“If we’d done this and we’d heard crickets chirping, it would have been very depressing,” admits “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon.
The veteran screenwriter is speaking of this summer’s “Can’t Stop The Signal” hit-and-run public screenings of “Serenity,” the almost-finished sci-fi actioner that marks his feature directorial debut. Whedon, in fact, is hurtling toward Riverside, Calif., for one of the 35 Signal screenings being held that evening in 35 cities throughout the United States and Canada.
The crickets’ odds of being heard are not the greatest. All 35 of the June 23 “Serenity” screenings sold out in the space of hours; some in minutes. Many of the tickets that disappeared from the Movietickets.com and Fandango websites quickly resurfaced on eBay, where scalpers began successfully hawking them for hundreds of dollars.
A 3rd-generation sitcom writer (his earliest post-college job was turning out teleplays for the Nielsen juggernaut “Roseanne”), Whedon immediately demonstrated a highly marketable faculty for resonant comic storytelling, one by turns edgy and disarming. He soon evolved into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after script doctors, earning alluring sums to cure expensive projects like “Speed” (1994), “Toy Story” (1995) and “Twister” (1996) – but was often denied screen credit for his considerable labors.
A 1997 return to television brought him markedly more control and recognition. Based on his much-admired feature screenplay (which had already been made into a less-admired 1992 movie directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui), the TV version of “Buffy” became one of the most critically acclaimed series in television history, and provided Whedon a means by which he could hone his filmmaking skills with an eye toward directing for the big screen.
While “Buffy” lasted seven seasons, a subsequent Whedon-created series, “Firefly,” aired only 10 episodes before Fox put the axe to it in 2002. Set centuries in the future – in a solar system far, far away – it followed the adventures of a Solo-esque interplanetary smuggler and raised scores of fascinating narrative questions Whedon never got to answer.
Universal’s decision to greenlight “Serenity,” the big-screen sequel to “Firefly,” was said to have been influenced by “Firefly’s” phenomenal post-cancellation DVD sales. An extraordinary 200,000 copies of the “Complete Series” were purchased in the first four months of its release. On July 6 of this year, more than 18 months after the DVD set’s release, it would rise (again) to the number-two spot on Amazon.com’s daily “top seller” list.
The finished version of “Serenity” is due in cinemas Sept. 30. In Focus interviewed Whedon on the occasion of his 41st birthday, as he journeyed from Universal City to the June 23 Signal screening of “Serenity” at Regal Entertainment Group’s Jurupa 14-plex.