PLUME: Is there any way that you see that you could have possibly enlightened Fran a bit more, as to the tone or style that the script was written in?
WHEDON: No. She had a thing she wanted to do. She was into the comedy of it - she didn’t want to make a B horror movie, that’s not her style. That’s her decision. That’s her right. What can you say? The director gets to take over. Now, somebody should protect the script, somebody should be there to do that. Directors have to be storytellers and all that stuff, and some are better than others. I’m talking about movie directors, because a TV director has to do that as much as they can, but ultimately are in service to the executive producer. The producer is the one who has to do that. But, you know, as Jeanine put it once, or probably more than once, “A director doesn’t have to create anything, but he is responsible for everything.” Same thing goes for an executive producer on TV. I don’t have to write a line of the script - although there’s not a script for my shows that I don’t have a line in, or a scene, or a pitch, or something. I don’t sew the damn costumes, I don’t say the words - but I’m responsible for every thing in every frame of every show. That’s my job, whether or not I’m directing the episode. So that’s why you have to have that complete faith, that kind of blind faith in a leader who has the ability to lead. I don’t know… I just also think leadership is something that is earned. I respected those above me, and demand the same from those below me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s one thing that helped keep the show together, is I had a clear vision and I was willing to share the credit with my extraordinary staff, crew, and the cast. I mean, obviously, I’m not writing novels - I’m doing collaborative work. But at the same time, I had a couple of people challenge me on my authority, and they found out quickly that they do not brook that.
PLUME: Where would those challenges originate from? In what aspects?
WHEDON: People becoming unhappy if I changed something or if I was controlling or if I had something … either pull something out from under me, or complaining about me to staff or something. I’m all for giving people their due and all, but I wouldn’t let it lie. You just can’t.
PLUME: How would you deal with those challenges?
WHEDON: I would take them either aside or up to my office and explain why they mustn’t do that. It’s very simple. I said to one director… he said, “One of these days, I’m going to come down and look over your shoulder while you’re shooting.” I brought him up to my office the next day and I said, “Let me explain something to you. It is my job to control the way you shoot, not your job to control mine. My name comes at the end of every show. You do very good work and you’re going to come back for us, but I am never going to let you do something that I don’t approve of.”
PLUME: He understood that?
WHEDON: Yeah. He did, actually.
PLUME: Do you think occasionally, as part of the position, you do have to lay down that “mission statement” for people?
WHEDON: Yeah, and I think I could have done a better job of doing that with the actors on Buffy. I think we were all so young and so fresh and so crazed when we started, that I let a lot of tension on the set. In trying to be everybody’s friend, and so excited to be doing this work, and sort of assuming we’d all get along, I let a lot of non-constructive emotion take open sway on the set, when I should have just put the hammer down and said, “You know what? We’re here to do the work. Everybody, just get it done.”
PLUME: Does it make it harder to try and do that later?
WHEDON: Yes. Yes, because you’d set precedent, and that’s something you have to learn. I was 31, had never run anything before, and most of my people were pretty new. We all were just sort of, “This is so exciting!” It seemed like we were all going to link arms and march towards the camera singing “La Marseilles”. That ain’t the case. It can’t be.
PLUME: “Let’s make our single season on the air something to remember”…
WHEDON: Exactly. I mean, it felt like that. Come season two, it’s like, “Well, you’re our buddy! We can just misbehave, because you’re our buddy, right? So it doesn’t matter, because you’re just one of us.” I was like, “Whoops. I think I can do that better.”
PLUME: What was the biggest problem with trying to reign it in?
WHEDON: You know, it was just people getting their personal issues or their rivalries or whatever it was, letting them creep into the energy of the set. That was the problem. I should have been more in control, more concerned with the energy of the set as it affected the crew. Because, ultimately, the crew are people you have to protect - more than people I think sometimes realize. It’s funny… I said to one reporter one time, and I told my wife this, I said, “You know, the first year, it was like we were all on Ecstasy. Everybody loved each other, everybody hated each other, and nobody wanted to go home.” Because I was literally there all night - I’d sleep on the couch. My wife very quietly said, “Not anymore” I was like, “This round to you. The game is far from over!”
PLUME: “We’ll meet again!”
WHEDON: “We’ll meet again! Probably when I come back into the kitchen.” It’s very true, the energy of a set is a very important thing. My cast… by the way, I’m talking about things that, on a Hollywood scale, are tiny. My cast always came to play, always came knowing their stuff, doing the work, doing the best. Whatever bad energy they had before the cameras rolled, they didn’t put it on the screen. But at the same time, there was a lot of tension. Who that bleeds into are the crew, people who come in before - I was the only person coming in before the crew, and staying after the crew, and I get paid better. So I can’t complain. They were the people there first and there last, and energy like that flows down a chute, it makes it not as much fun a place. Still, this stuff kind of calmed down, we went seven years, we all kind of grew up. By the end, more professional.
PLUME: Were relations frayed in this past season?
WHEDON: Well, you know, there was some things…
PLUME: There was a recent interview that came out with Freddy Prinze, Jr. …
WHEDON: The thing about the nonsense? He was quoted as saying, “Sarah had to deal with a lot of nonsense,” and I was like, “Okay, Fred. I never saw you on set, so I’m not really sure what you’re referring to, but bless ya. Bless ya. By the way, I still know what you did last summer, buddy.”
PLUME: Scooby Dooby Doo.
WHEDON: Oh god. There was tension on set. Not everybody was best of friends, and in fact we did not link arms and sing “La Marseilles”. But we made the show as well as we could for seven years, and you know, everybody made it together.
PLUME: Was there a sense of burnout towards the end, as far as everyone looking on to what the future was going to hold?
WHEDON: Yeah, that started around season three. So it was sort of like, “We’re still here, guys. I know you guys are doing movies, it’s very exciting … Oh, so it’s Dangerous Liaisons, but with kids - that’s going to be fun. We still have to make the show. Is anybody with me?”
PLUME: “It’s a movie about a pie? That’s great…”
WHEDON: My one biggest priority of the show is that Aly becomes a sex symbol, and now she has - so I’m very happy about that. But, you know, you have to keep people’s head in the game.
PLUME: There was this perception towards the early years that it was one big happy family, greatest set in Hollywood, and I guess the only time that anything belying that ever came to the forefront was the transition from the WB to UPN.
WHEDON: Yeah. Well, you know, again, the tensions I’m talking about are a small thing - but you asked what lessons I had learned, and one of the most important ones was “When you’re a leader, you can’t be everybody’s buddy.” You have to be a leader. That doesn’t mean you can’t be kind, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends, it just means you have to be a leader. You have to know the difference and when to exercise the difference. And the fact of the matter is, in year five, we all planned to come back. The problem was with outsiders. The problem was with the network and the studio - it wasn’t with each other. Ultimately, the move to UPN wasn’t really a test of anything, because they were still working for me - same crew, same cast, you know? Same 48 audience members.
PLUME: I hear it made it to 49 by the end of seven. A friend told a friend.
WHEDON: You know, I never even looked at the ratings for the last episode. I don’t even know if they went up at all.
PLUME: I know there was an upswing.
WHEDON: Oh, that’s nice. You know, that was just dispiriting - but then Dean Valentine rode in on his white horse and made it all better, but that wasn’t a problem on the set. On set, it was the usual.
PLUME: I know one thing that I definitely wanted to ask… there’s a lot of people that noticed a tonal shift when things moved from WB to UPN….
PLUME: In retrospect, looking back at season six, it tonally existed for a reason - that’s where the character was at…
WHEDON: That’s why that tonal shift. It wasn’t like UPN said, “Make it different,” or we had a feeling that UPN wanted to do things differently. That was where we went in our heads for season six. The funny thing is, I came out of season five and I said to the writers, “You know what…” - I looked at the season as a whole, and I would do this every year - “here’s what I loved, I’m really proud, we did great work. Here’s what we could do better on. Here’s what we need more of.” One of the things was, “I feel like we need to be funnier.” And then I came up with season six. But it was true. I was like, “You know, season five, we got very much into this one space. And there was a feeling - I like that anarchic feel we had in the earlier seasons, of bouncing back and forth between comedy and tragedy. Let’s try and get back to that.” That was why we had the nerds. But at the same time, bringing somebody back from the dead is not something you do lightly. I had done it before, so I knew. I’m not talking about Buffy, I’m talking about Ripley.
PLUME: The original draft.
PLUME: It seemed like the shifting in season six was to extremes…
WHEDON: You know, it was very extreme. We really went to a dark, dark place. We got sort of… people talk about the creative meltdown. I’ve said this before, that I think when people look at the seventh season, as a story, they’ll understand season six better. I also understand that it got too depressing for too long, but I don’t think all of my instincts are perfect. In fact, the interesting thing was that Sarah took Marti Noxon aside and said, “You know what? I feel depressed. I feel like I want Buffy back. I feel like we’ve run on this path, and I feel like it’s time to sort of reclaim her.” I had the exact same conversation with Marti on the same day. So she had her conversation with Sarah and came back to me, “You’re not going to believe this.” That was always the way it was.
PLUME: Well, the interesting thing was to compare that to season seven. Looking at season seven, it started off completely different than what it evolved into. Because I remember you had made comments that it’s going to be a return to roots, and Sunnydale High is opening again. But, tonally, it seemed like Buffy almost regressed back into the dark things that one had thought she’d grown out of over the course of season six.
WHEDON: Well, the problem was season six took us to a dark place, and that dark place we lost Buffy - and I think that’s why people didn’t respond to it, because they always had Buffy to lean on. No matter how sad she got, she was still Buffy. In six she was really questioning her very identity. People didn’t want that. That upset them. It was like they didn’t have their anchor. So it didn’t matter if you have something tight or interesting or thematic or funny - they wanted that anchor back. I get that. In season seven, it wasn’t like we weren’t going to put her through her paces. Buffy in pain is a staple of the show from season one. As [David] Greenwalt and I told each other very early on - “Buffy in pain, story more interesting. Buffy not in pain, story not interesting.” So we couldn’t just have her be like, “La-di-da, do-di-do, all is well,” for a season, because - hey, show not about that. The dark place we took her to was about, “I’m accepting my power, my responsibility, and my leadership, and those are hard things to deal with.” So, inevitably, she got kind of bummed out, because that’s how you tell the story. The hero goes through something and then they resolve it.
PLUME: I think the odd thing was when you had a dozen episodes of a different speech each episode…
WHEDON: You know, we got into some speeches, because she had these potentials. I think the flaw of the season for me was that we were so clearly focused on what we wanted to do at the end of the season that we had to sort of get to it in a lot of episodes. Even though they contained things that I loved individually as single episodes, they were just part of a whole - not of themselves enough, a little bit. Also, when you’re dealing with potentials, you have huge guest casts - which is just a nightmare to try and find people who work, and register. We found some good ones, but it’s really hard - especially when you have an ensemble that’s large, that your audience really cares about. But I had to get the potentials in there.