: I felt with CABIN that I was ready as you can be without actually doing the job. With directing, you just have to do it.
AK: Any special preparation for it?
DG: Not really. I feel like writing and producing for television was the best preparation I could’ve done. Cause in TV, the writer is sort of in charge anyway. You do a lot of stuff that directors do in features. You do a lot of talking to the actors and managing the set and stuff like that. So that was definitely the best preparation.
AK: When presenting the actors with the script, can you share any of their reactions, because I can imagine being an actor reading the script and being like “Oh my God!”
DG: We wrote the parts for Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. We sent them the script first. We sent it to Richard first actually, and Richard immediately signed on.
DG: I know. And we were shocked because that week he was nominated for an Academy Award (for THE VISITOR). I was like, “you’re nominated for an Academy Award, but you want to do this crazy horror movie”. And Richard was like, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to do. You don’t get opportunities like this. It’s different. It’s such a rare thing as an actor to be offered something that’s not like any other movie”. And he just wanted to be a part of it. And Bradley felt the same way, so they both said yes right away. With the kids we wanted fresh faces, we didn’t give the script out. We just auditioned. And we wrote a lot of fake scenes. They didn’t know that they were fake, but they were just absurd scenes. Like Pterodactyl attack. One of them had a hot tub with a creature in it, and it was molesting... They were just crazy scenes, but they weren’t in the movie. We just wanted to put these kids through their paces. We were just trying to find actors that would fit with what we were trying to do. None of the 5 of them had read the script until after we cast them.
AK: How did they react when they read it?
DG: They were pretty excited. They weren’t sure what to expect based on the sides I had given them. They were nice. They just believed in us. They just took a leap of faith.
AK: For me, if I read it, it would be one of those things that I would be like, “I ‘ve got to see that to believe that.”
DG: There definitely was a quality of “Are they going to be able to pull this off, it’s really sick”.
[this next portion of the interview, we talk about the finale so if you don't want to know too much, you might want to skip it and come back after you've seen it.]
AK: For the finale, it must have been a blast brainstorming every single kind of monster and creature imaginable. Were you just writing them down like, “[spoiler]”
DG: I don’t want to give out spoilers, but yeah there was definitely a lot of times on this movie when I was looking around thinking, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this”. Because this is what I would do. It feels like I’m 12 again and this is the ultimate horror monster movie in my toy box. It felt like “this is the dream”. I still can’t believe we got away with it.
AK: I was really into the movie and then the last 20 minutes... that just seems daunting as a filmmaker. Cause it’s so chaotic and there’s so much going on. How do you sustain that while you’re filming. How did you organize that?
DG: It’s funny cause it was so energizing. My experience as a screenwriter sort of taught me that it’s really hard to do a good 3rd act. You see it time and time and time again in movies where it’s like, “Oh, that started great, but then it just felt like that they didn’t know what they were doing here.” And in this one we knew that this was NOT going to be the case. I just knew. No matter what happens in the first two-thirds, once they got to the last third... "we’ve got something for you"!
DG: There’s something that’s very empowering about that. But that was the hardest thing I had to do was construct that ballet at the end. A couple of the shots in that final bit, I spent a year and a half working on. Just getting it right, just working with artists and figuring out how we were going to shoot it. We worked really hard on that.
[the publicist peeked her head in and told me that I had one more question left]
AK: So next you have Robopacalypse with (Steve) Spielberg (Goddard wrote the script and Spielberg is directing)?
DG: Because it’s Spielberg, I can’t say too much.
AK: Are you in pre-production?
DG: It’s been in pre-production, yeah.
AK: The script’s written.
DG: The script’s written, but it continues to evolve, as these things do. But it’s based on a book by Daniel Wilson. It’s a hard science look at what would happen if our technology turns on us. It’s sort of an epic sci-fi that no one does better than Spielberg.
AK: Do you plan on directing again?
DG: I’d love to direct again. We’ll see if they let me.
AK: Cool! Thanks a lot Drew. Pleasure to meet you.
DG: Nice to meet you!
After I turned off my recorder, as I was heading out, I told him how I can’t wait to see his film with a crowd (as I only saw it at a press screening with only 10 critics in the theater). I asked him if he saw it at Butt-numb-a-thon, but he said he couldn’t make it. But he did see it with a crowd at SXSW and said it was pretty incredible.
He was a fun dude that felt like someone I probably would have been friends with when I was growing up.
Stay tuned for my full review on the film.