‘Cabin in the Woods’ director Drew Goddard talks about his movie (without really talking about it)

Matt McDaniel
Movie Talk

A common complaint about movies today is that trailers give away too much of the plot. That's not been the case with this weekend's "The Cabin in the Woods."  From outward appearances the film looks to be just another horror flick about five good-looking young people headed out to a remote location like lambs to the slaughter.  But there is a lot more to this movie than just the simple setup, and to reveal anything else would ruin the fun.

That does, however, put co-writer and director Drew Goddard on the spot when it comes to promoting the film.  A veteran of the acclaimed genre TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Lost," Goddard first made a splash in the movies with his screenplay for "Cloverfield."  "Cabin" reunites Goddard with his "Buffy" boss Joss Whedon, who produced the film and co-wrote the script.  The movie was shot in 2009, but the original studio's bankruptcy kept it on the shelf until now.

I spoke to Goddard on the phone about the difficulties of talking about his movie without really talking about it, how they found actor Chris Hemsworth before he picked up Thor's hammer, and if he feels responsible for all the found-footage copycats that followed in the monstrous footsteps of "Cloverfield."

[Photos: Drew Goddard's five most influential movies]

Matt McDaniel: How hard has that been for you to get the word out about the movie without giving away too much information?

Drew Goddard:  It's the challenge we struggle with everyday.  How do you protect the fact that the less you know about "Cabin" the better?  I mean, it's undeniable that the less you know about it, the more fun you're going to have watching it.  And yet, you also want to tell an audience that this is worth their time, that they were not making the same old movie.  We struggle with that every day, and I'm sure we will continue to struggle with that until the movie comes out.

MM:  What I've been telling the people is that it doesn't have a twist ending, it has a twist beginning.

DG: That's good.  I like that.  I've always said I'm less interested in twists as I am about escalation.  It's not about any one twist.  It's more about a story that is unconventional and goes to places that you normally wouldn't expect.

MM: Was the conceit of the film what came first and then the script was built around it?

DG: Yes, definitely.  The conceit came first. And it was Joss' original conceit. He just sort of pitched out that conceit to me and I just instantly sparked to it.  As soon as I heard it, I went "Oh, yeah.  That's phenomenal.  Let's do that."

MM: You've been working with Joss Whedon for nearly a decade now, starting with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".  How has your working relationship evolved over that time?

DG: It's funny.  I guess it's been very similar.  We just hit it off right away.  Sometimes when you have a similar aesthetic, it's just easy.  It was always easy for us.  It was just fun.  I think that was the main thing.  We both love what we do and we both love the types of stories that we get to tell.

When you find other people like that, that have genuine enthusiasm for it, you just want to keep hanging out with them, because so much of Hollywood can dampen enthusiasm.  It's the nature of the beast.  So when you find like-minded souls, you'll want to hold them close.

MM: This is your directorial debut and Joss is the producer, so what sort of guidance did he give you?

DG: So much of what I've learned from him [has been] by being able to sort of shadow him and watch him work for the last ten years.  That's the best thing I could have done as opposed to any one piece of advice he could give me because just watching him work, shaped who I am as a director.

And then it was just about protecting me.  As a good producer does, they protect their directors as best as they can.  There's no body better at it than him because he knows what I need and what directors go through because he is one himself.  The gift that he gave me was just protecting me and making sure I could do my job.

MM: When you two have a creative disagreement, what is your process for coming to terms with something like that?

DG:  I never disagree with Joss.  We very rarely disagree, I should say.  When we do, passion always wins.  I think we just both respect each other and if one of us feels strongly, the other one will concede and I can't think of a time where we both felt strongly and were against each other.  I just don't remember it happening.

MM:  This movie was Chris Hemsworth's American debut, even though we're not seeing it long after it was finished.  So what was it about Chris in the auditioning process that made him stand out -- I mean, other than physically -- over everybody else?

DG: Certainly, he walks in a room and your heart stops.  (Laughs)  There's just no doubt about it, but there's a lot of that in Hollywood.  The truth is because Chris is different because he has a soul about him and it comes across in his performance always.  It's not just as a God of Thunder.

Off screen, you always feel this sort of melancholy soul that he has to him that was so crucial to this part, I think.  It's so crucial to what we were looking to do with this movie where we wanted that depth and he had it in spades.  As soon as he left the room, I turned to everyone and said, "Oh, we found our guy," because it was undeniable.

MM: You've worked with Joss and you've worked with J.J. Abrams.  They're like the two kings of geekdom right now and you're sort of where the Venn diagram overlaps.  How do those two compare and contrast in terms of working with them?

DG:  Well, the thing I love about both of them is that they're both fearless.  People forget because they're now both the kings of the universe, but 10 years a go, what they were doing couldn't have been less fashionable.  Everything on TV was "CSI's" and "CSI" clones or "Law & Order" clones before that, and these guys were doing these sort of interesting, crazy genre shows.

We forget, but before HBO sort of came along and said serialized TV is okay, nobody wanted serialized TV.  Nobody wanted it in Hollywood.  And these guys were doing these crazy shows that were unlike anything else and they were unafraid to be different.  That's the main thing I loved about both of them is that there's just a fearlessness to their storytelling in what they're trying to do.  They don't care what's fashionable and what everyone else is doing.  They just care about telling the stories they love.

MM:  You had worked with J.J. on TV, but then you also wrote "Cloverfield," so do you feel any responsibility for all the found footage movies out there today?

DG: No, not at all.  Look, we didn't create the found footage genre there.  We stood on the shoulders of some tall giants before us, unquestionably.  There have been some wonderful found footage movies that have come along since "Cloverfield" and no one is more excited about that than me.  I think it's like anything.

I think that there's good movies and there's bad movies, and sometimes the bad movie spoil it for the rest of us and we focus on them, but in the long run, all that matters are the good movies.  Those are the ones that you we will remember.  Certainly, there have been some wonderful found footage movies that have come along since us and I'm just happy.  If we were at all responsible for making their jobs easier, I'm happy about it.

MM: There's a thread in the movie about people that are stuck in the situation and they pick the wrong thing to do, so do you have any advice for people for surviving a horror film?

DG: (Laughs) I think always stay together is the most important one because the thing that happens time and time again is people split up, not just physically but just emotionally.  They stop looking after one another and there's always strength in numbers in any horror movie and quite frankly, in life.  So always have each other's backs, because as soon as you split up, that's your ass.

"The Cabin in the Woods" is in theaters now.  Watch a clip from the film introduced by Chris Hemsworth below: