Dialogue: Drew Goddard Talks Bringing ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ to Life While Shielding Its Dark Secrets

Dialogue: Drew Goddard Talks Bringing ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ to Life While Shielding Its Dark Secrets

Apr 11, 2012

Drew Goddard

You may not know Drew Goddard, but you certainly know his films and TV shows. Not only did he write and produce Lost and Alias, but he also wrote the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and penned the movie Cloverfield, too. Clearly Goddard’s enjoyed a lengthy stream of success as a writer-producer, but the time came when he opted to step behind the lens himself and therefore, into the spotlight as well.

Goddard makes his directorial debut with The Cabin in the Woods, a horror film that revisits the familiar tale of a group of unsuspecting young adults who opt to spend their vacation at a creepy, secluded cabin in the woods. Think Cabin will be more of the same? Far from it. Here’s an instance where you should really take the film’s tagline seriously – “You think you know the story.”

Clearly this introduction is light on plot, and for good reason; The Cabin in the Woods might be one of the most highly spoilable films in recent years. However, that doesn’t mean Goddard wasn’t thrilled to discuss the process of making what he calls his “labor of love.” Check out everything Goddard had to say from developing the idea with Joss Whedon to working with his DP, Peter Deming, and much more in the interview below and then fill in all those plot holes yourself when The Cabin in the Woods arrives in theaters on Friday, April 13th.  

Movies.com: If you were the Bradley Whitford character, which bad guy would you be hoping to see in action?

Drew Goddard: [Laughs] It’s hard to answer because I don’t want to spoil too much of the movie for people who haven’t seen it yet. It’s hard to talk about. More than anything, being the director, they’re all sort of my children and I think on any given day, I’d like to see all of those things come true. 

Movies.com: Only a true horror lover would hear that and not think you’re crazy!

Goddard: [Laughs] I guess you’re right.

Movies.com: So where’d the idea for this come from? Are you an avid slasher fan?

Goddard: I’m an avid horror fan in general, just of the genre itself, and I very much consider this my love letter to the genre. But it was originally Joss Whedon’s idea. He and I had worked together a long time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and we were just looking for something else to do together and he told me the idea one day, he sort of had this basic idea, and as soon as I heard it, I just lit up because it was everything I was looking to do.

The Cabin in the Woods

Movies.com: How long have you guys had this in the works?

Goddard: Let’s see. We probably worked on it for about six months just outlining it and then wrote it very quickly. I think it was the easiest script I’ve ever been a part of writing, for sure.

Movies.com: Having another writer to work with, what exactly was your writing process?

Goddard: We worked really hard on the outline, which is kind of how we handled all Buffy and Angel episodes as well. Do your homework and get the structure as solid as you possibly can and then write it as fast as possible. With this one, Joss and I just locked ourselves into a hotel room and said, we’re not allowed to leave this hotel room until we have a script. And then we just worked around the clock as fast as we could. After about three days of perspiration, we emerged from that hotel with a script.

Movies.com: What about the progression of the script from there? Did it change much from the time you walked out of that hotel room to when you shot it?

Goddard: Yeah, we definitely fine tuned it and honed it, but it was shockingly similar, at least in terms of structure to what we emerged from that room with. It changed the least of anything I’ve ever worked on.

Movies.com: Can you tell me about finding the happy medium between satire and true horror?

Goddard: Yeah, I think the trick is, we weren’t out to satirize anything. It was really just tell the story and if the story happens to comment on the world at large, then good, but we didn’t want this to become a parody. It’s very easy to slip into parody when you’re playing with tone. It was crucial to me that we were a horror movie first and build how it works from there.

Movies.com: You’ve also got a producer’s mind frame, too, so do you ever look at your script and worry something’s too big to be able to make it happen?

Goddard: Yeah, we tried to do all of that ahead of time so that we could go to the studio in a responsible way and say, you know, here’s what it’s going to cost, we want to make this for a low budget and we’ve already done the work. We’ve cut everything that felt superfluous to telling the story.

The Cabin in the Woods

Movies.com: You’re certainly very experienced within the industry, but this is your first time behind the lens. How was that transition for you – especially on such a big production?

Goddard: Luckily the guys I had worked for on TV, between Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams, they always had a very cinematic approach to storytelling and they were always very empowering to their writers, and TV just in general is empowering to writers, so directing wasn’t this weird, foreign environment. It definitely felt comfortable because I was used to a lot of the aspects of it just in producing and writing television. But, that being said, there’s an element of the job you can only learn when you’re doing it, and so it took me a couple days to get my sea legs for sure.

Movies.com: Did JJ or Joss give you any advice that stuck with you through the shoot?

Goddard: You know, the main thing with Joss is – and I learned this from watching him – he’s ready to try something different. He’s never afraid to take a different approach to something or tell a story differently or frame a shot differently and I tried to carry that with me. Fear can be your biggest enemy when you’re doing something creative and if you can just try to let go of that and know it’s okay if you make a mistake as long as you’re trying to do something different. If you know that, you’re gonna be okay.

Movies.com: And how about your personal preparation process as far as the visuals go? Did shot list or storyboard or anything like that?

Goddard: Yeah, because it was my first time I definitely over prepared. Everyday I had storyboards and shot lists and artwork. I tried to give as much information as I could. Once you do it, you start to learn the shorthand, but I definitely felt on this one the more prepared, the better.

Movies.com: Of all the things you did to get ready, was there any one tool in particular that came in handy most on set?

Goddard: I think honestly just being one of the writers; it just gives you an insight into the script that it sort of forces you to envision the script anyway when you’re creating it and I think more than anything that helped me because when the crew and the cast knows this is your passion, this is where this comes from, I think they’re more likely to be on your side from the get go.

The Cabin in the Woods

Movies.com: How was it working with your DP specifically? Was this the first time you ever had to discuss constructing visuals with one?

Goddard: No, not at all. In TV you’re always talking with your DP. You’re always talking about how to frame shots, what the color temperature should be. Like I said, it’s very lucky that I worked on such great shows and with such great people, so it didn’t feel that foreign at all. And luckily for Cabin, I made my wish list for who would be the greatest DP for this project and Peter Deming was number one on the list. I got my first choice, which was great.

Movies.com: Can you tell me about your shot choices? What was the idea behind shooting the office scenes versus the material in the cabin?

Goddard: It was definitely important that they felt like two different worlds. Our upstairs was very much about the outdoors, it was all about youth and vibrancy and life. We used a more earthy palette; there’s a lot of greens, lot of browns, just a natural palette. And downstairs, you want the antiseptic; you want the sort of fluorescent drawl that happens when you’re living in cubical world. You want to feel the lack of life downstairs and so Peter and I talked a lot about our color palette between the two.

Movies.com: How about managing the typical horror genre techniques, like certain camera movements and shot angles?

Goddard: I certainly wanted this one to feel a little more eclectic in terms of the movies I grew up on. I didn’t want this one to be about shaky cam and tight close-ups and not knowing where you are and a lot of yellow/brown imagery, which seems to be most horror films these days. I wanted this to harken back to the days of elegance and assured camera moves and Peter got that right away. That’s kind of what Peter does instinctively so it worked out well.

Movies.com: And how about set design? There are a lot of nice details all over the place, but especially in the cabin basement. Was there any inspiration behind some of those?

Goddard: I worked with my production designer before on Cloverfield and he is so good at giving you such production value for no money and he definitely went to town on that basement. And really, we didn’t have to do a lot of research. A lot of that stuff came straight from our imaginations because we’re such fans of the horror genre and it really just became about packing everything that we love into one small, little room.

The Cabin in the Woods

Movies.com: How about dousing those sets in blood? It isn’t easy to redress, so did that limit the number of takes you had or make you tight on time?

Goddard: Yeah, it certainly dictated the schedule because there was no way to go back once we started destroying things. [Laughs] It was hard because you couldn’t put it back together again.

Movies.com: And how about scheduling the cabin material and the office material? I assume you scheduled them separately.

Goddard: It almost felt like we were shooting two movies because we had to do all of the upstairs first and then all of the downstairs after that, which is actually sort of nice. I think it energized the crew in a way because things can get a little stale when you’re shooting at the same location over and over and over. With Cabin, we were constantly on the move, constantly doing something different, constantly changing it up and I think that kept it exciting for everyone.

Movies.com: How necessary was it for you to be aware of what’s happening in the office while you’re shooting the cabin material and vice versa?

Goddard: All the time. Tone is so important to this movie and so it’s crucial to always be aware – the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing. That was one of the great challenges of this movie was keeping those plates spinning simultaneously.

Movies.com: Another issue that’s specific to horror films is that it’s not scary while you shoot it; it’s scary when you edit it together. Did you do anything on set to make the fear authentic?

Goddard: Luckily it wasn’t too hard. When we were in the middle of the woods in Vancouver at 3:00am in the morning, it wasn’t too hard to be creeped out because it’s just scary being in the woods at night. But I found the biggest trick to getting a good performance out of the cast is to just hire really good actors and then it makes my life so much easier and that was definitely the case with everyone.

Movies.com: And when you hired your actors, did they fit right into the roles you created or did you have to tweak anything to fit a particular cast member?

Goddard: We wrote fake sides and saw hundreds of actors just to try to find the range we were looking for. And yeah, once you cast people you do try to tailor it, but not too much. By and large we were looking for a very specific thing with every role and so we targeted those people for these roles and luckily they said yes.

Movies.com: How is it promoting a movie that’s so incredibly easy to spoil?

Goddard: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, it’s tricky and I sympathize. As a filmmaker, I want to protect it because it’s unquestionable that the less you know about it, the more fun you’re gonna have in the theater. We hear that time and time again, but you also want to let an audience know that this is worth their time. It’s just trying to find that balance; how do we let people know this is different, this is not the same old story? We are definitely trying something new here, but we also don’t want to spoil that for you.

Movies.com: There’s one scene in particular that I just want to run around and tell everyone how much I love, but clearly I can’t. Do you ever get that feeling? Do you ever want to broadcast how proud you are of certain things you’ve done here?

Goddard: I kind of feel that way about the whole film, to be honest with you. This whole movie was a labor of love. There’s not one part of it I regret. I really love this movie and I’m proud of it, so I’m happy to just show it over and over because it’s really fun to watch with an audience.

Categories: Horror, Interviews, In Theaters
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