Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy

BOOK: Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy
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Table of Contents
 
T
o the people, Steve, Don, Peg and Helen,
who believe in me no matter what.
 
 
And to Glenn,
who is the master of making dreams come true.
 
Introduction
 
“I wanted Buffy to be a cultural phenomenon, períod . . . that was always the plan.”
—Joss Whedon
 
 
 
I
n his scruffy jeans and baggy button-down camp shirt, Joss Whedon doesn’t look much like a Hollywood mogul. Joss is soft-spoken and funny. His lopsided grin makes you think more of the video-store clerk he once was than the man who created one of the most beloved television shows of all time.
From its inauspicious beginnings as a midseason replacement on the fledgling WB network,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
has become a phenomenon.
Rolling Stone
called it “the coolest show on TV”
Entertainment Weekly
proclaimed it “the best drama on television.”
Buffy
was ranked the number-one show in America by the
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
, number five by
TV Guide
, and one of the top ten by
USA Today.
In 2000, Joss garnered an Emmy nomination for the episode of
Buffy
titled “Hush,” and, in the same year, the series was honored with the Founder’s Award from Viewers for Quality Television. Joss has been nominated for countless awards (he recently won a Best Genre Network Series Saturn Award for
Buffy
) and has been listed as one of
Entertainment Weekly’s
top ten people in Hollywood.
But, most important, in
Buffy
, Joss created a new icon. And it didn’t happen by accident. “I always intended for
Buffy
to be a cultural phenomenon,” Whedon confesses. “That’s how I wrote it. In the back of your mind, you’re picking up your Oscar and your Saturn and everyone is playing with their
Buffy
dolls.”
 
Joss wins the Saturn!
 
Joss Whedon has become one of Hollywood’s hottest properties. He is currently producing three television series on three different networks (
Buffy
on UPN,
Angel
on WB, and
Firefly
on Fox) with two more,
Buffy the Animated Series and Ripper
, in the planning stages. He wrote the popular
Fray
comic-book series, was nominated for an Oscar for the
Toy Story
screenplay, and has written or contributed to numerous films, including
Speed, Alien Resurrection
, and
X-Men
.
Even in the rarified world of Hollywood producers, Joss stands out as an unusual individual. A brilliant writer, he is equally adept at drama, comedy, horror, and action. A producer with a self-proclaimed feminist agenda, Joss makes a point of defying convention and Hollywood norms.
A shy, reclusive child, Joss has overcome his inherent introversion to achieve great success in a variety of leadership roles: as a head writer, producer, and director. Genuinely kind and easygoing, Joss is also a perfectionist and “control freak” who oversees most every aspect of his productions. And, when necessary, Joss can be ferocious in protecting his creations.
So, who is Joss Whedon? What makes him tick? And, most important, how does he manage to create such magic?
1
 
Growing Up
 
“Most people really don’t get along that well with their own famílíes.”
—Joss Whedon
 
 
A
s any fan of
Buffy
knows, Joss loves anguish. Each season the characters suffer from traumas of every kind, from impossible love to hopeless addiction. The majority of Whedon’s characters come from unhappy or broken homes. Buffy’s father left, not even returning at her mother’s death. Angel’s father was demeaning and cruel. Xander’s household was a drunken brawl while Willow’s mother was cool and aloof.
So what was Joss’s childhood like? Was it terribly traumatic? Was he beaten and tortured? Did his parents lock him in his room where his lonely mind began to generate the fantasies that would some day make him famous?
Joss, who grew up in Manhattan, swears he had a normal and quite boring childhood. Joss was born Joe Whedon on June 23, 1964, the youngest of three boys (he would later have two younger step-siblings). Joss was born into a television dynasty. His grandfather, John Whedon, was a writer on
The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Donna Reed Show, Room 222
, and
Kilroy
.
His father, Tom Whedon, was an Emmy-winning television producer and writer who worked with the shows
Golden Girls, Alice, Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo, The Dick Cavett Show, and Benson
. Earlier in his career, Tom Whedon wrote musicals, later one of Joss’s passions.
Joss’s mother, Lee Stearns, was a high-school teacher, aspiring novelist, and, in Joss’s words, “whupass personified.” “She was very smart, uncompromising, cool as hell,” Joss relates. “You had to prove yourself—not that she wouldn’t come through if you didn’t, but she expected you to hold your own.”
“My mom is a very bright woman, who believed in education,” said Joss. “You don’t always appreciate that when you are a kid, but I do now.” Joss’s mother was much like the female characters Whedon likes to create. Like Tom Whedon, she also had her musical side, acting and singing in summer-stock productions. Whedon’s musical talents clearly came from both sides of the family.
Joss’s parents divorced when he was nine. He lived with his mother and spent his summers in New York with his mother and stepfather at a sort of informal “artists’ commune.”
Joss was a shy, imaginative, and easily frightened child. “I was afraid of the dark and everything, and I had a vivid imagination. People think I’m joking when I say that I was a strange, unlovable child. But it is true. I think the thing that I was most afraid of was my big brother. If you see big brothers being eviscerated on the show you’ll know where that came from.”
People think I’m joking when I say that I was a strange, unlovable child. But it is true.
—Joss
 
As a child Joss spent many hours alone making up stories and games with his toys. Each toy had certain role to play in Joss’s imagination and every day was a new story. When he was eleven or twelve, for example, he invented a story featuring hero Harry Egg, itinerant space traveler, and his androgynous demigod sidekick, Mouseflesh. Whedon discovered early on that he could escape from the rest of the world by slipping into one of his imaginary stories.
“I was the sad, unlovable child, who had a perfectly normal childhood,” says Whedon of his early years. “I never felt like anything was right in life and I didn’t understand why it seemed so easy for everyone else. There are people who feel a little odd all of their lives; I think I was destined to be one of those people,” Whedon laughs.
Whedon doesn’t like to talk about his family. He wants to respect their privacy as much as possible, but he does say he comes from loving parents. “I’m not sure my parents ever understood me, and I’m certain they thought I was a little strange. But they loved me. No, they didn’t lock me in closets or beat me. I was just born this way.”
BOOK: Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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