SDCC: Conversations with Joss Whedon

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly" creator Joss Whedon -- you may also know him as the writer/director of Marvel Studios' "Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- addressed the Hall H crowd Friday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, in the "Conversations with Joss Whedon" panel presented by Dark Horse Comics, the publisher of "Buffy" and "Serenity" comic books.

Whedon admitted to the audience that it's been something of a "slow year" for him, creative output-wise, but did start the panel with some news: That he'd be co-writing a Dark Horse miniseries about Giles (currently de-aged to 13) going back to school. "In a fit of class, I'm not calling it '21 Vamp Street,'" Whedon said. Whedon also said he's finishing his folk album with Shawnee Kilgore, because he wants "to make even less money than comic book people."

Turning quickly to fan questions, an audience member asked Whedon if he ever considered writing a story focusing on slayer Nikki Wood. Whedon expressed his enthusiasm for the character, but said at this point he'd like to focus on "moving forward," given how he's spent a lot of time recently working on adaptations of things that have been around for a long time -- and at this point, the "Buffy" characters fall under the category of "something that's been around for a long time."

A fan asked for Whedon's favorite death scene -- both created by him, and other people. "Gosh, so many to choose from," Whedon replied. "Nothing's going to come close to the experience of killing Fred [in "Angel"]... it's like Jeffrey Dahmer's up here. I'm a good person, I swear!"

"The scene itself was really exciting," Whedon continued. "I love Alexis [Denisof] and Amy [Acker]. They were just acting their hearts out. At the end of that whole day was just them in her bedroom as she's getting sicker and sicker, and finally dying in his arms." Whedon said after a draining day of shooting that scene, the three of them went out for a drink, and just sat silently. "And that's how I came up with the Avengers tag."

His favorite death scene from something else? "The Wild Bunch."

An independent filmmaker asked Whedon for advice about getting funding for his projects. "I have no idea," Whedon answered. "Beyond that, right now, I think it's enormously difficult," he said, because "trying something new" isn't a big part of the current culture. "Right now it's, find a brand name that people already know. We've got to a state where the studios are pretty relentless about just having an in before they even start a project. That's not the case with all films, but it is for a ton of them."

Whedon talked about the new Giles comic a bit. "Giles is, as you know, 12, that's why we're sending him back to school, to see it from the other side for a while," Whedon said. "And it will be hilarious, we hope."

When asked wows him in an actor's audition, Whedon said it's a combination of being "enormously grounded and completely chaotic... and also if they can just walk in and be Amy Acker, that helps their cause a lot."

What are the "first few steps" when Whedon gets an idea? "I fall to the ground and weep, and thank all the gods I had another one, because they don't come as fast as they used to," he replied, adding that the best part is the first spark of a new idea. "There's a point where your internal monologue becomes a dialogue. And that's just transcendent. I have the best job in the world."

Whedon gave an update on a "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" sequel: He said they all want to do it, but his collaborators -- Zack Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon -- are all busy, especially Jed Whedon and Tancharoen. "They are busy running a show that I am executive figurehead of," Whedon said, alluding to "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." But the desire to do it is there, along with another musical project.

A fan asked if Whedon had any ideas of crossovers between his creations and other properties he's worked on. Whedon pointed out that he wanted to playfully tease a connection between Buffy Summer and Scott Summers during his "Astonishing X-Men" run, and that there's something of a Wolfram & Hart reference in Thor's dream sequence in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- but ultimately, "I don't like to become too self-indulgent with these things, because at some point it becomes about me, taking my dolls and putting them on top of each other."

Whedon's favorite Big Bad in "Buffy"? He picked The Mayor from season three.

An audience member asked about Whedon's approach to structure when writing. Whedon said he basically writes the hero's journey -- "somebody on a journey to power, or somebody who's dealing with the power they have." Whedon praised the film "Bone Tomahawk" as "criminally underrated," and a good example of, "There are no rules. If you're going on the journey, you can take it wherever you want."

What TV did Whedon watch during his year off? "The Great British Bake Off," "Unreal," "Peaky Blinders" and "Supergirl."

On killing off characters -- something Whedon is fairly infamous for -- he said that when people are upset about it, it's a good thing, because it means the characters meant something to them, which is the goal.

"In my experience, things are taken suddenly from you," Whedon continued. "To see that happen on a fictional level is my way of dealing with it, and helping people deal with it when it happens to them."

Whedon clarified that the new "Dr. Horrible" project is indeed a sequel, not a prequel, picking up with the title character as "the king."

Chance of doing more "Fray"? "I'm always hoping to do more 'Fray,'" Whedon said. "That was my first comic ever. Karl Moline did such a great job. Something I'd probably rather have a great idea for and have someone else do, because of that whole 'trying to do a new thing.' But I think she deserves more, and there's more to say."

Whedon mentioned that he's currently working on a film, and that when he's done with the script he expects the studios to gather for a "bidding war/intervention."

A fan asked about the status of the "Angel and Faith" comic book. "'Angel' is coming back," Whedon said. "We're working it out. It's going to be staggered. It's not going to come out the same time as 'Buffy,' it's going to be a little bit later, probably close to the new year. Angel will have his comic again -- probably not with Faith this time around, just to do something a little different."

"I will always come out of these things understanding something better than I did," Whedon said, of the questions asked during his panels. This led to the last question o the session: "What are some tropes that are used constantly that you despise?" "I don't have time to go into all the cliches that I have both reviled and occasionally used," Whedon said. "Hopefully the next thing I do -- that I will be talking to you about in a year's time -- will be a decidedly new version of the story I keep trying to tell."

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