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Joss Whedon – Blind Faith

With The Cabin in the Woods and Avengers Assemble both hitting cinemas in April, and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Dollhouse enjoying enduring popularity, Joss Whedon has become Hollywood’s go-to screenwriter. Here he reveals how he juggles so many projects… 

Joss Whedon, the man behind such cult TV as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, is currently riding high in Hollywood. Firstly, horror devotees will finally get to see the Whedon-scripted Cabin In The Woods, a smart shocker that was shot in 2009 but delayed due to MGM filing bankruptcy. Then, two weeks later, Whedon is back, writing and directing the biggest superhero movie of the summer, Avengers Assemble. Collating Marvel’s Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, it promises to be one spectacular showdown. If that wasn’t enough, Whedon, 48, has even found time to dash off a low-budget version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Now that’s prolific.

You co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods with Drew Goddard, who directs. How do you know him?
Drew had worked as a writer on Buffy and Angel, and then we’ve been very, very close friends since. We always talked about doing something like this together. In fact, I’d had this idea while he was on Buffy, so once the shows were over, and we both had free time, I went, ‘It’s time. Let’s do something.’

What inspired the film? Was it a love of horror movies?
We both love horror movies but we’re not crazy about teenagers behaving like idiots and then being massacred for endless amounts of time. It seems to have become a bit of a stale piece of bread. So we wanted to make something that evoked the classic horror movies that we loved, and commented on what we felt was the degeneration of the horror movie. And at the same time was idiotically fun, absurdly insane. And this is a movie that loses its mind, and I feel very proud of that.

Where do you think this ‘degeneration’ began?
Somebody brought up Friday the 13th, and to me that was the tipping point of… Well, now it’s just about the kill. As opposed to Halloween, which was a classic horror movie where the dread of the thing was the point, and not the act. But in Friday the 13th, especially by the second one, it really was about in what inventive way can we dispose of this person. And it took the fun out of horror movies.

The Cabin in the Woods has been delayed for years. It’s not the first time you’ve suffered like this. Were you worried?
Everything I’ve done has been delayed. Buffy was pushed to mid-season, Dollhouse was pushed to mid-season. Angel was briefly shut down—then they read the second script! The release date for Serenity got pushed. So it seemed so much part and parcel of the process, it didn’t feel like, well, now it’s over. It wasn’t like being cancelled. It was more like… more of the birth pangs.

Were you concerned that it may never get seen?
I always had blind faith, which is why I often make the same mistake over and over, but it’s also how I can go to my desk in the morning and write. Because I believe somehow that this thing I am making will be seen and appreciated.

You’ve worked on various comic-book series, most recently Dollhouse. Are you still writing for the show?
I was. Once The Avengers [original title] went full tilt, I had to hand it over. I worked out the season, where I wanted it to go and what the major arcs were. And then, thank god, Andrew Chambliss stepped in and really took over. And we spent some time going over it, but then I became completely [absorbed with] The Avengers. I haven’t felt like that since I ran three shows at the same time and my son was born. It was… a lot of work! 

How do you manage with fan expectation on something like Avengers Assemble?
With something like The Avengers, there’s a different level of fan expectation. These characters have existed longer than I have. And people feel very strongly about them. And inevitably somebody’s going to go, ‘Captain America’s cowl is wrong! This movie is terrible!’ And some people might have legitimate problems with it. There will be people that you cannot please. But I believe, very strongly, most people who love these characters—whether it’s from the movies or from comics—will be extremely pleased. Because nobody is left to pasture. This movie is big.

Presumably, it’s easier in that you don’t have to introduce any of the characters…
Actually that’s the worst part of it. It’s the same problem I had on Serenity. When they’ve all been introduced, there’s no origin story. And the origin story is easy to do. But since there isn’t one, you basically have a bunch of characters that you have to explain to the audience while everybody else in the movie already knows about them. So it’s a real juggling act. Ultimately, you want people who haven’t seen any of these movies or read any of the comics to come and have a wonderful time. And not be going, ‘What?’ So that juggling act of hidden exposition, in a movie like this, is really, really rough.

You also shot a low-key version of Much Ado About Nothing straight after Avengers Assemble. How was that?
Well, we shot it in 12 days! After a 92-day shoot, where you can spend half a day accomplishing one-tenth of something, it’s very gratifying to be doing something where every day you’re putting down several scenes, or a complete giant scene, and you walk away having accomplished the thing. And also to be in the presence of people that I love so much and watch them be so good… It was just unfettered joy.

Is it true you also want to write a Broadway musical?
Yes, but those take many, many years to write and produce. So it’s a goal, but right now it’s a pretty lofty one. I have a couple [of ideas]. I directed an episode of Glee. I also wrote and directed a musical episode of Buffy, and my short film Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, so I have made a couple of musicals, but not a Broadway one. I’d probably prefer to do an off-Broadway one—something smaller.

The Cabin in the Woods opened in the UK on April 13. Avengers Assemble opened on April27

From movieScope magazine, Issue 27 (March/April 2012)

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