SXSW Drop-In: Joss Whedon Panel Liveblogged


(Hello, our friends from Whedonesque! We love you guys!)

Two of your intrepid LeakyNews reporters (Josh and I) are here at SXSW, the annual interactive, film and music festival in Austin, TX. We staked out (i.e. got here super dooper early and watched panels we weren’t interested in) the “Conversation with Joss Whedon” panel that’s about to happen – so keep refreshing here if you want to know more!

- He’s here and kinda bald!
- “For the record, I did not actually write Much Ado About Nothing. I’m going to take credit for a lot of things during this talk, so I’ll just start by not doing that.”
- re: Cabin in the woods: “I’m a fan. I really enjoyed it. I was like oh, so scary! Oh, so funny.”
- Story for CitW was written in three days with Drew Goddard. “Idea just came together and it came with a third act, and that’s happened to me twice in my life… the writer’s dream. You lock yourself in a hotel room for three days and you come out with a movie.”
- At one point JW wrote 26 pages in one day. “And that is exactly what we shot.” Says it made him giddy that the script ended up exactly the film.
- “We described this entire movie as our ids just walking around going ‘rarg.’ We did whatever we wanted to do. This movie contains a lot of that. We love horror movies and are curious about what makes them tick.”
- “We just threw everything against the wall, and it’s all in.”

Cabin in the Woods – you can ruin it by just talking about it. “Why did you do that to yourself?”

- JW: “I’ve never heard it worded quite like that, but I am always going to be at odds with that particular part of American culture. I like stories. My favorite thing is to go into a movie not knowing what to expect, or even a TV show not knowing what to expect. … Usually, audiences are very ready to come along for the ride.”

Adam B. Vary: The cabin looks much like the cabin in Evil Dead.
JW: “I’m not aware of that film. [Sheepish look.] Evil Dead 1 is really the influence. That’s a film that goes genuinely insane.”

JW: We wanted to tell the story in an almost old-fashioned way. … Our base was really the “Nightmare on Elm Street,” the early, before it started eating itself. And “Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” which is a real classic. And, you know, the Halloweens, The Things, those were our sort of classics.

CitW: Written before Dr. Horrible (before the strike).

JW: CitW (and not Dr Horrible) was the first time he felt he was doing his own thing, and not stuck in the studio system. .. “No coincidence” they came one after another because they are both “ridiculous.”

JW on reaction when approached by Marvel:
“It unfolded slowly for me but I think that might use be because I’m slow. … I’ve been circling around with Marvel for a long time. … It felt to me like it was a favor which I sometimes do; I read the script, give my opinion. I said well, this doesn’t work, but if I was going to do an Avengers movie, here’s what I’d do. Then gradually we started meeting again and I was like, is this a job interview? What’s happening here? Because I suddenly started thinking the more I was thinking about it the more I wanted to do it, and this was a courtship process the entire time and I was just a little thick.”

Achievement Unlocked: Joss Whedon gives a hi-five a fan who asked for one at SXSW 2012

“Sheer panic, maybe three times total.” Says it’s better so he doesn’t realize the enormity of what he’s trying to accomplish.

ABV: “What was it like on the Avengers, to have the keys to Scrooge McDuck’s money pit?”
JW: “That is in fact who financed the film. They don’t talk about that much.”

“Limitations are something I latch onto. A novelist…has a blank page. A genre writer never has a blank page. … That’ useful to me. By the same token the restriction of budget or set or location, anything like that, can be really useful. When you can have everything, everybody wants to give you everything and then it’s very hard to make things feel real, to make things feel lived in.”

“We had these amazing sets, really beautifully designed, and epic, and great, but I found that once we got off the sets and started shooting on location…my camera work got a lot more interesting. Because I had to work around these things.”

“Trying sometimes to pull the ‘big budget out of the movie has been part of the creative process.”

“As a producer, it convinced me to just, too much Scrooge is not a good thing.”

“I got a guy in a cape, I got a guy with an A on his head, I got a green guy – it’s a delicate balance. And anything your and to make it feel real, like real filmmaking, even when there are CGI shots and they say, that looks like a bit of a mismatch, I was like keep it. Say it’s from different takes.”

“If everything matches perfectly there’s going to be a disconnect, it’s going to feel too clean. It’s not going to feel like what I’m used to in film, which is a slight dirtiness.”

“I’m a fanboy. I want to see what’s up with Thor and Captain America and what he can do with that shield. All of those things have been in my DNA since I was a tiny child. I love all of that. In terms of how I make it mine, I think that obviously I look at the Avengers and go, this team doesn’t make any sense at all, but I can work with that, because it doesn’t make sense to them either. They’re extraordinarily dysfunctional people. And they’re in their own way very isolated. So just being able to tell that very basic story, isolated people who come together and become more than their parts, is a meaningful story to me.”

“I’m not ready to be post-modern about superheroes yet.” [Big round of applause after this line!]

“The first thing I said to the people at Marvel was, I want to make a war movie.”

“A lot of these movies do a beautiful setup and the hero fights a slightly larger version of himself, and it’s clean. I just wanted to dirty it up, I wanted to really put them through their paces. The feeling you get from a good movie like – oh my god it’s still coming, we’re not going to get out of this alive – that’s the feeling I wanted to make.”

ABV: “Who are the bad guys?”
JW: “It’s the Vulcans. I don’t know a lot about the Marvel universe, and I thought there were Vulcans.”

The villains in Avengers, Joss revealed, are not the Skrull or the Kree:
“What’s probably happening is I just said something that Marvel didn’t want me to. It’s weird to be fired so late!”


Was supposed to go to Venice and wife said “You should shoot Much Ado instead.” Was done on a week’s vacation.

“Two days before the end when we were in NY my assistant Danny and I walked across the street to a bookstore…bought Much Ado.”

“For years I thought about dong it and didn’t really have a take on it. I think the deciding factor was looking at the text and thinking, I think I know what this is about, what I have to say about this text.”

“It was not necessarily the best idea for a vacation except that I had a better time than I’ve had on any vacation or maybe in my life.”

“I smiled so hard my face broke. Literally my lip just split. It filled up [creative] tanks.”

“Shooting Shakespeare on a TV schedule – we had 12 days total – that’s 7, 8 pages a day, it’s just words words words, and every day you come away with a few scenes or one enormous scene completely finished or right there before you and it’s just electric. We had absolutely no money.”

“There was one weird connection between the two. One was that both A.D.s probably should have killed themselves from the scheduling… that was a nightmare for [both - Avengers and Much Ado].”

“I said, actually, this is the same kind of storytelling I’m always doing. To me, it’s a team movie. Everybody in this movie has to have a reason for being there. With Shakespeare there’s a lot of ‘WHY IS HE DOING THIS?’ There are a lot of plot things that may have made perfect sense in the puffy collar era that just don’t now. You have to find a reason for everybody to be there. You can’t just call a friend and say ‘Hey can you come and for no money whatsoever, stand and fill up the screen?’” [So, characters like Margaret and Borachio had more purpose.]

ABV: “You’re only human.”
JW: “Am I?”

“The first cut of the Avengers may have been a little long. It may have been endless. Just going off and doing something completely for myself that was a good time with my friends but a work of art that was very compressed and had so much heart in it – I went back to the Avengers and said OK, now I can deal with this with just enough distance… and start really editing it through the eyes of the people who are going to watch it.”

“If I couldn’t put my heart and soul into the Avengers I have no business making it. I could never just take a job.”

“The next thing I plan to do is an Internet series. Because I can, and because that’s the next voice I’m hearing in my head.”

JW on continuation of Buffy in comic verse: “When I said I had a lot of ideas, I lied. I’m just scraping the barrel.”

Buffy was “one show that went as long as we wanted it to… it was THE one show.” [laughter]

Buffy comic: “People wanted it, and I felt there were more stories to tell. You have to have the second thing. Actually you have to have the first one too, or no one buys it.”

Re: Serenity:
“I keep thinking they’re gonna call me. I keep thinking they’re gonna crunch the numbers and think, oh, we can make money with this! And they don’t. I’d never rule it out. I love those people. Nathan’s texting just last month, ‘When can we do our Firefly get together?’”

ABV: How do you write:

“I dislike revision. And I’ll tell you why. That’s more work. I didn’t write a lot of first drafts, even in school. … Out of my extraordinary laziness I developed a system where I don’t write anything down until I’m sure about it. In terms of writing fiction that’s enormous fun because what I get to do is walk around the room and act it all out. Sometimes I say things. Maybe sometimes I cry. Maybe once or twice Ky’s heard a huge thump from upstairs and gone ‘ah, he’s working on a fight scene.’ Yeah. There is a tiny theater of me in my study. And it is excellent and it gets great reviews. But I really do,I play it out in my head over and over and over and over and when it feels really right and ready to go to the next thing, that’s when I write it down.”

“I’ll work out an outline for weeks and weeks and weeks. The reasons our scripts were so late in Buffy was because we’d never send a writer out until we got it really perfect, because we never want to [rebreak the story.]”

“If you have all the structure then you can just sort of take whatever part of it is there and build that, and lay it in, and lay it in. Very seldom do you think oh, because I did this, everything else has to change, if you have the structure.”

“The found footage thing seems to be based very much on classical horror. It’s about dread, it’s about the thing you almost see, it’s about waiting. ‘Let’s take people that you hate and inventively kill them for an hour and a half,’ that’s not horror. That’s something else entirely.”

“The found footage thing to me is really a step backwards in the right direction to classical horror.”

Audience Q&A!

“The great thing about being a writer: you get exactly enough attention…but not enough that you can’t sit down to dinner, like an actor.”

“It’s about having passion for the thing that you love even when everyone is looking at you like you’re out of your fucking mind.”

Re: Projects flatlining: “Every single time I’m surprised when it doesn’t work out. So sad. So sad.’

TV: “That experience is so fulfilling. A movie is all about putting it out there and then shrinking it down to its barest essence. And I love doing that on a certain level but the idea of putting something out there and letting it grow instead is really really exciting.”

“There’s been a lot of reporting about how everything is the giant franchise or the tiny thing. And that works for me but there isa middle ground of certain movies that aren’t being made anymore. It’s why so many film actors are going to TV… I think that’s a real problem in American cinema. Because it’s always been the best place for a writer. If you are just a writer you want to be in TV. You are in control.”

“I’ve always wanted to be a director. I’ve wanted to speak visually as well as wordy wordily. [Pause.] I’m an actual writer. This is going really well.”

“Now if your’e a writer, if your’e an actor, it really is the place to be. I’m really grateful for Marvel that they wanted to make a movie about people, starring people, who are good at playing people, and would give me the time toe examine who they were…and have the fun of those characters as well as the fun of those characters hitting people.”

Re Creativity being zapped on a project:
“I remember having a complete breakdown early iN Buffy when someone brought me a prop. it was like a scepter or something and I was like, ‘Why do we need props? Can’t they just mime?’”

“There’s a certain energy that comes from stress that is just awesome. There’s a certain point where you’re doing so much you can’t stop. It’s usually because you’re fulfilling something you need to, creatively. … Embrace your stress.”

Q: Why do the networks keep f’ing with you? And why don’t other channels pick that ball up when it drops? And last, when are you gonna get enough cred to tell them knock it off, don’t do that!

JW: “Honestly, I would say the, the networks have a particular agenda and they have a particular model and a structure. It doesn’t have anything to do with content. And this is not a diss on them. They are a business model. Run by business people. And if you have a commercial product there may be a way that can fit in with what they’re doing but they have a specific way they are going to go about it. There’s very little, ‘Oh, this is just awesome!’ They don’t get to think lie that. Occasionally they really get into what you’re doing they cannot be swayed by them. If I give them something that is not what they expect or they don’t understand, they are going to delay it.”

“I have a little bit of a disconnect because I think that everything I do is super commercial and people will love it… but a lot of what I do is difficult for networks… [because they don't know how to market it.] I’m creating these puzzles. Dollhouse. It’s about sex. That sounds sexy. But can you take out the sex, and replace it with shooting?”

“[Felicia Day said to him] You sell it and you go, now we have to figure out what they think they bought. It can be very frustrating.”

When they were going to redo Batman, before Batman Begins, [and he started thinking about it]: “And so I went in to pitch a Batman movie, and my heart was on the table. I was so into it. And I could tell the executive I was talking to was just completely thinking about their schedule and their window and it was like I was talking to a wall. It was a different language. AndI drove away from the meeting and I actually said to myself like, how much more indication do I need that the machine doesn’t care? AndI got back to work and they cancelled ‘Firefly.’ And I was like ‘IT WAS RHETORICAL! I wasn’t asking for more!’ That was a bad day for me.”

“Their structure cannot be built on passion. I believe in some ways they should be, more, but right now they’re not and I cannot fault them for that.”

“It’s a great time, to be able to go right to an audience. It’s dangerous too [because it cuts out the process wherein things get edited and it's hard to be self-indulgent].”

“You have to be your own network head. But you’re the network head you want to work with.”

And it’s done! We hope you enjoyed!