Jane Espenson has written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The O.C., Gilmore Girls, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Game of Thrones, and Torchwood: Miracle Day among other series. She is currently a consulting producer on ABC’s hit Once Upon A Time, and is co-creator of Husbands, a web series viewable at http://husbandstheseries.com You can follow Jane on Twitter @JaneEspenson.
An Interview with Jane Espenson
1. What was the dynamic like between the production team on Buffy? Did that dynamic differ or change from Buffy to Angel to Firefly, etc.?– Specifically in relation to the people who worked on multiple series?
The dynamic. Hmm. Well, first off, the production team includes, I would say, over a hundred people. So there was no one dynamic. Crew people, office people, the cast, the writers, they have their own dynamics. Generally, Joss was at the head of each group, but I don’t think each group related to him in the same way. I can only speak to the dynamic among the writers, and only during the years I was there (seasons 3-7). I found it to be a generally very happy group with a pretty healthy dynamic. It evolved over the years – new writers were added, others left. Joss’s involvement decreased at the end, and Marti Noxon’s grew. Some writers went to Angel. New writers were brought in to work on Firefly. We didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Angel staff, especially after their first year, and less with the Firefly staff, who weren’t even housed in the same facility. But back to the Buffy staff – some of us were very close. Doug Petrie and I were hired at the same time, and we became very close with Drew Greenberg and Rebecca Kirshner, who were brought in later. We were also good friends with Steve DeKnight, but then he went off to Angel. Drew Goddard was hired late in the run of the show, but Joss recognized his value very quickly — Drew’s a great guy. David Fury and Marti Noxon were both ranked above me, and were both very generous and kind to me. It was a warm staff, very supportive of each other, and prone to expressions of affection – they gave me gifts when I was ill that moved me very much. We might have bonded especially closely because we tended to make the most story progress with Joss in the room – it was a very top-down, Joss-driven show. So when Joss wasn’t there, we had some unstructured time together. It was also a show in which scripts were sometimes written quickly by splitting them into acts, which required us to coordinate with each other, and write in a unified style. It was an amazing job, and I’d say the dynamic was strong – no backbiting or currying for favor.
2. What kind of major creative decisions did you make while working on a Whedon series? (Any examples or anecdotes of decisions you’ve been a part of that made a huge impact on a story, character or content?)
Oh my. The big decisions usually came from Joss and then from Marti. I witnessed big ideas, but was usually implementing them, not coming up with them. I seem to remember that some of us had the idea of making Principal Wood the son of a Slayer – I think that was something that came from us instead of from Joss. The impact I had was usually at the more micro-level, writing specific lines and jokes, or capturing the flavor and tone that Joss wanted for a scene or script.
3. Most importantly, what do you think are the benefits of working within a community of creators?
I’m not sure what you mean “a community of creators.” Although some of us went on to create other projects, Joss was the sole creator of Buffy. We were a creative community, though, like any staff, and it was, I believe, a particularly talented group. Part of what made this group so strong was our ability to get out of Joss’s way – is that ironic? I’m not sure. But we were all good at finding takes on things that allowed his ideas to shine. We also were often sent home to write with a lot of freedom allowed to us in the process. There is a TV writing term, “WP,” which stands for Writer’s Problem or Writer’s Prerogative, and we were allowed a lot of those on Buffy – places in a script where we were allowed to exercise our personal choice as we wrote.
4. What are some positive aspects of working in the television industry? Especially with the competitive and cut-throat nature of the business?
I have found it to be competitive, but I think the cut-throat thing is overstated. I’ve never felt sabotaged. I was mildly undermined a few times, early in my career, and there are definite problems in terms of less-than-optimal diversity in the business, but once you break in, there is something pretty close to a meritocracy going on. You rise or fall on your ability to write for the show. That’s certainly positive. You also get to write for TV, with all that entails – you get exposure, influence, pay, and the chance to work with other creative and funny people. You meet people you respect and you get to work with them. Your voice is amplified. I adore this job.
5. You’ve written for a variety of mediums– why is television writing a favorite?
I love writing dialogue. And I love writing fast… a project that lingers loses my interest eventually. I love that TV demands a lot of product. I love that it draws a big audience – it’s fun to reach people. I love that it has the power to change how people think and affect positive change. I love that I can make people laugh.
6. The internet has become a huge component of television– what role do you believe the webseries plays in the current state of the industry, and why is it important?
It’s HUGELY important. It’s going to become all one thing, which is going to be fascinating. It’s making filmed entertainment much more accessible to creators in all places, of all income levels, with all kinds of points of view. It’s tackling those creator-diversity issues that TV hasn’t made much progress with. It’s making TV have to be more daring, more inclusive, more accessible in order to compete.
7. How did you begin development for Husbands? What challenges have you faced?
We began with a simple idea to make a web series about young people in LA. It evolved into our romantic comedy with its marriage equality message – the change was crucial, because suddenly there was a bigger reason to tell the story. My first step was to ask Joss for advice, and he told us to hire a good line producer and then he sent us to Felicia Day, who gave us great advice about putting in the time and effort to market and publicize the show ourselves. The challenges – we had to cast someone to play Brady, and that took a long time and many sessions before we found Sean Hemeon. We needed to shoot a sequence in downtown LA, doubling as the Vegas strip – that was nervewracking because we didn’t have a permit. We had some problems with bad batteries in sound equipment during our promo shoot, and a broken camera during the main shoot. We had three EPs – Brad Bell (who also co-wrote and starred), Jeff Greenstein (who also directed), and me, and we all had to agree on some things, which wasn’t always easy, although there were few real disagreements. And then we had the challenge of fighting for views and exposure, which has been effortful, but has worked out well. We’re hitting a number of conventions this year, continuing to drum up support and meet the fans.