Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” has now made more than $700 million at the worldwide box office. If he were like most Hollywood types, Whedon, the director responsible for this insane bounty of riches, would be parked in a lounge chair in front of the Caribbean Sea, sucking on pineapple daiquiris and wiping the froth from the corners of his mouth with $100 bills and tissues made out of cashmere.
But that is not how Joss Whedon rolls. Instead, the filmmaker who is currently the king of global cinematic revenue has written a thank-you note to his fans and posted it online. Here’s why it’s awesome, and why there’s a lesson for all of us in Whedon’s actions.
“People have told me that this matters, that my life is about to change,” Whedon writes in the letter, posted to the fan site Whedonesque. “I am sure that is true. And change is good — change is exciting. I think — not to jinx it — that I may finally be recognized at Comiccon. Imagine! Also, with my percentage of “the Avengers” gross, I can afford to buy... [gets call from agent. Weeps manfully. Resumes typing.] ...a fine meal. But REALLY fine, with truffles and [expletive].”
He then goes on to express his appreciation for his “peeps”: “I have people, in my life, on this site, in places I’ve yet to discover, that always made me feel the truth of success: an artist and an audience communicating. Communicating to the point of collaborating. ... If you think topping a box office record compares with someone telling you your work helped them through a rough time, you’re probably new here.”
He also engaged in a Q&A with a “reporter” named “Rutherford D. Actualperson” during which he verified that he’s still working on “Dr. Horrible 2” and hoping the success of “The Avengers” allows him more freedom to pursue independent projects as well as big-scale movies.
Oh, and that’s another thing: Mr. Bigtime Hollywood Director noted that he’s still very interested in television: “TV is my great love. To tell stories with that alacrity, intensity, and immediacy. ... Nothing quite like it.”
Really, you should read the whole letter and Q&A, which is why I’m linking to it again. There are approximately 70 reasons why writing that post was an awesome, even faith-restoring, thing for Whedon to do. (It’s self-deprecating, it’s funny, it contains an amusing reference to “Air Bud.....”). But I’ll just focus on a big one: what it tells us about embracing communities.
Joss Whedon has an extraordinarily loyal legion of fans, or “peeps,” as he calls them. There wouldn’t be a Web site called Whedonesque if he didn’t.
These are the people who became very attached to the man’s work because of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly” and have followed every move the dude has made since then. In political terms, they’re his base.What he’s done here is reach out to them at the moment that represents the apex of his career so far and said, oh, by the way, you guys are part of this, too. That huge Imax money machine with the Hulk smashing stuff? That only exists with my name on it because all of you wouldn’t shut the heck up about “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” getting canceled.
Well, he didn’t say it that way, exactly. What he said was: “This is me, saying thank you. All of you. You’ve taken as much guff for loving my work as I have for over-writing it, and you deserve, in this our time of streaming into the main, to crow.”
Whedon undoubtedly means what he wrote. And that’s one reason he is successful. He’s humble. He’s appreciative. And his words and his actions suggest that, like “The Avengers” themselves, he sees his career as one big team effort.
There’s a lesson in that, not just for filmmakers or people in the entertainment industry, but for anyone who works in any field in which customer loyalty is valued. Which is pretty much all of us.
Since journalism is what I know, let’s take us sad and pathetic print media types, for example — those of us still cranking out content in formats both tangible and digital despite the fact that the universe keeps telling us over and over — and lately, really loudly — that this whole enterprise is a futile effort.
I don’t know if it is or isn’t. But I do know that the only way anyone in my business, or in any business, can succeed in 2012 is by treating those who consume what he or she does as equal partners. This is an obvious truth, and one that has been repeated during every digital journalism workshop/symposium I’ve attended since at least 2004. But it’s really, really important to remember. Sometimes those reminders come from unexpected sources that aren’t doing power point presentations in cavernous hotel ballrooms. Sometimes they come from Joss Whedon.
So thank you, Mr. Whedon, for showing us all how it’s done and reminding us that satisfaction comes from the work, not the rewards, and from sharing it with others.
That said, if you ever feel like loaning someone $20K just for the heck of it, just because you finally can now, please know: I am here for you.