Drew Goddard isn’t on Twitter for a reason. The screenwriter, director and producer typically traffics in crowd-pleasing fare, including an early stint on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” making his directorial debut with the instant cult classic “Cabin in the Woods” and crafting Netflix’s original “Daredevil” series, but that doesn’t mean he’s keen to hear instant feedback from fans (or non-fans, as the case may be). For Goddard, being able to work without outside influence is essential, and he’s far more compelled to follow his own interests — mercurial as they’ve proven to be over the course of his career — when it’s time to pick projects.
Goddard’s latest, the Ridley Scott-directed “The Martian,” is no different. Originally planned as a directorial outing for the multi-hyphenate, Goddard eventually ceded directorial duties to Scott when he signed on to make Marvel’s “Sinister Six,” which is currently in a set of developmental limbo (the bad-guy team-up movie was another one of those projects that Goddard loved so much that he couldn’t ignore it). Still, Goddard doesn’t seem at all dismayed that the Matt Damon-starring “Martian” — which sees the actor starring as a Mars-marooned astronaut — became a Scott joint, and his passion for his script and the Andy Weir e-book that it’s adapted from is very apparent.
Fresh off the film’s premieres at both TIFF and NYFF, Goddard sat down with Indiewire in the bar of his New York City hotel to talk about why he thinks scientists are funny, how he refuses to feel constrained by the perceived limitations of adaptations and why his mom needs to turn off her Google Alerts right now.
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Oh, what was it?
There’s liquid water on Mars.
Oh! That’s exciting!
But of course everyone on Twitter is guessing that it’s somehow viral marketing for “The Martian.”
[Laughs] We should be so lucky.
How into the science of “The Martian” did you get?
It’s in the book. I mean, Weir really, really went deep. I got into it in the sense that I love reading the book [laughs] and I do love science. I, by no means, consider myself an expert, but I love talking to experts. So a lot of it is just A) trusting Andy, B) talking to Andy, and then talking to scientists, making sure it all makes sense.
Andy Weir really did his research when it comes to that element of the story.
For sure. And he did it over the course of three years, chapter by chapter, so there was a crowdsourcing element to it. He would write something and, if it was wrong, he would have all these people who would help him, which is great. It’s a good story, Andy’s story.
Who else did you talk to in the science world in preparation for writing this script?
Andy was by far my number one resource, because he really knows this. And then I went to JPL, the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and some of the stuff I learned there made it into the movie, and then once I had the script done we sent it to NASA and they weighed in, and NASA was very much involved in the production side of it, making sure it all looked and felt accurate, or as accurate as we could make it.
How involved was Andy when it came down to actual scripting?
It’s funny, because I had a talk with him at the very beginning where I said, “Listen, I love this book. I love it. I don’t really want to change much. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions because that’s the nature of adaptation,” and I said, “that part can be painful for a writer. I know, I’m a writer.” So I’m like, “Let me go away, let me struggle with it, let me argue with all the other people involved and you don’t want to hear that part. Then I’m going to bring you the script and if there’s anything you don’t like, we’ll fix. Just trust that this is all coming from a place of love and protection.”
It was really important to me to protect him, because he’s so sweet [laughs]. He’s really nice, and you don’t want the nice people to get taken advantage of. That’s why I tried to be really honest with him. But the good news is, and I said to him, “The plot has a great structure.” As a screenwriter, that’s what you look to the most. You’re looking for structure. And so I didn’t have to do a ton, it was more about protecting it.
Did he like your first pass on the script?
Yeah. Believe me, I was really nervous. Both with the first pass of the script and the first cut of the movie when he saw it. I just wanted him to like it, this is his vision. But he was incredibly excited and really sweet about it which was nice.
Speaking of the different cuts of the film, it’s been reported that there were three different cuts of the film that were shown to audiences, is that true?
Yeah, I mean I don’t think we had something called “the funny cut” or “the serious cut,” it was always just the way all movies are. You try things, you step back, you say, “Oh, that didn’t work” or “that worked in a way we didn’t even think of that’s exciting, let’s leave that part in.” It’s just what you do, it certainly wasn’t different from any other movie I’ve worked on in that regard. But finding that balance between comedy and drama was tricky, and so you sort of play with it.
Andy’s book is also a blend of drama and science and humor. How did you translate that to your script?
I think it’s what attracts me to various projects, I like comedy and drama at the same time, I just do. You know, if you look at “Buffy,” you just always talk about it. People say, “How do you do comedy and drama at the same time?” Because that’s what life is, everyone, shut up. Just let us do this. [laughs]
When I read the book, I think it was exciting to me because I haven’t seen this, or you don’t get to see this a lot in science fiction where it’s tense and comedic at the same time, it’s usually one or the other, or you’re really skewing to comedy, and I felt like that felt more real to me, it felt more like scientists. Because I grew up around scientists and they’re funny. They’re just funny people. That’s just how it tends to be. There also may be something to the deadpan quality of science, like I always talk about how I think scientists alone kept Gary Larson in business in the ‘80s with “The Far Side” cartoons, because it’s that kind of comedy that I just saw over and over with scientists that I never saw on the screen, and when I saw Andy’s book, I just said, “Oh, yeah this is how that sounded.”
Are your parents scientists?
They’re not actually, my dad’s a doctor, my mom’s a teacher. But I grew up in Los Alamos, which is a town only made up of rocket scientists and the people who service the rocket scientists, like my parents. So I just liked the way they sounded, and when I read Andy’s book, I said, “Oh, this is my experience.”
When they started casting this film, you must have been pretty happy.
It was pretty great, I mean this wasn’t an easy movie to get made. In hindsight, everyone looks very smart, but at the time we were scared. It was an e-book, it was a book being published by a guy on a blog, and we had to go to Fox and say, “Yeah, we don’t want to change it either.”
It’s a movie about a man by himself farming in his own shit. That’s what it is. And plot points are going to be about ASCII tables, and it’s going to be dense, and we still want to do it. And I said, “Let me tell you about all the reasons you’re going to be scared of this,” and I did, because I don’t want to hear about it later a year from now when I turn in the script and they’ll say, “Well, Mars doesn’t test well.” And you’ll go, “We could’ve talked about that a year ago!” And then I said, “Well, here’s the good news, I think we’re going to get a great cast, because every part in the book is awesome.”
They’re just great, everyone needs to be really smart and everyone gets a great role, everybody has that moment, and that’s what you look for. And so I knew we were going to attract talent. Did I know we were going to attract this much talent? No, that’s the Ridley factor. When you get Ridley Scott…the rising tide carries all boats when it’s Ridley Scott. So it’s a credit to him but yeah, I look at this cast and I think, “How the fuck did we get all these people? That’s awesome.”
From the top down, this cast is great. Obviously Matt Damon, but then to someone like Mackenzie Davis, who really brings her own spark to all of her projects.
I know, and it’s Ridley. He’s really good at finding actors. He really is. It’s one of the things I don’t think he gets enough credit for, but if you look at his body of work and you look at the performances he’s gotten out of actors, I mean it’s pretty remarkable. And he’s not afraid to be bold. Sigourney Weaver was at least sixth on the call sheet on “Alien.” They may have put the alien above her. But she is the tour-de-force of the movie. He’s really good at finding these people.
You’ve taken on a lot of adaptations in your career, but there is a large range to them. What attracts you to these kinds of projects?
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 ten 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.
But that’s the thing about “The Martian,” I was haunted by it. And I was like, “Alright, well I guess I’m going to do this because I can’t stop thinking about it.” That’s what you’re looking for.
Do you ever feel confined by the constraints of an adaption? Something like your work with Marvel, there’s an entire universe you need to fit inside of.
Yeah, you sort of know, like, that’s the gig. But again, it’s not like I’m being tasked to go do something I’ve never heard of and it’s like, “Okay, go do your best.” I fucking love Daredevil. That’s it, I love Daredevil. And so it doesn’t feel like a constraint because that’s what I loved as a kid, so you show up and you go, “I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna do the thing that I love,” and then you trace that.
Your love is going to lead you to the right places, you’re not going to change everything just for the sake of changing everything, you actually love it. That’s the thing, I try really hard not to be cynical, I don’t take jobs on the superheroes I don’t like. There’s superheroes I don’t like, I don’t take those jobs. [laughs] Then you would get in trouble, then you would really feel constrained.
Speaking of “Daredevil,” there was a lot of chatter that you weren’t staying on as showrunner for the second season, and then everyone seemed surprised that you are still involved.
I guess that’s because no one asked. [laughs] Yeah, that was always the plan. The plan was I wasn’t going to be the showrunner forever.
We all knew that going in, like okay I’m going to be directing stuff, I’m here, I want to be helpful. But the showrunner stuff, it’s an eighteen hour a day job. You can’t do both. And so the good news is, I got to hire my friends, guys I love. Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez are running it now. I just asked them, “When do you need help, what do you need?” I’m a big believer that television has to be run with a clear chain of command. It just does.
It doesn’t work [without it], it leads to bad product. And I’ve always sort of felt that way. So it’s been great, because I can just be helpful. That’s the position I love most. I don’t like going in and being the bad guy, I like being the fun uncle. [laughs]
It’s interesting that you say nobody asked, because when it comes to a lot of the stuff that you do, especially when it comes to superhero properties, there’s always a lot of chatter about it online. Do you ignore that stuff?
I just don’t think about it. I’m not on Twitter, I don’t have an online…because I find that it leads me to do a bad job if I pay attention to it. Because you just hear it in the back of your head, and you worry about it, and that gets you in trouble. So I just don’t worry about it.
It’s annoying at times, because sometimes my mom will read stuff and say, “Why didn’t you tell me this?” and I’ll just say, “Mom, it’s not true. Turn off your Google Alert, Mom.” [laughs] Please turn it off.
It’s tricky, because I actually find the positive things to be as damaging as the negative things, because you start to chase them. You start to be like, “Oh, did you like this? Let me do this again,” and then you’re not trusting your story gut, you’re not trusting your sense of what you want to see. Especially with movies, TV can be a little more problematic. With movies, by the time anyone sees it, it’s done, in general. There’s exceptions, but you can only change it so much. It’s not like you’re going to reinvent “Cabin in the Woods.” There’s no other version of that movie where we changed it substantially, so by that time you’re like, “Well, you guys either like it or you don’t, but we’re on to the next thing.” [laughs]
Is your next thing still “Sinister Six”?
I don’t know. No, I mean it’s been pushed, I mean to when or if, I don’t know. It’s not happening any time soon. So we’ll worry about it if that day comes. They’ve got my number. They know where to find me. [laughs]
“The Martian” opens in theaters this Friday, October 2.