StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Transcript) BtVS 1.01 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' DVD Commentary by Joss W.

Many years ago - about five, actually, I started a project of transcribing all the commentaries on the 'Buffy' DVDs made by Joss Whedon. Today, confounding the rumours that I never finish any projects, I'm posting the last two remaining; 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest'. \o/

As usual, I've omitted most verbal tics/discourse particles/filler words, and put scene-setting comments in [square brackets] where necessary to explain if he's talking about something on screen.

Spoiler Warning; Joss recorded this commentary in 2000, and it contains major spoilers for Seasons 1-4 of 'Buffy' and Season 1 of 'Angel'.


Commentary on 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'

I’m Joss Whedon, the creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. For some ungodly reason you’ve clicked onto the audio commentary portion of this DVD, which means you probably have way too much free time on your hands. But I will endeavour to walk you through this, and give you hundreds of fascinating… well, like four fascinating insights into the production, and what was going on when we shot this delightful episode of television.

Little overview. The first thing I ever thought of when I thought of ‘Buffy’ the movie was the little girl, the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie. The idea of ‘Buffy’ was to subvert that idea, that image, and create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim. That element of surprise, that element of genre-busting, is very much at the heart of both the movie and the series.

[Darla and a boy break into the high school]

This sequence here is also part of that mission. We have here the helpless blonde girl, as played by the delightful Julie Benz, who at the end of this scene does turn out to be something a little bit more than we expected. Anyone who’s well-versed in horror movies knows what’s going to happen in this scene, and the idea is always to try and surprise them. To subvert the obvious.

We shot the show in a big warehouse in Santa Monica. We don’t have a real studio to shoot in. The show, you know, was produced by FOX for the WB. The WB had great enthusiasm for the kind of show we wanted to make, and no money of any kind whatsoever. So we were very much on a tight budget. And you’ll see a great number of examples of me, who had worked mostly in movies, trying to do things that I physically can’t, and having no idea actually how to run a television show. Some of which hurt us and some of which actually worked really well for us.

This hall, by the way, you’ll see a lot of in the episode – and in the first twelve episodes. It is the entire school. We only had the one hall. So, we use it over and over again.

Here now is the part where we discover a little bit more about Julie Benz – and really hit the mission statement of the show, which is “Nothing is as it seems”.


In the credits, where it starts out with this scary organ and then devolves instantly into rock and roll, which is basically trying to tell people exactly what the show is in the credits. Which is, here’s a girl who has no patience for a horror movie. Who is not going to be the victim, who is not going to be in the scary-organ horror movie. She’s going to bring her own youth and rocking attitude to it. I’m a great believer in actually knowing what’s going to happen in the show when you see the credits. So, I very much wanted to state the mission up front.

Song’s Nerf Herder. We had a composer do a credit sequence for us, a song, rather, and it didn’t really work out. And so we went to a few unknown rock bands to see what they could come up with. And Alyson Hannigan turned me onto Nerf Herder, and we went to them, and they won the prize. They did a great job.

[Buffy asleep in bed]

We open with Buffy and her nightmares. The show had to be designed so that if you saw the movie it didn’t reiterate what the movie had done, because I wasn’t interested in doing that again. But if you hadn’t seen the movie, it had to bring you in. So we did a show that explained to everyone who hadn’t seen it what was going on, but if you had it sort of worked as a sequel. ie, Buffy is already a Vampire Slayer, has already been on that journey. She already knows her destiny – she’s sort of rejected it. She’s moved to a new town and is trying to make a new start, but she’s still haunted by her past. So that’s what this is.

We were going to shoot a very elaborate sequence with lots of cool stuff, but that was another case of reality hitting. And most of the stuff that you saw in the dream sequence is just stuff we culled from the shows we’d already shot. Because we didn’t have the time or the money to shoot the really weird, elaborate sequences I’d originally written.

One of the advantages we had on this show was that we shot twelve of them before any of them aired. We were a mid-season replacement. So you will see things that we shot after twelve episodes that are in the first episode. That we slipped in and tried to match, because we had that extra time to get things right. And I’m kind of a perfectionist control-freak guy, and I tried very hard to make everything work. So you’ll see some stuff later on that is actually shot much later.

[Joyce takes Buffy to school]

Coming up is yet another example of “I don’t know how to make a TV show”: the introduction of Xander. You will see: riding on his fun skateboard. First thing I learned was: you put a guy on a skateboard, you have to light a bigger area, you probably have to do a long tracking shot. You may need a stunt man, although Nicky does his own stunt here, really well. It’s very complicated to put a guy on a skateboard.  Having him just walk in a room is much more easy on television. And Xander never mounted that skateboard again in the whole history of the show. I think he carried it twice, just for continuity’s sake. But it was just too difficult for us; we weren’t up to it.

[Xander meets Willow]

This was obviously the luminous Ms Hannigan as Willow; and we’re about to see Eric Balfour, their friend Jesse, who I originally wanted to put in the opening credits. Because I was going to kill him, and I thought that would shake people up, and really confuse them if I had someone who appeared to be a regular get killed right in the first episode. It just seemed too time-consuming and expensive to do two credit sequences, so we never got a chance to do it. I did end up doing it later on ‘Angel’, and it made everybody really angry. So perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

[Buffy meets Principal Flutie]

This scene is actually kind of a little landmark for me, although not that much goes on in it, because this was one of the times when I was really watching Sarah on the monitor, and realised what an enormous television star I had on my hands. The subtlety of her acting, a lot of which would go completely unnoticed. Just the reactions, the expressions. I realised you could play this entire scene on her. And she tells you everything that’s going on. That’s the reason I think Sarah works so well in this role. What is great about her as a television actress is she takes the audience with her everywhere she goes. Everything she feels, very specifically, because everything she does is specific. There’s nothing vague, there’s nothing un-thought out. Very precise. So she’s an open book. She brings you with her. And watching this with David Greenwalt, my co-Exec, the two of us realised we had something really potent on our hands… which is always a good feeling.

Ken Lerner, the Principal, was yet another someone we killed early on, to shake people up. And that worked out pretty well for us. We had him eaten. People really didn’t see it coming, they didn’t see the Principal getting eaten in episode 6. So that really helped with the whole element of surprise.

[Buffy drops her bag, Xander helps her pick stuff up]

This is the classic first meeting of the boy and the girl, where the boy makes an idiot of himself. Obviously based very much on my life. Xander, I’ve always identified as the figure I most was like, because he did have that inability to talk to the girl and come through in the big moment. And he does make an idiot of himself a lot. Of course he’s a lot prettier and more muscular than anybody who acts like that should be, but this is television so get over it.

The idea of this band of kind of outcasts being the heart of the show, and creating their own little family, is very much the mission statement. To me high school is so much, I think for almost everyone, that band of “We few people that nobody really understands, exist on a level that they don’t.” And your friends seem so terribly real to you and everybody else seems so fake and strange.

[Cordelia shares her textbook with Buffy]

Charisma Carpenter here, playing Cordelia, is the classic evil high school bitch. Obviously there’s a lot more going on there. She’s not a total cartoon, although she does often act like one. Sometimes – with a very big smile – looks like one. But the idea here was to set up that she would see Buffy as someone she identified with.

In the movie Buffy started out basically as Cordelia – and ironically Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally cast as Cordelia. So the idea that Cordelia, the popular, mean, kind of superficial one would latch onto her makes perfect sense. And we wanted to introduce Cordelia as someone you thought might be nice – a little scatty, maybe, but endearing. And then turn it around and have her just lay into someone, into Willow, so that you realised, “Oh, she’s not exactly what I thought she was either.” And to set up our sympathy for Willow, and also for Buffy when Buffy gravitates toward Willow, clearly because she’s upset that Willow has been attacked.

[The softer side of Sears]

By the way, I did notice in that last scene that Cordelia says she’s always wanted to live in LA. And the fact is she did move to LA four seasons later for the spin-off. So as you can see this is all one big brilliant master plan and nothing happens by chance.

And there goes Alyson. Alyson, king of pain. When anybody attacks her, we learned early on, it just opens up your heart. It’s a terrible thing. She’s so good at playing that vulnerability and so… that look, for example.

Oh look, they’re back in the same hall that they were just in. Because we just had the one hall. It’s really kind of sad, actually.

We’re about to take Buffy into the library. This is the meeting place, this is the Bat-Cave. It’s a very important visual part of the show, and in the original script she wanders through the stacks for a while. And it’s dark, and it’s scary, and it’s a sort of labyrinth. As you can see here, on the day the “wandering through the labyrinth” became the “walking into the big, brightly-lit room”. Where there isn’t a labyrinth because we didn’t have time, and it’s really hard to light a labyrinth. So, she just sort of stands there instead.

[Buffy meets Giles]

Tony Head, playing Giles. Tony Head was one of the few people that we saw and instantly knew right away there was nobody else going to play that part. He is... you know, he embodied it perfectly. Most of the people who came in to read for Giles the Watcher would read him as so old and stuffy that he was only there to be ‘boring exposition guy’. To be just the one thing. Tony brought this undercurrent of kind of youth and sexiness and great acting chops to the role. So it was clear this was a guy who’s still trying to figure out his own life while the kids are as well. And that really works for us, because it gives us places to go with Giles. And we’ve ended up going a lot of very strange places with him.

[Finding a body in the girls’ locker room]

You’ll hear in this scene a lot of really wacky California-speak. We toned that down as people didn’t really respond to it, and they didn’t know what we were talking about. We still speak in a very strange pattern but it’s more based on the way I and the writers speak than on anything we think teenagers might want to say.

[Buffy talks to Willow]

Now we come to the scene where Buffy latches onto Willow, when we see that friendship begin to form. The character of Willow was a real difficult one for the network and for us to cast. We were having a big confusion about who to put in there. I was determined that we wouldn’t have the supermodel-in-horn-rims that you usually see on the television show. I wanted someone who really had their own shy quirkiness. And while the network and I were looking for people, Alyson Hannigan slipped under our radar. She came in, and we didn’t really know that she was going to be the guy. And then when she read for the network we were just completely blown away. She brings so much light and so much tenderness to the role, it’s kind of extraordinary.

It still, once we’d cast her, was difficult for the network to figure out what was right about her. The incredibly nerdy clothes that she’s wearing, you’ll see her wearing for exactly one episode, because they kept sending us memos. “You must make her more hip. You must make her more cool. You must make her more like Buffy.” Which confused me because I wanted to do an ensemble show, and ‘ensemble’ means that people are different. Besides, I think that outfit’s really cute.

But the character just, I think, threw them because she isn’t the TV-glow, big-hair sort of star that they would usually expect. And I very much kept saying, “I don’t think you understand this character”. This actress is going to have a fanbase that is more rabid than anybody else’s, because she brings so much to it, and that’s the character that people think, “That’s somebody that I might have known, that I might have gotten along with”. But at the same time she’s the ideal of that. And I knew that they would respond to her on a level that they couldn’t even respond to Buffy, because Buffy has an unobtainableness. She is such a hero.

[Cordelia brings the news of the extreme dead guy in the locker]

All I can think about when I look at this scene is how orange Eric and Charisma are. Because it took so long to shoot, and the sun went down, and we had to take the last bit of sunset and bounce it all over the place, and put it on them for the last shot. Doesn’t really match with the rest of it. Hopefully you’re not noticing that, and you didn’t hear me just say that.

[Buffy breaks open a door]

We’re coming up to the scene where Buffy breaks into the gym to find the dead body. As scripted, this was a scene of her jumping up and through a second-storey window, as an extraordinarily elaborate stunt. Another lesson in what you can do in TV. That’s what we had the time and the budget for: a little door action there. A lot of my expectations had to be brought down. Usually to the benefit of the show, because the less elaborate I could be, the more I just had to make things matter. So that I couldn’t hide things with the dog and pony show because I couldn’t afford the pony; I only had the dog.

[Buffy confronts Giles]

This scene is a difficult scene for us. Buffy talks about – to Giles, when she comes up here – she talks about it being her first day. It is not, in fact, her first day: and this angle here where she’s talking to Giles, it’s close to her last day. The scene was shot with Buffy being extraordinarily angry; and it was the first time that I had ever actually said, “Well, you know what, I think I’ll just go upstairs. This scene can take care of itself”. And then I saw the dailies and said, “No, that isn’t what I wanted at all.” So after we shot all of the episodes, we went back and just shot Sarah’s side of this scene. So I could bring her performance down to a place where it was more vulnerable and less pissy. We’re talking several months, eight months apart between this angle of Giles and this angle of Buffy. Luckily everything matched pretty well, and we could hide the things that didn’t.

It was a terrible pain for Sarah to have to shoot this again. I used to kid her that for the last episode of the series we would do a ‘Back To The Future 2’ thing where she actually went back in time and saw herself having this conversation again, so we could shoot it from some more angles. Sarah also came to me after the scene was originally shot and said, “I have a feeling that I was too angry.” Her instincts as an actress are extraordinarily good, and she knows generally when something isn’t working. She came to me right away and said that “I think you’re going to want to redo this, or do something with it”, because it just didn’t feel right to her either.

What Giles starts describing here is the concept of the Hellmouth. The centre of mystical convergence. This turned out to be a great big deal for us. When I first pitched this show to the network we had a meeting, and I spent a little time trying to think of the mythology of the place. Broaden it a little bit. And spent some time with my friend Tom Platkin, and we talked about the idea of the Hellmouth. The idea of that would be the reason why all these different creatures could come and attack people all the time.

nd I didn’t think it would matter; I didn’t think anybody would ask about it. And the network was obsessed with the idea of the Hellmouth. It is, I think finally what sold them on the show. The idea that this was the centre of Hell, and for anybody, high school was. And so that made perfect sense to me emotionally, but they were just very interested in the lore of it. And the Hellmouth did turn out to be very important for the life of the series. They weren’t wrong. It also provides a great shortcut for me, because then whenever I can’t think of a cool scientific explanation for anything, I just say, “Well, it’s because we’re on a Hellmouth” and just move on.

[Giles follows Buffy into the school corridor]

Here we have Giles coming after Buffy in our one hall and sort of pushing her over to the side. One of the things I worried about very much in the beginning was how intense he was with her. How much he manhandled her. I was the nun with the six-inch rule. “They must be six inches apart!”, because a teacher having that intense a conversation with a beautiful young student, and getting too close to her, is pretty much unseemly. And so I kept having to say, “You people, let’s ease off on the tension here. Let’s pull them apart a little bit.” Because it’s just not right. It’s just not done.

[The Sleeper will wake]

We’re going down now to see the Master’s lair, which is the church which was swallowed in the earthquake. Steve Hardy was our original production designer, designed beautiful sets. You’ll also see here a bunch of extras. We couldn’t actually afford to put vampire make-up on all our vampires. And since vampires aren’t always in vampface, they go back and forth, we thought we’ll just have some extras in there. And it’ll look creepy. And what it looks to me is, it looks like a cocktail party of people with torches. It looks – it just really doesn’t work at all. And after about two episodes we stopped having them there at all. We only had people in vampire face or nobody at all. The Master suddenly got a lot lonelier in his cavern.

Brian Thompson playing Luke, he came back and played the Judge for us in episode 14 of the second season. Quite frankly, we were in a hurry and we already had his face cast, and we knew we could put make-up on him. We knew he could give us a good performance.

[Hi! I’m an enormous slut!]

Buffy here saying the word ‘slut’. That turned out to be a big issue for the WB. The show has pushed its sexual content somewhat in the last years, but when we first made these twelve episodes we weren’t even on the air. They didn’t know what timeslot we’d be in, they didn’t know what kind of a network they were, and they didn’t know how far we could go. They didn’t like us using the word ‘virgin’ in episode 4, and the word ‘slut’ here was a big controversy. Even though we did imply it’s not great to be a slut.

[Joyce talks to Buffy about the dangers of over-nurturing]

Kristine Sutherland playing Joyce. She’s just great, and she is - like Tony - someone who’s clearly still searching in her own life. You know, who doesn’t have all the answers. One of the things we’ve really tried not to do with the show was make all the grown-ups complete morons. Even though we play the metaphor of “Mom doesn’t understand”, and you know, your parents don’t understand when you’re a kid, what you’re going through. She literally doesn’t understand that Buffy does have to save the world, and is the Vampire Slayer. But at the same time it’s clear she’d got struggles of her own, and she’s a very sympathetic character. We didn’t feel like demonising and alienating the grown-ups on this show. It seemed a little single-minded and immature.

[Buffy meets Angel]

This then would be the introduction of young Angel. David Boreanaz, who was possibly the most difficult piece of casting we did. We saw dozens and dozens of guys. Never found anyone. David came in, gave a very good read. I liked him; wasn’t exactly, you know, my type. I wasn’t sure we necessarily had the guy here… until I asked the women in the room. Gail Berman, the executive for Sandollar, and Marcia Shulman, our brilliant casting director, who had both turned into puddles the moment he walked into the room. They had just disappeared. They were so excited about what he was, and I had to defer to them. They seemed to know better than me – and thank God I did, because David turned into not only a great star but a really solid actor.

This scene – this bit right here, in the alley – we shot again several months later. I shot this when we were shooting the last episode, because the stunt hadn’t really registered, and I wanted to do something pretty dramatic. Very Batman. The stuntwoman there was held up by a wire, which we took out digitally, and then came down on Angel.

This part of the scene was also shot that night several months later. Again because Buffy’s attitude had been very angry, and we wanted to pull it back and make her more vulnerable. The moment he gets up, the rest of the scene, now, plays when it was originally shot, when we were shooting the first episode many many months before. We still ended up having to do some looping on Sarah to bring the attitude back a little bit, so that she wasn’t too aggressive.

The idea that the man Buffy would clearly fall in love with would turn out to be a vampire, to me seemed like it might be a bit of a cliché. But it was so perfect for this that – the wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance, the one person she could categorically never be with, the one person she’d spend her life learning to hate, was the person she fell in love with – it was just too good to pass up.

The amazing thing was that so few people figured out that he was a vampire beforehand. I assumed everybody would. Giving her the cross was supposed to be a mislead so that you wouldn’t suspect it. Of course he gave it to her in a box, so he didn’t have to touch it.

[Buffy goes to the Bronze]

This is the actual warehouse that we shoot in. When we designed the club we put the door to the club on the actual outside of the warehouse, so that we could do this. So that we could go in from the outside, because that would give it real life and make it very realistic and exciting, and not just like a TV show. Of course we did it exactly once, and then I think once more in the third season, because you have to wait till night to shoot. You have to go in and out, and light; it’s really complicated. And it’s one of those things that at the time seemed like it was going to increase our production values enormously, and then we realised, well, we’re just too lazy to do that.

The same goes for the balcony upstairs, that Buffy goes to. Which we thought was the coolest thing that we’d ever designed, and it really gave the club some vertical depth. But going up there with all that equipment and all those lights, and it’s really hot and it’s really crowded: well, we just stopped doing it. When you’re making these shows one after the other you start to take shortcuts, and that was definitely one of them.

[He stole my Barbie… we were five]

Just a little scene designed to explain the Xander-Willow relationship, and cement her friendship with Buffy a little bit more. Alyson was convinced that she had been terrible in this scene, and that she had ruined the entire show. Which convinced me that she was insane. She’s wonderful in it.

These are the things you start to think about. Sarah had to eat the same cherry ten times at ten different angles at the exact same moment  - and did it perfectly every time. Little things like that, little things about matching, and that kind of professionalism – you have no idea how important they become when you are editing these shows. When you’re doing one after the other. When you find somebody who can’t remember what position their arms were in, things like that, it will drive you insane. But Sarah’s been doing this, obviously, forever. And she’s a classic pro at that.

[Buffy sees Giles at the Bronze]

She is actually about to go up to the balcony finally. I think it’s a very beautiful sequence in terms of the lighting. Michael Gershman has been our DP on this show since the beginning. He’s got an extraordinary eye. Makes things very beautiful . Really gave the show a lot more depth than it might have had. Most science fiction horror shows tend to be very flat, very awkwardly lit. Very blue, very distancing. Mike makes a very lush palette with a lot of blacks and a lot of depth, and can make something both eerie and beautiful at the same time, really well. I think that’s shown to great advantage here where they’re standing on the balcony.

We shot the show on 16mm as well, which doesn’t have the depth of 35mm. It’s a much smaller negative, has a lot more grain. And the whole time we were shooting on 16, which was the first two seasons, nobody ever knew it because Mike did such a great job.

The band behind them, by the way, is Sprung Monkey, who was our first ever band. We put a club in because we thought we would want to have bands playing as much as possible. It’s nice for the energy. And they were usually unsigned or fairly unknown bands; not just the latest pop hits, which really also gave us a good energy. They were excited to do it; everybody always has a good time when we shoot a band.

Here’s Giles clearly violating the six inch rule. It’s very bad, very bad.

[Jesse asks Cordelia to dance and gets turned down]

Ah. The infamous ‘Jesse asks Cordelia to dance’ scene. This is one of the few things that is actually based verbatim on something that happened to me. One of the only times I ever asked a girl to dance in high school her reply was, “With you?” I didn’t actually say anything after that the way Jesse does; I just slunk off. For about four years.

[Giles tests Buffy’s vampdar]

This is another one of our classic “Giles is trying to live in the world of normal horror movies, and Buffy completely undercuts it” scenes. It’s what we used for Tony’s audition. The way he gives the line, “But you didn’t hone” always makes me laugh extraordinarily much. His frustration at her just complete subversion of all the rules of making horror movies.

The idea that vampires would dress in the era that they were killed in was a charming notion, but one that we ultimately abandoned - because if every vampire looked like he was from the Seventies, or the Fifties or whatever it was, they really wouldn’t be that scary. Patrick did a very nice job of being completely creepy in a completely ridiculous outfit. Which you’ve got to give him credit for.

Buffy’s going into the bathroom area here was another scene that we re-shot, because it was too brightly lit, too wide. It’s very hard tonally to maintain suspense, to maintain comedy, and action. Those three things require very different kind of framing, different kinds of lighting and camera movement. And to know what to accentuate, what space you’re in tonally, is something it’s very very difficult to find a director who can go back and forth from one to the other

The guys who shot these two shows did a really great job, but inevitably there are instances where things just don’t seem to work on as many levels as they might. The idea that the show could be so schizophrenic, that it could be bouncing from horror to comedy to action to drama all the time, is something that some people had trouble getting used to. Luckily my performers all turned out to be people who could do all of those things and turn on a dime between one or the other. And to their great credit the network completely understood that mix, and was behind it. They never asked us, “Can’t you just be a comedy? Can’t you just be a drama?”

We had one sticking point. One issue about that, which was the title. Which very clearly says we’re a comedy, we’re a horror show and we’ve got action. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. And it wears both its silliness and its cross-genre popping around on its sleeve. And that threw the network because they weren’t sure how to sell it. They understood what the show was, but they weren’t sure how to show that to people. And we bandied about the title. We went back and forth a lot of times.

[Luke calls forth the Master]

The Master rising from the pool of blood. CGI effect. Originally we wanted him to rise from the pool of blood, but that’s another television production thing. You then have a man covered with blood for an entire episode, and that’s just too hard to do. So we had him rise out completely clean, just because we couldn’t possibly do a second take if he’d come up in all that blood.

Mark Metcalf, playing the Master, he did a great job for us. He had been working on ‘Seinfeld’ as the Maestro, he had been in ‘Animal House’. Most of the guys we read came in and gave us “Villain, villain, villain” in a very unimaginative way. Mark is completely not that guy. He’s not that character. He’s just very sly and kind of urbane and real; although he completely came up to it. And we put him in some really good-looking make-up. He undercut all of the villainousness with real charm. And that’s, like Buffy herself, one of those things that’s a key to the show: is always playing the comedy under the horror. And vice-versa.

[Buffy is searching for Willow, and meets Xander]

Another rule of the show that we learned very early on was “Put Willow in peril”. Alyson, her vulnerability works very well, and every time something looked like it was going to happen to her, it really just tears the audience up. One of the biggest problems with the show as a writer is that your heroine is your hero; she is stronger than a lot of the things she faces. She is take-charge, as she is here. She is very much the hero. And creating opportunities for her to be in genuine peril are difficult, because the whole point is her strength.

So it’s very good to have the ancillary characters – especially because, like Jesse, sometimes they actually get killed. We can really put them in danger and stress their vulnerability. With Buffy it turns out to be a question more and more, as we work on the series, of putting her in peril emotionally. Just because she can defeat something doesn’t mean that it can’t affect her. And Sarah plays the grief and the dealing with that level of her life really well. So Buffy’s problems are less physical than emotional, whereas Willow sort of has both going on.

[Willow is in a tomb with a vampire]

Here she is tentative about her sexuality, and being with a boy. And he’s about to turn into an ugly, scary vampire. The decision to make ‘vampface’ for the vampires was very conscious and very thought-out.

The idea that they would look normal and then change into vampires was done because we wanted (a) to have normal high school students who you could interact with, and then they would turn out to be evil and you would never be sure which was which. And also because when Buffy is fighting them, it was important to me that they look like demons , that they look like monsters. I didn’t think I really wanted to put a show on the air about a high school girl who was stabbing normal-looking people in the heart. I thought somehow that might send the wrong message. But when they are clearly monsters, it takes it to a level of fantasy that is safer.

[Buffy confronts Darla and the other vampire]

Here we’re about to see one of our first morphs. My whole agenda was that the morph not look just like a special effects shot - but it is shot very much flatly and in a new frame, which says, “Okay, we’re going to do an effect here”. Which is a little bit of a disappointment, but the effect looks really good.

As you can see the make-up, very white-faced, very creepy, very ghoulish. But we sort of backed off from that in later seasons to make it a little more human. Partially because of Angel, and partially because that much body make-up took a long time, and some people felt the white was a little funny-looking. I actually find it somewhat creepier. More ‘Day of the Dead’, more ‘Evil Dead’ than the later vampires we’ve had.

Our first dusting coming up. I like the way he explodes into dust there. That’s something we’ve worked on and perfected over the years as well. That was also a very conscious decision that they would turn into dust, clothes and all – because I didn’t think it would be fun to have fifteen minutes of “Let’s clean up the bodies” after every episode.  Part of this has to be hidden. People can’t know that there are vampires everywhere. We get away with a lot of that by saying that people just won’t admit it to themselves.

Luke refers to Buffy as “the little girl” in this scene. That was one of the joys of the show that we haven’t been able to do as much, was the idea that nobody took Buffy seriously. As the show’s progressed, she’s met fewer and fewer people who don’t know who she is, who think that she’s nothing but a little girl. And it’s such a charge when somebody underestimates you, and you turn out to be stronger than they are. And that’s really the heart of the show.

[Luke throws Buffy across the room]

I love that fall. Particularly painful. I said Buffy is stronger than most of the things she faces: Brian Thompson, you know, not one of them. He’s just enormous and very creepy. He provides genuine menace.

The thing about Buffy is, hero that she is, it’s very important that she keep that quirkiness, that vulnerability and that character-actress feeling. She’ll make the joke, she’ll get scared, she’ll be a person in that situation and not just Superman. So that even though we know she’s going to win the day, we’re still going to worry about it.

[To be continued]

Tags: buffy, buffy dvd commentary, commentary, meta, transcript
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