The Foot: The Writers
Seven Business Days of Whedon continues with a look at the writers Whedon assembled for his four television shows and the influence and impact they’ve had in the fandom and on the legacy of these shows.
Joss Whedon is the first to admit that television writing is a colloborative effort. The stories of the lone writer, sitting in front of a desk, isolated from the world remains a foreign thing in the television industry. The tortured writer image does not exist in the world of television. In TV, there is a writer’s room where a group of writers, along with the showrunner and/or creator, figure out the stories of the season. Many storytellers exist in television. The majority of writers enter a world that they did not create and must prove that they can capture the voice of the show as well as the voice of every single character. It’s like a professional musician who plays bass for Taylor Swift. Musicians, writers and all creative types want to write their own music, stories, etc and have 100% total ownership of their product but that is tough. Of course, playing bass in Taylor Swift or writing for a television show is not the easiest task on the planet.
While I remain unaware of the journey of someone who plays an instrument for someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, I know enough about the journey of a television writer. The journey should begin in the city of Los Angeles as an assistant of some type though that is not the lone way of going about such a career. The absolute beginning is a spec script. A writer usually has to write a spec script. The spec script usually should be for a series that aired during the last official television season. So, for instance, if you wanted to write a spec script it’d have to be for Dexter, Mad Men; however, opinion exists that a screenwriter should avoid the popular series and instead focus on a series that just began. Once that happens, someone with influence has to read it and, usually, many spec scripts are written before the writer receives any attention unless your name is Drew Goddard. Hopefully, the spec catches the eye of a showrunner who wants to staff said writer.
Every writer I’m about to list, obviously, are good enough to be staffed. Many of these writers, after their time in the Whedonverse, went on to create their own shows or become showrunners or became co-executive producers. Whedon assembled so many great writers throughout the years and without these people, his television series’ wouldn’t be the same.
Now, writers rooms are run differently depending on a variety of factors. For example, the LOST writers room would break stories so minutely that every piece of action and dialogue was known before the actual script was written, at least that is what Damon and Carlton say. And, of course, writers would be assigned a certain episode if those particular writers were great with Sawyer episodes or Hurley episodes.
A Drew Z. Greenberg commentary gave curious fans a glimpse into the process for the writers on Buffy. In his commentary, Drew states that the story is broken by the group of writers. He adds that the writer is given free reign to color the details and whatnot. I don’t know what my point is but there is one. If you find it, tell me. Also, most season one and two writers will be left out because Joss said his fingerprints are all over each episode from the first two years and only two remained for the long-term: Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt. Let’s talk screenwriters now!
Best Episodes: Helpless; Choices; Fear, Itself; Crush; Grave; Awakening, Peace Out, Destiny, You’re Welcome
Fury began his Buffy career as a freelance writer with his wife. He wrote one episode with his fish, received another freelance gig solo with “Helpless” and then Whedon hired him full-time as a staff writer. He wrote some terrific episodes that are listed above. “Fear, Itself” is a Halloween tradition in The Foot. “Choices” really captures the feelings of high school seniors who are about to graduate. I read a few of David Fury’s scripts. He’s a very matter-of-fact writer. He takes care of the needs of the scene. He isn’t flashy but he’s an excellent screenwriter. And he was a big part of two excellent ANGEL seasons.
After Buffy and ANGEL, he joined the season one LOST writers staff and wrote two of the greatest LOST episodes in the series. I’ll ignore how he fought Damon Lindelof on the ‘Island heals Locke’ twist and I’ll ignore the lame way he attacked the show after leaving. He left the show for 24 and he remained with the show until the series ended in May. His work on Buffy and ANGEL is great and worth checking out. Joss let him direct a few episodes as well.
Best Episodes: Enemies; The Initiative; The Yoko Factor; No Place Like Home; Fool For Love; The Weight of the World; Beneath You; The Trial
Petrie joined the show in the third season. He was a co-executive producer and he directed a few episodes. Petrie’s episode commentaries are really good and informative. He has a lot of energy on the bonus features of DVDs so I imagine he was a high energy guy in the writer’s room. He got a lot of ‘game changing’ episodes that combined big plot stuff with big character stuff like every episode I just listed as his best. One of the most famous Petrie stories in the fandom is the original conclusion he wrote for “Beneath You” that Joss would make him re-write. Petrie felt uncomfortable portraying Spike as the hero unlike the majority of the writers who were gaga for the platnium blond. Debate has surfaced regarding the final scene in that episode. Spuffy fans love the re-write. Anti-spuffy people hate the re-write and wished Petrie’s version remained. Many television shows would not cause such a stir with a re-write as re-writes are common practice nor would most fans know the writing staff as well. This is why the Whedonverse is so unique.
Best Episodes: Band Candy; Earshot; The Harsh Light of Day; Pangs; The Replacement; Triangle; I Was Made To Love You; Intervention; Afterlife; Conversations With Dead People; Guise Will Be Guise; Shindig
Jane Espensen was with Buffy for as long as Petrie and Fury. She wrote 23 episodes. As evidenced, she wrote some really good ones. She’s one of my favorite screenwriters because she devotes time to helping young aspiring writers through her blog. She offers tips and advice about spec scripts. She talks about her experiences with Joss, the writers room and how the experiences helped her become a better writer. She wrote the best comedic episodes of the show. Those were her strengths. Her dramatic efforts weren’t as strong but she wrote some hilarious Buffy episodes and her last episode of ANGEL is hilarious.
Best Episodes: Angel; School Hard; Faith, Hope and Trick; Homecoming; I Will Remember You; To Shanshu in LA; Judgement; Dear Boy; Happy Anniversary; Dead End; Sleep Tight
Greenwalt was with Joss during Buffy’s first season and was crucial in the show’s development. Greenwalt’s directed a bunch of episodes as well. He wrote some of the wittiest Buffy episodes and he had the knack for writing some dark episodes of ANGEL and some thoughtful affairs as well. His most underrated episode is Happy Anniversary, a Lorne/Angel adventure and it has one of my all-time favorite scenes when Lorne helps a broken-hearted man feel better. God bless Andy Hallett (who passed away in 2009 and portrayed Lorne). Greenwalt is awesome.
Best Episodes: Surprise; Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; I Only Have Eyes For You; Dead Man’s Party; The Wish; The Prom; Wild At Heart; Buffy Vs. Dracula; Into The Woods; Forever; Conversations With Dead People
Marti Noxon has her share of critics because of seasons six and seven but she was an integral part in the series. She joined the show either at the end of season one or the beginning of season two. She wrote some of the series’ most famous episodes like “The Wish” and “Surprise” and co-wrote “Conversations With Dead People.” She always offered insightful thoughts into the world of Buffy on DVD features. I’m not into the work she did during seasons six and seven but she’s talented and one of Joss’ favorites.
Best Episodes: Selfless; Conversations With Dead People; Never Leave Me; Lineage, Damage; Why We Fight; Origin
Goddard is one of the fans’ favorite writers and he’s one of my favorite writers. There was a fight between the Buffy and ANGEL offices for his talents after they read his infamous Six Feet Under spec script. He breathed some much needed life into Buffy in season seven. In “Selfless,” a plot point that was seemingly forgotten re-emerged. Goddard admits Joss re-wrote some scenes because Goddard was too wordy in his first ever television script. Goddard joined ANGEL for its final year and delivered the superb “Linage.” Goddard wrote a freelance script for LOST during its first season and joined the staff in season three. He wrote Cloverfield. He’s best friends with JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. He co-wrote Cabin In The Woods with Joss and directed the movie. He wrote the Alias series finale. Goddard believes in the importance of an insane/action packed teaser. His description of the Six Feet Under teaser he wrote sounds insane and the teaser caught the eye of Marti Noxon who hired him. I read the script for “Outlaws” a few weeks ago. It’s one thing to watch the teaser and a different experience reading the teaser. The teaser for his episode of LOST, “Outlaws,” is fantastic on the page and much more gripping than the filmed version (and the filmed version is great). His scripts are worth checking out as well as his commentary tracks.
Best Episodes: Out Of My Mind; Tabula Rasa; Help; Potential
She wrote some of the weaker episodes of the series but she had her moments. She spent three years writing for the show. I hear her commentary tracks are terrible because of the lack of talking. I haven’t read an actual screenplay of hers unlike the others listed but I will in the near future.
STEVEN S. DEKNIGHT
Best Episodes: Spiral; Deep Down; Apocalypse, Nowish; Awakening; Release; Inside Out; Hell Bound; Destiny; Why We Fight; Shells; The Target
The first Dollhouse mention! DeKnight wrote for three of the four Whedon shows. His best work is on ANGEL. I used to message him questions on myspace a few years ago and he was nice enough to respond to each question. DeKnight is one of my favorite screenwriters. The guy writes the best fight scenes. No writer comes close. Not even Joss. DeKnight’s responsible for the three-act fight in ‘Destiny’ and the great winnebago fight in “Spiral.” If I ever write an action sequence or fight scene, I’m modeling it off of DeKnight’s style. He also wrote some great, dark episodes of ANGEL. “The Target” is a top 3 season 1 dollhouse episode and an episode he directed as well. He taught ESL in Japan as he searched for a job in screenwriting. I, too, have contemplated life abroad as a teacher. Anywho, check out his episodes, folks. He also created Starz’s Spartacus series.
Best Episodes: Hero; Somnabulist; Sanctuary; Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?; Darla; The Trial; Reprise; Epiphany; Through The Looking Glass; Billy; Lullaby; A New World; Benediction; Home; Bushwhacked; Out Of Gas; The Message; Omega; Belle Chose; Getting Closer
Minear just accepted my friend request on Facebook. Thank you! Minear rarely wrote a poor episode. He was one of the most consistent writers. He understood ANGEL the best, I think, though there are several other writers who really knew how to write for ANGEL. His Firefly work is out of this world good. He also ran the show with Joss. The quality of Minear’s work remained on Dollhouse and he infuriated the fanbase when he explained why he killed Summer Glau’s character. Minear’s commentaries are a treat to listen to. It’s safe to say that I recommend you read or watch his episodes. Thank you.
Best Episodes: Billy; Forgiving; A New World; Habeas Corpses; Players; The Magic Bullet; The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco; Not Fade Away
Bell ran ANGEL for the final two seasons. He was promoted after Minear left and David Simkins left. Minear left for Firefly and Simkins didn’t gel with the show. Bell co-write and directed the finale.
Best Episodes: Untouched; Fredless; Birthday; Loyalty; Ground State; Orpheus
I’m unsure why she left the show after season four and more unsure about where she went afterwards but she wrote my favorite Fred episode as well as the great “Orpheus.” She’s good people.
ELIZABETH CRAFT & SARAH FAIN
Best Episodes: Soulless; Players; Shiny Happy People; Underneath
There were part of the great season four and the great season five though their episodes were among the weakest of season five.
Best Episodes: Jaynestown; Time Bomb; Smile Time, Sacrifice; Life of the Party
He created The Tick before Joss and Minear hired him for Firefly. His contributions are among the most beloved by fans. My favorite episode he wrote is “Time Bomb;” a complicated story involving the time-jumping Illyria. Really funny, smart writer and he understood Firefly and ANGEL really well. Also, his season five Lorne episode is delightful.
DREW Z. GREENBERG
Best Episodes: Safe; Entropy; Him
He wrote solid but mostly “eh” episodes. “Safe” is his best in my opinion but I read “Safe” had a ton of rewrites. He joined Buffy during the declining years and did not make the splash that Drew Goddard made.
JED WHEDON & MAURISSA TANCHAROEN
Best Episodes: Epitaph One; Belonging; The Attic; Epitath Two: The Return. Also co-wrote Dr. Horrible.
Jed and Mo wrote solely for Dollhouses. The wrote the strongest episodes of the series. Very talented team.
Best Episodes: Ariel; Trash
Molina only wrote two episodes of Firefly before the show was cancelled. “Ariel” is fantastic and “Trash” has more Christina Hendricks as Saffron and he’s given great interviews about the creative process of Firefly and his own process of writing his two episodes.
I think that about covers what I wanted to cover. I’m sure there’s a glaring omission from the list that I’ll never forgive myself for missing but I included the core group of Buffy and ANGEL writers who made the show shine.
Check out buffyworld.com where you can find the shooting script for every single Buffy episode.
Tomorrow: The top 19 Buffy episodes.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK