Despite a slew of writing and producing credits on some of TV’s biggest shows, audiences might not recognize Drew Goddard’s name. But the critical and commercial success of his directorial debut “The Cabin In the Woods” earlier this year has brought him out of the shade and into the Hollywood sun.
Goddard, who helped steer such hit shows as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Alias’ and “LOST,” teamed with friend and collaborator Joss Whedon to pen the script for the genre-busting “Cabin,” deftly mashing together a knowing send-up of horror conventions with authentic scares and a wildly original backdrop. As the film makes its bow on Blu-Ray, Goddard talks the making of the movie and how one fresh, well-received film can be a major career game-changer.
Where did "The Cabin the Woods” concept come from?
Well, I think it just came from a place of love. We just love horror movies, and Joss [Whedon] and I were talking about making a horror movie. And it really just came from there. Because we didn't set it up with a studio first – it really just came from a place of two guys messing around and seeing what happened. We equate it to musicians jamming and seeing if a song comes out of it, and that was really how it started, just talking about movies that we love and if we could do anything, what type of movie would we make. 'Cabin' was the answer to that.
How did you reign in all the crazy ideas you had for this type of genre film?
Well, I'm not sure we did reign it in! At the end of the day we got all of those crazy ideas in, in the third act. That was the fun part about the structure, it allowed it us to throw the kitchen sink at the viewer by the end of it. So I don't think there was any crazy idea that we didn't get in there that we really wanted to put on the screen.
How encyclopedic was your horror knowledge? Were you the guy who knew everything about the genre, or was Joss that guy?
I would say between the two of us we can hold our own in a horror contest. We sort of fill in each other's gaps. He's very, very old, so he knows the older-school horror stuff, whereas I'm a child of the '80's and so I know sort of '75 on. And between the two of us, he only knows 'Nosferatu' and things like that because, again, he's very, very old.
You were able to strike two different tones in the film: the send up element but also moments of genuine emotion and scares. How tricky was that on set, figuring out how to walk that tightrope?
Without question, maintaining tone was the hardest part of the job. Without question. That's always the hardest part, but in particular with 'Cabin,' I just knew that I was trying to thread a very, very small needle with this one, so it was what I was doing all day every day on set. The hard part about tone is that there's no manual for it. There's no right or wrong. It just comes down to your own personal taste. So much of it is just me communicating with the crew: 'This is okay, but this is not,' and getting everyone on the same page.
The movie is lean and mean, budget-wise, up until the finale. Was that part of the plan, saving a little bit up front so you could go crazy in the end?
Without question. I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but I would imagine seventy five percent of our budget is in the last thirty minutes. It's funny, it's sort of a pet peeve of mine as a screenwriter, because what happens when I go around as a script doctor and see movies, studios trying to fix movies, the first thing unquestionably whenever they say the budget is too high, they always go, 'Well, let's trim the ending.' I always say, 'That's the most important part. If you're going to trim anything, trim the middle. Take the money out of the middle or even the beginning. If you trim the ending, that's the best part of the movie.' So, with 'Cabin' we definitely made sure to protect…because they're always trying to trim the budget and we always said, 'Okay, whatever you do, we just cannot trim this ending because that's the most important part.'
Can you talk about your experience of working with, first, a group of stars in the making as far as your actors, and then also a couple of ringers in your veterans?
It was interesting because the way that the schedule worked, they don't have a lot of scenes with each other, so we shot sort of all the kids stuff first and then shot, I think, what I called the ‘grownup’ stuff second. So, it really felt like we were making two entirely different movies. I mean, even the sets weren't the same. Even the tones weren't exactly the same. So, it was fun because just when you start to get tired of one movie, you get to switch gears and have this whole other team. With the kids, they have that youthful energy and it was fun to sort of play with that, but the surprise was that when the grownups showed up, I think that they had even more youthful energy than the kids. I think that Bradley [Whitford] and Richard [Jenkins], maybe that's just how they are, or maybe they don't get to do this sort of thing a lot, but they were just so excited and so enthusiastic that it gave just the entire production a kick in the ass, all of us. Once we saw those guys show up and be so game to try anything, it made all of us raise our own game.
What was Joss's role once production began?
He was always there when I needed him. He has the Bat-phone and I can call him at any time and he would swoop in, whenever we had a producing problem. Like, we showed up on set the first day and it's snowing, so then he can get on and figure out how we're going to move the schedule around to accommodate the lost day. Things like that he was great at, and just always sort of being around whenever I needed him. He's a busy man, so he was flitting back and forth between Vancouver and Los Angeles, running 'Dollhouse' at the time, but never far away.
What were the aftereffects of this movie on your career, once Hollywood got a sense for what you'd done and how the audience responded to it?
It's been great. It was fun to see not just the audience's response, but the town's sort of response. I got a lot of dream-come-true phone calls from heads of studios that I never thought that I would be getting. People sparked to the movie. It just sort of opens doors that weren't already open.
Is horror a genre that you still have some ideas in, or did you get them all out in this movie?
I definitely felt like I got most of them out for now, but I love the genre, and so I've learned to never say never. You never know what…inspiration is a strange entity. You never know where it's going to strike. So I would imagine that I get back to horror sooner or later.
"Cloverfield," which you wrote, was also having fun with a tried-and-true genre. Is that something that interests you: moving on to the next genre, picking it apart and putting it back together in a loving but knowing way?
It's interesting. That IS what happens with my films, but I never set out…I guess I'm not particularly that interested in deconstructing genres. It just sort of happens organically as I get bored with the story, I suppose. It always starts from characters. Just as a writer that's just what interests me, and then you sort of expand outward from there. So I never know, but I guess it does sort of happen, doesn't it, with my movies. I don't know – I guess I need to go into psychoanalysis to figure it out!
Given that Joss has kind of got the keys to the kingdom with the Marvel Cinematic Universe after "The Avengers," is that a territory that interests you?
I mean, certainly. Look, I was definitely a Marvel geek growing up. I had embarrassing amounts of comic book characters hand-painted on my wall, even until I was 18. It's why I got no girls growing up, let's be honest. It's definitely a playground that I would love to play in if we could find the right fit.
Who was your character when you were a kid, the one you were most obsessed with?
As a kid, 'The X-Men' unquestionably were like the ones, but that whole Marvel Universe. I would say it was X-Men and Spider-Man and Daredevil. Those were the big ones that I was obsessed with.
Given your TV roots, is TV still in the picture?
Absolutely. I'm sure I will get back. There's just something so exciting about every eight days you have to make a new episode. You're not allowed to second guess yourself the way you are in movies, because you just don't have a choice. I sort of miss that energy.