Returning!

Last April I wrote a Buffy Begins script. But I just re-read it and I’m not even a little satisfied with it, so I’m starting over from scratch. I’ll be returning here to post my planning thoughts.

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Re-imagining Lothos

Why yes, I am giving this another go.  I deleted my 20+ page script from last year so it could count as starting from scratch and this April I’ll write a Buffy prequel script.

Last time, I got stuck on Lothos a lot.  I just couldn’t figure out a decent motivation for him.  And I don’t love his hokey medallion-wearing Dracula-wannabe appearance in the movie.  I thought about it, and maybe it’s because the Buffy wikia page was all, “Why don’t you check out the page about Russell Winters?” but I thought…  What if Lothos is a perfect hybrid of old and new?  What if he respects vampire traditions and tries to uphold them, while also being slick and modern?  So that’s where I’m going with him.

I also think he needs to ooze charisma.  He should be more Armand than Louis.  (What?  Interview with a Vampire and its successors are 90s-definitive.)

I also, trying to figure out what his motivation might be, realized that just killing Slayers isn’t good enough.  He’s supposedly killed several.  And we know he’s not the only vampire who killed more than one.  But there is an endless supply of young women in the world, so every time you kill one Slayer, another one gets activated, and she might find you eventually.  (Shh, never you mind that one Slayer can’t kill all the vampires.  We’ll worry about that another day.)

So what if his ultimate goal was not just to kill Buffy, but to destroy the whole Slayer line?  What if he had found a way to do that, but his killing Buffy was a necessary but not sufficient condition?

I think that’s the direction I’ll take him in.  He’s got a grand vision for a world that looks like a tidier version of the Wishverse.  For this vision to become a reality, he needs there to be no Slayers.  They’re pesky and he can’t attend to his grand vision if he has to keep putting out these girl-shaped fires.

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Teaser Poster

I haven’t settled on my imaginary casting yet – Merrick and Pike are eluding me at the moment – I want Dianna Agron for Buffy. (I know she’s not actually a teenager but doesn’t she play around 16 on Glee? I think she could do it. Though in my head, it’s still SMG.)

Because it’s hard to make a full poster without a cast, and because I couldn’t find any suitable pictures I liked on Flickr Creative Commons, I made this instead:

Buffy Begins

Buffy Begins Teaser Poster

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Getting Started

Yesterday, when I should have been thinking about my Master’s paper, or some other important school-related thing, I was thinking about how in just a few hours I could start writing my script.  I had wandered away and was thinking of doing a different thing entirely, but as often seems to be the case in life more generally, I came back to Buffy.

So I was thinking.  I’d been struggling with how to introduce the whole Slayer thing.  In the original screenplay Joss has this montage of slayers throughout the ages.  It didn’t end up exactly as written, once it was filmed, but it was still close.  And his big “reveal” was that the thing in the girl’s hand at the end of the sequence was not a stake, but a pom pom.

I have two major criticisms of the original screenplay: the first is that it tends to deal on a surface level with pretty much everything – plot, characterization, mythology.  And the second is that it belies a distaste for teenagers that 25-year-old Joss must have had.

As a former high school teacher and future high school librarian, I have great respect and affection for teenagers.  So I necessarily am going to write them differently than Joss did.  I didn’t want to start with Airhead!Buffy, even though her change from cheerleader to superhero is important.  I decided to give the audience a glimpse, from moment one, of the young woman she’s about to become.

It’s a little bit Ferris Bueller, a little bit American Pie – it begins with a voice over from Buffy herself of the Slayer prophecy, as we watch her handily dispatch a vampire.

It’s always key to remember this quote from Joss’s letter at the end of Buffy Season 8:

No matter how interesting the world stage or mystical dimensions can be, Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps, and nursing a pouty heart.

And I know the journey to that place is important, but imagining that the audience for this will only be partly new folks, I wanted to start there – and then work backwards a bit, and then perhaps jump forwards – the timeline might be a bit confusing, but we’ll worry about that later.

Over on the Script Frenzy site, they offer this advice:

Outline your script. In Viki King’s book How to Write a Movie in 21 Days she refers to something called, “The 9-minute Movie.” This is a way to de-mystify the screenwriting process. She suggests getting nine 3×5 cards, and writing on each card what happens on page 1, 3, 10, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, & 100. Once you do that, you have your “9-minute” movie. Post these cards near your computer, and voila! You’re ready to get started.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the common things that happen to characters on those pages:

Page 1 – Set up story, mood, tone, and place.

Page 3 – Introduce the central question your characters will explore.

Page 10 – Tell us what the story is. Tell us what the hero wants.

Page 30 – An event occurs that moves the hero into a new territory.

Page 45 – We see the initial growth of your character. You’ll tell us where we’re headed from here on.

Page 60 – Middle of Act Two, your hero is in big trouble, he reaffirms, and makes a deeper commitment to what he wants

Page 75 – It looks like all is lost, and there’s even a scene where the character is about to give up.

Page 90 – The resolution of the problem begins.

Page 120 – The audience gets the resolution they deserve, and the audience is satisfied that you gave them the story you promised.

So here’s what that looks like for me:
Page 1 – Slayer prophecy & Buffy are introduced, but then we flash back.
Page 3 – Buffy meets Merrick.
Page 10 – Buffy fights her first vampire.
Page 30 – Buffy learns that her friend Cassandra has died at the hands of a vampire.
Page 45 – Buffy seeks Lothos out for the first time.
Page 60 – Buffy sets about some serious training.
Page 75 – SPOILER ALERT! Merrick dies.
Page 90 – Buffy decides to balance being a normal girl with slaying.
Page 120 – Buffy and Pike ride off into the sunset.

Obviously, stuff happens in between those points, but it’s a nice set of dots to connect. (Some of the stuff that happens: Buffy refuses to be the Slayer TWICE! Buffy goes dress shopping, in there somewhere she’s gotta, you know, meet Pike, who kinda but not really has his own B story going on.)

Stay tuned – wackiness and hilarity are both guaranteed to ensue at some point in this process!

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Making It a Period Piece

I know I said very recently that this was going to be a modern Buffy, not a 90s Buffy.  But the more I think about it, the better an idea it seems to be to set this in 1996.  First, I’m not worrying the tiniest bit about writing a saleable script.  This is just fanfic in a different format.  The purpose is to have fun and play with the story.

My idea has been that this should be an adaptation of the origin story from the original film which is more in line with the mythology and tone of the TV show.  I first started thinking that maybe it was a better idea to put this in a 90s place when I was playing with music to use as a soundtrack.  I wanted music that was popular, but also felt right for this story.  Sadly, music that is popular right now really doesn’t fit.  Dance techno, reggae-inspired grooves, these just don’t say Buffy to me.  What does?  Alternative rock, preferably indie.  When was that a thing?  The 90s.  (I know it still is now but it’s not part of the teen zeitgeist in the same way.)

I started thinking about the Watcher’s Council, and how they find slayers.  As far as I can tell this isn’t canonically settled but I guess there’s a big book of prophecy or something?  I was wondering how they might find Buffy and I realized in today’s world, say she’s at a gymnastics meet and breaks the vaulting horse, that stuff would be all over YouTube.  It’d be easy to spot.  And a Council that didn’t use technology would be kind of ridiculous in 2011.  But not in 1996.  And it’s dramaturgically significant that the Council as a whole, and Giles in particular (who will have a cameo in my film, now I’ve spoiled the surprise!) not be into technology.  Buffy is special because she’s different.  She doesn’t play by the rules.  If we change the rules by which she doesn’t play, we change the whole world, and I don’t know what to do with her.

Then of course, there’s the fact that I’m the same age as TV-show-Buffy, which means if I’m writing her as 15 in 1996, I lived that stuff.  I wouldn’t know where to begin with teenagers now; I haven’t interacted significantly enough to get a bead on pop culture and speech patterns in a school for more than a year and a half.  And then there are all the fabulous 90s teen flicks to look to for inspiration.  (“Clueless” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” I’m looking at you.)

So I think I’m going back on my earlier statement.  This is a 1996 Buffy.

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Character Questionnaire: Merrick Jamison-Smythe

1. Name: Merrick Jamison-Smythe
2. Age: 35
3. Height: 6’ish
4. Eye color: ?
5. Physical appearance: ?
6. Strange or unique physical attributes: ?
7. Favorite clothing style/outfit: Severe.  Mostly blacks.  He doesn’t think very hard about what he wears.  Mostly it needs to be easy to move in.
8. Where does he or she live? What is it like there? Merrick has no proper home.  He is currently living in a warehouse which the Watcher’s Council has rented for him to use as a training facility.
9. Defining gestures/movements (i.e., curling his or her lip when he or she speaks, always keeping his or her eyes on the ground, etc.): None.
10. Things about his or her appearance he or she would most like to change: Merrick doesn’t think much about his appearance.
11. Speaking style (fast, talkative, monotone, etc.): Slow, deliberate.
12. Pet peeves: ?
13. Fondest memory: ?
14. Hobbies/interests: None
15. Special skills/abilities: He has extensive training in parapsychology and cryptozoology.  He is well-versed in the lore of vampires and demons.  He understands many fighting styles, but is not gifted in them.
16. Insecurities: The first slayer he trained died within a year of being called, at Lothos’s hand.  He constantly ponders how he might have saved her.
17. Quirks/eccentricities: He seems to be missing his sense of humor.
18. Temperament (easygoing, easily angered, etc.): Even and slow to get frustrated, but look out when he finally gets mad.
19. Negative traits: Inflexible
20. Things that upset him or her: Knowing that no matter how well he trains a slayer, he can’t effectively stand in her place.
21. Things that embarrass him or her: Attempts at humor
22. Things this character really cares about: Saving the world.
23. Any phobias?  His slayers dying.
24. Things that make him or her happy: Very little.
25. Family (describe): Like many watchers, Merrick was raised in a family of watchers.  His parents had high expectations of him.  He is an only child.
26. Deepest, darkest secret: ?
27. Reason he or she kept this secret for so long: ?
28. Other people’s opinions of this character (What do people like about this character? What do they dislike about this character?):  At best, they find him stiff and awkward.  At worst, downright creepy.
29. Favorite bands/songs/type of music: Classical music, especially lighter stuff
30. Favorite movies: He doesn’t have any particular favorites.
31. Favorite TV shows: He doesn’t watch any currently.
32. Favorite foods: ?
33. Favorite sports/sports teams: He likes soccer but doesn’t prefer any team in particular.
34. Political views: Merrick sees political struggles as trivial compared to the constant battle between good and evil.
35. Religion/philosophy: See political views.
36. Dream vacation: He doesn’t think about it.
37. Description of his or her house:  An abandoned warehouse.  There is a small room where Merrick sleeps.  He has a cot there, a small kitchen, a restroom.  He lives a sparse life but he does utilize technology to keep in touch with the council.
38. Description of his or her bedroom: See #37.
39. Any pets? No
40. Best thing that has ever happened to this character: Being chosen to be a Watcher the first time.
41. Worst thing that has ever happened to this character: When his first Slayer died.
42. Superstitions: When you’re already aware of the darkness in the world, superstitions seem ridiculous.
43. Three words to describe this character: Serious Critical Morose
44. If a song played every time this character walked into the room, what song would it be? I’m not sure yet.

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Character Questionnaire: Buffy Summers

The girl, the myth, the legend.  These questions come from Script Frenzy.  They were originally designed for novel-writing, which means I may leave some out.

1. Name: Buffy Anne Summers
2. Age: 15
3. Height: 5′ 2″
4. Eye color: Hazel-green
5. Physical appearance: Blonde, petite, athletic
6. Strange or unique physical attributes: Barely visible scar on left front shoulder from having a mole removed.
7. Favorite clothing style/outfit: So Cal upper middle class mall chic.  (I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this for a few reasons: fashions change rapidly, I live in NC where we’re about 5 years behind on trends so I don’t feel equipped to describe fashion, and if I were really producing this movie I’d trust my costumers to figure out what this character would wear.)
8. Where does he or she live? What is it like there? Buffy lives in a non-specific neighborhood of LA, but it looks a lot like Silver Lake.  It’s your generic So Cal high school movie location, with your generic So Cal movie public high school (Bronson Alcott High a la Clueless, for example).  She doesn’t have to go far to get to just about anything she wants: the mall, Starbucks, the movies, etc.  That said, she’s not very far from some less nice neighborhoods, either.
9. Defining gestures/movements (i.e., curling his or her lip when he or she speaks, always keeping his or her eyes on the ground, etc.): She has a fabulous pout she utilizes to get her way.
10. Things about his or her appearance he or she would most like to change: Buffy’s pretty satisfied with her appearance and has enough money to change just about anything that displeases her.
11. Speaking style (fast, talkative, monotone, etc.): Speedy, witty
12. Pet peeves: When her charms don’t work on people
13. Fondest memory: She’d never admit it to her friends, but there was one time her parents decided to go camping and she actually had a great time, even though her parents thought it was a disaster.
14. Hobbies/interests: Cheerleading, gymnastics, ice skating
15. Special skills/abilities: She’s particularly flexible, agile, and graceful.
16. Insecurities: Buffy is much smarter than she lets on, and she’s actually afraid her friends will figure this out and shun her.
17. Quirks/eccentricities: ?
18. Temperament (easygoing, easily angered, etc.): Fairly easygoing, but she can hold a grudge.
19. Negative traits: Quick to judge.
20. Things that upset him or her: When people don’t take her seriously.  (Which kind of contradicts her worries about her friends figuring out how smart she is, but there you are.)
21. Things that embarrass him or her: Physical displays of affection between her parents or from her parents towards her
22. Things this character really cares about: Her friends.
23. Any phobias?  Nope.
24. Things that make him or her happy: Shopping, sugar, cheerleading, ice skating.
25. Family (describe): Hank and Joyce Summers; frequently absent parents who love Buffy but don’t really know what to do with her now that she’s a teenager.
26. Deepest, darkest secret: Up to this point, probably her smarts.
27. Reason he or she kept this secret for so long: Buffy figured out early on that being too much smarter than other people put you on a fast track to nowhere, socially speaking.  So she acts as a bit of a leader for her crowd of friends but is careful not to show them up.
28. Other people’s opinions of this character (What do people like about this character? What do they dislike about this character?):  People like that Buffy is pretty and nice to her friends.  She’s not very nice to people who aren’t her friends, which can cause problems.  They also sense that she thinks she’s smarter than them sometimes, even if she does try to hide it.
29. Favorite bands/songs/type of music: Top 40 stuff, especially things with a fast beat; Katy Perry; Lady Gaga; Rihanna; Ke$ha
30. Favorite movies: Ice Princess, romantic comedies, teen comedies (Easy A)
31. Favorite TV shows: Glee, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl
32. Favorite foods: Cheese
33. Favorite sports/sports teams: Aside from Hemery sports, she doesn’t actually pay attention to sports much, but she likes any team from LA.
34. Political views: People should be generally nice and not hurt animals.
35. Religion/philosophy: See political views.
36. Dream vacation: Hawaii.
37. Description of his or her house: Midcentury modern with a small yard.  It’s been renovated a lot in the 50 years since it was originally built.
38. Description of his or her bedroom: Feminine but not excessively girly.  White, lace.  Mr. Gordo, her stuffed pig, has a place of prominence on her bed.
39. Any pets? No
40. Best thing that has ever happened to this character: Becoming a Varsity cheerleader as a freshman
41. Worst thing that has ever happened to this character: Each time one of her grandparents died.  (They’re all gone now)
42. Superstitions: You know the one about the spirit stick?
43. Three words to describe this character: Perky Strong Witty
44. If a song played every time this character walked into the room, what song would it be? Superchick’s One Girl Revolution

A couple notes: This is a 2011 or even 2012 Buffy, not a 1991/1992 or 1996 Buffy.  Buffy’s family isn’t super wealthy but they have enough money that they’re never struggling.  I’ve decided that her parents are members of the creative class – her dad’s in the more businessy, less geeky side of tech while her mom is a director for a for-profit art gallery.  They’re both heavily involved in good works in the community – which takes them away from home a lot.

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Settling a Few Questions of Mythology

Before I can really dive into the character questionnaires, I have to settle a few conflicts about the Buffyverse mythology.  These are issues which have the potential to open up a lot of debate.  What I’m expressing here are my thoughts on how I plan to work it all out.   You may take them as right or wrong as you choose.

1. At what point does The Slayer come into her powers?

I feel like there are conflicting messages about this.  In the original screenplay, Buffy appears to have been very strong early on.  She was a gymnast and at one point broke the vaulting horse.  That would require extreme strength, which would suggest to me that she had the powers before she was “called.”  That said, the movie also seems to indicate that the world has been slayerless for a while – which means even though Merrick hadn’t found Buffy until during the movie, she may have been “called” in terms of getting her power much earlier.

The show seems to indicate that slayers can be trained before they’re called (cf. Kendra), but that they don’t have their powers until their immediate predecessor’s death.

The question becomes what is the best thing for the story?  If there’s only supposed to be one girl in all the world with the strength and skill (which seems like bad planning on somebody’s part, doesn’t it? but we’ll leave that aside for now) then the activation of powers requires the death of the predecessor.  If the Slayer is born with her powers, then is she not born until her predecessor’s death?  I myself like the notion of the onset of powers around the age of puberty – it works well in X-Men and I think it’s a powerful metaphor for the kind of changes a person goes through at that time in our more mundane world.  If that’s the case, then Buffy could have broken the vaulting horse when she was 11 or 12; it could be that she was “called” and for a reason I’m going to have to make up the Watcher’s Council couldn’t find her.  (Because in my movie, there’s a Watcher’s Council, which brings us to the next question…)

2. How do Watchers work?

It seems from the movie/screenplay, that Merrick is somehow one man who has lived multiple lifetimes.  I don’t like that much; I’m much fonder of the Watcher’s Council.  Including the Watcher’s Council brings up a few more questions to be addressed.  (Again, the question is how will this work in my movie?  Not “How does it work in current canon?”  The references to current canon are a jumping off point.  They’re more like guidelines than actual rules.)

What is the nature of the Slayer-Watcher relationship?  Does every Watcher only have one Slayer?  If your Slayer dies, are you retired?  (I have one friend who’s suggested that he thinks the Watcher should die, too.  I don’t love that notion because I’m very fond of Watcher Survivor’s Guilt as a story device.)  Can a Watcher be fired?  If your Watcher dies, do you get a new one?  (The show offers us clear guidance on these questions: Yes.  And I tend to like that answer.)  The movie would have us perceive Merrick as some sort of supernatural being his very own self, or even a religious figure.  I don’t like that.  So I think we’ll put him within a more TV-show-like Watcher’s Council.  Questions of hierarchy and such there can be researched and/or tweaked later.  The key question is: Is Buffy Merrick’s first slayer?  In the movie he’s had 5 others.  I think that number’s too high if we don’t want him to be somebody who is constantly reincarnated or lives for an unnaturally long time.

3. What does it mean to be a Vampire King?

For some reason, settling this one just isn’t as important to me.  But I guess it addresses questions of followers, how one becomes a Vampire King (I presume you don’t just pop up out of the grave and are one already), and motivation/desires.  Does a Vampire King want more than to just eat people a lot?  If so, what?  I have to tell you – I can tell neither from the finished film nor the original screenplay what Lothos wants besides to eat Buffy… slowly…  Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

What are your thoughts on these questions?  What am I leaving out?

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Finding the Characters

I’m using Script Frenzy’s bootcamp for high school students.  If it’s good enough for them, I figure it’s good enough for me.

One of the first things they suggest doing is completing character questionnaires for all of your characters.  I think that’s a fine thing to do, but before I can do that I want to at least be able to name them.

Since it’s an origin story, I’ll be using the movie script to identify the characters I want on hand, but I’ll be adding some details that I got from the show.

Protagonist – Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer

Supporting Characters – Merrick, Buffy’s Watcher; Pike, the “bad boy”; Jennifer, Nicole, Cassandra, and Kimberly, Buffy’s friends (these names will definitely change; Joss did a great job picking the names that girls would’ve been given in the mid to late 70s, but I’ll be looking more for names girls would’ve been given in the mid to late 90s; my Buffy reboot isn’t a period piece); Jeffrey, Buffy’s boyfriend and his friends Andy & Grueller (same thing with names); Pike’s friend Benny; Joyce and Hank Summers, Buffy’s parents; Gary Murray, the school principal

Antagonists – Lothos, the Vampire King; Amilyn, his Vampire Servant (these names might change)

I won’t be completing full questionnaires for all of these characters.  Over the next few to several days I will, however, be completing them for Buffy, Merrick, Pike, and Lothos.  I may add others as well, but I feel like those four are crucial.

Am I leaving anybody out?  Including anyone too much? Please note: I will NOT be including Dawn, so let’s just not discuss it.  Dawn’s timeline is, as far as I’m concerned, an alternate timeline, certainly at any point pre-season 5.  This isn’t how Buffy, Joyce, Hank, etc would remember it, with Dawn squished in.  It’s how it “really” was.  (“Really” being in quotes because, um, it’s how I say it really was, and I’m not actually capable of producing anything that’s genuinely canon.)

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What makes a reboot good?

I asked around on Facebook when I first decided to undertake this project.  I identified two key factors:

1. Maintaining the spirit of the original.  This is pretty hard to describe or explain but when somebody does it right, you can tell.

2. Including nods to fans of the original.  The best example of this is Uhura’s green roommate in Star Trek.

A friend added:

3. The central character (in this case, Buffy herself) needs to be recognizable as the same person she was in the original.  (Please note: When I refer to “the original” I actually mean the show, not the movie.)

I’m open to other ideas.   What do you think?  What are the key ingredients for a story that treads familiar ground but does it in an interesting way?

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