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Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon - About his career - Ign.com Interview


Monday 30 June 2003, by Webmaster

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator discusses his career.

June 23, 2003 - If you’ve been living in a cave (and you know who you are), then you’ll be completely in the dark as to who Joss Whedon is. And yes - I did just write an "If you’ve been living in a cave" intro.

Otherwise, you’ll know him as the creator/producer/poobah behind one of the largest "cult classics" to grace TV screens - Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Add to that the Buffy spin-off Angel and the cancelled-but-not-forgotten sci-fi series Firefly, and you’ve got a bit of a cottage industry. For the longest time, though, Whedon (whose father and grandfather were both highly-respected TV writers) was best known as one of the most sought-after script doctors in Hollywood. If a script needed a fix, you called Joss Whedon - on everything from Toy Story to X-Men.

While Buffy may be over (Fox Home Video just released Season 4 on DVD, if you’re having withdrawal symptoms), Angel continues to thrive, and plans are currently afoot for a Firefly feature film.

We recently had the chance to talk rather extensively with Joss about... well... a little of everything...

IGN FILMFORCE: In the past, you’ve described yourself as a bit of a TV snob, as a child.

JOSS WHEDON: That’s true.

IGNFF: Was that a reaction against your family’s legacy, or just the environment you were in?

WHEDON: It was more the environment I was in. When my parents divorced, I lived with my mother. My mother had been with a TV writer for 30 years, with a comedy writer, and although my parents were good friends after they divorced and got along, she wasn’t exactly watching either sitcoms or football after my father left. She really was more into the Masterpiece Theater of it, and I kind of just followed in her footsteps - except for the part where she watched the news, which I didn’t. It was depressing. It was really my mother’s influence... a lot of stuff I do trace back to her. I also thought that, quite frankly, I loved when my father was working on The Electric Company when I younger ... I liked the shows he did, but I never thought they were as funny as he was. In my mind, I thought that he was running them, because he’d run The Electric Company. I don’t think he was, but it felt like Alice, Benson, and even Golden Girls - which I think was hilarious and was a classic - this is the wittiest man I’d ever met, and all of his friends were extraordinary, and the sitcoms were never quite the same as my father.

IGNFF: Did you blame the sitcoms as a form, for somehow watering down your father?

WHEDON: I think to an extent, yeah. And also just classic teenage rebellion. Rebellion and snobbery were both involved. But also that thing of, "I know what my father’s capable of, and I don’t think Alice is up to his level." So there was a little bit of that, too.

IGNFF: What direction did you start to go in? Did you see a direction for yourself going in a certain path?

WHEDON: Oh yes... I was going to be a brilliant, independent filmmaker who then went on to make giant, major box office summer movies.

IGNFF: So, Spielberg...

WHEDON: Spielberg by way of George Romero or Wes Anderson, or a strange combination of the two ...

IGNFF: Commercial success with artistic integrity intact...

WHEDON: Exactly!

IGNFF: So, obviously, you had these dreams of Hollywood which were completely unrealistic...

WHEDON: Well, you know, you don’t know - it could still happen. I did manage to keep my artistic integrity - I just happened to have to go to television to do it.

IGNFF: Oh, bitter irony.

WHEDON: Not bitter at all, but definitely irony. The first thing I did when I came out to Los Angeles, on my way to Santa Cruz, where my brother was - where we were going to be independent filmmakers together with no money and no idea how to make a film. Then I ran out of money. Luckily, I was at my father’s house. So, after some great expunging, "I could make some money if I wrote a TV script," thing sort of occurred to me.

IGNFF: Was it a difficult wall to break down?

WHEDON: You know, I literally had left college going, "I’m not going to be a television writer." And my friend would go, "Three-G TV!" Third generation. He’d taunt me all the time. "It’s not going to happen!" A lot of things happened when I got to L.A., one of which is my father and I got a lot closer, I spent time with him - which I hadn’t really done as a kid. Which is really nice. I tried to write a TV series, and then I discovered first of all that I love writing more than anything on this earth, and that you could write exactly as well as you want to.

IGNFF: What it something you had explored at Wesleyan?

WHEDON: I had written the little movies that I’d made, but production was the big part of Wesleyan back then.

IGNFF: Was it more theory, or film study?

WHEDON: It was really film theory. Watching films over and over again and dissecting them, really understanding what they were trying to do, and all that good stuff. The best film theory study available. But, really, sort of crap production - as my movies evident.

IGNFF: Well, you see the balance the other way in a lot of film schools, which is, "Studying the classics is all well and good, but we’re trying to push you out into production." Do you think there’s a loss of a sense of place and understanding of the form they’re working in?

WHEDON: It’s very important to understand how to shoot a movie, if that’s what you want to do. But it’s more important at that age to be studying the meaning thing, to be studying what builds up the great movies. Where the simplicity is, where the complexity is. Anybody can tell you where to point a camera - and quite frankly, nobody can tell you how. You can either do that or you can’t. Learning what a gaffer is, or how to load your own film is great - I actually had to load my own film during my thesis film once, because my crew was too stoned. They just said, "We’re really too stoned to change it."

IGNFF: Damn those non-union crews...

WHEDON: Yeah, we were top notch. You get so many people out here with incredible technical expertise who have nothing to say, or no idea of the importance of having something to say, or the importance of understanding what they’re saying.

IGNFF: Do you think, to some extent, those are the kind of filmmakers that the Hollywood executive tends to like - because they’re malleable?

WHEDON: Yeah. Well, you want somebody who can make it pretty and make it work and give the executive what the executive thinks they want, and bring something to the party. Not just translate the words. If you’re the writer, what you’re looking for is somebody who can convey the actual meaning of the script... and quite frankly, people who are just schooled in production don’t really have that. There’s a lot of people out there who make a pretty frame, that has nothing to do with what is said.

IGNFF: Form over function.

WHEDON: But you know, there’s advantages to both - don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of people teaching theory who are filling people’s heads with completely idiotic agendas and not really getting down to the basics of "This is exactly what he was doing, exactly what you think, what you feel." It hasn’t been accomplished. You need to be looking at that stuff.

IGNFF: What kind of agenda irritates you the most?

WHEDON: Any agenda. Any agenda beyond what the film itself is trying to say. My biggest concentration was gender studies and feminism. That was sort of my unofficial minor. That was what all my film work was about, but at the same time, somebody bringing the knee-jerk feminist agenda to a text can be the most aggravating thing in the world. Especially if you’re a feminist, because you’re like, "You’re the person that everybody makes fun of. You’re the reason why we’ve got no cred."

IGNFF: Planting subtext for subtext’s sake...

WHEDON: Yeah, planting subtext based on everybody brings their own experience to a film - that’s why films are popular, and that’s fine. As long as they’re working from the film outwards, towards themselves. What people with an agenda do - whether it be, like, Cartesian physics or some thing I can’t begin to understand, or feminism, or anything - they try and shove it in. "Look at this this way." Okay, let’s look at the film as it exists, what it is, what it’s trying to do. We can judge it. But you’re talking to somebody who was raised to be a radical feminist, who thought that liberals were wishy-washy and who loves Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. So you know, this conflict’s around always. Take the film at its own value, and then go to the other place.

IGNFF: Was that part of your motivation for taking gender studies for a minor?

WHEDON: It’s not that I took it for a minor, it’s just like I pursued it in everything I did. It’s always what interested me. But, when you’re dealing with feminism you’re dealing with a lot of people who understand feminism better than they understand film, and again you pose something and that doesn’t just go ... the point is, you can have an agenda as long as you let the film come to you and take that out of you. I know a guy who could not get through a paper without talking through Freudian theories of infantile sexuality. And his lecture on The Wild Bunch, in terms of Freudian theories of infantile sexuality, was actually fascinating. Because he loved The Wild Bunch, he understood the movie, and then he let it speak to him. He didn’t try and like shove in a theory.

IGNFF: Meeting his mother would be interesting...

WHEDON: Yes...

IGNFF: Going back a little bit, was it your choice to go overseas to Winchester - to what, I guess, was essentially high school?

WHEDON: Yes. My mother suggested it, because she was on sabbatical, and enjoyed England, and didn’t trust the schools in California where my father was. So I was to go for half a year, because she was taking a half a year sabbatical. I bizarrely managed to get into the single best school in the country, through no merit of my own. I really don’t know how that happened. I was lazy, I was terrible, but through osmosis, I was learning more than I ever had before. It was so extraordinary. My family went back to America, and the school asked me to stay along, and I did.

IGNFF: So you got to be the standard there, as the token lazy American.

WHEDON: I was the token lazy American, except when it came to English class, where I was relentless and unstoppable.

IGNFF: How palpable was the cultural difference, going to that school, compared to the American schools you’d gone to previously?

WHEDON: Well, let’s see. I went from Riverdale, a fairly progressive private school that my mother taught at, where I’d gone for ten-and-a-half years, since first grade - because it went all the way through, K-12. I went from that, having never been out of the country, to a 600-year-old all male boarding school where I actually listened to a lecture on why co-education will never work. The cultural difference couldn’t have been huger. The only thing that was the same was that, like at Riverdale, I had no money and was surrounded by very rich people.

IGNFF: That lecture had to appeal to the radical feminist in you...

WHEDON: Yeah. Well, you know, there’s plenty of arguments that co-education is actually bad for girls in the present state of the country. But that was not his argument. Put it this way - at the end of it, I was like, "Sir, don’t you think if God had wanted man to fly he would have given us wings?" It was very, very strange.

IGNFF: So, technically, you were never in a traditional public school...

WHEDON: No, I never was.

IGNFF: Did you ever feel, personally, that you missed out on anything? Or do you feel that the course you took was actually a benefit?

WHEDON: Well, you know, Riverdale was a good school. Winchester was a great school. An incredible school.

IGNFF: What aspects of it made it incredible?

WHEDON: It was literally rated the best education you could get in the country. I wish that I could have made some moves on a girl at some point in my high school career, but that probably wasn’t going to happen at Riverdale, either. Which is one of the reasons why I stayed at Winchester. Socially, every boy that comes out of Winchester was completely pathetic. Intellectually, it was a staggering gift to be able to be around that much intelligence.

IGNFF: Did you feel that you were missing out on social aspects?

WHEDON: No, no. You know, I had very good friends. I had very good pot. I snuck out to London overnight to get shows. I was lonely, but I was just as lonely when I was around girls as when I wasn’t.

IGNFF: Where did the loneliness stem from? It’s interesting, because it seems to almost be a thread through the work you’ve done, if you look at Buffy and then even to Toy Story and - god forbid - Alien Resurrection. There’s a certain aspect of isolation, an outsider to all the world...

WHEDON: I lived my life feeling alone. That’s just the way of it. I always did. As soon as I was old enough to have a feeling about it, I felt like I was alone. No matter how much I loved my family - and I actually got along better with my family than I think most people do - but I just always felt separate from everybody, and was terribly lonely all the time. I wasn’t living a life that was particularly different from anybody else’s, a pariah - it wasn’t like I didn’t have friends, but I just... we all of us are alone in our own minds, and I was very much aware of that from the very beginning of my life. Loneliness and aloneness - which are different things - are very much, I would say, of the three main things I focus on in my work.

IGNFF: Was it ever a feeling that you felt you were different from anyone else?

WHEDON: I think everybody always feels they’re different. I did feel different from the people around me. I’ve always felt that I was the outsider in every group I’ve ever been in, except my staff.

IGNFF: By nature or by design?

WHEDON: Well, you know, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be a part of a group. But I felt like Luke Cage in the Fantastic Four, you know - no matter what. That’s just always been the way. You know, very often you’ll be in a group and you’ll discover that every single person in it feels like they’re the one on the perimeter. It’s like everybody has their own moment that’s going on, some more than others. It was just a huge theme for me, and it was a huge theme that sort of crystallized in adolescence. Because, really, not having a girlfriend... I wish I could say I was above caring about that ...

IGNFF: Was it a loneliness that ever went into depression?

WHEDON: Oh yeah, but not the kind of depression where you don’t do anything. I was depressive, melodramatic ...

IGNFF: Yet productive.

WHEDON: Not if you were my Russian teacher. But productive, yes, actually. Something always going on, some scheme, some art. You know, in the worst of it, I would write, not really realizing that I was writing. I didn’t think of myself as a writer per se, but yeah, I was always trying to communicate something - even if I was just, "Pay attention to me!"

Continue on to the second installment of Ken’s conversation with Joss Whedon - in which Whedon discusses his love of Shakespeare, private vs. public education, getting into Wesleyan University, and more.

IGNFF: But you were writing to yourself, so it really didn’t accomplish much, did it?

WHEDON: Yeah, you point that out now.

IGNFF: There’s a certain logical disconnect there, but I guess there is in all teenage writing.

WHEDON: Yeah, it’s weird now, because with the Internet, much teenage writing is for the consumption of everybody in the universe. Had there been the Internet, I probably would have been on it like a bandit. But yeah, you’re right, the writing and the drawing that I did to express myself, I really did for myself. But always in the hope of eventually creating something that would speak to people. Part of the desire to communicate, which to me is the most important part of art, is the desire to be heard, which is entirely selfish.

IGNFF: So it’s a large-form attempt at attention.

WHEDON: Then beyond attention comes, you know, the other half - the desire to connect. That is the unselfish part of that desire.

IGNFF: Do you think that, through creative means, the connection is still - for all intents and purposes - at arms length?

WHEDON: Well, it’s not like I’m going out hugging everybody that watches my show - although I probably could in about half an hour, because we really don’t have that big an audience.

IGNFF: It’s time for the goodwill tour.

WHEDON: Goodwill tour... or, as I call it, ComicCon. No, I mean, the thing about the art is that the communication is both sides. The selfishness of, "Please hear me," and the beauty of, "I hear you." The beauty of here’s something that you’re going through, that you’re lonely, and I know what it’s like, so here’s that presented to you. That’s the best thing about the show and everything they do, when people go, "I feel less alone because I saw this, because I saw someone go through it. I saw someone be rejected, I saw somebody hurt, I saw whatever it was. I saw her getting stronger, and it made me stronger, too."

IGNFF: I guess to some extent, with the safety net of it also being a finished work that’s presented for those connections, it’s an intermediary between creator and audience.

WHEDON: Well, I could call a lot of people and go, "Hey, I’m lonely, too." They’re probably going to just hang up or call the police.

IGNFF: Yeah, but that’s what the Internet’s for.

WHEDON: Yes, I guess it is, but that’s not the medium I was raised on. I don’t know how to wield it.

IGNFF: Did Winchester facilitate a creative bent, or was it mostly an extracurricular sort of thing?

WHEDON: Most of the things that I’ve done that have been truly creative have been extracurricular. However, stories that I’ve written have gotten me recommendations, which was nice. At Winchester, they tried to squash a lot of things. Certainly everything I wore or said bothered them, but at the same time I studied classic literature and drama with some of the greatest teachers out there. You couldn’t help but become more creative.

IGNFF: How far back does your love of Shakespeare go?

WHEDON: As far back as I can remember. I used to read plays when I was a kid. As soon as I was old enough to get through a play, the first one I remember reading were Henry IV...

IGNFF: It would have been so much different if you’d started with a comedy.

WHEDON: "For god’s sake, give me A Midsummer Night’s Dream, boy..." When they started doing them on the BBC, they did the entire canon on the BBC for a budget of like 12 dollars.

IGNFF: That’s quite lavish for the BBC.

WHEDON: I know, it was a big deal back then. I used to watch them ...

IGNFF: At least they’re finally making their way to DVD.

WHEDON: Are they?

IGNFF: Yes. Slowly but surely.

WHEDON: It’s hilarious, how little money they had, but at the same time I still think some really good stuff went on there, and it was very formative for me.

IGNFF: Do you think, to some extent, that’s when Shakespeare works best? When there isn’t a lot of artifice to draw the eye away?

WHEDON: No, I think Shakespeare works when it’s emotionally true. It can be done on a bare stage. Actually, we had a reading of Lear yesterday, at my house, sitting around out by the garden. So it’s not heavy with production values. But I also think it can work completely gussied up, as long as everything is working towards emotional truth, what’s going on. But sometimes great big elaborate sets and special effects can help with that. There’s nothing wrong with lavish productions.

IGNFF: Were there certain elements that struck cords with you, especially at that early age, reading something like Henry V?

WHEDON: I didn’t read Henry V until I was older. I, by coincidence, spent most of the time studying - the hardest and deepest and most in-depth times - studying Hamlet.

IGNFF: By coincidence.

WHEDON: Yes. Well, it turned out that way, because I was studying for A levels, which meant you really studied one play for months.

IGNFF: Your choice for the play, or the instructor’s?

WHEDON: It was not the instructor’s choice - it was whatever play was on the A levels that year. And because I actually wasn’t planning on going to university in England, the tests themselves were not that important, so I started on A level English when I got there, which was above - I was still at O-levels in everything else. Then sort of bumped back to a different A level ... I think Lear and Othello were the main ones for the second one, but for the first we studied Hamlet. This was a thing where, in A levels, your getting into a decent university depends on three tests. That’s it. You spend the last two years of high school studying for those three tests, and you choose your three subjects. It’s very odd, but it’s also great because I didn’t have to take math or science.

IGNFF: Damn you!

WHEDON: Well, that’s why my wife does the bills... When the bills come and I go, "What’s a decimal?" So we’d have class for an hour and twenty minutes, like in college, and then there’d be three more hours until dinner, and we’d just stay. We’d just stay and keep talking. Some of them were doing it because they were desperate to get good grades, they wanted to get into Oxford or Cambridge. One of them mentioned to me, "You know, Joss, you’re not taking the A levels, you don’t have to stay." "Dude, where else would I be?" It was amazing. Four hours at a stretch, great scholars and a great teacher completely prying open the text of Hamlet. I mean, what more fun can there be? ... Spoken like a man who never had sex in high school ...

IGNFF: Do you think, again, that Winchester - and the type of school it was - facilitated that kind of study? As opposed to a public school, say, in the United States?

WHEDON: Yeah. You know, my sister-in-law teaches for L.A. USC, which I think - just two more miracles and she’s eligible for Sainthood... or at least martyrdom. You just don’t get that level. You do occasionally, but it’s always the exception to the rule. Having a private school education was a huge benefit for me. If I could actually make a mission out of my life, it would be to get our public schools up to that kind of level. To get education to become important to anybody in the country. It’s so dispiriting to see kids not be given the opportunity to find out that learning is the most fascinating and useful thing there is.

IGNFF: So when will that become a crusade for you?

WHEDON: I’m not sure. I’m not a great crusader. Don’t really know how to go about it.

IGNFF: Well, making statements in a positive direction’s a start.


IGNFF: What direction will you be pushing, now that you’re a father? Would you try to avoid sending your child to a public school?

WHEDON: We’ve talked about it. He’s five months old. So right now, it’s more about poo. Big decisions, mostly involve poo, and then we’ll figure out what we want. We want him to get the best education he can. We want the public schools to be able to provide that. We’re basically two dumb teenagers who had a kid by mistake - except that I’m nearly 40 and we’ve been married for 8 years. But it feels like the other thing. So we haven’t quite mastered the whole thing. We’ve talked a lot about it, but we don’t know.

IGNFF: One day it’s poo, the next day it’s SATs...

WHEDON: Exactly, exactly. Which are very similar to poo.

IGNFF: And also disposable.

WHEDON: The more schools become about tests - the A level sitting was different, because you literally spent two years studying texts, so the tests are very much about your grown-up understanding of what you’re doing. It’s a different test. It’s a real test.

IGNFF: So it’s not just memorization...

WHEDON: Yeah. Testing - multiple-choice, memorization, standardization - is the death of American education.

IGNFF: There’s a fascinating book about that that just came out, The Language Police, about the dumbing down of standardized testing and text books in the U.S.

WHEDON: I found the SATs to be a joke when I took them. I came home for vacation one summer and it was like, "Surprise, you have to go take the SATs" "What?"

IGNFF: That’s quite a welcome.

WHEDON: So I just did, but I was like, "That’s what college is based on?"

IGNFF: What U.S. students sweat over for two years...

WHEDON: That’s not an indication of an education.

IGNFF: What factors started to lead to your choice of schools post-Winchester?

WHEDON: Well, Jesus, I wanted to get out of England. I love it, and it’s like a home to me, and I literally think about spending my twilight years there - but you know, I’d been there three years and wanted to get back to America. I had never really sort of gotten America. I went back and studied it, learned about it. I was excited. I was like, "I’m interested in being American now." Then I visited a bunch of schools, and Wesleyan just kind of... we clicked. There was something about it. I am well aware, and was at the time, that it may have been the weather. It may just have been a nice day. So that’s the only school that I applied to.

IGNFF: That’s a better criteria than most kids apply to what schools they choose.

WHEDON: Yeah. No, I visited a few.

IGNFF: Which ones did you turn down? Which aspects turned you off?

WHEDON: It’s not like anybody was begging for me. I was clearly a ne’er-do-well. And, in fact, when we got into Wesleyan, in our packet of information, I had no grades. I had a lot of reports that said, "He seems to be intelligent, but I wouldn’t say he applies himself terribly much."

IGNFF: So you had "artist" written all over you.

WHEDON: Oh god, from day one. I knew that I would never be man enough to have a real job. I literally would be, "Why am I thinking about this paper on the Crusades when I should be watching Manhattan," at our tiny little local theater, "and learning about film?" Even when I was in high school - "That’s where I’m going. That’s what I need to know about."

IGNFF: Getting into Wesleyan, and what aspects appealed to you...

WHEDON: It was very artistic - and it’s a weird thing, but I had sort of spent part of my formative years there, because two of the professors there were old friends of my folks from college. So I had actually gone to their house in Middletown, pretty much on campus, since I was a tiny boy. I got to stay with them, and their daughter Katie is a good friend, and she showed me around the campus when I visited. I actually had a friend who was already in the school, from Riverdale, so I really got a sense of the campus. It just felt right. I didn’t even know who Jeanine Basinger was at the time. I didn’t even know who Richard Slotkin was. I didn’t know that they had the best film department.

IGNFF: At that time, Wesleyan wasn’t really known for its film program.

WHEDON: Only among the initiated, after they wear the robe and get the tattoo ...

IGNFF: Like the Freemasons of film school.

WHEDON: Yeah, we were the Freemasons of film. I just got a good feeling. At that point, I didn’t know if I was going to concentrate on film or theater, but I was so blown away by the film department, it clearly took over my life.

IGNFF: What would you say were the real strengths of the film department?

WHEDON: Again, people who understand theory in terms of filmmaking and film storytelling, and film mythos and film genre, better than anybody else does. Lectures that were so complete, so complex, so dense and so simple that I almost had trouble following them, and by the end would realize they were dealing with things that were already in me. They were already incorporated in the way I thought about story, because they are the American mythos. Just having that dissected and presented by people who understood the very basics from the brain of the film, to the Greek myth aspect of the story, to every single thing you could learn without actually making film yourself - when I say making the film, I mean coming to Hollywood and doing it - was there. I don’t have a thought about story that is not influenced by those teachers.

IGNFF: Did it set you up well for actually making the transition to a professional career? I know you’ve mentioned in the past that it wasn’t a contact school.

WHEDON: It was, in a low-key way, and now it’s gotten bigger. I was hired as a research assistant by a grad, and that was set up by Jeanine. In my time here, I think I’ve hired at least five - some of whom who were hired by others who I didn’t know were Jeanine students, or Wesleyan students, until after they were here. We have, every year, the Wesleyan get-together - and every year, an astonishing number of people who are working heavily in the film industry and bright new people coming up. A lot of the people who are ten years behind me are doing really well, and it grows.

IGNFF: Is there a palpable vibe about Wesleyan students to you?

WHEDON: You know, yes and no. There’s a lot of different kinds. I mean, Michael Bay and I both came out of the same year, or we were maybe a year apart. Michael Bay, John Turteltaub and me. I wouldn’t say that we’re all brothers under the skin, artistically. Actually, I’m a fan of Michael’s. Best eyes in the business.

IGNFF: If only he could find the best scripts...

WHEDON: Yeah, we tell stories differently, have different priorities. But, you know, it’s not like everyone coming from Wesleyan is going to make the same kind of movie. There is a quirkiness to my generation that I think is very pleasing. The thing that is really important is it was not a school about connection. At some point, I thought it was going to become one. I was a little worried when I went back to visit - kids were like, "You know, I got the coverage on Die Hard III." And I was like, "Why are you talking to me about coverage? You should be getting done watching Johnny Guitar at 4:00 in the morning, that’s what you should be doing. You should be seeing Day of the Outlaw - a bizarre, black and white, Andre de Toth Western that nobody can get hold of. You should not be reading about Hollywood yet." I think that that was just a phase. Those kids seem to have gone away.

IGNFF: I guess those were the kids who were doing second unit work on Pearl Harbor.

WHEDON: Maybe. I do think there is that very comprehensive, "Let’s not study the business, let’s study the movies."

IGNFF: So it’s more focused on the art than the commerce.


IGNFF: Did that make for a rough ride when you made your transition to Hollywood?

WHEDON: Yeah. It’s not like I got set up with, "Go be this producer’s assistant." I never really figured it that way. When I came out here and realized I was trying to make my way as a writer, I started writing spec scripts, and I was working in a video store - like, you know, all directors. At one point, because I was staying with my father, that’s when my stepmother said, "Why don’t you get a job as a production assistant, to get on a set like that while you’re trying to breakthrough?" My father said, "Don’t. Wait. You’re going to get a job as a writer." Which was a huge vote of confidence - an extraordinary thing to say. So first job I ever had in the business was as a writer, and that’s the only thing I did until I directed Buffy, and I was a director, too, and producer.

IGNFF: But it was in television.

WHEDON: Well, I’d been writing in television and movies and then producing.

IGNFF: But it was in the thing you had avoided for so long ...

WHEDON: I got over that the moment I started writing my first script, because I talked to a friend who said something very profound, I thought. Willie Garson went to Wesleyan as an actor. He’s really good. We’ve been friends since college, and he was on my father’s show, It’s a Living. I said, "I’m starting to realize there’s a lot of good, interesting work to be done on television." He said, "Yeah, there is. There is a lot of really good, artistic work with integrity that can be done, which you’ll realize after your eighth year on That Nutty Moose." It’s been sort of the great fortune and pride of my career that I have never had to work on that That Nutty Moose. The first job I ever got was on a show I cared deeply about.

IGNFF: That was, what, second season of Roseanne?


IGNFF: How many specs had you written before landing that job?


IGNFF: For which shows were you writing specs for?

WHEDON: I wrote one for my father’s show, It’s a Living, just because I had seen it, and I had seen it being made, but I never showed that to an agent. There was a show called Just in Time that died before I finished my spec, but I had met the producer. He said, "Do you have anything to show me?" I said, "No, but if you give me the scripts to your show, I’ll write one of those." I labored over that. I wrote a Wonder Years, that was its first year, and a Garry Shandling Show, the first one, and then a Roseanne. I got the Roseanne.

IGNFF: I would love to see your Wonder Years script...

WHEDON: Yeah, it was interesting. About getting mugged, which is one thing I researched extensively ... I had enormous love for it. Then, I got an offer to work on the show that I thought was one of the most important shows on TV.

IGNFF: The specs that you’d written, had you shown any of these to your father?

WHEDON: Yes. I showed them all to him.

IGNFF: What was the advice that you got back from him?

WHEDON: You know, he didn’t give me advice. He just loved them. I was shocked. I was really excited. That was a big thing, you know?

IGNFF: Did that push the fear of the "Three-G TV" out of your mind?

WHEDON: Fear of "Three-G TV" was gone, because I had seen good TV, and I had seen the process, and I had begun to understand where my biases had come from.

IGNFF: Did you view your father in a different light?

WHEDON: No, you know, I had always respected my father enormously, and seeing scripts of his that had never seen the light of day that were some of my favorite ones - I valued his approbation enormously. Didn’t expect it. That gave me the courage to go on. It didn’t make me go, "Oh, maybe TV’s okay" - that I had to figure out for myself.

IGNFF: What was Roseanne like, going in at that time? They were on, what, the fourth or fifth set of producers by that point?

WHEDON: No, it was just the second set, and it was total chaos. I mean, it was like a studied chaos. Which was good, because it meant that I got to write a bunch of scripts.

IGNFF: Whereas, on other shows, you would have been locked in the writer’s room as a junior writer...

WHEDON: You know, I remember one of my father’s friends saying, "Have they let you start to write a script yet?" I was like, "Yeah, I’m on my fourth." Because they just... they had nobody. I ended up writing six scripts that year. Interestingly enough, the other staff writer I know who’s done that was Marti Noxon. She did it in the second year of Buffy.

IGNFF: Because it was just complete chaos?

WHEDON: It wasn’t not chaos. It was slightly more controlled chaos, but it was really chaotic.

IGNFF: How powerful was Roseanne becoming in the writer’s room at that time?

WHEDON: Well, she was grouchy as hell. I had a bad experience, because my stuff kept getting rewritten by the producers before it ever got to her. So, you know, I never felt like I was being heard, until I finally actually found a temporary champion in Tom Arnold, who had started at the same time. He snuck around my script. So she got to see the first draft. Then, I had lunch with her to talk about it, and it was quite extraordinary. The good Roseanne came to lunch. She got it and she was very excited about it, and it was a really fascinating time.

IGNFF: How different from bad Roseanne did you find good Roseanne?

WHEDON: Well, literally the next day, I saw her walk by the office, look at me - and not only not recognize me, but not recognize that there was someone standing in front of her. I had never seen somebody like that before. I was like, "This is like the lady from Misery! Oh boy." It’s so sad, because I went on that show because it had a feminist agenda, because it was real, and decent, and incredibly funny. And she brought a lot of that to the table - and she sort of took it away, because her unhappiness made her incredibly divisive and destructive, and that’s that. There was a lot of good there.

IGNFF: How would it affect the scripts that were being written?

WHEDON: A lot. She’d be like, "This is crap, I won’t do this." She’d just chuck things out.

IGNFF: Arbitrarily?

WHEDON: Yeah, and scripts didn’t get better from being written two and a half days at midnight by Danny Jacobson. But, at the end of the day, it was a good stepping-stone, not a good experience. She’s not the reason I quit. Having been rewritten almost to death, I got shut out of the process - and I thought the producers were talented and good friends, but I couldn’t work for them anymore, because I don’t like getting paid to do nothing.

IGNFF: Were there any second thoughts that, even though you were getting paid to do nothing, you were giving up a job - and it could have been the last job you had?

WHEDON: No, I never thought that.

IGNFF: Was there a confidence in your abilities in that something else will come?

WHEDON: I didn’t really think of it as something else will come. I was working on the Buffy movie, and I’ve always felt like I could find work. I saved my first penny, the first dollar I ever made from TV I saved, so that I would never have to be in the position of working to keep up my life style, in order to make money.

IGNFF: So you weren’t living hand to mouth...

WHEDON: I was doing fine, but it wasn’t like I went out and rented a big house and got a car that worked.

IGNFF: So unlike a lot of writers, you were realistic.

WHEDON: I just wanted to be able to do work for one reason and one reason only, and that was because it was work worth doing. It is, I realized, through a great deal of luck and privilege that I’ve been able to hold to that. People always say, "Okay, you’ve just said that. Let’s talk about Waterworld."

IGNFF: You know, I’m not. I’m going to ask you what lessons you learned from Roseanne when it came to being a show runner yourself.

WHEDON: You know what I learned? And this was one of the most important things I’ve ever learned, one of the defining things about humanity. It was when she made a speech at the beginning of the season about how the tabloids were really giving her s**t and how they were infiltrating the crew and stuff, people were feeding them stuff - "So you f***ing writers better keep your mouths shut or I’ll have you all fired." I realized, this was the perfect opportunity to make a speech that brought everybody closer together, that said, "It’s us against the world, and dammit, we’ve got good work to do here, let’s all get it done" - and instead she used it to attack. It made me realize, at that moment, that every time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things - connect or divide. Some people inherently divide, and some people inherently connect. Connecting is the most important thing, and actually an easy thing to do. I try to make a connection with someone every time I talk to them, even if I’m firing them. Because a connection can be made. People can be treated with respect. That is one of the most important things a show runner can do, is make everybody understand that we’re all involved, that we’re all on the same level, on some level. I’m shocked that there are so many people that live to divide. Whether it’s to divide people from each other, or from themselves - but it is a constant in everything. Trying to make a connection with somebody. It was Roseanne’s sort of divisive nature that made that show to be less and less meaningful. Even though it still kept on doing good things and she had a lot of good intent, and I think she changed the landscape of American television. She should be credited for having done it. Although I also think Matt Williams deserves a lot of credit. The fact is, you lose people when you do that. If you’re going to make television of any continued standard, or live in the world like a decent person, you can’t afford to do that. You know? You have to bring out the best in your people and see it when it’s there and nurture it and laud it, which is something I often forget to do. "Tell that guy he’s good!" "Well, I didn’t fire him, so he must know he’s good, right?" "No, Joss. It doesn’t work that way." I definitely miss out that people are having emotions all around me some times. But, at the same time, I do understand that we are in this together. You know, when I have a grip come up to me and say, "I really love the script." Or, "Oh, you know, I’m moving the camera, and this is the feeling that I get about how the story’s told." That’s the best thing in the world. Also, I think, be meaner - but that I had to learn later on.

IGNFF: How does it affect your mindset when you’re not in control, when you’re the one who’s being mistreated in a business where P.A.s have more respect than the writer?

WHEDON: You know, she went on Letterman, said, "I hate the writers. I’m going to fire them all." And I was just devastated. I was like - from the movie Deep Rising, when the bad guy says, "I don’t like you." The other guy says, "You don’t even know me." I felt like, "How can you say that? You haven’t even met us." Yes, I’m quoting a Stephen Sommers movie - my knowledge of film is that deep.

IGNFF: I applaud the fact that you’re able to recall any of Deep Rising...

WHEDON: Hey! Deep Rising had some stuff... C’mon, man...

IGNFF: It’s still the quality marker that a good writer friend of mine uses...

WHEDON: Quality, or lack...

IGNFF: He considers it one of the finest films ever made...

WHEDON: Okay, now we’ve gone a little far - but I do think it is a charming and underrated movie. And, I think, Famke Janssen’s best work. And I’m not actually being facetious - I saw that movie and I thought, "My god, she’s Julia Roberts. She’s got it."

IGNFF: And then she lost it all with X-Men...

WHEDON: You know, I haven’t seen the new one...

IGNFF: I haven’t either. I’m just going by the first one. What was the genesis for Buffy, as a film script?

WHEDON: Again, you’ve heard the "Dark Alley" story, I’m sure...


WHEDON: And that’s true. I did want to make a movie where a poor girl that kills would have to get her own back. Then, I started out with "Martha the Immortal Waitress." The idea of somebody that nobody would take account of, who just had more power than was imaginable. Which is such a pathetically obvious metaphor for what I wanted my life to be. Like, "I’m the guy that nobody paid attention to. What they didn’t know was that I’m really important. I can save the world. So, you know, that’s pretty cool, too." In the interview, you have to say, "He whined." [Interviewer’s note: Joss whined.] So, you know, when I hit on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was right around the time when Revenge of the Bimbos, or Attack of the Killer Bimbos or something - there were a lot of movies coming out that were proto-silly ’50s style titles. They were on the video store shelves. I worked at a video store. I would watch them, and I’d be like, "You know what? This is just another bimbo movie. These women aren’t empowered at all. They just made up a funny title." I was like, "I would like to make a movie that was one of these crappy, low-budget movies, that like the Romero films, had a feminist agenda, had females in it who were people, and had all the fun, all the silliness. Night of the Comet was a big influence. That actually had a cheerleader in it. With a title that would actually make people take it off the video store shelves, because it has to sound silly and not boring.

IGNFF: Where did the name Buffy come from?

WHEDON: It was the name that I could think of that I took the least seriously. There is no way you could hear the name Buffy and think, "This is an important person." To juxtapose that with Vampire Slayer, just felt like that kind of thing - a B movie. But a B movie that had something more going on. That was my dream. The network begged me to change the title. I was like, "You don’t understand. It has to be this. This is what it is." To this day, everyone says, "Oh, the title kept it from being taken seriously." I’m like, "Well, f*** them. It’s a B movie, and if you don’t love B movies, then I won’t let you play in my clubhouse." Now, I’m not an exclusionary person, I don’t like to drive people away, but honestly, if people have trouble with that title ...

IGNFF: Well, they don’t forget it.

WHEDON: You know, you’re not wrong.

IGNFF: That’s, what, three-quarters of the work a title’s supposed to do?

WHEDON: Yeah. The other one-quarter is it’s supposed to make you want to watch it. But, hey, at least I got three-quarters.

IGNFF: You’re still in the majority. Everybody wins.

IGNFF: Now, I’ve always been interested in the butchering of the film script in execution. Looking back in hindsight, with the skills you have now, was there anything you could have said, could have maneuvered, that would have had an impact on how the script was realized?

WHEDON: Yes and no. The fact of the matter is, I remember having a conversation with Kristy Swanson. She was like, "Please, tell me how to do this. Tell me what you want." I literally said, "I can’t." Because I have always treated film and television like the army, and I’m very strict about it. It was not my place. It was the director’s movie. At that point I was there to try and help the director realize her vision, and that’s all. Even though it was my script and all this stuff, the director... who had also financed, gotten the film off the ground. Fran Kuzui came in when nobody else wanted the film, said, "We’re going to put this together"... And they did. Howard Rosenman and Sandollar and all of that. Without them, there would be no film - and possibly not this phone conversation. So I didn’t agree with the way the movie was going, but I also kept my mouth shut because you respect the director. You do that. You respect the person above you, and you make suggestions and you do your best. You know? But you don’t ever disrupt the chain of command. You have to have faith in the person who’s running it or things will fall apart. I believe that part of the problem was that the director was unable to control the big, fat, wannabe movie star who came - you know, the old guy...

IGNFF: Initials D.S.?

WHEDON: Donald. They were changing their lines and running roughshod over her and everybody else, and I’m sorry. You can’t have that. You have to have faith in the leader, and in that situation the leader has to be the director. In TV, it has to be the producer.

IGNFF: So it was a lesson you learned from Roseanne?

WHEDON: It was just something I’ve always believed. I thought they were f***ing up and I thought they should have filmed some of the things I wrote. I thought that they should have let me into the process. Sometimes I know that I haven’t spoken out when I should have, and I’ve been too timid - because I’m basically terrified of confrontation. Or there’s times when I think, "Ahh, if only I’d taken over and done something Machiavellian to get control of this or that." But I’ve always believed you have to respect the person who’s doing it, no matter what. If you’re John Wayne in Fort Apache, you follow Henry Fonda - even though he’s going to get everybody killed. That’s what you do.

IGNFF: You’ll get them back four pictures later when you’ve had a promotion.

WHEDON: I’m not interested in getting anybody back or getting at anybody. All I’m interested in is when it’s my turn to lead, that I can lead. That people afford me the same respect that I did. Because now that I’m actually in charge, I do things the same way. I’m open to suggestion, I’m interested in what people have to say - my word is final. I will not brook anybody basically coming down against it, once it’s been said. That’s just how it works.

IGNFF: Is there any way that you see that you could have possibly enlightened Fran a bit more, as to the tone or style that the script was written in?

WHEDON: No. She had a thing she wanted to do. She was into the comedy of it - she didn’t want to make a B horror movie, that’s not her style. That’s her decision. That’s her right. What can you say? The director gets to take over. Now, somebody should protect the script, somebody should be there to do that. Directors have to be storytellers and all that stuff, and some are better than others. I’m talking about movie directors, because a TV director has to do that as much as they can, but ultimately are in service to the executive producer. The producer is the one who has to do that. But, you know, as Jeanine put it once, or probably more than once, "A director doesn’t have to create anything, but he is responsible for everything." Same thing goes for an executive producer on TV. I don’t have to write a line of the script - although there’s not a script for my shows that I don’t have a line in, or a scene, or a pitch, or something. I don’t sew the damn costumes, I don’t say the words - but I’m responsible for everything in every frame of every show. That’s my job, whether or not I’m directing the episode. So that’s why you have to have that complete faith, that kind of blind faith in a leader who has the ability to lead. I don’t know... I just also think leadership is something that is earned. I respected those above me, and demand the same from those below me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s one thing that helped keep the show together, is I had a clear vision and I was willing to share the credit with my extraordinary staff, crew, and the cast. I mean, obviously, I’m not writing novels - I’m doing collaborative work. But at the same time, I had a couple of people challenge me on my authority, and they found out quickly that they do not brook that.

IGNFF: Where would those challenges originate from? In what aspects?

WHEDON: People becoming unhappy if I changed something or if I was controlling or if I had something ... either pull something out from under me, or complaining about me to staff or something. I’m all for giving people their due and all, but I wouldn’t let it lie. You just can’t.

IGNFF: How would you deal with those challenges?

WHEDON: I would take them either aside or up to my office and explain why they mustn’t do that. It’s very simple. I said to one director... he said, "One of these days, I’m going to come down and look over your shoulder while you’re shooting." I brought him up to my office the next day and I said, "Let me explain something to you. It is my job to control the way you shoot, not your job to control mine. My name comes at the end of every show. You do very good work and you’re going to come back for us, but I am never going to let you do something that I don’t approve of."

IGNFF: He understood that?

WHEDON: Yeah. He did, actually.

IGNFF: Do you think occasionally, as part of the position, you do have to lay down that "mission statement" for people?

WHEDON: Yeah, and I think I could have done a better job of doing that with the actors on Buffy. I think we were all so young and so fresh and so crazed when we started, that I let a lot of tension on the set. In trying to be everybody’s friend, and so excited to be doing this work, and sort of assuming we’d all get along, I let a lot of non-constructive emotion take open sway on the set, when I should have just put the hammer down and said, "You know what? We’re here to do the work. Everybody, just get it done."

IGNFF: Does it make it harder to try and do that later?

WHEDON: Yes. Yes, because you’d set precedent, and that’s something you have to learn. I was 31, had never run anything before, and most of my people were pretty new. We all were just sort of, "This is so exciting!" It seemed like we were all going to link arms and march towards the camera singing "La Marseilles." That ain’t the case. It can’t be.

IGNFF: "Let’s make our single season on the air something to remember"...

WHEDON: Exactly. I mean, it felt like that. Come season two, it’s like, "Well, you’re our buddy! We can just misbehave, because you’re our buddy, right? So it doesn’t matter, because you’re just one of us." I was like, "Whoops. I think I can do that better."

IGNFF: What was the biggest problem with trying to rein it in?

WHEDON: You know, it was just people getting their personal issues or their rivalries or whatever it was, letting them creep into the energy of the set. That was the problem. I should have been more in control, more concerned with the energy of the set as it affected the crew. Because, ultimately, the crew are people you have to protect - more than people I think sometimes realize. It’s funny... I said to one reporter one time, and I told my wife this, I said, "You know, the first year, it was like we were all on Ecstasy. Everybody loved each other, everybody hated each other, and nobody wanted to go home." Because I was literally there all night - I’d sleep on the couch. My wife very quietly said, "Not anymore." I was like, "This round to you. The game is far from over!"

IGNFF: "We’ll meet again!"

WHEDON: "We’ll meet again! Probably when I come back into the kitchen." It’s very true, the energy of a set is a very important thing. My cast... by the way, I’m talking about things that, on a Hollywood scale, are tiny. My cast always came to play, always came knowing their stuff, doing the work, doing the best. Whatever bad energy they had before the cameras rolled, they didn’t put it on the screen. But at the same time, there was a lot of tension. Who that bleeds into are the crew, people who come in before - I was the only person coming in before the crew, and staying after the crew, and I get paid better. So I can’t complain. They were the people there first and there last, and energy like that flows down a chute, it makes it not as much fun a place. Still, this stuff kind of calmed down, we went seven years, we all kind of grew up. By the end, more professional.

IGNFF: Were relations frayed in this past season?

WHEDON: Well, you know, there was some things...

IGNFF: There was a recent interview that came out with Freddy Prinze, Jr. ...

WHEDON: The thing about the nonsense? He was quoted as saying, "Sarah had to deal with a lot of nonsense," and I was like, "Okay, Fred. I never saw you on set, so I’m not really sure what you’re referring to, but bless ya. Bless ya. By the way, I still know what you did last summer, buddy."

IGNFF: Scooby Dooby Doo.

WHEDON: Oh god. There was tension on set. Not everybody was best of friends, and in fact we did not link arms and sing "La Marseilles." But we made the show as well as we could for seven years, and you know, everybody made it together.

IGNFF: Was there a sense of burnout towards the end, as far as everyone looking on to what the future was going to hold?

WHEDON: Yeah, that started around season three. So it was sort of like, "We’re still here, guys. I know you guys are doing movies, it’s very exciting ... Oh, so it’s Dangerous Liaisons, but with kids - that’s going to be fun. We still have to make the show. Is anybody with me?"

IGNFF: "It’s a movie about a pie? That’s great..."

WHEDON: My one biggest priority of the show is that Aly becomes a sex symbol, and now she has - so I’m very happy about that. But, you know, you have to keep people’s head in the game.

IGNFF: There was this perception towards the early years that it was one big happy family, greatest set in Hollywood, and I guess the only time that anything belying that ever came to the forefront was the transition from the WB to UPN.

WHEDON: Yeah. Well, you know, again, the tensions I’m talking about are a small thing - but you asked what lessons I had learned, and one of the most important ones was "When you’re a leader, you can’t be everybody’s buddy." You have to be a leader. That doesn’t mean you can’t be kind, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends, it just means you have to be a leader. You have to know the difference and when to exercise the difference. And the fact of the matter is, in year five, we all planned to come back. The problem was with outsiders. The problem was with the network and the studio - it wasn’t with each other. Ultimately, the move to UPN wasn’t really a test of anything, because they were still working for me - same crew, same cast, you know? Same 48 audience members.

IGNFF: I hear it made it to 49 by the end of seven. A friend told a friend.

WHEDON: You know, I never even looked at the ratings for the last episode. I don’t even know if they went up at all.

IGNFF: I know there was an upswing.

WHEDON: Oh, that’s nice. You know, that was just dispiriting - but then Dean Valentine rode in on his white horse and made it all better, but that wasn’t a problem on the set. On set, it was the usual.

IGNFF: I know one thing that I definitely wanted to ask... there’s a lot of people that noticed a tonal shift when things moved from WB to UPN....


IGNFF: In retrospect, looking back at season six, it tonally existed for a reason - that’s where the character was at...

WHEDON: That’s why that tonal shift. It wasn’t like UPN said, "Make it different," or we had a feeling that UPN wanted to do things differently. That was where we went in our heads for season six. The funny thing is, I came out of season five and I said to the writers, "You know what..." - I looked at the season as a whole, and I would do this every year - "here’s what I loved, I’m really proud, we did great work. Here’s what we could do better on. Here’s what we need more of." One of the things was, "I feel like we need to be funnier." And then I came up with season six. But it was true. I was like, "You know, season five, we got very much into this one space. And there was a feeling - I like that anarchic feel we had in the earlier seasons, of bouncing back and forth between comedy and tragedy. Let’s try and get back to that." That was why we had the nerds. But at the same time, bringing somebody back from the dead is not something you do lightly. I had done it before, so I knew. I’m not talking about Buffy, I’m talking about Ripley.

IGNFF: The original draft.


IGNFF: It seemed like the shifting in season six was to extremes...

WHEDON: You know, it was very extreme. We really went to a dark, dark place. We got sort of... people talk about the creative meltdown. I’ve said this before, that I think when people look at the seventh season, as a story, they’ll understand season six better. I also understand that it got too depressing for too long, but I don’t think all of my instincts are perfect. In fact, the interesting thing was that Sarah took Marti Noxon aside and said, "You know what? I feel depressed. I feel like I want Buffy back. I feel like we’ve run on this path, and I feel like it’s time to sort of reclaim her." I had the exact same conversation with Marti on the same day. So she had her conversation with Sarah and came back to me, "You’re not going to believe this." That was always the way it was.

IGNFF: Well, the interesting thing was to compare that to season seven. Looking at season seven, it started off completely different than what it evolved into. Because I remember you had made comments that it’s going to be a return to roots, and Sunnydale High is opening again. But, tonally, it seemed like Buffy almost regressed back into the dark things that one had thought she’d grown out of over the course of season six.

WHEDON: Well, the problem was season six took us to a dark place, and that dark place we lost Buffy - and I think that’s why people didn’t respond to it, because they always had Buffy to lean on. No matter how sad she got, she was still Buffy. In six she was really questioning her very identity. People didn’t want that. That upset them. It was like they didn’t have their anchor. So it didn’t matter if you have something tight or interesting or thematic or funny - they wanted that anchor back. I get that. In season seven, it wasn’t like we weren’t going to put her through her paces. Buffy in pain is a staple of the show from season one. As [David] Greenwalt and I told each other very early on - "Buffy in pain, story more interesting. Buffy not in pain, story not interesting." So we couldn’t just have her be like, "La-di-da, do-di-do, all is well," for a season, because - hey, show not about that. The dark place we took her to was about, "I’m accepting my power, my responsibility, and my leadership, and those are hard things to deal with." So, inevitably, she got kind of bummed out, because that’s how you tell the story. The hero goes through something and then they resolve it.

IGNFF: I think the odd thing was when you had a dozen episodes of a different speech each episode...

WHEDON: You know, we got into some speeches, because she had these potentials. I think the flaw of the season for me was that we were so clearly focused on what we wanted to do at the end of the season that we had to sort of get to it in a lot of episodes. Even though they contained things that I loved individually as single episodes, they were just part of a whole - not of themselves enough, a little bit. Also, when you’re dealing with potentials, you have huge guest casts - which is just a nightmare to try and find people who work, and register. We found some good ones, but it’s really hard - especially when you have an ensemble that’s large, that your audience really cares about. But I had to get the potentials in there.

IGNFF: I think what’s interesting, especially dealing with the potentials, is that I know going in - with the comments you had made previous to the season - my thought was it’s going to be a rededication to the core group throughout the season. It seemed the introduction of the potentials - and here’s a dozen potentials and new characters accompanying them - that it diluted the core group that we care about ...

WHEDON: Yeah, I think it did, and I had to get to that ending. The problem is it’s very hard to find a bunch of people that can suddenly come in and be important, or even just be sort of noise in the frame while you’re dealing with your characters and really get it done. Like I said, we found really good people. But, you know, you do want to deal with your core characters. The other thing is, you’ve been dealing with your core characters for seven years. It’s kind of hard. You know their tricks, you know their strengths and weaknesses, and you’re trying to drum up a new thing for them to go through, you know, a new thing for them to express, and it’s harder. It’s just harder.

IGNFF: I know personally, looking at the characters, it’s almost like the things that happened to every one of them through those last two seasons - right down to what happened with Xander and Anya - it’s almost like the audience was being punished for having an investment in the characters. Can’t somebody have a happy ending?

WHEDON: Well, you know, everybody had a happy ending... except, well, not so much Anya.

IGNFF: I can understand relationships tend not to work, but couldn’t one relationship work?

WHEDON: Well, Willow and Kennedy worked. Maybe you weren’t invested in that in the last one, but they were hanging at the end ... One of my characters will still have a girlfriend when they cancelled the show, and it was Willow.

IGNFF: The Kennedy thing almost seemed more of a predatory relationship.

WHEDON: Kennedy is, as she herself said, a bit of a brat. What I wanted was an anti-Tara. I wanted somebody who was as different from Tara as possible. Tara was very reticent, and she was somebody that Willow caused to blossom. What I wanted was somebody who was further on down in dealing with her sexuality than Willow ever was. Somebody who was totally confident, who was totally not earthy-crunchy, who was a completely different person. What I wanted to explore was the concept of Willow moving on. We did that with the first kiss, that turned her into Warren. The first time they had sex, the things that Willow has to deal with emotionally, her fear of her power and stuff, and Kennedy’s kind of involvement in that. That’s what Kennedy was for.

IGNFF: In execution, it almost seemed like it was a predatory, stalker type, "I’m always here, you’re going to give in to me. You’re going to give in to me - I’m in your bed!" kind of relationship...

WHEDON: Well, it didn’t seem like that to me. It was more like, "I’m really cute. I think you’re cute and let’s get it on." People are always like, "Oh, they didn’t even have a relationship." They had a long talk about, "When did you come out?" and this whole thing at the Bronze that we had never done with Tara, that we very deliberately saying, "Okay, they’re starting a relationship." What I was interested in was Willow’s guilt, that her life could go on, that her love life could go on after Tara, because that’s a part of living. Quite frankly, that was not plan A. Plan A was to bring Tara back.

IGNFF: I heard there were some failed discussions about that.

WHEDON: Amber didn’t want to do it. She wanted to do other things. I had a whole - I used to tell people, "Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have her in a couple of flashbacks, keep her alive, and then at the end ..." I had a whole show figured out that ended with the return of Tara. I used to cry every time I pitched it. It was going to be Tara’s her one true love, people are going to be blown away, they’ll never see it coming - except on the Internet - and it’s going to be just about the biggest thing. Quite frankly, Amber just didn’t want to do it - which is her decision. I was like, "Okay, the thing where I cried, and we all cried, and I told you about? That’s gone. So, instead, we’re going to go out and find somebody really hot, and we’re going to make this about moving on, because that’s the only option we have. I don’t want Willow stuck in typical gay celibacy on TV. I’m interested in where her heart will go once she’s lost her true love, so let’s do that instead." So, you know, hence Kennedy.

IGNFF: On a side tangent, what was the purpose of the - I hesitate to use the phrase - sort of clumsy storytelling with the whole "Giles not touching things" thing...

WHEDON: It was just us having fun.

IGNFF: It didn’t seem to really pan out besides making a lot of people crazy on the Internet...

WHEDON: That was just a fun runner for the diehards, so you watch every episode and you’re like, "AH! You’re right, he leaned on it, but he didn’t touch it!" It was just us having a little mystery fun.

IGNFF: It almost reduced the intelligence level of the characters themselves.

WHEDON: Not really. As soon as they figured out he hadn’t touched anything for a few episodes, they ran off and dealt with the problem, and figured it out. Boom. It wasn’t like they were being idiots. Fact of the matter was, it really was just something to make people wonder. Just to have a little fun in the sense of pulling a mystery. You know, it was never supposed to be a huge thing. It wasn’t about Giles’s character, it was just about, "Uh, we don’t know where the bad guy is, we don’t know where he’s coming from. Our trusted mentor could be the bad guy." That’s a nice creepy thing to do to people, and playing the game of, "Is he touching something? Why didn’t he hug her?" You know, it was an exercise, something to spice things up. It was not like a big, dramatic deal. If it didn’t work, then oops - but I don’t think it’s the most important part of the season.

IGNFF: Are there any characters that you think got short-shrift in season seven?

WHEDON: Yeah. You know, I had wanted to go further with Dawn’s character.

IGNFF: It seemed like that’s how the season was starting out.

WHEDON: You know, it was. The problem was, again, we had so much work to do to get to the end of the season, that everything else kind of fell by the wayside. Unfortunately, Michelle was like, "Never did get that boyfriend you promised me!"

IGNFF: What was the purpose of Joyce’s statement to her?

WHEDON: To rattle her. To make her wonder, and then, you know, it was just this sort of said thing. The First trying to set everybody against each other, was all, and I guess against themselves. But I just think Michelle’s extremely talented. In season six, people were like, "Oh, she whines so much." I sort of scratched my head. I was like, "Excuse me, she’s been abandoned by about six parental figures. The girl has huge issues." At the same time I was like, "You get it... we sort of run the same note for a while, they’re not wrong." We needed to make some changes. I’d hoped to be able to do more with Dawn this year, and the bigger picture just got so goddamn big, that it was hard. You get into a situation that you do like to stand alone, that’s about an external character - and we already had so many with the goddamn potentials... people don’t like them. You’re like, "I’m really interested in this little aspect of Dawn’s life" - if it’s not part of the bigger picture, people resent it. It’s very hard to pull that off in season seven of the giant battle that’s coming. "Dawn Goes on a Date" is not something that people would really sit for, unless we really nailed it. So it kind of fell by the wayside. She’s not the only one, but she’s a prime example.

IGNFF: It seemed almost like the pacing of the season was odd.

WHEDON: I think these aren’t questions I can really answer right now, because I have no perspective of it. When you’re talking about something like pacing, it’s like, "Which episode was which?"

IGNFF: That’s true. I can see the point... I retract the question.

WHEDON: You certainly don’t have to see the point - I just don’t really have a comment. I don’t have that much of an overview right now.

IGNFF: So which actors are we going to see popping up again in the future, in projects?

WHEDON: Honestly, I don’t know. I think of stuff all the time. "Oh, that would be perfect for this person." James [Marsters, Spike], obviously, is going over to Angel. I can’t imagine not working with Aly, more than anybody else.

IGNFF: Oh, but what about Andrew?

WHEDON: Oh, don’t get me wrong. Tom Lenk rules. I will hound him to the grave. This man is a genius.

IGNFF: Talk about the perfect sidekick for Giles on Ripper. Talk about an odd couple...

WHEDON: He is just a treasure... he really is a treasure. Believe me when I say he pops up in almost everything. Certainly in all my Aly projects. It’s like, "There’s Tom!" That’s fine with her.

IGNFF: Definitely one of the biggest finds of the past two years.

WHEDON: Yeah, he blew us all away, and he’s a sweetheart.

IGNFF: Much to Danny’s [Danny Strong, Jonathan] dismay.

WHEDON: Danny, you know - you die, you work more then. That’s our rule. No, Danny was with us since the presentation. Danny has been with us that long.

IGNFF: Is the presentation ever going to make it to DVD?

WHEDON: Not while there is strength in these bones.

IGNFF: Well, I mean, it’s one of the most heavily bootlegged things on the Internet...

WHEDON: Yeah. It sucks on ass.

IGNFF: Yeah, it does, but it’s sort of that archival, historical perspective...

WHEDON: Yeah, I’ve got your historical perspective ...

IGNFF: It would take it off the bootleg market...

WHEDON: Ah, I don’t - what are you going to do?

IGNFF: Put it on the DVD.

WHEDON: Not me.

IGNFF: Have you seen the latest, wonderful Internet find of the purported leak of Spike’s return on Angel next year?

WHEDON: No. How’s it going to happen? Because I need some ideas.

IGNFF: Well let’s see. According to this, Spike shows up in the White Room at the beginning of next season, wearing the amulet, naked, turns over, "Oh bloody hell," as Angel and crew stand over him. Cut to credits, come back, Angel and he get in a fight, Angel tries to rip the amulet off. Spike has trouble breathing, they put the amulet back on, find he’s connected, and then Wes makes a determination that due to contact with Buffy at the time of death, Spike is human - but is now the first male vampire slayer.

WHEDON: Two words: Fan fic. Utter rubbish.

IGNFF: Isn’t Ain’t it Cool News great?

WHEDON: Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. I wish we lived in a world without spoilers - but we never will. But that is in fact not true. The great thing is - you read ten ridiculous theories about what is going to happen, and one is absolutely, totally right by accident. Then you just go, "Ha ha! Those ridiculous theories!" and start rewriting.

IGNFF: But it’s not this one...

WHEDON: Not this one. It doesn’t matter what they write. We’ll write what we write.

IGNFF: And we’ll know in a couple months.


IGNFF: What are your thoughts on the Internet’s role in television production?

WHEDON: The Internet, you know... The bitch goddess that I love and worship and hate. You know, we found out we have a fan base on the Internet. They came together as a family on the Internet, a huge goddamn deal. It’s so important to everything the show has been and everything the show has done - I can’t say enough about it. It drives me up the frigging wall that I can’t keep secrets, that I can’t keep things off the Internet. The crewmembers of my own shows are feeding things to the Internet so that people will know what happens before it happens.

IGNFF: Where’s the respect for the chain of command?

WHEDON: Apparently, the chain is only as strong as - well, that weak link that’s me. It’s not respect for the chain of command, it’s respect for storytelling. People just don’t have it. But you know what? Not everybody reads spoilers, not everybody lives that way. Those are the people that really love the show. I cannot conceive of a person who wants to know what happens. People who turn to the last page of a book - what universe did they come from? I don’t understand it. That drives me crazy, but I think the Internet is beyond important in terms of fans communing, becoming a community and growing. People writing each other and writing fiction, and writing, well, porn. All of these things that do what I always wanted Buffy to do, which was exist outside of the TV show. Enter people’s own personal ethos. The Internet has been a big part in how that has happened.

IGNFF: What is the current future of Firefly?

WHEDON: The current future of Firefly is that I’m writing a movie script that I have some hope of actually getting made.

IGNFF: Which will be a retelling... ?

WHEDON: No, it will be a completely new story that will be completely true to the series for those people who have seen it or see it on DVD, but will completely reintroduce it to those people who never did. Which makes it a very funny tightrope to walk. I’m basically serving two masters - I want to tell a mythic and exciting and timeless tale about nine people that people have never met, and yet not betray or repeat anything I do on the series. It’s going to be tough.

IGNFF: Of course, you could just keep approaching Firefly actors to do more villains.

WHEDON: Yes, I know. It’s great. It’s great, actually. I plan to... I think I’m going to need another one.

IGNFF: They work well.

WHEDON: Yeah, they do just fine.

IGNFF: In fact, it would have been nice if Caleb had shown up earlier.

WHEDON: Yeah, I think so, too.

IGNFF: Was that naturally where that was going to be?

WHEDON: No, that was us going, "You know what? We need someone to latch onto." Having a villain who can take the form of anybody - and not being able to afford to hire the guest cast - made that really fascinating, but it meant that we didn’t really have anything to push against. We needed somebody, we needed a sidekick. Somebody physical that we can see from episode to episode, and it took us a while to realize, which is why he came in.

IGNFF: What is the current production status on the Firefly DVDs?

WHEDON: They should be coming out in the fall. Late fall.

IGNFF: The full-on special edition?

WHEDON: Oh my god. They couldn’t be specialer. We’ve got three unaired episodes, commentary by every cast member, big interviews with everybody, gag reel - all kinds of stuff. It’s just bells and whistles, and they’ll be in the right order. And widescreen. So it really couldn’t be better DVD package... a wicked one, at that. They really went to town on it. I was like, "I don’t know if they’ll release them on DVD, because it was cancelled," and they’re not only releasing it, they’re doing everything. I did the commentary on the two-hour pilot with Nathan. He and Alan did one together... Alan Tudyk. It’s really exciting.

IGNFF: What has been the difficulty in getting cast members for the Buffy and Angel commentaries?

WHEDON: I don’t know. I don’t know. You know, it wasn’t really broached early on. I think we’re getting more sophisticated about how this is done as DVDs have established themselves. DVDs of TV shows have established themselves just in the last couple years ... the only time I ever did one with a cast member was when Marti and Seth and I did one together. That was of course insane, because it was Seth.

IGNFF: Who was on his best behavior.

WHEDON: None of our best behavior is really that good.

IGNFF: Did it surprise you the reaction that the lack of widescreen for Buffy season four on DVD got here in the U.S.?

WHEDON: People were upset, right? I haven’t seen the season four package ... it contains a disclaimer from me as to why it’s not in widescreen, that I wrote. It’s on it, it comes with it. It’s not a widescreen show. We shot it in a TV ratio, and I am very, very specific with the way I frame things. To arbitrarily throw - and I love widescreen, but Buffy was never a widescreen show. It was an intimate, TV-shaped show. To arbitrarily throw wider borders on it, to make it more cinematic when I very specifically framed it. Think of "The Body" - the episode "The Body"...

IGNFF: Right, which I’ve seen in widescreen and full frame...

WHEDON: How could you have seen it in widescreen?

IGNFF: The U.K. sets are in widescreen.

WHEDON: Good. See, that is not the way I framed it. That’s not the way it was meant to be seen, and therefore that’s not the way I shot it. I’m preserving what I shot. The DVD is there to preserve what we made, for eternity. What we made, very specifically, was a certain shape. So I’m sure there’ll be widescreen copies and there’ll be arguments about what’s better, but I’m not interested in - and I mean, I love widescreen. I’m a widescreen fanatic, when something’s wide. When it’s not, then I want to see it the way it was meant to be seen.

IGNFF: Were you not consulted for the U.K. sets?

WHEDON: No, I was not. Buffy was never widescreen. Angel is, Firefly was - and was not aired that way. That’ll be nice, that it can be shown the way it was meant to be seen. For me, Buffy is a different animal.

IGNFF: What are you working on right now, as far as the future? You mentioned in the past you were working on a self-project completely unrelated to this universe you’ve created.

WHEDON: Well, I am actually working on the screenplay of Firefly, in my hopes that I can actually get it made. I am actually working on season five of Angel. Right now those are my two priorities.

IGNFF: Working on a single show will be a change after this long.

WHEDON: What a relief.