Joss Whedon at the 2010 Melbourne Writers' Festival

Joss Whedon’s 2010 Melbourne Writers’ Festival Keynote Speech – Transcript

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Joss Whedon at the 2010 Melbourne Writers Festival

Through the masses of people who wanted to see Joss Whedon’s keynote speech at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, I managed to acquire 4 tickets. The sell-out time for these tickets was amazing – I think they sold out the day before they were set to officially go on sale, when it was made known that members of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival website could buy tickets 24 hours before everyone else!

We planned our Melbourne trip around this event; a mob of about 20 of us from Obernewtyn.net were converging to go see Joss speak, and attend the Melbourne Can’t Stop the Serenity charity event the next day.

One of the friends I’d bought a ticket for couldn’t make it. She’d just been away on an extended holiday, and had a training day at work that she wasn’t able to get out of. Sadness ensued; and she called me in Melbourne, and asked if I could possibly record the keynote, somehow.

Certain that they would have one of those ‘no recording devices allowed’ spiels at the beginning (which they didn’t in the end, thankfully, so that’s why I’m posting this), I said I’d try record the audio.

So here’s the first 43 minutes of Joss Whedon’s Keynote Speech, for MK – but I figured that other people might enjoy it as well, who weren’t able to attend. It’s 43 minutes, instead of the full hour, because I stopped recording when they got to the audience Q&A.

Enjoy! Apologies for any mis-spelling, this took simply aaaaages to transcribe and some bits were difficult to translate! Oh, and wherever you see *text between asterisk’s*? Is where Joss decided to change his voice – imagine this deep, dark, closer to the microphone voice, intended to freak one out, but in the end only making us love him all the more, for being the witty, wonderful man he is.


Joss Whedon’s Keynote, 27/08/2010, 9:30pm

[Out come Sue Turnbull (leading the interview) and Joss Whedon and the audience goes wild.]

Sue: Well isn’t this cosy. How intimate can you get. Whoo. Um. About a month ago, a friend of mine emailed me and said, Did you know, God, is coming to Melbourne? To which I replied, yeap, and what I actually should have said was, and I’m the angel Gabriel or something like that. Um, Joss, how does it feel to be God?

Joss: Well, when I made the mountains, I thought…they’re good, but, um, they’re uh, I don’t believe in me.

[much applause and laughter]

Joss: Which is actually awkward.

Sue: Lack of belief in yourself, God, is a bit of a problem. However, you know, there are god-like qualities that you have obviously aspired to. Indeed becoming a screenwriter some people might argue was a bid for god-dom?

Joss: Um, I think it was a bid for obscurity and pain. A successful one.

Sue: Yeah but, you know, there’s this idea that when you become a screenwriter, you’re in control of your world, I mean, you know, granted that right at the beginning there you were writing for a number of shows, but surely you had an ambition to control your universe one way or another?

Joss: Yes. Yes, I do want to *control the universe*. Um, or at least get one of my children to obey me. But it’s ah, you know, by scaling down my expectations. But when I was a kid, I didn’t write that many stories. I spent most of my time actually creating universes, creating these extraordinary science fiction worlds where I didn’t actually do any of the work in making up the stories, I just built all the characters in the world and things, so I actually did create universes so it did happen so I guess…the God thing is true!

Sue: Yeah, okay. But, we appreciate that out here in the audience there is an enormous amount of Joss Whedon scholarship, I mean so much so that Joss, I think people might know what you’ve done better than you do?

Joss: Yes. Also my memory is a little sketchy so…

Sue: Along that line I didn’t want to repeat tonight bits of your biography that are so well known, but I was kind of interested that when you finished university and you’d done film studies, you wanted to be an independent film maker, I mean that was your first ambition was it not? Or have I read bits of your biography…

Joss: Well, that was my first goal. It wasn’t necessarily my first ambition, it was sort of, the road I wanted to take. I um, I would say probably, there’s no ambition I didn’t have, I wanted to be a *great ballet dancer*, I think in a few years, if I start stretching, I can um…
But uh, I think ultimately my first real goal in film probably would have been doing some huge summer blockbuster. And uh, the independent movie thing was something I love, I wanted to make horror movies, I wanted to make…it was all genre stuff, you know I didn’t want to make Sundance movies, you know, sort of, relationship movies where we all sit in the living room and talk about each other. Um, those can be great, but I had, no idea…how they worked. I just, I wanted to make little movies that I could control and then go on to make enormous movies that I can’t control at all.

Sue: So were you thinking along fantasy sci-fi at that stage, is that where you were going?

Joss: I’m a Star Wars guy.

[many appreciative YEAHS from the audience]

Joss: Other people have seen this obscure art film too? Wow. Street cred for mentioning that. Um, yeah, I am. I mean, these are the things that spoke to me, that brought me up, and that’s what I wanted to do. Summer movies were very exciting at the time. They became less exciting, as the years went on. But they’re exciting again. Or they will be *in 2012*…

Sue: We’re going to get to that moment a little bit later on ’cause…

Joss: Sorry, I experience all things teleologically, ’cause I’m God… [something indistinguishable about how the interview he's doing]…and it went really well.

Sue: The panel between two of us? Yeah, okay, well, all the other people with us, in this room, it’s, it’s happening now.

[moment of WTF DID YOU JUST SAY TO JOSS, LADY?!]

Sue: Um, okay, so. You come to Los Angeles and you’ve got this idea of wanting to make your film, but you end up writing television. Was that a bit of a come down in terms of ambition, because this was actually following in your dad’s footsteps and you know, everybody knows that the one thing you don’t want to do is be like your dad, right?

[the audience is now planning mutiny against Sue Turnbull]

Joss: Well, not my dad. Um, you know, he had written television, his father had written television. I…thoguht television was a bad thing for dumb people and I was a huge snob about TV. And in fact, my best friend in college would always say that I was going to be a third generation television writer and he’d just be like, 3G-TV. That’s what he called me! I was like, that’s not okay, we’re gonna make films, television is bad. I grew up watching British television like Masterpiece Theatre, Monty Python, things like that, and I thought American television with many exceptions um was, mostly, you know…Fantasy Island and stuff that you just can’t excuse. And even my dad’s work on shows that I thought were okay were never as interesting and funny as he was or as he and his friends were when they got together at night. Um, you know, it was always kind of watered down, so I thought, no this is not for me. And then I uh, um, had no money…and I found out that they pay you for that so I thought hmm, I you know…perhaps it’s time to reassess my values. It wasn’t…it was interesting just because I started writing a spec script for a show and that was really the first time I ever sat down and said, I am writing. I want to make movies. And I assumed that went from the ground up, but I didn’t really study writing. Ever. I didn’t study, you know, writers in Hollywood very much, I studied other aspects of film making and so I just sort of sat down to do it because I needed to get work and that’s when I discovered that I was in love with it. So it wasn’t until I started writing television that I realised that I was a writer.

Sue: And was it Buffy that was the moment, or did you have that moment before you got to Buffy the TV series.

Joss: This was, I mean I’m talking about the first…I wrote five spec scripts for television shows um, for a year before I got [?] work. Um, when I was just out of college. And just writing the first one of those…was so exciting, and so personal. And um, I wrote it for a show that got cancelled, before I finished the script.

[laughter]

Joss: So that didn’t work out…except for that level of [...rest is indistinguishable from audience chatter :( ]. So I had bags of experience in writing before I actually got any work. But that’s when I discovered that I loved it, I wouldn’t say “I am a writer” in a sense that anyone else will ever think that, but I knew that I’d found the right level.

Sue: And was that love partly to do with the format itself, the idea that television, you know, you’re writing in a format so you’ve got a very…you know that it’s got a certain kind of structure, you know it’s got certain kinds of beats so that, that’s there, and then it’s like writing a sonnet, you’ve got the structure but then you’ve got to elaborate on it, you’ve got to find your way through it. Was that part of the pleasure?

Joss: Yeah, I mean, ultimately, writing for television…the real pleasure of playing with that structure came later. It came when I had a show where I dictated enough of the structure that I could then start to bend it. Um, with the specs it was more about, it was nice to have that safety now – okay, there’s an ad break, there’s you know, if it’s a multi-camera thing is joke-two-three, joke-two three. It’s very simple. Um, I also did some single-camera shows, the specs for those, and uh that was a little more intimate, and a little bit more uh, interesting. But um, the freedom of that and also the safety of knowing that it was…When I started Buffy, which was the first movie I wrote, um, not counting the romantic comedy that starred Goldie Hawn and a very obvious me proxy that I wrote in high school that uh…uh…she was really cute then. Um, but uh, that was a lot more difficult because I didn’t have the structure. I did have you know, the genre conventions of a horror film, so I did have a basic structure, but I didn’t have you know, absolutely this many pages, act, act, act.

Sue: Mmm, okay. But then you mentioned that really getting to Buffy was a great moment in terms of being able to control that structure and you know, just remembering Buffy as it was. I mean, you changed…I think you changed the way [...indistinguishable :(] television series was written and developed. But when you started, you didn’t know that did you, you only had that control over that sort of half season moment to go on.

Joss: Yeah, I think um…you come at all of these things with enormous…you come at it with this megalomaniac sort of belief in yourself. That you need because everybody else will be looking at you like you’re an idiot, especially with a show called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. And um, and the network you know, tried to change the name. They tried, behind my back, they actually tried to sell it as “Slayer”, to the affiliates. Which is the name of a Christian rock band, I think? Um, and uh, that didn’t go over. And then the next year when it actually took off, they started calling it “Buffy”. And so we told them they had to call it “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. And we figured that the third year they were going to call it “The!”.
[audience laughter covering something he says about targetting an audience with a show called "the"].
But uh, you come in, you know, with these great expectations, you’re gonna be a big hit, you’re going to have all this stuff, you build for that. You must lay extremely strong foundation when you’re building a television show, which you don’t have to with a movie. With a movie you’ve just got to, you know, I mean we’re talking like little…the ambition of the screenplay for Buffy was it’s a vestige, it’s a parody, it’s suppose to be a horror movie but it was, you know, it was very much sort of a, a cookie-cutter kind of thing. Whereas with the show, looking into it, I knew okay, you can’t do that for an entire series, you have to find something that will sustain forever. Um, and then you go in with that, but you also go in going, “If I can shoot a couple of them, that’d be fun!”. And uh, Buffy, ended every year. Which was something else other shows didn’t do. Every year, we did a final episode, just in case they didn’t pick us up ’cause every year they didn’t tell us. And only when we moved to UPN did we have two year pickup and we could sort of have a little bit of a cliff hanger. And then I discovered why everybody else has cliff hangers – because they make the first episode of the next season SO much easier to write. Oh my god, the first episode was always one of our weakest, and uh, it was because we didn’t leave anything really hanging. Boy, from now on, someone’s going to be like, blowing up in a car and everything.

Sue: And actually, talking about the name Buffy I walk my dog by the [something?] and there’s this glorious Golden Labrador and I said to her one day, “What’s it’s name” and she said, “Buffy,” and I said “Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” and she said “No, Buffy, Queen of the Desert,” and I thought…I don’t get that. She got Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Buffy mixed up somewhere…it was an odd moment.

Joss: Maybe they should be.

Sue: The reason why I said that um, I thought Buffy started to change the way in which people talked about, you know, thought about long-form drama series was, it’s very true that it had this terrific kind of flow and that seasonal arc and people got very interested in the idea that television could tell ongoing, long stories. But you were part of the moment. When television started to be taken really seriously. You know, we were just mentioning the fact that suddenly in the 90′s people started mentioning names of you know, Chris Carter, [someone else], and there was, Joss Whedon, who was Buffy. And for the first time ever, television became an authored genre. Were you aware of that? At what moment did that happen? And was it a phenomenon of the internet?

Joss: Um, it was definitely related to the internet. Um, the internet happened to sort of come up the same year, literally, that we did. And um, that worked out pretty well, because I sort of logged on, and this community started forming, and something started to exist that was bigger than the show, because the show was never very big. It was um, you know, it was on a tiny network, and it was watched by, at most, 5 million people, which, you know, would not keep you alive for…3 weeks on a major network. I know this.
[audience enjoys this]
And you know, so this community, and the way people responded to it, in you know, building it’s own zeitgeist, made it bigger. And then I also sort of began to communicate with fans, and the idea of the show runner as a person that somebody would actually want to speak to or know about um, became a reality. And I, you know, I’d been around television my whole life and I’d never seen anything like it and uh…you know I just uh…*took it in my stride, just you know, they invented the internet for me. I mean it’s good for other stuff too, like…porn. It’s coming, it’s not there yet, but it’s coming, to the internet*. Mostly it’s just me.

Sue: But you were also able to take advantage of that in the sense that you, you embraced the fans on the internet, you embraced – did you have tension with the network, with um, Warner Brothers, and then UPN? Did they try…’cause I can remember moments where, fans online would do stuff, but the networks would say, no, you can’t do that. You can’t put up that site, you can’t do that kind of clip…there was a tension around it wasn’t there, about whose in control?

Joss: Yeah there’s always been little things and sometimes studios stepped in and said you can’t have this art, or you can’t show this clip, or whatever it is, but in general I think the studios realised that the bigger the online, that this was their bread and butter. They should be treating these fans, these sites with [something like love?]. There was never you know, the studios can be enormously obtuse and difficult, and horrible and satanic and real…evil. But, um, people were finding their way. It’s so different now to what it was back then.

Sue: You know there’s rumoured that Chris Carter got several ideas for X-Files episodes from fan sites. Did you ever find yourself going to fan sites and finding stuff and going, can I use that?

Joss: NO.

[much laughter]

Joss: Um, my lawyers have advised me to say no. The answer is actually no. What I did find was, you know, just, a way to chart your course in terms of what people are responding to. What they’re excited about or not excited about that I’m excited about so why didn’t that work…stuff like that, you know, just sort of keep you going. In terms of ideas? If anybody even started to pitch out an actual idea I would just shut it off and just walk away. ‘Cause you know, legally, we can’t put that stuff in. And also, I’d kind of…knew what I wanted to do anyway.

Sue: You already had it in your mind.

Joss: I did get a lot of specs. There were always a lot of specs that or, you know, or little treatments for ideas, and it was always, “And…and Buffy has a cousin…and she’s 14, and she comes and…and, they’re friends?”. There was a lot of those.

Sue: I can imagine. Now I want to take you to a particular moment, 2002. You’ve got Buffy, you’ve got Angel, you’ve got Firefly, and I think, had you also started Fray that year for Dark Horse, were you also doing a comic as well?

Joss: Yes.

Sue: You had all those things going simultaneously, and then, Firefly got…pulled.

Joss: Well let’s…let’s actually back up one sec, where we’re to the point where I have all those things simultaneously, my wife is pregnant and no-one knows about it, and uh, two of my show runners leave.

Sue: And that leaves crisis, but just keep going…

Joss: It was…it was…I was really efficient that year. I think I’d spent my whole life leading up for that year. It’s like all of my efficiency was just waiting to happen then. In that instant and then suddenly it dissipated and now it’s gone.

Sue: But it was really full on then for a moment, and you have said I think in other places, that Firefly was possibly the biggest tragedy of your career? It was for me too, I have to say. I mean Firefly was…my absolute.

[massive audience response]

Joss: I’m…not aware of that show. Um. Why are there horses? I yeah. Alien Resurrection knocked off the top spot for worst experience and don’t think…*big sigh* that would…that there will be anything as bad for me as that loss. Every day. Every day, I think about episodes I was going to make.

[audience wails]

Sue: It was remarkable, ’cause it was that mixture of sci-fi and western, which…is not an incompatible choice. I seem to remember, ooh, goodness, I haven’t thought about this so forgive me if I’m wrong, but was it Sean Connery who did a movie called Outlander which was pioneers in space?

Joss: Yes he did.

Sue: Aha, good, my memory does not fail me. But that was a re-visitation of that genre bending moment, and that was what was so exciting about that series, as well as the fact that it looked so damn cool.

Joss: It did look cool. You know, most of my – most of every show. Particularly mine, um, need to find their own way. Um, stylistically as well as…and, I really felt that Firefly you know…that show was itself, from the very first. And that’s never…I don’t think that’s going to happen to me again. It was an extraordinary feeling. Um, the difference I think between that an Outlander, is that Outlander took the structure, the western structure, which anybody can take. We actually tried to take the western aesthetic. Um, partially because I’d been reading about um, the Civil War. It was…in America. Um there was a war [rest of what he says drowned out by laughter from audience]. And that era is what created it. I was fascinated by the era of people going out into the wilderness and with nothing, and I also loved the 70′s westerns, you know Chris Miller, and things like that. [next bit is a bit poor audio] a little grainier than the ones we think of as classics.
And there was one other consideration, was we couldn’t afford to make cool moons…so we literally decided to have…I don’t know why I’m saying we, it was me.

Sue: God.

Joss: [mock Queen voice] We decided to [too much laughter to translate]…to create a show… [/end Queen voice] yeah, that’s how I actually talk. Just that if, you know, if every planet was Earth, I could afford to do that, and if every planet was Earth – a crappy Earth, I could shoot it in California.

Sue: Forget Monument Valley.

Joss: Couldn’t go to Monument Valley. I also didn’t want to go to Yukka Flats like Star Trek did and pretend it was an *alien landscape*.

Sue: So do you think you’ve turned your back on television? Or has television turned it’s back on you?

Joss: Television broke up with me! It said we could still be friends, but that it wanted to see other people. You know um, I’m never going to turn my back on television, television has something that you cannot achieve anywhere else, that kind of, that living with a story, for years and years, and in a collaborative fashion, where you’re living with the people who are helping you tell the story, the writers and of course the actors. Um, you know, over a series of just, you keep investing in the same thing, turning the same rock over, and seeing in a new way, that is such a gift. It’s something you don’t get in movies at all. It is something you just don’t get anywhere else. You write a series, of books maybe about the same character and have the same feeling, but you can’t do that, you know collaboratively in the same way. It is uh, it’s something I adore, maybe my favourite kind of story telling, but uh, I’m not going to do it for a while. You know, when I said I wanted to make big summer movies, I really just want to tell stories. Ultimately I’m perfectly happy as long as I’m telling some kind of story. Could be a comic book – which is, again something where you live with it over a period of time, but still not quite the same experience, doesn’t have quite the same immediacy as putting out a TV show every week. But uh, you know, I’m really excited to be making a movie, but I was really excited to be making the internet thing that I was going to do before that. It’s um, it’s all stories. But, the thing that TV has, nothing else has. I’m never going to turn my back on it, I just have to find a venue where they will let me actually make it the way that I make it, which is a little antithetical. Okay we were talking earlier about how when TV Shows were taken seriously, it was like, something like Dennis Potter where it’s like, “Oh this is better than TV ’cause it’s sort of anti-TV”, it’s distancing, and strange. And um, then actually popular show became taken seriously, and that was a sea change. But I do think that I’m a little distancing and strange. I do think that while I think of myself as the guy who’s…you know this popular thing – “it’s like Star Wars, only it’s dark, and…miserable and everybody’s sad and they die and people are going to love it!”…I think I might have a slight disconnect in my brain.

Sue: But I love the way you describe television as this kind of organic thing, and that’s what you were saying, that with so many inputs because the actors…and I’m interested in the way in which…and we’re going to get to the comic books in a moment… [mentions then that they're taking questions at the end, which I neglected to record]…But I wanted to ask you about that organic nature of television in terms of performance, you know when the actors bring something to the role, and can you think of moments they, the actual performance and the actual character – the actor embodying the character has changed your direction, without thinking about how you were going to write it?

Joss: You know I don’t think I can think of an instance where it hasn’t. Buffy was very much a study in actor’s influencing their roles and I think that’s one of the things that some shows don’t do, that I find…sort of ossifying. And you see the show starting to creak a little bit, because they’re not giving actors a chance to come back to the mouth. A lot of these shows are built on the idea of doing the same thing every week, which is, sort of the nature of television, so, they don’t really have as much opportunity as a show that is sort of basically a soap opera. But, I was always listening to my actors, and you know, you can see it so obviously in Buffy where it’s like, Willow just got sexier, Giles just got hipper. It was, you know. Anya got stranger. Xander got wider. I look back and go, you know what, I got to get back to the character – I’ve gone too far with it. But I remember specifically the first time I ever wrote a line, because of the way somebody spoke, and it was um, in episode six, of season one. They – Xander and Willow talk about “Oh, we just saw some zebras having sex in the zoo,” and Willow says, “It was like the Heimlich. With Stripes!”. And that was…Ally. That was just from being around Alison. That was just the way she was, she’s so funny, and she’s so…I mean…*I wrote the line*. Let’s not get carried away. But it was you know, it was absolutely just an Ally moment. And there was…also I remember one time there was an Anya thing, she said something and I was like…I was kinda stunned. I was like, is it Anya, or is it Emma, or is it Jane Espenson who wrote the line, because all three of them are that character so much right now.

Sue: Okay. So, look, when you come to the comic book writing that you’re doing now, you don’t get that actor input do you, you’ve got other things to deal with. Is it…obviously it’s a different kind of experience? Is it as satisfying? Is it as engaging for you as doing the television work, with…with people?

Joss: Nope. Nope, it’s funny, they came to me and said, we’d like to start doing Buffy comics again, we’d like to do them, now that the show is over, as canon. Which is something I never allowed them to do. I was like, you may never get in our way. Don’t ever do anything that will effect what we’re doing. Um, by then we had wrote Fray, which completely effected what we were doing in the comic. Um, we broke our own rule. But ultimately, it started out as sort of a lark. I thought, you know, I’ve got some free time, I’ll jump in this. And then I started to write it, and I heard those voices again. And it was like…old times. It was so much fun. And I was really lucky when George Jeanty who was an artist who does likenesses and wanted to do a franchise – a comic book – which most artists don’t want to – and but could still draw comics that felt like comics. And there’s usually a huge dichotomy there. And so I felt like, you know, I got really pumped up by it. Ultimately though…the needs of a comic and the needs of a Buffy fan are a little bit different, and you know, I wasn’t able to direct the executive produce of the comic as nearly as strong I had the TV show, and so ultimately I found…you know and people were like, “This is great, this issue is like…the first act of a show. Except, instead of waiting the commercial, I have to wait for a month. I don’t like this.” And you know, sort of…I feel the same sort of tug. And that’s because it’s taken from Xmen [...little hard to translate, more about Xmen]. But with the Buffy comic it felt a little frustrating. But I still get these scenes in my head, “Boy, I just gotta hear Xander say that”, and I get to write it, and I throw it in, and then it sounds like Xander, every time, it sounds just like him.

Sue: Yes I wondered about that connection I suppose, looking again at Fray last night and I was thinking about the relationship between the comic book, and something you would have come across very early on in your film studies, the storyboard. You know the whole idea that it’s a schematic thing for a film, and you’re writing in that way. Is that how you think of it? Or do you think of them much more graphically?

Joss: Well, a lot of my writing is influenced by comic books, a lot of my directing is influenced by comic books. They make very iconic images, they know exactly, you know, where to put “the camera”, they do the storytelling in – they have to put everything in these panels to get from place to place, and when it’s done well, you really know, you really feel that flow. And but you also feel the “pop” of these moments, so you’re not just sort of [bumps the microphone] – oh excuse me. [realises] I just apologised to a microphone. I really do need to work on my self-esteem, huh? But uh, you know, storyboards are something I loved looking at as a kid. I actually found them a little frustrating as a film maker because…because I want to just get to the next part, I want to just get to the actual filming. When I did my first episode of story boarding everything – episode twelve of Buffy, I just story boarded every scene. And then, cut to five years later, “Which show is this? Give me the subs, what we shooting today?” [makes 'flipping through script' motion] “Okay I’m good, let’s go.”

Sue: I’ve read somewhere that you’re that kind of a writer, that you actually circle like a vulture, or words to that effect. And then you wait until it’s all there before you go anywhere near a computer, is that right? Is that still your method?

Joss: I think I circle like a beautiful dove. That wants to peck the flesh of a dead man. Um, yes, I pretty much – most of my writing is done on my feet, then when it feels right, I put it on the page. It doesn’t mean that somebody won’t change it, or I won’t decide to change it. But at that time, it’s the be all end all. I don’t like putting something on the page that I go “mmmmm, let’s see if it works, let’s see where it goes”, it’s like no, I have to know exactly where it’s going, what I’m heading for. I write sort of you could say comic book panels, I write the moment that I’m dying to have. And then the next moment I’m dying to have. I always eat dessert first. I always write whatever I love. And then I’ll have enough done that I can do the expositional stuff, I can get there, I can do the boring work, because I already have the big pieces in place.

Sue: When you talk about big pieces, do you have big themes in mind when you write – in that sense, I mean what I’m asking – are you conscious of the kind of thematics which so much energy and so much analysis have gone to when talking about your work? Or do you just write in that gut way of “I just want to tell the story”, I mean to what extent are you aware of how deep you’re going or how deep other people are going to go into what you’re going to do?

Joss: Um. You know. I’m back in high school, I’m fourteen years old, and I’m writing a story that’s just for myself. And I worry about, you know, is the woman in this being portrayed honestly, is this, you know, is this a sort of reprehensible fantasy, am I really…and I’ve got this sort of societal monkey on my back, making sure that what I’m doing isn’t somehow damaging. And nobody’s going to read this, I’m not going to show it to anybody! That’s always been a part of how I write. But! Once you start to think about your themes, really start to think about, “I wanna say this” and you know, “I need to be this guy”, “I politically said this, so I’ve gotta bring up more of this.” You write nothing. And if you say, “Oh, I need to build a franchise, so let’s see, I need a cool kid, and a sidekick.” You write nothing. The only way it can come to me is because it did. It’s because I go, “Oh! Oh this is exciting, and I don’t know this.” For a long time, sometimes I’m finished with something, an entire series, before somebody points out yeah you did that already. Before somebody points out that Firefly is a lot like the characters from Alien Resurrection. I didn’t even notice that – we were shooting Firefly, on the same stage as where they shot Alien Resurrection. Note to self: burn stage. We actually had, you know we were able to go under the ship, we had the trap door in the cargo bay, because they had dug a pit for the underwater sequence in Alien Resurrection. But um, you know I will come back to the same things over and over, but the way to come to them is through some outside inspiration. Every time I have actually thought “well, I’ve gotta tailor something for…”, that sentence doesn’t finish. It just doesn’t finish. So ultimately, all of that has to go away. And you know, with Dollhouse, it went away you know, to the point where I couldn’t bring it back. Where we got to a place where the network was never going to be comfortable with that show, and um, and so I, you know, the show was never going to be comfortable with itself. Which is ultimately what happened.

Sue: It’s interesting there’s actually an academic journal dedicated to Dollhouse, today, in fact, in an edition of Slayage just gone up. There’s an essay at the beginning that’s sort of saying, what’s Dollhouse about? It’s about forgiveness. You didn’t know it was about forgiveness?

Joss: You know I didn’t. But I could always use a little forgiveness!

Sue: So – in terms of coming up to the Avengers though – because – that’s not your script originally is it?

Joss: It is now. Yeah. There was a script, but I had a different take on it. And when they showed it to me I said “But this doesn’t work for me, I would do something different.” And they said, “Well tell us what you would do,” and now I’m doing it.

Sue: And they’re trust you to do that?

Joss: They do! They do, Marvel – they’re very trusting at Marvel. It’s kind of like, in the early days of the WB, when you know, I came back to my agent and said, it was really different, really interesting, they respected what I was talking about, they listened to me and they really let me have my own way – and yeah, they have no idea what I’m doing! Marvel they do actually know, they know exactly what they want to do, but they don’t mind a film maker making his film in the service of what it is they want to do, they’re not trying to press me into something that isn’t me, which is really gratifying.

Sue: [mentions again they'll be opening the floor for questions soon and in the process forgets her own question] Along the lines of, this is a great moment – finally you get to join up your comic book love and the possibility of making a film – don’t you think it’d be a great TV Series though.? – never mind! But, you get to make the film, so. Clearly that’s joining the dots in a particular kind of way.

Joss: Oh yes. Oh yes. I was reading the Avengers when I was eleven, this is…it’s a big deal for me. I’ve wanted to make a comic book movie, and I was like, “nobody can make a comic book movie”, and then Spiderman came out and I was like “…ok, he can make a comic book movie!”. And you know, there’s been a couple of hits. But most of them I think haven’t – and I also feel that we sort of, we went from the really terrible Hollywood executive’s idea of what a comic book movie should be, to a very short moment when we sort of started getting it right, and then went directly to post-modern. Directly to Watchmen, Kick Ass, Dark Knight, where we’re sort of, we’re taking the comic book movie for granted, now we want to see what’s behind it. I’m like “Whoa-whoa-whoa! Wait a minute!”. First I want to see an awesome movie about superheros that are awesome, that I really care about the whole time, I haven’t seen enough of those. I don’t want to deconstruct it yet! First I want to construct it. So I do feel like there’s still a place for me out there. Even though you know, the genre which I had been desperate to see my whole childhood, and then my adulthood saw it happen while I was busy making TV Shows so I was like, “no I’m not…just wait! Just wait! I’ll be there in a minute!”. And then began to fear, is it over? But ultimately I think it’s very much not.

Sue: I have to say, I am so thrilled at Robert Downey Jr, well, you know.

Joss: Yes. That was uh, you know that sort of defined the Marvel film. When Kevin Feige, who’s worked with Marvel for a long time, and I’ve known him from many many years, he now runs it, and his first act at Marvel was to cast Robert. And I said, I saw him, congratulated him and was like, that is such the right move. And he was like, [I've always wanted to do that?]. And that sort of became their benchmark, is, “Oh, get a great American actor, to play your guy”, and um, otherwise [something very quick about Americans being replaced by Australians and a whoop from the audience]. You know, get the best guy for the part, instead of, who’s the biggest name, how do we make Angelina Jolie Kitty Pryde because people like her. They said, let’s get the actor with the chops, and make it a really human story, and when that works, it’s glorious. And now I mean if you look at the cast of the Avengers, it’s ridiculous.

Sue: [at this point, Sue asks the lights to be raised and they go to the floor to answer a couple of questions. I didn't get these recorded, but they were along the lines of his stance on corporations...there was one memorable question from a man in suspenders who was clearly after Joss' job, soul, or agent's number, in a manner of speaking! If your memory serves you better than mine, then please post in a comment below what you can remember of the questions!]


End transcript! There you go MK! ;)

10 Responses to “Joss Whedon’s 2010 Melbourne Writers’ Festival Keynote Speech – Transcript”

    • Min

      Thanks Jossie!
      Every time I read / listen to that bit:
      “That there will be anything as bad for me as that loss. Every day. Every day, I think about episodes I was going to make.”
      It’s just like…arghhhhhh no!

  1. Jani

    Omg, It was just like I was there all over again! Honestly, that Sue-sometimes I was thinking what the hell are you talking about?
    Let the God-man speak!!!
    He’s awesome and I also had a moment of deep sorrow when he mentioned about Firefly and the eps he was going to make. Cant wait for the Avengers!

    GREAT JOB!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Min

    Thanks Jani!
    Oh I know, re-listening to her “Yeah, okay, well, all the other people with us, in this room, it’s, it’s happening now.”…it’s just, CRINGE!
    Can’t wait for Avengers now either!

    Reply
  3. Dolorosa

    Do you realise you guys have just been Whedonesqued? You are going to get an insane flood of comments…

    Great job with the transcript. I wish I could’ve been there.

    Reply
  4. OldSwede

    No flood yet? Anyhow, great job, I much prefer a transcript! It’s fun to listen to Joss, but hard to hear everything. On that line: the academic journal with a Dollhouse issue – that you couldn’t hear the name of – is Slayage, the Journal of the Whedon Studies Association, over at slayageonline.com.

    Reply
  5. Min

    Well – a flood of traffic! Just not comments :P oh well!
    Thanks OldSwede for the reference to Slayage – I’ve amended the script above to include it! Thanks muchly!

    Reply
  6. Alex

    There one was very overly, excited loud girl who asked a question that was “Joss, like if you like could’ve done something else but like didn’t but like wanted to, what would it like have been?” And then he talked about how he really wanted to do Battlestar Galactica but he couldn’t and (I could be making this up, it was around a month ago) he said he was glad coz he didn’t want to stuff the opportunity up.

    Reply
  7. Bambi

    Min! Thanks for posting this! So wish I could’ve been there!!! I remember looking at this before and thinking about readings it, but must’ve left it for some reason!!!

    I cant wait for avengers either!!!!

    Reply
  8. Blanetalk

    Min, fantastic job on the transcript. Worth every bit of the long, hard work it cost you to produce it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    And while I frequent Whedonesque often, I got here by way of a “Joss Whedon” twitter search! ;-)

    Reply

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