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"I was able to examine the body while police were taking witness arias."
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January 07 2009

The Futon Critic interviews Joss. Apparently, this was conducted at the 2009 FOX Midseason Press Junket.

No major revelations news-wise, but some nice quotes from Joss about Dollhouse. Also seems to imply that he might do an episode like the original pilot later on in the series, though maybe I'm reading too much into that comment.

This is so interesting because I thought there were overtones of human trafficking in Dollhouse.
The last answer was interesting, cuz I would think the opposite: If you are concerned about human trafficking, it makes perfect sense to explore human trafficking in narrative, to examine all the kinds of people involved in it, and all the kinds of people not too concerned about it. If you are concerned about the dark parts of human character, then that concern won't be limited to politics or to your business or to your art, it will run through all of it. And part of being responsible is showing how irresponsible people can be.
Yeah but part of selling a tv show is about making it fun and sexy and exciting in some ways, with characters people can relate to, otherwise you will have a very short run. So I understand his concern about portraying the kinds of things he's about to put on tv.
"But once you yourself take a stand on something, you can't help but feel like everything you do will be judged by that. And the essential part of being a storyteller is being the dark guy, is being the enemy. Not becoming a bad guy in a 'Bad Boys 2' kind of way where you're just evil. [Laughs.] But you have to access that part of yourself that's unlovely. And once you've set yourself up as a public figure, it's almost like politics. It's almost harder to do."

I think the other thing he's talking about here is something he's mentioned before, and I don't think it's ever come easy to him... having to immerse himself in someone evil or amoral from the inside in order to write them effectively.

I think it's a tricky thing - writing all the characters as if they think they're righteous and justified, without saying that you as the creator think they are, but also without explicitly condemning them, as well. And then dealing with what you dig up about yourself when you do go to those places inside.

I think it's something Joss does well, but I can imagine it's difficult, and hard to keep all the voices outside while you're writing - the voices that say, "But this guy is so horrible, how can I write this?"

Or so I imagine...

Anyhoo, good to hear that Joss is another Old Time Radio (OTR) freak - my day isn't complete unless I've listened to an episode of "Lux Radio Theatre" or "Suspense" or "Campbell Playhouse" - so much of it available for free on the 'web or in free podcasts via iTunes.
"If somebody's offended, I probably got them thinking. And that's probably good. If everybody's offended, I may have fucked up. [Laughs.]"

Hehehe, that's a great last line.
QuoterGal, your post reminded me of the commentary for Innocence, in which Joss mentions being kind of horrified by his ability to write the Angelus/Buffy scene that takes place in Angel's bedroom.

Also, Joss's line about "you don't pitch Buffy with The Body" got me terribly excited for where this show will go. I had already imagined that this was the case, and that the show can't really go to that place too early on, but hearing it from Joss himself kind of solidified the whole thing.
I love how straightforward Joss is in his answers. It was also nice to hear about his experience working with Olivia Williams - I am very interested to see how her character plays out.
I remember Joss saying something about true villians don't believe they are evil. They believe their acts are justified. Like Billy AKA Dr. Horrible. Anyone remember that?

[ edited by caring hands on 2009-01-07 07:37 ]
Yeah, he's said that more than once.
I had been pursuing what had ultimately become the internet model, and at that time I was thinking about DVDs. It was just, how do I do stuff outside the system on the cheap and just get some stories out there. I developed "Wonder Woman" to no avail. I developed "Goners" to no avail. I was getting tired of not telling stories. So I was interested in pursuing that.

If Dollhouse fails (and by failing I mean is cancelled by moron executives), I truly hope Joss will stop TV and go back to what he calls "the internet model" : as Doctor Horrible has proven it, there is a market on the interweb for anything Joss might do (I could add that lots of the comics are ordered by internet, especially for Europeans like me). The internet/dvd movie market is the only way to do the Serenity sequel, or Buffy the animated series, and countless other projects.
Maybe Buffy and Angel were exceptions, maybe the Whedon way cannot appeal to 7 millions of American people every week, and if so, I hope Joss will let his 3 or 4 millions of fan all other the world pay for his work. Personnaly, I could buy Btas or Serenity 2 for 100$, and I know there are a lot of other people out there wo would do the same.
So here it is : I will support Dollhouse (essentialy by buying the dvds, because I can't watch US TV) but if it doesn't work, please Joss, stop going to the networks and come back to your fans.
He sometimes quotes Willem Dafoe.

I heard someone talk about an interview with Willem Dafoe once where the interviewer asked him, "Do you prefer playing good guys or bad guys?" And the way I heard the story Willem Dafoe just said, "Good guys, bad guys—it doesn't matter. Everybody thinks they're righteous."

I think that's Joss, but the site I found it on didn't attribute it. Anyway, it sounds like the quote I heard him say, anyway.
Well, now I feel kind of bad because writing evil or amoral characters always comes very easily to me in scripts. Hrm.

Anyway, great interview, though I wish I could tell Joss that he shouldn't worry as much as he does about political correctness. I mean, yeah, it's not a good idea to be wildly offensive and sensational just for the sake of it, but I can't imagine Joss could ever do something like that.

In his excellent book Bambi vs. Godzilla, David Mamet discusses the reaction he had to the controversy stirred by one of his plays which involved a woman making a false accusation of rape:

"I, in my ignorance, was stunned. I didn't realize that it was my job to be politically acceptable. I'd always thought society employed me to be dramatic; further, I wondered what source had so polluted the young that increasing political enfranchisement of a group rendered a member of that group incapable of error--in effect, rendered her other than human. For if the subject of art is not our maculate, fragile, and often pathetic humanity, what is the point of the exercise?"

So be dark, be willing to offend, be true! And if I know Joss, as a writer, as well as I think I do, I know he'll be able to do those things on Dollhouse.

(And Léo, if Serenity 2 or Buffy: Animated were to cost $100, I'm pretty sure I actually would cry. Can't drop that kind of dough for something like that, not even something done by Joss.)
I need to stop reading these interviews. My blood boils when I hear what he intended and what got shunned. The soothing words aren't soothing enough
Despite the issues with the network and how tempting it is just to say "Leave Joss alone, when you hire a genius let him do his geniusy thing !" I wonder if they may have had a point re: first episode ? Buffy and Angel both had that sort of simple, accessible "here's the show" pilot and ran for 7 and 5 years respectively, 'Firefly' was a much more ambitious pilot (which I love BTW) and was bumped around and canned after 11 episodes. It's like Joss says, get the network (and the audience) onside first and then do your 'Hush' or 'The Body'.

(and I can also understand the network getting nervous if he's looking at sex from a dark place, Janet Jackson's boob was an education in that regard. Come to Blighty Joss, we're all perverts/socialists already, we won't mind ;)

And the essential part of being a storyteller is being the dark guy, is being the enemy.

Joss is The Dark Knight ! Just as I suspected all along.

... and I don't think it's ever come easy to him... having to immerse himself in someone evil or amoral from the inside in order to write them effectively.

Y'know, I wonder if it's that OR if it's more that it comes too easy to him ? As Racoon Boy mentions, finding out you have that in you might be a tad unsettling (it shouldn't be since we all do IMO - or maybe i'm just trying to make myself feel better ;).
"Despite the issues with the network and how tempting it is just to say "Leave Joss alone, when you hire a genius let him do his geniusy thing !" I wonder if they may have had a point re: first episode ?"

Yeah, I agree (although it does seem that it didn't work as planned, given that virtually everyone seems to prefer the original first episode). What's more concerning to me is that the dark and twisted stuff has been pushed out of the story. Joss's suggestion that you have to earn the dark stuff would be more comforting if there were a better chance of Dollhouse being renewed and if I believed he really meant it (I don't find him trustworthy on these matters. That isn't a criticism, btw. He can't go around insulting FOX executives). And, say Dollhouse goes for many seasons to come, will those FOX executives who are blocking the dark and twisted elements of the story have a change of heart and allow them in?
Let Down, critics and the like prefer the original, but many have also commented that the new one is more mainstream-friendly, so I think it's worked pretty well so far.

And yes, I believe that if Dollhouse does well enough for FOX to keep it going, then they will loosen up a bit. I'm not sure why you wouldn't trust what Joss is saying though. Sure, he can't really insult FOX, but both Buffy and Angel went to deeper, darker places, despite more straightforward beginnings. And as Saje mentioned, Firefly tried to be more ambitious from the beginning, and look what happened.
I think, if the shows becomes successful, the executives will allow the producers more and more stuff. There's a point where they get that the show knows more about its audience than the network.

(although it does seem that it didn't work as planned, given that virtually everyone seems to prefer the original first episode)


I gotta say that I get the network's (and Joss') point. "Echo" does feel like a second- or third-season episode, and definitely not as an opener. It's intriguing and great and wonderful and dark and whatnot, but it's not a pilot. Plus the fact that even if the network thought it was a pilot (after reading the script), the way they shot it obviously wasn't considered a pilot. So, while "Ghost" may be a "weaker" episode, it is maybe a better pilot (haven't seen it, don't know).

I really like the comparison Joss made: For me, "Welcome to the Hellmouth" is a weaker episode than "The Body". But it's a better pilot.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-01-07 12:07 ]
"I'm not sure why you wouldn't trust what Joss is saying though."

Because he's admitted in the past that he can't really say the truth in a lot of interviews, at least not until the events are long since past (see his Onion interview from ages back). Because he's a gentleman who rarely unleashes in public his real feelings about the executives who interfere with his work. And because he's repeatedly said things that are outright false which he must have known were false. For the most recent example: are there people here who really believe that if Joss happened to run FOX he would have put Dollhouse on Friday night? (Not a good example of something blatantly false, but I'm not going to go digging up old interviews). Again, I'm not being critical of him in the least. In his Onion interview he compared it with what you say when a woman asks if a dress makes them look fat.

"Sure, he can't really insult FOX, but both Buffy and Angel went to deeper, darker places, despite more straightforward beginnings."

Yeah, I'm not trying to say that if we did get more seasons of Dollhouse it wouldn't get darker etc. But I don't know if he'd get as much freedom as he got on WB and UPN, both very small networks which needed fewer viewers to call a show a success. One slight concern I have after reading this interview is that those executives who are against the darker aspects of the show are against it not purely on business grounds but because they're personally offended by it. If that's the case, will they allow really twisted stuff in the future?

"I gotta say that I get the network's (and Joss') point. "Echo" does feel like a second- or third-season episode, and definitely not as an opener. It's intriguing and great and wonderful and dark and whatnot, but it's not a pilot. "

That's reassuring. Did you see the old episode, wiesengrund, or read the script?
Just the script. I actually wonder how the executives even considered the script to be a good opener (only to be disappointed by the final product). The first ten pages or so are (imo) downright weird and confusing, and not necessarily in a good way. If they shot it anyway near the script, that would have had me worried, if it were really to air as the first minutes of Dollhouse.

That's not to say that "Ghost" will do the job better. In Joss' world there are many nuances of "weird and confusing". ;) But as I said, I get why they agreed that "Echo" was kind of stumbling out of the gate.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-01-07 13:16 ]
Just remember if Joss is not working with a studio/network then he won't be doing any Buffy/Angel/Serenifly projects. Those are owned by studios.

Original stuff is great though if that is the direction he wants to go in.
I'm so ready for a Joss network. :)

And I get his worries in presenting the "bad" as a good thing. But I agree with goal is to provoke the audience to think about things themselves. It's not Joss who's programmed Echo to have sex with Mr. Money; it's the Dollhouse. His own political views should not diminish the story that needs to be told. If anything, the story he tell should raise the audience's issues of "what do I consider right? do I consider this rape" and have them answer it themselves. It can be pretty damn shocking to your own values with the answers you come up with.

I get that feeling with Dexter at times. I'll find myself cheering for Dexter when he just killed this murderer, and I'll ask myself, "Wait. Shouldn't Dexter see his own fate as well? What gives him the right to decide who lives & who dies?"

But I like the self-confrontation. It makes me more open to the other's argument, whatever that may be.
It's not Joss who's programmed Echo to have sex with Mr. Money; it's the Dollhouse.

I think the issue Joss raises is, as a creator that only takes you so far because in reality, it's not true (it really is Joss that's "programming" every event we see depicted). There comes a point where, even if you're depicting something to criticise it, you have to ask yourself if you're doing more harm than good just by depicting it in the first place.

But yeah, it's the stuff that walks the fine line that asks us the hard questions and that's what makes it worth the creative soul searching and internal debates in the first place (especially since it's Joss that has to do it, not us ;).
There were some episodes of Angel (like the one where Connor almost killed a girl with a big meat cleaving thing) that made me wonder what the hell goes on in the heads of Angel writers (especially Steven DeKnight).

I can't think of much (any?) great art that was made with a utilitarian purpose in mind. I tend to think that the best stories describe what happens in reality (including complex human mental states) rather than prescribes moral attitudes. Though obviously morality always comes into it.
There comes a point where, even if you're depicting something to criticise it, you have to ask yourself if you're doing more harm than good just by depicting it in the first place.

I know this is an extreme jump, but if we start limiting ourselves because of the fear of doing more harm than good when people perceive it... wouldn't that sort of be like banning BtVS "because its issues blur our good distinct moral code of what's right & wrong"?

I still say it's better to put it out there and the world will find a place for it. Academics have already devoured his previous works in an attempt to find knowledge & understanding so that readers & viewers can take those arguments, educate themselves, and make their own decisions on what's right & wrong.
I thought there was more in Joss' comments than just how to access the bad guy - there's also:

What right do I have to be irresponsible in the stories that I write or push the boundaries?


That sense that if you have believe, and argue, that world would be a better place if x happens (trafficking ends, for example) do you have a responsibility to use your work to contribute to that? And does you wanting to do that, if you do, affect your creativity? If your job is to challenge and provoke, can you do that without being "irresponsible"?

For many people, Joss' work has been literally life-saving. It has, I think, contributed to a world more accepting of strong women. It is, if you like, a force for "good". And from what he's said in interviews, Joss set out to do that. And so, sometimes fans get passionate when they see it doing anything else (The Andrew scene in The Girl in Question, Tara's death were both criticised for kinda "political" reasons). I can only imagine that pressure.

To me it seems that the responsibility of artists is to show truth - literally or metaphorically - and that's never gonna be a bad thing. At the end of day, worrying about the impact of your work, it's responsibility, can't make you change what you want to do, or it'll fall flat.

And it impresses me no end that Joss thinks about it all. Sooo excited for Dollhouse now.

Sorry. I don't post often, but I do post long.

(btw I had no problems with Tara's death!)
I had the following paragraph in, but I cut it because I thought it might come across as too full-on. But re-reading I think it's part of what I am trying to say, so I'm putting it back. I'll edit it out if someone thinks that would be better.

I think about the impact of Joss' work in part, because of a line in one of Angel's fifth season episodes, when Spike rescues a girl in an alley, only to castigate her for taking the shortcut in the first place. I laughed aloud when I first saw it. Then five days later I took a shortcut through the alley behind my house at 1am and somebody came up behind me with a knife, and then followed the worst night of my life. I haven't laughed at that line since - it felt vaguely like Spike was telling me it was all my fault, and I didn't want him to do that. (Crazy to care, yes, but that what happens when you deeply identify with a show. At least I hope it happens to other people. Well not that specifically, the obsessiveness. You know what I mean). But you know what? Spike could be an asshole, that's OK. He wouldn't be Spike if he didn't say stuff that is actually pretty offensive occasionally.
Well, Spike, for all his punk appearance, is a pretty old fashioned guy in some ways. I've wrestled with the same idea myself but it's virtually impossible to talk about without appearing to blame the victim and that's both morally wrong and factually incorrect. I will just say that I think there's a difference between being to blame for something and being responsible for your own actions - a person can not be to blame or in any way deserve something happening to them but still be partly responsible for the fact that it did (IMO).

(an example is a car accident - you can drive perfectly and be a good person i.e. undeserving, whatever that means, but still get in an accident because of e.g. a drunk driver. Is it your fault ? No. Did you deserve it ? No. Are you partly responsible ? Yes in my view, since you should have known it was a possible consequence of choosing to get in your car and drive it)

And FWIW sojourner (probably not much since, even by anonymous internet standards, we're complete strangers :), i'm sorry you had to suffer through what sounds like a horrific experience.

I still say it's better to put it out there and the world will find a place for it.

We might be talking about different things korkster, I don't mean depicting moral ambiguities (which is a part of the best fiction IMO), I mean stuff like depicting child porn or extreme violence. IMO creators should take some personal responsibility for what they're putting into the public consciousness (even if we choose to watch). Joss may (as sojourner mentions) be saying something else again in that he might (also ?) mean if you're a responsible person and want to change the world for the better, should you ever pass up a chance to do that, even if it serves the story ?

There is always a line I think, Joss is just talking about deciding where that line lies for him.

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