Still Flying: An Interview with Tim Minear, Part I

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…

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