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Serenity - Joss Whedon interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Obviously, the western influences in the film are pretty obvious but apparently it was a particular book on the Civil War that originally kicked this whole thing off?
Joss:
Yes, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which is an account of the battle of Gettysburg. It wasn't really the battle itself, it was just how deeply into these people's lives he got, the minutia of frontier life that started to obsess me. It wasn't anything in the book, exactly, it was just the way it was presented - everybody's lives. I found that kind of very interesting because we're not leading it any more.

Q. Was there any pressure from Universal to use big names or were they happy to go along with the people used in the series?
Joss:
They didn't want bigger names, they wanted longer names. They never ever said cast famous people. They never said cast Tom Cruise as River - and he was lobbying for it! He's good but he's no Summer!
They knew that the package was this world, this cast. They did talk about getting a name for the villain but the more they thought about it, they just came back and said 'just get the best actor you can find'.

Q. Can you describe the experience of walking back onto the set, given that they had been destroyed from the series?
Joss:
I got emotional! Particularly because we were filming Nathan's scenes in the locker, which were pretty emotional.
And also because when Nathan and I walked on for the first time together, he said 'captain on deck'. I still don't know if he was talking about him or me, but it really moved me either way. For me, it was extraordinary. The one part of filming I remember the best was when we were actually on the ship again, kids...
Nathan: I remember when we came and we visited the cargo bay. We got a tour of the ship before it was actually finished being created. I remember a couple of us were a little put out... 'this isn't the same, this is round in the original ship and this isn't round; and these stairs go down, they're supposed to go up'.
There were some minor differences and people didn't take right away to any changes to the ship. It was quite personal they were taking it. But once the ship was actually finished it looked very home-like; it looked very much like home and we took a liking to it real quick.
There are some subtle differences and a couple of us were thrown a little bit - Alan Tudyk cried a little bit but that's his way.
Summer: The thing is it doesn't feel like a set, it's really built like a ship. It's a real ship. It's not just like a wall here or a wall there. You really feel like it's your home. I remember when we were doing the series even, people would have their special places and we would never go back to our trailers. We would just find a couch and rest on the couch.
And during the lunch break, a crew guy would always sleep in my bed. It was just my little room but it still feels like our home, which is why I think we got so attached to every little detail.
Joss: A different crew guy in your bed every lunchtime. My God!

Q. How did you inform the guys they were coming back. And how did they feel when they were told?
Nathan:
I didn't believe him. I thought he was drunk - again! And he was but he was telling the truth. It was mixed emotions. I was very, very excited about it but I had a hard time believing it was true.
It wasn't until the third week of filming I remember because we did two weeks of exteriors. Then after the first week, we went back on the ship and we just kept coming back to the same place day after day after day. That's when I was finally able to relax and understand that it wasn't going to be taken away. It was actually going to happen. That was three weeks into filming.
Summer: I cried a little. I always say I cried on my crocodile pumps. I remember by outfit, I remember what I was drinking, I remember everything about it. It's one of my favourite memories.

Q. It's entirely likely that the film wouldn't be as good as it is had you not had the experience of making 14 episodes of the series. Did it give you a sort of fatalism about what will be will be and perhaps things do turn out for the best?
Joss:
No. I don't tend to go to that place. I do have a certain amount of fatalism but I don't believe in things turning out for the best. I regret the things I've lost and I love the things that I have. I loved Firefly and I loved Serenity but they're two completely different things.
It's like losing a child and having another child. It doesn't mean you don't feel the loss. But it is true that I think one of the things going into the movie that really helped it have texture and a lot of life was the 15 episode workshop that we got to do before we started filming. It also saved us a lot of time.

Q. Critics I thought would hate the film love it. It's universally seems to have generated positive reviews. Where does the groundswell of support come from?
Joss:
I make movies for everybody. What's interesting to me about science fiction is fiction. So ultimately, everything that I do - no matter how many monsters or space ships might be in it - this is just going to be a story about people and they're going to be people that we can identify with. There's going to be humour where you don't expect it and romance where you don't expect it.
I have to admit that I get very surprised. I was very surprised at Buffy when people not only enjoyed it but critically understood what we were trying to do with the metaphor.
With Serenity I've been incredibly gratified by the reviews because a lot of them have come from people who tend to discount sci-fi as a silly genre. But while I love sci-fi, in particular as a genre, I am trying to make something that speaks to people who don't. It's just a story about people whatever the surroundings are. If it's a period piece and they all have parasols, great; if it's a sci-fi movie and they all have spaceships, great; it doesn't matter, it's the same basic stuff. You care about these characters and that comes from the humour, the attention to detail and most of all it comes from the cast.

Q. Was it always your original dream to make it as a movie?
Joss:
In this particular case it started off as a series. I've always wanted to make a big science fiction movie. That's been a dream since, you know, I was old enough to dream. This I had not expected to get the opportunity to make it as a movie. It was kind of low rent and deliberately so.
Then Universal stepped in and said 'here's a lot of rent money'. So it was a question of taking something low rent and putting it in something much bigger. I think that's what actually makes the movie work because instead of people who have 'destiny, destiny, destiny', we have these schmucks and they're the people that I think people like to see.

Q. Apart from lots of Serenity sequels what other projects would you like to work on - I still they're still looking for a decent script for Indiana Jones?
Joss:
[rubbing his fingers] And then of course they're doing that Star Wars TV show and it's like 'what's that all about, what's going on there?' There's a million things. There's also a bunch of original stuff that I want to do. My problem is there's almost nothing that I don't want to do. I love stories. I just love them. I eat them up. My family used to make fun of me for years because I never met a movie I didn't like. Eventually I developed something called critical judgement, I think it happened while I was watching Bad Boys 2. But I just adore them. You could take any of those franchises and I'd be like 'oh let me do a Batman, I have a thing; or let me do a Star Trek, I have a thing!' They all fascinate me.
Right now, I'd say I'd pick Serenity about fifth or sixth among them - maybe even fourth!

Q. There are two series in recent years that have not been commercially successful - Firefly and Family Guy. What do you think it says that the networks have cancelled the shows but it's the fans that have realised that they can be bigger, better experiences?
Joss:
Well I think it's disgusting. The networks are mummy and daddy and they know what's best for us. Ultimately, it's great. It says that what happened with Star Trek is just more concentrated, because of the internet community, because of the extraordinary amount of feedback and back and forths between fans and the people in power. Because of the ability to sort of connect.
I literally have friends who were writing Starsky and Hutch fan flicks. That was back when you'd copy it on the mimeographs machine and send it to five of your friends. Now something like that is read by millions of people if they want to.
It's something that's always been there. The fans have spoken to some extent because people have decided what movies they like. Ultimately, they always do. But in situations like this it just shows that things are breaking apart a little bit which is something that frightens the networks a little bit and therefore pleases me.
It's happening in the music industry and it's happening in film as well. But I think this is kind of a stepping stone; this is kind of an unprecedented thing that happened with this film. The other thing went back to the TV medium that they were in, even Farscape was ultimately a TV movie, whereas this became a big budget movie. That's a different animal. Some of that has to do with the fact of the show itself. I mean, Universal stepped in before they realised how big the fanbase was but then the fanbase really made themselves known. They affected the marketing, the green light, they sort of kept it going throughout. And that's because we were plugged in to an extent that we have never been before and that's one of the great things about it.
There are some negative things about it, but that's not one of them.

Q. This idea of a Universal Alliance is a bit similar to film companies telling people what's good for them...
Joss:
I'm sure I don't know what you mean!

Q. We get radio programmes with playlists as well, so this is quite a good message in the film...
Joss:
Well I think the system is becoming even more monopolistic and giganticness and there will be three companies in ten years' time - and only three. That's something that's in the show and it's something that's in the movie. The fact of the matter is that when something gets that big, no matter how progressive its intentions, it's going to start damaging the people around it because it's going to start over-reaching and eventually is going to decide that everyone is going to have to think the way that it does. Even if it's just to sell a product, or out of genuine, decent idealism it's going to cause some horrible horror. I think this is more timely a movie than I wish it would be.

Q. Does the film take your ideas basically for what would have happened in the second series?
Joss:
That was the basic idea, yes.

Q. We never saw the Reavers in the series. What made you show them in the film?
Joss:
Well it's one thing in a pilot or early part of a series to hint at something that you're going to pay off later. You can't really do that in a movie. It's rude because then the movie's over and they never saw any Reavers. We were always going to have a confrontation with the Reavers. We were building up to it so it was inevitable that we were going to have Reavers in the film because they were just way too much fun not to have.

Q. Suppose Universal had said that your script was fine but they wanted a different director, would you have been happy to hand it over to someone else?
Joss:
I would have set the script aflame in the very lobby of Universal. I have been directed by other people and it hasn't always gone very well. There was never any question that I was to be the director. Universal and the executive who preceded the film had been talking to me about directing something before, just in general. I spent many, many, many years getting to the point where they would consider me as a director. When I was just a screenwriter nothing was further from their minds. But after years of directing television some of them got it in their heads that I might be able to helm a film. It never crossed their minds that anyone else should handle this material and it certainly never crossed mine. Had it come up I actually would not have set anything on fire, I actually would have laughed and laughed.
If I had been struck down with a terminal illness I would have been happy to hand the reigns over to Tim Minear, who ran the show with me and is responsible for much of what made it great. There is no other living person I'd say that about.

Q. The fans get the big pay-off with Kaylee and Simon. Does this give us any indication about future films and where we'll see Mal and Inara heading?
Joss:
Yes I can't stress this enough. There will be sex scenes in the sequel. I'm sorry we left them out!
Nathan: And I'm method!

Q. You kill off a couple of main characters. Do you think this might upset fans?
Joss:
Ultimately, I was in the service of the narrative and the narrative said if we don't make this hard on people, then by the time we get to the big fight at the end nobody will care. No one is going to believe that anyone can get hurt, and if they don't believe that going into the fight then it's just so much noise. These people are willing to lay their lives on the line, so when you're saying that you have to mean it.

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