The Cabin in the Woods Interview

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take part in a roundtable interview with The Cabin in the Woods director and co-writer Drew Goddard and actor Jesse Williams, who plays Holden in the film. The Cabin in the Woods is a fantastic film, so it was great to be able to discuss it with Drew and Jesse.  Given the nature of the film, some of what was discussed contains spoilers. This part is safe for all to read, while next week’s part will contain some spoilers.

Drew, could you give us a summary of how The Cabin in the Woods ended up on screen, and how you ended up in the driver’s seat?

DG: I wrote Cabin in the Woods with my partner in crime Joss Whedon, I sort of started my career working for him on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We had honed our technique of working together over those years. We just enjoyed working together, so after those shows went away we were just calling each other saying “let’s find something else to do”. We thought doing a feature would be the easiest thing to do for us, just in terms of our lives. So we started kicking around ideas of what we wanted to do, and we just love horror movies, and we love cabin movies in particular. He had this spark, this initial idea for Cabin with this upstairs, downstairs quality of it. As soon as I heard it, I went “oh yeah, that’s great let’s do that”. We just started meeting, and over the course of about five months we fleshed out the story, and once we had that we said, “alright, let’s write this”. We’ve learnt with Buffy that we never had much time to write because we were always behind schedule and we’d have to write scripts over the weekend constantly. But there’s a real energy that comes about when you do that. We wanted that energy, so we said let’s lock ourselves in a hotel, and we’re not allowed to leave the room until we’ve got a script done. It was very much an experiment, but it worked. We found this nice hotel and just kept writing, from like 7am to 2am everyday, round the clock, passing pages back and forth. And in the end we had Cabin. We sensed we’d written it, but it was every much what it was. It was very much a labour of love; just two guys trying to entertain each other.

Do you think this film will have the same impact on cabin films as say Scream did on slashers, do you think this will be the film that other films will be referenced and compared to?

DG: I don’t know, I try not to worry too much about how it will be perceived in the pantheon. We just tried to make the best movie we could. The rest of that is for other people to decide.

JW: I think it’s hard to say right now, I mean it hasn’t even come out yet. We’ve seen it in a couple of theatres with people in it. Sure, that’s going to be a by-product, if it makes an impact, that people will make reference to it, so therefore it will have a lasting effect. We’ll start with one, and see if the math continues down that road.

How would you guys describe the film to somebody in a non-spoilery way?

DG: I would just talk about the genre itself, and how this is our love letter to the genre. It is very much about making the ultimate horror film, or at least what we knew how to do. We just love that horror experience. This came about because we love sitting in the theatre, and feeling that energy when you’ve got the type of horror film that’s fun. And you’re screaming as much as you’re laughing, and when you’re sort of doing both. That can only happen in certain types of films, and we very much wanted Cabin to be that. It’s tough, because we can honestly say that the less you know about Cabin the more fun you are going to have, but you also want to tell people that it is worth their time. So it is finding that balance. Luckily, one of the things that has been nice is that we’ve noticed that people who see the movie understand, and they sort of know what not to do. They sort of do that without us having to ask. I think it’s true of most people,  I think most people don’t like being spoiled, and want to spoil, they just want to talk about the things that excite them. I think that is true of not just this movie but of all movies. I feel like we are definitely seeing that happen here, which is refreshing.

JW:  Yeah, and I think also, the word spoiler is kinda lost, its meaning is kind of amorphous, some people mean it “don’t spoil the ending of some sitcom” it doesn’t even matter, it’s like little pieces to a story where they’re not deal-breakers. Whereas this I feel that people who’ve seen it are coming out and saying “we don’t wanna not spoil it for the sake of the director or the writer or the actor, we’re not gonna spoil it for the audience, we want you to have the best experience possible” and just throw back to before twitter and the information age when everything was just fun to show off, to flex how much information you had ahead of time. Not “Oh, I got to see it before you, and now I’m gonna f**k it up for you.” It’s just a little muscle flex, and that’s not what this is about, you see that  people wanna… Less is more. The first thing about The Cabin In The Woods is don’t talk about The Cabin In The Woods!

How do you feel about the casting, as you’ve ended up with a doctor and Thor?

DG: Its nice to be proven right, as definitely at the time, we had the future of Hollywood in our cast. It’s nice to see that come to fruition before we even came out.

JW: You had that spec script, “Dr. Thor”.

DG: We couldn’t get that made, so we made Cabin. It’s nice and gratifying, it’s what you always want for your actors. You always want them to do even better than before they  met you. It’s nice to feel justified.

Was using the Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer actors again a nod to the fans?

DG: Not really, it’s just because we love those actors and we wanted to use them. Joss has always… this energy he has created, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like you’re getting your friends together and having a party and just sort of “let’s put on a show”. That’s the energy we like to feel, we like to feel that we’re this roving band of misfits, we just pick and pull and mix and match as we go, and I hope we keep this energy going forward.

Drew, with you directing for the first time, did you find there was a big change in perspective from writing and producing?

DG: Well, I certainly can’t blame the director anymore when things go wrong, which was the hardest part. Luckily I was really fortunate in my career to work for people like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams who very much have a feature mentality to the television shows they’re working on, and they’re very much empowering the writers, and writing in general. Television is a writer’s medium. I was very comfortable doing things like talking to actors and working with guts and looking at budgets and all of those things but there is something rather harrowing about stepping on set the first day and realising there’s no one else to turn to, that all eyes are looking at you. And that takes a lot of getting used to, but there’s also good in that, it’s nice when you realise you’re in charge.

The release date of The Cabin In The Woods seemed to change frequently. How was it on your side?

DG: It was definitely frustrating but I was just concerned about protecting the film. Every time there’s new management, you’re never sure what’s going to happen. Very early on the other studios, they started screening their products. Because what happens when something goes bankrupt, they screen their assets and other people buy them. That’s why it took so long for The Hobbit and James Bond, they were all dropping with us as well. We were in good company, it felt like. The studios saw the film and started loving it and there was a bidding war, and Lionsgate called me, said ‘we love the movie, we’re gonna do everything we can to get it, we’re not gonna change a frame’, and once I knew that, it just became a matter of the red tape getting untangled, and that was fine. There’s worse things in life than having your film come out slightly later than you thought it would. Joss and I joke, but it’s been the best thing that could possibly have happened to us, we love Lionsgate, they’re wonderful to work with, our actors have gone on to become stars. Be careful what you worry about, because it ends up working out fine.

Read the second part of the interview next week. The Cabin in the Woods is released in cinemas on 13th April 2012.

All I Want for Christmas… Part 2

Part 2 of my home video picks. These Blu-rays and DVDs are all released in time to be bought for Christmas presents. There are plenty of DVDs angling for stocking space, but these are three of the better ones.

Super 8

One of my favourite films of the year, Super 8 is a must see for fans of Spielberg’s 1980s blockbusters. Directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, the film a group of teenagers shooting a movie who witness a terrifying crash. Super 8 pays homage to Spielberg’s classic sci-fi/adventure films, mixing nostalgia with pure entertainment. Rated 12, the film should be enjoyed by teens as well as adults who remember the films Super 8 pays homage to. The film is out on Triple Play Blu-Ray and DVD today. The DVD features a commentary plus two featurettes, while the Blu-Ray features a host of extras.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

Along with Super 8, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stood out among this summer’s blockbusters. Many were dubious about the film, a prequel to the science-fiction classic Planet of the Apes. However, director Rupert Wyatt delivered an unexpectedly good blockbuster, which offered a sound narrative as well as impressive special effects. Released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will surely be a welcome gift for anyone who enjoyed the film this summer. The DVD features deleted scenes, whilst the Blu-ray offers a number of featurettes, as well as audio commentaries.

Horrible Bosses

One for older viewers, the 15-rated Horrible Bosses is out on DVD and Triple Play Blu-Ray now. 2011 has not exactly been a vintage year for Hollywood comedy, but Horrible Bosses stands out as one of the better ones. Featuring a stellar cast, the film is about three disgruntled employees who plot to murder their bosses. There are some great jokes, although the film is worth watching for Jennifer Aniston’s star turn alone. The Blu-Ray offers some great extras including interviews with the cast, featurettes and additional scenes.

Film Review: Super 8

Super 8 is the best blockbuster of the year so far. J.J. Abrams homage to producer Steven Spielberg is utterly charming.

Charles enlists the help of his friends, including Joe Lamb, to shoot a short movie. Hoping to enter the film into a competition, Charles seeks production values. Shooting a scene at night, the young teens witness a terrifying train crash. Following this, mysterious incidents take place in the town, as Joe and friends try to investigate what has occurred…

Super 8 is a fantastically well constructed film. Like the best blockbuster movies, Abram’s film effectively combines action-adventure, comedy and science fiction. These elements work well together; Super 8 has the ability to shift between comedy and tension seamlessly.

The film displays some sentimentalism. This is not particularly surprising, given Spielberg’s involvement. Moreover, these moments are well executed and are in keeping with the overall feel of the film. The sentimentalism never really veers into cheese territory.

The sense of mystery works well in Super 8. The contents of the train is not revealed initially, leading the main characters and the viewers to question the army’s involvement as well as the strange occurrences. It is a significant way into the film before more details are revealed, which keeps viewers guessing as to if or how the supernatural comes into play.

The influence of Spielberg’s films from the 1970s and 1980s is made very apparent in Super 8. The mystery over the cause of events is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The camaraderie of the group of kids harks back to E.T. and the Spielberg-produced The Goonies. The references are visual as well as thematic, with the running in the train crash sequence harking back to an infamous Raiders of the Lost Ark scene. Furthermore, the references to George A. Romero are a nice touch. Abrams pays homage to his influences in the best possible way; overtly and slightly in awe, but blended seamlessly into the action.

The effects used in the film are first rate. Super 8 has a polished overall look, again harking back to Spielberg’s earlier blockbusters. The sound is suitably consuming. Michael Giacchino’s score is apt, although a section sounds very similar to Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas theme.

The comedy in the film is effective thanks to Abrams’ script and the very natural interaction of the young teens. Performances are great all round, with Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Riley Griffiths standing out in particular. Kyle Chandler, meanwhile, looks every inch the late-1970s dad as Jackson Lamb.

Abrams’ film is highly recommended, and will likely be remembered as one of the year’s best movies. Super 8 is simply a delight.