I sat down with Drew Goddard when he was here in Toronto promoting his extraordinary debut, The Cabin in the Woods
[my review of the film
]. Tall, assured, with an infectious enthusiasm and a rapid fire way of talking, in just 15 minutes we covered everything from Austin BBQ joints to suburban weapons manufacturers.
As somebody pretty far removed from the cult of Joss (or JJ, with whom Goddard has also had an excellent working relationship), it was a real pleasure to meet a guy that's clearly loving being able to play in the geek sandbox that he finds himself playing in. A nice guy to speak with and extremely down to earth, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if you saw him along with fellow audience members standing in line at at a genre film festival near you.First of all, thanks
so much for not shooting CABIN using shaky/barfcam!
Yeah, I wanted the film to look good. It's why we hired
Peter Deming [Evil Dead II
, Mulholland Dr.
] to shoot. I wanted it
to look like Carrie
How was the premiere
It rained the whole time, but that gave us a good mood for a
horror movie. It certainly didn't dilute people from coming out, they were
there, en masse.
But I bet you didn't
get to Franklins
[ed. Franklin's BBQ, the
=BEST= damn BBQ on the planet!!!
], which is disappointing
Robert Rodriguez hosted a filmmakers lunch, I got to
go there and he brought in Franklin's. The whole time I was thinking, "Oh, I'm
never going to get there", and luckily it paid off.
Can you summarize why
it took so long to get into theatres?
Our studio that made the movie, MGM, went bankrupt, and got
caught in the financial crisis that hit everyone. Their exposure was worse than
other studios, so they went down. It didn't just delay us, it delayed The Hobbit
, and James Bond
. It was tough, but when you see Hobbit
you realize, oh, there's not a lot I can do about this [laughs]. This is bigger
. We just knew it would all
I learned when you're dealing with billion dollar
bankruptcies these things take a little longer than you wish they would.
Were there any
reshoots after the delay was set in place?
There was talk of
having it play TIFF's Midnight Madness last September - was there any push on
your end to have it in, not have it in, or was that totally out of your hands?
I would have loved it, it was just a matter of when our
release date was. What we didn't want to do is come out so far away from your
release date that any enthusiasm dissipates. So, if we were going to come out
in October, it would have been the perfect place. The studio felt strongly they
wanted to keep it close, which I agreed with. With a movie like this, you want
to keep it quiet as long as you can, the longer out the more likely the
surprises are going to get spoiled.
So, you left the film
alone since 2009 - what was it like looking at it again with fresh eyes?
It was nice, actually, it's one of those things directors
don't normally get to do, because you get a little distance from your film. Usually,
when you watch your film, and you're in the middle of making it, all you can
see are the problems, "Oh I wish I had more time here!", "Oh I can see the
Having that year off, where I could just not have to think
about it and then sit down and watch it again, I could see it for what it was,
and I had forgotten all this pain that goes into making any movie.
What makes your collaboration
with Joss Whedon work as well as it does?
I think our voices are very similar. I don't just mean as
writers, just in terms of how we see the world, and how we talk to each other.
We like the same things.
Part of it is that I came of age when Buffy the Vampire Slayer
was the most innovative show on television.
I started as a fan first, and just sort of weaseled my way into his camp. I
felt that there wasn't anybody doing anything more innovating and interesting
than Joss Whedon, and I just wanted to be a part of that.
So I think that sort of helped, because I knew early that
this is the guy, I wanted to study at his hand.
Given your work with
with Joss, with JJ Abrams, these "geek icons" for lack of a better term, is
there ever a sense that your own voice is being subverted slightly?
I never feel my voice is being subverted. The great thing
about both of those guys is that they are the types of creative personalities
that always lift you up rather than push you down. I think that's why they have
such success, that's why people want to work with them, they're very
collaborative. They're very much about involving you in their process, which is
why I always love working with them. You don't always find that in Hollywood.
How did you and Joss
share the writing responsibilities on the film?
Cabin was Joss' original idea, he had the basic sort of
construct of it. But then we just started working on it the way we'd work on Buffy
We'd sit down and say,
OK, we've got the basic idea now, how do we flesh it out? How do we make the skeleton?
Once we make the skeleton, we just start dividing it up and say, OK, you want
this scene? I take that scene. You take that scene? OK, I get
that scene then, and put it together. It's a
very easy, organic process we've developed over the years.
Do you thing of the
film as an homage to classic horror, or is it a parody?
Well, it certainly comes from a place of love. We love this
genre, we love what's happening, we wanted to make the ultimate love letter to
the genre. Certainly there are things that we are playing with and having fun
with. In some cases there's things we wanted to call attention to.
It never came from a place of being angry about the genre
itself, we just wanted to explore it as best we could.
How difficult is it
to subvert the tropes of classic horror cinema?
We didn't really sit down with a list of tropes, we just let
the story unfold. We have a sort of upstairs/down stairs of the movie, and that
allows us to analyze things in the movie you usually don't get to analyze.
We just sorta told the story, knowing that structure would
allow us to explore it a little more than you normally get to in any horror
In terms of the
remarkable cast, can you discuss the casting process, and as a director, how
did you maintain the tone of the film from the cast's performance without
winking at the audience too much?
It's a hard thing, what we do. We are very much threading
that needle, where if we veer of five degrees that's where we become comedy,
five degrees the other way we become exploitation. It's a very difficult
balance. So, you need actors comfortable shifting gears, because we often shift
within the same scene. We ask them to go from comedy, to drama, to pain, to
We've honed it over the years, but that's very much our aesthetic.
We've noticed that actors that get it, you want to grab them
and hold them close. Even those we haven't worked with - you look at Bradley
Whitford's work, in his career, he's done this.
On West Wing
there was nobody better at the degree of difficulty, with
an amazing amount of political exposition, mixed with some of the silliest,
broadest comedy. So when you can find people that can do that, you go after
them hard, because it's hard to do.
Certainly Richard [Jenkins] and Bradley were top of our list
for those roles, and luckily they said yes. It was the easiest negotiation of
all time. We sent it to Richard first, we sent it to him on a Friday, and
Monday morning he called and said, "yeah, I'm in, I love this, I'll do this".
we sent it to Bradley, and he's all "yeah, I'm in, let's do this".
With casting those two guys it says immediately it sends the
signal that this is not your average movie, this is not the same old thing just
by having them in it.
It's interesting that
you give the angle of the story away in the first few minutes
Yeah, normally that sort of thing would happen at the
midpoint. We always felt we'd put all our cards on the table, then we'd need to
come up with new cards.
It gave it a real energy, and took us to places we wouldn't
How tough is it to
trust the audience to not give away the whole game?
I feel that the audiences that have seen it get it, in terms
of, they understand, this is fun, and it's better not knowing too much. I hear
that over and over, people being so happy they didn't know too much.
Because they had that experience, they don't want to ruin
that experience for other people.
By and large, movie audiences look out for
each other. It's a social game, we all go to things because we like seeing it
with each other. It's been gratifying to take up that call, and look out for
one another with this movie. It makes me very happy.
Speaking of not
spoiling it, I was lucky enough to see it early at Butt-Numb-A-Thon
Yeah, I would have loved to have seen it there!
So, seeing it after
the fact, the trailer does a pretty remarkable job of not telling you what the
film's going to be, but might set up false expectations for those that might
think it's a straight up horror film. What
role did you play in the marketing of the picture, or is that strictly a studio
We are involved in all of it.
Lion's Gate [the studio], to
their credit, said they very much wanted
our involvement. We saw that trailer, and we
loved it, and signed off on it.
It's tricky, as a filmmaker, I wish we didn't have to do
trailers at all, I wish we didn't have to do any of this. I wish you could just
say "Go to the movie and see it!" As an audience member, I'm like, yeah, you
guys better prove this is worth my time. I understand, I'm busy, I need to know
that this movie is not your average everyday movie.
It's about finding the balance, and just saying, here it is,
there's more to it than you might think, and trust us, there's even more than
Truthfully, we struggle with it every day, we really do. It's
trying to set that tone. Luckily, I think it's working, I think Lion's Gate is
doing everything right.
Can you talk about
casting the victims?
It's almost like we're asking them to play two parts,
because they're a character, and an archetype. At various times in the movie
they're either they're either, it sorts of phases in and out as the movie goes
It was very hard to find actors that could do it, or at
least understood that. Once you explained it, most actors can do it, but we were
looking for people that instinctively got that.
We didn't give them the script,
we didn't want it out there because once it goes to casting everyone knows
We wanted to look for actors
that didn't just play the archetype, that's what people would normally do.
We saw hundreds and hundreds of people for these roles, the
ones that just played the character first were the ones that got the roles.
There must have been
pressure to cast actors that were more
Exactly, we didn't want to do that. We wanted them real
I always said, I can make you the archetype. I don't care
who you are, I can make you into an archetype, that's my job.
I need you to be the character, and then we'll
slowly transform you.
How do you like being
Oh, it's the best. [laughs]
The nice thing is, because of the guys I've worked for on
their shows... TV's a little different than features, TV really empowers the
writer. A lot of the stuff that feature directors do, TV writer/producers are
doing on that side - we talk to cast, we do the cuts of the episodes.
I felt I
was as ready as I could have been, without actually doing the job. There is
something you can't learn until you're actually thrown into the deep end.
with Directing your first feature?
The biggest challenge is just managing that 300 person crew.
That's a little antithetical to the thing that makes one become a writer.
Usually the thing that makes you become a writer is that you like to hide in
your little hole and type away. Whereas now you're stuck in this leadership
role, and everyone's looking at you. That takes a little getting used to, to
motivate those forces.
Once you get a hang of it, it's really inspiring, it's fun
to see your team come together.
Is there anything
that you love that you snuck in?
Yeah, the whole movie! [laughs]
I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where they built the
atomic bomb. So much of the inspiration for the "adult" side of this came from
watching my friends' suburban parents go to work and make weapons all day.
a very easter eggy, Los Alamos theme running through the whole movie that no one's
going to get other than people who grew up there.
You should pair this
with FALLING DOWN!
As a fanboy yourself,
what movies would you stand in line for.
Edgar Wright directs. Anything John Carpenter directs. And anything Kubrick
directs. Those three, tell me when the midnight show is and I will be there.
Are there specific
films that you saw that you were trying to not
I don't really want to bag on it, even the bad ones I like.
Even the ones that aren't successful, there's something in there I like. I
never come out of a horror movie and thing I hated every frame of that.
There's always something to it, there's always something to
it, I really like that about the genre.
Is there a film that
everyone thinks is bad that you want to champion?
Ah, good question. In terms of the last ten years, I didn't
see The Strangers
[2008, directed by Bryan Bertino
] get the
love I thought it deserved. I loved The Strangers
, I thought that was one
of the best horror movies I'd seen in years. I don't know why there's not a
sequel, I don't know why it's not a franchise, because I would watch ten of
Talk about the
process of making your monsters
The nice thing about Cabin
is that it really gave us this toybox to fulfil all of our horror movie
fantasies. We had this opportunity to create everything we've ever wanted to
do. The freedom of imagination that this world gave us was the most fun parts
of this movie. So much of the fun is working with our creature designers,
people that do this for a living, and saying, we finally have the chance to do
whatever you've wanted to do. Let's just do it!
It definitely felt like we were all 12 years old, and we
were just playing with our toys in this Toy Box, and our Toy Box just happened to
be much bigger.