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FireflyJoss Whedon - About Writing - Nowplayingmag.com Interview Part 3
By Scott Collura
Thursday 15 September 2005, by Webmaster
Serenity Times Three?
In the first and second parts of our interview with Joss Whedon (click here to read part one or click here to read part two), the filmmaker discussed how he went about transforming his failed TV series Firefly into Universal’s new theatrical film Serenity. The sci-fi Western series proved immensely popular among Whedon’s loyal cadre of fans, but as the writer-director points out himself, a more mainstream audience will need to catch the Firefly bug before the oft-hinted-at trilogy of Serenity movies becomes a reality.
“Sounds good to me,” says Whedon when asked about the prospect of making two more films based on Firefly. “There are certainly more stories to be told about these people, but you know, it ain’t a trilogy unless people like the first one.”
And that’s where Universal’s marketing department comes in. For while Whedon acknowledges that it was up to him to write the film in such a way that people who aren’t fans of the series could still enjoy it, could “know the characters, and have the same kind of experience,” the equally difficult task of selling Serenity to that audience fell to the studio.
“That was a very tricky thing to do,” he says of the script. “It was the hardest thing, for writing, that I ever did. Then I left the marketing people with an equally interesting challenge. How do you market a film that has no huge names, doesn’t have a simple ‘boy becomes a cop premise,’ and is basically not one but many genres, all kind of spinning together at once? And it has the science fiction element to it, which brings some people in but sends other people away. [Universal’s marketing team have] scratched their heads. I’ve scratched my head. I usually [start a project] by creating a one-sheet or a tagline or a trailer, and go on from there. I want to know so much what my movie is, and in this case, because I was working from the template of the show, I didn’t do that. I just told the story. And that made their lives kind of hard. How do you get people to see a movie when the only thing you have in your pocket is whether or not it’s good? It’s a challenge, and they’ve responded to it by, I think, trying to get the Browncoats, the people who do love the show and are excited about the movie already, as pumped up as possible so the people feel their presence and understand that there’s something out there that’s new and exciting.”
So let’s assume for a moment that Universal’s crack marketing team succeeds in turning Serenity into a hit and the studio decides to greenlight more films in the series. Where does that leave Whedon in terms of scheduling? He is a busy man, of course, and he does have a little project called Wonder Woman on his drawing board that’s just waiting to jump into its invisible jet and take off. If a Serenity 2 or even a Serenity 3 were to happen, would Joss be in the director’s chair?
“God willing and the creek don’t rise, I sure would love to,” he says. “Who knows what could happen? It could be that it could only be made at a certain time and I was already committed to something else, but with the exception of [Firefly writer-producer] Tim Minear, I really couldn’t imagine anybody else doing that. I loved shooting this movie. I had the extraordinary brilliance and foresight and, what I’m trying to say is luck, to hire Jack Green, who just made the set such a warm family place and is such a genius DP. And then these actors: I felt they were born to play these parts. Not just that they did them well, but that they were actually born to play them. That’s another reason why I felt so strongly that I had to make this movie and I love working with them as much as I love anything I’ve done. So doing a sequel sounds fine by me.”
But despite all this sequel talk, Whedon is well aware that the future of the Firefly franchise will depend largely on Serenity’s first few weeks of box office numbers. When making the film, he wanted to do his best to avoid scaring off newcomers to the story and characters with dense “mythology” plotting, so one of his key objectives was to make sure that the picture would not be a cliffhanger in any way and that it would serve as a self-contained story all its own that required no outside or previous knowledge of the series.
“It has closure; it is a thing unto itself,” says Whedon. “It’s not a glorified episode of Firefly. It’s not the first half of a story. It is absolutely a movie that has an ending that makes you feel that you’ve had wonderful closure and you would never have to see another frame. And yes, so did Star Wars.”
Yes, but then they made five more of those...
“I was like, ‘Darth Vader’s not dead,’” laughs Whedon. “It didn’t matter. He’s defeated. And [George Lucas] made that movie with no guarantee that he would be able to come back and tell the story that he had in his pocket about Darth Vader. But he had plenty left, which was foresight. And with good characters in that situation, there’s always going to be something there.”
And while Whedon is now firmly ensconced in the world of feature films thanks to Serenity and Wonder Woman, he does point out that he loves both the film and TV mediums equally - and that his experience working in TV has helped him make Serenity look like a much bigger movie than he actually had the money for.
“We really put it up on the screen and we’re working every detail to death,” he says. “It’s very exciting and it’s epic. It’s different than churning out episode after episode. However, I in no way think that movies are a better storytelling medium than TV. It’s just different. I couldn’t work it as intricately in this one instance on TV, but I would have more breadth to tell story after story on TV and that’s sometimes the right way to do something too. And that’s exciting for a totally different reason. [But shooting a film TV-style] focuses you and you get some really great stuff because you know exactly what you need and you don’t have time to get something you don’t. And I’ve always been a fan of limitations.”