Monday, May 28, 2007

Meeting Joss

I graduated from college yesterday, and as part of the festivities, they had a series of talks from alumni and such, including one by Joss Whedon on "The Importance of Being Keanu." His basic point with this talk was that Keanu had chosen roles that presented a specific agenda, one of nonviolent problem solving. I'm not sure how this jives with the shootouts of The Matrix and such, but he sold it well and told a bunch of interesting anecdotes about working with Keanu on Speed. I saw Keanu speak last year at a screening of A Scanner Darkly and he seemed like a smart, thoughtful guy. He said that Neo was the perfect role for Keanu because he has a kind of inhuman beauty, a perfect mix of racial characteristics to be the sort of generic ideal of humanity. So, he could serve as the BuddhaChrist in The Matrix. I'd be curious to see what Joss would say about the possible casting of Keanu as Dr. Manhattan in the Watchmen film.

After that, there was a Q&A where he talked a lot about the subjugation of women in Hollywood, similar themes as his recent Whedonesque blog posting. His points are definitely valid, and I try to bring out females who aren't defined by their relationship to men in my work. It's weird to watch people make films where all the women are girlfriends or wives.

He talked about his experience directing The Office, how they shoot double the amount they use in an episode, and will frequently try five or six different versions of a joke, and do an improv take, then use the best one. He said that Veronica Mars was the first show he was happy to have called "The next Buffy." Charmed, not so much. He also said that Battlestar Galactica was the best thing ever on TV, and The Matrix was the best movie ever. Also, The Body was the best thing he ever did.

My favorite thing he talked about was a meeting with Eliza Dushku where he asked her "Why do you keep making these shitty movies?" And, she replied they don't try to make them shitty. This was in reference to finding good roles for women, and he said that she needed to seek out the best directors and try to work with them.

This was a good event, after I walked down, and the line for signings was ridiculous, so I left and went on with my day. Later, I went over and watched some fireworks then wandered down towards this party in a tent for alumni and graduates, and who should be milling about but Joss himself.

He went over to talk to some people and I went over to my friend Vanessa and was like “It’s Joss!” So, we went over to talk to him, and talked for 15 minutes or so about a bunch of things. I asked him why he couldn’t get the Buffy movies made, considering studios are all about creating branded franchises they can go back to time after time. He said that the studios felt he could get people to work cheap because they’re his friends, and they refused to budge on the funding. He said they didn’t see a precedent for what he was trying to do, so I mentioned that perhaps the new Babylon 5 movies would do that. He hadn’t seen any of the show. During the Q&A, he said he hasn't seen Heroes and has only seen the first episode of The Sopranos, but thought it was one of the best things he'd ever seen on TV.

Vanessa asked him if he’d seen the thesis films this year, and he said no. I told him about mine, the nature of the plot and how it was inspired by him and Grant Morrison. He said that Morrison was great, the reason that he decided to write X-Men, but sometimes Grant had issues with story structure. I asked if he’d read The Invisibles, and he said that, like a lot of people, he had read some and really liked it, but never finished the series.

I asked him if he’d ever want to do an original musical, and he said that’s his dream project. He talked about how the Buffy musical was so easy to write because he tailored it to what he knew his people could do, and it’d be tougher to do something original. I told him that season six was my favorite season, and he said there was a small group of people who felt that way. I asked him if he ever thought of doing some kind of coda episode after ‘Chosen,’ but he said that the show was always going to end with the slayers being activated, because that was the thematic finale he wanted. I’d still argue that a little more character time was needed, but I guess we’re getting that with the comic. He said that by the end of season seven they knew it was time to go and were feeling a bit burnt out, but they were thinking about doing either a Faith or Slayers show, but that didn’t happen.

Then, I asked him if I could send him my thesis film to get his reaction to it and he said he could do that, but to give it to the head of the film department and say he really said yes because she gets people who want to send him 900 page fanfic. Vanessa asked him how he felt about people writing fanfic with the characters he made in his head, and he said that it was weird because they were writing about people he knew, like Willow wasn’t just Willow, it was Aly. But, he was happy that people were writing it, even if it was erotic fanfiction, since he wanted to inspire passion, and sexual passion was just as good as any other kind.

So, this was an amazing chance to talk to one of my idols one on one, and hopefully he'll send me a critique of the film at some point in the future. That would be just incredibly cool.


Lee said...

That was great - very jealous of you getting to shoot the shit with the Joss. Liked the comment about fan fiction - don't know if you've ever read Denis McGrath's blog (Canadian TV writer), but he's been taking on the fanficcers lately and written some quite provocative posts.

Lee said...

Blogger messed up the link there. Here's Denis' blog.

RAB said...

Congratulations on the college graduation, and congratulations on getting to talk with Whedon. Sounds great!

(I'll never get why he'd think BSG is the best thing ever on TV and The Matrix is the best movie ever -- even leaving aside the fact that he himself has made stuff in each medium better than either of those, but of course no creative person values his or her own work as highly as the work of others -- I'll just have to file it away with his love for Chis Claremont's depiction of Kitty Pryde. If admiring something I'm unimpressed with inspires him to give us a character like Buffy Summers, I won't quibble.)

P.S.: I owe you some comments on the wrapup of your Invisibles posts...but I can't face admitting they're over!

Patrick said...

I haven't read that blog, but I've got the RSS feed now, and am tracking back towards those fanfic posts. It doesn't sound like he's as cool with it as Joss is.

And Rab, thanks for the congrats, and I'd agree his love for BSG isn't quite clear. It's great show yeah, but also full of flaws. I guess he can't say that his own shows are his favorite, but even other than those, there's some great stuff out there. But, just judging from his Whedonesque postings, he'll get really hooked on a show and go crazy for it, so maybe something will top it in the future.

But, c'mon, Claremont's Kitty Pryde was genius, arguably the best character in his entire run. Are you not a fan of Kitty specifically, or just Claremont's stuff in general? I don't know if you saw it, but I wrote up the whole run last year, indexed here.

And bring on The Invisibles comments, there's a ton of stuff to talk about in those last few issues, particualrly the finale.

RAB said...

In my day I bought Claremont comics by the truckload, I'll have you know!

There are things I like and dislike about Kitty Pryde. Starting with her name: I've never, ever mentioned this character to a non-fan without also having to explain that this is meant to be the real name of a person, not some kind of super-hero alias or a brand of cat litter. Leaving that aside...bringing in a young, female audience identification character at the point she was introduced was a good idea. Her coping with her newly discovered powers was well handled, and her romantic feelings for Peter had real pathos. She seemed like a real teen in that respect, and not inappropriately sexualized as I have no doubt most current writers would make her if she were created today. Good stuff there. At first my only qualm was that she could effortlessly pass for normal and her mutant nature caused her no angst, when the whole nature of the X-Men should be that they're outsiders who come together because the outer world mistrusts them -- it was like she got all the good parts of membership without the bad parts.

But then she's taking dance lessons, and it turns out she's not just interested in computers but a freaking technological genius who can hack into alien systems with ease, and she has a pet DRAGON (cutesy icky poo!) and she becomes a ninja...after a certain point, she becomes this kind of all-purpose wish fulfillment character, and that's when it crosses the line from audience identification to rampant Mary Sue-ism.

All that said, I really like what Joss has done with her -- playing down some of the excesses, rationalizing others, and even turning her "normalcy" into a virtue by having Cyclops expressly comment on it and positioning her as the "public face" of mutantkind. He even made me like the dragon.

P.S.: even now I'm working my way through your X-Men posts. Thanks for pointing them out!

Patrick said...

I could see those issues, the dragon was pretty ridiculous, but most of that stuff didn't happen in the core title, it was in peripheral stuff. Reading the core book, it's clear that Claremont has a lot of affection for the character, and maybe makes her more skilled than she should be, but it's not that over the top. That said, I'd agree about the name.

I've got the first two trades of Claremont's Excalibur, and I'm curious to see where he takes the character there. The book loses something when she leaves after the Mutant Massacre. But, I feel like the arc Claremont began in #94 ends with Fall of the Mutants, so it's fine that she exits then. In general, I think Claremont's stuff is vastly underrated, particularly the Mutant Massacre era stuff. History has ruled that the Byrne era is the "classic" time, but in reality, it's Paul Smith and the late Romita era that has the most in common with the movies and general perception of the series. Mutant Massacre is a great example of the way more mainstream titles echoed the new darkness and complexity that Watchmen brought to the superhero genre.

I haven't actually read that much Whedon X-Men, only the first trade. I figured at this point, I'll just wait for the whole run to finish then read it in one go. But, he did write her well, and it was nice to see her join the crew that Morrison wrote in New X-Men.