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Tim Minear and Steven S. DeKnight on Nerdist Writers Panel #13

3 November 2011 Leave a comment

Nerdist Writers Panel: Steven S. DeKnight, Tim Minear, Megan Ganz & Harris Wittels

Steven S. DeKnight (creator, Spartacus; Buffy; Angel); Tim Minear (Angel; Firefly; American Horror Story); Megan Ganz (Community); Harris Wittels (Parks and Recreation). Recorded June 19, 2011.

Listen to the panel here.

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Tim Minear Joins Staff of American Horror Story

17 August 2011 Leave a comment

Tim Minear has joined the staff of FX’s American Horror Story as Consulting Producer.  The new series, from the creators of Glee, revolves around a couple who move their family into a haunted house in Los Angeles. American Horror Story premieres on 5th October with a feature length episode.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Assignment X Interview Tim Minear

27 June 2011 Leave a comment

Exclusive Interview: The scoop on AMERICAN HORROR STORY and TERRA NOVA

Writer/producer Tim Minear talks his new FX gig with Ryan Murphy, plus TERRA NOVA

By ABBIE BERNSTEIN / Contributing Writer

Tim Minear is an incredibly busy writer/producer and recently wrapped executive producing the Fox series THE CHICAGO CODE.

He talked to us in this exclusive interview about what he’s been doing lately, including joining the staff on FX’s upcoming  AMERICAN HORROR STORY, created by GLEE’s Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.

ASSIGNMENT X: You said you were working on TERRA NOVA during the last days of the writers room at your previous project, THE CHICAGO CODE. Are you still involved with TERRA NOVA?

TIM MINEAR: I am finishing up now.

AX: How is that going?

MINEAR: That went great. I came in, I broke some stories with the staff, I actually wrote a script, although my name’s not on it, and helped out as much as I could, met a lot of nice new people. I was on my way somewhere else. I’m actually going to be working on Ryan Murphy’s FX show AMERICAN HORROR STORY that’s about to start. So I’m finishing up with TERRA NOVA, and then I’ll presently be starting with Ryan Murphy.

AX: Is there anything you can say about AMERICAN HORROR STORY? Is it supernatural, is it domestic?

MINEAR: It’s both of those things.

AX: Do the characters ever burst into song, like on GLEE?

MINEAR: No. Well, they might – I certainly don’t want to limit Ryan and Brad’s vision of what it can be [laughs], but it ain’t GLEE. It’s not even NIP/TUCK. It’s something else entirely. It is an adult cable scary series.

AX: How involved is FX president John Landgraf with AMERICAN HORROR STORY?

MINEAR: As involved as he always is. I mean, it’s an FX show, so he’s involved, very much so.

AX: You are also credited as being involved in the NBC series AWAKE.

MINEAR: I was, but I am not. That was something the studio [Fox] asked me to do, and then they decided they needed me at TERRA NOVA more.

AB: So do you have a deal with Fox where you’re sort of like military personnel and you just get redeployed wherever they need you most?

MINEAR: A little bit, yeah. That’s a pretty good way of putting it. I’m on an overall deal and the truth is, after CHICAGO CODE, even before we knew [it wasn’t] coming back, the studio was very keen for me to meet with Ryan Murphy – well, first they were very keen for me to meet with Howard Gordon re. AWAKE. And I don’t need to be asked twice to work with Howard Gordon. I wouldn’t even have to know what it was. I would say yes. And I said yes. But while we were waiting for that pilot to start shooting, then they wanted me to meet with Ryan, so I met with Ryan, and Ryan liked me. Then he was finishing [the just-concluded season of] GLEE, and so there was a little more downtime and that’s when they decided that they needed me over at TERRA NOVA. So that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s where I’ve been relocated until further notice.

AX: So now you’re on AMERICAN HORROR STORY?

MINEAR: That’s where I’ll be going next.

AX: Are you a producer on that, or a show runner?

MINEAR: I will not be running it. I will be one of the writing producers.

AX: Who is the show runner?

MINEAR: I imagine it’s Brad and Ryan.

AX: Is there any casting in place on that, or is it too early?

MINEAR: Oh, baby, is there casting in place. Yes, there’s casting in place.

AX: Can you say what it is?

MINEAR: Yes. I can. It is Connie Britton –

AX: Ooh!

MINEAR: Exactly. It is Dylan McDermott –

AX: Oh!

MINEAR: And it is Jessica Lange.

AX: Holy s***.

MINEAR: Exactly. That doesn’t suck, does it? When you put in the questions and responses to, “Is there any casting for AN AMERICAN HORROR STORY,” you need to put in your reactions, too. The “Ooh,” the “oh,” and the “holy s***” [laughs].

AX: Will do. [See above.] With AMERICAN HORROR STORY, do you feel at all like you’re returning to the Joss Whedon realm? You did spend a lot of time on ANGEL, which was supernatural …

MINEAR: No, I don’t actually. ANGEL is a little bit more comic-book [than AMERICAN HORROR STORY]. The stuff that I did with Joss is what it is. The truth of the matter is, this might be more like my work on THE X-FILES in a weird way than the stuff I did with Joss. In a way, it doesn’t feel like any of that stuff. Now, I will say, it’s definitely a return to genre. I don’t think I’ve done genre [recently] – well, no, I just wrote a bunch of dinosaurs. Trust me, TERRA NOVA is a genre show. It has time travel. What’s funny is, there’s a character named Wash, there’s a character named Malcolm, there’s a character named Reynolds – I mean, I was, “Is this an homage to FIREFLY?” [Executive producer] Rene Echevarria promises me that he’s never seen FIREFLY [laughs]. Well, you bastard. I never watched DEEP SPACE NINE [Echevarria’s alma mater] either.

AX: Are you working on anything else – not that this isn’t enough – that we should know about?

MINEAR: I’m writing a pilot for Twentieth, that hasn’t been sold to a network. I’m writing it on spec. It’s also genre, but I think I’d rather not go into what it is. I keep hearing that we’re going to get TERRIERS DVDs and I keep waiting to get the call to come in and do commentary, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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Original interview at Assignment X

 

http://www.assignmentx.com/2011/exclusive-interview-the-scoop-on-an-american-horror-story-and-terra-nova/

Investigating Angel Interview Tim Minear (Podcast)

27 April 2011 Leave a comment

Investigating Angel got the opportunity to interview Tim Minear for their podcast, you can listen to the interview below:

Investigating Angel

Popmatters Interview Tim Minear – Part 2

23 March 2011 Leave a comment

Dr. Horrible

Spotlight: Joss Whedon

By Tanya R. Cochran 21 March 2011

Editor’s Note: Part I was published last Friday

In this second and final installment, Tim Minear muses on a wide range of topics. We discuss the rise of reality television and how Minear sees his own work in relationship to the phenomenon. He considers whether or not Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a viable model for the future of small-screen narratives, especially in light of Whedon’s talent and very loyal fan base, then talks about the succession of canceled shows he has experienced over the last decade. We spend a little time on his personal writing habits and what he enjoys about conducting writers’ workshops before Minear offers his perspective on fandom and how he feels about having his work studied and taught by academics. Next I invite Minear to comment on his unrealized project Miracle Man and how the Writers Guild of America Strike derailed the penning and filming of the pilot. To close, Minear discusses his latest project The Chicago Code and what excites him—and should excite audiences—about the new series.

POPMATTERS: In a 2004 Q&A for the Buffistas, you commented, in reference to reality TV, that “It devours you from your bottom.” [Both laugh.] Great quote, by the way. Seven years later, has your opinion changed? Do you ever feel the burgeoning of the genre as a threat to your own work or to the art of television in general?

TIM MINEAR: Wow. I think I was probably going for a cheap laugh. So has my opinion of reality TV altered? Yes. Probably because I’ve seen some of it. But I still wonder, What social good is Jersey Shore? [Both laugh.] On the other hand, I don’t watch it; I’ve never seen it. So it’s sort of asshole-ury for me to make fun of it. However, I will say I have watched The Amazing Race and Survivor. I enjoy shows like What Not to Wear and American Idol. And yes, reality TV does encroach because there is only so much real estate on network TV. With the advent of cable TV, the internet, and everything else, though, the idea that someone can’t do the thing they’re doing because it will take away from me is probably false. I think that’s false.

PM: Actually, your answer leads me to the next question, one about how contemporary viewers receive small-screen narratives. In some past interviews, you’ve talked about the various media platforms that provide television to audiences. Do you think Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, for example, is a good model for present and future visual storytelling?

TM: It probably is. It’s a sort of creative disruption of the market. Things will shake out in some way, but they also move so fast that you can’t really predict what the models are going to be. That’s what the whole Writers’ Strike was about on some level. Nobody can agree on what the ancillary value of the internet is. Even by the time I got into writing network television—the first thing I did was Lois and Clark and then I had come to Angel by 1999. Since Angel—and this has something to do with the fact that nothing I ever do lasts more than 13 episodes—summer re-runs have never really happened for the things I’ve worked on. Take Firefly. Whatever success Firefly achieved happened in its afterlife. It happened through iTunes, DVDs, the internet, and all that stuff. People have been paying for downloads and buying the DVDs, and that put it into the success category after it had failed. Probably five years before that, however, [Firefly’s rebirth] may not have happened. The notion that a TV series that never even had a full season would have some kind of an afterlife was absurd! Everything has sort of changed between Firefly’s cancellation and the Writers’ Strike.

In terms of Dr. Horrible, I know that was a huge success for Joss. I think he made some money off of that.

PM: I hope he did. I supported it by buying multiple copies.

TM: Yes, he did. He definitely made his money back and then some. The beauty of it was, of course, he was in complete control. There was no studio. There was nobody taking a piece of it. He paid for it, he produced it, he worked out how to distribute it, and he created the commentary tracks for the DVD and everything else. When it was released on the internet, there was no middleman. As Joss likes to say, “Dr. Horrible broke the interweb” because there were so many hits when it was being released online.

But I would not use that particular example to point the way to the future of producing pieces for the internet, and the reason I say that is there are a couple of things that make Dr. Horrible unique. Actually, there’s one thing that makes Dr. Horrible unique, and that’s Joss. I mean, not only the talent, but the fact that he has the geeky fan base that is internet-savvy. He chose actors from his projects who were already beloved by this particular audience. As an audience, they were ready to buy this thing on the internet. I’m just not sure that that kind of lightening is going to strike a whole bunch of people. Do you know what I mean? If I made something for the interweb and spent $100,000 on it, it’s just not going have the same… yeah [laughs]. There are actually many things like Dr. Horrible that have been produced in a similar way for the net. You can find examples all over the place that are of comparable quality—production-wise, writing-wise. But I’m not sure those people are buying houses based on their work.

PM: Speaking of cancellation… I’m sure you knew that was going to come up. In fact, you talk quite a bit about it in interviews…

TM: Of course!

PM: I’m trying not to repeat questions you’ve been asked before, but I am interested in your Twitter handle “CancelledAgain.” One of your own tweets says, “I really need to change this twitter name.” What do that statement and your handle have to do with each other? Do I detect sadness, bitterness, resignation, superstition?

TM: It’s just a joke. I have no bitterness. I mean, please, how could I be bitter? I have no bitterness. I’m not bitter. Actually, in a weird way, being canceled has kind of worked out for me. Let’s say The Inside had become a big hit like Criminal Minds. I’d still be writing serial killers to this day. Instead, I got to do 13 episodes of a really cool thing. I got to do 13 episodes of Wonderfalls, which was a really cool thing. And I got to do cowboys in space, and that was a really cool thing. And Terriers—which is as good as anything I’ve done and was also completely different. I would have loved for Terriers to have been picked up again. I’m not saying I love to be canceled all the time, but I am saying, how many people get to do that many different things? And most of these [projects] are pretty well received by the people who actually watch them.

PM: Yes, they are. Actually, the way you’ve had to work with these involuntarily short series is not unlike how British television works on purpose.

TM: I’ve said that myself. I’m my own little BBC [both laugh]. Even if I look back at Strange World—which nobody’s ever heard of—the show I did with Howard Gordon before I went to Angel… Howard and I saw the writing on the wall, so there are 13 episodes of that show with an ending. I’ve gone into most of these series thinking—and maybe that’s the problem—even if this thing only lasts for 13 episodes and there’s a DVD release, I want people to go out and buy it and feel satisfied on some level when they’re done with it. Maybe that’s my mistake: I’m sort of planning for failure [both laugh]. I always try to bring it to some kind of arc around the third or sixth episode and to give that arc some sort of resolution by the end of episode 13, but never in such a way that I’m planning on the show not coming back.

PM: In addition to being very much like the British television broadcast model, those of us who study and teach television—your work, Whedon’s work, the work of many others—those succinct series and completed texts help us out when we’re trying to make sense of them, to answer questions about what a series does, how works, how it’s received, what it means to and for viewers or cultural (re)production more broadly.

TM: Well, I’m certainly glad that my abject failure can be convenient for you [both laugh heartily]!

PM: In the many interviews you’ve given, you talk about your habit of procrastinating when it comes to writing. Do you truly procrastinate, as in do absolutely nothing (other than eating ice cream and cereal, as I’ve read), or do you practice what my graduate school professor called “active waiting,” another way of saying that rather than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard you’re working inside your head?

TM: It’s both of those things. I think the trick is… [chuckles] being able to differentiate. It’s easy to say you’re doing the active waiting when really you’re just like, “Oh look, porn. Porn, porn, porn.” [Both laugh.] Really, both. It’s both.

PM: I also understand you do quite a few writers’ workshops. What do you enjoy most about teaching others to write?

TM: Boy, that’s a good question. There are probably a couple of things. One is that it’s kind of fun to be in a room with a bunch of fans who think you’re awesome, and then you get to act like you know a bunch of stuff and they are all impressed. There’s certainly the “Oh, look, I get to be worshipped… and get paid!” [Both laugh.] So there’s that. But other than that, there’s something exciting about being able to unlock what seems impenetrable for people, and then—I don’t need to tell you this [because you’re a teacher]—there’s something satisfying about having discovered something and then sharing it with somebody else so that they can discover it too.

PM: Yes, that’s what’s wonderful about teaching. I love that part.

TM: Yeah, that’s really what it is. Also when you talk about writing, when you have to articulate what you know about it to somebody else, doing so helps you understand it more. Teaching others makes you better at what you’re doing because you’re really teaching yourself at some level.

The Power of Fandom

PM: You’ve been in the business long enough to have a tangible sense of the power of fandom. What do you think is the healthiest kind of relationship between yourself as a writer/director/producer and the fans of a project you’re working on?

TM: I think the healthiest relationship is when they write things that praise me [both laugh heartily]! I think I mentioned that the first thing I did was Lois and Clark. At that time, internet fandom was in its infancy. Well, more of a toddler than an infant. There was definitely immediate response during an episode and after an episode aired. It can be pretty [intimidating] at first because your ego’s out there. You go on the internet, you’re waiting for the praise, and then some fans begin to criticize you, talk about how you’re ruining the show or how could you have done this or that better. I’m way beyond all that stuff now, but it can be harsh. For the most part, I don’t go to those places if I can avoid them. I think fandom is healthy so long as fans aren’t armed [both laugh]. It’s really positive in a way. You don’t want to have to create things in a vacuum. I can’t imagine what it was like—I mean TV is so different now than how it was in the 1970s—because you really do have interaction with the audience. I’m not saying it’s like being on stage. On the other hand, it’s weird for me because I come from fandom. I was one of those kids growing up in southern California who dressed up as Captain Kirk and went to Star Trek conventions when I was 14. So I’ve always been one of those people. I still consider myself one of those people, so it doesn’t feel as if the line of demarcation is all that clear for me. I’m just the lucky fan who gets to make this shit!

PM: You are lucky. And those of us on the other side of the screen are glad you’re lucky.

TM: Thank you.

PM: As you’ve just suggested, we’re all fans in some way. You probably understand, then, that fans can become really upset, even distraught, when a series they love is canceled. In fact, fans’ mourning process has lately become quite public and organized, with the Firefly Browncoats being a now classic example. You’ve recently shared a little of what it’s like to be on the creator side of a cancellation. What advice might you offer to those on the other side of the camera, to the fans whose favorite show has just been terminated?

TM: Boy, I don’t know. I’m not sure I have advice. I don’t want to make it more important than it is. I understand there’s a grieving process because fans get involved, characters become real to them on some level, and they feel like they’re losing a friend. Those friends will reemerge in different permutations, though. I brought Nathan [Fillion] onto Drive, for instance. Or think Dr. Horrible. Joss is going to make other stuff, and the actors fans love are going to appear in other things. [The death of a series] allows the actors to go off and create the next thing. I see these fan campaigns: we’re going to send TABASCO® sauce to the network, or whatever it is. I worry that sometimes people are wasting their money, and I don’t want to see them put a lot of effort into trying to save a show that’s already been canceled. If the creator comes out and says, “Yes, please send those things,” that’s fine. Do what you’re going to do. However, perhaps that energy would be better spent volunteering for a charity or something.

PM: In a 2006 podcast with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith, you joke that the reason for your King of Cancellations title is, and I quote, “I suck.” [Minear laughs.] Helen Smith asks if you think part of the cancellation problem is related to making shows that appeal to, in her words, “the weird and the intellectual.” You reply, “The weird certainly; I don’t know about the intellectual.” [Both laugh.] Are you aware that your work is studied (and often highly praised) by scholars? Do you read academic scholarship on your work?

TM: Vaguely aware? I’ve seen some things online, for instance. I don’t sit around googling my name obsessively, but I have seen that there are courses on the works of Joss Whedon and that those courses have me listed also. So I’m kind of aware.

b>PM: How does it feel to know that academics are not only noticing your work but sometimes teaching it to their students?

TM: It’s kind of surreal, but it’s flattering. And I don’t understand why they’re not emailing me and asking me to come speak [both laugh]!

PM: Are you willing to share a little bit about your American Broadcasting Companies (ABC) project Miracle Man? Both fans and scholars were anxiously anticipating the series. What happened to it? Did the Writer’s Strike play a role? Does it still have a future?

TM: That’s an interesting question that you raise. I will try to speak about this as delicately as possible. What happens in television is that there’s a sort of frenzy of selling around pilot season. You take your ideas out and pitch them to a network, and they say, “Yes, we want that idea,” and they pay you or the studio to write a pilot script. Then the networks get in this pile of scripts that they have commissioned, and from that pile they decide which scripts they’re going to green-light to pilot, which ones they’re going to spend millions of dollars on to make into a pilot. From those pilots, which they spend millions and millions of dollars on, they have a screening, and then they pick those pilots that they want to green-light to series. This [process] means that they may make many pilots, but only a small percentage of them actually get born into series. This is the only business I know that does something so dumb. They spend so much money going through six months of casting and building sets and more to shoot an hour of television so they can screen it and then say, “Nah, we don’t think so.” They can’t tell from the script whether or they want to go with it. That business model has got to change.

What happened with Miracle Man was… yes, the Writers’ Strike really screwed that whole thing up. I sold it. I was given the green light to go to an outline and from an outline to a script, but then the Writers’ Strike happened. Right after that happened, the networks cried, “Where are our pilot scripts?” We were on strike! I guess they expected us to be off writing our pilots during a strike. I don’t know anyone who did that. I certainly didn’t. Partially [Miracle Man never materialized] because of the strike, partially because I said to myself, “I’m on strike; I don’t have to work.” Obviously, I wasn’t going to write during a writers’ strike. After the strike, everyone was in a frenzy to get their pilot scripts written. I ended up writing a couple versions of the pilot for that idea, and I never felt like it was the right direction for that story. However, because of the strikes, and because of the accelerated period in which ABC was demanding to have a draft on their desk, I never had the normal development relationship with the network that I would usually have had. We never had meetings; I was just never really partnered with that network.

To make a long story short, Miracle Man was just one of those projects that they decided not to do. That being said, I believe there may be some life in the old boy yet. I just think we went down the wrong track with that particular project. I feel strongly that I know now what it should have been, and maybe I’ll get a chance to do that.

PM: Well, I suppose the beauty of a good story is that it never really goes out of style.

TM: You would think that. In this particular town, though, there are things people are incredibly excited about one minute, but if it’s on a shelf for a certain amount of time, it gets stale to them. This is the way they are a lot. It’s like they go into a restaurant and see something on the menu—“Oh that looks good!”—but by the time it comes out of the kitchen, they’ve decided they want the chicken.

PM: In your recent interview with Assignment X, you mention that the city of Chicago should be understood not just as a setting but even more so as a character in your soon-to-premiere series The Chicago Code. That reminded me of Malcolm Reynold’s spaceship Serenity, which was a central character in Firefly. How will the writers, directors, and producers give Chicago the depth of personality you, Whedon, and the Firefly creative team gave Mal’s “boat”? What are the challenges of doing so with a landscape versus an enclosed space?

The Chicago Code

TM: It’s easy with Chicago, interestingly enough. I don’t think it’s going to be intimate like Serenity. The one thing all my favorite television series have in common is that they create these very specific worlds. No matter what show you’re talking about—Mad Men, Firefly, Deadwood, Rome, or The Wire—all of these shows, though they’re completely different, are not generic. They take you to a specific world and allow you to experience one you might not otherwise have any familiarity with. For instance, The Wire may seem impenetrable to you at first, but by the time you’re well into the first season, you’re starting to understand it. Same with Firefly and the weird amalgam of English and Chinese and Western-ism that we created for that show. So in terms of The Chicago Code, with a city like Chicago that is so specific and has its own personality… you can set some generic cop show in Chicago or you could do The Untouchables or you could do something that is a little bit more modern.

The show captures the corruption of Chicago in City Hall and the racism on the streets, but we’re not bad-mouthing Chicago, saying that it’s some cesspool. We’re saying something entirely different. We’re saying that it’s a city that works in spite of itself. While there has always been epic corruption, there have always been those—like Jennifer Beal’s character [Teresa Colvin]—who have been determined to reform it. And that’s specific to that city. It’s very hot in the summer, it’s very cold in the winter, it’s a city of extremes. That’s different than setting some show in Los Angeles (like we did with The Inside), San Francisco, or Miami. There’s a reason the series takes place in Chicago. You couldn’t tell the particular stories we tell in another setting. We were trying to make every story a Chicago story, not just some cop show. That’s really what our goal was.

PM: What are you most excited about in regards to The Chicago Code? And what should viewers be most excited about?

TM: What I just spoke of is the most exciting part for me: the city. Viewers should be excited about the characters’ world. The world is interesting. Midwestern people are interesting. The one thing the show’s not is a procedural. This is not Adam-12 writ large. It’s less about following the clues to catch the bad guy each week and more about the interesting emotional and political cauldron that is at the heart of the show. It’s more an operatic story than a crime story, although there are also great crime stories, chases, and gunfire too.

* * *

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Firefly and Serenity’s Malcolm Reynolds while interviewing Minear. Conjuring images from the final moments of the film, I envisioned Captain Mal at the helm of his patched up space boat explaining to River Tam that “love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down.” The same can be said of Minear. Over the years, the writer/director/producer has suffered some blows, but there’s no doubt that he’s good at what he does and loves doing it. After so many cancellations, others might have given up. Not Minear. He’s still flying.

TANYA R. COCHRAN, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English at Union College in Lincoln, NE. She is a founding board member and officer of the Whedon Studies Association, an organization devoted to the academic study of the works of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and his associates. Additionally, Cochran serves as an editorial board member for both Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association and Watcher Junior: An Undergraduate Journal of Whedon Studies. Her publications include essays in the collections Televising Queer Women (Palgrave, 2008); Sith, Slayers, Stargates + Cyborgs: Modern Mythology in the New Millennium (Lang, 2009); and Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching the Vampire Slayer (McFarland, 2010), and she is co-editor with Rhonda V. Wilcox of Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Tauris, 2008).

Source: Popmatters

 


PopMatters Interview Tim Minear (Part 1)

22 March 2011 Leave a comment

Firefly

Spotlight: Joss Whedon

Still Flying: An Interview with Tim Minear, Part I

By Tanya Cochran 18 March 2011

_______

At just 23 years old, Tim Minear was working side-by-side with Oliver Stone as an (uncredited) assistant director on Platoon (1986) and beginning a thus-far full career of mostly short-lived television series. So short-lived, in fact, that when he signed up for a Twitter account, he chose “CancelledAgain” as his handle. Yet, he swears he’s neither bitter nor defeated, having had, among his writer/director/producer peers, a unique experience of working on many and varied series, series that though fleeting are also some of the sharpest around: Firefly (2002-2003), Wonderfalls (2004), The Inside (2005), Dollhouse (2009-2010), and Terriers (2010), among others. In fact, much of his work could be described as small-screen poetry—condensed, potent. When I had the pleasure of speaking with Minear via phone on January 12, 2011, we casually yet seriously reasoned that he might be a better fit for the British model of television. Though our conversation came soon after he had learned of Terriers’ cancellation, Minear was hopeful about his new series The Chicago Code, which premiered on Fox at the beginning of February, and was happily reminiscent about his work with Joss Whedon. In this first part of two, Minear talks about Firefly and Angel (1999-2004), the role socio-political and cultural issues play in his creative work, writing strong female characters, and what he learned while working alongside Whedon.

POPMATTERS: Readers of the Firefly comic books have recently learned some much coveted information about Shepherd Book’s past. What deeper insight into the character Inara Serra can or will you share?

TIM MINEAR: Well I could, but I won’t. I don’t feel like I have the freedom to reveal that.

PM: Well, it was worth asking [both laugh].

TM: Yeah, I just don’t feel like I have the freedom to reveal that.

PM: Moving on then… Whedon has participated in politics in ways that can be directly connected to his creative work. He sponsored the “High Stakes” fundraising parties for John Kerry; he supports the non-profit organization Equality Now. In particular, he himself—as well as fans, journalists, and scholars—have described Whedon as a feminist. What role, if any, do you find social, cultural, or political issues playing in your own work?

TM: I suppose on some level. And all that is definitely true about Joss. I remember in the last season of Buffy he came in once and said, “Buffy has become like George W. Bush… forming an army.” The truth is that sometimes art may not exactly reflect one’s personal politics, but the story, the drama, the thing you’re trying to say might want to go in a certain direction, and while it may seem like it has resonance with things that are happening topically, you kind of want the world you’re creating to have its own internal logic. Above all, you want it to track, make sense, and resonate emotionally. So I actually don’t know if I do that consciously or not. That’s probably not the answer you want; it’s not a very interesting answer, but that’s the answer.

PM: No. Actually, it is interesting. Because those who study popular culture—and those of us who are scholars of Whedon’s series, including your work—are particularly interested in how consciously you’re thinking about these real-world issues when you’re writing. So to have your answer is illuminating.

TM: Joss is more center-left, and I’m more center-right. I’m more of a libertarian. Joss would tell me that his sympathies were often with the Alliance—universal health care and that sort of thing. But when you’re doing a Western like Firefly, the drama is really with the iconoclast—I don’t want to say a libertarian with a big L, but you know, the guy who’s out there searching for his own freedom. So, I don’t know that Joss was particularly making a libertarian statement, but I know from what I’ve read on the web that a lot of Libertarians embrace Firefly in particular as a libertarian ideal.

Kind of backtracking a little bit on your original question… one cannot divorce oneself from sitting down and closely examining one’s work. You’re always trying to tell a story and make it interesting, yet you might also realize a scene says something offensive about women or some other group. Then you might go in and adjust it accordingly. I did this recently with Terriers. We had this story thread with a character who cheated on her boyfriend. She had a drunken night and ended up in bed with her professor. When we were breaking that story, there were all sorts of reasons why we wrote the thread like we did. We wanted to give the character agency of her own; we didn’t want her to feel like some appendage to the male character, so she had her own life and her own stuff to work out. On the other hand, we had to be very careful not to make it seem like she was date-raped. So how do you do that and not give the audience the idea that you’re trying to say something when you’re really not? I think often it’s more about being careful that you’re not saying something that you didn’t intend, as opposed to trying to infuse your work with things that you want to say. Joss would probably have a completely different take on this question.

PM: Well, that’s why I’m interviewing you [both laugh]. In a similar but slightly different vein, when Joss Whedon accepted an award during Equality Now’s “Men on the Front Lines” event in 2006, he organizes his remarks around an imaginary press junket during which reporters repeatedly ask him the same question: “Why do you write these strong women characters?” After many other responses—some funny, some not, all of them serious—Whedon ultimately answers, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Is there a recurring question that you get asked that makes you wonder about the sanity of our culture? Or one that simply drives you crazy?

TM: Nothing’s leaping to mind. It’s interesting, though. I totally understand his frustration with that question. When I first started working with Joss, I did Angel, which was sort of the boy version of Buffy, so it wasn’t about the empowered female necessarily. It was more about the empowered male. But after I left that show, I went and did Wonderfalls, which was absolutely about this young woman at the center of the story.

PM: A story I love, by the way.

TM: Thank you. And then after Wonderfalls I did The Inside, which was also about a female character doing things that are more male-oriented—on television at any rate—sort of an action hero. She wasn’t using stereotypical feminine intuition to solve cases; she was much more attuned to the masculine side of her brain. I never really planned to sit down and write shows that have young women at the center of them because I often feel foolish. Actually, I don’t. I’ll take that back because when I actually sit down and write, I just try to get in her head and be as honest as I can about what the character would be doing or thinking in a particular situation. I think female characters on TV are often more interesting than male characters… or can be.

Tim Minear

Tim Minear

PM: I know you have Jennifer Beals at the heart of The Chicago Code which premieres soon.

TM: Yep. That’s exactly right.

PM: Fans are already commenting on her casting and the character she plays.

TM: Yes, she’s awesome, really great.

PM: We’ll come back to the topic of The Chicago Code a little later. For now, let me finish asking you about your work with Whedon. What is the greatest lesson, professional or personal, you’ve learned from Joss Whedon?

TM: That’s a good question because there’s not just one thing. The thing about my experience with Joss [laughs]… it’s actually kind of a funny story. About ten years ago, I was working on a show with Howard Gordon called Strange World. I had just come off of The X-Files, but while I was on that show—I’m going to ramble for just a second if it’s okay with you—there was a woman there, Kim Metcalf, who was the assistant of Ken Horton, the president of Chris Carter’s company. By the time I came on to The X-Files in season five, Ken was putting most of his attention on Millennium. So I would go over [to their set] and hang out with Kim because she was awesome. Once she took me into a room and said, “I want to show you something.” I absolutely remember what she put into the VCR (it wasn’t a DVD player at the time): she put in “Surprise”, the episode where Buffy sleeps with Angel. She said, “You have to see this.” I’d never seen Buffy. And for whatever prescient reason, Kim said, “You should be working with Joss Whedon. You shouldn’t be here; you should be off working with Joss Whedon.” I thought, She’s a cheerleader; I just don’t get the show.

Fast-forward a year or two later. I’m working on Strange World, and my agent tells me that Joss Whedon wants to have a meet-and-greet. That’s pretty normal; you have these meet-and-greets when you’re a writer in Hollywood. You go, you meet people, you talk, and you hope that means you’ll get work later. So I go in and meet with Joss and David Greenwalt. But right before I went in, my agent told me I was supposed to have four or five episode pitches. So I’m thinking, Okay, so it’s not a meet-and-greet. It’s a pitch! That means I have to search out some college girl I know whose got all the Buffy episodes on tape and borrow them. So I borrowed the videotapes and watched them. And I said, “Okay. That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

I came up with five ideas. I was also told that Joss likes a scene, a teaser, what the story’s about, certain elements. I walked in with these sort-of-worked-out pitches. Now I don’t remember what most of them were. I remember one—this was back before Xander [had had sex for the first time]—I think the pitch was: Druids come to Sunnydale and they’re searching for a virgin to sacrifice. Xander, who is a virgin, is running around to all the girls he knows saying, “You have to sleep with me or I will die!”… I pitched all this stuff to Joss, and the report I got back was that “those were the best pitches Joss has ever heard; however, he thinks you’re the angriest man he’s ever met and can’t bear to be in the same room with you.” I said, “Okay, whatever.” When Angel was spun off, David Greenwalt said, “What about that ‘mountaineer’ guy who came in here and pitched?” Joss said, “Fine, as long as I don’t have to be in a room with him.” So I went to Angel, and then of course, fast-forward, it all worked out great. We became ‘besties’ and sat around French-braiding each other’s hair and knitting booties [both laugh].

So the thing I learned from Joss? There were things I understood before I got to Angel because I had been doing this for a while. I had been with a couple of shows, and beyond that I had been writing syndicated television for a couple of years. I had probably 50 produced hours of television under my belt, which is kind of unusual for someone who has just started working in network TV. When I went in there, I had an understanding of what I was doing, but Joss gave me the language to articulate what it was that I was doing. When he talked about a story that we were breaking and putting up on a board being just a bunch of plot moves as opposed to being about something, getting to the heart of what’s the Angel of it, what’s the Buffy of it, what’s the emotional center of this story, and what’re we trying to say about these characters, that process gave me language to articulate what it was I had already been doing. Once I knew what to call things, I got better at it. That’s one thing he gave me.

The other thing he gave me was—and this is hard to quantify—but he has a kind of enthusiasm for what he does that translates. In other words, when I produced something for him that he loved, he expressed his delight. He had no ego in terms of wanting the people who worked for and with him to succeed. I know a lot of these big name guys who have to make sure you know that it’s really their genius that’s running everything. Joss, on the other hand, would go out in print… like when I got my deal with Twentieth Century Fox and there was a pretty big piece in Variety the next day. In the article, he basically said, “Without Tim Minear, there would be no Angel.” He is very quick to give credit where it is due. Now, he doesn’t just give you empty praise; you need to perform. It’s really nice to be recognized because I’ve been on a couple of [projects] that were unpleasant. I also learned technical things from Joss. When someone as good at what they do as Joss is expresses admiration for the work you’re doing, it makes you want to be better, and then you can actually get better.

PM: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve taught Whedon?

TM: You’d have to ask him that [both laugh].

* * *

Stay tuned. In the next installment, Minear shares much more, including thoughts on the future of the entertainment industry, fandom, the craft of writing, and past and present projects.

TANYA R. COCHRAN, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English at Union College in Lincoln, NE. She is a founding board member and officer of the Whedon Studies Association, an organization devoted to the academic study of the works of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and his associates. Additionally, Cochran serves as an editorial board member for both Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association and Watcher Junior: An Undergraduate Journal of Whedon Studies. Her publications include essays in the collections Televising Queer Women (Palgrave, 2008); Sith, Slayers, Stargates + Cyborgs: Modern Mythology in the New Millennium (Lang, 2009); and Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching the Vampire Slayer (McFarland, 2010), and she is co-editor with Rhonda V. Wilcox of Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Tauris, 2008).

Source: PopMatters


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