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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"It's like you said, Emma...I don't have any claws."
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October 10 2015

Joss says he made more from Dr. Horrible than the first Avengers movie. Verily. According to Variety, he doth spaketh of it at the Fest of Paley.

Watched the live stream, he did mention this. He has mentioned it in the past as well. I would guess it's a combination of Disney not paying their film directors what they deserve and Dr. Horrible being such a huge hit upon its release. They mentioned in the panel that no other web film/series has come close to eclipsing it over the past 7 years.
I truly, honestly believe that worldwide grosses for Infinity War 1 & 2 combined are going to be less than Ultron. I need to believe that we live in a universe were there is a cost to treating people like cheap expendable machine parts; replaceable, interchangeable, and discardable at will.
I'd be very shocked if combined they make less than Ultron- (as that would mean they would have to make less than 700 million each....and I can't see the drop off being that huge.)

But I do think there is a chance that one part (or both) will end up making less than Ultron, as the super-hero market will be looking over-saturated at that point and the team-up films much more common place.

(And I'm not that surprised Joss made more from Dr. Horrible than Avengers 1, as Avengers 1 he would have been paid a base-wage and a certain level of residuals.
With Dr. Horrible alot more of the profit would have gone directly to him- as he was essentially taking on the role of the studio- and deals like airing it on the CW could have been fairly lucrative.
It's basically the difference between sharing a huge cake between 100 or so different people, with 20 people getting bigger slices of the cake than everyone else, and an averaged sized cake being shared amongst five people.
Sometimes the modest cake will give you a bigger slice.)
RobynH, that is a horrible thing to do to people, for sure. But I'm glad he's out of there. I need more true Whedony goodness. Preferably from the man's own mind.
I am assuming a whole lot of facts not in evidence about what actually transpired in the making and marketing of Ultron. But my impression is that from early on, the studio wanted a much "bigger/louder" second picture and Joss wanted a much "smaller/quieter" second picture. The studio has since made their disappointment known that the film has "only" made $1.4B worldwide (and is still taking in $100K/week domestic as of mid October. Geez, what do they want? Right, $$$.)

Joss seems to have a singular, Aaron Sorkin like, view on the role of a Creator or Director in film or television. Which can be summed up by Sorkin's oft quoted phrase, "Fire me, or get the Hell out of my way."

Due to his past bad experiences with losing control of his projects, I don't see Joss going ahead with the second film unless he felt he had a clear and unambiguous commitment to the concept of "Joss in charge, all others give advice, not commandments." My feeling is that the studio made such an agreement, and then continued to give "advice" in the form of commandments. ('cause it's our money, fool!)

To me, it seems that Joss has had, relative to the rest of the entertainment industry, a very good track record of not bad-mouthing his bosses, employees, coworkers, competitors or the industry in general. Because of this reputation, even the very mild complaints he voiced about interference with the storyline seemed to indicate a very bad problem lurking under the surface.

Others may have made reference to some of these problems when discussing the recent political infighting within Marvel and Disney.

All fact-free opinion from me, and I may be making a very big stew out of a very small oyster. But I really feel that we are looking at an Avenger 2 movie that is significantly weaker than it could have been, had the studio just given Joss the opportunity to "whisper like thunder" in a much smaller, more intimate film, that ultimately might have done the magical $2B number for which they were hoping.

My Infinity War out in left field crash and burn prediction is just a feeling that there is a lot of turmoil roiling under the Marvel surface, along with a massive glut of not so stellar superhero product headed our way in the next 36 months.

I will accept it if I am wrong. But as Sheldon would put it, I have a strong desire to say to Marvel, "I informed you thusly."

[ edited by RobynH on 2015-10-11 09:20 ]
I have never gotten the impression that Joss wanted a smaller/quieter movie. Everything we've heard is that Joss wanted *more* in the movies. He wanted Ultron to be in the first Avengers movie, he wanted Captain Marvel and Spider-Man to be in the second one, etc.
I think there's this tendency to always blame the studio for faults in Joss's work and it gets a bit stale to be honest. There are very few directors that can work in film and/or TV and not have to deal with interfering studios who want to meddle with your story and at some point you just gotta suck it up and make it work. That's the nature of the business and it's something directors and/or creators have to face every day in Hollywood.

A lot of the main criticisms directed at AoU can be attributed to Joss. For instance, a lot of fans took offence to how he wrote Black Widow and a lot of people thought the Bruce/Natasha relationship was poorly handled. I also feel that the script relied too heavily on being 'quippy' to the point it started to feel very formulaic and tend to agree with people that, at times, the characters started to sound OOC with all the Whedon-isms, which don't always fit with their established characterisations in other movies. The characters at times felt inconsistent with how they were written in previous films and dialogue that would have sounded great coming out of, say, Buffy's mouth, isn't necessarily right for Widow or even Iron Man. Not everybody agrees with these criticisms of course but they were pretty wide-spread and none of that can really be blamed on Marvel. On the other hand, the studio did make Joss cut the Thor exposition scene which hurt the movie overall and it made that subplot very confusing so that's something you could hold the studio responsible for.

At the end of the day most people in Whedon's position have to compromise with studios and work with them. And throughout Joss's career there's always been this discussion that has sort of followed him around, whether it be from his own quotes in interviews or in fan discussions about his work, that the studios ruined his work. That they interred with Alien, or sabotaged Firefly, or ruined Dollhouse, or meddled too much with AoU and it just starts to sound like an excuse. Don't get me wrong, I think sometimes or even a lot of the time it very well may be true. But Joss is hardly unique in having to work with studios and I guess other creators probably just handle it a little better? I don't think it always reflects well on Joss to complain about it a great deal when it's a part of the business and all other creators face the same thing and handle it quietly and privately. And I think his fans do a disservice to him to always reference even when he's not talking about it. He's a fantastic writer and I'll always give his work a shot because he created my favourite show of all time and I'll always be grateful for that, but his writing is not without it's flaws. And I certainly wouldn't consider AoU a 'flop' by any stretch of the imagination but I do think some of the things that let it down can be contributed to Joss as well.
Not only did Dr Horrible make the most in terms of investment than any of the Whedon's projects, I also think it's basically the best. There's a lot of work that I really, really love - but Dr. Horrible stands as 42 minutes of pure joy (and then horribly earnt death). Also probably my favourite Whedonverse single word joke: "Balls". It's also the first time I'd seen anything Maurissa and Jed did, and holy shit those guys are embarrassingly great.

The most surprising thing to me about Dr. Horrible is that it absolutely helped the idea of web content along in terms of mindset, but nobody followed the business model it presented. That baffles me to this day. The business model was extraordinarily successful give the micro size of the project. The only group that tried was actually Fox corp - who actually formed a company for web content and mentioned Dr H in their press release - and, you know, that didn't exactly work out because I don't think it works in huge corps.
Why are people blaming Marvel for this? He accepted their proposal, whatever the sum was. When Joss finished The Avengers he could've made virtually any movie in Hollywood and he decided to do The Avengers 2.

I didn't like Age of Ultron and it didn't feel like Joss's ultimate vision for the film came through but that's a whole other story.
I'm sorry Robyn but "The studio has since made their disappointment known that the film has "only" made $1.4B worldwide" has no basis except in rumor. You're believing a article from a less than shady web site that has sprouted alot of lies and falsehoods lately about Marvel.
Yeah ... listen, I love the guy or I wouldn't be here. I'm first in line for anything he does (well except In Your Eyes .. skipped that) and I go in with high expectations that are almost always met in one way or another

That said, the whole passive aggressive thing gets wearisome, and his press tour had me rolling my eyes. There were a bunch of things about AoU I didn't like, and most of those can be laid at Joss' feet. I understand Marvel insists in a certain amount of world building, but frankly I don't mind that. What Marvel doesn't insist on are Thor-in-a-hot-tub scenes (I don't care how that was edited, it was never going to work) or a petulant teenage Ultron, or a world domination plot that was a little vague. I liked the movie, what I don't like is the knee jerk fandom who rails against "The Man" anytime Joss does his "just between us" asides about his experiences in Hollywood
Also probably my favourite Whedonverse single word joke: "Balls".

Runner-up: "Bitca?"
TallMichaelJ, you should really check out In Your Eyes. It's a delightful, sweet little romance film. I think it's highly underrated.
Not that anyone should care about my opinion, but I just felt the need to say that I really loved Age of Ultron...and since purchasing the DVD and re-watching it several times I have to say I like it better and better upon re-watching. I even like it a little better than the first film, which is saying a great deal, as I loved the first one as well. I don't always agree with Joss's taste on things, but I regard his two Avengers films and Serenity as three of the finest action films ever made, and his two Avengers movies are my favorite superhero films, even edging out the best of the other Marvel films a little bit. Well, anyway, I don't claim that my opinion is more than subjective...but I just wanted to go on record as loving that movie; everyone's contributions managed to come together to bring those heroes to life for me--in a way that surpassed anything I could have imagined when I was a little kid reading my first Avengers comics.
I understand that my previous comment wasn't super-relevant to the main point of the thread about Joss's experiences with Marvel, but I really don't feel like I know enough to say anything meaningful about that. It was great getting to see the Dr. Horrible reunion interview though!!!
Blaming the people with the patronage, money and the IP gets ridiculously tiring. Joss could have made "his" movie within the constraints. "Lesser" directors do it all the time. I know we all joke around with the Joss = God meme at times but let s not actually take it seriously. I loved Ultron but it wasn't his best work. And all the fault does not necessarily lie not with him.
I think something which gets lost in time is personal preference. I overheard some guys talking at my work about Avengers 2 the other day, and all the scenes they listed as bad were actually my favourite scenes.

Ultimately Marvel/Disney made an absolutely killing with Avengers 2. Yes, they very probably wanted more money because they're a very large corporation. No, I don't think it's particularly the movies fault - it opened lower than the previous movie in almost every market, and that has nothing to do with joss as people have to see the movie for the movie quality to have an impact on the box office the opening weekend. Avengers #1 felt like something unique - a huge tag team movie. A2 didn't quite have that advantage going in.
To be fair, neither of the Avengers movies featured Bad Horse so prominently. (He gave Dr. Horrible some serious legs.)
I'll reiterate the first line of my previous post:
>> I am assuming a whole lot of facts not in evidence about what actually transpired in the making and marketing of Ultron.
These are not facts, but opinions, based on a large number oblique references, rumors, and the actions made public for and about some of the involved parties.

My complaint about the studio interference in content creation, is not unique to Joss Whedon's work, it's just that this is a Joss forum and we were talking about him. I think such interference is endemic to the industry and works to the detriment of both creating quality movies and series, and hinders the studios making better profits.

I think it is a structural problem and not the fault of any particular cabal of evil studio masterminds. If I was giving someone a quarter of a billion dollars for several years. I would probably want to reserve the right to tell them how to do their job as well. The fact that being skilled as an entertainment investment banker probably has little correlation to being able to write or direct a superhero movie might not be my first concern. Trying to get that banker to realize that their directives are actively reducing their ROI is going to be difficult at best.

I think that Dr. Horrible and Much Ado are two excellent examples we have of a post studio model for creating studio quality content without the need for massive studio infrastructure overhead for the making and marketing of such high quality stories.

Clearly, neither movie rises to the complexity of a Hollywood spectacle or blockbuster picture (yet). But just as clearly there is growth path trajectory between these two movies that demonstrates the feasibility of scaling such a concept up to a level far above the indie or boutique level ghetto that it currently occupies.

As technology improves, and cost and time to market are reduced, I think these films could start being real challengers to the currently accepted trajectory of blockbusters headed for an unprofitable and unsustainable billion dollar price tag by next decade.
RobynH, Joss has also had a lot of positive things to say about Marvel, even through Age of Ultron. Those things are worth remembering, too.

I think the negativity of threads like this one are a disservice to Joss. He made a comment about how Doctor Horrible was surprisingly profitable. I really doubt this thread is the reaction he would have wanted.
Investment bankers work for investment banks and analyze sectors of the economy for those investment banks in order to give advice to shareholders. The info they get is public. No investment banker tells Marvel how to make movies. They may tell their clients that Disney's slate didn't return a 30 % margin last quarter but not a whole lot else.

More realistically, in the real world, if revenues from Ultron were 10% lower than Disney's internal (and totally secret) projections then the next film may (or may not) have an adjustment made to its budget in order to bring it more in line with new estimated revenues based on historical performance. No one in any financial part of the biz is telling them to cut the scene with Loki or anything remotely like a creative decision. It's truly laughable.
My apologies to anyone reading this who feels that I was attacking them, Joss, or the movie.
That was not my intent in posting.

I was musing about personal theories of what has happened with Ultron and why.
I was not trying to be dogmatic that this is the only explanation or even the best explanation.

Several of my posts are clearly and repeatedly marked as "these are not facts, but opinions" and I am fairly certain that Joss, the cast, crew, studio and larger world have as close to zero interest in my opinion on any of these issues as is humanly possible.

I am somewhat mystified by the vehement reaction,
but once again, please accept my apology.
While it is somewhat popular to criticise studio bosses and the like for what may or may not have gone wrong in the creative turnout of a movie or tv show; and it is also quite understandable, that no writer, director, actor, composer, ... likes so-called 'executive meddling' when it comes to his work, from the view point of the executive it is actually quite understandable.
I recently found that out first hand, when I dealt with an artist, whom I paid to create me a work of art. I knew what I was looking for - if not in absolute detail, then atleast in terms of a general direction - but I lacked the craftsmanship to do the work myself. So I gave suggestions. And when the first draft came in, I gave some more.
At the end of the day, the finished product may not have been what the artist imagined in their head. They very well might disagree with me which version better fulfilled the given purpose. They may even be right. But it is my project. It is my money. So I am the one, that needs to be satisfied. If you create me something I don't believe in, it will never work out.

I don't believe, producers should necessarily mess around with an original script like "Buffy". It's the writer's story. It should be done in his spirit (unless he doesn't care and simply wants to get paid). Projects like "The Avengers" are however somewhat different. They are not the writer's 'baby', but rather contract work. Needless to say, they require a certain amount of creativity, and as a writer you have to invest a lot of yourself in order to make a good - let alone a great movie. But it's still not about you. It's not YOUR project. You are an important, but also a replacable part of the process. And you need to be aware, that others are calling the shots - and rightfully so. Because long after you are paid and off to the next project, their pay rises and falls with the success of the project. And if you fall, you want it to be due to your own mistakes - not those of others, you simply choose to ignore.
Side bar question here - is there a full video of the panel? Do I need to wait for Paley to release it?
hann23 - when I went to the URL with the Yahoo event livestream (which I believe is the link in the thread on Whedonesque), it played the archived video of the event for me. So it should be accessible to you.
The panel can be viewed here
Thank you!

I'm only getting first 40 seconds at the Yahoo link. What am I doing wrong? Maybe I can't watch on my iPhone?

[ edited by hann23 on 2015-10-12 15:47 ]
I'm with bazrai, Ultron gets better with repeated viewings, it is probably not Joss' "best" since we have so much excellence to choose from at this late stage of the game, but it is a superlative sequel, with Joss directing a comic book symphony at near Warner Brothers cartoon pacing. As far as Joss vs the studios, I think fans tend to make more of that than he ever has, he's always been pretty diplomatic in discussing anyone outside of the particular suits who killed Firefly. While working at the top of the mountain for the past 4+ years has clearly left him choking for breath a bit, I don't get a lot of bitterness about the Marvel experience from him. And cracking a joke about making more on Dr. Horrible than Avengers, even if he's made it a few times, simply points to the reality of owning every aspect of a successful production vs. being a hired gun for a tight-fisted studio. And I'm guessing he did just fine on the sequel--which he knocked out of the park IMHO.
Joss Whedon has stated that he fought the studio on a few things. That was to be expected. But he also did say: "Is it perfect? It is not. Is it me? It's so baldly, nakedly me. To do something that is as personal as this movie is on that budget, for a studio that needs a summer tentpole is an extraordinary privilege.
Yup, in the Ultron Commentary he flat out says he think he could've done better etc.

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