Despite only having a few television and film writing credits on his resume, Drew Goddard is a name that many who follow film coverage will recognize. That is because Goddard is a colleague of fan favorites Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams and has written episodes for cult series such as “Lost,” “Alias,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Now Goddard has been given the opportunity to step out from the shadow of his more experienced compatriots and sit in the director’s chair for the first time. Goddard’s first feature will be The Cabin in the Woods, which opens this Friday in wide release.
Goddard took to the road over the last several weeks on a multi-city tour to promote the film to audiences of mostly college students. The main talking point that has come out of the screenings is that The Cabin in the Woods should not be discussed. The twists in the film come early and often, so it is difficult to talk about the plot or the “favorite moments” without revealing too much. I had the opportunity to speak with Drew Goddard before screening the movie when his tour made a stop in Minneapolis.
At 37-years old, Goddard has the enthusiasm and energy of somebody working on their first industry job. I was one of his last interviews of the day and I followed some of the major local print newspaper critics who have a lot more reputation and clout, yet he still spoke to me eagerly, as if he was just starting his day. The Cabin in the Woods marked his first time directing, but the transition did not seem to phase Goddard. “Luckily the shows I worked on and the guys I worked for, like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams, were very empowering to writers, so I was very familiar with stuff like talking to actors, managing a schedule, cutting an episode, a lot of stuff that directors do,” Goddard said “but there is still an element of doing this job that you can’t learn until you do the job.”
That first glimpse of what it was like to be the one in charge came early in the filming of The Cabin in the Woods. “The very first day of shooting, we show up to set and it is blizzarding snow,” which, Goddard explains, is a problem when it is supposed to be a “kids in bathing suits” type of movie. “I’m like ‘whoever is in charge needs to stop this’ and then I realized, oh wait, I’m in charge. It took me a while to realize that the buck stops with me and I’m the one who has to make that type of decision.”
Goddard may have spent most of his career working alongside Abrams and Whedon, but he takes most of his inspiration from legendary filmmakers. Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, and Stanley Kubrick were his biggest inspirations for The Cabin in the Woods. He also expresses great adoration for the fearlessness of the Coen brothers. “The Coen brothers, God Bless ’em. I don’t know anybody who has as eclectic of a filmography as they do and they’re ALL good.”
The cast in The Cabin in the Woods features an interesting mix of established movie stars and young up and comers. Thor himself Chris Hemsworth appears in the film alongside Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, and Fran Kranz. Bradley Whitmore is one of the more recognizable faces, alongside legendary actor Richard Jenkins. “We wrote the movie for Richard,” Goddard reveals with an adoring smile, “I’ve loved Richard for a long-time.” There was some worry by the studio that he wouldn’t agree to do it. Jenkins had just received an Oscar nomination for The Visitor and the studio feared a horror film might be beneath him. Not only did he agree to the project, but he showed a remarkably high level of dedication on set. “One time at five in the morning I look over and Richard Jenkins is doing push-ups in the corner so that his energy would be up and he could look more intense for his scene.”
A few hours after the interview, Goddard appeared at a packed screening to introduce the film. He sat through the entire movie with a humble smile as the audience erupted in laughter and applause throughout. “This is what you dream about; to get these types of reactions,” says Goddard “I am very aware that I may be at the pinnacle of my career.”
With the positive reaction that the film has already been receiving, we are certainly going to see more of Drew Goddard. He is excited to share his success, however, and he offers two pieces of advice to aspiring filmmakers:
1) “Never worry about what’s fashionable; write what you love. If you try to guess what audiences are going to love, you’re going to fail. Just do what you love.”
2) “Work harder than the other guy. That’s the thing that certainly helped me the most. I saw a lot of my peers who would punch out at 5:00 or spend so much of their energy talking about how to get an agent as opposed to using that energy to write scripts and make movies. People that succeeded were always the ones that actually made product. If you make your first project and nobody liked it, or it didn’t open the doors for you, make your next one. It took me years before I got my first job.”
Those words of advice have paid off for Drew Goddard. When I asked him what his dream project would be, he responded without hesitation: “honestly, it was Cabin in the Woods. I get to do a lot with this movie.”
The Cabin in the Woods will be in theatres this Friday, April 13, 2012.