Director Profile: Joss Whedon

We look at the life and works of Joss Whedon in our director profile

One director who has made his name by geeking out is Josh Whedon. His love for comic books, sci-fi and horror has shaped his career, not to mention the fact that he redefined generation with his strong, female characters; a certain Buffy Summers, for example?

Joss Whedon, photo by Gage Skidmore

In 2012, Whedon has already hit the mark twice with the epic comic book blockbuster Avengers Assemble and again with an inverted ‘teen slasher flick with a twist’ The Cabin In The Woods. So what made Whedon the director he is today – a man famed for his quippy dialogues, his ability to write inspiring female leads and passion for good old unashamed geekery?

Born on June 23rd in 1964, Whedon was brought up in his home town of New York City. Like most big names in the industry, film and television was his family business. His father, Tom Whedon (The Electric Company, Golden Girls) was a television screenwriter in the 1970’s and 80’s and his grandfather John Whedon was a writer for the 1950’s Donna Reed Show. His mother, Lee Stearns, was also an unpublished writer, so it came as no surprise that a young Joss, not to mention his elder brothers Jed and Zack Whedon, were ushered into the world of storytelling. A lover of comedy movies by Monty Python and comic books (various references has been made to his character inspirations coming from X-Men’s Kitty Pryde),Whedon graduated from high school to study for two years at Winchester College in the UK before attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Seeking a career in Los Angeles, he landed a job on hit US comedy series Roseanne whilst writing his own screenplays for films and television in private. It was during these years that he penned his most famous creation to date – Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The initial script was adapted by Fran Rubel Kuzul for a feature film in 1994 starring Kirsty Swanson and Donald Sutherland; a movie version which Whedon was gravely disappointed with. Dissatisfied with the schlocky stylings of the movie, he went on to direct the Buffy TV series in 1997, casting teen-movie stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendan and Alyson Hannigan as his leads. The series ran for seven seasons and became a popular cult hit, gaining Whedon his first Emmy nomination in 2000 for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Whedon even went on to contribute story lines to the Darkhorse comic book series that ran after the show went off air.

Echoed still in his more recent work is his love for B-Movies, Whedon-isms (specifically referring to his comical phrasing or humorous and unusual dialogue) and his approach to feminism. Sick of seeing men take the lead and watching the women in horror movies being portrayed as ditzy blondes he had deliberately made Buffy a shallow Valley Girl-come-super strong vamp-slaying machine; the formula was later shadowed by Whedon’s other ‘strong female leads’ such as one-time Buffy actress Eliza Dushku’s role in Dollhouse and his satirical Cabin in The Woods. This film saw the formulaic teen-slasher sub-types (the Virgin girl, the slutty blonde girl etc.) being manipulated deliberately by a higher power; an idea which stemmed from Whedon’s boredom of ‘torture porn’.

After establishing his production company Mutant Enemy, Whedon went on to write, film and produce several other TV series including Buffy spin-off Angel (1999), Sci-fi series Firefly (2002) and a film version named Serenity in 2004; not to mention his contributions to The US Office, Veronica Mars and Glee.

However, it can be easy to forget that Whedon is not just a big name in television. Most notably, Whedon co-wrote Disney and Pixar’s first computer animated and high grossing film Toy Story in 1995. As a sci-fi fan he also sold his screenplay for Alien: Resurrection to Jean Pierre Jeunet in 1997 (although it is a sequel which is probably best forgotten as Whedon felt it had been ‘spoiled’ in production). Whedon however still frequently contributed to animated films such as Titan A.E and Atlantis: The Lost Empire as well as contributing re-writes of Waterworld, Twister and X-Men; sadly all of which went uncredited and were thrown out.

Spending most of his time working on Firefly and Serenity in the late 2000’s after Buffy ended, Whedon began writing Cabin In The Woods with Drew Goddard in 2009. It took three years to actually make it into cinemas (following a dispute over whether the film should be released in 3D) and proved to be one of the biggest unexpected hits of 2012. Starring Chris Helmsworth, Fran Kranz and Richard Jenkins, we followed the stereotypical group of dumb teens to a spooky cabin expecting gore and unspoken horrors only to be met with plenty of laughs and a twist that wreaks of the typical fan-boy horror that bore Whedon’s trademark.

It may be too soon to assume but it would not be too bold to say that 2012 may truly be Whedon’s year. After years of being a mostly cult-series writer, Whedon went mainstream and kicked the superhero genre back into touch with The Avengers; which stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders and Chris Helmsworth.

Though several years in the making (believe us, we’ve had to endure staying behind after the credits of Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor and Captain America just to watch in anticipation for Nick Fury to reveal which movie is out next), we were finally able to see Marvel’s greatest heroes together on-screen alongside the newly cast Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye in a star-studded showdown of ego’s and crazily choreographed fight sequences. Thanks to Whedon’s excellent script and love for the characters, Avengers has already been labelled as one of the best super-hero movies of the decade. In fact the movie has since been recorded as having the largest opening weekend in history, making a whopping $207.4 million in the US alone.

As a self-professed comic book fan, what more could Whedon dream of?

Best known for:

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 TV Series)
Firefly (2002 TV Series)
Toy Story (1995)
The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Avengers Assemble (2012)

Other projects:

Mutant Enemy Productions


Usually works within horror, fantasy and sci-fi genres.
Use of pop culture references.
Dynamic action and fighting sequences.
Style of dialogue I.e. changing nouns into adjectives and adding suffixes to words in his scripts.
Casting strong female leads and characters.
Inverting sexist and/or genre stereotypes.


Nominated – Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Toy Story
Nominated – Emmy for Oustanding Writing for A Drama Series for Buffy episode ‘Hush’
Emmy Award – Oustanding Special Class for short film Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog

Frequently works with:

Marti Noxon (Writer and Producer)
Sarah Michelle Gellar (Actress)
Tom Lenk (Actor)
Amy Acker (Actress)
Nathan Fillion (Actor)
Eliza Dushku (Actress)
Alexis Denisof (Actor)
Seth Green (Actor and Producer)
Drew Goddard (Screenwriter)

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