At Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego, CA, casts from films and television shows came to promote their projects, give exclusive screenings, and interact with fans. One panel stood above the others, for a show that not only was canceled after one season, but has been off the air for ten years. Joss Whedon's cult hit Firefly drew overnight lines to get in to hear Whedon, showrunner Tim Minnear, and stars Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau.
Not only did fans get to reminisce about one of the most brilliant shows of its time, but they were part of a one-hour special coming this fall to the Science Channel. After the panel, the Firefly crew made their way over to the Hilton for an exclusive press conference. Journalists became fans themselves, lining up long before check-in and asking the questions they had longed to ask the past decade. Whedon, Minnear, Fillion, Tudyk, Baldwin, Maher, and Glau were all just as charismatic, thankful, and fun as we could have hoped - here's an inside look at the team behind Firefly.
Q: Kate Kotler, BleedingCool. It is just so awesome to see you guys all in the same place at the same time. I have a question for everybody. The characters on Firefly went such an amazing distance in redefining traditional tropes in sci-fi, television and movies. I was wondering if you could each give a brief statement on how portraying epic characters that, 10 years later, are still so beloved by fans, has carried over into the work that you’ve done in your career subsequently.
Joss Whedon: He still thinks he’s in charge of everything.
Nathan Fillion: What was the question? What was it like portraying our characters, is that what you’re basically asking?
Q: How has it affected your career since?
NF: It taught me how to act. [Audience laughs] I tell you, I come up with ideas all the time. All the time, I come up with ideas. And some of my best ideas, I think, “Oh, this is great! Joss, what if I did this in this particular thing with this particular line?” and he would say, “That’s a great idea – OR…” and then just simplify it in such a way that made it real and human.
I was doing these moments of coolness, and he said, “But in real life…” And [looks at Joss] you did it in a very nice way. You know what? Being an intelligent guy, it’s a skill not to make people around you feel stupid, and you’ve got that. You do that very well.
JW: ‘Cause I’m smartest, they don’t know about smartest me. [Laughs]
NF: S-M-R-T. Smart.
Q: Laura Akers, from Comics Bulletin. You guys may have seen a meme online that had four pictures of women from pop culture and then four women from geek culture. Zoe was one of those women under geek culture. The implication suggests that geek culture provides far better role models.
There was a feminist critique of this that said what this picture actually shows was that the only kind of womanhood that was valued and seen as strong in geek culture was the warrior woman. I immediately thought of Firefly. There are very different kinds of women in Firefly and I wanted to ask you, what exactly do you think Firefly says to women and what do you think it says to men about women?
JW: Everything that I do is going to contain the very simple message, not to men, but about them – that men who are comfortable with powerful women are more powerful men. [Audience cheers] It’s just engrained, and it doesn’t matter what kind of power they have. We were watching a clip of Kaylee, and she can’t fire a gun. She’s not a violent person, but she can fix anything and she basically has ship-fixing superpowers. Everyone has that niche.
The great thing about Firefly, for me particularly, was that they were all so different – they were all carrying a very different power, a very different energy, a very different look. This also helped the costumer enormously, because we were also in the 7th year of Buffy where all the women were the exact same shape and all wore the exact same clothes.
But the look, the feel, the energy, the differences in their characters, including the Companion and the power that she had – which some people will obviously also debate on a feminist level – for me was just the way you make life. You don’t get through that universe if you don’t have the stones to be on the ship. That’s just the way it is.
For Zoe in particular, this debate is always going to go on. Ripley, in Aliens… there was a huge debate about, well, it’s not feminist because she’s only being powerful because she’s protecting a child. She’s being maternal, so it’s not a feminist message. And we were like, no, it’s the warrior woman thing and the maternal thing is the feminist part… we’re going to go round and round.
Because at the end of the day, Gina Torres was playing a dedicated wife, a trusted friend, an intelligent person, and the sexiest and most badass of people, so I feel like we covered our bases.
Q: My question is one of perspective. Now that it’s been 10 years later and have had a chance to step back, do you look back on the show and see subtle, thematic elements that you didn’t pick up on when you were filming it?
Alan Tudky: I just rewatched them again.
Adam Baldwin: Did his homework.
AT: I just watched them, and… uh, no? [Audience laughs]
Tim Minnear: It’s hard to pick up on the subtleties when you’re fast-fowarding through everyone else’s part.
AT: Oh, let me watch that again, that was good! No, everything was just a discovery again, watching it, for me personally, this last time, because there are certain episodes I hadn’t watched for 10 years. And they would be the ones I wasn’t in much, that’s why I haven’t watched them in 10 years. We’ve all kind of picked out our favorites and we’ve re-watched those. There have been times they’ve been on DVDs… and we’ve done commentary and whatnot.
But I watched the episode that Nathan Fillion and I did commentary on, which is “War Stories”, and I have to say listening to what I knew back then, I knew more about the show. I had much more perspective on the characters and what was going on while we were doing it.
So my perspective has changed, it’s just changed more from someone who’s immersed in it and living it on a daily basis to someone who has fond memories of it that are kind of like blurry photographs. And then watching it and re-living it, I love the show so much, almost in a better way, because it’s pure. I’m just a viewer.
Q: Teresa Jusino, Tor.com. Ten years after Firefly, after a million conventions and appearances, is there anything you have not been asked about that you wish you were asked?
AB: That is such a cop out question. You call yourself a reporter!
TM: Have you no decency? At long last?
NF: The one thing I’ve never been asked, that I would like to be asked, is, “Are you available for another series?” [Looks at Joss Whedon and Tim Minnear pointedly]
SM: Nathan, are you available for another series?
NF: From someone who is important, Sean. [Audience laughs]
SM: Nathan, are you available for another series?
NF: I’m busy.
Q: I think we can all agree that video games have come a really long way in the past decade. If you guys were approached by a developer, what would you say to making a Firefly-based RPG [role playing game]?
SM: What’s an RPG?
TM: I dispute the premise of your question!
JW: There was a lot of talk about a multi-player thing and a couple of different companies vying for it, and it just sort of disappeared into the ether. I’m not really sure why. I always felt that this universe absolutely lends itself to gaming, and the really immersive multi-player game where there are so many planets and so many agendas and so many things to besides shoot at things. I think it’s absolutely a perfect fit.I also think it should still be on the air. But many of my opinions are not shared by powerful people. Maybe Sean?
SM: Joss, are you available?
Q: Anthony from Deadline, sorry to go off-topic. Joss, have you come to terms with directing The Avengers 2? And if you want to stay on topic, if the success of the special goes well, are you thinking about a reboot for Firefly?
JW: Yes, because we need a younger cast.
NF: That’s fair.
JW: Captain Andrew Garfield.
SM: Zach Efron as Simon.
AB: Summer will be in it!
JW: I mean right now, we’d have to shoot it with my phone. They’re really good, these phones.
Q: As we all know, you killed off half the cast in Serenity. If you do make another cinematic sequel to Firefly, will you bring them back as evil twins or clones?
In all honesty, I don’t believe in twins or clones in that particular universe. I think it would wrong. It doesn’t make sense to me. You have to move on. You have to deal with the present and by that I mean you have to have an intricate flashback structure. [Laughs] I can tell you honestly, that in my head, the opening scene of the sequel is the conversation between Wash and Zoe. And where it goes from there I can’t tell you.
Q: Were you surprised that specific pieces of the show like “shiny” and “I’ll be in my bunk” have gone viral over the past ten years?
AB: I’m surprised the hat went viral because it was in an unaired episode, for one.
TM: It was an on-air episode!
JW: Here’s the thing about the hat. It’s tangible, it’s DIY, it’s not wearing an entire costume. You can have the hat and go to your day job. It’s everything that should work for cult. If I was smart, if I thought ahead of these things, I would create these things based on that. You don’t see a lot of people dressed up as most of these characters because they don’t have outfits. We get some Mals, we get some Kaylees. Well, not as many ballroom Kaylees as we used to… but it’s the specificity and the fact that it’s got that homemade feel. People can make it themselves. Also, it’s very flattering.
AB: It does. And it’s cozy in the wintertime.
Q: Speaking of cosplay, have you ever dressed up as your characters and attended a Con?
JW: The question really isn’t have you dressed up as your character at a Con, the question is have you dressed up as your character in an episode of your next series?
NF: [Feigns innocence.] Maybe?
AB: Zach Levi, he’s got that Nerd HQ. He put together Trailer Park Heroes, and he’s got a lot of cosplay there. That’s a thing I did for a little while.
Q: Jessica from GirlGamer.com. There are two marines who flew all the way from Afghanistan to see you guys – They’re waiting outside by the Batmobiles. They love Serenity and Firefly, and watched the show while recuperating. What do you think it is about your show that makes it so popular with the marines? Something about it just touches their heart and they can’t really explain what it is.
JW: The show has been very popular with the military, and also with astronauts. This is an extraordinary thing for me. Obviously, there’s a war element. These are people who fought in a war and who suffered greatly because of it, but they’re also a platoon. Everything is them bonding in the trenches, that’s the nature of the show. I think there’s a kind of isolation that they feel, and a camaraderie that they feel that no matter how dark and Machiavellian Mal gets, you know he will let his life down for any of the crew. And I think it’s a very un-ironic look at the things that make soldiering a noble profession.
And I have heard, and read from people, that in terms of the space element, that there isn’t a lot of stuff out there that inspires people to want to build rockets, literally, or go to space. That same thing, that feeling of going into the black, and becoming more of a person because of it, has hit them as well. There could not be a greater tribute.
TM: There’s also probably something to the notion that our characters are together and the war is over. Like there’s a life after the war that can be good. And I would also say in terms of the astronaut thing, it might explain why we’re cancelled, if our key audience was astronauts.
JW: They both love it!
TM: I don’t think those things come with a Neilson box.
JW: And my shorter answer was Inara.
Q: Many Joss Whedon shows have continued on in comic book form. Are there any plans for future Firefly stories in comics? Is there any untold story about your characters that you’d be interested to tell in comic book form?
AT: I had a story… my story got told in comic form.
TM: Patton Oswald wrote that.
AT: Patton Oswald wrote it, It was badass. So mine got told, what are you guys doing?
AB: My guy, he didn’t fare so well. [Laughs]
JW: We’ll get to you, we’ll get to you. You want an arc? [Whispering to Adam Baldwin]
TM: Hey, microphones! Microphones!
JW: Summer, is there a story of yours that didn’t get told?
AT: Besides when you take over flying the spaceship from Wash?
SG: That’s all I wanted!
NF: I’m very happy. I’m very content. It all worked out really well for me. It really did. It’s hard in this position, sitting where we are right now, ten years later; it’s hard for me to say I want more. It’s hard to say that it’s unfinished because of what I need. I got a lot out of that show. I got an amazing group of friends, I got to do the best work I think I’ve ever done, and I got a movie. And I got thousands of … oh god, I’m going to do it again, I’m going to cry!
Q: With Nathan’s history of doing voice over, are you interested in ever doing an anime version of Firefly?
NF: I think that’d be cool. Pretty easy, right? You don’t even have to shower before you go in. I don’t know if you guys know that. You can wear a baseball hat and your underwear, and no one knows.
JW: I’ve done a little voice recording with Nathan and it’s not pleasant. You can shower.
NF: There’s a water shortage in Los Angeles.
Q: As opposed to ten years ago, there are many more ways for fans to express themselves with social media. If the show was on today, do you think it would have had more of a shot?
TM: [Shakes head] What’s more popular now?
NF: That’s a fair question. I say yes.
SM: I think it would have helped.
TM: I don’t. I don’t! Because you need a network that, for instance, airs the pilot first! No matter how many times you tweet about it, on some level the network has to be behind it. So unless you have that, you can tweet in vain. You can tweet – oh, you can tweet.
AT: But don’t you think there [are] avenues for shows… more revenue streams for shows…
TM: Oh sure, like you’re going to make something just for the internet – [looks at Joss Whedon]
Q: Compared to a series like Star Trek, Firefly is a far less utopian view of our future. What do you think that says to us?
JW: We’re doomed? I don’t have any faith in mankind. But I love my friends desperately, and the faith that I have is in their ability to band together when things are appalling, and protect each other. That is the definition, biological reason for family. And created family is what I believe in. No, I don’t think we’re going to solve our problems and have a federation, which, by the way, had its share of problems.
Q: What do you think has given a show that lasted only 14 episodes such amazing longevity, that even now, ten years later, it appears even more popular, can crowd a room like this, and overflow an entire convention?
JW: There’s a little bit of the Camalot thing of, it was there and it was gone, that makes it precious to people in a way that a show that runs for 8 years isn’t in the same way. But also I’m sorry, I’ve seen it. Have you seen these guys? The directors we work with? The prop masters? You couldn’t miss.
Sometimes these things come together and they’re extraordinary. And the other element is why we write what we write. We are trying to communicate about this human condition of unity and aloneness, and I think those two things are very important to people and always will be. So it’s not just that it’s pretty or that people say funny things right, it’s that they’re dealing with something that is universal and human and painful and lovely.
TM: And the theme song.
JW: And the other element that I feel a little weird about because it’s not me, is that I don’t think anybody in the history of the ten years since the show has been on has really understood how much of it has belonged to Tim Minnear. [Resounding applause from cast & audience]
Q: Last question. Do you see this show surviving and being a presence here at Comic-Con in 50 and 100 years? There are small children here that are seeing Jayne hats for the first time that I hope in 5 or 10 years watch the show, and I wonder if you think the same thing and what you think that will mean to another generation?
TM: Yes, I say yes. ‘Cause we were right. The thing that we made was right. We were right about it, it was good, the network was wrong, the fans were correct. And it’s not just because it got caught down before its time, it’s because we were right. And that universe was fully realized very quickly. And that’s because of you. [Points to Joss Whedon]
The ‘Firefly’ Ten Year Anniversary Special will air on the Science Channel on November 11 2012.