Joss Whedon, the writer and director of Marvel’s upcoming Avengers movie, recently gave an interview for college papers around America, including The Daily Free Press.
Whedon has a large indie following from his work on shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. This is one of his first films and the first not based on a universe he created.
Alex Smallridge: What was your process in writing the film? Did you already have the directorial vision when you were penning the screenplay?
Joss Whedon: Um, yes I did. Half of writing a script is writing visually, is figuring out what you need it to look and feel like. The process therefore was pretty organic, particularly because we had such tight schedules. They needed something to be worked on, set pieces and action sequences, before I’d even written the script. So I was writing visual queues and action descriptions before I had finished structuring the story. So 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 [it was] very organic because it had everybody involved
AS: Is there something from your childhood experience with the Avengers that especially resonated with you and that you’re bringing to this movie?
JW: Well, the fact that the Avengers are all really, really messed up people I think is a fine reflection of me. With the Avengers itself, the thing that I loved was that it was one of the comic books that was a little bit steeped in science fiction. Marvel was known for its gritty realism. Spider-Man was kind of a template for “oh, they could just be people in New York,” and even though the Avengers made their home in New York they were so often out in space dealing with artificial intelligence and beings from another worlds and gods and monsters. I love that element. That’s really a part of the film.
AS: How did you mentally prepare yourself to carry on the stories of all these established super heroes with this already fervent backing?
JW: 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, not necessarily the best one, and 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 cadence of these people. Actually it’s a lot easier when you’ve seen them being acted in the other movies.
AS: Because Marvel is attempting to create an interlocking film universe, did you feel the need to maintain a directing style and aesthetics similar to the other Marvel studio directors?
JW: There’s no way you could make a movie that looked like a Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier movie. You have to take from each one of them the thing that is useful and will jive with the rest of them. I do think that the DNA of a Marvel movie begins with Iron Man, and that’s very grounded in the real. I tend to be a tiny bit florid with my camera work and my dialogue, but hopefully in a way that that seems like a realistic version of a comic book universe. It is the way that I can reconcile the different styles. My own style is kind of smack dab in the middle of what all those guys do. Therefore, it plays.
AS: Why was Cleveland picked as a shooting location and what was it like shooting there?
JW: Cleveland had some financial advantages, rebate wise, and that’s always a big thing for Marvel. They also were very, very accommodating in terms of letting us blow up their city. Filming there was actually a joy. Cleveland is a really cool place; it has a lot of great culture; it has a lot of great restaurants, and I’d been in the desert for almost a year so by the time I got to Cleveland it was almost like being in Versailles; so opulent and fun, and it had so many locations that worked beautifully for so many different places without hardly any dressing, we found. Particularly Stuttgart and New York were the main places it was replicating. We were able to shoot so much practically because of that. It was very gratifying for us and the people were really, really welcoming.
AS: The Avengers is based on SHIELD director Nick Fury trying to unite heroes with extraordinary powers and egos. With some pretty big names in the film, did you feel a little like Nick Fury at times, trying to bring the actors into a team concept, and how did you handle creative differences in this type of situation?
JW: I felt very much like Nick Fury. He is, you know, the director of SHIELD, literally, and that puts him at a remove from everybody. Even if he likes them, he knows he’s putting them in harms way. Hopefully I’m not putting my actors in harms way. Hopefully I’m not even making them uncomfortable. 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 need to 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. And I have a great respect for the responsibility to service them with your camera at the same time. I definitely felt some of the pressure, but I can see out of my left eye.
AS: Did you have any particular favorite combination of super heroes that you thought were the most interesting to see interact?
JW: You know the tragedy of the movie is that you don’t get 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 is the first Tony Stark’s come across really who 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, their deep, deep friendship. So . . . you know . . . I . . . Oh I love them all! I hate this question!
AS: What advice would you give to any student with dreams of one day sitting in the director’s chair?
JW: My advice would be: Sit down! Now you’re in the director’s chair. We live in an age where anybody can make a movie. If you have a phone, you can make a movie. Maybe not a huge movie, maybe phone sized. When I came up you wrote a script and you hoped and hoped or you raised enough money to make a short film. Things are different now and the best way to get your work out there, not just as an offering to someone else to hope they’ll make it, but to show yourself as a filmmaker and to learn as a filmmaker is to just. Make. Movies. There’s no excuse not to now.
AS: Both your father and grandfather were screenwriters. In what way do they influence your work?
JW: Well, they were both enormously funny men. They both worked extremely long hours to do their jobs. They are both cold and distant exactly like me. No, my dad’s a teddy bear. I learned a great deal of story from my dad, sometimes just inadvertently by listening to him or watching him or reading what he did. Very often he’d just throw down a piece of advice, and I find that, almost without exception, the things that he told me are the things that I carry the most.
AS: If you were going to insert yourself into a super hero movie, what powers would you have?
JW: I would have the power of invisibility, and then I wouldn’t have to show up to as many shooting days.
AS: How did you become attached to this project?
JW: I’ve known Kevin for a while; I’ve known comics for a lot longer. I think Marvel has a great nose for a director who has a passionate vision, who’s not famous for churning out big budget hits but will bring something a little bit fresh to the concept of the hero movie, and it’s one of those things that I respect the most about them. So it seemed like a good fit. The only other movie I’ve made had a very similar problem: How do you structure a story that some people know very well, others don’t know at all, but you have eight main characters, and they’re all friends already. It seemed like a fit. I think they regret it now, but it’s too late to stop!
AS: College students have a lot of options this summer with movies to see during their summer break. Why should they go see the Avengers?
JW: The Avengers is the type of movie that I grew up wanting to make and thought that they had stopped making. When I grew up, the summer movie was literally created as a concept, and I really wanted to do 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 story that unfolded and wasn’t just the big premise that you already knew going in or isn’t based on Parcheesi or something just because it has the name. More and more, summer movies have become a little cynical. There are very big exceptions to that, but that has been the case when people throw so much money down they’re not interested in the story they’re interested in barraging you with excitement and imagery and Marvel doesn’t operate that way, they care about people, that’s why they hire some of the best actors in the business to play their heroes. This is an old fashioned movie. It’s a little bit bigger than life but it’s very human.
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