By April Lynn Newell
Joss Whedon is a director/writer/producer of such acclaimed works as “Roseanne,” “Toy Story,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and more recently “The Avengers” and “The Cabin in the Woods.”
His resume, however, has not weighed him down. Instead, Whedon is jovial and humorous. His humor seeped into every answer of this interview with lighthearted sarcasm.
“[If I were a super hero] I would have the power of invisibility and then I wouldn’t have to show up for as many shooting days,” said Whedon, a third-generation director who learned about the art of production storytelling from his father and grandfather.
“I learned a great deal about ‘story’ from my dad, sometimes just inadvertently by listening to him, or watching him, or reading what he did,” Whedon said. “Very often he’d just throw down a little piece of advice and I find that, almost with exception, the things he said to me are the things I carry the most.”
Whedon tells other aspiring directors to simply make a movie. Begin your career as a filmmaker now — don’t wait.
As evident in all his works Whedon engrosses himself in every character and storyline. “The Avengers,” set to debut May 4, seems no different. This ultimate superhero movie brings several previous Marvel films together to recreate the classic Avenger team.
Q: What was your process in writing the film? Did you already have a directorial vision when you were penning the screenplay?
A: Half of writing a script is writing visually — is figuring out what you need it to look and feel like as much as what they’re going to say. The process, therefore, was pretty organic, particularly also because we had such a tight schedule, they needed some things to be worked on, set pieces and action sequences before I’d even written the script. So I was writing visual cues and action descriptions before I had finished structuring the story, since we knew where we were going. All of that was happening all at the same time. So it was very difficult structurally to figure out how to make it work, but in terms of the process, very organic because it was all, everybody in the pool.
Q: How did you mentally prepare yourself to carry on the stories of all these established superheroes with an already fervent backing?
A: I am the fervent backing, so it wasn’t that hard to key in. I’ve done a lot of work for things that already exist. I’ve worked on the “X-Men,” I wrote an alien movie, uh, not necessarily the best one. At working as a script doctor, you come in after things have been established. Even on a TV show, even if you’re the one who established them every time you write a script, you’re dealing with an established universe. So, it’s not hard for me to fall into the cadences of these people. In fact, it’s a lot easier when you’ve already seen them being acted in the other movies.
Q: Because Marvel is attempting to create an interlocking film universe, did you feel the need to maintain a directing style, an aesthetic similar to work of the other Marvel Studio directors?
A: There’s no way you could make a movie that looked like a Jon Favreau, Kenneth Brown, Joe Johnston, Louie Lettieri movie. You have to take from each of them the thing that is useful and will jive with the rest of them. I do think the DNA of the Marvel movie begins with “Iron Man,” and that’s very grounded in the reel. I tend to be a tiny bit florid with my camera work and my dialogue, but hopefully in a way that feels like a realistic version of a comic book universe. So it is the way that I can reconcile the different styles. My own style is actually kind of smack dab in the middle of what all those guys do. Therefore it plays.
Q: “The Avengers” is based on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury trying to unite heroes with extraordinary powers and egos. Did you feel like Nick Fury trying to bring the actors into a team concept and how did you handle creative differences in this type of situation?
A: I felt very much like Nick Fury. He is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., literally, and that puts him at a remove from everybody, even if he likes them. He knows he’s putting them in harm’s way. Hopefully I’m not putting my actors in harm’s way. Hopefully I’m not even making them uncomfortable, but I’m not nearly as intelligent or manipulative as Nick, and I didn’t have as many problems because my actors actually wanted to be together. They enjoy each other. But you do feel that responsibility that you’ve gotta get all of these people to give their best. For him it’s in battle, and for me it’s when we’re rolling to really come up with their best stuff and play off each other as well as possible. You have a great responsibility to service them with your camera at the same time. So definitely (I) felt some of the pressure, but I can see out of my left eye.
Q: Did you have any particular combination of superheroes that you thought were the most interesting to see interact?
A: The tragedy of the movie is that you don’t get to have scenes of everybody interacting because everybody is so interesting up against each other. I would say I love the Bruce Banner-Tony Stark relationship. Bruce Banner’s the first guy Tony Stark’s come across who really operates on his level intellectually, who isn’t a villain. And the way Tony nudges him and Tony’s particular attitude about the Hulk is endearing and cool. But I also love Tony and Steve and how much they can’t stand each other and I’m very invested in Natasha and Hawkeye and their deep, deep friendship. So, you know, oh, I love them all!
Q: College students have a lot of options this summer with movies to see during their summer break – why should college students have it first on their list to see “The Avengers”?
A: I think “The Avengers” is the kind of movie that I grew up wanting to make and thought they had stopped making. When I grew up, the summer movie was, literally, created as a concept, and all my life I wanted to do something like that, something like the first Indiana Jones, something that was steeped in character, in love of the genre that it was portraying, had intelligence, had real acting, had a story that unfolded and wasn’t just a sort of big premise that you already knew or isn’t based on Parcheesi or something just because it has a name. More and more summer movies have felt a little cynical. There are very, very, big exceptions to that, but that has been the case when people throw so much money down. They’re not interested in a story. They’re interested in just barraging you with excitement and imagery and brand names. Marvel doesn’t operate that way. They care about the people. This is an old-fashioned movie. It’s a little bit bigger than life, but it’s very human.