SDCC 2012: A Very Shiny FIREFLY 10th Anniversary Panel
Last week, I attended San Diego Comic-Con and the major highlight was the Firefly panel on Friday, July 13th. It was the longest line I’ve ever waited in, Comic-Con or otherwise, but it was well worth it. Hosted by the Science Channel, the anniversary panel was moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jenson. The panelists were Jose Molina, Tim Minear, Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, and of course, Joss Whedon. According to Entertainment Weekly, footage from the panel will be included in an upcoming one-hour special, Browncoats Unite, which will air on Science on Sunday, November 11th. For those of you who missed the reunion, I’ve posted the video below, courtesy of Things From Another World. Thanks, TFAW, for making the video available to fans!
I’ve also written up a recap of the panel, because even though you can all watch the video, I kind of just want to talk about it forever. Plus, I have pictures! First of all, Ballroom 20 was packed, the line to get in was long and harrowing, and I’ve never seen so many Jayne hats and Browncoat shirts in my life. Oh, and so many adorable “Kaylee”s! Also, while I’ve only been following Comic-Con news for the past few years, I’ve never seen a panel so emotional—so full of love, joy, laughter, and sadness. There were so many tears, from the fans and the panelists (and mostly from me.) This panel really wasn’t about uncovering untold stories or new information, but rather, it was very fittingly a reunion and a celebration. The writers and cast members have been answering questions about the Firefly universe for a decade, so most of the stones have been uncovered, or else soon planned to be uncovered in comics (more on that below). So, I hope people won’t be jerks about the questions that were asked, or get disappointed about the lack of new information. Let’s be grateful that we’re still flying. The beautiful fact that Firefly has been continually resurrected in the hearts of the fans was what I really took away from the panel (along with red eyes and a wet face).
The panel began with a long introduction period. I’ve never had so much fun just clapping and cheering for people. We all stood up for Alan Tudyk, and then kept standing. I loved seeing the faces of the panelists, as they first caught sight of the crowd. Alan leaned over to Nathan Fillion and we could see him mouth, “Oh my god!” Sean Maher did the same to Summer Glau. They just looked so happy and amazed at the crowd’s response. The last panelist to be introduced was Adam Baldwin, and moderator Jeff Jensen introduced some audience participation at that point: “The hero of Canton, the man they call …” And we all screamed “JAYNE!” So much fun. Adam came in like it was a victory celebration, hands high in the air, with a camera in one hand to film the scene.
The moderator’s first question was for Joss Whedon. He asked what it meant for him to be here today, on the 10th anniversary of Firefly. Here is Joss’s reply:
“It means that I’m running on fumes, let’s face it. I haven’t come up with anything new, so I’m just hoping that people still watch this. [Cue the massive laughter from the audience.] What else could it possibly mean except that we always knew from the very beginning that everything we were doing, we were doing for the right reasons, at the right time, with the right people. That we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts. That we had the best cast I’ll ever work with. We also had Alan. [More laughter.] It goes beyond vindication. Vindication came a long time ago. It goes to a place of transcendence that I can’t even describe without turning into a girly man—more of a girly man than I already am.”
Nathan was asked the same question, and after getting a bunch of applause at the moderator’s reference to Castle, he replied, “If I can get through this without crying, it will look a lot cooler.” Joss then appeared to pinch Nathan under the table as he discussed his career before Firefly, and the limitations he encountered. He talked about how no one would give him a chance. “He’s good, but I don’t know if he can carry a show,” was the continual refrain. Nathan concluded, “Joss Whedon was the guy … that gave me the best character I’ve ever played.”
Next, Joss was asked what kind of science fiction show he had wanted to create with Firefly. Whedon: “I just wanted to create something that felt real, like a piece of history […] I wanted to tell an American immigrant story. I wanted to tell a western story. But I need spaceships or I get cranky.”
Jensen then asked Tim Minear what his thoughts were. Had he thought that Firefly would be a hit? Tim: “Oh, I never think that anything Joss is gonna do on TV is gonna be a hit show.” Someone (?): “That’s fair.” Tim: “It is fair.” He went on to explain the story of how he went from working on Angel to Firefly: “My best friend came down to a set on Paramount and let me play with his spaceship.” Joss: “Don’t tell that part.” Minear: “The other spaceship. And here’s my cargo bay …” The crowd roared with laughter. Tim continued in a slightly more serious vein: “I was a geeky kid growing up. I went to cons. [Crowd cheers!] That’s what I did. And Joss Whedon, the coolest guy in Geekland, said ‘Come be on my spaceship,’ and it means as much to me now as it did to me then, which is kind of a lot.” Wow, getting teary eyed, just writing this. Joss: “I have to tell the dark underbelly of that story as well, which involves betraying David Greenwalt, which is always funny.” Ha! Joss explained that he had promised David to never take Minear off Angel, but it was Marti Noxon who convinced him that he needed to take Minear off Angel and work on Firefly. With three Whedon shows running at the same time, he needed help.
Jensen asked Jose Molina what it was like telling stories in this world. Jose talked about how he had worked as an assistant on Buffy and Angel. He had always felt like a kid, going, “Please let me play with the pretty toys!” On Firefly, “I was invited into the sandbox and it was just like, how hard to I geek out and how hard do you sort of push your own tendencies. And mine were a little bit more old fashioned Star Trek … Our homework was to watch a lot of westerns.” He concluded, “It was literally a dream come true working on the show, and heartbreaking when it went away.” Joss added some words, referencing “Ariel,” which was written by Molina: “Any writer will say, ‘And then there’s a cool heist!’ But how do you do that?” Joss explained that Molina was one who could actually do that—provide the structure.
Using “Ariel” as a segue, Jensen then asked Sean Maher about his thoughts on the universe of Firefly. Sean said that he never really thought of it as “science fiction,” but rather a “post-apocalyptic western.” “Ariel” was his favorite episode, because it was such a fun and exciting episode for Simon. Also, he shared an Ocean’s 11 reference. He concluded, “I don’t even know what your question was, because I’m still in a bit of a blur because [looks at crowd] YOU GUYS ARE SO CRAZY!” He said “crazy” in an impressed and nice way. We all cheered.
Then it was Nathan’s turn again. In response to the moderator’s question, Nathan replied, “I can’t help but think … I should have been paying more attention to the question.” We all erupted into laughter. Alan helped him out: “What Nathan means to say …” More laughter. Alan went on to tell the story of their first day on set, when Nathan named some members of the crew, and then said “It’s a contest, and I’m winning.” Nathan was a real leader in fostering a family environment, and really brought them together.
Before a question for Adam Baldwin, we were shown a clip from “The Message,” when Jayne received his cunning hat. We all went wild. Then Adam pulled out a replica of the hat, and placed it over his microphone. He talked about how a woman in the office knitted it. He asked Tim if he could wear it throughout the whole episode, but Tim wasn’t so sure. Adam insisted: “I’m doing it!” He then talked about how he took it off at the end to honor Tracey’s death, when the Serenity crew was burying him. “This is like a birthday cake in a … like … a wasteland,” he added. Further, he explained that there was a special purpose for the hat. If one lucky fan answered a trivia question correctly, he or she could win the hat. The trivia question, however, was pretty tricky. What was the name of the planet on which Tracey wished to be buried. This fun fact was from “The Message” as well, but the fan at the mic was at a loss. Joss admitted that he didn’t know the answer either, so we fans couldn’t feel too bad to not remember. One guy guessed Whitefall, but he was wrong. Adam: “I just want you to know that this gag was not my idea.” Ha!
Nathan then referenced Joss stopping by the line the night before. The story had already gone around Twitter all morning. Apparently he stopped by at about 3a.m., after leaving a party. Very cool. Joss addressed the people in the front rows, who slept outside all night: “Good seats. I don’t know how you got the good seats, but that’s cool.” Ha! If only Francesca and I had woken up three hours earlier!
We were then shown a clip from the rescue mission in “War Stories,” when River shoots those guys without looking. The moderator asked Summer Glau what the key to playing her character was. Summer: “Remembering myself at 17 … which was like 2 years before. That was pretty much it.” She immediately fell silent, prompting the room to laugh.
As a follow-up, Joss was asked why Summer was so perfect for River. Summer: “You can’t change your mind now! I already got cast.” Joss: “Are you sure? George Lucas could. He could digitally make you better.” The crowd reacted in jovially disapproving manner. Boo! Joss: “I’m not saying we had a meeting about it, I’m just saying …[cue more laughter] These, as I’ve said before, are honestly the finest meat puppets that I’ve ever controlled.” The crowd (and Adam, notably) laugh loudly at that. Joss then went on to talks about audition process: “An incredibly long and ghastly process, quite frankly.” Joss retold the story about reading The Killer Angels in a hotel room. He thought, “This is the story I want to tell! But with Han Solo!”
Finally, Joss returned to the question at hand, about why Summer works so well as River: “Summer is so CRAZY! And um, uh … you know, the amount of vulnerability and strength that she can convey is beyond magnetic. It is … I look at her and I think, ‘I will come with her if I want to live.’” So true. The crowd cheered.
The moderator then asked why Nathan was the perfect captain for Serenity. Joss: “You have to make compromises at some point …” Everyone laughed, as Nathan nodded in agreement. Joss interrupted his answer once again to add something in response to the clip we were shown: “Jewel makes me cry, and Gina is the most badass woman I’ve ever seen.” Cheers and clapping! “It really is absurd. The people who are not here, my heart is breaking that they’re not here. Not just to experience this, but because I miss them so much. Which is ridiculous, because look what I got. But I’m still greedy and I want more. I want the whole set. I want two. One that I can keep in my box … well, in a jar in my basement. And one that I can play with for real.” Hehe. Love love love. (But I was also very saddened by the absence of Gina and Jewel.)
After some joking, and Nathan’s hilarious expressions, Joss got serious about the question. To Nathan: “There was never a moment from the time we met that I did not think you were the captain.” He then talked about the history of what went on after the show—Nathan’s real life leadership of the group, following up on what Alan had said earlier. Others lead actors just “can’t convey the enormous gravitas that this clown can.” He went on talks about what it’s like when Nathan’s not happy with you. One time when a guest actor was disrespecting the female cast members, Joss explained that Nathan did not accept that. “He got a taste of what Nathan is like when someone threatens his loved ones. You don’t want that.” Nathan jokingly took out a Kleenex and wiped his nose and eyes, moved. Then Joss joked, “He gets very Canadian.”
Next, Adam talked about Joss’s determination, and the determination of the fans. They never gave up, so Adam never did either. Watching Firefly be resurrected as a major motion picture was one of the most heartwarming moments of his life. This garnered a lot of applause, obviously. Sean pointed out a fan in the crowd to Adam, to which Adam replied, “SHINY!” Joss took on the subject of Serenity: “Honestly, I sometimes look back and I think of the movie Serenity as one of the finest nervous breakdowns a man could possibly have. I was inconsolable. And it changed me. And it changed the way I work, and it changed the way I operated. Because there was no way, there was no reality where I would not get these people back together. I’ve never been that way before. And really, I don’t give a shit about anything since, so that was the only time. It was almost like being a man. Or so I have read.” Pain, heartbreak, and self-deprecating humor, all in one answer. How very Joss.
Finally, the floor was opened up for audience questions. A girl who knew the answer to the trivia question stepped up to the mic first, saying “St. Albans.” She won the hat. Then a girl dressed as Kaylee stepped forward to ask a question, very excited and nervous. She asked about their favorite fan stories. Adam talked about coming down to the line to say “hi” at 11:30 p.m. the night before. He thanked the fans for being nice, and said that he got a cupcake. Nathan told us about a time a woman walked up to Joss and then broke down into tears. Crowd “awww”-ed. Joss: “I kicked her.” Crowd laughed. Ha! Nathan concludes that he likes when people are moved. Tim: “Do you remember the time when we were off the air for 10 years? And like thousands of people showed up to see us anyway? Remember that?” The crowd broke into applause. Nathan then brought out a replica of Mal’s gun, pointing it towards Joss. Joss promptly turned it around to face Alan. As we all giggled, Nathan kept sticking it in Alan’s face, as Alan tried to bat it away.
The next fan asked a question about Inara’s missing story. Will it be turn into a graphic novel? The panel revealed that Morena had already told everybody, in the process of filming the upcoming Science Channel special. But it hasn’t aired yet. Joss went on to talk about Dark Horse’s Firefly and Serenity books. They are bigger than Buffy, bigger than Hellboy—t he the biggest selling books they have. “The biggest hardcover they ever sold was A Sheppard’s Tale.” Joss went on to say that he and his brother Zack have been talking about doing more comics, not just set in the past, but moving the universe forward.
A fan asked if any of them had a favorite piece of fan art or tribute they’d like to share. Joss talked about Alan’s sister’s painting. It still hangs in Joss’s house, and features Joss protecting a firefly in a jar from some evil Fox executives. I’d love to see that! Nathan referenced Jason Palmer http://www.jasonpalmer.net/. Nathan: “I like it when he draws my face. It looks just like me, only better lookin’.”
Next, a fan asked whether they’d ever consider making Firefly as an animated series. Joss: “I get it, but for some reason, I’d be more interested in doing it as a radio show.” Nathan and Alan then proceeded to perform a short piece of radio theater. Mal wakes up Wash in his quarters. “Wash, looks like we’re heading into atmo. I’m gonna need you at the bridge.” Wash: “Ah, yeah. Sure thing, captain.” Wash leaves. Mal: “Hey, Zoe. What up? Now that he’s gone, what do you say …” The crowd howls with laughter. Alan comes back in: “Hey, Captain. What are you still doing in my room?” More laughter.
Next question was for Joss about the exploration of the fusion of Asian and American cultures. Will he explore that in the future, and will he use Asian or Asian American performers? Joss said yeah, but it’s not a mission statement in terms of casting. However, the blending of cultures was a mission statement for the show. Cultures blend, even if it happens through conquest. Joss referenced the “immigrant story” he mentioned earlier. Nathan then proceeded to make expressions that made us all laugh, as Joss grew confused. Sean yelled, “Summer!” (If you don’t know why that’s funny, watch the Serenity special features.) Joss mentioned getting flack from one Asian journalist, who asked why he cast an Asian woman as Sean Maher’s sister. “That didn’t make any sense.” The crowd laughed, as Summer looked nonplussed, since she’s not of Asian descent.
Next question was about how, with all these screaming people 10 years later, whether they feel really proud about what they did, or whether they think, “Where were these screaming people a decade ago?” Joss: “In preschool, I think.” Joss talked about how he loves when people apologize to him for waiting to see the show until DVD. He joked, “So, you didn’t see the show until I got paid for it, and you had to buy it from me?! Goddammit!” Love love love. Joss continued, “You know, that was never a question. The 27 people who saw it when it aired loved it.”
Nathan then proceeded to say the most beautiful words of the panel: “When Firefly died, I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly happen. And what I realize now, 10 years later, looking out over this room, is that the worse thing that could have happened is if it had stayed dead. That it died is okay. But you guys are here.” Everyone cheered, I cried. I’m crying now. Sean Maher clasped his hands together, very moved. Joss: “Can you guys … can everybody just tweet that I said that. I don’t want him to have the best!”
Nathan: “Relax, relax. Let’s listen to the lady with the amazing t-shirt.” Cheers went up as we saw that the next fan in the queue was wearing a Captain Hammer/Captain Mal mash-up shirt. Nathan: “This girl seems extremely intelligent to me, and I want to know what she’s got on her mind.” She announced that it was also her birthday, and everyone cheered. She asked if any of the panelists have ever camped out all night long for something, and if so, what was it. Joss: “Camping.” Laughs and cheers followed. Joss wished her happy birthday. Jose Molina then talked about how he tried camping once, but he called his mom to pick him up in the middle of the night because he was scared. Tim mentioned Baby Jane and “some other great gay classic.”
The final fan question was, “Had you known that season one would be the last season of Firefly, how would the finale have differed from Serenity?” Everyone clapped and cheered for this question. Joss said it would have been smaller. “A lot of the reavers would have been off-screen.” He pointed out that the budget for Firefly was smaller than that of Angel or Buffy. He went on to say that if he had known that was absolutely the end of the show, “I don’t think I would have killed anybody.” Alan raised his arms in victory and the crowd cheered once again. (I know, I know, a lot of cheering.) Joss added that we also would have learned about Book and Inara. “And for some reason, that’s the questions that’s gonna make me cry? Okay, that is a good last question.” Cheers!
Then we were seen one more clip, from the end of the original Firefly pilot, “Serenity.” It is a scene that I have written about before, and I love it so. Mal: “I had a good day.” Simon: “You had the Alliance on you, criminals, and savages. Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself. And you’re harboring known fugitives.” Mal responds, “We’re still flying.” Simon: “That’s not much.” Mal: “It’s enough.” Sob! The moderator uses the clip to segue into the last question: “‘We’re still flying’ has become a big mantra of the fan community. If you could just put in perspective, on last time, what do the fans mean to you?” Joss seemed to be unable to speak at this point, holding back tears. Nathan pulled out another Kleenex. There was a moment of silence. Finally, a couple people screamed “We love you,” and this seemed to make bring Joss closer to tears. The whole room got up at this points and just stood and cheered and clapped. And then the rest of the panelists stood and clapped too, and we just all had a Joss/Firefly love-fest and it was amazing.
Here are Joss’s final words, addressed to the fans:
“Only an idiot would actually try to follow that with a sentence. When you come out of a great movie … you feel like you’re in that world. […] You come out of these certain things and the world has become that. When you are telling a story, you are trying to connect to people in a certain way. It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world. And the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, has made you part of it—part of the story. You are living in Firefly. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air. I don’t think there’s a show! I think that’s what the world is like. I think there’s spaceships. I think there’s horses. I think it’s going on in all of us. The story is alive.”
And with that, I was full-on sobbing, and the crowd was going wild, and we all just kept standing and cheering until the time ran out and they were ushered off stage. The end. I will have these memories forever. Sniffle.