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November 03, 2003
Donald Sutherland Is A Big Stupid Idiot
by Daniel Erenberg

Joss Whedon: I had major involvement. I was there almost all the way through shooting. I pretty much eventually threw up my hands because I could not be around Donald Sutherland any longer. It didn't turn out to be the movie that I had written. They never do, but that was my first lesson in that. Not that the movie is without merit, but I just watched a lot of stupid wannabe-star behavior and a director with a different vision than mine - which was her right, it was her movie - but it was still frustrating. Eventually, I was like, "I need to be away from here."

So says Joss Whedon about his involvement with Buffy The Vampire Slayer the Movie. But I'll get to that.

I first saw the film on July 31, 1992. I first saw Buffy The Vampire Slayer on my birthday. It's been something of a tradition my entire life to go see a movie on my birthday, and it just so happens that nothing I wanted to see was playing that year. So I deferred to my sister, a massive Beverly Hills 90210 geek. At the time, her walls were lined with posters of that kid from Ladybugs, that kid from Rookie Of The Year, and, most importantly, Luke Perry.

It was an okay flick I guess. When the television show started, I had only vague remembrances of it. And even after I became the huge fan I am today, I never really thought of going back to watch the movie. I remember the fight scenes were, let's say less than revolutionary. I remember Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry's performances left, well, quite a lot to be desired. The vampires, instead of being dusted, just kind of fell down and whimpered for a bit. And Courtney Cox's husband was a vamp High School basketball player. This flick wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. "Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest", which looked as though it was made for around ten bucks, eclipsed the original film in every way.

However, the film isn't something we can just overlook. I mean, Joss Whedon, the master, has the sole writing credit on the film. What could have gone wrong? Well, you heard Joss's comments at the beginning of the article about the director and Donald Sutherland, who played Merrick, Buffy's first Watcher. But why did he hate Donald Sutherland so much? Isn't he one of the great actors?

Joss Whedon: No, no, he was just a prick. The thing is, people always make fun of Rutger Hauer [for his Buffy role]. Even though he was big and silly and looked kind of goofy in the movie, I have to give him credit, because he was there. He was into it. Whereas Donald was just... He would rewrite all his dialogue, and the director would let him. He can't write - he's not a writer - so the dialogue would not make sense. And he had a very bad attitude. He was incredibly rude to the director, he was rude to everyone around him, he was just a real pain. And to see him destroying my stuff... Some people didn't notice. Some people liked him in the movie. Because he's Donald Sutherland. He's a great actor. He can read the phone book, and I'm interested. But the thing is, he acts well enough that you didn't notice, with his little rewrites, and his little ideas about what his character should do, that he was actually destroying the movie more than Rutger was. So I got out of there. I had to run away.

Okay, I'm thinking Joss can get blunt when need be. Personally, I've always hated Donald Sutherland. This is mostly because I was a big fan of the novel Ordinary People, and I thought Sutherland just killed the character of Cal in the filmed version. And then he was nominated for an Oscar for that murder of a beloved character. This was not to be tolerated.

I just re-watched the Buffy movie on cable last week. It's been airing on one of these weird genre-specific digital channels that are in the 300's on the channel dial. And, again, I thought it was okay. It was unspectacular. It didn't feel like the show wound up coming out. It was a bubblegum popcorn movie with a 90210 star. I think Calendar Girl with Jason Priestley came out in the same year. That sucked as well.

It's a weird thing though. Movies are just different, I guess. I mean Joss has also had his name attached to Waterworld ("I was there basically taking notes from Costner, who was very nice, fine to work with, but he was not a writer") and even the sci-fi atrocity that was Alien Resurrection ("I asked the director, "Can you just explain to me why he's doing this? Why is he going for this gun?" And the editor, who was French, turned to me and said, with a little leer on his face, [adopts gravelly, smarmy, French-accented voice] "Because eets een the screept." And I actually went and dented the bathroom stall with my puddly little fist. I have never been angrier. But it's the classic, "When something goes wrong, you assume the writers a dork. And that's painful." Maybe there's just more freedom on television.

For closing thoughts I'll defer once again to Joss, who is way more funny, interesting, and insightful than me.

Joss Whedon: You know, it [the show] wasn't really my idea. After the première of the movie, my wife said, "You know, honey, maybe a few years from now, you'll get to make it again, the way you want to make it!" [Broad, condescending voice.] "Ha ha ha, you little naïve fool. It doesn't work that way. That'll never happen." And then it was three years later, and Gail Berman actually had the idea. Sandollar [Television] had the property, and Gail thought it would make a good TV series. They called me up out of contractual obligation: "Call the writer, have him pass." And I was like, "Well, that sounds cool." So, to my agents surprise and chagrin, I said, "Yeah, I could do that. I think I get it. It could be a high-school horror movie. It'd be a metaphor for how lousy my high-school years were." So I hadn't had the original idea, I just developed it.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone except for the mind-numbing loneliness he feels on occasion. If you’re a beautiful woman that’s fallen in love with Daniel, or you just want to talk Buffy with him, you can contact Daniel at
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Posted by: payday loans on September 14, 2004 10:38 AM

I remeber reading a book awhile ago in which one of Sutherland's exes described him as a "mindf*cker" and other reports (Such as Whedon's) lend creedance to this.

But I disagree that the original Buffy was such a bad flick.I thought it was good and I liked it a lot. But since Joss Whedon has said it was a bad flick the majority of Buffy fans just parrot his comments, not giving it a chance. Have a mind of your own and stop trying imitate. It just comes off as pretentious when I hear some message board film student echo what Joss Whedon said in some interview.

Posted by: Angelus-Fan on July 3, 2004 03:50 PM

That should say, of his four feautres, the one film which Jeunet wasn't involved in the writing process was AR.

Sometimes film's are just bad ideas. It happens.

Posted by: h'biki on April 22, 2004 11:26 AM

This is an old old post, so I doubt anyone will read my comments... but I find Joss' comments regarding Alien Resurrection to be just a case of writers bitterness.

He dismisses the director as just some french guy. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of the great contemporary directors, responsible for three great movies: delicatessen, city of the lost children, and amelie. All of which he co-wrote. The only movie in that list is AR which Jeunet *didn't* write.

Jeunet knows what he's doing, he just has a darker sense of humour than joss, and his style is certainly more fantastic. Of course the film is going to come out different! Writers shouldn't necessarily direct, there are plenty of writer/directors who are weak directors but good writers. Vsual story telling is a different form of story telling than with words.

As far as I'm concerned, Jenuet has proved himself as a cinema director, Joss has yet to do it (waiting to see if Firefly ends up being a TV movie or a real movie). Joss best directing was in the Body, which was very European: refreshing for american tv, but not stunning.

Reading Jeunet's interviews on the AR situation is interesting. The studio was very interferring as was Weaver and Jean-Pierre found it restrictive working from someone elses cript. Personally, I like AR as a black comedy -- a very different film from the three which preceeded it. I also find it terribly funny. It goes down in the last third, with the whole newborn thing, but that was as much about the very concept as the execution. Its not too different from the script which Joss handed it in.

Sure, its easy for a director to blame a writer when a film doesn't work, but its also easy for a writer to blame a director when their script doesn't work.

(PS I think Joss' directing has improved dramatically over the course of the Buffyverse and he is reading for feature work, as he himself said the plan was. His writing is very good, but isn't always perfect.)

Posted by: h'biki on April 22, 2004 11:20 AM
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