Interview: 'Cabin in the Woods' Co-Writer & Director Drew Goddard
by Jeremy Kirk
April 13, 2012
In case you've been living up in the mountains, you know how anticipated The Cabin in the Woods is. In case you've been living under a rock up in those mountains, you know that Cabin in the Woods hits theaters this Friday. Words have ceased to convey how fresh a take on the horror genre this movie is. One of those horror fans, someone who adores the genre and who would have eaten Cabin in the Woods up with a spoon had he not directed it, is Drew Goddard (above right). We were fortunate enough to speak with Goddard recently about the writing process alongside Joss Whedon, auditions, horror movies, and more. Spoiler free!
Yes, over the years leading up to its eventual release, Cabin in the Woods has brushed against the dreaded "over-hype" machine, and when I say "brushed against" I mean we've beaten this horse with the hype stick until it's raw. Believe me, though, when I say it still hasn't been hyped enough for how special this movie is and will be to horror fans all over the world. We speak vaguely with Goddard about certain plot elements in Cabin in the Woods, but no specific spoilers are given. There was even one question we completely cut, because Drew didn't want to speak on it, and who can blame him? Without further ado, here's our interview.
Where were you with horror when you and Joss conceived of this idea?
Drew Goddard: I guess I was at the same place I've always been, which was I'm in love with horror. I've always been in love with this genre, and even as we've seen the genre change and evolve over the years I've always loved horror movies. That's an easy question to answer, because no matter where I was in the course of my life I've always loved the genre.
Do you feel like horror has gotten ugly in recent years? It seems to me the days of the fun horror movie might be coming back. Was that the tone you wanted to strike with Cabin in the Woods?
DG: Yeah, that was sort of what we were trying to strike with this movie is just the fun horror. I don't feel like I've seen one of those in a while, and we certainly wanted to make one here. That shouldn't be a slight to the other kind of horror movies, because I love those too. It's just that, for this one, we were setting out to make a fun horror movie.
What precautions did you take to ensure the mystery and secrets didn't slip out too early?
DG: It's tough. You try to keep things quiet, but in this day and age it's difficult. We tried to keep the script under wraps as best as we could, but the truth is if people really want to be spoiled these days they will be spoiled. There are people who know exactly what happens in The Dark Knight Rises. But I believe most people don't want to be spoiled. It's more about protecting those people, the people who don't want to be spoiled, from being accidentally spoiled, then it is about keeping things top secret.
What was the writing process like working with Joss?
DG: Joss and I developed a process over the course of the years first working on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," and Cabin was very much an extension on that process. We like to write fast. We like to work for a long time on structure, but, when we actually sit down to write, we write as quickly as we can. There's an energy that comes about in doing that. Certainly, with the case of Cabin, we locked ourselves in a hotel and said, "We're not allowed to leave this hotel until we've finished a script."
This might be a spoilery question, but, if you don't mind, what was the first image that popped in your head after you came up with the initial idea with Joss?
DG: We had a scene that involves a speaker phone, and that was very early on in our minds with Cabin. It sort of set the tone with combining the mundane with the operation, and it very much influenced the course of the movie.
It's not too spoiler to say there are two sides to this story. There's the cabin side, and there's the corporate side where we have Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. It sounded like they were almost you and Joss discussing horror films. How conscious was that?
DG: It certainly wasn't conscious, but you are not the first person to point that out including all of our family and friends. They've pointed that out, as well, that there are some definite similarities there. But it's not like we meant to do that, but we're still so so I'm sure some of that does come through.
Talk a little about the creature design. Was that one of your most enjoyable parts of the film making process?
DG: Without question. It was one of those things where you're thinking, "I should not be having this much fun." It felt very much like the 12-year-old in me was finally getting to do all the things he had dreamed about doing. It felt like I had the biggest toy box in the world to play with, and it was a joy.
What creature movies do you remember growing up on as a kid that inspired your tastes?
DG: There are so many, and that's one of the things about Cabin is because it is such a love letter to the genre itself, every horror movie has influenced me in some way. Every one that I've seen, at least. It's as much about the genre as it is about anything specific. Clearly the works of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi are front and center here. Argento is definitely there. But even stuff like the Friday the 13th movies had quite an influence on me growing up.
Of the two sides that make up the movie, which came first? Was the initial idea the "cabin in the woods" and then the other side developed, or was it the other way around?
DG: Joss had this initial idea, and, when he told it to me, he had both sides, so I'm not sure if he had one and then the other or if they both just popped into his head at the same time. But, the first time I heard it, he already had both sides figured out.
Talk about auditioning. I heard there was a very interesting auditioning process.
DG: We wanted to keep as much of the film quiet as possible, so we wrote up a bunch of fake scenes for this movie and didn't really tell anyone what it was about. We just started bringing in actors. We were really looking to find some fresh faces, so we looked at hundreds of kids for these parts. It was fun to watch, because, in some cases, the scenes we had them read were even more out there than what we had in the film itself. It was a good way to judge who got it instinctively and who didn't, who was on board for the roller coaster, and, certainly, the five that we ended up with were all 100% on board from the second they started the audition.
I spoke with Jesse Williams earlier, and he was telling me about one scene with a molesting hot tub. Can you explain?
DG: [laughs] I forgot about that. It wasn't actually a hot tub that molests. There was something in the hot tub that was getting a little fresh towards the character he was with. I don't think we ever declared exactly what it was, so it could be construed as a molesting hot tub, I suppose. It's one of the great mysteries.
Did you show the actors the designs of the creatures before they shot with them?
DG: We definitely showed them everything. Cabin is a movie you want everybody on board for. We wanted it to feel like we were a team, because this movie does take a lot of risks, and, in order to get people to do that with you, you need them to feel like they understand what's happening. I made it a point throughout the course of the production to really involve everyone and what we were trying to do, because tone is so important for something like this. It's crucial every step of the way to make sure everyone understands and is invested in the tone as quickly as possible.
How was the crowd for the premiere at SXSW?
DG: I couldn't have asked for a better crowd. It was really fun. It was one of those times where you're like, "Is this really happening?" because it was just a dream. It felt surreal to feel the energy in the room.
Out of all the horror movies you've seen, pick one that you feel pushed your inspiration more than any other with Cabin in the Woods.
Here's where I write, "long pause."
DG: [laughs] I don't know that I can pick one. Let me pick three. I'm gonna pick The Thing, I'm going to pick Dr. Strangelove, and I'm going to pick Evil Dead. Let's go with those three.
That's a nice little combination. You put those in a recipe, you're gonna come up with something special. Thank you very much for talking with us, Drew.
DG: Absolutely. Thank you. I really appreciate it, Jeremy.
We can't say anything else that hasn't already been said. Go see Goddard's Cabin in the Woods beginning Friday, today, April 13th. Also a huge thank you to Lionsgate and Drew Goddard for giving us time to talk!