SDCC 2010: The Visionaries – Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams; Whedon Officially Directing THE AVENGERS

     July 22, 2010

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At San Diego Comic Con 2009, the best thing that happened in Hall H was two men just talking on stage. Those two men just happened to be film legends Peter Jackson and James Cameron. This year, a similar panel was held. The Entertainment Weekly Visionaries panel featured geek gods J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon. With a collected resume that includes Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible, Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Mission: Impossible, Cloverfield and Star Trek, it certainly lived up to the expectations set last year.

So much was talked about in this panel, it was ridiculous. Like, 9 pages of notes ridiculous. Read all about it after the jump including tidbits on The Avengers and Super 8.

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Whedon and Abrams met while they were both working at the WB — Abrams on Felicity and Whedon on Buffy and Angel.

The most extreme fanboy thing J.J has ever done was write a fan letter to Stan Smith, who did makeup on The Exorcist. In return, Smith sent him the actual tongue used in the film.  Whedon has an egg from Alien but said “I had to bury the franchise to get it.”

Whedon always wanted to be a storyteller and had universes in his head, but it wasn’t until he had to make money that he realized writing, and then filmmaking, was the way to do it. Abrams loved creating illusions and would perform magic for friends and family, since he didn’t want to become a magician, filmmaking was the natural progression.

“I’m directing The Avengers,” Whedon said just to make it official. And he’s a huge fan, it’s one of the books he read as a kid and dropped a bunch of geeky Avenger references.

Whedon’s dad was the head writer on Electric Company and when they were going to do an episode on Spider-Man, he brought home a bunch of comic books and that was it.  He added that his favorite comic story of all time was an Avengers annual featuring the death of Warlock.

At 15, Abrams got a job at a comic book shop in L.A. and while working there he began reading comics but he was always more into TV and movies. He’d love to do a superhero movies.

Whedon is still outlining and reworking The Avengers. What really drew him to the story is that it’s totally counter intuitive for all of these characters to be in the same room let alone on the same team and “that, to me, is family.”

Super 8 is a dream come true and has many of its roots in the fact that Abrams and Matt Reeves were asked to repair some of Steven Spielberg’s 8mm films when they were 16. They had both entered a super 8 film festival, which got wrote up in the newspaper. Spielberg’s assistant — now mega-producer Kathleen Kennedy — called them and asked if they wanted to repair Steven’s old movies Firelight and Escape to Nowhere. They said “yes” and and said it felt like a joke, which it kind of was at only $300. But they did it and loved it.

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They start shooting Super 8 in September and hopes that someone walks into a movie theater, sees the trailer, thinks it’s awesome and doesn’t realize they are the star of that movie (meaning, he’s looking for an unknown). It has been awesome working with Spielberg and it’s very much in the spirit of the Ambin films. It will NOT be in 3D.

As for 3D, Whedon really enjoys it while Abrams says that, eventually, he becomes used to it but thinks it screws with the image too much. Whedon said he doesn’t write specifically for 3D but the tropes of it — depth of field and long takes — are what he likes anyway.

Cabin in the Woods, a movie Whedon is a part of, he doesn’t know when people are going to see it because MGM is kind of in flux. And it still might be in 3D.

Abrams isn’t sure if 3D is here to stay but thinks the technology will get better so it has a good chance. Whedon agrees that it’s definitely not a fad but won’t take over completely.

Dr. Horrible made money for everyone, proved that the internet is a viable way to do that and Whedon is proud of that model. However the studios are very old fashioned.

Whedon was working on an internet movie called Wastelanders with Warren Ellis when he got the call to do Avengers so that got put on hold.

Bad Robot, J.J’s company, has a bunch of stuff in production that will follow the Dr. Horrible internet model. He thinks that cameras like the Canon 5D Mark 2 have totally revolutionized filmmaking and that friends can just make things that are cheap and passionate and awesome.

Whedon and his partners have a great idea for Dr. Horrible 2, even a few songs written, but it’s in “turnaround,” meaning he just doesn’t have the time or ability to get it all together.

Jeff Doc Jensen, from EW, who was moderating the panel, asked Whedon about Dollhouse. “It was a square peg into a round hole.” He and Abrams both benefited from the WB and their openness a long time ago but that doesn’t exist anymore. There was an “incompatibility” at Fox and Whedon didn’t realize he had such a cable mentality. He felt that Dollhouse should have been sexier and suggested that Fox curbed that a lot. However, he’s very happy at Marvel.

Abrams doesn’t think TV wants serialized stories anymore because they can’t repeat or syndicate as easily. But he prefers that kind of show because of the investment and anticipation. Undercovers, his new show, is more self contained but has an underlying story.

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Whedon said that even when Lost was at its peak, most of the studios didn’t want to make shows like that. But even in the serialized shows, people remember the long stories — like in Cheers with Jack and Diane. “They see the cash cow,” he said. “It’s all about the bottom line.”

There are a lot of people out right now that both of them look up to. Abrams mentioned Edgar Wright and comic artist Chris Ware. Whedon countered that Star Trek is so good it makes him throw up.

Both of them love coming to Comic-Con because it’s like their second home.

It’s hard to compare TV and movies, according to Whedon. Movies actually end and can usually be bigger, which he likes. But TV allows to make a longer story “even if they are aired out of order,” he joked. He also said that his trademark dialogue comes very early in the process.

Abrams said that he loved the ending that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse wrote for Lost.

Though he doesn’t want to become a hoarder, Abrams loves collecting things from his movies. He has stuff from Alias, Star Trek and M:I3. Whedon  doesn’t care as much but has all of the Dr. Horrible stuff.

the_avengersThe Avengers has a very set tone and Whedon himself has a very set tone, so how is he going to balance the two? Well, Whedon said that there will be plenty of him in there but he’s always been very influenced by reading comic books so he’s not worried.

Whedon feels that comic books, for a long time, got too nihilistic and killed too many characters.

Abrams didn’t go to film school and doesn’t think it’s necessary with all the technology and books out there now. His father told him, “Go to college and learn what to make movies about, not how to make them.” Whedon did go to film school and said that it’s a crap shoot. It comes down to the teachers you have, but both agreed that you get inspired by the environment and people around you. The community is more important than the knowledge.

Getting notes after writing is a razor’s edge. You need to be able to take criticism, but also be confident enough to know when you are wrong. You should be able to defend your idea and if you can’t, then maybe it’s not a good idea.

Wow, there was so much to digest and inspire in this panel. It was a whole lot of fun and very entertaining to sit though. A certain 2010 Comic-Con highlight for sure.

For more Comic-Con coverage, click here.

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