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Gut Level: An Interview with Drew Goddard

The director of The Cabin in the Woods on the film's long road to theaters, adapting Robopocalypse with Steven Spielberg and the importance of nudity.

 

Anyone who’s followed the Whedonverse has been waiting three years to see The Cabin in the Woods. First it was announced and they waited a year for a Spring 2010 release date. Then MGM said they were going to convert it into 3D so they waited until January 2011. Then MGM went bankrupt and only now in 2012 is Lionsgate releasing it. “Buffy” and “Angel” series writer makes his directorial debut with his own script, co-written by Whedon. They bend genres like they do with a group of kids in the woods stalked by killers and monsters, while people in labcoats observe them from a video facility. We got to speak with Goddard in Austin after the film premiered at SXSW.

 

CraveOnline: Shouldn’t this film have been with Lionsgate all along?

Drew Goddard: Yeah. I mean, yeah, absolutely. It definitely feels like fate brought us together and we had been hurtling towards this destiny all along.

 

Are you glad they scrapped the 3D version?

Yeah, you know, we never actually got too far down that road. There was a period in Hollywood where 3D was very much the flavor of the month. Everyone wanted to make everything 3D and we had to explore that for our studio, but we were very against that and it was nice when Lionsgate backed us.

 

But if they hadn’t tried 3D, you would have been out two years ago as planned.

No, we wouldn’t have. The delay was because MGM went bankrupt. It didn’t only delay us, it delayed The Hobbit, James Bond and Red Dawn. It was just a mess. When you deal with billion dollar bankruptcies, these things are a mess but luckily it’s all worked out for the best.

 

What do you do when you got a chance to make your film but then you watch this bankruptcy stuff happen?

Right. Well, we knew the movie was good and we knew it would find an audience and we knew that the studio would want to put it out. So it was just a matter of getting it untangled from the red tape, the bankruptcy. Luckily Lionsgate just swooped in and saved us. They said, “We love this movie, we’re going to get it out and just trust us.” They’ve been wonderful.

 

Wasn’t MGM always sketchy? They were always going away, coming back, going away, coming back.

[Laughs] You know, we had friends over there. Mary Parent who was the head of MGM at the time just really believed in us and just showed us a tremendous amount of faith. This movie wouldn’t exist without her. It was unfortunate what happened but it’s all worked out for the best.

 

What do you love about the cabin in the woods horror genre?

There’s so much. There’s just something wonderful about getting a small group of people together in an isolated location and there’s something about cabins themselves that imply both horror and fun. When you go to a cabin, you’re usually going to have a good time. That’s something we wanted the movie to be as well.

 

Would you have had fun doing a traditional cabin in the woods movie?

I mean, certainly. It’s hard not to have fun when you’re in a cabin in the woods. I would love that but certainly because we felt like with this project, let’s just do the best version that we can possibly think of. Let’s not feel constrained to be traditional. Let’s try to give something that’s never been seen before.

 

Are audiences so savvy to genre now that you have to twist it?

I don't know. It’s funny, we didn’t really set out to make a movie full of twists. We just set out to tell the best story we could and let it take us wherever it wanted to go. I think audiences crave something new. I don't think audiences want the same old thing, no matter how much conventional Hollywood tells you that. An audience will always be thrilled to be surprised and we certainly wanted to bring some surprises to the audience.

 

But do you count on certain things that if you introduce this lab facility, they’ll catch on to what you’re laying out?

Absolutely. I designed this movie to be fun and to be fun upon repeat viewings. It’s not about any one twist that if you find out, it’s ruined. It’s much more about the journey we take and the ride that you’re on.

 

Maybe I’m so familiar with you and Joss’s work, I start to catch on to what you’re doing. Should the audience be able to follow along or should it be more of a surprise?

I think no matter what, either way it’s good. If you’re familiar with us, you know what we’re doing, great. If you’re not, let us introduce ourselves to you.

 

Is it a lost cause trying to make straight genre movies anymore?

No, I don't think so. I think genre will always survive. It’s not a question of straight or meta, it’s a question of just make good movies.

 

How do you do the traditional horror gratuitous nudity that we all love in a female empowering way that Joss is known for?

This movie is very much about tradition and archetypes. You just hope that you can ask the questions of why this is important and hope that the intellectual side will counterbalance the sort of primal side.

 

Why is nudity an important convention?

I think so much of the horror film is about our primal instincts, and our primal instincts are not just towards violence. It’s also towards sex. I feel like horror movies, as much as they’re about violence, they’re also about sex. It’s about our instincts so in that regard it’s crucial that you honor both of those things.

 

Is it also a rite of passage because kids see horror movies before they’re supposed to and that could be their first exposure to sex?

I mean, it certainly was mine. That was certainly how I learned about sex which may be a sad thing but it’s true. I think you’re right. I think it is very much a rite of passage.

 

The dialogue feels like “Joss-speak.” Do you become familiar with that writing style working on his shows, or is it because of his involvement in the script?

Well, it’s both. Joss and I got along famously when we did “Buffy” and “Angel” and our aesthetics are just very similar. This movie is just very much a conversation between the two of us and I think our voices come through.

 

Do you start with straightforward dialogue and then revise it to more clever versions?

No, not at all. You just write what you like. It’s not like a lot of thought goes into it. A lot of care goes into it but it’s much more of a gut level process. You just write the best version of the scene and see what that is.

 

Are you working on Robopocalypse?

You know, I was. I turned in an adaptation of that for Dreamworks. We’ll see how that goes.

 

I always joke “I welcome our robot overlords.” Why can’t we just welcome our robot overlords?

[Laughs] I worry that when the robot apocalypse comes, the robots don’t really care what we think about them.

 

Would it have to be hostile and antagonistic?

I hope not. I hope not.

 

What if we build Skynet and they’re like, “You guys are cool. Just mind your own business and we’re fine.”

That’d be great. “Let’s help you.” That’s a nice way to think of it.

 

Is it happening though? My iPhone won’t let me type what I want because it thinks it knows what I really want to say.

Certainly. We are on the course to Skynet, there’s no doubt about it.

 

How much fun did you have exploring that for Steven Spielberg?

Well, I can’t talk too much about it but it is based on a book, a wonderful book written by Daniel Wilson who’s a wonderful sort of hard science based writer. It’s just been fun to see Daniel’s vision and do what I can to help.

 

How about the process of adapting and getting notes from Spielberg?

I mean, it’s wonderful. He’s our greatest filmmaker and it’s a wonderful learning experience for me to see how he works and be around it. It’s definitely different than creating something yourself. Your job is more to help somebody else’s vision reach the screen than to put yourself the way writing an original screenplay is. So it’s definitely fun to try something different.

 

Is there still any movement on a Cloverfield sequel?

Nothing official, nothing yet to report but it’s certainly something I think all of us would like to do if we can figure out the best possible way to do it.

 

How do you feel about the way the found footage movement has evolved?

Like anything, I think there are some wonderful found footage movies and there are some less good. Certainly when it’s done well I really love it. I really love it as a genre.

 

Are you working on a Season 9 Buffy comic?

Yes, yes. I’m not officially writing anything on it. I’m just a fan so I’m excited for it. 

 

Photo Credit: Diyah Pera