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Joss Whedon - Science Fiction Weekly Interview

By Kathie Huddleston

Wednesday 3 December 2003, by Webmaster

Series creator Joss Whedon refuses to give up on his canceled Firefly

By Kathie Huddleston

Despite the fact that Fox canceled his series Firefly over a year ago, Joss Whedon is not even close to letting go of his creation. With thoughts of Firefly stories dancing in his head, the creator of the Buffy franchise has plans that just might keep the fledgling series around for a long, long time in one way or another. However, until Whedon’s ideas can spring forth, the series’ fans can explore all things Firefly with the new DVD set, which will be available in early December.

The four-disc set offers all the episodes, including the three completed episodes that never made it on air. Chock full of commentary from Whedon and other Firefly notables, a few very special extras provide some insights into the series, including a gag reel and Joss’ tour of the set.

Whedon chatted with Science Fiction Weekly about the DVD, Firefly’s cancellation, and why people should never, ever listen to the DVD extra that features his rendition of the Firefly theme song.

Tell me about the Firefly DVD. What’s on it?

Whedon: TV shows. I think some I Dream of Jeannies and Match Games [laughs]. What we have is basically the entire history of Firefly so far. But actually that involves all of the episodes being in the right order, widescreen, which is how we shot them-although that’s not how they were aired. And with three episodes that were never aired, in addition to all the others. Never aired in this country, I should say.

What can we look forward to with the new episodes?

Whedon: Well, the usual hijacks. There are three of them. One brings back the character of Saffron we had in "Our Mrs. Reynolds," who we loved very much, for a caper episode. One is kind of a dark episode from Mal and Zoe’s war days. And one of the episodes is them defending a whorehouse. And you can never have enough episodes about people defending a whorehouse.

What’s going to surprise us in these episodes?

Whedon: All I can say is, hopefully everything. The show was always built to try and surprise, to try and let people think they know where they are going and then head in the opposite direction. That’s kind of my theory of TV. They fit in the canon, and one of them has a very important plot point that was never seen. But apart from that they are just more of Firefly.

What extras are on the DVDs? Whedon: Extras? You know, the usual suspects in terms of commentary from me and Tim [Minear] and Nathan [Fillion], a few of the actors on different episodes and different people. Writers and the wardrobe person, I think [laughs]. And a lot of different perspectives. The gag reel, which is one of those rare gag reels where people are actually having fun and not just messing up their lines. And they actually made a little documentary piece about the show and interviewed everybody for it, which is really nice. There’s some crazy person singing the theme song, which, I can’t stress enough, people should just avoid that particular extra. It was never meant to be heard by anybody.

Who would that crazy person be?

Whedon: Yeah, that’d be me. I threw it down. I was like, OK, I’ll just throw it down so they know the chords and then we’ll get some great old blues singer to sing it and it will be cool. And they were like, "Let’s put it on the DVD." And I was like, "OK." And then I listened to it. I was like, "I must die now [laughs]." I can’t stress this enough-not a singer.

And now it will live on forever.

Whedon: Yeah, I know it [laughs]. But the embarrassment is outweighed by the fact that I love this show as hard as anything I’ve loved, and to have it exist on the DVD shelf and in perpetuity is such a great thing for me.

The DVD sounds like something the fans have really been waiting for.

Whedon: Right away the DVD department came and said, "Oh, we’re putting this out." Which was great vindication. And I’m excited, because I haven’t seen the thing in a while and I’m like, "Oh, it’s going to be all in a package with extras." Even though I’ve actually seen or created most of the extras, and I’m terrified of one of them, I’m just excited to see it out there. To know it exists, that it’s on the shelves. And then hopefully leaving the shelves [laughs].

Firefly has only aired 11 episodes. Were you surprised at the response from the fans?

Whedon: I have a theory about that.

What’s the theory?

Whedon: It was excellent [laughs]. That’s my theory. And I think it was also the kind of TV I always strive, and don’t always succeed but always strive, to make. Which is the kind of TV that basically grabs you by the gut, that makes you fall in love with the characters instantly, or at worst gradually. And to the point where their lives are incorporated into your own. I know that’s what we did with Buffy, and more and more I feel that’s what we did with Firefly. If you’re not doing that, what are you doing [laughs]?

A lot of TV-type people do other things.

Whedon: I realize that other people do other things that they’re very good at. People love them. I’m not going to make a procedural because, quite frankly, I don’t know anything about any procedures. I think a procedural about joke-telling would be weird and boring. But I like to make the kind of TV that people need. And that generally ends up meaning cult TV. Every now and then people create something that has a genre twist to it that becomes a mainstream hit. I don’t think I’m that guy, but that’s OK by me.

The summer before Firefly aired, you and I talked about the show. You told me that Fox originally loved the initial two-hour movie and then they decided that they wanted to start in a different place with a one-hour standalone episode. And you said, "And I think they’re not wrong." However, my opinion as a viewer was that they were wrong and that the original two-hour movie, "Serenity," should have aired first.

Whedon: They were so wrong that we may have to create a new word that means wronger. And the fact that they got me to doubt myself in that way and the work makes me a little sad. But you know, I’d been pounded on for months. And I had people around me going, "No, [what they want is not] the way to tell a story. This is exciting. This involves you in the characters." And I was like, "What if it’s dull? What if they’re right?" Ultimately, you don’t want to come in saying, "Check out my show. It will be incoherent." You want to work with the people who are trying to sell the show. And if there had been any people trying to sell the show, I would have.

You know, I understand why they thought they had to do what they had to do. The new word for wrong that we’re going to come up with-they were glemphy. They were just completely glemphy. It really has to do more with the fact that they just had no use for the show. They didn’t want the show. They didn’t get the show. It was just never something that they wanted in their lives. And unfortunately they were unable to either communicate or realize that. And I say unfortunately. I guess fortunately because it lived a short life, but it’s one of the happiest experiences I’ve ever had making something.


Whedon: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Even though it didn’t seem to show up in the ratings, people did watch and love this show. A lot of people fought hard to keep it alive.

Whedon: Yes, they really did. The fans, they came through in a huge way. They’ve always been so supportive. And when I’m like, "It ain’t nothin’. It’s all over. It means nothing." And then I see what they have to say about it and it’s very nice. And I go, "That’s right. I’m one of them. A fan." [Laughs.]

When the show basically got no support from the network and then was canceled, that must have been a tremendously difficult experience.

Whedon: It was the best/worst year of my life. It was raining fire and I was in this nice little cave having a lovely meal with all these wonderful people, and every now and then I’d go outside and fire would rain down on me, from the very start, from script stage. In terms of dealing with the network it was just gut-wrenchingly difficult, and all a function of the fact that they didn’t want me to make this show. So there was just no winning. I would go to meetings, I would talk to my agent, I would deal with executives, and I would be ulcerously unhappy. And then I would go on set and forget that any of it ever happened, because it was the happiest set and, quite frankly, the happiest place I’ve ever been.

The three episodes, why did they never air those?

Whedon: You know, they said they were going to air them in the summer. I don’t think they really saw the percentage in it. And then perhaps when the DVD people said, "We’re going to do it," it was more advantageous to be able to say never, unaired-and we never aired. So they had a good mystique to them. That’s my theory. Although if the network had some use for them, I don’t know if they would have rolled over the DVD people, but that’s my guess.

We fans, of course, are hoping Firefly goes into movies. However, I think these characters are so strong they going to live on in our hearts and minds for a long time regardless. Whedon: I think so, too. I mean, I think about all sorts of things-movies, books, comic books. Everything. I like to think where I could use the actors. You know, it would be very fun to write a Firefly book, but then where would Nathan [Fillion] go? He wouldn’t be in it. It would just be pages that talked like him. The actors too exist, very fully already, which is nice. But I still have plans for them.