WonderCon 2017: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Two Decades with Feeling: A 20th Anniversary Celebration

An interesting panel focusing on interviews conducted for an upcoming book.

On Friday, March 31, 2017, in Room 300DE at the Anaheim Convention Center, from 4:00 – 5:00, a panel occurred at WonderCon to discuss Joss Whedon’s most famous television series. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Two Decades with Feeling: A 20th Anniversary Celebration featured Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, the authors of the upcoming hardcover book, Slayers & Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy & Angel, due September 26 from Tor Books. Both authors worked on The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years which came out last June and was enormously popular. The program listed this panel as “Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (The Fifty-Year Mission), authors of the upcoming oral history Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Slayers & Vampires, reopen the Hellmouth and look back at the secret history of the slayer who saved the world a lot, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for its 20th anniversary as well as what the future might hold for Slayage in the 21st century. Also, a look back at the underappreciated genius of Angel and the Buffys that never were.”

Both men quickly took the stage accompanied by a slide that stayed on the two large screens for the entire panel. The image was the book cover featuring head shots of Buffy and Angel, side by side, but the bottom halves of their faces obscured by the title, which featured the authors’ names at the bottom. This picture was good, but having sat down during the end of the previous panel, the projected imagery went from film footage to close ups of the speakers. It would have been nice to have had some camera work during this panel so that the presenters could have been better seen by all.

Altman and Gross spoke about how they were able to get interviews with all the talent on and behind the cameras. Mr. Gross began by stating that most of the interviews with Joss Whedon were done several years ago. The first series of interviews began in 1994 when he wanted to interview Whedon about Alien: Resurrection, which Joss wrote. Since he figured there couldn’t be too many Whedons in the phone book, he dialed the operator and asked for the phone number of Joss Whedon and got it. He called Joss’s home, Joss picked up, and he spoke with him for two hours about the upcoming Alien film. He continued to be available to speak with Edward for several years, including while Buffy, Angel, and Firefly were in production. He eventually asked Joss why he allowed him to be interviewed over all this time by him, Joss replied that he was one of the first people to interview him and talk to him about his work. Gross joked, “I continued to speak with him fairly regularly until Avengers.” This got a strong round of laughter from the audience.

Gross went on to say that Ben Edlund gave him a lot of good information for the book. The actors were very enthusiastic to discuss the series, since it had been two decades. Tim Minear was probably his favorite interview for the collection.

Mr. Altman stated that what makes this book different from histories of television series or films is that it’s presented in interview format, from each subject’s point of view. The people told their own stories, “So it’s up to the reader to decided the facts of this oral history.” The shows have had such an impact on Mark that he stated that he has three cats: Giles, Willow, and Ripley. “I didn’t like Jones for a cat’s name. Ripley sounds stronger.”

For the interview with Sean Astin, who directed an episode of Angel, the pair went to a pinball palace, where Sean played a Lord of the Rings pinball machine while they were there. The owners pulled the card out of the machine so Sean could sign it. They spent so long there playing pinball and talking to people that there was never any time for the interview.

The Holy Grail interview for Gross was David Simkins. He was the showrunner for Angel for a very short time and there have been several strong opinions from people about him. Gross reached out to him repeatedly to get his take of what occurred and Simkins finally agreed to talk about working on the show. Ed was very pleased that fans can hear Simkins’s own words about working at Mutant Enemy.

With the production company brought up, Altman interjected that Mutant Enemy was really in a unique position because the shows were able to “cross pollinate” really well. Because the three writing rooms were in the same building, the writers would often get together for a common lunch and kick ideas around. Writers, cast, and producers were all together for Buffy and this made the show especially strong.

Atlman was going to state who his favorite person was to interview, but he said he couldn’t because sitting in the audience was someone he adored, and “He was favorite person to talk to.” Camden Toy was invited on the stage and he sat between the authors and discussed how he interviewed for the iconic Buffy episode “Hush”. Joss and two others were there for the casting session. He was told to pretend to pick up a scalpel, cut someone’s heart out, and then hold up the heart. “You should also glide into the scene” and “No talking,” he was told. Having heard actors outside the room giving huge sinister laughs, Camden instead just smiled, did his motions very deliberately, and performed the actions in the happiest possible way. Toy said that Joss covered his eyes halfway when he was done, and waved him off, “Okay. Thanks. That was disgusting. Thank you.” Camden was happy to hear on one of the commentaries that Joss stated that when he saw Doug Jones (“the tall one”) and Camden (“the shorter one”) audition without make-up or lights he knew they’d be perfect.

Andy Hallett was brought up and Gross told how he joined Angel. Hallett was working as an assistant for Kai Cole (Whedon’s wife), and after Joss saw him singing in a karaoke bar he created the character of Lorne for him. He and Joss often went to karaoke bars together. Gross continued, “Lorne was the life of the party at Wolfram & Hart, because Andy was the life of the party.” Many of the cast echoed this sentiment.

When asked by the audience if there was anyone that either writer wanted to interview, Gross quickly chimed, “Joss, after Avengers.” After the laughter subsided, he said there was so much material from previous interviews, there was plenty for this book. He repeated that he was extremely pleased to get Simkins for the book.

Altman wanted to make sure the audience knew that this was not a “gossipy” book. “These books are honest, not gossipy. We didn’t want to include cast members complaining about others. We wanted to tell the making of the shows.”

Before time ran out, Altman wanted to also say that two of his favorite interviews for the book, not including Camden Toy, were Harry Groener and Armin Shimerman. “Both are just so smart and fun to interview.”

With the hour up, both men thanked Camden for joining them, and encouraged everyone to order their book “Which is available for presale on Amazon!”

Both writers were engaging and should be sought out for future panel discussions.

 

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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