It’s not very often that we at The Cinema Source get the chance to listen to a director let loose in front of a crowd of fans and former collegues outside of a festival or other scheduled event, but that’s exactly what happened at Wesleyan University last night. The lecture was entitled “Defining American Culture: How Movies and TV Get Made” and it was basically a chance for people to come and listen to Joss Whedon talk about his experiences in the entertainment industry and touch on what sort of stuff he’s currently working on. The place was packed, and though he didn’t have any footage to show, he proved himself to be a gifted public speaker, giving a witty and intelligent speech that was light on criticism but stressed hope and perseverence.
Interspersed in the speech were references to a whole host of projects that have been rumored, announced, shelved, and vaguely hinted at in the past few years. I will do my best to remember them as I didn’t actually bring anything to write down notes on. Apparently Joss’s most recent project, The Cabin in the Woods, just wrapped on Friday night. He wrote it with Drew Goddard who directed the film and it stars Bradley Whitford and Chris Hemsworth (Daddy Kirk in Star Trek). Though exhausted, Joss seemed very pleased with what they had shot and stressed that they weren’t going to give away any of the film’s plot because, unlike a lot of movies, “we have one.” He also expressed his satisfaction with the third act of the film and how great endings are the hardest thing to come by when writing, so “when you get one, run with it.” The horror film has a February 5th release date. On the subject of Thor, he expressed his happiness that Hemsworth had gotten the part from the standpoint that, as Joss put it, “he is a giant Thor, a Thor to end all Thors, and I think he’ll be great.”
Joss had only stopped in to make the speech in between flights, and after arriving from Vancouver he was already getting ready to fly back to L.A. to begin prep on the recently greenlit Dollhouse Season Two. After spending an entire season as a lead out for the now canceled Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles, most believed that Whedon’s new show would follow his adored Firefly into oblivion as yet another casualty of the Friday Night Death Slot. Instead, the end of the season got rave reviews, and the show’s ratings were still higher than most of the other Friday programming. The execs listened to Joss’s pitch for his ideas for Season Two, liked them, and renewed the show. They’ll be cutting the budget in half, but Whedon seemed unfazed. In fact, he admitted that he liked the idea of running the outfit “without the flash, because then all you have to fall back on is quality” and sees it as an opportunity to get back to the great writing that made his prior shows so successful. He also revealed that he had never intended to do a TV show as his next move in the first place, that several years ago they were planning a Faith spin off show from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Eliza Dushku chose to do Tru Calling instead. At this point Whedon shook his head and remarked jokingly, “We try to help the girl make good decisions.” At a dinner with Eliza about a year ago, the idea for Dollhouse “popped into my head and I knew that it had to be Eliza.” This, for the Whedon fans out there, is also why he is again working for Fox after they canceled Firefly. Not only are the people who used to run the television division no longer the ones in charge (see the fact that they renewed Dollhouse) but also that Eliza was still under contract with them so if he wanted her, he had to go through Fox instead of another network like FX or Sci-Fi (I refuse to acknowledge it as SyFy) which may have been more hospitable.
Not too long ago, Universal announced that they had bought a script from Joss entitled Goners. The mystical fantasy yarn had a lot of hype but in the end it got “put on the back burner.” Though IMDB lists the film as “announced” for a 2011 release, Joss seemed to think that the project was basically dead. In an older interview, Joss described Goners as, “A fantasy thriller about a modern day girl who goes on a really strange ride.” “It’s about a girl named Mia, people know that, who sort of sees in a mystical way the underbelly of the city and of human society, and goes through a kind of extraordinary hell, and we all have a lot of fun in the process. …This is much more a story about — literally about human connection and whether or not it’s possible. … But it’s told on a very mystical scale and, in a way like everything I’ve tried to do including Buffy, it’s an antidote to that very kind of film, the horror movie with the expendable human beings in it. Because I don’t believe any human beings are.”He noted during this presentation, with a completely straight face, that one of the executives who had read the script had told him that they liked it but that “it has the burden of not being a sequel.” Joss found that statement to be a really depressing commentary on the way Hollywood is falling apart, and believes that such decay is increasing at an alarming rate. Using X-Men Origins: Wolverine as an example, he basically wondered aloud “what was that film about? Did they know what it was about when they wrote it?” and proceeded to discern that it would have been better if they had just done it as “Wolverine and his brother Ben Vereen.” After the laughter died down, he proceeded to refer to Hugh Jackman’s latest film as “Ben Vereen” for the rest of the evening, and drew more chuckles describing a conversation he had had with Avi Arad, head of Marvel’s Film Department where he was told that, despite not getting paid in any form, he should be “happy” that they were thinking of using some of his X-Men storyline for X-Men The Last Stand. With a smile Whedon admitted that most of the stories he would tell that evening would begin with “I wrote the thing, they loved it, it sounded great” and would end with “it never got made into a movie”, leading him to becoming a “sad, sad man.”
It seems not even a big budget movie has assuaged his pain over the cancellation of Firefly, something he referred to several times during the night but never addressed directly. Those hoping for news that Serenity 2 is in the works won’t find any here, the topic was never brought up. He did, however, discuss Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and how he had hoped that it would inspire people to follow in his footsteps. Since it hasn’t really done that, as in, created a similarly ambitious project marketed in the same manner, he “will probably just have to step in again, you know, to help prove the business model is viable.” He hinted that it would be something completely original, further deflating rumors of a Dr. Horrible Act 4, which really doesn’t seem like something he’d have any time to deal with at the moment. He did say that it would probably be his next thing before any more studio projects. As his time was drawing to a close, Joss got around to the subject of the recently announced Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie reboot. His reaction? “I feel a great sense of amusement at the concept.” He doesn’t own any rights to his creation himself, having sold the script to the film many years ago, but doesn’t begrudge the producers for following the current trend. “They got me my start, and I owe them an awful lot. It’s also not as though I didn’t have my time with Buffy. I had seven years to work with those characters and I’m curious to see what someone else will bring to it.” In his own self-deprecating fashion he observed that if he had tried to get a Buffy movie going himself, it probably would’ve been marred by legal trouble and have never gotten the greenlight i.e. Wonder Woman.
After a light Q&A, Joss was gracious enough to sign materials for the crowd before departing for the west coast. (Warning: This wasn’t in the presentation, this is just me considering possible options) With most of the Firefly cast caught up in other projects (Nathan Fillion in Castle, Morena Baccarin in the upcoming V, Adam Baldwin in Chuck, and Alan Tudyk as Alpha in Dollhouse) its unlikely that another season of that show would ever air. However, a TV movie or a straight to DVD project could be made to work within their schedules. Fingers crossed.