Friday, July 02, 2010

The Low Res Interview: Drew Z. Greenberg (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my chat with Buffy and Warehouse 13 writer Drew Z. Greenberg. Part 1 can be found here. And be sure to catch the premiere of the second season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy this Tuesday, July 6th.

Joe Reid: While we're on the subject of fan response ... as you may or may not know, this blog's recent bout of Buffy Fever arose in response to the fan-favorite countdown on Logo. Obviously, I'm not going to ask you to talk about why we feel some episodes to be better than others, but it did remind me that fan interest (and fan debate, and fan entrenched-opinion) is still really strong. I know Lost gets all the credit for having the ultimate obsessed online fan community, but the Buffy fans were pretty intense. How aware were you guys of the fan responses during Seasons 6 and 7? Was it a matter of trying to keep it at bay so you could tell the stories you all wanted to tell, or were there attempts made to incorporate/respond to what the fans were liking/not liking? I'll bring it around to Spike (...because I always do), and ask if the huge waves of support for his character and the "Spuffy" (sorry) pairing drove the story more overtly in the direction of his redemption/their relationship?

Drew Z. Greenberg: Yeah, I always say (even now), there are two kinds of people in the world: people who are obsessed with Buffy and people who haven't seen it yet. In terms of being aware of fan response during Seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy: honestly? Production is set up so that by the time an episode airs, we're already far, far down the line in the season. So even if we had been aware of fan response, we wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, 'cause for us, that train had left the station about four months before, and we were in a whole new part of the story arc. And the hard, hard truth is that we just weren't that aware of fan response, at least not at the time. You know... you're desperately trying to get 22 episodes of television on the air, and anyone who's spent any time in production knows you barely have time to stop at red lights. Your friends end up hating you, 'cause you suddenly drop off the face of the planet, your relationships become extra work, your plants die, goodness help your pets -- it's just not that easy to stop down and say, wait, wait, wait, now let's review all the message boards RIGHT NOW. This is not to say we're not invested in listening to the fans, it just means it doesn't often happen when we're in the middle of it.

And not for nothing, but, seriously? "Huge waves of support for" Spuffy? Yes, a lot of people liked them together. But a lot of people didn't like them together, at least if the buckets of hate mail I got after "Smashed" are any indication. And this raises another point: how COULD we listen to fan response? For every fan who hates something we do and swears to stop watching unless we change it THIS MINUTE, there's another fan who loves that very same thing and swears to stop watching if we EVER STOP. So... my personal philosophy is that I'm just going to keep my head down and try to tell the best, most organic, most complete story I can tell. It will be to my personal taste, and I will desperately, fervently hope it's to yours, too. If it is, yay! If it's not... please don't take it personally, you might like my next one.

JR: Along those same lines, there were a few moments in Season 7 where the show itself seemed to be acknowledging that, like, "Yes, Buffy is making another big speech," or "Buffy really does think she's better than everybody, huh?" Were those just little course-corrections along the way, or was the idea from the outset "Let's take Buffy to the edge of unlikeability and then pull her back"? Maybe talk about this in light of the final scene in "Empty Places," where the Scoobies and Potentials mutiny against Buffy and unite under Faith? That episode made a pretty convincing case that Buffy needed to be taken down a peg or two.

DZG: Yes, the goal of Season 7 was to show that Buffy was feeling the weight of all this responsibility on her shoulders -- she had somehow inherited a literal army. And at first, she responded badly to that responsibility. She had to be reminded that her friends and family were there for her, had always been there for her, even as she became more and more aware of her painful isolation from the rest of humanity and, in Season 7, actually started leaning into that isolation. So, yes, the goal from the beginning was to turn her into a bit of a general who needed to wake up and see that her loyal friends were still her greatest strength. (Which doesn't mean we didn't have a good time poking gentle fun at ourselves and the speechifying by the time we got to the end, because, what are we, made of stone??)

Click below for Anya-talk, plus what brings on Vengeful Floaty Jane Espenson...

JR: Watching that scene in "Empty Places" over again just now, and particularly that righteous bit of dialogue Anya gets, I was struck by how basically 90% of all my favorite Anya moments that aren't comedy/levity come from you. Sleeping with Spike in "Entropy," lashing out at Willow in "Older and Far Away," cutting Buffy down to size in "Empty Places." Is this a coincidence or did you make a concerted effort to balance out Anya's zaniness with some gravity?

DZG: I'm immensely flattered that you liked much of the serious stuff I wrote for Anya, but I definitely don't think it was just me. All the writers had moments of tapping into her anger, insecurity, selfishness, love... (however, you may continue to praise me as much as you like, I don't mind). The character was such a rich creation -- a demon with no regard for humans made human! And a vengeance demon who hates men in love with a man!! Genius! And her forthright assessment of things was never out of left field, because Anya did just speak the truth, often in a funny way, but always with unflinching, brutal honesty. And Emma is such a great actor to write for, because she's so skillful at playing that humor with genuine pathos behind it, it seemed like there were always levels to Anya's attitude, whether in a big speech or a throwaway joke. So it was fun to get behind there and tap into it when necessary. Personally, I love the moments when a comic-relief character turns on you and calls you out, because it's so startling, so unexpected, it means more dramatically. Plus, it's always a chance to tap into my own not-so-deeply buried anger and unleash it on the world. Yeeeee-ha!!

JR: So I made mention earlier how much I love the episode "Him." So I'm going to make you talk about it. It played very much like a throwback episode, revisiting the old High School Is Hell motif from the first few seasons, this time through Dawn. Was that part of a conscious back-to-the-beginning theme for the season? Also, how different was it writing an episode that was largely removed from the big season arc? Was there a greater sense of freedom to just go nuts?

DZG: I don't remember any conscious decisions to make "Him" part of a back-to-the-beginning theme. On the other hand, I do think it was a natural result of returning Buffy to a high school setting (now as an adult) and finding story areas there. Also, it served the purpose of illustrating how far Buffy had come since her days as romantic, lovestruck teenager when she got to (a) be one again and (b) witness Dawn's own despair over a boy she liked. (And so, on one level, it illustrated how much distance Buffy had put between herself and her own beginning, and how far "back to the beginning" might be.)

During my tenure on the show, I got to toggle back and forth nicely between standalone episodes and arc-y episodes, so I never felt I was missing out on either. "Him" came early enough in the season that there wasn't that much out in the open yet about the season-long arc, so in the absence of something pertaining more directly to the arc, I liked getting to tell a complete story, beginning, middle and end. I was pretty sure I'd be back to an arc episode soon enough. In terms of a greater sense of a freedom to go nuts, Buffy was one of those rare shows that crossed all genres and formats -- a comedy one week, a horror the next, a teen drama the next, so I already felt like I had the freedom to sort of go nuts every week. I feel like I get to do that on Warehouse 13, where we can do comedy, thriller, mystery, drama depending on the week; rare though that experience is, I've gotten to do it on both of these shows. So i feel I've gotten to have freedom aplenty.

JR: Given that "Him" was such an overtly comedic episode, did you ever wake up in the middle of the night to Jane Espenson hovering over your bed, plastic knife in hand, warning you to stay the hell of of her turf?

DZG: Jane was most supportive of my jokiness, both in "Him" and elsewhere. So I don't think she'd become Vengeful Floaty Jane over a script like "Him." Now if I ever insulted Weird Al Yankovic, then maybe Vengeful Floaty Jane might appear. (It's okay, Jane, I wouldn't!! It was just an example!)

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon!


The Bloody Munchkin said...

I love this! Can I take both you and Drew out for Mojitos and just let you rifle off questions and listen to him answer? Because that would be awesome!

Kirk Hamilton said...

I'm not sure what my favorite part of this interview has been so far, but "BTW, Jane Espenson is a Vengeful Weird Al Fan" is certainly in the running.

Johnny Walker said...

Great read! Thanks for making this happen. I always felt conflicted by the hypocrisy surrounding the treatment of Dawn. I still don't get it. Love Buffy though, what a wonderful show!

Anonymous said...

This is a very insightful interview.Drew Greenberg is right though about Spike and the "Spuffy" pairing.Spike is a very divisive character in the Buffy fandom and the "Spuffy" pairing is equally as hated as loved.There is just as many fans who prefer Angel and the "Bangel" pairing.Just look at the fights still going on over this.It's gotten even more heated now due to the comics.The best bet for a writer is to just do the story they want and not worry because you are not going to please everyone.