Thursday, April 12, 2012

Joss Whedon – Movies Spotlight – April 2012

Joss Whedon, 47, is known as a phenomenal writer and creator of many of television’s most beloved series, including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. His career also includes feature films and comic books. He brings a feminist voice to his work (many of his protagonists being strong women) and also wonderful pop culture sensibilities. His work really speaks to his fans (and he has some of the most impassioned fans out there). Whedon has three projects coming out soon: two in April and one in May. First this month comes Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, a documentary produced by Whedon and directed by Morgan Spurlock (and they co-wrote it) about Comic-Con. He also co-wrote and produced (and he shot the second unit) Drew Goddard’s mind-bending horror  comedy thriller The Cabin in the Woods. In May, Whedon’s first huge Hollywood Blockbuster arrives: The Avengers (which he wrote and directed).

Early Career:

Whedon graduated from Wesleyan University in 1987 and moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a screenwriter. He got his first writing job on the TV series Roseanne. He worked on the series Parenthood as a writer as well. He also got work as a script doctor (films like Speed, Waterworld, Twister, and X-Men – though Whedon has said that little to none of his work appears in the latter three, while Speed’s credited screenwriter Graham Yost has said that most of the film’s dialogue belongs to Whedon).

Writing & Creating Brilliant Television:

Years after the feature film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, loosely based on Whedon’s script (according to him, the final film does not much resemble his work), he brought back the idea of a teenage girl who fights vampires as a TV concept. Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on The WB in 1996 as a midseason replacement. The series, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, was popular during its run (and is the only series of Whedon’s four in which he was able to tell his full narrative, and not cut short by being cancelled), but has become one the most loved and critically acclaimed series of all-time (considered to be among the 25 best TV dramas – it is also among my personal 10 favorite shows). Buffy excels because of Whedon’s wonderful characters and innovative storytelling, the series featuring many of television’s most ingenious and brilliant single episodes (Hush, The Body, The Gift, Once More, with Feeling, and many more). The series ran for seven seasons. David Boreanaz played Angel (a vampire with a soul) in the first three seasons of Buffy. Whedon then in 1999 spun his character off with co-creator David Greenwalt to create a new show, Angel, about a vampire private detective in Los Angeles. Angel has a much more adult feel to it, while still maintaining some of the silliness and comedy that comes with all of Whedon’s work. It is also one of the best shows of all-time, and one of the few series that gets better with each new season (though sadly, it was cancelled after season five – fortunately, Whedon was aware of UPN’s plans and was able to give the series a proper ending). The Buffy/Angel shows also launched the careers of many of current TV’s best writers: Tim Minear (American Horror Story), Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus: Vengeance), Liz Craft & Sarah Fain (The Vampire Diaries), Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Terriers and his new show Last Resort), Ben Edlund (Supernatural), Drew Goddard (Lost), Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13 and Once Upon a Time), Marti Noxon (Mad Men and Glee), and David Fury (Fringe). Whedon’s third and maybe most brilliant show was Firefly, a sci-fi western starring Nathan Fillion about a crew of misfits taking smuggling jobs on the outskirts of civilization to get by. Fox Network completely botched their marketing and presentation of the series (airing the episodes out of order for instance) and canceled it after eleven of the fourteen produced were aired. Even with only one season (half a season at that) and no real ending, Firefly is widely considered both among television’s greatest sci-fi dramas and overall dramas (and all us Browncoats still hope each day that it may again return in some fashion so that we can live with the characters again through new adventures). For Whedon’s fourth show, he reteamed both with actress Eliza Dushku (who had played a character, Faith, in the Buffy/Angelverse) and Fox. However, Fox again greatly tampered with the show (this time altering its narrative to not be as dark), and Whedon for the first time in his television career was met with moderate critical and fan response (when his three previous shows were all critical successes and cult hits). While there are many great episodes and moments (especially in the second season), Dollhouse is Whedon’s weakest series. It only lasted two seasons (but does have an ending). What I love about his series and why they are among my personal favorites is that Whedon brings both comedy and drama to his narratives – action, adventure, crime, horror, fantasy, sci-fi – there is so much genre blending, and his characters are among the richest in any medium. He can make you laugh, cry, be on the edge of your seat all in the same episode. Buffy, Angel and Firefly are three shows that I would recommend to anyone as being must-see TV. Whedon has also directed episodes of The Office (Business School and Branch Wars) and Glee (Dream On).

Feature Films (First Writing, Later Writing & Directing):

Whedon’s first feature script to be produced was 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though the film hardly represents his script). In 1995, Pixar hired him to fix their script for Toy Story. The script was just not working and featured unlikable characters. Whedon worked his character magic and for his trouble garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Surprisingly, Pixar never brought him back to work on any of their other projects. Next, Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection, but much like with Buffy the final film was completely different from his script (as writers are much farther down the totem pole in features). French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed the film (and was probably not a good fit), changing many elements to make it more comedic and akin to his quirky style (Jeunet is one of my favorite directors, but this is by no means a good film) when Whedon’s script was very bleak. Jeunet imported much of his team from France and needed a translator to communicate with the actors and other technicians and in no way involved Whedon in the production process (though that is not uncommon for director to not involve writers). Whedon has stated that he is very disappointed with the final film. He had worked for Disney’s animation studio as a script doctor in the past, though none of the projects had come to life. He also wrote the initial script for what would become Atlantis: The Lost Empire (and by the end, it had seven writers and Whedon only received a story credit). He was brought in by Fox’s animation studio to rewrite Titan A.E. as well, which was (and is) a mess. Something good came out of the project though; Whedon worked with writer Ben Edlund who he would later hire to write on Angel and Firefly. In 2005, Whedon made his directorial feature debut with Serenity (which he also wrote). A continuation of his beloved series Firefly, the film works both as a standalone sci-fi adventure and an ending to the series (though we all hope there will be another film at some point in the future). Serenity is a fantastic film, Whedon showing off his considerable directing talent (it is among my 25 favorite films from the past decade).  Whedon got involved with Marvel Studios and their plans for The Avengers in 2010, signing on to both direct and write the film. He also did a script polish (predominately on the dialog) for Captain America: The First Avenger and directed the post-credits scene in Thor. The Avengers is among this summers most anticipated films.

Comic Books:

As a lifelong comic book fan, Whedon is responsible for a number of wonderful comics, both original and jumping onto established series and characters. He has used the medium to continue many of his TV series, as there are comics for Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight and now Nine, Angel: After the Fall and now Angel & Faith, Serenity: Those Left Behind/Better Days/The Shepherd’s Tale, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible. Whedon however has worked with multiple writers on these projects (chief among them: Brian Lynch, Brian K. Vaughn, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson, Brad Meltzer, and others). Whedon has had a good relationship with Dark Horse Comics. He created a new character in the Buffyverse for a miniseries for them called Fray. The story takes place many decades in the future from the time of Buffy, and tells the tale of Fray a slayer who emerges after generations without them, living in a world controlled by demons. Fray also reappeared in Buffy’s Season Eight volume four: Time of Your Life. Whedon has also worked twice for Marvel Comics. Whedon wrote one volume of Runaways (volume 8 entitled Dead End Kids) taking over for series creator Brian K. Vaughn (his run is one of my favorite stories in comics). Whedon’s greatest comics’ achievement, however, is his other Marvel project: Astonishing X-Men with artist John Cassaday. He wrote 24 issues of the series, split into four books: Gifted (which is amazingly brilliant, and X-Men: The Last Stand borrows heavily from it), Dangerous, Torn, and Unstoppable. Whedon does a wonderful job with all the characters, but it is his Kitty Pryde that emerges as one of the great comic book heroines. It is my favorite comic series (along with Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man).

Internet Media:

Whedon has been very interested in creating projects outside the studio system in light of his many bad experiences with his scripts and TV series, and has found the internet as a great medium. In 2005 as part of a viral marketing ploy for Serenity, he created the R. Tam sessions, which starred Summer Glau and himself. His next venture came in the form of a free webcomic for Dark Horse Comics: Sugarshock! with artist Fabio Moon. It is a very fun read. In 2008 during the Writers’ Guild Strike, Whedon and a group of his friends got together to make a musical for the internet completely outside the studio system: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. Sales of the soundtrack alone were enough to cover the production costs. Whedon has said that he would like to continue making films and other projects on his own, setting up a new company called Bellwether Pictures.

Future Projects:

Following The Avengers, Whedon has four projects upcoming. First is his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Nathan Fillion). The film was shot in black and white at Whedon’s own residence with his friends while he took a break from The Avengers before post-production. The film is scheduled to be released through Bellwether Pictures on the festival circuit sometime in 2012. Whedon also wrote the script for and is producing Bellwether Picture’s second feature In Your Eyes. Directed by Brin Hill, the film stars Nikki Reed, Steve Howey, Zoe Kazan, Jennifer Grey, and Mark Feuerstein and is described as a paranormal romance. Finally, he has two webisode series in the works. Whedon is in the early stages of scripting a sequel to Dr. Horrible and working with Warren Ellis on Wastelanders. With what will likely be a huge hit for Whedon in The Avengers, he is going to have more freedom and power to pursue his own projects (another Firefly movie please!).

Joss Whedon Career Highlights:

1)      Toy Story (1995) – writer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
2)      Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003)* – creator, writer & director (DVD, Streaming)
3)      Firefly (2002-2003)* – creator, writer & director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
4)      Fray (2001-2003) – writer (Paperback)
5)      Angel (1999-2004)* – creator, writer & director (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Serenity (2005)* – writer & director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Astonishing X-Men (2004-2008)* – writer (Hardcover, Paperback)
8)      Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008) – writer & director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
9)      Dollhouse (2009-2010) – creator, writer & director (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

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