Slayer Lit Feature
Buffy: the Making of a Slayer
A Guest Blog by Nancy Holder
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One of the best moments of my entire life as a writer was when I found out I’d gotten my first Buffy gig, and six of the first season’s episodes of Buffy were subsequently overnighted to me. I had a five-month-old baby, and I was so sleep-deprived in those days that I would cry at the drop of a hat. But when I got the Buffy scripts, I also laughed until tears ran down my face. Yes, the dialogue was incredibly witty, but the stage directions were also just as funny. Things like, “The soldier walks past Xander but says nothing, because he is an extra.” “They’re running down…okay, it’s our same damn alley.” In notes for a fight: "Break everything you can for $1.98."
I also loved the exuberance and bravado that leapt off the pages. Many of the cast and crew had that same “go for it” mentality when they got their Buffy jobs—often against the advice of their agents and managers. They had a gut instinct that this was something they shouldn’t let get away.
When Michael Gershman, the cinematographer, gave me two valuable pieces of parenting advice—to always give my daughter some slack, and to read aloud to her every night—it really left an impression on me. He had been a working single parent when his kids were little. Making sure he read to them every night required a tremendous effort—and spoke of how much he valued stories.
People have asked me if my impressions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have changed in the fifteen years (!) since it aired, and I tried to discuss that love of story in my new tribute book, Buffy: The Making of a Slayer. After the book producers becker&meyer! invited me to write the book, I watched all the episodes and listened to the commentaries. I was impressed that over and over again, Joss and the writers emphasize how important story is to them. Although I had forgotten that Charles Dickens is Joss’s favorite author, it made perfect sense when I watched the story of Buffy unfold in one grand sweep.
So I tried to tell the story of how Buffy came to be, why it has endured, and why fans like me continue to love it so much fifteen years after it aired. First I discussed Joss’s creative process and his hopes for Buffy, as well as some of the themes that the show covered—family and power, and what it takes to be a real hero. Since TV (and comics!) are collaborative mediums, I sought out some of the key members of Joss’s creative team. I received beautiful sketches and photos from John Vulich, Todd McIntosh, Cynthia Bergstrom, and Carey Meyer (special makeup effects, makeup, costume, and production design.) As far as I know, none of these have been seen before. There are some real stunners—including a map of Sunnydale that is also a map of San Diego if you look closely enough!
Becker&meyer! books are also known for their “removables,” which are objects that you can extract from envelopes or pouches. As a book lover, I already had some of their books, and they sent me more to give me lots of examples of what they wanted. I loved opening all the little packets, so I was very excited when 47 North (amazon) expressed a desire to have a fancier version of the book we had produced for Titan UK, our original client. In the U.S., Buffy: The Making of a Slayer comes in a faux leather case and contains a black pouch of Slayer Lore. I squee’ed when I pulled out all the pieces. There’s one that didn’t make it onto the screen but was created for the show. There’s some typically in-jokey writing on it that made me laugh just like in the old days when I saw it.
It was so good to be able to chat with Amber Benson, David Fury, and Jane Espenson. David and Amber both told me stories that I put in the book, and it was a thrill when Amber wrote the foreword to the book. Now that she’s been writing, we’ve seen each other at book festivals and conferences—she recently reminded me that the first time we had lunch, her mother watched my daughter, who was in her car seat. Now my daughter is sixteen years old, and after a childhood deprived of watching Buffy (I told her there was too much hitting!) she sat with me while I watched the entire show again.
And I read the comics—so many comics! Shiai helped me with the comic section, which turned out to be very complicated as we wanted to be sure to list works as canonical and noncanonical. I took that page to Chicago and he studied it at C2E2. When he said yes, I danced a little jig.
If they revived the Buffy novel program, I’d dance another little jig!