6 Filmmaking Tips From Drew Goddard

The Oscar-nominated connection between 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Daredevil,' and 'The Good Place' has a few words of filmmaking wisdom to share.

Drew Goddard And Joss Whedon
Lionsgate

Drew Goddard has serious geek cred. After getting his start (following the usual entry-level PA stint, of course) writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he went to the Bad Robot side and wrote for both Alias and Lost before making his feature screenwriting debut with the hugely successful Cloverfield, which grossed $170 million against a $25 million budget. Goddard then re-teamed with Joss Whedon for his 2012 directorial debut, The Cabin in the Woods, another critical and commercial success.

His sophomore effort, Bad Times at the El Royale, may only be coming out now in 2018, but that doesn’t mean that Goddard’s been idle in the interim. In addition to creating the Daredevil Netflix series and serving as an executive producer and director for The Good Place, Goddard co-wrote the zombie apocalypse adaptation World War Z and picked up an Oscar nomination in 2015 for writing the screenplay for The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s space survival novel.

As one would expect, Goddard’s learned a great deal along the way. Here are six of his best tips:

Work Hard and Make Stuff

While in Minneapolis for a promotional screening of The Cabin in the Woods in April 2012, Goddard spoke with FilmMisery.com about his career path and was asked that age-old “what advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?” question. He offered two answers. The first was to “write what you love,” and the second was slightly more extensive:

“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 five o’clock 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.”

The Martian Making

Behind the scenes of ‘The Martian.’

Mistakes Can Lead to Your Best Moments

In February 2016 leading up to the Oscars, The Hollywood Reporter asked the screenwriters of all 10 original and adapted screenplay nominees to discuss their favorite scenes from their films. Goddard’s discussion of his chosen moment from The Martian features some memorable screenwriting wisdom, courtesy of an exchange between him and The Martian author Andy Weir:
“One of my favorite aspects of screenwriting is that mistakes can often lead to your best moments. I had been struggling with a scene toward the end of the film, and it kept feeling flat. I finally showed the scene to Andy Weir, and he caught a technical mistake I made: I had used the word ‘fast’ to describe space travel, and a physicist would never use that word. A lightbulb went off in my head. ‘Let’s put that mistake in the movie.’ It’s one of my favorite scenes. And it’s all because I screwed up.”

Great Adaptations Walk a Fine Line

Goddard did a slew of press following his Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for The Martian. As would be expected, questions about his take on the adaptation process were quite common. Here’s what he had to say to The Hollywood Reporter:

“The way I approach adaptation is, I try never to say yes to anything I don’t love because if I love it, I will protect it. And then once I know that, the second rule is: My job is not to protect the book — my job is to make the best movie. Those two things sort of are at odds with one another. But I don’t like watching movies that are just transcriptions of a book; it’s a great way to make a mediocre movie.”

Cabin In The Woods

‘Cabin in the Woods’

Archetypal Characters Still Need to Be People

With the satirical horror movie The Cabin in the Woods, Goddard caught on to the meta trend in 2012, approximately a split second before everybody was doing it. When speaking with Film Journal International in April 2012, he brought up the particular importance of getting casting right when working with such archetype-heavy material:

“We saw hundreds of people for the kids, and a lot of them came in and just played the archetypes; obviously, ‘Cabin’ is dealing in archetypes, but we were looking for people who’d play against them. I told them, I can make you into an archetype, just by the way you’re dressed. But you have to be a person, and the people we cast all got that.”

Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself (Your Tastes Will Change)

Speaking with IndieWire in 2015 about The Martian and his career on the whole, Goddard was asked about his gravitation towards adaptations, and the range of projects he’s worked on. Here’s his response:

“What I’ve learned is, don’t pigeonhole yourself into anything, and know that your taste is going to change as you get older. It’s just going to change. What I like today is not necessarily what I liked 10 years ago, and be okay with that, and just try to trust that when you read something or think of something you’re either haunted by it or you’re not. It’s that simple. If you’re not, don’t do it. I’ve had to learn that, sometimes the hard way.”

Bad Times At The El Royale

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

People Need to Care

Discussing his career with the LA Times in October 2015, interviewer Meredith Woerner commented that most of Goddard’s characters, particularly in recent projects, were motivated by smaller stakes than the sci-fi/action/adventure “save the world” norm—Mark Watney wants to make it home in The Martian, Matt Murdock of Daredevil wants to keep his identity a secret. Goddard agreed, mentioning that he had “a couple of rants” towards that end. When Woerner asked him to elaborate, he had the following to say:

“I get called in a lot to offer my opinion on scripts and rewriting and things like that. Ninety-five percent of the time, the note is, ‘We don’t understand the villain’s plan and we don’t understand the stakes.’ The thing I say is, ‘I don’t care.’ They laugh, and I go, ‘I’m not kidding. Let me tell you why you shouldn’t hire me to do this job: because I don’t care. The things that you think you care about, I don’t care about. I would never care about it in a movie. You want the bad guy; I want to understand the bad guy’s emotions. I want to understand where he’s coming from. I don’t care how well thought-out his plan is, and I don’t really care if the world’s going to get destroyed, because I don’t relate to that at all.’ I can relate to a guy just needs water. Even if I’ve never been a superhero, I can relate to a guy who wants to keep his corner clean.”

What We Learned

In going from a self-proclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan to writing for the series, the start of Drew Goddard’s screenwriting career sounds like the “dreams come true” stuff of a Hollywood film. But while the man himself will attest that a fair amount of luck is involved, making it in the movies requires both working hard and working smart. And then, as Goddard’s story demonstrates, when that stroke of luck does finally hit, wonderful things can happen.

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