FireflyJoss Whedon’s "Firefly" gets a second chance
By Suzanne C. Ryan
Sunday 9 October 2005, by Webmaster
When Fox abruptly canceled Joss Whedon’s futuristic space drama, "Firefly," three years ago, Whedon - the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" - was crushed.
"There was so much more to say," he recalls.
Friday, in a vindication rarely seen in Hollywood, Whedon will have his say when Universal Pictures premieres "Serenity," a film based on the failed TV series and featuring the original cast. It is Whedon’s feature-film directorial debut. advertisement
How did he do it? Much as persistent fans resurrected Fox’s "Family Guy" and convinced the SciFi Channel to air a "Farscape" miniseries wrapping up the series, a passionate fan base helped Whedon bring about the rebirth of "Firefly."
"There was an online campaign even before the show was canceled," Whedon says. Fans took out an ad in Variety supporting the show. Websites such as fireflyfans.net, cantstopthesignal.com, and whedonesque.com popped up, all of which fueled interest. DVD sales of the show’s only season topped more than 200,000 units. The buzz was so strong that Universal Pictures bought the rights from Fox in 2003 and set aside about $40 million for the project.
"We were really impressed by not only the style and substance of the show, but also by this committed, loving fan base," says Adam Fogelson, president of marketing for Universal Pictures. "We saw it as an opportunity to make a very reasonably budgeted film at a moment in time when the existing staples of the genre - ’Star Wars’ and ’Star Trek’ - have stopped."
Universal chose an unusual tack to market the film, which was originally scheduled to premiere in April but was pushed back in part because of competition from "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." Relying on word-of-mouth, the studio premiered a rough version of the film to fans at more than 100 screenings across the country from April through July. It was a plan that caught Whedon off guard.
"I was like, ’OK. You know I haven’t finished it?’ " Whedon says. Universal premiered it anyway, with temporary special effects and music. Fans showed up in Firefly costumes and with messages on T-shirts such as "Joss Whedon is my master now." The screenings generated Internet chatter and media coverage, all of which amazed Whedon.
"This just isn’t done," he says. "It was really fun."
Universal Pictures, a corporate cousin of the Sci Fi Channel, also arranged to have that network air the original "Firefly" series.
Much has been said about Fox, which aired "Firefly" episodes out of order, pre-empted the season with sporting events, and chose an unpopular timeslot for the series (Friday nights at 8). But even hard-core fans admit that the television show was a bit hard to follow.
Set 500 years in the future, the series featured Malcolm Reynolds, a freedom fighter who unsuccessfully battled against the unification of planets by the Alliance a few years back during a civil war. As the captain of a transport ship called the Serenity, he spent his days trying to make a living - sometimes with shady customers - while dodging run-ins with the Alliance. His crew included Zoe, a soldier who served with him during the war; Wash, Zoe’s husband and the ship’s pilot; Kaylee, the ship’s engineer; and Simon, the doctor.
Passengers included a courtesan named Inara, a priest with a mysterious past named Book, and Simon’s sister River, a psychic who’s hunted by the Alliance.
"It wasn’t an easily accessible show," says Glenn Yeffeth, coeditor of the anthology "Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s ’Firefly.’ " "There was a lot to figure out. ... I think if it had a little more time, it could have taken off."
Today’s film will pick up just before the television series ended. "It will explain the story of River and why she’s on the run," says Whedon, who insists that people who never saw the TV show will still be able to follow the plot. "This is a stand-alone story," he says. Still, Whedon is always ready to write more. "I have it in my head that I’m not finished."