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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"It turns out massacres are a lot like sitting through God Father 3, once is enough."
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September 12 2012

Joss discusses working with actors with NOW Toronto at TIFF. A couple of nice gems in this short but sweet piece.

"Deciding to film in your house means you can walk around with a glass of wine and go, 'move that!'" he laughs. "The location scout was maybe my favourite ever."
and

Whedon is the sort of creative force with whom actors love to work; everyone juggled their schedules to be available for the Much Ado shoot on very short notice. I ask him whether there's anything he does with actors that other writers and directors don't.

"The safety of a set is sacred to me"" he says after a moment's thought. "You know, I never studied directing; I never really studied writing. I don't know some secret language; I was like, 'I don't know the handshake! I'm not gonna be able to direct!'

"But what I understand is what an actor wants to know. 'Why am I doing this, and how should it come out?' And 'Will I be safe to try something strange?' And 'Will I be asked to do more?' I don't come at it from any other standpoint than that; I come at it from, 'How can I help you the most? I can't manipulate you, or bully you, or explain things to you in some visual, crazy way. I can only say, 'You are sad now. But the scene has to be funny. So how are we gonna combine those things?'

"Just clarity and honesty has gotten me so far," he says. "And these extraordinary actors? I give them notes, and I guide them, but the point is they were all that good when I met them. My talent is just in knowing that."

I love it when Joss gives away his creative secrets. I was thinking the other day that kids who are awed by the Avengers now will, in less than 20 years, be making movies that they hope recapture that feeling, and they'll be reading his interviews like he read Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock and will absorb all these strange ideas about safety and not throwing birds at people.
Hmm... I'm thinking of years ago, when (supposedly) Joss was upset when actors would ad-lib his scripts. He (again supposedly) opened up a bit after the "Firefly" experience. I wonder how it is now. Does he communicate better when the actors can open up, versus when they need to stick to the script? Hiring actors who are better able to ad-lib and still give what is needed? More takes (some straight, some allowing deviations)?
There's an interview with one of the Avengers actors (I can't remember which) about working with Joss and he said that in one of their first days, he did ad-libbed a line, and Joss told him he wanted it said exactly as he had written it. I think there's a time and place for ad-libbing, or suggestions, but the writer has a specific intent for the dialogue he or she has written and when an actor changes that, it can complicate the scene because it might change tone and it might affect later scenes that build off the reactions in previous ones.
I imagine that for every writer, there is a desire to see their words used as originally provided and ad-libbing probably feels like a smack in the face. Having your efforts seemingly tossed aside or edited without any consultation makes you feel like all the energy put into something - all the passion and purpose - was pointless, from my experience.

Time, experience and trust are fairly likely reasons why Joss has strong feelings for Donald Sutherland over how Merrick Jameson-Smythe was portrayed in the original Buffy movie vs. someone like RDJ or Samuel L. Jackson doing Tony Stark or Nick Fury during The Avengers or any one of the major cast members from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, or Dollhouse. Sutherland probably thought that since he had experience and clout, worked with numerous directors of importance and thought he could make changes to what Joss wrote without really understanding the bigger picture because Joss was a newbie. 20 years roll by and I think parties on both sides of what Joss does now understand that there's a time to toss off ad-lib and a time to proof you can sell a line that could be convoluted or not clear in the small picture

Certainly helps that Joss had a lot more control over things with the various TV shows or recent films than he did 20 years ago, too :P

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