SXSW Interview: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard Talk ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

Joss: "I think we like killing characters. I think we’re ready to step it up and kill actual people"

joss-whedon-drew-goddard-splashJoss Whedon and Drew Goddard are the brain’s, the bloody gory brains, behind the great new horror film, The Cabin in the Woods.

Drew directed the film from the script that both he and Joss wrote and even though I’m not the biggest fan of horror films, I gotta say, The Cabin in the Woods rocked! It’s got a story, premise and the cast (led by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins and featuring a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams) that takes every horror movie cliché and gives it the finger.

Trust me, you’ll want to see this.

At this years SXSW festival, I got a chance to sit down with Joss and Drew in a roundtable interview where they talked about the film and it’s various monsters, what inspired the story and what it’s like to have your style and dialogue recognized by fanboys.

If you have the time, I’d listen to the full audio interview. It’s fun and I guarantee that you’ll laugh! 

The Cabin in the Woods opens on April 13th

As great lovers of genre, how much of this movie comes from elements that growing up you would watch movies and say, “Oh, I wish it would go there.”

Joss Whedon: I think everything we write is an element of that. We only write the things that we want to see and haven’t seen yet.  And occasionally, we write the things that we have seen.

Drew Goddard: [laughs] Right, and wanted to play with. Yeah, absolutely.

Joss Whedon: But I don’t remember as a kid going, “You know what I wish is that there would be this whole structure around a horror movie.”  I just remember going, “I’m really scared.  It’s awesome.”

You kind of have a reputation toward killing characters. So, a horror movie seems like a natural movie for you to write or work on.  And you as well Drew, since you have written on a lot of Joss’ shows. Is a horror movie something that something that you guys have been looking to do for a while?

Joss Whedon: I think we like killing characters. I think we’re ready to step it up and kill actual people. Sort of a Leopold and Loeb thing.  

I do not love to kill people.  I love the people. The point of this movie I think to a larger extent was… [looks at Drew] No, I don’t love actual people, I mean the people that we write.

Drew Goddard: Alright, okay.  Let’s clarify that.

Joss Whedon: I don’t love drifters, so it’s going to be okay. They’re not gonna freak out at the last minute.

You know, part of this movie was definitely about the idea that people are not expendable and that as a culture, for our own entertainment, we tend to assume that they are.  Although I absolutely love horror movies and always have, I love the most when I really, really care about the people who are in dire trouble, with the exception of Alien, I think?

Drew Goddard: You don’t care about the people in Alien?

Joss Whedon: It’s not that I don’t care about them, it’s that I was very frightened by that movie because they didn’t care about each other. I didn’t think they were going to band together and fight back. I thought these guys would sell each other down the river in a heartbeat. That actually freaked me out almost more than the Geiger stuff.

One of the great things about this movie is that you have obviously the typical teenagers characters used in a horror environment, but then you introduce these other guys [Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford]. Were they always introduced into the movie that early or was it something that you guys talked about maybe holding back on?

Drew Goddard: When I first heard, this was Joss’ original idea and it was in that first conversation that he said, “This is how we’re going to start the movie and we’re going to start the movie in the exact opposite way that all other horror movies start.” As soon as he said that, I just got it. Like, “Okay, I get the tone. I get what this movie is.”  We sort of say what this movie is in the first five minutes so people can get a sense that this is not going to be your average movie.

How much female empowerment was it important to have in the Jules and Dana characters?

Joss Whedon: That’s really [Drew’s] thing. I don’t get that whole women’s rights thing. [laughter] Those femi-nazis.

You know it was important for the characters to have integrity and to pretty much leave it at that.  This is not a movie about gender and oddly enough, I’ve seen the movie several times, there is no adolescent girl super powers.  It’s weird for me but you’re dealing with…

Drew Goddard: But it’s close enough…

Joss Whedon: Yeah, there is.  No, it is not a text about that. It is just making sure that everybody is a human being with integrity across the board.

During the process, is there anything that either of you fight for?

Drew Goddard: I’m sure we did argue but…

Joss Whedon: No we didn’t!

Drew Goddard: But passion always won.  Whoever felt strongly about it always wins.

Joss Whedon: Yeah, I was actually trying to remember an actual example but it weirdly came so much from both of us it’s like, you know, you may have some arguments about raising a child but you both made it.  It’s your child.  You don’t go, “Oh, it doesn’t really feel like my son.”

Can you tell me what the silver lining was for both of you having this film come out so far after you’ve made it? 

Joss Whedon: You know, for me the advantage is simply that you’re not busy trying to just add some last bits. You’re not looking at it fresh because of the pain of childbirth is somewhat forgotten and of all of this is just a big gift.

Drew Goddard: Yeah. It’s definitely felt like everything happens for a reason and everything has worked out for the best here. We have a studio that loves this movie and is behind us 100%. Our actors are turning out to be huge superstars, whether they were not when we cast them.  So, we keep saying, be careful what you worried about, like this is actually the best possible thing that could happen to us.  We’re just happy.  We’re happy to be here.

When it switched over to the Lionsgate, did you have a chance to go back and tinker with the movie at all?

Drew Goddard: No, I was worried that they, you know, whenever there’s a shift in management especially in a film like this, you worry that they may not see what you’re trying to do and they may make us change something.  To Lionsgate’s credit, they saw it and they said, “No, don’t change a frame.”

Luckily, they let us do what we wanted to do and so when we locked it, we said, “This is it. This is what the movie is.” And it was just more about protecting that but Lionsgate was so supportive.  We didn’t even have to protect anything.

Joss Whedon: They like it way better than we do.

What inspired the story?  How long has this been festering in your head?

Joss Whedon: The story itself really just sort of popped out.  I was like one of those people who doesn’t know they are pregnant. And then because it’s so clearly the kind of thing that we love, which is true horror with a cold eye towards, “Well, what is that about?” And then once the idea just sort of came, we spent, it was years before we actually sat down and did it. But that was sort of what made it so easy to do when we finally did because we just, we bandied back, “You know what would be hilarious? You know what would be fun? I wish we could…” And this is an entire movie of “I wish we could.”  It’s two raging id’s just enjoying themselves for 90 minutes.

Do you think the movie will challenge other horror filmmakers to think a little more outside the box? Because there is this kind of sense of this movie dropping the mike and walking away. 

Joss Whedon: Try not to be more articulate than us. [laughter]

You know what, we just want to make a horror movie that people would really, really enjoy. I don’t see this as like a watershed movie. I just see it as if people have a great time, it’s not going to make them go, “Well, now I think differently about loving horror. I still love it.” And other filmmakers are going to do something that we could never have thought of and didn’t expect and that’s what I’m waiting for. It’s not an answer to this, it’s a new question.

Your dialogue is so distinct.  We even hear it in some of the Avengers spots, like “You’ve got an army.  You’ve got a Hulk.”  How did you apply that sensibility to the different genres you do?

Joss Whedon: I talk, other people like to talk as I talk. Talking is normal. But it’s a blessing and a curse to have your style recognized. Part of the great things about running a TV show is that you get a bunch of people together who both influence it and can echo and so Drew and I when we write, we speak each other’s language. There’s no like, “Oh that’s clearly Drew. That’s clearly me.” There’s a couple of things that I recognize as clearly coming from one or the other but it’s the same voice.  Ultimately, I don’t want people to hear my voice. I don’t want people to think about what we wrote. I want them to go, “Oh, what’s going to happen to Marty?” You don’t want to distance that that brings but…

Drew Goddard: But we’re still us.

Joss Whedon: Yeah, we are. Every day, I wake up and I look in the mirror and I’m like, “God damn, I’m still not the Coen Brothers.”  I’m not even a brother.

The way the zombie always cocked his head, it made me realize there’s an attention to detail that you’re giving all the characters and all the monsters.

Drew Goddard: The amount of time I spent working on the head cock. You have just totally made my day that you noticed that.  We actually had meetings, where the meeting is ‘Zombie Movement Meeting.’ And when that’s your job and you see that on the schedule, you realize you have a pretty good life.

Could you maybe just tell us how much is left on the adventures to finish it?

Joss Whedon: We’re picture locked. We’re just finishing.  We’re doing sound mix and visual effects.  In about a month, I will actually just push it away from me and die of old age.

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