What Writers Can Learn From Joss Whedon’s The Avengers Audio Commentary

What Writers Can Learn From Joss Whedon’s The Avengers Audio Commentary

theavengers2012posterAbout a month ago, The Avengers (Amazon, B&N) came out on DVD and Blu-Ray. My guess is that most avid superhero fans have probably already gotten their copies. Even if superheroes aren’t normally your thing, though, I recommend getting the film, especially for those who are writers or aspiring writers.

When the film came out in theaters back in May, I wrote an article “What Writers Can Learn From Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.” All of those points are still valid and if you haven’t seen the film, the writing is top notch. The bonus materials on the blu-ray, however, give you glimpses into more than just the film-making process, but a good glimpse into how to craft a good story. Some mild spoilers will be revealed below, if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

Tor.com has compiled a pretty good breakdown of the commentary, for those who want a more complete glimpse of what Whedon discusses.

Two Types of Edits

Before getting into the audio commentary, I’d like to comment on the deleted scenes. As with most films, these deleted scenes fall in two different categories:

  • Scenes which were cut because they never happened
  • Scenes which happened, but didn’t need to be shown

The first sort of edit is obvious. You write a scene and then, as the story evolves, you realize that scene really makes no sense. The plot requires different things, so you change the sequence of events and now certain events no longer happen. The Avengers contained an alternate book-end sequence to the story, featuring a subplot in which Agent Hill is giving a briefing to the SHIELD governing council. These scenes were removed because the majority of this subplot were eliminated completely.

Much more informative are the second type of edits, though, because these represent scenes that still fit within the continuity of the storyline that’s unfolding, but are removed for other reasons, such as pacing, redundancy, or just not serving a particularly useful purpose. Watching these deleted scenes is highly useful, because they are the cuts that help streamline the storytelling experience. One of the best examples from The Avengers deleted scenes is an extended exchange between Loki and Hawkeye, in which they begin setting up the plan for attacking the helicarrier.

Now, clearly this planning exchange had to take place, because the attack was a very well-organized affair. However, in the final cut of the movie, the preparation isn’t shown in any detail. Though this exchange gives Hawkeye some good character moments where he lays out for Loki his view of Fury’s back-up plan (bringing in “heroes” as a strike team), and I really enjoyed watching it, the scene doesn’t serve a greater purpose in the film. If anything, it cues some of the plot twists in the coming confrontation between Loki and the Avengers.

Another scene that was cut was one where you see Captain America having trouble adjusting to the present. This was cut because the later footage of him with the punching bag(s) in the gym basically got the same point across, making the previous scene redundant. Again, though, this is a case where the scene that was cut is still clearly part of the continuity. Whedon didn’t cut the scene because it didn’t happen … but because the movie works without the viewer watching it happen.

The Crumbling Earth & Character Tension

Whedon said that he only agreed to do the film if he could make it “An enormous disaster where we were one step ahead of the crumbling earth every second.” In addition to the humor that I discussed in the previous post, this is another crucial element to making these larger-than-life characters work. By having the world falling down around them through the entire film, even heroes such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor become humanized. And when part of the collapse is because they can’t get their own act together to work as a team, all the better.

In the commentary for an episode of the television series Dollhouse, Whedon said that good drama was about having two characters with opposite motivations and goals, but the audience can totally see where both of them are coming from. The tensions between the characters in The Avengers – especially between Captain America and Iron Man – does an excellent job of establishing this dramatic situation. You understand the viewpoints of both these characters, and each is right from a certain perspective.

If you’re going to write stories about characters with powers that transcend the ordinary, you could do far worse than embracing these two pieces of storytelling advice.

Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Guide and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook,Twitter, and even Google+.

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Barbara Barrett

Thanks for the heads up, I’ll check out the Commentary. I remember that Whedon used the same major disaster of the crumbling earth in the final episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Much bigger budget this time though!

I don’t belong to Facebook so I can’t follow your exploits. However, I’m a great fan of Dr. Michio Kaku whenever he appears on PBS and also of Brian Greene’s book, “The Elegant Universe.” I’m going to look up your book String Theory for Dummies. No I’m not a physicist. I just think the explanations make so much sense of the universe…..

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