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Joss Whedon at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013

This event was part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013. It was hosted after a screening of Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

It has been a pretty great year for great guests at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Robert Towne gave an interview and a workshop of screenwriting. Danny DeVito popped along to the Jameson Cult Film Club screening of L.A. Confidential. And Joss Whedon came to Dublin, with tickets to Much Ado About Nothing selling out so fast that they almost crashed the JDIFF servers. Whedon hung around afterwards for a rapid-fire questions-and-answers session, talking a bit about the film and his future plans, as well as his frequent artistic collaborators.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Whedon was his humility. Awarded the Volta for his contribution to film, he quite frankly stated, “I don’t deserve this.” Evidently, the festival and the audience disagreed. It’s hard to argue that Whedon hasn’t been a massive influence on popular culture, and that he hasn’t done a truly tremendous job in crafting intelligent and exciting film and television. There’s a huge amount of talent and creativity evident in Whedon’s work, shooting Much Ado About Nothing in his house while editing one of the largest movies ever made.

And yet, his humility and his deep respect for those who admire his work seems truly genuine. Asked for an insight on how to write for film and television, he noted that he is a third-generation writer. “I am literally the worst person to answer that question,” he politely responded. When the festival presented him with his award, he seemed genuinely stirred. On showing the film to the audience, he joked that he was so excited that he might even throw up.

When John Maguire introduced him as “the writer and director”, Whedon himself was the first to poke fun at the former credit. “I wrote that,” he boasted, proudly, smiling sarcastically. Somewhere, a Shakespearean conspiracy theorist feels validated. Candidly, he confessed that he didn’t really mess around with Shakespeare’s dialogue. “There were to words that I changed,” he confessed. Apparently one of them was “Jew”, which he replaced with “fool.” He joked, “So additional dialogue by Joss Whedon!”

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Discussing the origins of the project, he explained that it was rooted in “Shakespeare Sundays”, a casual get-together where Whedon’s family and friends would organise read-throughs of Shakespeare’s plays. That idea apparently originated with James Marsters on Buffy, when the character’s history was explored. Discussing the dialogue from earlier periods, Marsters noted, “This is just like rap!” And the idea took root from there. Apparently the group had done Much Ado About Nothing with Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in the roles of Benedick and Beatrice.

The rest of the cast took a bit of work. Clark Gregg happened, paradoxically, to be both Whedon’s first and last choice for Leonato. At one point, while Gregg had been producing his own film, Whedon had drafted in Anthony Head to take the role of the patriarch. Asked what he thought Head might bring to the role, Whedon quipped, “Pausing.” Indeed, apparently Head had even explicitly inquired about Whedon’s directorial style. “I hope you’re not one of those directors who wants people to rush.”

Of course, part of the charm of Much Ado About Nothing is the fact that Whedon has drawn so extensively from a pool of talent with which he has worked before. “I only keep the good ones,” he joked. When a member of the audience asked him who he would like to work with, he very clearly explained, “My ‘would-like-to-work-with’ is my buddies.” Discussing his decision to work with a stock troupe of actors, Whedon explained, “The only person who might maybe fail is me. There’s no question about anybody else.” He told a strangely touching story about how the only person to doubt Nathan Fillion’s ability to play Dogsberry was Nathan Fillion.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

The appeal of Much Ado About Nothing was obvious to Whedon, and it was clear why he chose it to adapt as a film. “It is the romantic comedy,” Whedon explained to the audience. “It is the one on which all romantic comedies are based. Every painful night we’ve ever spent with Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughey…” The only real question was what he could do with the material. “What do I have to say about this that is not nothing?”

There were the usual sorts of questions. When his new production company – Bellwether – came up, Whedon seemed to instinctively know where the audience’s mind would go. Sadly, Firefly would not be returning from Bellwether. Commenting on the screening, Whedon remarked, “Thank you for sitting through it, but I know why you’re here!” That said, the audience seemed fairly evenly distributed between fans of Firefly, of Buffy and even of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. Or, well, perhaps we were all fans of everything.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

When one fan handed a letter asking for the rights to do a stage adaptation of Once More With Feeling, Whedon politely accepted, but made it clear that it wasn’t just his permission that was required. “I don’t own it,” he explained. “That’s why they had to stop all those midnight screenings of it.”

Discussing the differences between how Whedon works with characters he created, and characters he inherited from other sources, the creator was crystal clear. “There is no difference,” he stressed. It is all about finding an aspect of the character that resonates and appeals to him. “They need a reason,” he succinctly explained, outlining his approach to characters. Once he figured out what a character wanted, they became easier to write.

The inevitable question of The Avengers 2 came up. Obviously the writer and director couldn’t spill any vital plot details, but he did explain his approach to the sequel. “I can’t do bigger,” he admitted, referencing the huge climax to the first film. “So I’m trying to do better.” More to the point it’s about offering something of interest to him and the audience. “What can I do that’s new?” Asked to outline his philosophy for the sequel, he replied, grinning from ear to ear, “Death, death, death!”

4 Responses

  1. “Death, death, death” pretty much sums up his philosophy when it comes to any of his projects, doesn’t it? Thanks so much for posting this – I’ve been reading your Jameson Dublin posts, and am very jealous of the films you’ve seen and talks you’ve experienced, but this is like…well, the ultimate. And it’s nice to read about how, well, humble Whedon is. I have to admit, ever since I was a kid I loved Buffy, and when my ex introduced me to Firefly and Dr Horrible, I was blown away. So it’s great to read something like this; just wish I could have been there to experience it. Again, thanks.

    • It does, although I wonder who he can kill at this point. Hawkeye seems the most expendable member of the team, and he did make a joke about how the big character plotting problem with the Avengers amounted to “so, why is Hawkeyer here…?”

      And I loved the festival. The posts will be continuing for the next few weeks, I saw a lot of stuff. I tried to do the bigger stuff relatively “live” and this… well, this was big.

      • I dread to think who he’s going to kill off. I was a sucker for Hawkeye from the start; blame it on too much Robin Hood as a kid. I don’t think I can see any of them dying and not being upset, although I think the most devastating to the team would maybe be Nick Fury. But he’s such a crucial part. Buuutt…he does like to kill those that would have the most devastating impact. So, who knows. I’d say when it comes to Whedon, almost any of them are up for grabs. (Except those that have their own films alongside Avengers. Hopefully.)

      • Being honest, part of me thinks he was joking. I can’t see Nick Fury dying, and Black Widow is the only woman on the team. That really leaves Hawkeye, assuming we can’t kill off any of the guys with their own films. Or the Hulk.

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