Thursday, 8 January 2009

Joss Whedon talks writing

Joss Whedon - the master behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog talks about his writing techniques here.

He also discusses what it's like to be....erm.....him. Here are a few snippets from the interview on Written By (The WGA's magazine).

What makes it [Dr. Horrible] even more delightful is that it sprung from the mind of a man who is so Internet-unsavvy, he insists, “I’m the guy who can’t find the porn.”

With my little typewriter [and] before we could delete things, every paper I wrote, I thought, 'The next sentence better be the right one, because you can’t go back.'

But TV didn’t interest Joss. He had the notion that he would be a filmmaker and loved the hell out of the film program at school. So after Wesleyan, he moved in with his father in Los Angeles. And as graduates will do, he took a job at a video store and wrote and recorded a radio musical parodying the Oliver North scandal, titled Oliver, with songs set to the melodies of the original musical. Family members, including his younger brothers, Jed and Zack, played roles. The show was played at a party, which caught the ear of a producer, who suggested that young Joss try his hand at writing a TV spec. So he did.

“When I write, I spend most of my time on my feet, and then when I know what it is I want to say, I sit down,” he explains. “I don’t like to look at a computer screen and see a placeholder line; it will make it harder for me to write.” He can also get stuck for days trying to think up a name. “I need to know who that guy is, so I need the name, and it can kill me. I’ve got this time blocked out to write, and I can’t just say Mr. X. It’s really debilitating.”

The episode [of Buffy] “Hush,” featuring 29 straight minutes without dialogue, was nominated for an Emmy and gives me nightmares every time I watch it. “Once More, With Feeling” was a musical with a perfect melding of plot and song. Whedon has never been afraid to push plots to the edge or kill his darlings but always in service of the story. I challenge anyone to watch “The Body” episode, in which Buffy loses a loved one, and remain unmoved. Of course, that requires watching the previous four and a half seasons, to catch all the nuance.

Firefly, a sci-fi show with none of the sleek sci-fi look, or any of its aliens, quickly spawned another online community of fans. They called themselves Browncoats, after the show’s rebel heroes. But the series quickly hit turbulence with the network. Fox had ordered a two-hour pilot and then decided it was too long. They stuck Firefly in a Friday timeslot, where shows go to die. They ran the episodes out of sequence, then cancelled the show without airing the final three episodes, but did run the pilot as the finale. Whedon vowed not to work for the Fox network again.

Browncoats were outraged. They tried to save the show, raising money for an ad in Variety, then starting letter-writing campaigns to other networks to pick it up. It didn’t work, but their fervor did lead Fox to release a DVD set of the entire show, with the episodes in the correct order. Sales were fantastic, reaching 200,000 in its first few months. That was enough for Universal Studios to give Whedon the okay to write and direct a Firefly film called Serenity in 2005. The fan-spurred enterprise did pretty well in combined theatrical release and DVD sales, but the numbers weren’t large enough to greenlight a hoped-for sequel.

Restaurants are his favorite places to write, “Because I love good food, as my belly will increasingly attest. And I work on a reward system. I write a line, I want a pellet. Push the button, monkey.” These days he goes to Craft, near the Fox lot, to work and eat dinner solo. “Synaptically, I can’t work at home,” he says. He and Cole have two young children, Arden and Squire. “Kai and I look at each other and then collapse on the sofa.”

Nevertheless, he is a pioneer. But can his success be replicated by others? Or is it only possible for a Joss Whedon, with his fervent fanbase, critical support, and name recognition that’s rare for a writer? Maybe, for now. But he’s got big ideas that are entirely realizable . . . when he can find the time. “I would like something to be created that isn’t beholden to the frost giants, because their need for extreme monetization is antithetical to what this needs to be,” he explains. “It needs to be small, modular, to pay off in a respectable but not hysterical fashion. I’m interested in being an Internet Roger Corman. He’s responsible for a slew of the greatest directors of the last couple decades, because he was the only B-movie system that there was. Now the whole world can be that system.”

Check out the full interview here. It's....(to quote from Firefly)....shiny.

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