Joss Whedon is a writer and director best known as the creator of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
TV writer Joss Whedon was born in New York City in 1964. He started out as a staff writer for 1990s sitcom Roseanne, and worked on films, including Toy Story. In 1992 he penned the script for a film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When the TV version starring Sarah Michelle Gellar took off in 1997, Whedon had his big break—with its female action heroine, Buffy became a huge hit. Whedon wrote hundreds of episodes for Buffy and its spinoff Angel, and was nominated for Emmy and Hugo awards for his work. Whedon has come to enjoy a cult following. He went on to write and direct two box office hits, The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
Writer, director and producer Joseph Hill Whedon was born on June 23, 1964, in New York City. Joss Whedon grew up well versed in the world of television. He has been called the world's first third-generation TV writer, as his father Tom Whedon was a screenwriter for The Electric Company, The Golden Girls and Benson, while his grandfather John Whedon wrote for The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Donna Reed Show.
Despite this lineage, Joss Whedon credits his mother Lee Stearns for being the deepest influence on his writing. "She was an extraordinary inspiration," he said. "A radical feminist, a history teacher and just one hell of a woman. What she did was provide a role model of someone who is completely in control of her life. It was only when I got to college that I realized that the rest of the world didn't run the way my world was run and that there was a need for feminism. I'd thought it was all solved. There are people like my mom, clearly everyone is equal and it's all fine."
Whedon spent time as a teenager in a boarding school in England—where he became a fan of Stephen Sondheim and comic books—before graduating from Wesleyan University in Connecticut with a degree in film studies and a focus on women's studies. With a degree under his belt, Whedon set out for Hollywood in 1988. After a few false starts, he found a steady position working as a staff writer for Roseanne. He also worked as a script doctor for several movies, including the Oscar-nominated Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection and Waterworld, but he disliked the work. "I was wealthy and miserable," he later recalled. "I never had less fun succeeding at a job in my life."
'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Whedon's first produced film script, the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, showcased his dream of creating not just a female hero but ''a world in which adolescent boys would see a girl who takes charge as the sexiest goddamn thing they ever saw." He lost control of his screenplay during the production process, however, and was "devastated" with how the movie had turned from a tale of female empowerment to a broad comedy about vampires. "I hate camp," he said.
Luckily, several years later Whedon was approached by Hollywood producers with an idea: could he turn the movie into a TV show? "I thought, 'High school as a horror movie.' And so the metaphor became the central concept behind Buffy, and that's how I sold it." Buffy jump-started Whedon's career as creator, writer and director off cult-classic television series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, ran from 1997 to 2003 on the WB and UPN networks, and its spinoff Angel, starring David Boreanaz, ran from 1999 to 2004 on the WB. During these years, Whedon wrote and directed hundreds of episodes of both shows, winning Emmy and Hugo nominations and a rabid fan following for his work. Whedon's shows were lauded for their distinctively offbeat style, which readily mixed witty dialogue and pop culture references.
Work in Film
Whedon's third TV show was the sci-fi western Firefly, which debuted in 2002. It quickly became a critical and cult success, but was canceled partway through its first season due to low ratings. The show's abandoned plotlines were later picked up in the 2005 movie, Serenity, which Whedon both wrote and directed.
"I just loved the show and the people and the world too much to walk away when they cancelled it, so I hunted about for someone to agree with me and then, rather shockingly, found Universal Studios agreed with me to the tune of a great deal more money than I had ever expected to have to work with. What everybody said was dead in the water suddenly became—maybe not for them, but for me—a rather major motion picture."
After Serenity, Whedon spent a period of time writing comic books based on both his own works (Buffy, Firefly) and other established properties (Runaways, The Astonishing X-Men). He also was attached to write and direct the Wonder Woman movie, but in 2007 announced he would no longer be working on the project.
During the 2007-'08 Writer's Guild strike, Joss Whedon collaborated with his brothers Jed and Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tanchareon to create an original musical: Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, it was filmed just after the strike ended and was released online for free that summer, where it became so popular that the server couldn't handle the demand and crashed.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog later won two Emmy Awards. "We just steamrolled past everybody's idea of how you market and of how long it takes to do these things. We had people [drawing up] contracts in days that usually take months, because we were tired of people sitting around. Ultimately, though, we were still in the mind of: This is a bit of a lark. The strike was over and so we wanted to do right by everybody, but we weren't thinking it would be a grand statement. We thought it was going to be cool."
Whedon returned to broadcast television in the fall of 2008 with the television show Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku. It ran for two seasons on Fox before being canceled.
Whedon joined the Marvel Comics universe as the writer and director of the 2012 box office hit The Avengers starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo. Three years later, Whedon enjoyed another wave of success, writing and directing Avengers: Age of Ultron.
On the small screen, Whedon has also worked on another Marvel property, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He created this series about a group of secret agents working to save the world from numerous threats. Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen star in the show, which debuted in 2013.
In 2017, Variety reported that Whedon was working on a deal to write, direct, and produce a Batgirl film for Warner Bros.
Joss Whedon lives with his wife, the artist Kai Cole, and their two children in Los Angeles. He continues to wear the many hats of writer, director, creator, and producer of his original works. "I believe the best thing in the world," he said, "is for everybody who feels like they have a story to tell, to tell it."