Going to high school.
Or so says writer/producer Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for the WB Network.
Whedon knew even as a small child that his interest in super heroes, villains, horror stories and other twisted tales was out of the ordinary. But despite his colorful imagination, it didn't prepare him for the real terror that lurked in the hallways of high school. "That place," he reminisces, "Is the scariest of them all."
With a childhood he describes as painfully shy, he spent his time delving into comic books and the exploits of Spiderman, Dracula and the Fantastic Four, all the while voraciously devouring books by such authors as Frank Herbert and Larry Niven.
Now, at age 32, he has upgraded himself to "eccentrically shy," and has an impressive list of writing credits that include the upcoming "Alien 4: The Resurrection", Academy award-nominated "Speed" and such other well-received films as Disney's blockbuster "Toy Story" and the 1992 film-version "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which starred Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer.
A third generation television writer, (his father and grandfather both created for the small screen) Whedon grew up in Manhattan before spending his high school years at Winchester College, an all-boy sporting school in England. There, he studied the classics while at the same time sneaking off to see movies whenever possible. He then went to college at Wesleyan in Connecticut, studying film and graduating "broke and without a job prospect."
...."I wanted to write for TV, so I wrote a sickening number of TV specs, most of which were returned to me. The rejection notes usually said something like, 'Very charming. I do NOT wish to have it," he said.
After a year of sending his work around, he found success with a script he wrote for ABC's "Roseanne" that took him literally, "from working at a video store on a Friday to working on the "Roseanne" show on Monday," he said.
"That's my best advice to aspiring writers, to continue to do the hard work and create the specs. Write as many as you can, and send them around, even if it takes a large number."
He quit "Roseanne" a year later after selling a movie script. As for moving from the blockbuster film genre back to the small screen, Whedon says he is excited about working in television once again.
"You get to control it more, create it more when you work in television," he said. "It's like doing a string of independent movies with each episode something different as opposed to the movies, which takes a year or more to create just one product."
"Making a movie to me is like buying a lotto ticket. The writer is not that important. In 'Buffy' the movie, the director took an action/horror/comedy script and went only with the comedy. In the TV show, we are keeping to the original formula. We take our horror genre seriously," he said.
So seriously that he is not interested in doing any kind of camp or spoof of horror shows, even though some expected TV "Buffy" to be just that.
"This is not "Clueless" or "Party Girl," he said. "The description I like best is "My So Called Life" meets "The X-Files."
"Basically, 'Buffy' has all the classic, very cool monsters: vampires, werewolves, mummies. She is a good role model not just for girls, but for everybody, because she has to use her wits and her physical skills to win. Yet, she still has to get high marks in all her courses at school."
Whedon said his storyline inspiration for "Buffy" involves not only his own experiences in school, but the many universal woes of others, such as not being able to get a date.
"When I get together with my writing team, I ask them, "What is your favorite horror movie? "What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Now, how can we combine the two?"
Aimed mainly at the college-age crowd or anyone who enjoys horror, Whedon said the one-hour show should not disappoint those who liked the movie, even though the differences will be apparent.
"The TV show is scary, and less about spectacle and more about people," he said. "I have been told, politely of course, that when I want 400 vampires to walk in the door, I can have five," he said. "But it works on TV because it is all about the characters."
As for Buffy's appeal as a high-school student by day and vampire slayer by night, "I think there is a little bit of her in all of us," Whedon said. "She struggles with many of the things we had to face, issues of popularity and fitting in," he said. "And she wants to do the right thing, to save the world, or at least her own town, from a terrible fate."
With 12 one-hour episodes of "Buffy" filmed so far, Whedon said he still has many more story ideas he'd like to incorporate onto the show, (which premiered big on March 10). "I'm not nearly finished with Buffy yet," he said.
As for additional advice to those who want to break into and be successful in the television or film business, he suggests adherence to that sage old advice to write about what you know best or are interested in most.
"For me, that meant conjuring up Buffy and remembering some terrible high school experiences," he said. "In the series, we have taken real-life situations that reflect a grotesque parody. And most people remember high school very clearly, so they understand how horrific it all can be."
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on the WB and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, formerly of "All My Children," as Buffy; Anthony Stewart Head as her mentor the "Watcher" (you may remember him from the "Taster's Choice" commercials); Nicholas Brendon as her lovelorn-for-Buffy school pal Xander Harris; Alyson Hanningan as her devoted friend Willow, and Charisma Carpenter as her rival, Cordelia Chase.
"We take our horror genre seriously." -Joss Whedon
Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
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