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FireflyJoss Whedon - About "Serenity" Movie - Moviehole.net Interview - Spoilers
Wednesday 14 September 2005, by Webmaster
Sometimes people are forced to think outside the box - but first-time filmmaker Joss Whedon’s not complaining about his unceremonious dump from Television, in fact, he’s adorning a smile wider than a first division lottery winner. One door closes, as another door opens - and behind it, a man as talented as he is lucky. CLINT MORRIS reports.
Best known for creating the TV series "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" - originally a lacklustre 1992 feature film with a return about the equivalent of a Pre-Christmas social security cheque - Whedon put his stamp on Hollywood pretty much from the get-go.
With "Buffy" - and consequential spin-off series, "Angel" - he conceived something that was smart, unique, incredibly well written and immediately appealing to those with a penchant for humour and horror. Buffy, and ultimately, its creator, became a cultural phenomenon - and audiences just couldn’t get enough.
As quick as Television networks were to accept him though, they were even quicker to remove Whedon from their premises. Some, it seems, just didn’t get it - not that Whedon’s “naming any names”.
"Buffy", a series that was partly responsible for bringing an audience to the then-fledgling WB network, was never fully supported, he says, and then, at the height of it’s popularity, spin-off "Angel" - still quite a few years younger than it’s predecessor - received the ill-timed death blow. As a consequence, fans went nuts, Whedon scratched his head, and the network ultimately lived to regret their hasty pronouncement. Yet, no amount of picketing - and the fans tried everything - could see the decision overturned. Seems the chapter was forever closed on Whedon’s Vampire Chronicles.
In the midst of his attempts to keep both "Buffy" and "Angel" on-air, Whedon went to rival network Fox with an idea for another show - something possibly even more unique than his earlier efforts. "Firefly" was a Sci-Fi Western about a group of intergalactic space smugglers harbouring a couple of young fugitives. Again, Whedon’s many fans would flock to see the result.
Seems the curse hadn’t lifted though, and Firefly was doomed before it even began.
“It was weird because Fox had taken some big chances on shows, which were very successful for them - but there was one executive in particular [there] that just didn’t ‘get me’. I will never understand [fully] what their problem with the show was as long as I live”.
Whedon says "Firefly" was essentially murdered - the network decided to show episodes out of order (because the first episode, the pilot, didn’t have enough action in it), they didn’t bother with pre-empting it, and “had it in a timeslot that was essentially known in the industry as - the death slot”, he says.
“Their advertisement in TV Guide? ‘Meet the Most Spaced Out Crew in Space’. I read that and thought ‘something is horribly wrong - [uh-oh] we’re going to get cancelled’. It was a bad match, and I take full responsibility for not paying attention to that. It was clearly a bad match from the beginning - they [simply] wanted Bumpy the Werewolf Slayer”.
On Thursday December 12th 2002, with only twelve episodes in the can, "Firefly" was cancelled.
It was depressing, says Whedon, but he was determined not to give up on this one. He immediately made a promise to his cast that one day he “would tell this story”. He explains, “I’m not in the business of writing stories to amuse myself”, and was indomitable that he would tie up the events of the series - one day.
The day came in mid-2004 when Universal Pictures agreed to acquire the rights to Firefly from 20th Century Fox Television. Whedon had convinced the studio to take a chance on a big-screen version of his short-lived space serial.
Sitting here talking about the film - which also marks his directorial debut - Whedon says it’s quite surreal.
“Part of me is like ‘I’ll let you know when it hit’s me’, the other part is like ‘It feels really, really good!’” confesses Whedon. “When you fight so hard for something it’s not so much a gift as it is a victory - though Universal was pretty much like Santa Claus”.
Still, Whedon had his work cut out for him. He had to come up with something far bigger, far more exciting, and far more appealing than any offering for the box.
“It’s restrictive because I’m working with characters I had planned so much for [on TV] and you only have a certain amount of [screen] time for each one of them - yet you want every one of them to shine”, he says. “So, if someone has two lines - you have to make sure that those two lines tell you fifty percent of what you’re going to learn about them.
“Also, it’s a different kind of storytelling, it’s one that I love, but it’s different. This is very goal-oriented - get to the climax, take them on a ride and don’t let them go, as opposed to TV which is more ‘let’s examine this from this side, now this side, now from up here’”.
Another tough task was trying to structure the movie in a way that it would appeal to not only fans - and there’s squillions of those, calling themselves Browncoats, just take a look on the Internet - but for people that have never seen Firefly.
“You’re making it for people who don’t know you from Adam, don’t know your sensibilities and don’t know how much you like to play with genre. It’s such a tightrope act. Too much humour? Not enough humour? Too much violence? Not enough violence? It was so difficult and exhausting to make it for non-fans”.
Whedon says he thinks he cracked it though. He basically took the best elements of the series - the imperfect characters, their relationships, their back stories - and meshed it with a yarn that would make audiences feel “the same way they felt when they saw Star Wars the first time. ‘We got the Death Star’! - It’s really about concentrating on distilling the core and squeezing it until it’s a diamond”.
Though none of the cast are A-list superstars - and Whedon was adamant that the stars from the series return and not be replaced by bigger names - he still believes they’ve all got the potential to be a big break-out movie stars after this, especially newcomer Summer Glau.
“Summer is my secret weapon”, smiles Whedon, who discovered the ballerina come actress when she won a small part on his series Angel. “There was no second choice, but that same executive [in charge of the TV series at the time] was like ‘Oh, I dunno’, and I was like ‘Buddy, and you never will’. But she was amazing. She’s something money can’t buy - an action star who can act, and she can do action not like [adopts mocking Austrian accent] ‘I say the lines, and then we cut to the stunt man’. This girl can do her own stunts and act her pants off, and shooting those legs was some of the most fun I’ve ever had”.
Co-stars Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin are also likely to go onto bigger and better things because of their work here, says Whedon. “Nathan is a movie star. He has that, and if other people don’t recognize that I’ll be shocked. He’s every inch a hero, except the inches that he is a comic foil”, he laughs, “And people are also saying ‘Isn’t it great to take someone like Summer and give her her breakthrough role?’ and I’m like ‘yeah, but also taking someone like Adam Baldwin (who has been acting in B-movies and slumming in small parts in bigger films like "Independence Day" and "Predator 2" for years) and give him his!’”.
One of the most memorable characters from the series, Shepherd Book, played by Ron Glass, has a surprisingly small role in the film. It was purely for story reasons, nothing else, says Whedon. “On the first draft, he was onboard the ship and it was this other person whose town got massacred. But there wasn’t enough for Ron to do. His character was very much something of the series. His purpose isn’t the same as theirs”.
Glass, as well as another prominent original star that one would presume we’ve seen the last of, will definitely be back for a sequel - should there be one. “If this thing goes large and I do get to make another one - you will definitely see both those guys again”.
Two notable new faces to the world of Serenity are actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Krumholtz, as the villainous Operative and the amiable Mr Universe, respectively. Though both fantastic, says Whedon, they were obviously outsiders, not being a part of the original TV troupe. “He [Chiwetel] and Nathan got on great, but fact of the matter is - he was a bit on the outside as to what was going on, [and] David Krumholtz spent two days by himself with only a love-bot”, he laughs.
The experience of making his first feature, on the whole, has been a very pleasant one. Though sometimes difficult, it’s nowhere near as testing as the day-to-day grind of doing a weekly TV series, says Whedon.
“I miss some things about them ["Buffy" and "Angel"], but I don’t miss the grind”, he says. “With Buffy, I really felt like seven seasons were it - we were all feeling the wear and tear, and it wasn’t like the actors weren’t bringing it, it was just the time.
"Angel", he says, didn’t deserve to be axed when it did. Though going on five seasons, Whedon feels it still had some more oil in the engine - and could’ve gone for a while longer. Still, it’s another series that might have another life, hints Whedon.
“I mostly miss all the people [there], but if things go the way I hope they do - I might not miss them as much”, he says, raising an all-telling eyebrow.
It’s rumoured that Whedon’s looking to bring the character of Spike (played by James Marsters on Buffy and Angel) back for a telemovie, and he’s happy to validate that. “I’m talking in reference to that.....and possibly more”, he smiles. “I can only teasingly hint unfortunately until it’s got backing and we’ve got a schedule and a contract. I have been talking to some of the actors, writers, and some executives and are trying to put something together - - but it’s not happening fast. [But no] I haven’t left the Buffyverse behind”.
Meantime, Whedon is writing and directing a feature film version of "Wonder Woman", which might shoot in Australia. “We’re looking for Paradise Cove somewhere other than L.A”, he says. “Still, I have to write it first - and then they have to decide whether they like it enough to make it.”
Whedon says he was a little reluctant to sign onto "Wonder Woman" at first, but quickly realised the character was essentially “The Grandma of every character I’ve ever written”.
SERENITY Opens September 29th across Australia