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These essays are full of quotes and interviews regarding the process of making Buffy, specifically the latter seasons. It was written at the end of 2003 and still has the time stamp of what I posted it on the discussion board I was on at the time, it is lj-cut for length and to protect people who aren't interested in such things. There are footnotes or rather endnotes at the end of each section. Note this is the last and only time I've done them online, since I hate footnotes.

Previous post here: http://shadowkat67.livejournal.com/460362.html#cutid1

Also for an in-depth and fairly objective discussion of these posts at the time I posted them - go here: http://www.atpobtvs.com/existentialscoobies/archives/aug03_p12.html



( Part I. Tragedy, Television and Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- s'kat, 09:58:59 08/23/03 Sat)

Part I. Tragedy, Television and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I don't believe Mutant Enemy's ( the writing staff and producers of BTVS and ATS under and including Joss Whedon, hereinafter ME) goal was to do a classic tragedy per se, regardless of the medium, although the medium may have had a role in this decision. ME's writers are first and foremost television writers - they know the medium, they've done a bulk of their work in it prior to BTVS, they know what works and what doesn't from those past experiences. Heck, Whedon is a third generation television writer, I'd say he's an expert or the closest we'll get to one. (7)

So why not do classic tragedy on TV? Is it because the modern audience is intolerant of tragedy? If that were the case we wouldn't have tragic movies and books - go to your bookstore some time, check out all those contemporary novels - I bet you'll find a few classic tragedies amongst them. Same with the cinema-plex. Also Shakespeare? Still popular. And Medea? It was quite successful on Broadway this year, thank you very much. The Greeks and Elizabethans? Experienced more tragedy than most of us sitting nice and comfy in our little homes will ever experience. They were lucky to make it to 30, we complain if we don't make it to 100. Tragedy was part and parcel of their lives. We, having only experienced it through television sets via the news, books, theatre, plays and the newspaper - are a tad desensitized to it - it's not real to us, not in the same way. (Speaking generally here, I'm well aware of the fact that there are folks out there who have experienced tragedy first hand - but these people are the exception not the rule in our society. And in some ways, they seem to experience and look at fictional tragedy the same way the Greeks did, with a deep abiding appreciation. Preferring it to the more gratuitous and somewhat exploitive newsreels.) No, the reason is far more simple - advertisers don't like to have their products associated with tragedy. Honestly, are you going to go out to McDonalds after watching Xena get her head chopped off? Or buy that new Lexus convertible? I don't think so. You might think about eating that box of Rocky Road ice cream in the fridge though. There's also that teeny little problem of coaxing the viewer back the next week. The Greeks didn't really have this problem, nor did Ms. Bronte. Their story was done. They don't have to coax the reader back again. Television? Unless you don't plan on doing an episode next week, have a spin-off, or a franchise of ancillary products - you want and need people to keep watching. We want you to tune in again - we also want you to watch us in syndication and re-runs. So if we give you deep dark tragedy this week? We promise next week it will be lighter and somewhat fluffy. Everything will come out swell in the end...trust us. That's the reason Fox, The Kuzuis, the WB and UPN don't want ME doing anything too tragic. It is not, however the reason ME decided not to do tragedy.

Whedon and the other ME writers have stated in numerous interviews and commentaries that they took items from numerous genre's, subverting and twisting some in the process.(8) Because Btvs has elements of each of these genres (fantasy, gothic, horror, science-fiction and noir/pulp) within it - it doesn't really fit the model of any single one exactly. Trying to press it into that structure is akin to pressing a square peg into a round hole, believe me I've tried it. By using a hodge-podge of techniques, ME have oddly enough appeared to create a new genre, something that stands a little apart from the others. I can see why people may think that Btvs is meant to be a classic tragedy or just a tragedy - but it's not really. (9) Btvs while incredibly "tragic" at times is hardly ever a "tragedy" in the classic sense nor has it ever been one. Ats is actually more in keeping with the styling of classic "tragedy" but it's modernized and comes across more as "neo-noir tragedy". In Noir, a sort of subversion of the classic form, created in the 1940s and early 50's - the tragic hero is less a hero than an anti-hero, he is not necessarily likable, yet we root for him or her (usually a him except for a few neo-noir films in the late 80's, early 90's where it was a she) and the ending is always a tragic one, the best we can hope for is he survives. Unlike the classic tragedy, the tragedy in neo-noir is not the hero's death per se but his failure to reach his goal - a failure often caused by hubris, just like the classic form. Examples are Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Killing (a Stanley Kubrick film that satirizes the form). (10)

Xena: Warrior Princess was actually more of a classic tragedy, which is something that is incredibly difficult to pull off on television. For how difficult - just look at the negative fan response to Xena's end or for that matter Nick Knight's in Forever Knight.(11) Both heroes died tragically as a result of their own fatal flaw and the episodes were not well received. Most gothic dramas are styled in this manner by the way - from Wuthering Heights to Ann Rice's Interview With A Vampire. Why didn't fans react negatively to them? Well how do you know they didn't? The difference is Wuthering Heights is a book, Xena is a cult television show. Same with Gone with The Wind - Rhett Butler could tell Scarlett to go to hell in the book and movie - these mediums did not depend on fans coming back to see episode two or watch in perpetuity in syndication. They do not depend on the all mighty advertising dollar, product endorsements, and ancillary products. Same with Euripides and Shakespeare - you know each audience will be different and the audience for a play or movie? They have no problem being hurt - their investment in the characters is short lived - it began at the start of that three-hour movie and ended when they left the theater. Oh they may dream and fret over Scarlett and Rhett, but they can't influence the writers, they can't un-see it. The money's been spent. If they despise it? That means it dies never to be seen again. But it doesn't change the story. They aren't like the nutty television fans who get to see a new chapter in their characters' lives every week - just making them more obsessed. Sooner or later you're going to get tired of rewatching the same three-hour movie. But a TV show with a spin-off, movie possibilities, and ancillary products?

Btvs wasn't meant to be a tragedy. We know this from the very beginning - re-watch Prophecy Girlwhich we are mislead to believe will end in tragedy yet ends in triumph. The Gift is hardly a classic tragedy per se since Buffy by dying saves the world. She goes to a better place. Becoming II isn't really true tragedy, the only major character that dies is Angel - who comes back, and while it's tragic she has to kill him - it's not tragic on the scale it would be if this was "classic" tragedy or pure tragedy. Also in both The Gift and in Becoming, the character returns from the dead the very next season. Fans only have to wait six months. (The same can be said of Spike in Chosen, who apparently will be resurrected in some form for Angel S5. Tara was one of the few characters in BTVS history not resurrected in some form and that was partly due to the actress' unavailability. )

According to the rumor mill, Whedon's original intention was to end the whole series with pure "classical" tragedy. I'm not sure how much of this is true and how much is just fan speculation: In Season 5: Glory was supposed to kill Tara, Willow was supposed to go dark and be overwhelmed with vengence. Xander was supposed to be the one housing Glory not Ben. Giles kills Xander to defeat Glory. Anya dies trying to save Xander. Spike dies trying to save Dawn from Willow. Buffy dies to save the world and preserve Dawn. Leaving Dawn and Giles and the cast of ATS the only survivors. Sunnydale would be sucked into the hellmouth. The only portion of this that I've seen validated in interviews was the Willow bit. (12) I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he said - if this happened, over a 100,000 BTVS fans would be asking for prozac.

So why did Joss change his mind? Several reasons - Btvs is not just his creation, it's a collaboration. Heck he even got voted out of the writers' room once. (13) If you look at the credits of each episode you'll notice how many executive, co-executive, supervising producers there are. Also the writers change each time. As do the directors. Then of course there's all the camera people, the stunt people, the makeup people, the set designers, the assistants...in short unlike a book - this baby has more than one mother and father. (14) Marti has stated in interviews that she told Joss he wasn't allowed to kill everyone in The Gift - since they could get picked up for another year - also he couldn't destroy the entire set. Joss may have wanted Btvs to end with The Gift, but Joss does not own the rights to Btvs, the Kuzis and Fox do. Joss may have creative control over who is cast, general story arc, who writes the episodes, and produces each episode - but the executive producers still have some say in the proceedings. They still get to okay whatever appears on screen as do the network brass. They don't like something? It does not get aired. Just look at what happened to Firefly. Also, even though Whedon may run it like the military (15) - these are still artists not soldiers - they bring whatever is inside them to the piece and he has made it clear he's open to that.(16) In fact from what I've read - it's clear that Btvs is NOT tightly plotted. They figure out the general arc each season, make sure it builds from the last season, then writers pitch ideas for specific episodes.

Examples: Jane Espenson came up with the idea of Wood being Nikki's son. Oh Whedon wanted Nikki's kid to come gunning for Spike - they just didn't know who it would be until episode 9. (17) The whole Kennedy arc they came up with around CwDP after Amber Benson nixed coming back. Amber Benson was chosen as Tara in S4 by Marti not Joss. Same with Buffy and Spike - also from Marti's experience. (18)

Whedon was probably told to scale back his original concept by assorted players: Fox, Kuzuis, his writers, the actors, etc. Then of course, BTVS was renewed after Season 5 and Joss under his contract with Fox and UPN was honor bound to keep producing it for another two years, hence the decision not to end with a complete tragedy.
____________________________________________________________
7 Interview with Joss Whedon, June 2003, on IGFN web site. Whedon states he's a third generation television writer. His father and grandfather wrote for assorted situation comedies including the Golden Girls, Benson, Dick Cavette. Whedon got his first job writing for the Roseanne Show.
8 See Whedon Interview with IGFN cited above. Also End of the Series Whedon Interview on Salon.com and Joss Whedon Interview: Ending Buffy at http://actionadventure.about.com/cs/weeklystories/a/aa041903.htm#b. (Note the second one is free, the salon.com one requires you subscribe.)
9 See the thread "Tragedy and BTVS & ATS" by WtP from The Stakehouse, posted by Rufus on AASB board on 8/1/03
1010 Film Noir Reader 2, Alan Silver & James Ursini
11See www.atpobtvs.com - discussion board archives, Xena's end or Forever Knight's. http://www.atpobtvs.com/existentialscoobies/archives/may03_p27.html
12 Sarah Michelle Gellar's Exit Interview with Entertainment Weekly, March 2003; Marti Noxon's Interview in SFX regarding Season 6, Dec. 2001; In the SMG Interview - Gellar states Whedon put off killing Tara and turning Willow, because he fell in love with the Willow/Tara relationship and wanted another full year of it. But Willow was supposed to turn dark ever since Season 3. It was pre-planned. According to Noxon - Whedon had planned to destroy Sunnydale in Season 5, but they begged him to leave some of the set in case they got renewed.
13Not sure which interview this came from - my guess is salon.com (which I can no longer access) or about.com (the actionadventure.com site referenced in note 8). If I'm completely off? Be a sweetie and let me know. ;-)
14Interview with Anthony Stewart Head for IGN, Head relates a story about a costume designer who created his look for two seasons and informs the interviewer that due to lighting and camera problems, they had to place everyone around the table in the library, the lighting and camera angles were horrid everywhere else.
15IGFN Interview with Joss Whedon
16 Interviews with Anthony Stewart Head for IGN and with Danny Strong, IGN; James Marsters Interviews on http://www.visimag.com/starburst/284_feature.htm, Demon Lover: "Joss Whedon is letting (producer) Marti Noxon come more into the fore with this story. And her crucible of experience - one she'll always go back to as a writer - is in issues that relate to people in their mid-twenties. It's brilliant that although Joss is still very much in charge of the show, there's another voice that's coming in, using the metaphor to her own ends."
17 The Official Buffy Magazine #8, June/July 2003, Writer Revelations: Espenson states -" We'd been talking quite a while about what if Nikki had a daughter who survived and came to Sunnydale seeking vengeance. Then I had a literally sit-up-in-your-bed brainstorm, where I went, 'She didn't have a daughter, she had a son - and we've already met him. It's Principal Wood."
18 IGN Interview with Joss Whedon; Commentary to Hush, Joss Whedon, S4 BTVS DVD; James Marsters Shore Leave Q&A regarding Buffy/Spike relationship : "I am really serious. I don't think Joss went there, I think it was Marti. She has a dirty mind. How much heat was there last year? Whoa! That was Marti's year. As much as we talk about Joss, Marti is the Bomb! She is, like all the writers, using her personal life and she is incredibly brave about what she admits has happened to her. She has lived the life." http://www.slayernews.com/Actors/Marsters.php

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