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Jane Espenson - Interviewed at the Buffy soundstage August 23rd 2001
Show's you've never heard of
Jane's earliest writing endeavours
I’m originally from Mid West and I went to college in Northern California. While I was up there studying, I learned that you could submit spec scripts, sort of sample episodes, to Star Trek Next: The Next Generation without an agent, so I started writing those and sending them in.
They liked one of them enough that they invited me to come down and pitch story ideas to them, so I started doing that. I sold an idea to them, got an agent and got into the Disney Writer’s fellowship which is a programme that Disney has to help new television writers. They got me hired on one of their shows, Dinosaurs, and the rest is not very well known history.
I worked on a number of sitcoms, Dinosaurs, Monty, Me and the Boys etc., so I used to write a bunch of shows you’ve never heard of. I [then] decided I wanted to make the switch to drama and I got hired on Buffy.
Queen of Comedy
Do you feel you are pigeonholed writing the comedy episodes?
I hope I am pigeonholed with comedy. I’m really not interested in writing the darker stuff, the emotional stuff.
Marti will write an episode that will tear your heart out. That’s great, that is really cool and I’m so glad she can do it because I can’t. I like to write comedy, so I would be delighted that every time there’s a funny episode [they] just hand it to me. I’ll take it.
Janes favourite scripts from past Buffy seasons
When people ask me which episode is my favourite, I always say Band Candy, but I’m not even sure that’s true any more. That was the first one I wrote, so that one’s always special to me.
Since then, I’ve written some that I really loved. I wrote one called Superstar about Jonathan becoming the coolest guy in the world, and I wrote one called I Was Made to Love You about a robot who falls in love with the man who created her.
Evil doubles -a homage to classic Star Trek?
I’m a fan of all the original Star Trek episodes, but we were very conscious of the double Kirk transporter accident scenario.
There have been so many classic twins in television history: Samantha’s sister on Bewitched and Geni’s twin on I Dream of Genie. It’s a rich place.
I had actually pitched a double Xander episode in one of my first seasons because I thought, "We’ve got an actor with an identical twin, how can we not use this, this is such an opportunity. We can do the shots without having to do the cheesy green screen thing, we can use both actors." It just seemed like a natural to me so I was really happy when I got the opportunity to do that. An interesting nugget about that episode was it was originally called Real Me (the eventual title of episode two) and we decided to change it because we didn’t want to give away the fact that both Xanders were real. They were both Xander.
Did you find that writing the episode made you think about the different aspects of your own personality?
I don’t know if writing that episode really made me think about the different components of me. It certainly made me think about the different components of Xander.
When you think about this character, we’ve seen so many different aspects of him over the years - the braveness, the trueness, the stalwartness - he’s really the truest friend you could have. At the same time, we’ve given him a callowness and a shallowness and a lack of self confidence.
To realise that Joss has created a character that’s rich enough that there’s enough for two real people there, that’s kind of cool.
Willow and Anya's dislike for each other seemed to come out of nowhere. Why was it decided to set the two characters against each other?
A lot of Triangle did have to do with animosity between Willow and Anya. It had been set up before, but very lightly in the Thanksgiving episode Pangs which I wrote in a previous season.
There was a line that Willow said about the best thing about having Thanksgiving dinner is that "We can not invite Anya." That was actually a line that Joss had suggested I put in the script. I was a little surprised by that line, because I hadn’t realised that there was such dislike between them.
Then, two seasons later or whatever, it pays off, so I go, "Okay Joss". Joss saw an animosity there, he was encouraging us to build that in from early on. It might have been nice if we’d even been able to do more of that, because it would have helped do some of the stuff that we had to build up in the course of doing Triangle. But I think in his mind it was always there, so it just shows, he always knows.
Sowing the seeds (spoilers)
Do you find that that happens a lot – seeding episodes with ideas that will be exploited later on?
We knew when we were writing Triangle that that troll hammer was going to be important in foiling Glory at the end of the season. We decided on the troll hammer and as we were in the process of writing the episode, Joss said "Let’s keep that troll hammer around - we can use it later."
He is amazing at planting things and realising how useful they’re going to be later on. Tara hiding some magic powder in Season Four - we didn’t pay off until Season Five. There was this huge amount of time. The end of the season came and we all said, "We’re not going to pay that off?". [Joss said] "We’ll pay it off, it’s just going to take a while," so he’s great at making you wait but he’s always going somewhere.
Every now and then he’ll plant something and he doesn’t realise that it’s going to pay off later. In Doppelgängland, Willow is observing Evil Willow and she says, "I think she’s kind of gay". Joss didn’t know that was going to pay off later, that the Willow character in fact was gay but, sure enough, it paid off.
Does that mean there will be consequences for Dawn stealing Anya's earrings in one episode this season?
Dawn stole some earrings. Nothing is ever not paid off. We wouldn’t plant something like that without something coming back later. A lot of people have been saying to me, "So Willow’s getting really really powerful, it seems like there should be consequences," and I just keep saying, "There’s always consequence on Buffy. When are there not consequences?"
Co-writing Checkpoint with Doug Petrie and creating the mysterious Knights of Byzantium
We went through an interesting process of splitting it up, in which we said, "You take the first half, I’ll take the second half." There was no thought or finesse or co-ordination at any point. We split it right down the middle. I wrote half and he wrote half and it was simply the luck of the draw who got to write what. It was a great experience, we both had a great time. In fact, I have split an episode with Doug again this season (Flooded) and one with David Fury.
The Knights of Byzantium was an idea I think Doug Petrie had. We originally called them the Knights of the Cruciform Sword, which was some idea that Doug had come across somewhere. I think it might have been an actual historical group, and we just sort of fell in love with the name.
For a while, we were calling them the Cruciform Swords and then Joss once referred to them as the Cruciform Ducks, which was like a slip of the tongue, and then they were the ducks – for a long time. We would just say, "Okay and then we’re going to need some ducks here."
It was just a very cool idea to introduce a new element that we hoped would end up being a major element through the season. Towards the end it ended up working out.
Who wants the Watchers?
Have the Watchers' Council outlived their usefulness
I think that when Buffy thinks of the Watchers'Council, she thinks "What a bunch of twits." I don’t think she has any use for them, I don’t think they have any power right now. They don’t have a slayer, I don’t know what they’re doing in London, they’re just sitting around. I don’t think they have a lot of power, I don’t think Buffy thinks much about them.
A number of us writers find them very interesting, but there’s not a lot of opportunity for seeing them right now because they really aren’t that important in Buffy’s life. But aren’t they funny when they’re there?
I was Made to Love You (spoilers)
Rumour has it that the episode was originally intended to feature Britney Spears
I think what I can say is that yes, I believe that the rumours most consistently point to that episode as having originally been conceived for Britney Spears. That’s what the fans think. I suspect I can’t comment on whether or not that’s true. It sure worked great the way it turned out.
The young lady who played the robot was amazing. The scene where she freezes and her batteries run down I think is just stunning. Every time I look at it I’m like, "Did we freeze that picture? No her hair’s blowing." Looks really cool.
If you could have your own pleasure 'bot' who would you like it to look like?
Earlier on, I was talking about Davey Jones of The Monkees. Ladies of my age may remember him. That would be nice. Probably, just some movie star that I like I suppose. Boy, the mind just kind of goes in big leaps doesn’t it.
Body swaps and robots (spoilers)
Sarah has had the chance recently to play characters other than Buffy in the show. Was this a decision by the writers to give her more fun stuff to do?
I think the episodes where Sarah’s gotten to do something with a completely different colour than the normal Buffy - the one where she switched bodies with Faith and the Buffy Bot - I think those came much more out of story.
It was just like, "Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what Spike would do with this Bot, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what Faith would do with Buffy, what Buffy would do with Faith", to see how those personalities affect each other. I think the bonus [was that] it was an extra scoop of ice-cream that Sarah got to to do these extra things.
It was wonderful for us to get to see it, but I really think they came originally out of just the necessity of story.
Chips with everything
Do you think that the chipped Spike is redeemable and could Buffy love him?
It would be very hard to redeem Spike, he doesn’t have a soul. There is a line that I wrote that I really love where Buffy realises that Dawn has a crush on Spike and says, "You cannot hang out with a vampire" and Dawn says "You did with Angel." Buffy says, "Angel had a soul" and Dawn says, "Spike has a chip, same diff."
I love the idea that the soul and the chip are very much the same but they are very different because of the heart behind them. As long as Spike hasn't a soul, he cannot be redeemed.
However, there’s a lot that Spike can do without redemption. He can explore all kinds of human interactions without redemption and that’s even more interesting.
Buffy: The Animated Series
I gather you’ve written some scripts for the animated show. What's the style of the show going to be?
I’ve written two scripts for the animated Buffy. One is called Teeny and one is called Food Fight. Steve DeKnight, one of the other writers, has written one and is in the process of writing a second one and the show’s executive producer Jeff Loeb has written one.
These are all with Joss supervision and they’re coming out great, they’re really a blast to write. They’re a half hour (long) so we’re writing them just like Buffy scripts, we’re breaking them like Buffy scripts, except it’s just the humour and the horror. It doesn’t have the angst, they don’t have a arc, because in animation it’s very hard to predict the order in which the episodes are going to air.
They tend to air them all higgledy-piggledly, so you can’t really develop a realty strong arc and what’s going to happen next week. It’s much more self contained episodes, so they’re like my favourite episodes of Buffy. They’re like the stand-alone episodes. Something crazy happens that affects our people, let’s see what it does.
They’re just as metaphorical and strong and themic as regular Buffy, but without all the tears.
Tales of the Slayer
Jane Austen the Vampire Slayer comes to a new comics collection
When Joss told us about Tales of the Slayer, we each got to pick a historical period of style that we wanted to do our slayer in.
Without thinking about it, I just said "I want to do a Jane Austen slayer," and then realised Jane Austin’s the opposite of comic books. It’s all talk, it’s no action, it’s very interior. How do you even maintain the Jane Austen-style voices in a story that has a vampire?
I realised I’d given myself this enormous challenge which actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. A great artist, Pete Craig Russell did the art for my story and he added so much to it, little details. He would zoom in on a little detail that I hadn’t even thought about, that added so much to it and I think I created a really interesting slayer that I would love to see again.
I think we’re going to do another Tales of the Slayer and maybe we’ll see her [again] and maybe I’ll come up with another one.