Firefly was an American space western drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. For many of us it become one of our favorite TV shows well after it was canceled. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear. The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things”.
Whedon developed the concept for the show after reading The Killer Angels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Shaara chronicling the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. He wanted to follow people who had fought on the losing side of a war and their experiences afterwards as pioneers and immigrants on the outskirts of civilization, much like the post-American Civil War era of Reconstruction and the American Old West culture. He intended the show to be “a Stagecoach kind of drama with a lot of people trying to figure out their lives in a bleak pioneer environment”. Whedon wanted to develop a show about the tactile nature of life, a show where existence was more physical and more difficult. After reading The Killer Angels, Whedon read a book about Jewish partisan fighters in World War II that also influenced him. Whedon wanted to create something for television that was more character-driven and gritty than most modern science fiction. Television science fiction, he felt, had become too pristine and rarefied.
Whedon wanted to give the show a name that indicated movement and power, and felt that “Firefly” had both. This powerful word’s relatively insignificant meaning, Whedon felt, added to its allure. He eventually wound up creating the ship in the image of a firefly.
During filming of the pilot episode, Whedon was still arguing with Fox that the show should be displayed in widescreen format. Consequently, he purposely filmed scenes with actors on the extreme edge of both sides so that they could only be shown in widescreen. This led to a few scenes on the DVD (and later Blu-ray) where objects or setups that were not visible in the original 4:3 broadcasts were now displayed—such as the scene in the pilot where Wash mimes controlling the ship with a non-existent yoke. However, the pilot was rejected by the Fox executives, who felt that it lacked action and that the captain was too “dour”. They also disliked a scene in which the crew backed down to a crime boss, since the scene implied the crew was “being nothing”. Thus, Fox told Whedon on a Friday afternoon that he had to submit a new pilot script on Monday morning or the show would not be picked up. Whedon and Tim Minear closeted themselves for the weekend to write what became the new pilot, “The Train Job”. At the direction of Fox, they added “larger than life” characters such as the henchman “Crow”, and the “hands of blue” men, who also introduced an X-Files-type ending.
For the new pilot, Fox made it clear that they would not air the episodes in the widescreen format. Whedon and company felt they had to “serve two masters” by filming widescreen for eventual DVD release, but keeping objects in frame so it could still work when aired in pan and scan full frame.To obtain an immersive and immediate feel, the episodes were filmed in a documentary style with hand-held cameras, giving them the look of “found footage”, with deliberately misframed or out-of-focus subjects.As Whedon related: “…don’t be arch, don’t be sweeping—be found, be rough and tumble and docu[mentary] and you-are-there”. Computer-generated scenes mimicked the motion of a hand-held camera. This style was not used, however, when shooting scenes that involved the central government, the Alliance. Tracking and steady cameras were used to show the sterility of this aspect of the Firefly universe. Another style employed was lens flares harking back to 1970s television. This style was so desired that the director of photography, David Boyd, sent back the cutting-edge lenses which reduced lens flare in exchange for cheaper ones.
Unlike most other science fiction shows, which add sound to space scenes for dramatic effect, Firefly portrays space as silent, because sounds cannot be transmitted in the vacuum of space.