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FireflyThe Firefly Episode Guide, Part VII
Monday 15 December 2003
Firefly: The Firefly Episode Guide, Part 7
Behind the Scenes with Joss Whedon & Tim Minear, by Edward Gross
“THE MESSAGE” Official DVD Summary: While Jayne opens a mail package from his mother that contains a wool cap with ear flaps and a pom-pom, Mal and Zoe open their package to discover the body of their owl war buddy, Tracey.
JOSS WHEDON: The episode we were shooting when I got to tell everybody that we were cancelled. I love that episode because it dealt with war, Mal’s morality and a dead body, which is always fun. It bears an enormous sadness considering it’s all about death and betrayal and honor and sadness - it all worked out fine considering things. It bore that because everybody knew that it was over. Except me, who still refuses to admit it. It’s part of my charm, really. Tim and I wrote it together and I wrote the flashback. I was waiting for word and Peter Chernin had a call in to me and I didn’t know what was happening, so I wrote a joke flashback that was basically me and Tim in the trenches, waiting. The privates were all executives that kept coming in and putting us on hold. I gave it to Tim and it was actually an incredibly emotional joke, because it basically ended with the two of us waiting together to hear word; listening to Mulan Rouge on hold in the trenches. It was really Mal and Zoe, but Tim and I knew who it was, though neither of us will say which one of us is Zoe, because we both want to be her.
On that day, I actually went and pitched Batman, because they were doing the movie, they were looking for pitches and I was, like, “Oh, what the hell, I’ve got an idea.
CFQ: There had been no indication that you had pitched to them.
JOSS WHEDON: I didn’t intend to. Everybody was like, “Dude, it’s Batman,” and then I came up with an idea I really loved about doing an origin story. I pitched it and they kind of looked at me like, “There’s a video fishbowl.” Just nothing. I kind of came out of that and was like, “How many more lessons do I need that the machine doesn’t care about the creative process?” I got back to the office and found out we were cancelled and realized that maybe there was one more lesson to be had. Gail Berman called me and the only thing I had to say was, “Will you allow me to try and take this somewhere else?” She said yes, I thanked her and that was it. Then I went to the set and made the announcement.
TIM MINEAR: Great effects in that episode. There was a pretty exciting chase in a snow canyon between two spaceships. Which is amazing now that I’m working on another show where we can’t afford to have a room. Now it’s like, “Can I have a room with a table?” “No, it’s too expensive.” Joss and I wrote this episode and we were sort of writing it while I was directing. The scene that I remember the most is when I was shooting a certain scene on the bridge, Joss showed up on the set, pulled me aside and said, “They’ve cancelled the show. Do you want to tell people now or do you want to keep shooting?” I said we should tell them. We gathered everybody around and Joss said they pulled the plug on the show, they’re not going to order anymore and he vowed to fight for the show in any way that he could, which he has been doing ever since. So everybody went off and got drunk, I guess, and then we came back. This was a Friday night and I stopped in the middle of shooting a scene. We came back on a Monday and the first scene back I had to shoot - when people look at the DVD, they should look at the scene where it’s Mal and Inara and Zoe sitting around the dining room table, laughing their asses off as Mal is recounting a funny story about his dead privates [soldiers]. So the first thing we had to shoot with these people after telling them they were cancelled was a scene where they had to laugh hysterically. That was good acting. The thing is, it never became depressing in a way. We still had fun shooting the rest of that episode and I remember that the last thing I shot was the flashback to the battle scene, which is one of the things I’m proud of because it looks really cool and Joss wrote that scene.
“HEART OF GOLD” Official DVD Summary: The crew comes to the aid of a bordello when its madam, an old acquaintance of Inara’s, asks for help after a gunslinger claims a prostitute’s baby is his and he’s taking it because his wife is barren.
Note: Both “Heart of Gold” and “Objects in Space,” for the most part, were shot prior to “The Message.”
JOSS WHEDON: Another one that we did a lot of reshooting and tinkering with after the fact. I think it came together really well, but when we looked at the first cut it left something to be desired. It was just one of those things with a lot of missteps. Also we had been getting notes from the network and we had done this early enough in the process where we looked at it and we were, like, “Nobody but us seems to have gotten the message to tone down the Western thing, so everything looked so Western that we were, like, “The network is going to kill us. This is like we’re spitting in their face.” So we did a few reshoots and changed a couple of lines to sort of hit the idea of why it was the way it was. We did a lot of tweaking. Our guest star, Belinda Clarke, I loved and I loved Inara’s reaction to them sleeping together. There are a lot of things in that episode that are key, but there was much work done in the editing room because we were scratching our heads saying, “It looks like Bonanza, what do we do?”
CFQ: And the network was really afraid of the Western aspect of the show?
JOSS WHEDON: They really were. That’s why they loved “Ariel” all to pieces, because it didn’t have Western elements much at all.
CFQ: Did they not know what show they were buying?
JOSS WHEDON: You know, that’s a question that I’ve asked. Basically shows do go through development stages. What happened with me is I came in and said, “Here’s exactly what I want to do,” and they were, like, “We want a show from you, so do that.” It wasn’t like, “Does it have to be a Western?” It was a little too late for that. They let me make the pilot and then they were, like, “Oh. Right. A Western with the horsies and sidearms?” They just didn’t think that people would respond to it, although when they saw the credits and saw the shot of the spaceship scattering those horses, that they liked. It was a stretch.
“Heart of Gold” is one of the unaired episodes and it had one of the most important moments, which is Inara telling Mal she’s leaving the ship. Which we referenced in “Objects in Space,” and then had to reshoot the scene because we weren’t going to air “Heart of Gold” before “Objects in Space.” So we had a little scene between Mal and Inara which we had to do a reshoot in which they didn’t reference that. Now with the DVD, where they’re in the correct order, we put it back in and it does.
TIM MINEAR: This one is also known as “Shower of Gold” or “Heart of Pooh.” It’s not our favorite episode. This one kind of fell through the cracks. We never quite got the story broken properly. There were just things about it we didn’t love. But as far as I’m concerned, any episode of Firefly is good; it’s always fun to see those people. This episode, though, is a little generic. I will say that the last things that I shot for the series were some inserts for that episode; pick-up shots for a montage and that sort of thing. I remember the A.D. sending each actor into the room as I was shooting and they would get wrapped out of the series after I’d get them. That was weird, because you wrap out guest characters, you don’t wrap out your regular actors, except we were cancelled. So they would come into this room, do a shot or two, and then the A.D. would say, “Ron Glass. That’s a Firefly wrap for Ron Glass,” and then Ron would make a speech to the crew and everyone would cry and then each person came in. Everyone hung around until the last person was finished, because they wanted to be there for it. So that was kind of odd. Then the last shot I did of all of them together - there’s a shot where the entire crew of Serenity is walking up to a brothel. That was actually shot on a soundstage and it’s everyone walking up to this brothel and it was the last time they were all together on a stage to shoot a moment in Firefly.
After this really depressing day of everyone crying and making beautiful speeches, I packed up my bag and went home that night and it was all finished. I turned on the TV and that was the night they were airing the pilot finally, so that was the great irony. “OBJECTS IN SPACE” Official DVD Summary: The crew is caught off-guard when a bounty hunter eager to claim the enormous reward on River’s head, sneaks aboard Serenity and methodically begins taking the crew prisoner one by one.
JOSS WHEDON: About as big a labor of love that I’ve ever done and definitely one of the two or three episodes that I’m proudest of that I’ve made of any show. But not unstrange. It’s an odd little episode in some ways. It was very much an existential statement on the meaning of objects in space and how they contain meanings within themselves; how we approach that and about two people that see them in a way that every day people don’t, and what the essential difference is, which is that one of them, the bounty hunter, is innately bringing evil with him and one of them, River, is innately bringing love. That was sort of what I wanted to say with it; what I wanted to get into. It comes with probably the most pretentious, repetitive, and probably incoherent commentary that I have ever done. I really tried to explain exactly what it was I was trying to do and some of it defies explanation, because the ecstasy of meaninglessness is something that you can’t really convey very well in a boring commentary. But I think the episode itself does it beautifully. I love the way it plays with space and the way it plays with her as a sort of a formal device. She just flaws me in this episode; you see so much of the dancer in her in this episode. The way she moves around the ship, the way that touching every wall affects her, is truly beautiful. And the whole sequence in the beginning where she’s seeing into people’s thoughts was just such a delight to shoot; so ethereal. That’s where my wife looked at me and said, “You son of a bitch, you shot your ballet.”
And then we had Richard Brooks, who just flawed me. He so embraced what I was trying to do and was hilarious and menacing. He was everything he needed to be. I loved writing that character. The episode was very hard to write. I had written “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and was, like, “Oh, I just type and they talk,” but then halfway through I was, like, “I have no structure, what am I doing? I was a fool.” But eventually it came together. Part of that process was me going on the ship, climbing up in the rafters, standing on a railing - doing all the things they were going to do physically. That’s the great thing about TV, being able to be there physically be there, I could just walk through the ship, experience it the way I thought they would and then go back and write it down. His voice, his bizarre sort of existential questioning of everything, was just so much fun to write. Every moment of it he nailed. I also think the exchange between Mal and River on top of the ship is the heart of the show incarnate. I love that.
TIM MINEAR: Joss wrote and directed. I remember he had a lot of trouble writing that episode. He called me and said, “I’m not sure what this is about, I can’t figure this out.” He knew he wanted to do something with River. I said, “Well, can’t it just be Bobba Fett?” He made fun of me for a long time because of the way I pronounced the name, but he did say, “Okay, now I know what it is,” and he went off and wrote it. And there’s such beautiful filmmaking in this episode.
CFQ: The real question of course is how serious talks of a movie version of Firefly are.
JOSS WHEDON: Like I said, the first question out of my mouth was whether I could take this someplace else, and as I sit here with you, I am sitting next to a computer screen that represents the fact that I have been trying to do that every single day since we were cancelled. If I lose the fight, it will be because the fight was unwinnable. Because I love what we did with those shows, and what we could have done and what we were going to do and what we should have done and what we still can do, so much and those characters and not those actors, as people, I refuse to say it’s over. Even a movie doesn’t get made, the fact that the DVDs will be out there forever is very important to me. It’s some of the most important work that I might ever do. Not the most popular necessarily, but it’s catching on.
CFQ: If you do a movie, do you expect it to stay very much in the vein of the show?
JOSS WHEDON: Obviously it’s bigger in scope. Not just a bigger budget. It has to be bigger in scope, it has to be a movie and I’ll tell you that coming up with an idea and seeing it through to a screenplay has been the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do, because it was designed as a show. The movie needs to be true to that while being completely separated from that. You don’t make a movie just because you have a bunch of charismatic people. You need a story that is bigger than life in this situation. What’s great is that the show was always about the fact that these guys are actual size, not bigger than life. To take them and put them in a situation that is so dire as the one in the movie is, is kind of where the fun and tension is. The fate of the world is in the hands of schlemiels, and that’s always exciting.
CFQ: I guess on your shows the fate of the world has always been in the hands of the schlemiels.
JOSS WHEDON: Yes, it’s true. Ironically, much like the shows themselves.