“Save the Day … didn’t,” said writer/director/producer/auteur Joss Whedon, referencing the digital production company he founded in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The goal of his super PAC Save the Day was to get out the vote, specifically in support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, though the candidate herself was never specifically mentioned in any of the short films produced by the organization.
But while the text of Save the Day didn’t go as planned, the subtext contained several important lessons: that the act of voting is a powerful one and that getting involved in the causes one believes in is a brave and necessary act in a democracy. Whedon recently emphasized these points in an appearance at UCLA Anderson at the invitation of the Entertainment Management Association.
Whedon was a working writer in Hollywood when he created his first television show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a cultural phenomenon, featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy: high school student by day, killer of vampires and other denizens of the evil realms by night. Buffy begat its spin-off Angel and Whedon and his company Mutant Enemy Productions became power brokers in the entertainment industry. His body of work includes creating, writing and directing television shows, comic books and feature films. If you’re one of the millions of people who enjoyed the two Marvel films featuring the super hero team the Avengers, you’ve enjoyed Whedon’s work.
But Whedon is more than just a creator of content. Yes, his films feature exciting stories and plenty of action. But beneath the surface, his works often examine more serious themes such as the conflict between good and evil, the abuse of power and feminism. So, it’s not at all surprising that he founded Save the Day. According to the organization’s website, Save the Day is “a short-form digital production company dedicated to the idea that voting is a necessary and heroic act.” Save the Day’s mission statement asserts that “the only thing that can save democracy is the act that defines it. We are committed to fighting the apathy, cynicism and honest confusion that keeps citizens from using their vote.”
Videos on the organization’s home page feature a variety of familiar stars (many of whom appear in Whedon projects), including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johansson, Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Sheen and many others (ranging from YouTube stars to some not-so-famous folks) — reminding viewers of the importance of voting. A number of videos address issues pertinent to the recent presidential campaign, including immigration and climate change. The super PAC’s purpose was and is to educate the public and remind citizens of their individual power.
Whedon’s Anderson appearance was organized by the student-run EMA with sponsorship from UCLA Anderson’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports. The conversation was moderated by producer Jennifer Cochis, whose credits include the documentaries The Other Dream Team and Los Wild Ones. She is director of the L.A. Film Festival.
Save the Day is not Whedon’s first foray into political activism. Previously, he worked with a collection of writers, performers and political friends for Equality Now, an international human rights organization dedicated to action for the civil, political, economic and social rights of girls and women. Not one to ask favors, he said, he called them all in when he wanted to create an organization to defeat Donald Trump. Whedon said that much of the anti-Trump rhetoric was rooted in fear. He also realized that “fear” was not what he was good at. His message, which mirrored some of the themes of his commercial work, was “personal responsibility against overwhelming odds.”
His Korn Hall visit featured several of the shorts he wrote and created for Save the Day in record time. For one, Whedon took four red eye flights in four days to accommodate stars located both in New York City and Los Angeles. He said he did not fear alienating his fans whose political beliefs ran counter to his own and deliberately made some of the videos a bit “hokey.” “We were going to make the joke before you do,” Whedon said. That said, there were no illusions about his loyalties.
“We were bagging on Trump, we made it clear that we were a partisan group,” Whedon said. “But the effort was to get people to vote, to take action. I don’t write about politics. If you write about politics you’re going to lose half the people.” He added that he tries to make the person who is taking responsibility the hero of the story.
“(Save the Day) was supposed to be a temp gig, but the day we have to save got pushed,” Whedon said regarding the future of the organization. “The only way I could get through (the election results) was by changing the narrative. This was always going to happen. This is what was going to happen to America. This is a tragedy and it was always that.” He advised the gathered students to “be less fearful of being called out. Silence is the final thing that will kill us.
“People need to find something outside themselves to be part of, to give money to,” said Whedon, who is starting work on a project for Planned Parenthood. “Pick something and don’t worry that something else might matter more. Choose; make your choice, and give yourself to that choice.”