Many people have asked me to tell them "every detail" of the Joss Whedon speech I heard, so while the event is still fresh in mind I'll fill you in. Who is Joss Whedon, you might ask? Some sort of GURU? A local GOD? Perhaps he invented the Internet? Pray tell, do speak of this man with the interesting jumbled name...
All are true. Joss Whedon (for the uninitiated) is a TV/film creator (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog which can be watched here), film director (Buffy, Serenity), and former film major at Wesleyan University in CT, class of 1987 (I am also a former film major, class of 93). The event was held at my alma mater as part of a larger seminar on TV/film/pop culture; I have only been back 3 times in 15 years. So TIME WARP! 3 of my former classmates are actually film professors there as well! Great to see them, and a great time...anyway....yes, I am getting to Joss...hold your pointy teeth there, Spike....
The man himself reminds me of a self-deprecating young Orson Welles with better one-liners. He was unshaven and dressed California-style with a white blazer, looking very much the disheveled auteur. Though tired from multiple plane flights in 2 days, he was extremely entertaining, spoke for about 2 hrs, and at the end stayed and signed all the Buffy stuff that people brought. What a mensch! Highlights:
- His description of the current state of media: "The old studios, companies, and old ways are collapsing, and the new thing - the blog internet podcast beast - has not yet fully formed. But the courtship has begun, they are dating, and soon they are going have to sex. Which is very very frightening because they are not the same species. " Most accurate take on "what's going on" in the entertainment industry that I have heard yet!
- His detailed history of the Buffy franchise and how the first film and series came to be. He describes himself as being born with a silver script in his mouth; his father's agent read his first script (he is also touted as the first 3rd generation TV writer - both Dad and Grandpa were in the biz). His main inspiration came from a title he read while working in a video store: Revenge of the Bimbos which, according to him, was very disappointing because the bimbos didn't do much of anything, let alone get revenge on anyone. But his main aspiration was to create something that would go straight-to-video and look great on a shelf - "Hm...that's looks strange...let's watch it...". Obviously things became much much more successful...
- His new perspective as a studio head (gained from the Dr. Horrible experience) summed up by his reaction to a fan's comment on another one of his works that "they would never buy the T-Shirt". The studio head inside him screamed in pain! lol - this was part of a larger issue he discussed:
- The renewal of Dollhouse (his current show on FOX) which in his mind has everything to do with the network's recent discovery that his stuff sells better years later and his brand sells in multiple revenue streams (syndication, DVD, merchandise including action figures, comic books, and T-Shirts). Dollhouse is one of the lowest rated shows ever to be renewed for a second season. He quipped, "So, instead of my vacation, I literally start work again on Monday. Oh well!" His last network show, Firefly, only ran for 7 episodes (10 made), but the DVDs sold well enough to get a feature film out of the show (Serenity). FOX has very much come around in this respect.
- He holds the Wesleyan Film Dept. as particularly its founder Jeanine Basinger (our mutual professor) in extremely high regard (as we all do). Jeanine has written numerous books - which you can find here; I recommend The It's A Wonderful Life book). The underlying theme of the weekend was the balance between creativity and commerce and the importance of balancing personal vision with a specific idea of who the audience is. "It took me basically until now," he said, "to realize that my vision of a beautiful teenage girl on the outside of society who can kill vampires is actually my avatar, the representation of who I am inside." He elaborated in how his vision of film and belief in film genre came from his classes with Jeanine ("Every film class I took became my life. When I took "Musicals", everyone would sing and dance around me. When I took "Film Noir", the world was full of shadows and everybody was against me, including my girlfriend. When I took "Westerns", there were enemies way off in the distance, and suddenly I had a mission to save those who could not help themselves.")
- He loves every part of the process. When he is writing a script, he will envision the tag line, the poster, the trailer, every piece of the marketing out of the love for the entire process. "Of course, the marketing dept. at the studio didn't follow a single one of my ideas," he laughed. He is not averse to merchandising either (one of the first questions the studio asked him when he pitched Dollhouse was "Can we make dolls"?).
- Joss described his view on the current state ("the fall of Rome") of the major studios and their adherence to adaptation, remake, and sequels. According to him, for the 3 years before Dollhouse he made a living selling scripts to studios that then never got made. One of his scripts was rejected outright by a studio exec who said "I just don't see this having a sequel." His view on this is that studios have become so conservative due to the industry-wide shrinkage that they are relying on existing characters so that the audience doesn't have to meet anyone new. As examples, he said he disliked Wolverine ("Why was that movie made?") but loved Star Trek. Despite loving Star Trek, he did use it as an example of the "new philosophy" - "look, here's Chekhov, we all love him, look here's Scotty, we all love him" etc. Which lead to....
- The Buffy remake. The rights to Buffy are controlled by the Kazuis ("as well they should be," he says, "they put the money up for the first movie. However, pretty much anyone can make a Buffy movie except me.") He wishes them luck in making their movie, but doesn't want to be a part of the new one as he is more interested in telling new stories than being part of retelling an old one or being part of the current Hollywood fixation on old characters.
- He summed up by re-emphasizing the need for a personal vision in art balanced with audience awareness. "Tell your story," he declaimed, "what it is that is uniquely yours. But tell it to someone, not at someone." He then took questions from the audience, most of which were fairly forgettable but included his amusing banter. There was one person who asked a very specific, geeked-out question about Episode 10 of his Buffy comic book series and he knew EXACTLY what the person was talking about (I assume he goes to conventions from time to time and is prepared for everything lol)
- Funny last remembrance: The Buffy videogame included him as a character you could play. He enjoyed taking and executing such vocal directions as "OK, now say what you would say when you kill Willow". However, his favorite line was cut from the final game. When asked to say what he would say when killing Tara, he said "Oh, I'm going to get a lot of letters about this one."
And what of music, you might ask? More on that next time...some exciting stuff in the works...but now to sleep perchance to dream...(taking the garbage first)