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Here at Comic Con there are some people who are treated like gods. Joss Whedon is one of these people. Responsible for fan favorite television shows and movies like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The Avengers, the filmmaker is absolutely beloved by geeks and there is no greater geek haven than San Diego in July. But just how beloved is he? Let’s put it this way: this afternoon he was given a full hour in the convention center’s second largest auditorium to just talk with fans and answer their questions.
I was one of the lucky people to be sitting in the room at the time and I was absolutely fascinated by everything he had to say. Over the course of the hour he spoke on an incredible number of subjects, from strong female characters to politics, and so I’ve done my best to organize everything he had to say into ten categories for your reading pleasure. Check it out!
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog 2
We’ve already written about this in our TV section, but one of the most thrilling parts of the panel was when Whedon announced that he and his brothers Jed and Zack and Maurissa Tancharoen have reunited and are actively planning a sequel to their 2008 webseries Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. Apparently they have already begun developing songs for the project and while they’ve been working on it over the years they are now seriously meeting about how to move forward with it. In other Dr. Horrible news, the event ended with the filmmaker announcing that next season the web-series will be making its television debut on the CW. So keep an eye out for more news about that!
Much Ado About Nothing Is Done
A few months ago it was revealed that following production on The Avengers, Whedon was working on his own private adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and today on stage, while wearing a crew shirt with the title in big bold letters, he announced that the movie is done. They are still working on figuring out how to distribute the movie and are potentially bringing it to the festival circuit. The movie is filmed in one location (Whedon’s house, as a matter of fact), is in black-and-white, and reunites him with Amy Acker and Alexis Denissof, but the really cool thing about the movie is that it is the first time that Whedon has written a musical score. “If it’s terrible, then it was my first. Leave me alone,” he said on stage, smiling.
Later in the presentation he also talked about the problems that he faced with making the new film. While he said that any project, big or small, is going to have complications, he discovered that filming at home has a very specific problem: noise. “All people ever do is mow their lawn, and make dogs bark – sound is a nightmare.”
”If You Can Write It And You Can Make It…There’s Nothing You Can’t Do”
One of the earliest questions in the panel came from a self-described failed comedian who asked Whedon if he had any suggestions for struggling artists and the writer/director had some very simple advice: just make something. Commenting on the studio system, Whedon said that Hollywood is slowly starting to eliminate the “middle movie,” only making either big blockbusters or tiny budget affairs like Paranormal Activity, so he suggested that the only way to break in is to just do it yourself. He added that with today’s consumer video equipment and the internet, there is a great amount that one can just do by themselves to get noticed. He joked that he had an easier time with it because he happened to be friends with Nathan Fillion, but “even without Nathan, there’s so much you can do now and you have to because it’s so much harder to do it for somebody else.”
With everyone still buzzing with excitement about the potential second season of Dr. Horrible, Whedon was asked if there was any chance he would ever be interested in crafting a stage musical. And while Whedon said that he would absolutely love the opportunity to do something like that, scheduling would be an absolutely nightmare. Referring to the stage as one of the “largest and most difficult ventures” a writer/director could take on, he said that he is Dying to do a stage musical but doesn’t know how he could work out the timing.
On Crafting Likable Villains
Be it Spike or Angel on Buffy or Loki in The Avengers, Whedon has always had a great ability to craft terrific, likable villains. While his first reaction was that it’s easy to make a likable villain because everybody loves a villain, he then explained that it was actually Willem Dafoe who greatly inspired his approach. He recalled an interview with the actor around the time that he was starring in The Last Temptation of Christ and To Live And Die In LA when Defoe was asked the difference between playing a villain and a hero. Dafoe’s answer? There is no difference, they all think that they are righteous. “If they believe what they are doing then they are interesting,” Whedon said. “Because they are evil they are going to be fun. Nobody is pure evil except a couple of guys, nobody is pure good other than me.”
As for Whedon’s personal experiences, he recalled working on the early seasons of Buffy when the heroine first slept with Angel and turned him evil. In the scene, Angel acts like a cad, blowing Buffy off right after he took her virginity. After writing the scene, Whedon had to drop his pen and step away from his desk as he wasn’t aware he could write something so evil.
Assembling The Avengers
Just about everyone in Hollywood was completely blown away when The Avengers managed to pull in $208 million during its opening weekend, and that included Whedon himself. Asked when he realized that the superhero team-up movie was really something special, he said that while he hoped it would be popular, he had no idea if it would be until it was confirmed at the box office. At no point did they not understand the kind of movie that they wanted to make and Whedon complemented Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige by calling him a supernerd “who gets the idea of the story and the ethos of the comics they grew up with.” Whedon’s goal was to make the movie that he always wanted to growing up, and ended up being so busy making the movie that he wasn’t even sure that he fulfilled it. “Other people had that need as well and it was vindication,” Whedon said. “Means a lot to me.”
Big Bad Corporations
One of the most interesting questions that Whedon was asked during the panel was from a woman who found a theme of evil corporations present in the writer/director’s work. While many people would get antsy about talking politics at an event like Comic Con, Whedon never hesitated. Beginning by saying that he grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with parents that looked to idealistic people like John Reed, who was a notable communist journalist. He remarked that while socialism is a beautiful concept – the idea of everyone sharing everything and living in harmony – in recent years “it’s become a buzz word with horns and a pitchfork.” What he finds scary is that rich people are in power giving power to other rich people and corporations who then just work to keep the other rich people in power. He likened the situation in America to Czarist Russia, which of course ended in revolution which then led to socialism and then totalitarianism. He says it’s no longer about Democrat versus Republican or conservative versus liberal. It’s “people who are trying to make it work because they understand personal dignity and others who have gone off the deep end.”
Joss Whedon is synonymous with female empowerment. Buffy is one of the greatest female characters in television history due to her incredible independence and strength, and his other works, such as Firefly, Dollhouse and The Avengers shared this quality. But the filmmaker has still always found resistance from the industry. Apparently after the third year of Buffy Whedon was having discussions about an animated series based on the character, but was told that the show couldn’t get made unless they were to have a male counterpart who was just as strong and cool. He did acknowledge that the tide is turning, however, citing the success of The Hunger Games and commenting on the amazingness of Jennifer Lawrence.
He continued on the topic later in the panel when he was asked specifically about writing for Black Widow in The Avengers. Whedon said that he loves her character in a way that he doesn’t love the others, and a big part of that is the darkness in her as well as her ability to appear meek but actually be incredibly strong. He revealed that the only scene from the first draft of The Avengers that made it word-for-word into the final cut of the film was the sequence in which Black Widow is being held hostage and interrogated. “It was because people said this just works. It works because it is my entire career. Look she’s helpless! No, she’s kicking their asses! It’s awesome!”
Who Is Kevin?
SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE THAT HAVEN'T SEEN CABIN IN THE WOODS: As great as The Avengers was – and it truly was great – we can’t forget the other brilliant film that Whedon gave to us this year: The Cabin in the Woods. The movie has one of the greatest third acts I’ve ever seen, filled with every kind of monster you can think of, but, as one audience member pointed out, there is an omission. The white board shown early in the film has a listing called “Kevin” that is never explained, and apparently it’s because it was something that ended up on the cutting room floor. Whedon said that Kevin was a normal looking guy with a name tag on, but when he got around to killing it was a total bloodbath. Drew Goddard, who co-wrote the script with Whedon and directed, fought desperately to keep the scene with Kevin in the movie, but it ended up having to be scrapped for timing and pacing.
My Favorite Line of The Night
One of the last questions that an audience member asked Whedon was what his biggest geek moment was, and while he did eventually throw out a few examples, such as meeting Neal Adams and Bernadette Peters, his first response to the question was dead on: “My life is one endless geek moment”