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(Transcript): BtVS6.07 'Once More, With Feeling' Audio Commentary by Joss W.

17th August 2008 (16:14)

Third in an ongoing series; here's a transcript of Joss's commentary for 'Once More, With Feeling'. Because he refers so often to directors and lyricists from the age of classical musicals during this, I needed to keep a tab open to Wikipedia while writing the transcript to check the spellings of all the names... I've summarised what I found out in notes at the end. (And meanwhile, I was also using IMDB to check the spelling of the various crew and production people Joss also name-checks.)

Incidentally, when he says this at one point:
"I love the lighting here, I love the set, I love their outfits, I love the two of them."
...I really had to restrain myself from typing "Boom de yada, boom de yada" afterwards. :-)

Make the most of the happy joyous fun here; the next Joss commentary coming up will be for 'The Body'...

As before, I've put context in square brackets, and omitted the verbal repetition, hesitations and 'you know's and 'I mean's.

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'Once More, With Feeling' Commentary

Hi, I'm Joss Whedon and this is my little audio commentary on 'Once More With Feeling', my first musical and one of my favourite episodes of 'Buffy'. I wanted to make a musical all my life. I never had the time, the wherewithal or the guts to do it before; plus I never wrote any music professionally – or at all. I could barely bang out chords on the piano.

But with the wealth of talent I had on this show I thought this is my best chance: I might as well give it a crack. I knew that I had Tony, and Amber and James who had all sung at my house. And I knew Michelle loved to dance, and I knew that everybody was game to go for it. Although some people were terrified. But none more than me, since I, as previously mentioned, had never written anything professionally.

Widescreen - had to be widescreen. I don’t usually do things, don't like to do black and white or any kind of tricks; because they're not really what the characters are going through, they're just filmic tricks. And I don’t like to be about the film, but – if it's going to be a musical then for me it has to be a giant widescreen colour extravaganza, where you can tell we really pushed the colour. Ray Stella, our DP, did a wonderful job just making the whole show glow. We were very specific about costumes and stuff.

[Overture]

What you were listening to at the very beginning there was actually a sort of trumpeted version of 'Where Do We Go From Here?' which ends the show, and I wanted to begin it with that. The rest of the overture I left in the hands of Chris Beck, and was excited to see what themes he would use. I designed the shots to be long single takes because I wanted to play everything visually, and give everybody all the information they could possibly have about whose relationship was what with whom.

And Buffy's clearly not paying attention; Xander and Anya are getting married; Willow loves Tara; all of that stuff. Giles is taking care of Dawn. And the overture was a great way to get past the credits, which I knew I'd have and didn't want to have over the dialogue. Because… oh, they're singing now. And it gave me chance to have an overture, which is sort of old school, but I love plays as much as movies, and I love old musicals. I love all musicals. So that was a nice way to kick it old school, as you would say.

[Going Through The Motions]

This number here – very much in the Disney tradition, what Jeffrey Katzenberg would call an 'I want' song. Ariel's 'Part of Your World', 'Belle' from 'Beauty and the Beast': the song where the heroine tells you exactly what it is she's missing in her life. Which in Buffy's case is her life: she just doesn't feel connected.

["She does pretty well / with fiends from hell / but lately we can tell…"]

Crazy silly dancing from the vampires. Just silly enough to have fun with, but not so over the top that you completely lose yourself. The trick was to bring people into a musical and have them accept that they were one. And one of the ways that I did that was just to say with the colour, and the widescreen, and this:

["How can I repay--?" "Whatever."]

This particular gag, with the male model man, to say right up front, "This is a musical comedy, or at least a musical, and accept it." And this is very much in the Ashman Mencken style, I think. There's nobody better than those two, they were wonderful.

["And I just want to be alive."]

Although these last little chords here are very much Stephen Schwartz. When I wrote them I thought "Ooh, that sounds just like 'Pippin' from when I was young. But hopefully not too much like 'Pippin' so I couldn't get sued."

And then of course to reveal her from the dusting vampire and have the dust swirl away in the corner - that's two classic Disney moments. Reveal of the face, and the swirling leaves, as it were, as we pull back. Only to do it with the dusting of a vampire, was a trick particular to us which made me happy. As I wrote the song - and this happened with a lot of them -

["Respect the cruller. And tame the doughnut."]

Quick 'Magnolia' reference there. A little shout-out to 'Magnolia'; got to have it.

As I wrote the songs and played them over and over in my house, and with me and my wife singing them, the more often I would play them the more I would begin to understand what the visuals in them were. What they were going to be, when things were going to happen. And so that last number was basically storyboarded before it was ever shot. It was very easy to shoot because I knew every angle. For example, "Nothing seems to penetrate my heart" I wrote in order to show her stabbing somebody in the heart at the same time, for the irony. But even things that weren't in the lyrics I knew before I shot them, in instances like that.

["Last night, did anybody, um, burst into song?"]

This whole sequence was there very simply to say, "Hey, we're in a musical, and we don't like it either!" Because people have trouble accepting musicals. And I got around that because in Sunnydale anything can happen; because 'Buffy' is so sophomoric it's practically a musical anyway; and because when people suddenly start singing, and whipping off their glasses, I've already said "Well, we don’t feel comfortable doing that and we hope it doesn't happen again." So already they're in the same boat as the audience.

[I've Got A Theory]

Despite jazz hands. And that gets you past the biggest problem with musicals that people have, that they just don't buy it. Which is of course ridiculous because almost none of the things that happen in movies actually happen, but people don't have trouble buying them because they're of their era. Musicals are just of a different era - except that they really aren't. People love them, and they won't admit it but they do.

[Bunnies]

This little bit here came from Emma herself. She was always screaming heavy metal at me as a joke on set, for no reason. "Joss Whedon! He has a show! He's a producer!" Just because she's incredibly silly. And so I had to throw something in there for her, because everything is tailored to my actors. And I thought, what better thing to write about than bunnies, in that instance?

Apart from that we've stayed very much in the musical comedy tradition, in a very old style. And the old guys, Bock and Harnick, Frank Loesser, these were really big with me. Sondheim is, of course, the god of all things, but musically he's so changeable and ephemeral that you can't really say, "Oh, I'll do it in the style of Sondheim!" Also you have to be a genius, which I forgot to do.

[If We're Together]

But then Buffy comes in with this, and for me musically this is more a signature of what the sound is going to be like for the rest of the show. It's kind of mixing the pop and the musical sensibilities. I like what's going on here because she's basically wooing Giles. And you can see him as he starts to sing with them, falling under her spell as she says what appears to be a rousing chorus of "We can handle this, we're a great team", but what she's actually saying is "I'm bored, it means nothing to me, they've got nothing new." And she kind of fools everyone, and Giles is the last one to fall into it because he's the one who suspects what's going on with her.

Which was fun to put together, although the verse "What can't we do if we get in it / We'll work it through within a minute", I thought "Ugh! What a placeholder! That I'll rewrite, don't worry." And then months later I was sort of getting used to it, and decided that it was just fine. Because I am lazy. And it sounded pretty when they sang it. Everything sounded pretty when they sang it, which was pretty extraordinary. They did an incredible job. We have some very trained people here and some people who'd never even watched a musical. And the way they all throw themselves into it is sort of extraordinary.

[The Mustard]

And the way David Fury, Co-Executive Producer, throws himself into his mustard song is also sort of amazing. This was a way of saying, "Everybody's in a musical!" And to do the biggest, most old-fashioned, brightly coloured, silliest piece about absolutely nothing. Kind of get the big production number out of the way since I couldn't really afford to do them, and that's not really what I feel like writing. This is a more personal piece. And so it involves a lot more solo numbers and stuff like that.

And it wasn't really about dancing either, because I didn’t really have dancers. It's easier for a non-pro to sing than it is for them to dance – although Michelle does a lovely bit with the scary men later. So I knew that I wasn't going to focus on dancing, I was going to focus more on movement. And if you watch everybody moving in that last number – not the mustard one, the one before, the little medley – you can see that everybody is bringing just a little bit more to their performance.

And you can also see, if you watch Emma particularly, that she is very musical comedy in her movements. Like trained musical comedy –whereas others, like Nicky, is just behaving it so comfortably and naturally in it that it works perfectly even though their styles are actually pretty different.

["The sun's shining, there's songs going on, those guys are checking you out."]

As much as possible I like to do everything in a oner. A long take of any kind, it gives you an old-fashioned feeling sometimes, it lets the space breathe. Too much cutting in a musical is a dreadful thing. Cutting in the right place is a good thing; but the best feeling you can get is when the camera sweeps along with you and you're not cutting too heavily.

[Under Your Spell]

And then we come into Tara's ballad. This was probably the first thing I wrote. This and the beginning of James's. "I'm under your spell" probably the first words I wrote. I knew Amber was going to get what I referred to as the 'breakaway pop hit' – even though, obviously, nothing broke away. I wanted her to have the ballad because of her extraordinary voice. And it was very hard to write, and very fun because it is such an unabashed love song.

And shooting it, we found this beautiful location, which in LA is not that easy. Although we had to cue the water ourselves, because it's usually dry going down to that pond. But having that bridge and the sun, and just – we pumped up the light and everything to make it feel as magical as possible. And then pretty much let Amber do the work, because she carried it.

Although I have to say that Aly, who was not a singer, and begged me on her knees to have her sing as little as possible, probably had the harder job in this number. Which is to hold the behaviour entirely in reaction shots, and not actually get the singing and dancing, but just to stand there and look like you're having a good time. Which is usually harder than actually having a good time.

Adam Shankman was my choreographer here with Anne Fletcher as his assistant, and they were invaluable. And so much fun to work with. The fact that they came on at all was a huge deal. It was Sarah actually who recommended them; she knew we would get along as well as we did. And they really… with, again, mostly non-dancers, although there were some professional dancers in the background a lot of the times. We really brought a lot of life to it.

["The moon to the tide / I can feel you inside"]

This is pornography. And there's nothing I can say to change your mind about that fact. It's probably the dirtiest lyric I've ever written. But it's also very, very beautiful. I was a little disappointed that "Spread beneath my willow tree" kind of destroys the 'sea' imagery that I was working with. Not the first guy in the world to work with sea imagery but I thought I had some nice lines in it. But then I pretty much went to the place with the 'willow' and the 'spread' and... what are you going to say? But leading up to this cut…

["You make me complete / You make me--"]

…Is one of my favourite things in the entire show. Because it's such a good way to get out of that musical number and to completely destroy that mood. Despite its being a wee bit risqué, that number was written as a pop hit, or a pop tune, in the sense of being somewhat non-specific even in terms of gender. Just being about love; and although Tara talks about herself somewhat we don’t actually learn anything new, and that's something we'll talk about more in a minute.

[A tap-dancing man catches on fire]

This fellow came on to do this bit. An extraordinary tap-dancer. One take, two cameras. He did it once. We didn’t have to dub in the sound of his feet, we didn’t have to do anything – except set the stunt guy on fire – because he just blew us all away on the first take.

["That's entertainment"]

And then of course this is the introduction of what might be wrong with musicals, and that's Hinton Battle. Not that he's wrong with musicals, but that he is our resident Evil. Since you've got to have something like peril even in a musical.

[I'll Never Tell]

This number was definitely the most fun to shoot. We all just - everybody on set, every day was a different song, because there is so much music, there's 36 minutes of music in 48 minutes of show. It's too many minutes of show, but bless the UPN, they let me – Dean Valentine let me run long, which I hadn't intended to do but unfortunately I couldn't figure out what to cut.

But this number, apart from being just great fun for the crew and fun to shoot, again, like Buffy's number at the beginning was very much figured out storyboard-wise before it was shot. It even contained some dancing; the only thing I knew were certain shots until I'd seen the dancing, but because it was storyboarded we would shoot one piece and then shoot another. It wasn't like we shot lots of coverage and then decided what to use. Everything is done specifically. That's not always the case with some of these numbers, and you can tell the difference.

I love the lighting here, I love the set, I love their outfits, I love the two of them. And this was an example of what's fun about working on a TV show. Anya's look the year before had been very Forties retro, a lot of floral print dresses, and it kind of distinguished her – I love those posters at the top of the frame too – it kind of distinguished her from the other characters. Xander's apartment had a real sort of Thirties Deco thing look to it. So both of those things led me to think, and they as a couple were more played for comedy than for dark, tortured romance, it led me to say "This is going to be my big comedy Astaire-Rogers kind of number." And the opportunity to do that was a lot of fun. To be really silly and yet hit on something that is very true about relationships, which is the fear you have, the things you can't say.

[Sunnydale Press: "Mayhem caused, monsters certainly not involved, officials say"]

That newspaper heading: the morning of, I told the prop guys "I think his newspaper should say something. What about this? Blah blah blah." And they instantly ran out and did it for me, which was perfect.

["Look at me! I'm dancing crazy!"]

And then we get into this, which is where you find out Emma's really got a huge amount of training; Nicky none at all, and just dives right in. And the two of them together are kind of spectacular. And one of the things that I absolutely knew I had to do in this situation was the shot where the camera goes up and to the side and just sort of glides up while they're dancing and gives us the whole room. That's very old-style musical, it's a classical thing. And the stuff that Adam and Mama - which is what we call Anne Fletcher – put together for that is just spectacular, I think. And Nicky and Emma really pull it off.

["You're the cutest of the Scoobies / with your lips as red as rubies / and your firm yet supple… tight embrace."]

And yet another of my patented dirty jokes. Followed by more dancing. But having this kind of romanticism in the show, and being able to do something as old-fashioned in a show that has more of a pop sensibility, was such a treat.

["He's swell." "She's sweller." "He'll always be my fella."]

I love that frame with the light behind her. And I love that Adam and Mama came up with the two of them climbing up onto the table, which was a big moment visually. Hard, hard song to write, obviously, because a ton of rhyme, a ton of trying to actually be funny, a ton of… and I lied. This whole sequence, I remember being at the Cape, out on the river, just going over and over and over and over and over it and never quite getting it.

["Will I look good when I've gotten old?"]

The "Will I look good if I've gotten old?" from her: just one thing about that. What she's talking about is looking good – will he like her when she looks old. But I tweaked the lyrics so that the internal rhyme was stronger, instead of hitting the meaning more clearly. "Will I look good when I've gotten old" going with "pot of gold". What I originally had was "Will he look at me when I look old?" And I went for the rhyme, and I think probably I should have gone for the meaning there, so that people understand that she's not being vain.

[Xander and Anya tell Giles what happened]

This is a classic. You end up laughing and it's really uncomfortable, in old movies. Even I, who love musicals, always hate that part. So to cut in the middle of that to this "Nightmare, it was horrible" sequence was a way of paying a little nod to that. Now this shot has a lot going on in it. Talking about the fact that they are singing a retro pastiche to explain the difference in musical styles.

[The Parking Ticket]

And then again, another example that musicals are going on all around them, with yet another Executive Producer, Marti Noxon, my partner in crime, who has probably the most beautiful singing voice around. Really extraordinary, and I knew right away I was going to have her do something in it. And she kicked it out, it was a joy to watch that.

[Giles, Xander and Anya walk past a dancing couple and a chorus line with brooms]

This was probably, I think, the twenty-first take of this? It was so difficult to put all the elements together. At the last minute we threw in these two dancers: that is Adam Shankman and Anne Fletcher, the choreographer and the assistant choreographer. And then these three fellows.

[Broom Dance]

These three fellows in the background here, they recur a lot of times. They are the three henchmen in the puppet heads, they were also the three demons in the graveyard. But to have serious exposition going on with these guys behind them was delightful fun. And Chris Beck put this together. It is actually a jazzy version of, again, 'Where Do We Go From Here?', which he camped up delightfully. But getting of all these elements, and getting my delightful actors to actually remember their words, all in one shot, nearly killed us. But somehow we managed to do it.

[Buffy goes to see Spike]

Very arch frame, that. Using very wide lens, really trying to use the wide screen there and make it feel almost like anamorphic. I think of 'Brigadoon' and 'West Side Story' particularly, 'Les Girls', all of the great, really really wide movies that just, they used the whole frame. 'It's Always Fair Weather'. The era, that probably ended with 'West Side Story', that I respond to the most.

But of course here we're into a different aesthetic. We're into Spike. And with Spike it's got to be something fairly rocking. And James sings, he gigs a lot at clubs, he has a great voice. He's a great songwriter too. My favourite songs of his are the ones that he's actually written. But he has a particular voice, and it was great because I could hear that in my head very early on.

[Rest In Peace]

I love the fact that Spike is really pissed off that he's actually about to burst into song. I started out… this was really what I worked on first, along with 'Under Your Spell'. And it started out with something about how much he loved her; but it didn't progress things. I'm obsessive about progressing the plot in a song. About saying things that we haven't said.

Musical is a chance for people to express things they couldn’t otherwise express. I often refer to this as the sequel to 'Hush' in that respect. When you stop talking you start communicating. And so many TV shows do what I refer to as variety shows disguised as musicals, where they don't… they just do a scene, and then sing an oldie that has to do with it vaguely. But this is different.

This has to have the power of what he's feeling, expressed at that time. It has to be something he couldn't express otherwise. And rather than just tell her that he's in love with her I thought it would be much better if he came at her hard and angry, and said "Leave me alone. Go away. I can't take any more of this." While at the same time constantly reappearing in frame, constantly staying with her, adding verses.

The bridge that's coming up where they're walking in the graveyard; again, he tells her to get out, at the end of this – and then he's still singing to her. It's the classic "Go away; come back; go away; come back." But to have the threat of it be "Get the hell out of here!" made it much more rocking.

["I know I should go / but I follow you like a man possessed / there's a traitor here beneath my breast"]

This is kind of a sensitive interlude in our little rock tune. It came from the line that's coming up, "If my heart could beat it would break my chest." That's the first line I thought of for James, and it was in a different song. But it moved me too much not to use it, so I stuck in this bridge just to accommodate it. Which may have been self-indulgent, but it wasn't the last time – or the first – that I've been self-indulgent.

[Spike attacks the funeral party]

I think some of the shooting here got a little dicey. It's a little haphazard. I knew what I was trying to do but I could have covered it more. And so I felt that sequence was a little weak, getting them into the graveyard. I think visually I could have brought more to that party. The morph didn't quite work, the stunt didn't… everything didn't quite gel the way it did in my brain.

["So you're not staying then?"]

But this ending made up for all of it. Again, completely denying what he just sang.

[Dawn tips out a bag full of books onto her bed.]

That's my backpack, by the way. This is my greatest contribution to the thing. Because the prop people didn't have a backpack, and I said "I have a backpack! It looks like a… fourteen year old girl would own it. I won't explain why, but I do." So that's my favourite piece of trivia, my wonderful backpack.

[Tara talks to Dawn]

Coming up now, Michelle's little number, which she begged me, "Don't make me sing, I only want to dance." And so I went out of my way to accommodate that. Again, the more restrictions that are put on a person the more they already have their work done for them. Which is, again, what's great about TV. You know you can do this with this person and that with that person, and it helps you shape the story. The story was easy to break, because I knew. I wanted Tara to have a ballad; well, that had to come early before things got really dire. And knowing things like that helps you structure things. I knew that Dawn wanted to dance, and so the ballet that's coming up is hers.

[Dawn's Lament]

Doug Stevens, who was Chris Beck's assistant, wrote this little intro to Dawn's song, which I think is very beautiful. The idea, also, of having a song that is for me one of my favourites – and one that I wish I could hear the rest of, but because I failed to write it never do – is really fun and very much this show. You think you're about to be in the sweet girl ballad. I also like using the frame which goes all the way from the beginning of this scene to this, from the mirror to this, and then to this final image:

[The puppet henchmen grab Dawn]

…of the scary bad guys. Again, takes you out of where you thought you were into something else. But using the frame as much as possible, even though we had to pop in for a close-up for the necklace, is a staple of musicals.

[Dawn's Ballet]

And now we're into something that's a little bit, again, different. This move: one of my few pieces of choreography. I knew I wanted her to wake up like that; that would be the first image of Act Three. And the rest we worked out with Adam. And these again are our three boys.

And I told Chris Beck – who wrote, again, this music, he wrote all the orchestral score, he and Jesse Tobias, who's a great rocker, orchestrated the show together: the mix, the orchestral and the rock. But this is Chris Beck, and it's his own work. And I said, "Give me something that feels like 'Peter And The Wolf', was all I said. And he really did. And I think the choreography is kind of beautiful the way it reflects the fairy book aspect of it, and gets choreographed without ever getting dorky. Which is tough.

And again leads into something very different. Here's Michelle doing her slide: very important to know that that was her, because that was a painful and difficult slide to do, and we kept having to spray the floor. And I knew from the very start that how I wanted to introduce the bad guy was with tap. And we built those stairs specially for the Bronze just for this episode. Carey Meyer, the Production Designer, did that because I said, "We're going to see him, and he's going to be tap-dancing down the stairs.

[What You Feel]

And this musical number shares stylistically a lot of different things. I wanted something very bluesy and kind of old-school for the sound because I knew I wanted to have a real hoofer in the role. And to get Hinton Battle was an extraordinary coup. Even though there's not much room for tap, just what he brings to it with his dancing movement is just extraordinary.

And then visually I have two different things going on here. One is the style in which it's shot. This was not like the other ones where I had the whole thing storyboarded right up front. It was much more opportunistic; I threw cameras on him, I told them basically how I wanted them to move, where I wanted to cut him off, obviously a head to toe but then also at the knees.

Here we see in this dance how he's bringing Michelle– bringing Dawn to a more mature, almost sexualised place; that she's been saying "I'm ready to go here, I'm ready to grow up", but she's not sure that she is. And as in a classic fairy tale, which is the feeling I wanted to get from this particular sequence, the demon shows her a little bit more of herself than she knew was there. And although it frightens her, she comes out the wiser for it after he's defeated. But as I was saying, the style was kind of opportunistic because I didn't have a chance to really see the dance before we shot it.

["Plus some customers just start combusting. "]

Yet tricks like that door slamming down which came from Loni Peristere and the guys at Radium, who are now at Zoic, the special effects house. I was going to have it appear; they said "Can it slam down, Tex Avery fashion?" All of that, him taking off the mouth, stuff like that: I wanted to make it again more like a cartoon. Not necessarily a Disney cartoon, but a way of saying things are magical. She's magically wearing a dress. That, of course, we just did with a cut.

So things in that sense are very old-fashioned. Yet the look of the thing, because we had all the different cameras – we didn't really have a mandate on how to shoot it, except that we didn’t have much time – it meant that it would be more heavily cut. That you would take all of your frames, and find the best one and cut to it. And that is really a tribute to my editor Lisa Lassek.

Because when I looked at the footage I thought, "Okay, there's a lot of good stuff here", but I really didn't have a game plan. And she found the best frame in every instance. And sometimes used a frame for a very short time, just because there was a nuance, a tiny movement of the hips, or the hand, that she wanted to catch. And what was basically some, I think, shoddy shooting on my part – because I didn't feel it had the clarity of the other numbers – became almost Fosse-esque. Because nobody used cutting better than Bob Fosse in musicals. And so I'm actually very proud of how that came out, but the editor gets more credit for that than I do, because she really found it all. I changed almost nothing from her first cut there.

[Buffy and Giles are training]

Just the karate kick into the board; again, old-fashioned and a little silly, but they make reference to it. It's finally Tony's turn, and about damn time.

[Buffy does a handstand on the vaulting horse. We can't see her face]

That was obviously Sarah switching out for a stuntwoman. That was always a fun trick. Again, as much in a single take as possible.

[Standing]

This song: I knew Tony was going to have the saddest ballad. I knew where he was, and I knew he was going to give me the huge pipes. And the song really was… it was a lot of fun to write, but it was putting it together visually that made me understand what was special about it. The fact is, he's singing about wanting to protect her. He's singing about, you know, it's every parent's dilemma. "I want to take care of you, but eventually I have to teach you to take care of yourself."

And for him to be doing this, to be singing about wanting to protect her, while he's throwing knives at her head is the kind of complete turn-around that is, I think, a staple of the 'Buffy' universe. And it's what I really love about living in it. And then this was one where I also visually knew what I was going to do early on. That I was going to go to the extreme slo-mo. Put Sarah in extreme slow motion and have Tony move around her in regular time. It, to me, works to separate them, to make him more lonely; and is dramatically sort of exciting visually.

[Tara arrives in the Magic Box]

I had another line in here at the beginning of the second verse but I had to cut a page and a half of dialogue because we were long, so to get Tara in I changed "Your sister's cries" to "The cries around you" and just had a long take of everybody kind of unhappy, so that I could get straight in to the duet that's coming up next.

[Buffy uses the punchbag as Giles continues to sing]

And having Buffy constantly changing around – where she is, what she's doing – and Tony to be singing at her while she's in slow motion again, just separating the two of them, to me powerfully because she's so in her own universe she's even in her own speed. And in the end of the song, for her to just step up and not have heard a word of it. Sometimes that's another thing in musicals: that you can sing to someone and they can never know how you feel, or how much you love them, even if they're standing right in front of you.

[Under Your Spell/Standing - Reprise]

Now we come to my favourite piece of all. Lethe's Bramble I took from a line about Lethe's wharf from 'Hamlet': the place of forgetting. And so I made that little thing up. But I actually had Tara find out what was going on in the dialogue; but to have her and Tony do a duet – Amber and Tony – was again something I knew I wanted right away.

To reprise 'Under Your Spell' as a bad thing was, I thought, powerful. And then this. Again, I knew right away that I wanted to shoot the two of them, and have him come in. To play this together, with her close and him behind, because to me it has a great deal of power. And the two people they love not even hearing a word they say.

["Wish I could say the right words to lead you" / "Wish I could trust that it was just this once"]

And then this, which has the distinction of being the first counterpoint that I had ever written. Where I just basically had Giles's song in my head, and counted off the beats and tried to figure out what I could do with her, and how they would go rhythmically and… I mean, I had no idea what I was doing. But it came out nicely, and to listen to these two voices together is one of the greatest treats for me of my career. And by the end of it we've learned that both of them need to leave, which over the course of the next couple of episodes they both did.

The important thing was to set up not just this show, but the rest of the season, the rest of the series. The episode before, the episode after. Because it was very important to me not to say, "This is a special event." And that's why I was disappointed that I couldn't bring it in on time, because I didn't want to say, "Look! We're better than a TV show!" I wanted to say, "You can do all of this in an episode of television. It just depends on how much you care." And because I think one of the other things about musicals is everybody saying, "Oh, look! We're taking you outside the world of television. We're better than the world of television." Which of course drives me crazy. I love TV. I love what you can do with it. And to be able to go this far emotionally, and be this silly on a regular old episode of television – albeit eight minutes over – is a way of saying, "This is just an episode. This is just what we do. It's not better, it's just TV in all its glory." And the way I celebrate musicals, I celebrate this medium; and hopefully that comes through a little bit too.

Well, actually it comes through in the fact that nobody who hasn't watched the show can really understand what's going on.

[Walk Through The Fire]

But, we're coming up on what most people refer to as 'Tonight', from 'West Side Story'. I like to think of it just as much as 'La Résistance' from 'South Park'. The inevitable rousing cry, the call to battle, the song that brings everybody to the place of the climax, both emotionally and physically, and all for different reasons.

["Why can't I feel? / My skin should crack and peel."]

I had a giant argument with the editor Lisa Lassek about this particular shot. She liked a different take, I liked this take. Buffy's hand comes into frame; I felt it was important, the frame kind of died without it. She still makes fun of me: "Oh, you like your hand?" But I actually believe this was the best performance as well. And something we haven't really talked about: Sarah's performance in this is really pretty extraordinary considering she's also not a professional singer. She sang very well, but it's the authority she brings to it that I think really sells every moment of it, and brings you in right from the start.

This number, there are things about it that I love. I love the way everybody comes in, I love a lot of ways we shot it. I'm a little unhappy with the chorus; it kind of seems to lay back right when it should move forward. At least it feels that way to me. But the song, the undercurrents, what's working within it, made me enormously happy.

["I hope she fries / I'm free if that bitch dies / I'd better help her out."]

Spike, his complete reversal from "I hate her. I love her." is really fun.

["Will this do a thing to change her? / Am I leaving Dawn in danger?"]

And this is, again except for the Tara and Giles thing, the first time people for different reasons start to come together musically. The bridge I originally wrote to the music of the chorus– or to the music of the verse, rather, and then changed the tune of the chords behind it so that I knew it would work for the part where they all start singing. Again, not knowing how to really play music or write counterpoint, that was the only way I could figure I would know it would work in the next section, when they start singing against the actual verse of the song.

["So one by one they turn from me / I guess my friends can't face the cold"]

This shot, something went wrong. It was beautiful, you could see her shadow. And of all of the night's work, for some reason it came out way under-exposed. So we had to pump it up; that's why it's so grainy. There was nothing we could do about it, which was disappointing. And you know, this is an opportunity that you just can't get enough of.

["I think this line's mostly filler."]

And Willow, with possibly my favourite moment of the entire show. And of course Aly, adorable, and selling it really hard.

Some of the counterpoint may be a little close musically, so that they don't really stand out; but everybody getting their own in and momentum really building. Even if the song lays back, the way Chris and Jesse orchestrated it, it really comes together.

["So we will walk through the fire / And let it burn / Let it burn / Let it burn / Let it burn."]

And this. Single greatest thing we ever did, the damn fire trucks. Suzanne, the script supervisor, and Michael Cedar, who's AD, they put it together, they made that thing hit on cue. Of all the things we've ever done, that fire truck actually showing up at the right time and frame is probably the thing I'm proudest of.

["I love a good entrance." "How are you with death scenes?"]

Coming up now, on 'Something To Sing About' – which I originally wrote a completely different song. And it's the only song that I completely wrote and then threw out. It was called 'I'm Your Girl' and it was basically "Take me instead of her." But she pretty much already said that. And it was kind of bubblegum pop, which I felt Sarah would be most comfortable with, but ultimately didn't really fit my idiom.

However, I wrote it, and was going to record it; and my wife Kai, who sang all the girl parts for me when I recorded the demo for the actors, it was slightly out of her range. And I had thought it wasn't. And she said, "Well, it's slightly out of my range, I don't think I can do it. Can we transpose it?" And I got really pissy and was like, "I'm not going to transpose it! I'm just going to write a new song!" And I think ultimately that's because I knew the song wasn't good enough.

[Something To Sing About]

And this song… pause here to say okay, that is a low-budget TV version of the Cyd Charisse moment in 'Band Wagon', one of the most riveting moments in film, at the end of 'Girl Hunt' where she pulls off that green thing and is wearing that red dress.

This song contains the meaning of the show. And for Buffy to be singing while she's beating the piss out of these guys, for her to be singing all these platitudes about how great life is, to me is very powerful. And the idea of, okay, we've had a musical, everybody's burst into song, that's not the point. The point is to have a reason. To have something to sing about. Sung from somebody who feels like she has nothing to sing about, really brings things together. Meaning-wise, it worked better than that silly bubblegum pop hit I threw out. So thank God it was out of Kai's range, or we might have been saddled with something much less.

["She needs back-up. Tara, Anya…"]

The "She needs back-up" one was one of my favourites too. I love seeing the girls do this. This was a difficult number to choreograph and orchestrate. It's just trying to get to a place of chaos while at the same time being very tuneful; and that's difficult to do. We kept it to simple movement; but when we got to the bridge and then later on, we just wanted to have the anarchy of the piece that was eventually going to burn her up from the inside. And we struggled the more with this in terms of how to orchestrate it and how to choreograph it than any. Although I think it came out really well. Of course I'm slightly biased: I worked on it myself.

And again, the heart of the piece: the idea that you say the things you wouldn't say if you weren't singing. And the things you don't want to say, or perhaps shouldn't say, or need to say – and I think this qualifies as both – is really hit here. Musically this is the heart of the piece.

["There was no pain / no fear, no doubt / till they pulled me out / of heaven"]

And this bridge was in the original piece that I wrote. And I took it out whole and stuck it in this song. Because there was no way I was going to let this piece of information get out in dialogue. It had to come musically; and to me – it's actually a B minor to a B minor diminished when she sings "Heaven" – is the most poignant piece that I came up with. And the desolation on her face, and the look on Aly's face. Everybody reacting differently. Everybody brings so much emotionally to this. I couldn't really be prouder of all those guys.

[Buffy starts to dance and smoulder]

There was almost no dance doubling in this at all. We had a double for Sarah for some of this stuff; we used her almost never, because Sarah just came through with all this herself. Put so much energy into it. All that CGI smoke, and then the real deal, and then…Spike.

["Life's not a song / life isn't bliss / life is just this / it's living."]

Bringing her the rest of the message. And I knew where I was going with this episode. And the two things that needed to happen for them to get where they were going to go at the end were, one, for Spike to say "Go away". For him to tell her once and for all, "Just leave me alone." Because nothing attracts somebody more than telling them to go away. Believe me, as a fellow who's had many restraining orders in his time: what a turn-on. But, no, the moment you say to somebody, "You know what, I'm my own person. I don't need you. You know I love you but I don't want you near me," is the moment they start to take you seriously. And that's just the truth of it.

And then, that he would save her. That he would be the person who would bring her the message of hope. Even though it's the classic in my stuff, a really desolate, almost pathetic hope. Still, those are the two things that would get them to the smoochy place. And where they will inevitably end up, because this is a musical, and if it doesn't end with a kiss I'm doing something wrong.

[Sweet tells Dawn he's wearing her talisman; she denies summoning him.]

This is about as much dialogue as we ever have in this show. A little exposition to hint at the whole kleptomania thing. But then show the reveal that it was actually Xander who caused everything to happen. Just for fun. Just because we didn't see it coming. But again, the climax having been over, you wanted something to wind you down into the next piece and defeat the villain. And to me it was never about killing him, because ultimately he represents something you can't kill off. And so rather than that I thought it would be better if he had his own send-off, a little reprise of his bluesy number, which would contain, of course, the title of the piece.

[What You Feel - Reprise]

As a way of saying, "I've done my work, and you can't really undo it." He's not a guy you kill. Even though people die – he's a demon, don’t get me wrong; just because he wears really well-designed costumes doesn’t mean that he's anything other than a villain – but he is the musical, incarnate. And he's all around us; and that's where we put him. We made sure that he ended up in the air, more than life, settling all over them. It's a symbol thing, you know.

And then wait… for this.

[Where Do We Go From Here?]

I wrote this song on the guitar in London, actually, during my vacation. Spike's song I wrote on the guitar – which I learned in order to write this musical – because I felt Spike's song should be written on the guitar. This I wrote on the guitar because I was in London and all I had was a tiny guitar. But in its own little way it's probably the most important song in the piece. It really speaks of where they're at emotionally. And to a larger audience, in a sense. I mean, I've had people talk to me about just feeling what they're feeling, just about the world and their lives in it in general.

["Understand we'll go hand in hand / but we'll walk alone in fear"]

And you see the hand in hand thing was my incredibly literal choreography, but it kind of works. But when I heard this actually playing in a store one time I thought, "Is this Cat Stevens?" And then realised it was this. So naturally I felt full of me and very excited.

And of course everything that they've just sung, right before Spike left, is about to happen. The curtains close on a kiss, the trumpets will cheer, it will say "The End"; all of the things they are singing about are about to happen.

[Coda]

And although I don't really know how to create a full musical body of work, I did know that the best way to give this a sense of wholeness was to bring in as many themes as possible. Which is why they reprise their two songs of longing. The things that are wrong with them. And they come together. I didn't write them to come together, I just found how they would fit.

And this shot, I love the way the wall is lit. It's very 'West Side Story'. And the inevitable, and powerful…

[Buffy and Spike kiss]

…Has to be followed up by the refrain we started with, 'Where Do We Go From Here?', and a big fat red 'The End' with a Twentieth Century Fox thing under it, because that's the era that I love so much.

[Cut to credits]

And then the credits run over, again, that's 'Where Do We Go From Here?', that's the broom sweepers' version which Chris Beck did. And there's probably more to say , but I don’t have time to say it. I'm happier with this than just about anything I've ever made. And it's incredibly silly but I meant every word. I hope you liked it. Bye!

[Grrr. Argh!]

And that is me singing.



NOTES

 

Jeffrey Katzenberg - studio head at the Walt Disney Company 1984-94, responsible for 'The Little Mermaid', 'Beauty and the Beast', 'The Lion King', etc.

Ariel's 'Part of Your World' - a song from 'The Little Mermaid'

Ashman Mencken - Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken were the songwriters on 'Beauty and the Beast'

Stephen Schwartz - producer of 'Pippin', 'Godspell' and ''Wicked'

Bock and Harnick - Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote 'Fiddler on the Roof'

Frank Loesser - wrote 'Guys and Dolls'

Sondheim - Stephen Sondheim wrote numerous musicals including 'West Side Story' and 'Sweeney Todd'

Astaire-Rogers - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers first appeared together in 'Flying Down To Rio' in 1933. 

Bob Fosse - director of 'Cabaret', 'All That Jazz', and 'Sweet Charity'

'Girl Hunt Ballet' is the final musical number in 'Band Wagon', danced by Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire.
 

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Comments

Posted by: azdak (azdak)
Posted at: 17th August 2008 16:39 (UTC)

That was fascinating to read - thank you so much for going to all this trouble.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th August 2008 16:55 (UTC)

You're welcome. :-)

Posted by: araceli (mana1023)
Posted at: 17th August 2008 17:46 (UTC)

Yes, you are the awesomest for typing this up for us to read. :D

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 12:51 (UTC)

*basks*

Thanks!

Posted by: The Anti-OTP (snowpuppies)
Posted at: 17th August 2008 18:07 (UTC)

Thank you so much for doing these - they're so interesting and fun to read!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 12:54 (UTC)

You'll notice I'm concentrating on Joss's own commentaries... the ones by others aren't all this interesting!

Thanks!

Posted by: MrTeufel (mrteufel)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 06:08 (UTC)

No wonder you've been 'off air' so long. Thanks for this. And for reminding me of one of my favourite Buffy episodes.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 12:56 (UTC)

It hasn't been that long, has it? I wrote the review of the latest comic not so long ago...

And yes, it was fun listening to OMWF again as I did the transcript, even if it was one sentence at a time... ;-)

Thanks!

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 09:15 (UTC)

Enormous thanks. I'm saving it on my hard drive.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th August 2008 12:57 (UTC)

Yay!

Thanks...

Posted by: My Sanctuary (married_n_mich)
Posted at: 20th August 2008 15:52 (UTC)

*Blinks and then blinks again*

Wow...

Just...

Wow...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2008 20:57 (UTC)

You've just seen something astonishing, then?
:-)

Posted by: My Sanctuary (married_n_mich)
Posted at: 21st August 2008 13:24 (UTC)

Yes. Yes. I believe I have! Hee!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 26th November 2010 11:25 (UTC)

Thank you so much for doing this. I love listening to Joss talking, but it takes a lot of time to transcribe it into something readable. He does say "you know" a lot, doesn't he :) Anyway, thanks again!

K.

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