Q&A with Joss Whedon - Much Ado About Nothing
I was at the Parisian premiere of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and for those who couldn’t be here, I transcribed my recording of the Q&A afterwards. I also have a video, the quality is very bad but if anyone is interested let me know and I’ll post it too.
Introduction before the film
[Joss steps on stage, standing ovation and lots of cheering and clapping.]
Joss : I hope you’ll still feel that way after the movie. So, about the movie : it’s from a writer nobody has heard of, with people I had never met before… It’s actually an enormous passion project, and I hope you’ll like it, that’s it that’s all I can say. I will see you afterwards.
Joss : That was really exciting to hear you guys in the back [referring to the audience reactions during the projection], and I will take some questions, from anybody who has questions. And hum, hopefully concerning the film. No math.
Hi, I was wondering why this play rather than any other Shakespearian play ?
Joss : Hum, this play, well, a few reasons, two of which are called Amy and Alexis. Also because I like this play, it’s very modern, and it’s very sort of darkly cynical, yet romantic —like myself. It also takes place in one location, and that’s all we had.
At what point did you become friends with the actors? At what point did you get the feeling that you knew you will work with them? When you meet them, on the set… ?
Joss : I think we become friends when they realise I can fire them. You know, you don’t know who’s gonna stick, and it’s life. Somebody like Amy has been in my life for twelve years and more. I pretty much knew that I would be stalking Amy from the moment I met her. Stalking Alexis just came more gradually. But someone like Clark, it’s was very clear early on working together that he was a fellow traveller, we were similar, and he lived nearby. You know, sometimes you think ‘oh we’re gonna be best friends forever!’. But when you see some of this people I knew a little, some I wanted to know, most I knew quite well, all of them incredibly talented, very gracious, very sane, and they own their own nice clothes.
Firstly, a personal thank you for being no small part of who I am today, through your work.
Joss : I feel like Dr Frankenstein.
I will be your creature forever. At what point did you all get really really drunk —and maybe some other stuff— [Joss pretends to look shocked] because we always see you having lots of drinks in the film? And lastly, can you come to my wedding in August?
Joss : No… Hum… I’m super busy. I have a thing. Amazingly, nobody drank during filming. Something about having eight pages of Elizabethan dialogue a day to remember kept them from drinking. Should it, however, be a Friday, and we finished, and the sun sets, all bets are off. But if it’s cooler that we were drunk, then we were drunk.
Where did your inspiration come from? [asked by a little girl]
Joss : Well, hum, there’s this guy, William Shakespeare. I’d never heard of him. But I like his words enormously. And I like looking at Amy Acker, an quite frankly, the whole cast. And the house, that you know, my wife built, that is so beautiful, and so filmic, and so perfect for this. All of this things inspired me. [looking at the little girl] And nobody was drunk, stay in school.
Usually, what’s very notable about your work is the words, because your dialogue is very strong and it’s a lot about that, and so here you don’t have your words you have Shakespeare’s, and Shakespeare has some talent —
Joss : Does he?
—but the filming, and the camera work, and the direction, it looks like your words sound, like it is very you. So how did you think this? And especially Alexis’ monologue on the stairs, ans how you make it work, especially because it seems like a hard scene to make work. So how do you think about this things, and how do you translate it to camera work?
Joss : Well, I think about it as though it were my script, and when all I have to do is interpret, I’m going to do it pretty much the same way I do anyway. It’s always about being natural and relatable, it’s about people feeling that this is the world they’re in. Beyond that, it’s about misconception, and you know, people not understanding what they’re seeing. His language is something I grew up with, so it feels very natural to me. The situation is very modern in this play, and very contemporary. So it’s, hum, it really is just a, I don’t know, it never felt like I wasn’t doing my own stuff.
Was it hard or complicated to work in such a short span of time, and to change register from what you were doing right before?
Joss : It was a relief not to be shooting superheroes punching each other. In television and low budget and things where you have to move super fast, it’s exciting, because the actors get to do the whole scene, not in bits but as one, and I just have to be there to film it. So it’s not easy, especially when your neighbour has a yappy dog. It’s exhilarating.
Hi, first of all, you have a beautiful house, and I was wondering, have you got a spare room? And my second question is, why did you decide to make this before editing The Avengers? Was it something you did to relax after shooting such a big movie?
Joss : At the end of The Avengers shooting, my wife and I had a vacation, we were going to go to Venice, and she said ‘no, you need to relax, you should make another film.’ And she said ‘you have the cast, you can get the crew, I built you a set, this would be the best thing for you’, and she was right. I don’t know how to relax.
Do you have any plans to do another Shakespeare play ? Maybe a tragedy ?
Joss : I don’t have immediate plans, I just want to live through Avengers II. But yes, I mean, do I want to make Hamlet ? [whispering] Yes I do.
Thank you so much for making Sean Maher a bad guy ! Because as much as we love Simon Tam, we prefer bad guys. My question was, why did you make this movie in black and white? We saw before the movie started the pictures of the movie and they were all in color, and actually pretty good too because you have the green of the grass, the blue of the pool, it would have given a nice effect. So why black and white ?
Joss : First of all, Sean had never played a villain. I found this unbelievable, I was like ‘you are to pretty to trust, you must play a villain’, but he said ‘no they put me on the earnest guy track’. So he was very happy, and scared. And it’s true, all of my friends are in color. Some colors were very beautiful, but many were very jarring, and the way to get rid of them is to shoot in black and white. But mostly I did it that way because I wanted to get this older feeling of films from the fifties and the sixties, the darker comedies, where they weren’t afraid to be dramatic and even unpleasant, while still being buffonish, and it pertained a certain elegance. Black and white has all of that. There is a turquoise dress in the party scene that you are very happy you missed.
Hello, Joss. I’m going to speak in French because I’m to intimidated to speak English. My first question is : was it difficult to distribute the movie internationally? And my second question, it’s january 21th, it’s International Hug Day, would you hug me ?
Joss : That’s not a real day
Translator : I’ve heard about it all day, it does exist. International hug day.
Joss : No you haven’t.
Translator : Okay I haven’t. So, international distribution, how was that ?
Joss : Oh yeah, that. When we made the movie, we thought that we would probably be showing it to each other at parties. We didn’t even know if we… maybe we’d put it on the internet. No idea. And, so yeah, we got an American distributor and then a distributor out of England who went to all the other territories, and it’s been… It’s very bizarre for me to be here, after so long with this thing. I love ot. We though it was great but if we weren’t sure if anybody else would. But it was not hard, it just… and they’ve been great, look at this ! [point to the audience]. Apparently there is an intersection between Shakespeare and people who wear orange and yellow hats ! [pointing to Jayne’s hats in the audience]
My question was about writing, which is kind of related to the film. In the program you said you said that subtlety is for little men, and I was wondering how you balance when you write between being subtle and being like, too blatantly, here’s what I’m trying to say.
Joss : Well speaking for Shakespeare, I… No, for me, I want things to be as bold as possible, but I don’t want them to be obvious or too cliched. Usually I go too far in the wrong direction. The thing is you really have to make the point and then cover the point in foliage, so people don’t know very obviously what it is. If you just say it it’s too much, if you don’t say it it’s too little, it has to be sort of just…hum… I think of it as this great rock on which you stand, but again that you cover with shrugs. Shrugs are the subtlety.
So my first question : are you mad at Shakespeare for letting Beatrice live after the wedding? Now the serious question : Avengers II, musical?
Joss : Nooo. But, I have to say, they can all sing and dance. They can. It’s a little weird. Even the Hulk can sing.
Hi, thank you so much for coming and I loved your movie. I’m a complete fan of yours, and I’m also a fan of the Kenneth Branagh version, years ago, with Emma Thompson. My question was, were you afraid of doing the same kind of movie? I do see the movie is completely different so I’m happy about it. Did you take it as a counter-example, ou did you get inspire from it at some point?
Joss : I had seen it many times, it was an inspiration. I tried to make my own film, not imitate but not run away from him. Clearly, he’s a much more well-adjusted person than I am, and his vision is beautiful and sunned appled, mine not so much.
I noticed a lot of actors from your previous works, and it was very nice because it felt like spending a nice time with friends. I was wondering, at any point did you have a casting, or was your mind set on an actor for each part?
Joss : I knew Beatrice and Benedict, and Dogberry. Everybody else, I have so many talented friends, this was my A-list. I never had to compromise, but if I had to, I have an extraordinary troop, so I was in a good position.
Did you at some point got frustrated because you couldn’t change anything, because these aren’t your words? For example you’ve got a girl named Conrad. So was there at some point anything you might have changed, were you free to do so?
Joss : No, on one hand, it’s a great relief. Nothing can be changed and I don’t have to worry about it, I’m not the writer. On the other hand, I did change Conrad to a girl. Conrad is a cool name for a girl. And I’m not subverting or denying what he’s doing, I just give it my spin, and that job of interpretation is, to an extent, a rewrite. Every director has put his stamp on it. It’s his play, it’s my film.
I’m a fan of Nathan Fillion, and I was wondering why you picked him for Dogberry?
Joss : Because he is an ass. [reference to he movie dialogue]
I’d like to know how much the film cost?
Joss : Doesn’t everybody want to know? Slightly less than the Avengers.
Since you’ve done a play with a famous writer, are you going to do plays from different authors?
Joss : There are different authors? Shakespeare is very particular. If I’m not writing myself, which is my favorite thing, I want to do something that’s very removed from myself. After Shakespeare the only person who comes to mind would be Steven Sondheim.
Hello, good evening J.. Jo.. uh.. Mister Whedon. First of all I want to say to you thank you so much for the great show that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. [crowd cheering loudly]. My question is about your writing process, I know a lot of people talk about that. I’m an aspiring writer, and I just wanted to know, when you go deep into yourself to find out what you’re going to put in a screenplay, is it hard for you to go and look into yourself and really see it and… I’ll just stop talking, you’re amazing, thank you for everything you’ve done !
Joss : No, it’s not hard for me to go into myself, I just release myself on the page… No, because mostly I don’t actually know that’s what I’m doing. I have found out recently that everything I write is either about or for me or both. I didn’t know that. I mean literally. I’m not so bright. Very often I’ll think ‘I bet somebody would go through that, I’ll write about that’, and then find out ‘oh no that was me.’ Maybe four years after Buffy ended, I was in my office, and I just went ‘Oh shit I was Buffy!’
Many of your projects it’s your actual family and your extended family of friends. I want to know how important it was for you to still do this project? It may be smaller scale but you get to work with all this people that you’ve known for years. Is it important to you to have that kind of balance between the big scale and the smaller scale like that?
Joss : On one hand, I only create from ideas. As much as I loved and love Amy and Alexis I couldn’t do this film before I understood the film. I want to create things for all of my friends but ultimately I can only write for the fiction, and hopefully they can follow. Having said that, if I could just work with this guys for the rest of my career, I’d be fine.
Now I have to go so I can write the next Avengers movie, but first I will tell you the twist ending and he budget. [gets his phone out of his pocket] Oh it’s Disney’s lawyers, nevermind. Thank you all so much, goodbye !
Twitter : @TzeitelAllix
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