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October 20 2006

Joss on Serenity - "It's the freedom to act". Excellent ten minute interview. This was recorded back in February when Joss was over for the UK launch of the Serenity DVD.

There's some substantial material here which Joss touches more on here than he did in other interviews. Cheers to Ambrose for the heads up.

Ah, the familiar tones of Joss doing press interviews!

That said, cheers to Ambrose for putting this online as it's a great interview - there's some good stuff here.

For people who don't have audio, here's Kev's summary (which may contain inaccurate translation, adult language and tumbleweed):

- Serenity was sold to Universal on the concept of the show. They didn't really know about the fan base at that stage.

- Serenity is about freedom, obviously, and there's some good stuff said around the 2 minute mark there. Joss mentions going to dinner with The Operative but disliking Mal as an interesting way of looking at it.

- Joss finds it difficult to write without comedy. (Random aside, one of the reasons I really respect Joss' scripts is this exact trait).

- Joss didn't want pop culture references in Serenity, and didn't know about the Forbidden Planet ship number. By the way, this totally explains that MTV UK moment last October where nobody knew the answer except Nathan..

- Joss reads fan sites. (Really?!). But they have bad impacts on his work. (Wonder Woman is totally going to be about me, by the way, folks. He never said that but I've seeped the idea into everybodies brains here).

- Joss gets depressed seeing people freaking out about sequels online.*

- Joss made Serenity to get closure, and there's unlikely to be a sequel, although he'd never rule it out.

* And I can totally understand that feeling. I remember when Serenity first started to preview in the US, and immediately there were a flood of posts going "When's the sequel out?!".. which lead me to think, 'Uhm, this one hasn't even happened yet, and would kinda need to be a success..'. But I'm totally guilty of the sequel thing myself.
"The TV show was brilliant and then it was gone."

There's some great Joss-stuff in here -- thanks so much for finding this. I'll be mining it for quotes forthwith and posthaste. Well, soon, anyway. It's a pip, and the interviewer is ace. Lots packed in a short span.
There needs to a patented QuoterGal quote for the reading-all-the-posts-online then-9-people-turning-up-at-the-cinema thing.
Damn, if he doesn't make you laugh, he makes you cry -- sometimes at the same time, which is never good, as it leads to choking and stuff.
Gotta admit here that listening to Joss say that he wanted to avoid pop culture references and going to lengths to keep them out of Serenity is mighty weird. Especially when anyone can see the registration no. from the Earth vessel in Forbidden Planet painted across multiple set pieces on Miranda, which made me think " reference!" (cuz Forbidden Planet is a sci-fi version of The Tempest).

However, I loved this interview...even when he saddens me, Joss is brilliant:D
BlueEyedBrigadier, I think that's one which got past him (ie he didn't know about it). I'm sure somebody in the art department knew what they were doing with the reference, like.

There was a piece of artwork designed for the spaceship (Serenity) which had the owner down as J WHEDON, which wasn't used in the movie. One of the art department people on the movie posted it on my Browncoat site. And I'm glad - if that had been visible, it totally would have taken me out of the movie.

I think pop culture references have their place - see also: Spaced - but when you're trying to build a fictional universe far in the future, it can also be something to pull you out of the story if you keep looking for or noticing those moments.
Gossi, thanks for the gist of the interview, as I couldn't access it myself.
Good discussion about pop culture references in Firefly/Serenity. But let's keep in mind that it is different when you use pop culture references when you send out devices meant to bung the Alliance that are called Crybabies, that make your mother sigh. 'Cause, that's different than doing something that's supposed to be an inside joke, like the art department printing something somewhere -- the Crybaby is about two guys who have both heard the same 500-year-old music that they liked and remembered because it rocked, so they consciously referred to it when they created their little Crybaby device.

That made sense in my head, but I don't know if I explained myself clearly.

ETA: BTW, like Reddygirl, I couldn't get the link to work either, so also thanks for the summary, gossi! :-)

[ edited by billz on 2006-10-21 04:15 ]
really nice, and I thought I heard a tinge of a british accent in Joss's voice, but I just want to clarify that when Joss mentioned about people freaking out about sequels online, it wasn't about people asking when the next sequel was out, it was about how someone goes "it is the end of the world, there will never be a sequel, b/c of the bad performance" which depresses him.
He spent quite a bit of time in the UK, and I'll go out on a limb and say that he's a bit of all right...I mean a bit of what we in the US call an anglophile [cough. Shakespeare, cough]. Call me The Understater. Anyway, he does get some of the rhythms at least of an English accent at times but he's mostly just Joss.

I could swear I've hear this before. Was there never a post about this back in the day?

Even if (and he has not) Joss comes out and says he's lost all interest in the 'verse, I will still hold out hope for "Seven of Nine" or a Sci Fi miniseries or whatever.

I know that the Forbidden Planet reference was the one to escape his notice. I was just remarking (like Joss did) it's weird to hear/say that Joss avoided pop culture references and strove to weed out any attempts.

And I don't mind pop culture references, though I see the point that they would distract one from the movie (as proven by what I said in my first comment about going "Ooh...!"). Though I think the C57D registration number added to the ambiance, especially if one's a film or sci-fi/fantasy geek;)
Thanks for posting the summary Gossi. You made one deaf browncoat happy :)

I'm also surprised at Joss claiming he didn't want pop culture references in the film, though it certainly makes sense. It's a 'verse that is vastly different from the one we have now and having pop culure references might have ruined the impact of that knowledge.
I haven't transcribed this interview yet -- I s'pose I will, 'cause I'm like that -- but Joss has talked about this no-pop-culture-references in Serenifly before. He makes the point that he didn't want it/them to be works that referred to other works because he wanted them to be more directly experienced.


JOSS: ...It was the thing that I hated about the '80s -- when everything became movies about movies. In the '70s and '80s, movies were using, as their point of reference, movies. It's one of the reasons that I was so in love with Peter Weir back in the day, because his movies evoked something very natural -- they could evoke just this overwhelming sense of being lost inside of nature and water and wheat and whatever that he seemed to have a command of that nobody else had. And he was using film to do it. And everybody else -- even Scorsese, whom I worship -- seemed to be using film to talk about film. And that led to things like 'New York, New York,' which is one of my favorite movies -- but it also led to a lot of self-referential bullshit, and a lot of loss of reality and humanity. Even 'Star Wars' -- the other day, I was talking about this -- really was the first movie that I can think of where it was based entirely on existing movie structures. It was one step removed. It was a story about stories. And obviously, they all are, to an extent. But I feel like, to me, that's kind of distancing; that's not what I want to be doing. What I want to be doing is just using the medium to communicate.

Q: Well, you see that happening all the time in writing now. Tom Wolfe has gone off on the fact that he thinks people should leave their Graduate Writing Programs and do some reporting when they write their novels.

JOSS: That makes sense. It's tough. And it's tough for me, too, because I'm known as Mr. Pop Culture Reference; at the same time, that's the last person I want to be. It's one reason that I created "Firefly" -- so I no longer would be able to make any.

Q. [laughs] Right. You have to invent Fruity Oaty Bars.

JOSS: Exactly. Which is probably the closest thing I have to a contemporary concept in the movie. And everybody does it. Shakespeare did it; there's plenty of references we're not getting. But the other stuff seems to outweigh that in his work, I've noticed. [laughs]...

-- The CulturePulp Q&A with Joss Whedon, 9/24/05
And everybody does it. Shakespeare did it; there's plenty of references we're not getting.

Totally. "Double, double, toil and trouble/fire bake and cauldron bubble" was the tongue-in-cheek slogan of a "wickedly tasty" brand of pasties in W.S.'s day.
To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows1 of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles2
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks3
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation4
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil5,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns6 of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus7 make
With a bare bodkin8? Who would fardels9 bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country10, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards11 of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast12 of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph13, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

1 The ''Slings and Arrows'' was a pub on the Old Brompton Road much favoured by unemployed mummers and ladies of ill repute.
2 ''sea of troubles'' refers to a controversial Marine Armaments Act; Shakespeare was known to have vigorously opposed its passage.
3 ''thousand natural shocks'' was contemporary slang for ''bummer” or ''bad trip'' – Hamlet was obliquely referring to some “brown acid” he’d recently taken while walking the battlements of Elsinore Castle.
4 sex, and (I suspect) lots of it.
5 The ''mortal coil'' was a line dance popular with Danish royalty – this is a particularly “in” joke, as there were relatively few Danish royals at the time, and none able to dance.
6 Elizabethan S&M/bondage terminology
7 This means nothing at all; Shakespeare is just laughing at us. Not funny.
8 Thomas ''Bare Bodkin'' Marlowe was a much-honoured castrati alto featured in the Tower Chapel Choir; Elizabethan groundlings would have been familiar with his voice and reputation.
9 a prevalent snack food made from potatoes, mud and sawdust, thought to have uniquely restorative powers. It was considered vile and unpleasant and thus, had to be withstood or born.
10 The first recorded reference to a mass market paperback; the “Undiscovered Country” was a turgid potboiler about forbidden love between one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and a groom in the Royal Stables. Honestly, it was godawful, even for then, when a three-sentence Order of Execution could make for a whole evening of interesting reading.
11 This refers to a 20th century English actor, playwright, and composer of popular music not yet born at the time of Shakespeare’s writing. This is puzzling even to reputable scholars.
12 Shakespeare is here gently poking fun at the cast of “Cats”—only in its tenth year of performance in 1599, but already a subject of “much funne and parodie” in “Forbidene Globe Theatre”
13 ''Ophelia! -- Nymph'' was a 16th century girl-band, known to be ''laste Tuesdaye'' and ''Soe over'' at the time of this writing; Hamlet’s ''sin'' is that of being passé.

(dreamlogic, this is all your fault. *grin*)

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-10-21 09:33 ]
How did I miss this! I studied Hamlet for a full year and didn't pick up on half of this.
However you did miss one.
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

This is a reference to a bout of diarrhea he had recently suffered when in France promoting his latest play. It was known as the "Carccassone cramps"
Anybody remember the early cuts of Serenity, where as River was escaping and is hanging from the ceiling, two people walked past the camera and uttered the first words from Star Wars: A New Hope as the camera pulls up? Glad that was removed, personally - it erked me.
QuoterGal! Dude! You need to publish that! It's totally brill! And rather iant!
Or at least send them to Cliffs (or York Notes in the UK) for inclusion in their next printing. Those are important facts that we're failing to let kids know (or they weren't in my edition anyway). Won't somebody think of the children ?

(by which I mean, LOL ;).

Great interview, loads of nice insights (once again clearing up the myth about Universal greenlighting the film after seeing the DVD sales). And Han Mal shoots first, yo ;).

Re: pop references, there's a big difference between pop references in Buffy (or Runaways) which is contemporary and features characters which are really plugged into our pop-culture and 'Firefly' which obviously isn't and so they wouldn't be. Little in-jokes for fans are great (e.g. 'Superman Returns' features a fairly close recreation of the cover of Action Comics #1) but if it's too blatant it just reaffirms that what you're watching isn't real, that even the creators don't believe in the reality of their world and that would diminish the experience, IMO. As a viewer i'd spend too much time thinking 'How clever' and not enough thinking 'Shit, Wash !'.

(AXM is also a pretty 'straight' story without a lot of the self-referential, pomo stuff that's the rage in comics right now. Personally I like a mixture - Grant Morrison's Batman is really brilliant at the moment for instance - but Joss' feelings on the subject make me wonder what he thinks of 'Normal Again'. He obviously okayed it or it wouldn't have been made but it's a pretty post-modern idea which to me ended with a very ambiguous message about the nature of Buffy's reality)
Lioness, thanks for that additional footnote -- it adds much to my understanding of this under-analyzed passage. I think there may be other references that I've missed, so others should feel free to annotate this passage, as well. And gossi, thanks for that bit of arcane trivia from your vast store of Serenity lore. *grin*

(Pointy, and Saje, thanks much. When my partner read it, he laughed and said, "Well, if you're going to write this much, and this funny, I guess you should keep the laptop all to yourself." High praise, indeed, from one for whom English is their third language, and who's pride-and-joy this laptop was. What he doesn't know is that I've bought him a better one for his upcoming birthday. It's sorta Gift of the Magi if you don't think about it too hard...)

ETA: I am transcribing this interview, so if you're interested, check back on this thread a little later, even if it's off the front, and you shall find their words magically transformed into the written word, as they were never intended to be...

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2006-10-21 22:22 ]
LMAO! QuoterGal, you are simply Da Man, er, Da Gal, er, De Gaulle, er, you know what I mean! ;-)
Okay, I transcribed this interview and posted it over at in the “Pimp Your Whedon Stuff” Thread. (Sorry, couldn’t find a more appropriate topic.) If you want a Word.doc, email me, and if you’re nice to me, I’ll send you one…

And may I just say that, while it was generally a pleasure to transcribe this, on account of both fellers being so damn articulate, Joss crams in so many words per square inch that I thought I would go mad. If not already.

Nevermind, there, ‘tis done. “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly” or something or other else from the Scottish play, since I’m (apparently) on a Shakespearean kick.

-- Quoter "DeGaul" Gal (heya, billz)
Thank you again, QuoterGal!

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