COMIC CON: Exclusive Interview with Joss Whedon

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While at Comic Con RopeofSilicon was one of the lucky few to get a 1:1 sit down with writer/director Joss Whedon. Of course since Serenity‘s unexplicable dissapointment at the box-office things haven’t gone so well for Joss, but he was more than willing to talk about such things as Serenity and the upcoming special edition DVD release, Wonder Woman and his future.

So after all is said and done, was Serenity profitable? Do you consider it a success?

Joss Whedon (JW): It’s a success to the studio or else we wouldn’t be doing a special edition DVD. They actually admitted as much on paper, which you know studios are loathe to do, and that was actually from the theatrical. Theatrical was a disappointment, as everyone knows, but it did go into the black. Then the DVD came and they took me aside and said “We can’t keep these things on the shelf. We want to do a special edition.” And I didn’t want to hear that because I knew it would have to be a truly special edition to make me happy. There had to be a real reason, some real goodies.

So what will the special edition have for us?

JW: We took some stuff from the region two version; the making of – a really beautiful one that’s a bit longer. It has the first read through for the movie with the cast, two years after the show ended. And it has the River Tam sessions, the stuff I did on the internet with Summer. We got to do another commentary too, Nathan, Summer, Ron and Adam – I made sure it didn’t go the same direction as the first commentary. It feels like this version will be something more for the people who would tend to buy both.

And they expect to sell around a kajillion copies?

JW: I believe it’s around eleventy kabillion.

With Wonder Woman, was it an “agree to disagree” sort of situation?

JW: I honestly don’t know. I had a vision and they didn’t seem to respond to the vision. I asked what it was that they wanted and Joel Silver said “I don’t know.” At first it was great, like “hey, they’re letting me run with it.” But then I figured out it was like “Firefly” – they were letting me run with it because they didn’t like any of it. There was really no feedback because nobody knew what it was I wasn’t giving them. I asked them point blank, because I’m always adaptable and collaborative. It seemed like nothing landed with them at all. It was clear that was happening because they said “Instead of your next draft, just give us an outline.” Give us an outline means “we don’t want your next draft.” An outline never reads well. I needed to do it anyway, because the plot was wonky. So I got the plot in shape, all the themes, all the moments, all the things that I knew would work… but they said “This isn’t happening.”

I deliberately scheduled a Goners meeting right before talking to them because I knew what was coming. I came out of that Goners meeting buzzed and it was then I realized that in a year and a half no one had ever asked me what Wonder Woman was about. I realize that’s not how you sell things, but it is how you make them. I think I get what they want, but at the end of the day what I did was commercial and gratifying so I can’t really say what went wrong.

Is Wonder Woman, if it’s ever made, a movie that you’ll see? Or is it too painful?

JW: I still hold the pitch I gave for Batman Begins as dear to me as I hold the script for Wonder Woman. And I loved Batman Begins. So if somebody interesting makes Wonder Woman I want to see it. I’m curious, I’m interested. If someone uninteresting makes it, or it looks bad, well then I won’t want to see it. But those marketing people make every movie look so good!

I don’t know about that, the Stardust trailer looked pretty rough, but Neil Gaiman said “You should’ve seen the ones I got them to shelve!”

JW: I think he and I suffer from the same thing, we’re not locked into a formula genre, we like to do everything all at once. That’s what‘s fun. But it also makes me unsellable. I’m having the same issue with Goners, people asking “Well, what category does this fall into?”

When you see what John Favreau is doing with Iron Man do you get jealous?

JW: I get jealous of anyone who gets to do cool stuff. That’s never not the case. It’s part of being ambitious. When I was a struggling screenwriter my agent would send me Variety anytime something was sold because he knew it would make me so angry I would go upstairs and start writing. It’s that competitive envious thing. I don’t want to take it from Favreau, but I did develop an Iron Man movie. The reason I didn’t do it was because I walked away from it clean. I was having a good time, I really like Toby Emmerich and I liked the vibe. But I was running television shows and I looked in the mirror and I thought “I can’t be in development with a studio.”

With Wonder Woman I was under the impression that it was already being made, the momentum was behind it. Joel is a freight train and I love that about him. But with Iron Man, I look at it and I think so cool. (Downey Jr.) was a great choice. The moment I heard about him in the cast I thought “oh, they are really doing it..” that was a really smart choice.

So give me hope for a Serenity II

JW: Hope for it probably rests with this DVD.

Well I’ll buy one.

JW: Actually I will too, people ask me why I would buy my own DVD and I tell them do you have any idea how awesome it is to buy your own movie?

So then you’re saying we’ve got a chance?

JW: Well it’s probably not being discussed in boardrooms right now, but the fact of the matter is if it makes enough money sooner or later they say “hey, this is money!” Also there are paradigms that are much cheaper, it doesn’t have to be enormous. But on the other hand I’m happy to say all of my actors are working very hard. It’s not the same situation where we all threw in for pennies because we had to finish telling that story. Now that situation might be harder to bring about.

Do you ever watch these big movies that have horrible dialogue and wonder why they don’t give you a crack at the script?

JW: There was a time when I was working as a script doctor that I couldn’t do anything else. I would watch a movie and say “give me a week with that.” I think every writer kind of goes through that. My perspective is not the only perspective but when you see a nearly solid movie fall apart or some brutal dialogue and you think “guys, I’m right here.” But when I did take those jobs they didn’t use what I gave them anyway, except for Toy Story. And with Speed they pretty much got it because they were about to start filming.

But with every other (script rewrite) job.. like, for instance there’s a draft of Waterworld that’s pretty cool. But sometimes throwing money at the script is the problem, you’ve got too many voices, and it starts to just look like a bunch of notes. I’m not against formula, but that’s not the same thing as factory bullshit. When you get notes on a script that are good but then that same studio puts out something redonkulous… you just wonder “How did that happen?” If you start using that perspective you’ll make yourself insane. And nobody has the code, do they?

And with that our time was up. The Serenity: Collector’s Edition DVD releases August 21st.

**Update** One thing that didn’t make it into the interview because I wasn’t recording yet was that Joss is currently rewriting the Goners script and he feels like he’s getting great notes (as opposed to Wonder Woman) so the project is still very much alive. Thanks for reading! – Laremy