Joss Whedon Faced The Same 'Nightmare' While Writing The Avengers And Serenity

Writing for one or two main characters can be difficult, but when your TV show or film has an ensemble cast playing lead roles, it is infinitely more challenging to balance them all. Joss Whedon has had to do that more than once. Whedon, of course, is responsible for projects like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" "Angel," "Cabin in the Woods," "Firefly," its sequel, "Serenity," and "The Avengers." 

Even for a writer whose ensemble work has been praised (and reexamined as on-set standards are reevaluated and allegations about his behavior emerge), making sure each character gets their due and plays a role was a difficult prospect. Whedon spoke about this in an interview with Den of Geek back in 2012, right before the release of both "The Avengers" and "Cabin in the Woods." He called balancing this sort of thing a "nightmare," and it's easy to see why that might be. 

Particularly in the case of "The Avengers" and "Serenity," these are characters we've come to know and love. Particularly with "Avengers," we've been watching each of these superheroes for many years through multiple films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for shoving too many people into a story and giving each of them short shrift, though keeping them apart when there is a giant threat to the world doesn't make sense. That's the situation that Whedon went into when taking on the film. 

'Serenity was pulling teeth to figure out the structure'

With "The Avengers," which he both wrote and directed, Whedon was dealing with Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Loki, Nick Fury, and more. The site asked Whedon if something clicked with him when he got the job because he's used to working with ensemble casts, even in his comic book writing, like his run of "Astonishing X-Men." 

These are characters that have been defined not only by the comics but past MCU films, developing plans that were already in place. Whedon said, "Well, the first part of it is just extraordinary fun, which is 'What would these characters say to each other? How would they define themselves?' And I got to spend a few weeks just floating in that o-zone, 'What if we did this?' and 'Ooh!'"

However, he said that once you "get into the practical stuff, like 'How does this guy...', it's a nightmare." He continued:

"And it's really a recurring nightmare because it was so much like 'Serenity' in that way. So I really sort of went 'Oh, God, I've done it again!' Because 'Serenity' was pulling teeth to figure out the structure. And the same was true of 'The Avengers.' And because we had a release date, we had to start production; it was a fairly terrifying experience at that point. But once it started to fall into place, I got back to the fun part."

One thing that made it all fall into place was the fact that each one of these characters is facing the very same threat, dealing with the same events, and in the case of most of them, working toward the same goal. 

Avengers assemble

In a 2005 roundtable interview (via MovieWeb), Whedon actually spoke about the challenge of getting everyone the right amount of time and attention in "Serenity." He explained:

"The challenge was to get everybody in there! Obviously, the TV show you need a bunch of beats if you want to create internal conflict, and it's not just a certain problem of the week kind of show. When I was given the opportunity to make a movie of this, yes, all of the sudden I had 9 characters, and that's a lot of people to put in a movie. 

"Ultimately, what it gave me was the chance to have kind of a platoon feeling. The band as this great big group of people who you can focus on who you want to, obviously, on a show you're going to give everybody equal time to an extent. You're going to make sure that everybody's serviced. In film, you have to say, "Well, Mal is really the hero, he's the guy we have to be watching, we come to him through River, she's kind of his proxy and it's kind of about how she effects him and how they help each other."

It's a complex dance, though with the rapid-fire style of dialogue that Whedon is known for, at least he can get in a lot of information. The approach of taking time to decide how we get to each character through another character and concentrating on how they affect each other is a great way to tie it all together. 

"The Avengers" is currently streaming on Disney+. "Serenity" can be rented on Prime Video, and "Firefly" is currently streaming on Hulu.