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Joss Whedon

Wizard World’s Joss Whedon Week-End - Mediasharx .com Interview

By Tara O’Shea

Wednesday 18 August 2004, by Webmaster

I’d like to take a break from usual Boob Tube introspection to make an observation: Joss Whedon is a funny guy.

No, really. He brings the funny. Especially when sleep-deprived, as I discovered Saturday afternoon as he took time off from directing SERENITY and writing the monthly ASTONISHING X-MEN for Marvel to answer fan questions and give them a sneak peek at SERENITY at Chicago’s Wizard World convention.

Your intrepid columnist, being not just a TV geek extraordinare but a lifelong comics fangirl, was in attendance, and brings in this double-sized Comic Con special issue the high points to you, gentle readers. Particularly the Whedonesque folks, who not only get a shout-out during the panel ("It’s my source to find out what happened to me that day," Whedon said when asked if he visited the site), but also love to point out my typos.

Having flown in following shooting until 1am, Whedon didn’t do the Dance of Joy (though Numfar’s Dance of Utter Exhaustion was a big hit with the crowd), and the panel featured no juggling. However, fans were treated to a 30 second teaser of SERENITY, which will hit theatres in April 2005. The promo was originally cut together for San Diego Comic Con, and was greeted with thunderous applause from the assembled fans, many of whom were Browncoats who had bought convention memberships for the week-end solely for that panel and a chance to see what the Serenity crew will look like on the big screen. And Browncoats may be getting more than just a Big Damn Movie this spring.

"We are definitely looking at FIREFLY and SERENITY for the game world. And also we’re talking to Dark Horse about a SERENITY comic book. We’re still doing that right now, we’re focused on that. It takes a lot of work."

"The reason I feel strongly about doing a sequel is you make a movie, there are so many things, especially because it was based on a series that was supposed to run for so long-there are so many things that you want to do that you’re unable to do or discover in the process that you want to explore, the most important of which is that Adam Baldwin really wants to wear a kilt," he quipped, and that mental image was met with shouts of delight-mainly from the female audience members.

When asked about the possibility of original FIREFLY novels, Whedon replies, "You know if I do my job right, anything is possible, but it’s weird. We did them with BUFFY and that was the place where I could just sort of let go of the reins. I couldn’t read every novel and I couldn’t really monitor the content, which worried me a little, because you don’t know what’s being done with the characters you create and love. With FIREFLY I would be even more nervous about that. Even more tentative about letting somebody else take the reins on that, so I’m going to have to wait and see how I feel about it, before it goes so wide. However, that should be my biggest problem." So it looks like if fans want to read all new adventures, they’ll have to satisfy their cravings with fan fiction for the time being.

So, what does Joss see as one of the high points of his BUFFY career?

"I don’t think I’m ever going to top Angelus. That hit exactly the heart of what it’s like to sleep with a man. Or what I’ve read it’s like. Sweetie, baby, I went to a British boarding school," he offers by way of explanation. "Buffy’s second death would probably be my second choice. But Angelus was the first time we ever got to say to people ’Nothing is safe.’ And it’s fun to say it every time, but the first time is always the best."

Whedon tells fans that the possibility of ANGEL TV movies still exists, though whether they would be done at the WB since Jordan Levin’s departure or another network is still in question. However, he is adamant that the series finale was not a cliff-hanger. "A cliff-hanger is about ’What happened to everybody?’ This isn’t about what happened to everybody. This show is about a very simple thing: You never ever get stop fighting if you want to be a decent human being. And often, like the character of Wesley, it’s a battle that I have lost," he joked.

When asked what it is like, knowing he’s an inspiration to budding writers and what advice he might give them, Whedon is earnest and sincere in his answer. "There’s nothing better than inspiring young writers, and I have this to say: Write really well. I can only tell you, from my experience, two things about writing. One is that if you’re going to be a writer, it’s because you need to. Which means that you’re writing all the time. I know a lot of people who think they [could] write; the real writers I know need to write That’s a big difference.

"The other thing is, and it took me a long time to figure this out, and it’s gonna sound really stupid... Write about something. It doesn’t have to be a message, it doesn’t have to be a moral. It just has to have some intent. Something that you want to convey that’s yours, that nobody else has conveyed, that nobody else can convey the way you think you can. Sometimes it is a message, and sometimes it is a moral. But the confluence between the meaning of the piece and the structure of the piece is something I didn’t understand for a long time. I just wanted to spin yarns. I just wanted to tell stories. I liked to tell stories. Every world other than the one I was in was of interest to me. And it took me a long time to figure out that within every one of these stories there was some kind of emotional mien that was being fulfilled, or the two of those things came together. The more the meaning of the piece informed why the piece was being written and what it was about, the more it was worth writing about."

Which is Joss-speak for "don’t suck."

The panel was briefly brought to a stand-still as a fanboy asked if Joss could sign his copy of the "Once More With Feeling" script. Joss, no doubt understands the unwritten convention rule that if you sign one thing at a panel, then you’d have to sign everything at a panel, was in the middle of stating the unwritten rule, when the audience began shouting helpful suggestions such as "Make him pay you!", "Make him do the Dance of Joy!" and "Make him do the Snoopy Dance!" When the fanboy stood up on his chair and began doing the Snoopy dance, Joss gave in.

After all, it takes guts to publicly humiliate oneself in front of hundreds of people for the sake of ink on paper.

It however takes intense stupidity to continue to try and milk a magic moment, as said fanboy then did, in trying to then get a photo after winning the signature. He was then booed off stage, proving once again that we love you while you make us laugh, but the second you bore us or waste our precious time, you will be savaged was if by wolves.

An important lesson for all.

When asked if Joss would ever be willing to direct a film had hadn’t written, Whedon admits, "I don’t really see that happening. I can see collaborating with somebody like the great, wise David Greenwalt, or Tim Minnear, Marti Noxon, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson, Doug Petrie-any number of talented people. But to take something that’s somebody else’s would be an interesting challenge. And therefore I wouldn’t do it," he quipped.

According to Whedon, the BUFFY animated series is still in development, but currently no deals have been made. "It’s still being rough cut. They’ve just put together a presentation together as a selling piece as it doesn’t have a home right now-Fox productions," he is quick to amend, noting the difference between 20th Century Fox, who produced all three Mutant Enemy series, the FOX network which pulled the plug on FIREFLY.

Whedon is well aware of Buffy’s status as a cult figure, especially in a world where female heroes who aren’t watered down versions of their male counterparts are rare.

"There is a lot of exploitation disguised as empowerment, and that’s sort of why I left comics for a while it was just too much. Even two or three years after the show had started, I’d been developing the idea of the animated show, [and the suits said] ’Well yeah, we’d love to do Buffy as an animated show for kids. That would be great. But we have to have a male counterpart-a male person who is as strong and as cool as her who anchors the show. Because boys aren’t going to watch her.’

"Raise your hand if you’re a boy," he asks the audience, and smiles as every guy in attendance-easily over half the crowd-raises his hand.

Some fans still keenly feel the loss of ex-demon Anya, who fell in the final battle in "Chosen" and questions why she, and not formerly-evil geek Andrew, had to die. Similarly, fans were heart-broken when Wesley died in Illyria’s arms in the series finale of ANGEL. However, Whedon is firm on the subject, stating that in order for the battle to have real stakes, that means that the cost has to be shown. And killing a series regular is one of the best ways to drive home the point that in wars, there are casualties.

"I couldn’t kill any of the core group and walk away with Buffy smiling, because I wanted the series to end on what would be one of the three or four happy moments in my seven years at Buffy, and I couldn’t do that if I’d lost any of the people we’d started with or her sister. So somebody had to die. And I thought it would be funny if it was Anya. You know, I killed Wesley too. I’m pretty much a serial killer. It’s funny every time. But you know, there were two different things I was trying to do. Wesley was not just one of the most beloved characters for us, so-and friends-so it was a question of that too beautiful a moment not to do it, which Anya was the exact opposite. I wanted something so off-hand that it would be really brutal."

Of course, it was Tara’s death that continues to haunt many BUFFY fans, and many were in attendance at the convention, as Amber Benson was on-hand to promote her current project and sign autographs on the convention floor at the Inkworks booth all three days of the convention.

"I didn’t think people would be rapturously happy. I was just as surprised by how warmly she was received. I was surprised by how important that relationship was."

Whedon told crowds that he wanted to bring back Tara in the penultimate episodes of the series. While fans knew that originally, the plan had been for the First to impersonal Tara in "Conversations with Dead People" the news that Tara would have possible return for real was met with surprise. Especially considering that in the long history of both BUFFY and ANGEL, Buffy are Darla were the only characters to return from their supposed final resting places.

"In one of the final episodes, the third to last episode, Buffy was going to basically get a ’get out of jail free’ card. One completely reality-altering things that she could have-she could bring Angel back to her, she could do anything she wanted. At the end of the episode she basically comes to Willow and says ’Look at these shoes I got!’ and Willow’s, like, ’What?’ ’I got these really awesome shoes. I wanted them, and now I have them!’ and Willow’s like ’You... used... the wish... for shoes?’ and Buffy says ’Of course not, you idiot,’ and walks out of the room and Willow turns around and Tara’s standing behind her."

Given that Buffy’s reaction to being ripped from Heaven was negative in the extreme, this seems surprising. As does the idea that she would bring back Willow’s lover, rather than her and Dawn’s mother Joyce, who died of a brain tumour in the fifth season. However, Whedon notes that the impetus for the storyline would also show Buffy being self-less, giving to Willow, rather than for her own gain.

"That was one of the instances where behind-the-scenes deal making going south really did hurt the show because we never got to do that, and it would have been cool. What we were doing with Kennedy, which some people responded to and some didn’t, was because of that. Because I knew I couldn’t bring Tara back early on, I wanted then to change the course and make a statement about grief and how hard that is. How hard it was for Willow. To make the statement that you can [recover], that life goes on. That somebody on the show would be in a decent relationship when the show ended.

"Every time somebody really threw us a curve, it tended to make things better. I will say that I do think that we never got to explore all of what we could have done with Dawn. I thought she was legitimately sort of traumatised by her life, but she did sound the same note a few times and that was a disservice to the actress. When Oz left suddenly, I was devastated. I had a whole year’s arc for him. Some things hit, some things don’t. When they don’t, you find that out. There have been times when [Sarah] wasn’t fully on board with what I was doing. Season six, we went to the dark place. And at some point, she went to Marti Noxon and said ’I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. I’m starting to feel that Buffy has lost control so much that I am losing her. And that doesn’t feel like the statement we should be making.’ And I had the same exact same conversation with Marti on the same day, not knowing that Sarah had said that. The fact is, we were so in tune with what we were doing with that character most of time it was almost psychic. Scary.

"The only person I think I ever threw a really hard curveball at was Alyson when I told her ’Oh, yeah, and by the way-Gay.’ And she was, like, ’Great. When do I get pages?’ She never felt-she really took a hold of it. I have had times when actors have come to me and said ’I’m uncomfortable.’ And things were either diverted or truncated. But the point is to always have a communication with the actors so that you’re always collaborating. And that collaboration extends to the point where your characters become more like your actors. We saw the way Willow got sexier, Giles got hipper, and it was just around the people. You write for the actor and, to an extent, for the person. So if you’re not doing that, then you’re not having that collaboration. I was always trying to be attuned to what my actors were doing. If you don’t keep exploring, the show gets boring, they get bored, and it shows up on screen."

When asked if he has a fave villan, Whedon is quick to name the Mayor. "Harry Groener was a gentleman and a delight to work with. And that’s another time when an actor came up to me, and he said ’Do I care about Faith? Really? Or am I just using her for my evil scheme?’ And their father-daughter kind of relationship I thought was one of the most beautiful things in the show. And it came from just that conversation."

When a fan asks how it feels to see academics writing thesis on BUFFY and entire conventions such as Slayage, Whedon quips "It’s hugely offensive to me, that people would take my work seriously. I was just trying to meet chicks."

However, he quickly grows serious. "It means a great deal to me. I believe in studying pop culture, even when pop culture is a bit mindless, because it affects millions of people. But we worked very hard on the philosophy of what we were saying, and the ethics of what were saying and every other aspect of it, and many that I’m unaware. I think it’s valid, and maybe that’s a little hubris, but I do. I think it’s wonderful."

Rounding out the high points of the panel, Joss promises not to "Fray" out on X-MEN readers, and also owns up to the fact that he would love to do a stage musical. Even a BUFFY musical, though he’s already done one, it was fun, so a second probably would be as well. However, he admits that his next project may be fang-free.

"I love vampires as much as the next guy. The next guy is just really sick of them."

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