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An interview with seasoned writer & director Joss Whedon

By Eduardo Sayago
On April 20, 2012

Joss Whedon is a busy man. He has two movies that are being released in theaters three weeks apart. ("Cabin in the Woods" is out now and "The Avengers" is out May 4.) He is also planning to screen a third movie, his adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado about Nothing," later this year. In addition to films, Whedon is a prolific figure in television ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Firefly" and "Dollhouse"), print (the graphic novels for "Serenity") and online content ("Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," which won him an Emmy Award in 2008). How he managed to find time to talk to The DePaulia is a mystery. We talked to him about "The Avengers," his writing, and what it takes to make a movie these days.

The DePaulia: College students have a lot of options this summer with movies to see during their summer break. Why should college students have "The Avengers" at the top of their list?

Joss Whedon: I think "The Avengers" is the kind of movie that I grew up wanting to make and had thought they had stopped making. When I grew up, the summer movie was literally created as a concept and all my life I wanted to do something like the first Indiana Jones. I wanted to create something that was steeped in character, in love with the genre that it was portraying, that had intelligence, had real acting, had a story that unfolded and wasn't just a sort of big premise that you already knew going in, or isn't based on Parcheesi (an American board game based on an Indian game, or adaptation of an already-existing brand) or something just because it has a name. More and more summer movies have felt 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 a story, they're interested in just barraging you with excitement and imagery and brand names. Marvel doesn't operate that way. They care about the 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, yet it's very human.

DP: What was your process in writing the film? Did you already have a directorial vision when you were penning the screenplay?

Whedon: Half of writing a script is writing visually. It's figuring out what you need it to look and feel like as much what the characters are gonna say. The process, therefore, was pretty organic - particularly also because we had such a tight schedule. They needed some things to be worked on, set pieces and action sequences before I'd even written the script. So I was writing visual cues and action descriptions before I had finished structuring the story, since we knew where we were going. It was very difficult structurally to figure out how to make it work, but in terms of the process, very organic because it was all, everybody in the pool.

DP: Is there something from your childhood experience with the Avengers that especially resonated with you and that you're bringing to this movie?

Whedon: Well, the fact that the Avengers are all really, really messed up people, I think is a fine reflection of me. You know, 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 and Spider Man was sort the template for, oh, they could just be everyday people in New York. And even though the Avengers made their home in New York, they were so often out in that space and dealing with artificial intelligence and grand beings from another world and gods and monsters - and I love that element.

DP: Since Marvel is attempting to create an interlocking film universe, did you feel the need to maintain a directing style, an aesthetic similar to work of the other Marvel Studio directors?

Whedon: There's no way you could make a movie that looked like a Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh or Joe Johnston movie. You have to take from each of them the things that are useful and will jive with the rest of them. I do think the DNA of the Marvel movie begins with Iron Man, and that's very grounded in the reel. I tend to be a tiny bit florid with my camera work and my dialogue, but hopefully it's in a way that feels like a realistic version of a comic book universe. It's the way that I can reconcile the different styles. My own style is actually kind of smack dab in the middle of what all those guys do.

DP: What advice would you give to any student with ambitions of one day sitting in the director's chair?

Whedon: My advice would be to 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. Okay, maybe not a huge movie, maybe phone-sized, but it's there. When I started, 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 somebody else to hope they'll make it, but to show yourself as a filmmaker, and to learn as a filmmaker is just make movies. There's no excuse not to now.

DP: If you were going to insert yourself into a super hero movie, what powers would you have?

Whedon: I would have the power of invisibility. Then I wouldn't have to show up for as many shooting days.

Marvel's "The Avengers," written and directed by Joss Whedon and starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo and Samuel L. Jackson, hits theaters May 4.

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