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FireflyFirefly - "Serenity" Movie - Suicidegirls.com Interview - Spoilers
By Daniel Robert Epstein
Sunday 2 October 2005, by Webmaster
Genre fans, rejoice! Joss Whedon has finally directed for the big screen and he’s bringing some of his TV pals along with him. His television series Firefly was cancelled before it’s time by the FOX network and now the company that’s owns NBC, Universal Studios, is continuing the adventures of Captain Mal Reynolds and his band of outlaws in the movie, Serenity.
Whedon has all the elements that made his television works great, such as hot asskicking females, humor with a sly wink and well thought out scripts but now it’s backed by a $40 million budget.
Check out the official site for Serenity
Daniel Robert Epstein: Before this all got started, someone at Universal sat down and figured out that if Serenity makes this certain amount of money and they sell this many DVDs according to how the Firefly DVDs sold they should give you a certain budget. Are you privy to that kind of information?
Joss Whedon: I’m privy to the essentials. Ultimately how good the DVDs sold certainly helped. But nobody ever said to me “Ok we need a number on the DVDs before we greenlight the movie.’’ I was already into the script, I was giving it to them, the timing was fortuitous and if nobody had bought the DVDs they might well have gone, “Well gee I don’t know.” At the same time, everybody knew that nobody saw the show so we didn’t really know what a big fanbase there was.
I don’t think Universal gets enough credit. People assume they decided to do it after the DVD sales. But they’d been in it for almost a year before that. Based on the shows, the cast and the world they said “Yeah there’s a movie in there.”
DRE: One can’t be as successful as you have been without being able to navigate through the business side of things, how much does that impact what you are doing?
JW: We knew that this movie was going to be made for a certain budget and we had a pretty good idea what that budget was going be. It was not going to include giant star salaries but it was not going to be a tentpole movie budget. Now I’ll write something where the universe explodes and turns into a butterfly but at the end of the day I’ll pick my battles. In the case of Serenity, I had to literally pick my battles because I could only afford to film one or two of them and tailor it to whatever I can get. I like the parameters. If it’s $100 million, $50 million, $2 million or if it’s a $100,000 I’m telling you the same basic story. I’m talking about people and it’s just how grand can I make it. So we came to a budget based on the script that was smaller by Universal standards but bigger by mine. Then it was all about being extremely responsible with that money. To make sure it showed up on the screen and making sure I didn’t spend anything I didn’t have. Every season, of every show that I did, and that’s 12 and a half seasons, came in under budget.
JW: And sometimes those were some expensive looking shows. I believe in being responsible with other people’s money. When you do that, it gives the studio an enormous amount of confidence and it gives you a little leeway in case the unexpected happens, which it always does. So yeah, I think about money, but I think about it like a producer and not like an executive.
DRE: In Serenity, watching the outerspace battle scenes in and even watching the hand to hand combat scenes I felt it all had kind of an anti-Star Wars feel to it. I don’t mean an anti-Star Wars feel in a negative way but it just didn’t look like World War II dogfighting and you had a lot of interesting angles in the hand to hand combat fight scenes. Was that conscious?
JW: It was basically the same directive that I had for the entire movie. Which was make it kinetic, make it lived in, make it gritty, and unkempt and real. That’s what I thought was missing from sci-fi. In movies and TV everything had gotten so CGI, distant, purposeful and grand. I felt that life in space isn’t going to be that much different than life here. So the action and the rest of the scenes are all done deliberately to be more haphazard. Not studied in a Star Wars isn’t this beautiful and perfect and not studied in a Matrix, here comes the slow mo jump over the head way.
DRE: How much did working with [frequent Clint Eastwood cinematographer] Jack Green and his crew help you up your game?
JW: Jack doubled my game. Jack’s nuts. He is not only just wildly talented, gives you a very lived in feel, he lights things very organically but he is also the fastest guy in the west. He doesn’t need 13 lights to show how it’s going to look. He can take two lights and know what the film will see them as. He moves faster than a lot of TV guys that I’ve worked with. That means we get to shoot and shoot and shoot. I get to work on performance and I’m putting everything we have up on screen because Jack makes it happen so fast.
DRE: That’s pretty amazing. From reading American Cinematographer I knew he was fast but I didn’t think he was that fast.
JW: Yeah, I didn’t either. But we did 33 setups in one day and the average in TV is probably 25. One of the actors said, “Explain how this is different from TV please.”
DRE: In the past when you were a working screenwriter some of your scripts were ripped apart in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. Even though you’ve directed plenty of television you’ve now directed a feature film, did it make you make you understand why those directors and producers might have been so harsh on your screenplays?
JW: After Alien Resurrection I did put my foot down and literally said “The next person who ruins one of my scripts is going to be me.” Then you get into it as a director and you realize “Oh I actually missed something that I wrote.” I missed it even though I wrote it, like this stage direction or this nuance or I didn’t bring enough energy in this scene and you want to club yourself so you can only imagine what it’s like for people who aren’t you.
DRE: You more than anyone understand about having a rabid fanbase. I think the example I’m going for here is like when John Travolta will go on Oprah and the entire audience will freak out and go nuts. But then no one will go see the movie he’s promoting. Does that make you realize that even a rabid fanbase can be fickle?
JW: I think ultimately the difference is that what my fanbase is responding to is the work itself. John Travolta fans are responding to his persona and his fame but not necessarily the character that he’s playing. When he lands a good project that’s great but they’re rabid for a different reason. For me they’re responding to the fiction. It has nothing to do with me. People don’t yell when they see me. I’m not sexy. I mean I’m wicked sexy, but only if you’re well, me. It doesn’t mean they’ll all rush out to see the movie or that they’ll all love the movie because they love my other work. It does mean that when my fanbase gets rabid it’s not about “Oh my God I saw him walk down the street” it’s about “There’s a story that I love hearing and seeing.”
DRE: Were the big changes that happen in the movie Serenity there when you first came up with the concept?
JW: Some of the plot devices are basically boiled down from where the series was heading. Then obviously there are some changes and there’s a toll on the characters that is tougher, bigger, harder, grittier and more final than it would be for a series, because when you’re writing a movie, there is no second movie. There can be sometimes but if you start writing for them you water yourself down. You have to assume that this is the only statement you’re ever going to make with these characters.
Not everything that came from the series is wrapped up in the movie. But the major parts that the series was headed for are dealt with. I had to make the movie absolutely self-contained so that you didn’t need to see the series. But this is what I wanted to say with it, just wider.
DRE: With the makeup effects how was it working with KNB on the movie as opposed to Almost Human on the series?
JW: Oh we never really established what the Reavers looked like exactly. KNB were great and Almost Human did some amazing stuff for me. The truth is, there was a snafu about that whole hiring thing so Almost Human never really got a chance to present. But KNB came in, did really solid stuff and gave us some fine looking Reavers.
DRE: When it comes down to actually coming up with what the Reavers actually looked like, did you describe it to an artist or can you draw?
JW: I draw minimally but I describe maximally. I leave some space for the artists to see what they come up with. One of the artists that I had working was [Swamp Thing co-creator] Bernie Wrightson. I saw the drawings and I was like, “Jesus, this guy sure likes Bernie Wrightson a lot.” They said “Yeah, that’s because he is Bernie Wrightson.” I’m like, “No way you got him!” But they did and he did some concept drawings for Reavers, which was really cool.
DRE: Did you use any other comic book creators?
JW: I got some comic book guys, Leinil Yu and Josh Middleton to do some ship and wardrobe designs but not for the Reavers.
DRE: What kind of discussions did you have with Summer Glau about her character of River because she is the one that is the most different from the series?
JW: River is the one character who never really got to blossom on the series. We were only beginning to figure out who she was so her arc is really central to the movie. Everybody else had kind of presented who they were so we dealt with what we knew already and streamlined certain things. But we did have all of that work done for us already, which made directing a lot easier.
DRE: How was choreographing the fights for Summer different from the fights you had done in the past?
JW: The difference is that Summer did it all herself. With the exception of a couple of wire gags, she did every single thing herself so it made shooting the fights actually fun for the first time in my life. It was like watching a dance so we just kept the camera on her, made sure the hits registered and that was it. Having a lot of prep time and having a girl that could do that much brought it to a new level.
DRE: I saw that a lot of actors in Firefly you had worked with before on your previous series, except Adam Baldwin. I’m a fan of his so what made you think of Adam Baldwin for the role of Jayne Cobb?
JW: He auditioned for it. That’s what Adam Baldwin does, he’s a working actor. He auditioned, got the part and made it unforgettable.
DRE: In the writing stage for Serenity did you pass the script along to people that you’d worked with on the series like Tim Minear and Ben Edlund for notes?
JW: Yeah absolutely. I showed it to Tim and some of the other writers that I’m close with to see what they got out of it. They’re always really helpful.
DRE: How much pressure did you feel while doing this?
JW: It wasn’t really pressure. The studio was extremely supportive. Their fortunes don’t rest upon the success of the film but they’re very invested in it so that’s a good feeling. You want your first film to be, let’s say, not sucky so that pressure will always be there. But ultimately it was about as low pressure a gig as I could hope to get for my first outing.
DRE: Is there going to be an extended cut of Serenity on the DVD?
JW: No we’ll see some deleted scenes but I believe the cut I delivered is the best cut there is. I think everything that I took out of the movie, even stuff that I liked, should have come out.
DRE: What are some of the deleted scenes?
JW: There was a scene of setting up Inara [played by Morena Baccarin] in her world that ultimately slowed down the momentum. What you really needed to know about Inara was that she’s the girl Mal [played by Nathan Fillion] left behind. You know what that dynamic is. They love each other but they can’t get along. I had a long scene of her talking about her life and stuff that would have worked in a series but in a movie it was bogging things down. You’ve got momentum to service.
DRE: I read you were even on the radio in Australia promoting Serenity. Has it been bigger than anything you did with like Buffy for instance?
JW: It’s bigger because it’s smaller. Here’s a movie that doesn’t have a title that explains itself simply. It doesn’t have big stars so you got to do more legwork. You want to get people to give it a shot because I think if they go to the theaters they’re going to have a great time, but if they don’t go into theaters I’ll never know.
DRE: What would you be happy with for the opening weekend?
JW: I can’t give you a numbers exactly. I’m not much of a numbers guy. I would be happy if the people at Universal are happy. Expectations for the opening weekend are not huge. This is a movie that we think depends on word of mouth. What would make me happy would be a small drop-off for the second weekend. The idea that it didn’t just burst and then disappear the way most of the bigger movies do.
DRE: After promoting the movie until the wee hours of Thursday night, what are you going to be doing on Friday?
JW: I’m going to go see it with my wife and some of her family. We’re going to see it and there might be popcorn. I’m not sure.
DRE: You’ve done comic books set in Buffyverse but not with Buffy, do you see doing anything like that with Serenity?
JW: We did do a three issue sort of bridge from the TV show to the movie from Dark Horse in comics and that was really fun. It was well received so I think we’ll definitely go back there. We’re waiting to see the fate of the movie.
DRE: I read about this new movie you want to do called Goner.
JW: It’s called Goners. They got it wrong.
DRE: What can you tell me about it?
JW: Unfortunately, not much more than you read except that there’s an s on the end. It is a fantasy thriller, it is pretty dark and it’s all me. So people will pretty much know what that means if they look at my body of work. But it’s a new universe set in the present day with a new concept for me and a new bunch of characters. It’s been a long time since I got to do that, so that’s really fun.
DRE: With the Wonder Woman movie, do you see dropping the granny panties?
JW: Yeah, don’t worry about that. We’re definitely have a nicer look than that. It will be the Wonder Woman silhouette, but the star spangled adult diapers are gone.
DRE: Since you’re working for Joel Silver, is he going to try and force some Matrix special effects on you?
JW: Wonder Woman is going to have major special effects because she’s Wonder Woman. Joel and I are very much on the same page about how big this movie is and what kind of movie it is. I’m not worried about any conflict there. But with Joel, he wakes up and there’s conflict but it’s the good kind. The kind that makes good movies.
DRE: You have to be a good yeller when it comes to dealing with Joel.
JW: I don’t have to. I don’t yell, I do the other thing. I lower my voice. It’s very scary. You don’t want to be there when I lower my voice.
DRE: Do you have a favorite Wonder Woman era from the comics?
JW: I don’t really have a favorite. [George] Perez did some great work and John Byrne did some cool stuff. I think Greg Rucka is doing some cool stuff now. But ultimately I don’t have one that I can pinpoint as canon. That’s kind of why I like the project.
DRE: Do you have any desire to come back to TV?
JW: I love TV. I’m not sure it loves me so much lately, but I love that format. I want to come back, but I’ve got some movies in me first.
DRE: Why don’t you think it loves you lately?
JW: Well when you have both your shows canceled you go “Maybe they’re kicking me out.”
DRE: How many fantasy stories do you have in you?
JW: Oh my God it just doesn’t stop. I have so many ideas that it’s scary. If I had none it would be scary. But right now it’s just a question of which ones I get to tell.
DRE: Last time we spoke I quizzed you about what’s going on with Ben Edlund, so what’s going on with Ben Edlund right now?
JW: I saw him last night, but I didn’t get the chance to talk to him. So I don’t know but he looks good.
DRE: For your next TV show would you bring as many of your writers back as you could?
JW: Oh yeah. I found some amazing talents when I was working and I miss them a lot. You can make TV and still go home at night when you got guys like that in your stable.
DRE: Was bringing back Colossus in your run on Astonishing X-Men something you wanted to do? Or they were like ready to bring him back because he might be in the next movie?
JW: Marvel asked “Can you bring him back?” I was like, “Hell yeah” because he’s cool and I thought I had a way to do it that’ll be sweet.
DRE: He’s one of the few popular X-Men characters that’s never gotten his own series or miniseries. I believe he had a storyline in Marvel Comics Presents but that’s it. Would you want to do something like that with him?
JW: If I can just get the damn comic out once a month I think I’m a hero. So I haven’t really given a lot of thought to expanding any one character.
DRE: What’s the process between you and John Cassaday?
JW: Cassaday is Jack Green and Nathan Fillion rolled into one. I basically have to do very little with him. I give less direction to him than anyone I’ve worked with because he just knows how it should look.
DRE: I got to speak to Grant Morrison not too long ago. Even though Cassaday draws them beautifully, he thinks costumes are dumb. But Marvel told him they wanted the costumes back because of marketing. What’s your opinion on costumes?
JW: I don’t think they looked too silly. I think they looked good and Kitty’s looked fabulous. John draws clothes, which separates him from a lot of comic book artists and he draws them well. Again costumes was another thing they asked for. I said “As long as John has a hand in designing them, absolutely.” I like costumes. I like the way they look in Grant’s run too because ultimately those were costumes too, they were just a different strike.
DRE: Was it weird for you to have to like turn back a bit what a previous writer did especially one with the stature of Grant Morrison?
JW: Ultimately you’re not going to do what the last guy did. Never at Marvel did they say “Please make everything that Grant Morrison did, not have happened.” I was taking over the book from him because I loved his book and I respected it but I was going to go my own way. That’s how it works. But I wasn’t out to destroy the Grant era and my run wasn‘t a reaction against his. His world had gotten bigger and more baroque as they do in a long run. I just wanted to pare it down to a few central people and just vent my feelings about them.
DRE: During my visit to the set of Superman Returns I asked Bryan Singer this same question. Is there a difference between bringing DC and Marvel characters to the big screen?
JW: There really isn’t a difference ultimately to me because if you find the humanity in the character you succeed. If you don’t, you don’t.
DRE: What’s your impression of SuicideGirls?
JW: My impression is sort of double-edged. At first I was like, well it seems to be a porny. But it’s a kind of a porny that celebrates individuality so I sort of like that.
DRE: Have you ever seen Buffy or Serenity tattoos on somebody?
JW: I have. In fact, I saw a Serenity tattoo last night at the premiere and I saw a couple Buffy tats.
DRE: Do they freak you out?
JW: No man, if someone’s going to put something on them forever, why shouldn’t it be something of mine?
DRE: Do you have any tattoos?
JW: I am tat free. I am as God made me, including the baby fat.