Q: We were on the second unit set today so how involved have you been in storyboarding what they are shooting or how much is (second unit director) John Mahaffie bringing to the table? How obsessive are you with everything?
Whedon: I'm pretty obsessive. It's a weird system; because they had a release date before they had a script, so the moment I came on I'm like "You know I think we could open with this…" "Great. It's storyboarded with animatics. Here it is!" Or "Great!" Which is necessary when you are moving at this pace and also can be very frustrating, because you're basically having shots called out by other people, which is not how I usually operate, but when they are good it's like "That will be fine. I'll take that, thank you! I'll take credit for that." (Laughs) There are a couple of sequences… There's at least one sequence in this where the second unit director gets there before I do, before Seamus [McGarvey] does which is delicate, but everything that they do is very heavily storyboarded, animatic-ked, pre-vised, or you know called out and John is really inventive, really precise, and really caring. He and I will spend a lot of time talking about how I'm shooting a scene and what I'm looking for and so his stuff comes in really excitingly and really seamlessly. I've never had a second unit. I shot my own second unit on "Serenity." I shot second unit on "Cabin in the Woods," so it's new for me to hand that over, but when it's this big you're going to have to, and I have enormous confidence in my crew.
Q: You're shooting with the Arri Alexa, which Roger Deakins has fallen in love with. Can you talk about why you chose that camera? Why not film?
Whedon: Because Roger Deakins fell… (Laughs) No, we were going to shoot with the Red, because we were going to shoot in 3D and everybody said, "No, the new rigs move fast and they are small. It's all going to be great" and I shot the tag for "Thor" in 3D with that setup and after we lost three-and-a-half hours to lens changes and unknowable camera weirdness we decided to not do that and I think this is the camera… We always knew we were going to shoot HD and I have no allegiance to film as film. If the story is in front of me, I'm fine. Seamus had mostly shot film, but he really loved the Alexa and that was sort of what he wanted to do and once we were out of the constrictor of 3D for shooting he said "Let's go with that." He loves it too. He also loves Roger Deakins, so say we all.
Q: Is it true you pitched in on the dialogue for the "Captain America"?
Whedon: Yeah, I did. I did a dialogue polish which was really, really fun, because I got to write ‘40s dialogue. You know "Captain America" was a movie that just worked for me. The script was great, the structure… it's gorgeous, but they said "We think we can push it in certain places." I was like "sign me up." "What? I have to make ‘The Avengers'? No, it'll be fine."
Q: How much of your polish was you kind of prepping for "The Avengers" and specifically the Steve Rogers character? Were you building something in there that was going to lead into this?
Whedon: I didn't like sneak any particular "Avengers" Easter eggs in, but I did spend a lot of time with the character which for me was important, because Steve's perspective in this world is very much, as much as anybody's if not more, the audience's. He is looking at this world with fresh eyes and he is not impressed. His feeling of disconnection is something that's going to be laced throughout the film. It's a film about lonely people, because I'm making and my pony only does one trick. (Laughs) He's a classic man out of time in the very literal sense and so to have worked on his ‘40s incarnation, even a little bit, was a nice introduction and kept me grounded in his perspective.
Q: Now in this movie you've got all of these characters who Marvel needs for future sequels and future franchises, so it's not like you can kill off Iron Man, and it's not like you can kill off most of these people…
Whedon: "Awkward moment…" (laughter)
Q: So A) we know you like to kill people off for drama in your movies and TV shows, but B) just for stakes on a thing like this how do you make stakes when the audience knows that the seven main characters aren't going anywhere?
Whedon: You know it is a struggle. How do you make stakes when they are all really strong and really tall and handsome? Ultimately the answer is always what's at stake has to be more than their lives. It has to be something bigger externally and smaller internally like they have to be going through an internal struggle that matches what they are facing on the outside, so that even if they survive, they may be compromised to a point where they can't recover and if you have that and you really push them towards that, you push them towards something that is frightening and unlikable and a real choice that they can't necessarily deal with, then you have some stake, you have emotional stakes that go beyond the hitty and the punchy.
Q: So it's the risk of characters losing themselves more than characters losing their lives?
Q: But there is some loss of life. We saw that scene before that seems to indicate that somebody didn't make it that seems to have shaken Tony up.
Whedon: Yeah, it's a sad little film really.
Q: I've got the impression it's a huge movie compared to the other Marvel movies so far. What's the danger of making movies so big that Marvel cannot release another movie, because they will just seem minor, like if they do "Iron Man 3" because people will say "Oh, it's not ‘The Avengers.'"
Whedon: That's a good question. The fact is one of the things that I was very adamant about--and I don't think people were really fighting me on it--is that we don't have the support systems of all of these movies. These movies have their own internal workings and have the supporting characters, so they have their own feel. I said, "First of all, this can't feel like any of those movies and second of all you have to take them away from their support systems," First of all that's a good way to make a team, it's like they all go to camp, and second of all they said, "Do we want to put Jane Foster in the movie?" I'm like "Yeah, that'd be great. Then the writer of ‘Thor 2' will come and kill me with a trowel, because their first meeting will be ‘I haven't seen you, except that one time.'" There are iconic things going on in their own stories that I'm not going to touch. They have to step out of their worlds into the the Avengers world and hopefully these things work on a big scale. Because there are so many of them everybody gets so much juice and then they have to step aside, the other movies have a much easier through line… It's never easy, but a simpler through line of that one person's journey where they really get to explore that person on a level that in this movie I'm just never going to get to.
Q: This will have to affect those movies. Obviously Jane hasn't seen Thor, but he's here busy fighting whatever he is fighting. She must be seeing him on TV like "How come you haven't said hi to me?"
Whedon: Right, "You never call!"
Q: It's got to affect them, because of the things going on.
Whedon: Yeah, you can't walk away completely, but I try to do as little collateral damage as possible and as far as I was concerned I'm in a semi-stable relationship with Pepper whenever I was like "That's collateral damage. I mean are you kidding? What am I supposed to do with that?" But in general yeah, you do have to take them to a place they haven't been and they have to have come back from there in their next movie, but it's a fine line. It's the same thing when you're writing a comic and you know there's that comic, there's the team they are on, there's the big event… There are all sorts of different masters that you're serving. I guess first "Do no harm" is now the screenwriters' creed and the second is "F*ck sh*t up."
Q: With "Iron Man 2," Favreau talked about how Marvel came in and wanted him to put certain elements in the movie to set up "Avengers." Are there elements that you have to plant in "The Avengers" for later movies?
Whedon: Not really. I mean there's a couple of things that I'm like, "This could maybe point to what would happen later, long after I've retired and live in a tree…" But we are getting it here and I think it can be the death of a movie if you're just smelling "franchise" and all of a sudden you're making "Jumper" or "Eragon" or "The Seeker" and you really have to just concentrate… This is the culmination of a grand plan that's gone on for years. Beyond that there may be seeds planted, but we don't know what will grow.