Sitting around the room with Buffy‘s writers feels an awful lot like sitting around a room with the show’s preternaturally witty characters: Creator Joss Whedon is a big-screen writer who’s worked on scripts spanning Toy Story to Speed; executive producer David Greenwalt wrote for The Wonder Years and created the TV cult classic Profit; executive story editor Jane Espenson is a sitcom vet who survived Ellen; former story editor Dan Vebber was a founding editor of the Wisconsin-based satirical mag The Onion; story editor Doug Petrie is a Nickelodeon alum who penned episodes of Clarissa Explains It All and the feature film Harriet the Spy; and coproducer Marti Noxon’s sole pre-Buffy credit was one episode of the ABC weeper Life Goes On. They’ve come a long way with this show, which has gone from industry joke to cult phenomenon. As Noxon recalls, ”When I told my mother I got a job on Buffy, she said, ‘I’m sorry, honey, I’m sure you’ll get on something better next year.”’
EW: Do you identify with specific characters?
WHEDON: I identify with Giles a great deal. Because dealing with this world and these actors, every now and then I feel terribly British — slightly appalled by everything I see. I can’t believe I’ve been put in charge of these people, none of whom pay any attention to me.
GREENWALT: Cordelia. She speaks her mind. There’s a certain blunt aspect to her character.
WHEDON: David is what we like to call ”a bitch.”
ESPENSON: Willow, because I’m shy and earnest and I say, ”Oh!” when I’m startled.
VEBBER: A combination of Xander and Willow. I was brainy in high school like Willow, but also obnoxious and stupid, much like Xander.
PETRIE: Faith, which is really scary. She acts tough, but everything she does is because she’s in all this pain.
NOXON: Buffy, because she has such bad luck with men. Until very recently, I dated guys who turned into demons after the first date.
EW: Do you think of Buffy as a feminist role model?
WHEDON: Absolutely. The idea was, let’s have a feminist role model for kids. What’s interesting is you end up subverting that. If she’s just an ironclad hero — ”I am woman, hear me constantly roar” — it gets dull. Finding the weakness and the vanity and the foibles makes it fun.
ESPENSON: Buffy’s heroism has two aspects, the fighting aspect and when she gets to be a general — you guys go here, you guys go there.
WHEDON: From the beginning, I was interested in showing a woman who was [take-charge] and men who not only didn’t have a problem with that but were kind of attracted to it.
EW: How much attention do you pay to feedback on the Internet?
WHEDON: A lot. The episodes people like best are those that advance the soap opera elements. It’s fascinating to see what upsets them. When Faith went to work for The Mayor, there was a huge debate.
NOXON: I used to go on the Internet, but then the first episode I wrote [”What’s My Line?”] aired, and the first posting I saw was ”This is the worst-written episode of Buffy ever!”
WHEDON: People have these insane, ridiculous predictions about what’s going to happen, then you’ll read one that’s totally right. They’ll know every damn trick you have up your sleeve for the next year.
EW: Your production values are impressive for a drama. When writing, how much do you consider the budget ($1-2 million per episode)?
WHEDON: A lot. You have to. Sometimes we’ll let our vision go wild, and our line producer will fire weapons at us. Once there was a giant, mythic bird who in the final draft became lightning.
PETRIE: That was my first episode [“Revelations”], and every time I passed a producer, the word unfilmable got bandied about. One of these days, if we ever really break out, we’re goin’ bird.
VEBBER: When Joss goes back and does the special editions, he’ll put Boba Fett back into some scenes.
WHEDON: Budgetary restrictions have actually helped the show enormously. You have to learn efficiency and what matters.
EW: The violence and sexual content are pretty intense for an 8:00 show. How much grief do you get from The WB’s censors?
WHEDON: They’ve loosened up a lot, but we constantly go back and forth. Faith kissing and strangling Xander [in “Consequences”] was one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in a long time, but emotionally it’s so pure. I figured that would make them nervous, but it didn’t.
VEBBER: Joss is anti-gore in general—if you hold it back, when you do show a little bit of it, it’s that much more shocking.
EW: What’s the deal with the vampires? In some ways they are like your more traditional bloodsuckers—holy water and crosses usually stop them; Angel can’t see himself in mirrors. But they don’t, for example, turn into bats.
NOXON: Only fake vampires do that. We have some rules—like only one thing kills them: a wooden stake through the heart. Well, that or beheading. And direct sunlight. Fire, probably. That weird poison Faith used on Angel. Actually, a lot of things kill vampires. Stay tuned.
EW: What changes can we expect in season 4?
WHEDON: Early on, we saw that Sarah can go to a deep, emotional place—she can be light and cute and all that good stuff, but she can also take you to a very dark place, and the show ended up skewing that way. We’ve put her through so much, and some of our mission statement for this year is to let the poor girl have some fun. We’ll still make her cry and stuff—but in a funny way.
NAME Gareth Davies
CREDITS Remington Steele, The Marshal
JOB DESCRIPTION Keeping Buffy running on schedule (eight shooting days per episode) and on budget is akin to doing battle with The Master: feasible but potentially hazardous to your health. Jokes Davies, “I’ve developed my share of ulcers.” Getting hired wasn’t a cakewalk either: “When I first met Joss, we didn’t get on at all. There were long silences—the whole thing was awkward. I left thinking ‘Well, that’s not going to happen.’ ” But ultimately, Davies was persuaded to join the team by his agent and a Fox exec, and he now considers Whedon a “brilliant and very reasonable person to work with. Sometimes we’ll joke about [that first meeting]. He’ll say, ‘I hated you.’ And I’ll say, ‘I didn’t really care for you either.'”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE Mounting the action-packed season finales. “There’s no relief financially because there’s more of everything: more stunts, more special effects, more vampires. And we’ll not only need, say, Angel in makeup, but vamp Angel, a stunt-double Angel, and stunt-double vamp Angel going through makeup, too. All those Angels add up to one hell of a headache.”
FAVORITE EPISODE “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.” With Gellar out five days to host Saturday Night Live, the writers made do by turning Buffy into a rat. “Nothing against Sarah, but that rat was marvelous. It was a real trouper.”
RELATES TO Giles. Says the London-born Davies, “I can understand every word he says.”
THE STUNT TEAM
NAMES Jeff Pruitt (coordinator) and Sophia Crawford (Buffy’s double)
CREDITS Pruitt’s a vet of martial-arts films; Crawford doubled for the Pink Ranger in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (on both film and TV).
JOB DESCRIPTIONS He choreographs every kick-ass inch of Buffy‘s fight sequences; she performs all of Gellar’s ”gnarlier” stunts (Gellar primarily handles close-ups, where her face is visible). Together, they also provide the set with a dash of romance: After three years of dating, it took a stunt gone awry (on ”Phases”) for Pruitt to pop the question. The mishap, he says, ”scared me enough that I didn’t want to wait another minute to ask her to be mine.”
PROUDEST MOMENTS For Pruitt, it was the gut-wrenching sword fight between Buffy and Angel (”Becoming, Part 2”): ”Joss’ original idea was for [the mood] to be more comic. He’d seen The Court Jester, where Danny Kaye’s hypnotized to be this master sword fighter but then if you snap your fingers, he forgets how to fight. He thought maybe Buffy should be like that, running around, trying to get away, not sure how to use a sword.” At Pruitt’s urging, though, the battle became increasingly dramatic: ”It just looked and felt cooler to have Buffy and Angel really going at it.” Crawford recalls the fight vividly too—she completed take after take with a broken finger: ”I just kept thinking ‘Make it through this and you can heal during hiatus.”’
FAVORITE EPISODES While Crawford prefers ”Doppelgangland” (”I love the bad Willow”), Pruitt’s partial to ”Lie to Me” (”The end really choked me up”).
THE DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
NAME Michael Gershman
CREDITS Under Siege 2; Days of Heaven
JOB DESCRIPTION Gershman is responsible for crafting a look that keenly complements teen mood swings: incandescent one moment, stormy the next. He’s also directed two of the series’ more visually disturbing episodes, ”Passion” and ”Consequences,” and will helm another pair later this season.
Shooting the first two seasons in 16mm. ”It tends to flatten everything out,” says Gershman. ”What you’re doing is putting the information on something a quarter the size of what a 35mm negative would be.” To compensate, Gershman ”pulled all the tricks out of the bag. I used pools of light to set up contrast. I staged the action in a direction where I had more depth.” By season 3, with Gershman promising that a Buffy shot in 35mm would be ”livelier, with a boatload of more detail,” Fox ponied up the cash to make the switch.
NIXED For the ”Gingerbread” episode, Gershman had envisioned the scene in which Willow reveals her Wiccan ways to her inattentive mom as ”a nice, dimly lit, low-key mother-daughter chat.” Whedon disagreed: ”He was afraid we’d lose the humor, so he wanted it up and bright. I have to say, my little world crumbled for a moment. My tendencies run more to the dark side.”
FAVORITE EPISODE ”Anne.” ”I love to be off the soundstage and on practical locations. We spent several days at L.A.’s Herald-Examiner creating a huge hell-like set. It was pretty incredible.” Not to mention pretty dark.
THE MAKEUP SUPERVISOR
NAME Todd McIntosh
The Brady Bunch movies; Dracula: Dead and Loving It; Mr. Saturday Night
JOB DESCRIPTION An Emmy winner in ’98 (and a nominee again this year), McIntosh juggles both Buffy’s beauty and monster makeup needs. He also works with Optic Nerve, the special-effects makeup group behind such eye-popping prosthetics as the “Gingerbread” witch. “One minute, I’ll be making up Sarah,” says McIntosh, who oversees a full-time crew of three makeup artists and two hairdressers. “The next, I’ll have werewolf hair stuck all over my clothes. I’m like a kid in a candy store.”
PROUDEST MOMENT Concocting the “Doppelgangland” demon that refuses to return wish-granting powers to the man-hating Anya. Since the actor was cast at the last minute, Optic Nerve didn’t have time to send over a new monster mask; instead, “they threw together a bag of jumbled pieces from different ones we’d done and I created one on the spot. I used a little piece of this, a little piece of that. It was like, let’s turn the horns backwards and hey, pointy ears could be good too.”
TIME IT TAKES TO DO A VAMP A relatively short 45 minutes. A more complex creature, such as The Master, takes up to six hours.
FAVORITE EPISODE “The Wish.” “Willow’s not the kind of character who experiments with new lipsticks and eye shadows every episode, so to be able to break out and make her a vamp felt deliciously naughty.”
THE CASTING DIRECTOR
NAME Marcia Shulman CREDITS Dawson’s Creek; Felicity
JOB DESCRIPTION For the first two seasons, Shulman—now head of casting for Twentieth Century Fox TV—staked out all of the series regulars (hired first: Anthony Stewart Head), not to mention a Hellmouth full of dead-on guest stars. “I never settled for the hot but not-so-great actor. You see a lot of that in teen stuff.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE Finding Angel. “I was looking for the sexiest, most mysterious, every-hyperbole-you-can-think-of guy. People said, ‘Whoever fits that bill is gonna be a raging a–hole.” But David Boreanaz (a friend suggested him after seeing him walk his dog) “was so sweet. The minute he walked in, I knew. I never even read him. We just talked about how there’s no good Italian food in L.A.”
WHAT SHE LOOKS FOR Fresh blood. Shulman, who started out casting after-school specials, has a knack for finding new talent. In fact, she met the future Buffy and Oz as child actors in New York. “Sarah and Seth had ‘it’ at [the age of] 8. I brought them in to read for everything.” She even cast them together in a 1980s commercial.
FAVORITE EPISODE “Innocence.” “Every girl, no matter what age, can relate to the fear of having the man you love not be there for you the next day. When Buffy sobbed, I sobbed.”
THE FX COORDINATOR
NAME Bruce Minkus CREDITS Schindler’s List; Jurassic Park
JOB DESCRIPTION While the visual effects (such as the dusting of vampires) are left to computer-graphics house Digital Magic, Minkus can take credit for the show’s demonic paraphernalia. “This isn’t The Dukes of Hazzard. We’re not just blowing up cars day in, day out.” Hardly: His two-person crew is responsible for devising everything from instruments of torture (The Master’s bloodsucking machine in “The Wish”) to supernatural beasts (Eggbert, Buffy’s sex-ed project in “Bad Eggs”). And, adds Minkus, “Joss expects each one to be better than the last.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE The hours. “As brilliant as Joss is, he can’t figure out a way to make vampires live in the daytime. That means lots of coming in at 2 p.m. on Friday and shooting until the sun comes up on Saturday. Your weekends are pretty much shot for nine and a half months.”
PROUDEST MOMENT Blowing the hallowed halls of Sunnydale sky-high (“Graduation Day, Part 2”), even if most of it did hit the cutting-room floor. “We used 25 separate explosions. It was really spectacular, but 90 percent of the footage was edited out because of the Columbine tragedy. After all was said and done, I think you ended up seeing one cracked window in the whole place.” RELATES TO Xander. “I’ve always been what people politely refer to as a smart-ass.”