'Cabin in the Woods': Drew Goddard on Joss Whedon
In the spring of 2007, Drew Goddard — who’d gotten his start in Hollywood writing on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and moved on to write episodes of Angel, Alias, Lost, and the monster movie Cloverfield — was approached by Whedon with a crazy idea: Lock themselves in a hotel room for a weekend to write a horror movie. And not just any fright fest, but one that would work as a straightforward horror flick while also being somehow about the entire genre of horror flicks. Naturally, Goddard said yes.
Two years later, Goddard was directing, and Whedon producing, The Cabin in the Woods, but thanks to the MGM bankruptcy, it wasn’t until the film premiered at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival that audiences got a chance to see it. It subsequently opened in theaters to rave reviews and an instant cult following, and in this exclusive clip from the Blu-ray (out Sept. 18), Whedon and Goddard talk about that lost weekend that got it all started. Check it out below, and then read on for Goddard’s further thoughts on working with Whedon, writing Steven Spielberg’s upcoming action spectacular Robopocalypse, as well as some seriously SPOILER-y talk about Cabin‘s much-discussed ending.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you and Joss discover in that marathon writing sprint that most surprised you?
DREW GODDARD: It was surprising that Joss Whedon is so scared of the dark. Every night he would just be flying into bed with me saying he was terrified and I had to keep the light on. “Joss, please just go to sleep.” Very childish, and I want that in print, please. [Laughs] I think the most surprising thing was how much fun it was. It’s definitely scary to say we’re locking ourselves in our hotel and we’re not allowed to leave until we have a script. That’s a little terrifying, and yet in the case of Cabin, it was just fun. It was just writing for the sake of writing and entertaining each other and all of the things you want the creative process to be but somehow never is because of other outside factors. And in this case, it was just pure.
You’ve touched on a question in jest that I was actually curious about. When you write something that’s scary, do you yourself get scared?
Yeah, you do. It’s funny. You start to fall in love with characters as you work with them, and anytime that you care about your characters and you realize that you’re gonna have to kill them, that fear creeps in. It’s sad. It’s scary, and it’s also sad. Because you like these people. So certainly as we were getting into some of these deaths, I started feeling, “Well maybe they should all live.” You definitely feel, “What am I doing? This is terrible. I love these characters,” but then you realize, “Nope. They gotta go.”
This isn’t a romantic comedy. This is a horror movie.
Exactly. Very strange romantic comedy.
I’m sure in that writing process you wrote things that didn’t make it into the film. Was there anything that you were sorry to cut out?
Not really. I have to say, everything we wanted to make into the film at the end of the day made it into the film. If anything, all the scenes were longer. That’s sort of what you do — you write them long, and then you see what works and what doesn’t. Try to trim it down. And certainly when you’re dealing with Captain Flowery Writing Joss, those things are about three times as long as they need to be. So a lot of trimming is what needed to happen.
Does Joss snore?
He just mostly screams. Just screams in horrible terror as he faces his own existential angst in his sleep. And it’s very high-pitched.
SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, AND DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED, READ NO FURTHER. EVERYONE ELSE, CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED AND CLICK TO THE NEXT PAGE!
How did you guys come up with all of the horror movie monsters that inundate the third act of the movie? Did you have a brainstorm session where you wrote down any kind of scary thing that came to mind?
Not really. The truth is this is sort of just what we do. It’s not like we had to do a lot of research for this movie. At one point [in the movie] there’s the big white board with all the monsters on it — that was in the middle of shooting. I remember Joss and I were going to a meeting, we were waiting for somebody to show up, and I looked at him and said, “Oh, we need to write up what’s on the white board ’cause props [department] is gonna start writing it [on the board] tomorrow.” I think it took us about three minutes to write it all down.
When you were coming up with those monsters, were you thinking at all that you wanted to reference certain types of horror movie characters or certain horror movie films? I’m thinking especially of the angry molesting tree from Evil Dead, but is there anything else that you wanted to reference?
Yeah. It was tricky because we had to find the right balance of tipping our hat to those who came before and creating our own mythology and finding new creatures. It was very important to me that the movie not just become a greatest hits of other movies. I certainly wanted to acknowledge the other movies and sort of write a love letter to the things I love but also make it feel like we were creating our own world.
What was the creature that you came up with that you’re most proud of?
It’s not like I came up with the angry molesting tree, but it was really fun to see an angry molesting tree get a shoutout in the movie. To see him on screen actually molesting one of our SWAT officers really delights me every time I watch it.
When you were initially writing on that long weekend with Joss, did you write with any concern for budget? Were you conscious of that at all?
No. Joss might tell you differently, but I think deep down neither of us really thought this was going to get made. We thought, “This’ll be fun, and we will have a great time. I’m not sure anyone’s going to let us do this, so let’s just not worry about it and have a great time,” which is really the best way to approach at least a first draft. We didn’t start worrying about budget until after we had gotten a draft done and figuring out how to make this happen.
The film ends with a certain finality. But as I’m sure you’ve been asked before, have you ever considered a sequel?
It was important to us that the ending is the ending. I’m not sure we would want to buy that back. It felt like the right ending for Cabin. But the nice thing about the Cabin mythology universe is you can kind of get away with anything, so certainly, there’s opportunity for sequels, and it’s certainly a world I would love to return to.
It seems almost that you could do a prequel because they reference all the other cabin experiences that they’ve done previously.
And we hint to all sorts of stuff going on concurrently in the world. There’s a lot of different additives if we ever want to return to that world.
But it sounds like at this point it’s a sort of fun little figment in your brain.
Yeah. That’s always the best time, when you don’t have to worry about the business and you can just think about, “What if?”
Do you know what you will be working on next?
I don’t. I’m currently writing the next thing that I would like to direct, but in the meantime I also always stay open to see what else is out there. I’ve learned in my career not to worry about it too much and just go with whatever sounds fun in the moment. That seems to serve me well.
You’re all done with the screenplay for Robopocalypse?
I am. I think the plan is for that to start shooting next spring, so I’m very excited about that.
I gotta know, when you write for a Steven Spielberg movie, at what point do you realize, “I just wrote a Spielbergian moment”?
It’s funny — you don’t think of it like that. You just think, “Oh God, I hope this becomes a Spielbergian moment.” You can sort of hope, but you realize there’s only one man that can actually make it a Spielbergian moment, and that’s Steven. The trick I found was give him a good playground and let him play with it. It’s fun to see him do that. It’s definitely been a film education like none other to see him play.