THE 'SERENITY' INTERVIEWS - PART 4
by Johanna Juntunen - LA, September 2005
Q: How did you know
that Firefly was something that needed to be translated into the
big screen, that it had that pedigree?
Pedigree is a good word just because of the body of the people who make it
up. I felt like, yeah, there are lot of perfectly good shows that wouldn’t
lend themselves to a movie, but when you are dealing with certain size,
science fiction, action universe and if you can think of a story epic
enough, then it makes visual sense to do it as a movie. For me it’s about
these people. The movie obviously is about these people, which in an
action movie is becoming rarer and rarer, but I think these people are
extraordinary. I thought the actors embodied their characters, were
amazing professionals, wonderful to work with. The fun working with them
actually translated on screen, you could see that the chemistry between
them was palpable. I never really had an experience like that where it was
just so solid from the beginning, where these people absolutely had
created something that I loved living in, that I believed in. And then
have it yanked out from under me. I was like “No, no, no. This story isn’t
told yet”. I got to work with Buffy for seven years, Angel
for five and I felt that to a large extent I got to tell those stories.
And this world was more complete and more perfectly ‘peopled’ than any I
ever created. People want to see this.
Q: How did you take the cancellation news?
wasn’t cancelled so much as squashed like a bug from the very beginning.
It was not a good match with the network. They didn’t want it, they didn’t
understand it, they didn’t advertise it, they didn’t air it. These little
things lead to people not seeing it. I had family members that could not
find it on TV because they kept pre-empting it and changing it. It had no
chance from the beginning. But luckily we got to make fifteen hours of
television during that ‘no chance’ which made for a hell of a reel to
pitch the movie with.
Q: The show was on Fox and the movie is Universal. Did Fox have the
first right of refusal?
did. And they refused (laughs).
Q: Did it become personal?
A: No, if
it was personal they would have kept Universal from buying the rights.
They would have said “we want to shut this down”. They didn’t get it,
their TV division anyway, and they could’ve thought that “if someone else
succeeds with it we will look silly” but the fact of the matter is that if
somebody else succeeds with it they’re going to sell a lot of DVDs.
Q: Everybody keeps talking about the DVD sales that fuelled the movie.
How much did it sell?
A: I don’t
know what the number is now. I know that within a few weeks of putting it
out we sold about two-hundred thousand. So the idea that there was no
audience for it kind of dissipated pretty quickly. But I was already
working on the script. Universal had already expressed interest just by
having seen the episodes, obviously not on TV, but because I gave them to
them. It was in fact the Fox DVD arm that said “we think this is a money
maker”. And this is before they were putting everything on DVD, it was a
radical notion at the time. But it didn’t hurt at all, and the fan base
has been increasing over the last two and a half years. For a show that
doesn’t exist, that’s pretty good.
Q: Let’s say hypothetically that the movie makes $100-150 million. Can
Fox resurrect the show or is it an avenue you don’t even want to take?
absolutely have no idea what the contract is. I think ultimately you can
never recapture what we did. You could have another show but it would be a
new show. I think it’s more likely that if it makes…uh, I’m not even going
to say those numbers, they’re too dreamy, if it makes a good deal of money
we would see more movies. I think that’s where it lives right now. But
nothing, as I have recently learned, is impossible.
Q: Is there a sense of revenge from your part?
word we use is redemption. I’m not going to lie, I was fairly bitter, but
I transferred all my bitterness into getting the movie made. Universal
made it easy but it was a while before we got there. The only thing on my
mind was to get this made. And as far as revenge is concerned, if that’s
why you’re doing something then you should stop. That’s not going to get
you through. It was my love of the thing, of the project that made me want
to do this. And the fact that it’s done, my revenge is, that Fox will,
again, sell a lot of DVDs, which to me is the best revenge because it’s
about respect. I respect this and I want you to do too. It’s not thumb in
my nose anymore, that’s not how I operate. Believe me, there are a plenty
of people in my career that I wanted to thumb my nose at, I had a lot of
disappointments but if you focus on that you will become unendurably
bitter and really boring.
Q: Since Firefly was such a hit on DVD, what are your plans for the
Serenity DVD - have you done it already?
A: Oh yes.
They make all the DVD stuff before you make the movie. First meeting I
ever had with the people at Universal, and there was a giant room full of
people. I was explaining the universe of the movie and what I was going to
do with it. They were saying “so, what are your thoughts about the DVD?” I
was like “I was hoping it would come out in theatres”. That’s just such a
part of the package now, it’s a huge source of revenue. So they were
making DVD extras of me having that meeting, whether or not we will have
that on the DVD extras, so it’s inevitably part of it and I’ve watched all
the documentaries they put together and the pieces, I thought they were
really nicely done. And of course I did my commentary where I praised
myself for two hours.
Q: How did you know that with Firefly and Serenity you
were discovering new territories, instead of visiting the same ones
explored in Star Trek and Star Wars?
have these big bench marks that influence everything. I saw Star Wars
ten times in theatre. I was not a huge Star Trek fan, I still
saw all of the movies. Blade Runner, Mad Max, any of the
movies that created templates that changed science fiction, they are going
to be in your head. And very specifically in this case people have likened
Serenity to the movies we’re talking about. This is not something
that I can pretend is irrelevant…
Q: Mel is like Han Solo?
Absolutely, to me it’s definitely a precursor, even a father to this movie
in many ways. But everybody has their own personal statement and their own
personal aesthetic. Mine is possibly a little bleaker and grittier
(laughs) than George’s although he did get kind of depressing there in
that last one. But nobody slowly burns to death in mine, so, I guess I’m
the jaunty one. But you take what you love and you make it your own. If
you bring a personal point of view to your film then it will be something
fresh, and if you don’t, then you shouldn’t be making it anyway.
Q: How was the day when you got the news that Firefly got
A: It was
a fun day because I went in to pitch an idea for Batman origins movie
which I guess didn’t go over very well since I heard crickets in the room
and possibly some snoring. As I was driving back to the office I was
thinking ”maybe I just don’t know how to work in this system, maybe I’m
just getting it wrong”. I got back to the office and the show was
cancelled. So they just told me and I said only one thing “will you let me
take it somewhere else?” because cancellation was bad news but not a bolt
from a blue, not after the process of getting it on the air in the first
place. They said yes and I hang up the phone. Then I went to the stage and
told the actors “the show is over but we are not finished”. All of them
waited while I tried to figure out some way to keep this flying. So I
relate to Mel a lot more than I used to. And eventually I got the call
that said we are back.
Q: What was your take on Batman?
A: It was
different. And that’s the problem, when I create something I do fall in
love with it. Like I’m still upset for not getting to film…it was just a
pitch and all I had was an outline, but there were a couple of scenes in
there that made me well up when I think about them because I thought they
were so wonderful. So imagine how I felt about something that actually
existed with actors and a world that was already there; I could live in it
and feel it. And when that thing was taken away, I don’t deal with these
things very well. I’m not in the business of making up stories that I
can’t tell anymore. When you work in Hollywood as a writer you do it all
the time. I sold big scripts for lots of money that nobody has ever seen
because they were never made into movies. I did rewrites where I got into
the heart of the film, really found the centre of what the film meant and
really brought something in it that they didn’t use. It’s very
dilapidating, it’s very exhausting, it’s lucrative but it’s sort of soul
deadening. That was my career for a while. I did Buffy, the show,
because it was mine, I could actually start telling the stories and people
would listen to what I had to say. And that did rather more than I
expected. Serenity is the first chance I’ve ever had just to put
myself completely on film, and as you can see I made myself much prettier.
Q: You are also a successful comic book writer, couldn’t you just call
DC and say that you have a great Batman story?
it’s a little more complicated than that but yeah, pretty much I could…but
it would have to be a great Batman story (laughs). But the world of comic
books has been very welcoming, which was unexpected because I didn’t
realize that they even knew who I was, until they found out what I did.
That’s another place where I can feel like I can walk into that world and
do things that I like to do.
Q: What’s the status of Wonder Woman, you’re attached to that,
Correct. The status is (pretends to write on a typewriter)…it’s weird
because I write on computer so I don’t know why do I make that sound. But
there’s no production start date, that’s part of the reason why I took the
gig. They just said “get it right” or “at least get it written”. Once they
see a script then we’ll have an idea. They’ll be like “uh, yeah, fast
track” or “hmm, back to the digging sound”.
Q: Do you think that, as with Superman, you need an actor who doesn’t
have that much recognition, or does it need to be somebody famous?
A: I think
that the first one is true. I think it’s easier if you have a relative
unknown that people see her for the first time and go “OK, that’s Wonder
Woman” instead of that’s so-and-so’s interpretation of Wonder Woman. I’m
not going to rule somebody out just because they’re famous. If I finish it
and go “oh, my god, this is perfect for so-and-so” then it’s perfect for
her. But I would imagine that it would end up being somebody unknown
because I couldn’t name any particular so-and-so.
Q: How can you do a Wonder Woman movie because the character can be
very lame if it’s not well written…
yeah, believe me when I say that. That’s a path on a very long ledge.
Despite my love of B-movies I’m not in the business for cheesy, and when
it comes to powerful women I think I can work it. Somebody said to me
“Come on, let’s face it. You have two things on your resume: wonder and
woman”. So, I understand her. I wasn’t sure if I did at first when Joel
Silver came to me. It was like “wait a minute, this lady is talking to me.
She’s not cheesy at all”. Trust me.
Q: You had to change her costume, right?
A: Some of
it, but she is still going to be Wonder Woman, she’s not going to be
Q: How do you deal with the fact that you have such a huge cult
A: It’s a
burden. The only thing I don’t like about ‘cult following’ is the name
‘cult following’ because it tends to make people think “well, I’m not
interested in that, it’s exclusive”. Ultimately I’d like to have a giant
following (laughs). But my fans are not like scary, ‘culty’, let’s keep
everybody else out from the club house people, they’re very inclusive,
very sweet, altruistic, attractive and normal and they have lives – unlike
me. So it’s just a huge compliment to me, it just means that they respond
to my work and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
Q: One of the benefits of doing sci-fi is that you can deal with issues
of today but since it’s five hundred or five thousand years in the future,
people don’t think that you are talking directly to them but you are. Can
you talk about some of the themes that reflect the world today?
A: Some of
it is a little more reflective of issues than I had intended. Obviously,
politically it has a lot to do with more or less benevolent superpowers
over reaching themselves, and people who think that their way of thinking
should be everybody’s. And how dangerous that is. It’s about the idea that
no matter how much we want to be better, the fact that we are hopelessly
flawed is possibly our only hope. In order to be free people have to be
good and bad, right and wrong, that we all live in a grey area and people
who don’t, who see things in black and white, are the most dangerous
people on the planet.
Q: Why are you so attracted to strong women as characters. Is it a
James Cameron thing?
Cameron is a guru to me. He made the only truly textured, strong female
heroes, not the only ones, but some of the most important, when I was
coming up, and I learned a lot from him. But George Romero was doing more
or less the same thing, not as heralded but definitely as strong. I love
the old movies, the really old movies before people decided that women
were supposed to be weak. I’m talking about Rosalind Russell and His
Girl Friday or Janet Gaynor and Seventh Heaven taking a
bullwhip to her older sister, there was a toughness that was just expected
of people that disappeared. The worst thing that ever happened to women in
movies is Marilyn Monroe. The weak, helpless, pathetic, annoying woman.
And our continued cultural obsession with her depressed me my whole life.
I like strong women, I was raised by one, I’m married to one, I surround
myself with them. They’re interesting, they’re fun , they’re sexy but they
aren’t represented enough. I think the question really shouldn’t be ‘why
am I so attracted to strong women?’, the question should be ‘why isn’t
Q: Both your father and grandfather were part of very important TV
shows of their generation, how much did that affect you by osmosis?
A: A lot
of it is osmosis. My style is very much like my father’s. Because I didn’t
want to write for TV, I was “no, no, no. Film! Entertainment is not
television, bah”. Then I realized that there was some beautiful work to be
done on television. Their sensibility was so much part of who I was, that
when it came time to make my way in television, the tone and the structure
and where that stuff comes from…is particularly from my father. But my
mother, who is a teacher, spent an enormous time writing novels that were
never published. When I think about wanting to be a writer, what I think
of is the sound of her typewriter and when she was done writing for the
day, I would sneak and start writing my novels which were even less
published than hers because I never got past page twelve.
Q: What was your first success?
first success was getting my first job which was Roseanne. I was
working in a video store on Friday and on Monday I went to work on what
was then the number one sitcom, and I thought the most ground breaking
show about a family that was on TV.
Q: You survived, emotionally?
A: No, my
corpse is scattered, among many others, on the killing fields of
Roseanne. But not actually by Roseanne, we got along fine. It was just
a chaotic situation, everybody else having to deal with her, and they
didn’t know how to deal with me, so I quit. Because there was no place for
me there. But that was the beginning. Although the video store owner did
tell me that he was thinking about me for management so maybe I went the
Q: How old were you at that time?
A: I was
Q: Your giant following was really rooting for you to take on X-Men,
did you try to get it?
A: I love
my giant following, but giants are not to be trusted. My elves following,
they are really gnomes who guide me. The X-Men is something I talked about
because I talked to Avi and Lauren before doing stuff. It was a scheduling
issue more than anything. I was positive that it was the right idea for
me, but on paper I write the X-Men comic. The X-Men was a huge influence.
It could be a lot of fun, and they didn’t really have a script so it could
be a lot of fun. Wonder Woman I didn’t really love the show or the comics,
but you do break it down, and you’re talking about doing the third in a
franchise which is unfortunately really locked into a lot of dates and
things. There were just so many perimeters, scheduling was never going to
work as opposed to Wonder Woman.
Q: What are your favourite movies on DVD?
two different kinds of DVDs to own. There’s the classic that you make sure
that you own, and then there’s the movie that you find yourself watching
over and over and over. So the classics can just sit there. You’ve got to
own certain things like Casablanca and Rear Window. It
doesn’t mean that you are throwing them on every minute. So I’m going to
choose five that I watch a lot if times. That’s going to be Mulan,
Red Planet, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Last of the
Mohicans, and well, The Matrix.
Q: The new or old Thomas Crown Affair?
A: The new one. I adore that one.
free Video Podcast of an exclusive Joss Whedon interview is available from
the iTunes Music Store -
released on DVD on February 27th.
Interview courtesy of Universal Pictures.
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