The self-aware horror flick Cabin in the Woods' pulls its influences from some strange places, including classic horror movies. The biggest influence, though? Los Alamos, the government-created town that birthed the Atom Bomb. Find out why, in our exclusive interview with the flick's co-writer and director, Drew Goddard.
Minor spoilers ahead...
How long have you been working on Cabin in the Woods?
Drew Goddard: I think I was a toddler when we started. No, I think we started when we were shooting Cloverfield. I want to say 2009 or 2008. Whenever Cloverfield was being shot. So a few years, three, four years.
Where did the idea for Cabin in the Woods come from?
It was originally a Joss Whedon idea. We had been looking for something to write together. We had been brainstorming ideas, and he said, "I've been thinking about this idea it's called 'The Cabin in the Woods' and he had already sort of figured out the upstairs, downstairs quality to it. And as soon as I heard it I said "Oh that sounds fantastic, let's talk about that." Then we just spent several months talking about Cabin movies, and our favorite horror movies and if we could make any cabin movie we want to do and what would we want to put in it. Through those discussions we fleshed it out, and Cabin was born.
Was Hollywood receptive to the screenplay? It seems like on the surface this would be a hard sell because it's not based off a toy or a board game?
Exactly, and we sort of knew that going in. And so we did our best to sort of help the studio see what we were doing. So we didn't pitch it anywhere, we wrote the script first, and that really helped our cause. It's a hard movie to sum up in one sentence. You need to see the whole thing. We wrote the whole movie, and we did our budget for the whole movie. We made the package so the studios could see our vision. We knew it was going to be a tricky sell, as opposed to a one sentence board game, which was sort of the flavor of the month. And to the studio's credit, once we did that, there was a bit of a bidding war for the property. And the studios got it, and I don't think they would have had we not done the work ahead of time.
So what's harder to get made a big monster movie or a slasher flick?
All movies are hard to get made in general, but the thing that helped us the most with both of those was that we just keep the budgets really low. That was the trick with Cloverfield, it's a 100 million dollar movie that we made for under 25 million dollars. When you keep the budgets low, the studios are more receptive to your cause. You just have to find creative ways to do that, that's the challenge.
What did you learn from Cloverfield that you applied to Cabin in the Woods?
The same thing — if you're responsible for your costs, they'll let you be creative and take chances. Studios love movies, they just need to minimize their risk. And we sort of understand that as business people. We can say, "Look our side of the deal is to keep the costs down, but if we can do that your side of the deal is to trust us so we can do something a little bit more interesting. We try to just do business with studios that understand that, and luckily most studios do. So far everyone has been incredibly supportive.
Let's talk about the "Buffy Voice" which you understand because you've worked on so many projects with Joss. Cabin really felt like a very "special" episode of Buffy or Angel, helped by the fact that there are Buffy alums cast in it. What does that mean to you when people describe it as such?
I always take that as the highest compliment. The reason Joss and I got along so well, so early, is that our voices are very similar. It's just what we like to do, we have a very similar aesthetic. I was always at my happiest in my life when I was writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Part of the reason Cabin happened is that Joss and I really just enjoyed working together. I missed it so much I was constantly bothering him saying, "Let's work together again," because the time I spent working on Angel and Buffy was thehappiest in my career and the proudest work I've done. I wanted to get back to that spirit. And so Cabin was very much in that spirit.
I noticed all of the gadgets and gizmos you see being manipulated in the movie by the ominous bad guys were all old. They looked like buttons and dials from the 70s or the 60s. What sort of time period were you channeling in the design?
I definitely made an effort to make it feel anachronistic. So that you didn't know it's not even clear what time period it's set. I guess they mention GPS at one point, so when GPS was around that's the earliest it could have been. But I didn't want this to feel like "oh this is a movie about this time." It's more a movie about an idea, rather than a place. It was important to me to not feel time-specific.
What was important to you to portray with this secret big bad?
So much of it was influenced by my hometown I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Which is known for giving the world the Atomic Bomb. The whole town exists because it's a government lab that designs weapons. And that's the only reason the town exists. That just felt like the world of Cabin in the Woods for me. It inspired all of the design, I just handed manuals of what Los Alamos looked like in the 1950s to my production designer. We even studied the costumes. I just keep coming back to where I grew up, watching these decent kind suburban men go to work, every day making these weapons of mass destruction. And I wanted to explore that more. It's a strange town, it's a very strange town to grow up in… I can't escape its influence and I'll probably be influenced by Los Alamos for the rest of my life.
Can you talk about getting Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford — did they change the film at all?
Absolutely, when you start you have your dream list and these two were on the top of our dream list of casting. I think early on, I think maybe the studio thought of us as this fringe project. And once Richard and Bradley got on board, everyone sat up a little straighter. God bless Richard and Bradley, they read the script and just immediately said that they were in. It gave notice that "These guys are serious, and they're making it with serious actors." It helped to energize the production. It was so exciting to get those guys on set. When I heard they were on, I knew we had a movie. I can't imagine this film without them. I remember before we sent the script out, I remember saying in a studio meeting around a boardroom table of scary people in suits that, "If Bradley Whitford doesn't want to do this movie, I don't want to do this movie." [Laughs] Luckily, Bradley said yes.