Posted on Monday, July 26th, 2010 by Peter Sciretta
On Thursday, July 23rd 2010, Entertainment Weekly held a panel at Comic-Con entitled “The Visionaries”, which was basically a “discussion with geek gods J. J. Abrams (Star Trek) and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) on the future of pop culture” conducted by EW’s Jeff “Doc” Jensen.
“EW presents an in-depth conversation with these two creative geniuses about how technology, gaming, and global culture are reshaping how we tell and consume stories on television, film and the web. Plus: Is the superhero movie waning, or is it on the cusp of reinvention? And what do they think the pop culture universe will look like a decade from now?”
We transcribed the entire hour-long discussion for those of you who couldn’t make it to the Con, and posted the first part on Friday (click here to read it now). Hit the jump for the second (and final) part of the discussion. We’ve also included video of the whole panel.
Moderator: Joss, with all that said, is there a Dr. Horrible sequel in the works, or is that just like a question of time availability of your talent?
Joss: You know, “works” is a strong word. It’s in turnaround; the studio of me. You know, it’s me and Jed, Marissa and Zack going, “Man! I’ve written a couple of songs. We’ve got to get together!” “Yeah, we totally gotta do that.” That’s going really well.
You know, if we had the time, we really do feel like we know what the movie is, and we really want to do it, and we want to do it on our terms. But our terms seem to be interminable.
Moderator: You guys have your own production companies and we know their names very well: Bad Robot, Mutant Enemy.
JJ: They should fight!
Moderator: Who would win?
JJ: Or kiss!
Moderator: In the new media future, could these be like channels on the Internet? Like will there be sort of like a bad robot channel in the future that is programmed with material, or a Mutant Enemy Channel that is programmed with material?
JJ: For me, the problem with a channel is, to actually keep up with the amount of material that you need the one day, which would be like day two, if someone goes there and they are like, “Oh, nothing new.” It’s like, you are over. So in theory it is great.
I would rather do Bad Robot buttons that appear in various places on the Internet, and when there is something new you click on it and you go there.
Joss: I always dream of a channel. I go, “Ooh! I’ve got all these ideas!” And then I realize, “But then I’d have to write them.” And yeah, day two, you are like, “It’s coming any minute now! Stay tuned!” You’d have to basically build your entire product long before you showed anything.
But I think the idea of a channel…I mean you just devolved it into a button…it’s changing. It’s going to be something very different. I do think if I saw something that said Bad Robot, I would push that button, or hit that widget, or touch that 3D holographic knob—whatever in the hell you are supposed to do to get to it. I would kiss that robot.
Moderator: In about 10 minutes, little less, we are going to open it up to questions. So where’s the microphone? Well anyway, just start lining up. I know you have a lot of questions.
Joss, you just got done; Dollhouse has come to an end, unfortunately.
Moderator: And you produced Dollhouse after being away from television for a while. Now that Dollhouse is over, how are you feeling about television? Kind of like, what lessons have you learned about sort of what television wants and supports right now?
Joss: I don’t know this question sounds a little bit like, “Well are you proud of what you did? Maybe you should sit in the corner and think about it!”
Joss: That might just be me projecting.
Joss: You know, it must have been the wrong place, and it must have been the wrong time! I definitely was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And we, I think, both benefited from the great square hole of television, the WB, where they were just interested in people like us who had a story we knew how to tell, and they let us do that. That is very rare. It doesn’t exist anymore, literally; the WB doesn’t exist anymore.
And my experiences at FOX have not been successful. And ultimately, it is just because there is just a certain kind of incompatibility that is very easy to miss. Because I like genre stuff, that’s what they wanted…you know, you say the word sex, they think that’s sexy, but, “Can you not mention sex?”
I clearly have more of a cable mentality that I realized. And I’ve been away from television and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know how much things had changed. I didn’t look at Janet Jackson’s nipple, and I didn’t know how much trouble it caused!
Joss: What I learned was know your audience. And your first audience are the people who are paying you to make the thing. Which is why right now, you know, I’m at Marvel, I’m extremely happy working with Kevin Feige…It’s a very different experience. Kevin and Jeremy, the two people I work with, the executives, they are the studio. They are the producers. It’s the same entity, and they know what they want. They’re upfront. They are very clear when they don’t get it. They know what they want and that’s a great experience. The other one is doing stuff on the Internet, the smaller stuff, where I am the boss, but I have to call my friend to see if he has any outfits. And both of those are great for different reasons.
Television I love. I love serialized storytelling. But yeah, I didn’t quite think that one through.
Moderator: You love serialized storytelling. Is there still a market right now for, like, intensely serialized stories? I mean Lost is over now, unfortunately. And it seems that as it kind of went out, it seems that the TV landscape kind of turned against intensely serialized stories. Do you sense that TV networks are not interested in that kind of format right now?
JJ: I think typically they are not. They want shows that can repeat. They want shows that will syndicate, and serialized shows. I’m just personally less interested, naturally interested, in non-serialized shows. I enjoy the investment and the anticipation in the characters and what’s going to happen, and what conditions are really going on.
To me, that’s the thing that always grabs you. And I think they want it too, they just don’t know it. When they talk about stories, stories imply time. Stories imply inevitability in some kind of progress. And so I think that the trick is…And I know that the show runners on Fringe have been working really hard to kind of maintain an ongoing story as well as keeping every episode feeling as much as a self-contained thing as possible. But I’m personally drawn to that.
This new show that we are doing on NBC, Undercover, is a show that is much more self-contained, but it naturally will have, and as we’ve been working on the episodes, developed a story that is being told over time. You don’t need to watch one through five to get what’s happening in six. But to me, that’s the story that, for whatever reason, I am naturally drawn to that kind of story.
Moderator: Joss, did you want to take that question at all?
Joss: I think the networks will never ever ask for that. They will never admit that people want that, because they do see the easy cash cow of, “The Mentalist! Let’s all make The Mentalist!” And when Lost first hit and was just blowing up huge, and everybody was loving it, we were all so into it, they were still like, “We don’t want that.” That successful Emmy winning thing? “No, we don’t want that.” I mean they would speak against serialized storytelling while it was the only thing people were watching on television, because they are just thinking bottom line. It’s very weird.
Because ultimately, the serial is always going to be the thing people are going to remember. What do they remember about Cheers? Sam and Diane, not a great joke from cheers. They remember that.
I like both. I like to have some sort of resolve so I don’t feel like I just…I’m still angry about The Empire Strikes Back, OK? That movie doesn’t have an ending.
Joss: So, you know, I like to spit the diff. But yeah, the progression is what it’s all about. Well it doesn’t! He’s frozen in carbonite!
Moderator: Before we open it up to questions, I’d love to know, what’s inspiring you guys right now? We talk a lot about your influences. We talk a lot about relationships in your past. But like right now, who is doing things that are like, you know, inspiring you visually? Who’s doing things that are inspiring you in storytelling?
JJ: I love Edgar Wright. I just saw Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim is awesome, and I loved it. There are a lot of different people who are doing stuff. You know, Chris Ware, who is an amazing comic artist. There is stuff he does with time and kind of stopping time and taking you on these tangents…There are certain people who just blow my mind.
But usually I just feel like…There are a lot of people. I could go down this huge list, but I would be even more boring.
Joss: I’m just going to say I’m making The Avengers. That’s cool, so I must be awesome.
Joss: But I’m also watching a lot of stuff; just sort of looking for moods and things. You end up watching a lot of films. And I will say not inspiring, but I have had actual moments of sheer fucking panic because I love Star Trek so much.
Joss: I just keep watching it and going, “No, I’m sorry. You have to hear this. It’s time the children knew!”
Joss: I honestly watch it and I go, “This is the gold standard for a teen movie, for a summer movie, for any movie that has come out in the last 10 years. Gold standard.”
Joss: And it makes me throw up with fear.
Joss: So I have to stop watching it.
Moderator: OK. We have some questions.
Audience Question: JJ, Joss, it’s good to see you here again. My question is, as directors and people who are involved in the entertainment field, how important is it to you to be here and have this fan interaction with what you do in future projects? How does that affect what you do?
Joss: Well, have you got a pitch? What did you call it?
Joss: Really? I thought I heard something else. Sorry. We’re here all week.
Joss: Apart from the fact that it’s really nice to find out that people still care about the stories that you are telling, it’s just a little of an unreality check. It’s a little bit of sort of reminding myself of that bizarre world that I come from. And you do get a sense of what people are responding to and what they are not, when they say things like, “I hated that thing or that character,” and everybody claps.
Joss: And we drink, and cry, alone…the mini-bar. But mostly it’s good. It’s totally good. You know, it’s like just returning to ground zero, to home base.
JJ: I was very excited and honored when Entertainment Weekly asked us to come to do this. I was excited just to hear Joss and to come and be here. But I’d be here anyway. I love it here. It feels like the place that you want to go because you see like-minded people doing things that they love. And genre is my favorite thing. So to be at this place…
It’s a logical question, but the truth is I just love being here because I love the stuff here. The people here are great in sprit and passionate, so it feels like, you know, an odd second home.
Audience Question: Hi. My name is Ben. I’m a young filmmaker and writer. So I was wondering, which do you like to do better, TV shows or movies, and what unique element do you bring to each?
Moderator: Did you ask do they prefer film or television, and what unique quality do they bring to each?
Audience Question: Yes.
Moderator: Let’s start with film or television. Like in terms of storytelling, like you guys are definitely known for long form storytelling. Does that come more naturally to you?
Joss: I don’t think there is a better. I think it’s apples, oranges. What you can do in a movie, what you can accomplish is so extraordinary and so fulfilling, and you get to be done. Which, believe me, is a huge relief.
But being able to tell a story over, say, seven years, or even just 15 episodes, 11 of which they are out of order, is so…
Joss: Until now! But that’s a different kind of fulfillment that is…it’s kind of a slow burning thing. But to me, it may, gun to my head, be the greater of the two. And then, what quality do I bring? Gah, I can’t answer that!
Moderator: Well, you know, one quality that we associate with you, Joss, is just your dialogue. At what point does that come into your creative process? I mean is it something that you find over countless drafts, or is it something that just comes very naturally?
Joss: No, that’s just people talking. I don’t write second drafts, really. I mean obviously you have to, but to an extent, I don’t put anything down until it’s right. Unfortunately, sometimes I write before I come up with a plot, and then I have to search and figure out how to get to it. Which is a little awkward; I gotta work on that.
JJ: You don’t do second drafts? Bastard!
Joss: I can name at least six episodes where it shows.
Moderator: Next question.
Audience Question: Bad Robot! Nah, just kidding…My question is obviously for JJ. With Lost, just the way that it ended, was it everything that you expected from the beginning? Without giving everything away, obviously, with spiritually, science-wise, everything. I mean was it everything, now looking back on it, is it what you wanted? And it’s awesome, by the way. I love it.
JJ: Well, thank you very much. And awesome impersonation at the outset.
JJ: First of all, Damon Lindelof, with whom I created the show, and Carlton Cuse ran the show for the six seasons. It was an amazing thing. When we first started, before Carlton was even there, it was like Damon and I were in this sort of crazy panic, and we wrote this bible of what it would be. And we wrote a whole bunch of ideas. And you sort of throw out the best ideas, and it’s very optimistic, and it’s a huge leap of faith, and you think, “This is what this show could be.” And a lot of those things ended up being in the series, most of them did not.
And over the course of time, thank God Carlton came on board and started to work with Damon. The two of them, I can’t describe how great they are. They and the writers and directors, Jack Bender, they all started working on making this thing what it became.
There were ideas that I know, in the first season, we thought, “Oh, this would be cool, and this is what it will mean,” but you must be fluid and flexible. Even if you have a ton of time to write every episode of every season for six seasons, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Because you would not anticipate, and could not, Michael Emerson coming on board for what was supposed to be a couple episodes. And you just realize, “Oh my God, Ben is critical to this story,” as Damon and Carlton did and wrote to it.
So you have to be sort of dogmatic and know what you want to do, but you also need to be entirely flexible and listen to the show, and go where it tells you. And I’ve personally, even though I know there are a lot of people who have dissenting opinions, I personally believe that Damon and Carlton kicked incredible ass and wrote an amazingly emotional episode for the finale that wrapped it up very well.
Moderator: Next question.
Audience Question: Hi. I just wanted to thank you on behalf of the audience for actually giving us content that makes us think and challenges us. My question is, did any of you get to keep any paraphernalia from your movies and series, specifically, any Rambaldi items?
JJ: It’s from Alias, Joss. It’s a show. It was on NBC for five season. Five glorious seasons. I have page 47…I have the box, the Rambaldi box. I have a bunch of cool Rambaldi things. And I was lucky from Star Trek to get some phasers and some cool gear. And Mission Impossible, the mask machine.
So I do love that stuff. I don’t want to hoard it and be a scary person that is on the show hoarders. Have you seen hoarders, by the way? Who in the shit? How can that be a show? How many hoarders…? It’s unbelievable!
JJ: Anyway…I’m scared of becoming a hoarder!
Joss: No Rambaldi stuff. It’s weird, because I ordered some online and it didn’t come.
Joss: I do have all the props and costumes from Dr. Horrible, which I was planning to sell at some point to help fund the next one. I don’t get terribly attached to things, or people.
Moderator: Next question.
Audience Question: My question is for Joss Whedon. You are taking on the Avengers movie that has an established tone, an established back-story and mythology, and you have one of the most unique voices in Hollywood yourself. So how are you going to reconcile those two sort of established style?
Joss: [in funny voice] I’m going to sound like me! No problem!
Joss: The fact is, the first job I had outside of television was a script doctor. And what you have to do in that situation is blend in. I also, a lot of the way that I speak and write comes from reading these comics. I think it’s very easy to fall into the aesthetic of something that you love. Obviously I am going to bring something of myself to it. I am an artist who wishes to create something that comes from within. But at the same time, yes, they do have an established tone. I am going to be very respectful of that. I am going to try and find ways to work…
I mean the thing is, they not only have an established tone, they about seven, because I’m culling things from all these different movies. I have to blend all of that. I think ultimately that would result in something unique anyway.
So that doesn’t really seem like a challenge to me at all. When I write Tony Stark, or Steve Rogers, or any of these people, they sound like them, particularly because I already know who’s playing them.
Audience Question: I have kind of a general question about comic books. The last few decades they’ve really swung back and forth between light and silly and dark and gritty, while these days it’s kind of balanced. Do you see the pendulum starting to switch back and forth in the future or do you think they will stay balanced for the time being?
JJ: Wait, are they light and gritty now, or are they dark and…which one are they now?
Audience Question: Well, there are elements of both. They are more dark, but the lighter stuff is starting to come back.
Joss: I will say this, that I do feel like there was an element of nihilism that started to eat itself; where things got so dark that they couldn’t maintain, except, for some reason that I still can’t quite understand, the walking dead, which never gets old, never gets tired.
But I did feel like even in some of the mainstream comics, they were getting really cavalier about killing lots of people, and everybody dark. I think, ultimately, that does have to swing back a little bit, too. They are heroes, right? They are a better version of us in some way. That’s mainstream. The indies…I don’t know if Chris Ware has gotten to gritty lately.
JJ: Gritty but very, very clean. Very clean lines.
Moderator: Next question.
Audience Question: Hi guys. I was wondering what you thought about film school. Do you think it’s worth the time and the money, or do you think you should just go your own way?
Joss: Just go your own way.
JJ: Do film school.
JJ: I think that now, given the technology that exists, the resources, the fact that you can watch movies and then make them sort of at home all day, it feels like there is less of a need for it, but it is certainly nice. The best thing about it is the community that can develop, I think, being at film school. Having said that, I did not go to one, so I personally feel like…
My father gave me advice when I was going off to college, which was, “Go learn what to make movies about, not how to make movies.” And it was sort of the best advice I ever got.
Joss: Where did you get that father? That’s awesome!
Joss: My dad just said, “Don’t be a writer. It’s too much work.”
Joss: He said many very sage things. I just want to say I did go to film school, or studied in undergraduate, and I happened to study with the greatest teachers imaginable. It’s kind of a crapshoot, though. It’s very easy to, like drama or any other creative subject, have just one teacher who can suck the joy out of the medium forever.
So it’s dicey. And I think what I remember about it was not just what I learned in film school, but the fact that it was in me all the time. That after a day of watching movies all day, which we couldn’t do then. There was no home video back when I was a lad and hamburgers were a nickel.
I would go home and watch Beastmaster at 3 o’clock in the morning because I just needed more film. So it was the internalization of the thing that really mattered, and that is something you can do without the school. If you love it, if you need it, if you are obsessive about it, the school is where you find it.
Moderator: OK, we have time for one more question.
Joss: It better be the best one. The best.
Audience Member: OK. I’m asking a question on behalf of my brother who couldn’t be here. He’s a writer and he just started. And he lets me read his stuff up until about a month ago where I gave him advice he didn’t like. And so I was just wondering on his behalf if any advice is better than no advice when it comes to writing.
Joss: Definitely the best, by the way. Definitely the best. You guys are pikers. That’s a question!
Joss: You know, what’s more fun than getting notes? It’s really the joy for a writer.
Joss: I think ultimately, you have to walk a razor’s edge of being able to hear what other people think, to really listen to them, and know when to shut them out. But shutting them out doesn’t mean never showing it to anyone, because then the film doesn’t…they don’t see it.
So I mean you categorically will have to listen to people. And in your career you will have to listen to some people who don’t know a damn thing, but who have the big pockets full of gold. But even that person can tell you something that is necessary for your story, as long as you are listening. If you feel confident about the story yourself, if you feel you understand where it’s coming from and what it’s trying to accomplish, and how it’s doing that, then you should be able to withstand what other people think and incorporate what’s good about what other people think. And I don’t just mean compliments; I mean criticism as well.
If you can’t withstand that, then maybe there is something wrong with what you are making. I think your brother needs to chill.
JJ: He gave you the script to read?
Audience Question: Yes.
JJ: And he asked you for notes.
Audience Question: Yes he did.
JJ: And you gave them to him.
Audience Question: Yes.
JJ: And he yelled at you?
Audience Question: Well, he stopped talking…
JJ: What’s his number?
JJ: No, here’s the thing. Joss is right, that when you have an idea and it’s faulty, and someone gives you a note and it can’t’ defend itself, then there’s something that’s wrong with it. So I think what you said is right, that he’s probably in defensive because he’s unable to defend the very thing that he gave you to read.
But he gave it to you and asked for notes, and you gave it to him. You didn’t steal the script and read it, you did your job.
Moderator: I guess that’s the end of our time. On behalf of Joss and JJ, thank you.
Here is video of the whole panel from Buffyfestblog: