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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: Writer-producer David Fury
Finding funny comedy in scary episodes.
By Denise Dumars
April 20, 2000
'They left me out of the picture!' David Fury says of the October 1, 1999 issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that listed the BUFFY episodes to date and featured a photo of and a discussion with the principal BUFFY writers. 'I was a freelancer last year,' he explains. 'I actually started, officially, as Producer on Season 4. I'd been writing since the second season as a freelancer.'
Fury has risen through the ranks and now has written the episode that is the climax, if not the last episode, of this season of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. 'That was Joss's idea. He did not want to do a big season ender this year. So there will not be a cliffhanger, although there will be allusions to events to come next season. Joss's final episode of the season, Episode 22, will provide some clues as to where the characters are heading.'
Fury has written Episode 21. 'I believe it will air May 16. That is the more typical season-ending episode; it's kind of ironic that it's the penultimate episode, because I was just watching THE SOPRANOS, and it's the next to last episode of their season, and it resolves a number of things. So it makes me wonder what their next episode will be.' Is this the start of a trend? Next-to-last episode as the big blowout? 'Might be,' he wonders. 'I hate to think THE SOPRANOS beat us to it!'
Without giving spoilers, Fury talks about the episode. 'It's Buffy versus Adam, and the Initiative itself. It will effectively be the destruction of the Initiative. And we find out a little bit about Riley and what his purpose is and we learn what Adam was designed for. It's an episode that really sums up a lot of the season. It puts Buffy in a very interesting place emotionally that we will carry over to next season.'
When asked to elaborate, he adds, 'Buffy comes to a kind of religious epiphany about being The Slayer,' he explains. 'Sort of a mystical experience. That spiritual journey will continue through next season where she will re-embrace her role as The Slayer.' The allegory is you become disillusioned with your faith or church and then you come back again on your own terms. That might actually include her rejoining the Councilof course, that's not certain at this time.'
This would affect everyone involved--especially Giles. 'Yes, it would. The reason Giles doesn't have much to do is that he's suffering from empty nest syndrome, like a parent. He doesn't know what to do with himself. That's what we've been playing out with him.'
Xander also has been at loose ends. 'He will come into his own next season. It seemed correct for him to be a little bit lost. He has no specific agenda, like the Slayer has or like Willow's witchcraft. The only thing that's giving him purpose is Anya. She loves him just for him, not for what he does or how much money he has. But this season is to set up different avenues for the characters that will sort of come to a head in my episode.'
College has changed a lot of things in the Buffy world. 'They rejoin each other and realize how much they've missed each other and how college has forced them to grow apart. But they're going to come back stronger than ever. Next season the Scooby corps will be very much together,' he assures us.
Lots of action and special effects are planned for Fury's big episode. 'There will be huge amounts of action, enormous stunts; it's war between dozens of demons, soldiers, and a very big magical climax. This is a real budget-buster.' What's the special effects budget for this episode? 'I really have no idea. I'd guess we're way over budget! But it should be pretty spectacular when all is said and done.'
The episode was to finish shooting by mid-April. 'It's called 'Primeval.' Very crucial events in the episode will play a role in Joss's final episode. Something that the group does together winds up haunting them in his episode. I just read the script that Joss finished--it's incredible. It's basically a coda episode. We get into everyone's head. It's a fun idea.'
David Fury has worked on ANGEL, but does not plan to do so in the near future. 'Joss has pretty much put a moratorium on any BUFFY writers working on ANGEL next year. They're fully staffed, and are hoping not to go outside of their own staff. Things were a little bit bumpy in the beginning of ANGEL. Before there was a staff, I was asked to the second ANGEL episode, and then I did episode 10.'
Asked to elaborate on what he knows about the future of ANGEL, Fury replies, 'They have some really interesting things in store for next season. A lot of interesting characters coming. Faith will be there for a couple of great episodes, and she will recur.' Have we seen the last of Faith in Sunnydale? 'I think so,' Fury says. 'She seems made more for Angel's world. She seems like she'd be a great addition to some scenarios coming up on ANGEL.'
BUFFY is now in reruns. 'The last five episodes will run in order, from around the last week in April through May. The next new episode is a very interesting one, written by Tracy Forbes, and it's all about sexual energy. Faith's sleeping with Riley has affected Buffy and Riley's relationship, and Buffy would like to erase that memory.'
Fury explains that Faith is on the road to liking herself again, which is kind of hard to do when you're wanted for murder.
Fury stutters around this moral dilemma. At this point Fury sounds a little like Xander. 'I identify a little with all the characters, because each has characteristics we can all identify with. This idea relates somewhat to the theme of my episode, 'Primeval.' But I personally identify with Xander quite a bit. I feel like the wiseass who got through school by the skin of his teeth. I'm not as bad a student as Xander, but we share a wry sardonic manner,' he says laughing, sounding even more like Xander.
'Certainly the guy without any powers is the guy I most relate to! Xander is the kind of guy who gets through life by his wits. That's all I've got going for me!' he laughs. 'I did not have a fancy Ivy League education. I am forever intimidated by my brilliant coworkers. I'm a college dropout. And I've been very fortunate to have some natural instincts for writing. It's something that I'm grateful for.'
Fury is from New York, where he was a professional actor in his teens while attending university. After a couple of years, he got interested in filmmaking and transferred to UCLA, but acting kept calling him back. 'People were stopping me on the street--and it wasn't just for sex, either,' he jokes. 'But seriously, I was offered a lot of acting jobs. I was lured away from school, and for about 10 years I focused on my acting.'
Fury's background in comedy helped prepare him for writing the crisp, witty dialogue that BUFFY is famous for. 'Writing came because I'd been a stand-up comedian in New York, writing my own material, and that lead to me creating an off-Broadway comedy group called Brain Trust. That was my first foray into writing for other people.'
Fury and his girlfriend at the time teamed up to write spec scripts. 'Elin Hampton and I wrote a couple of scripts together and got hired on THE JACKIE THOMAS SHOW. We spent a few years doing sitcoms.'
Fury's approach to Whedon differed from that of most other BUFFY writers. 'I had no one-hour scripts to show him. I had sitcoms; I had sketches. Elin and I wrote for PINKY AND THE BRAIN. We met with Joss when he had just finished the script for the pilot, and we had a great meeting. Joss read everything we had. We had a GET A LIFE, a PINKY AND THE BRAIN, a DREAM ON. On the basis of those he gave us a shot on BUFFY. I'll be forever grateful.' The payoff was a bit long in coming, however. 'Elin and I got another offer at the time for a sitcom on ABC, but we wanted to do BUFFY. Our agent thought we were nuts. He said, 'You want to do that
?' The ABC show seemed like a surefire hit. We went with the sitcom, which was a huge mistake. It was called LIFE'S WORK. After 18 episodes it was gone. We promptly fired our agent.'
Fury and Hampton's new agent happened also to be Joss Whedon's agent. 'They got us a meeting with him to do a freelance episode, which was 'Go Fish.' At that time Elin and I split up as a team for mostly personal reasons, and she was offered a job on MAD ABOUT YOU. Joss was nice enough to offer me another freelance script, which was called 'Helpless.' They promised me a job for the next season, and gave me the episode called 'Choices.' Then it snowballed.'
So, after working on lots of comedies, why did BUFFY appeal so strongly to Fury? 'I'm a big horror buff,' he admits. 'When I saw the ads for the movie, I immediately took off work the day it opened and went to a matinee to see it. I loved the premise. I pretty much hated [the movie]!' he laughs. 'I felt compelled to tell Joss so! He agreed whole-heartedly! The other thing that attracted me was the allegory. A lot of my sketches were allegorical; I had a sketch about a fruit fly talking about the meaning of life, for example. BUFFY was meant to be an allegory to high school and coming of age. This became the most creative show I could imagine working for.'
Also, the comedy appealed to him. 'I like bringing comedy to the serious stufffinding the comedy within the scary episodes.'
Fury also has work outside the BUFFY world. 'I'm currently rewriting a script for Tim Burton. He's making a film of one of the GOOSEBUMPS books. I'm trying to marry the same sense of humor with horror that BUFFY has for that preteen sensibility.' This will be a feature film. Fury's just starting to work onit, so stay tuned.
Fury's episode 'Helpless' is the one where Buffy loses her powers, and finds that it's a test each Slayer must take. It's very hard to watch--painful to know that Giles knows what's going on, but can't tell her, and she's in pain not knowing why her powers aren't working. 'It was based on a story I sold to Joss as a freelance pitch. In my pitch, Buffy is put thorough a test in which all her friends and family she sees as demons and vampires. She fails to kill her mother in the crucial moment, and effectively fails the test. They fire Giles for that. It changed when they came up with the story of The Wish, where we saw Sunnydale with Willow and Xander as vampires. When they did that, my story had to change. It became a test where Giles takes away her powers. The idea of Giles getting fired they loved, and the other thing was the betrayal of the father figure to the child. It's another allegory, a coming of age trial. Dad has feet of clay. It happens to all of us.'
A funny horror show that handles first love, first heartbreak, and serious parent-child issues? That's what makes the show so special. The writers are including an incredible level of depth while at the same time being funny and scary. 'Joss more than anything focuses on the MY SO-CALLED LIFE aspect of the show. He loves turning the coming of age thing on its head. Now that we don't have the high school microcosm, it's splintered a little bit.'
The show faces difficulties due to the dramatic necessity of showing the characters' changing lives. 'I think we're portraying it well but, unlike real life, the viewers don't want to see the Scooby gang drift apart. But it would be false to not show that. It's been a hard year for the characters. I think we did a pretty good job of getting across that feeling.' Whereas a lot of shows might not have been able to make the transition from high school to college, BUFFY, for all its warts, has proven triumphant.
In Fury's episode 'Choices,' Buffy steals part of the Mayor's Ascension plans. 'Willow becomes the mayor's hostage. That was an episode that was handed to me; it was created by David and Joss in which they wanted to spell out what the future was; the characters were at a crossroads. Having to make hard choices was the theme. We paralleled that with the choices that Faith had to make about becoming the Mayor's right-hand person. The Mayor kind of indicated that Buffy and Angel were doomed as a relationship. A favorite thing to do on the show is to have the villain spell out the truth. We call the demon in those episodes 'the theme-on,' because so often the theme of the show is illustrated by the villain.'
The Mayor, a great character, recently returned briefly.
'There's going to be a lot of returns in the last episode of the season. It's called 'Restless.' There will be a great many old faces.'
Including Oz? 'Can't say. Oz is coming back, though. He'll be in episode 19. Seth Green has a burgeoning film career, and we don't want to stand in the way of that.'
This season Fury has written 'Fear Itself,' which was the Halloween episode about the haunted frat house. 'I co-wrote the 'Doomed' episode with Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson, where the gang goes back to the high school, to the ruins, to stop the sacrifice of the three demons. My most recent episode is 'The I in Team,' in which Adam is introduced, Maggie Walsh meets her fate, and Buffy and Riley sleep together for the first time.'
This episode was particularly violent. 'It was very dark. When Buffy and Riley had their moment, Maggie was watching them on a hidden camera. I think of it as the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK episode. The events in this episode catapulted the events in the rest of the season. Buffy was joining the commandos but she didn't fit in.'
Fury couldn't be happier with his position on BUFFY. 'Joss has been really great and generous toward me. I'm supervising producer now, so I guess I'm doing well! Being asked to do the second ANGEL episode was a big deal for me as well. Again, I'm honored. Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt have been wonderful.'
Fury has a few last thoughts. 'Again, I hate to sound like I'm groveling, but I'm just grateful to be a part of what I think is the most exciting and original show, and it's amazing that the fans know who the writers are! They takes notes on who scripts what, and I can't think of any other shows where the fans do that. That's more evidence of how special the show is. We all feel a part of it, very close, like a family. It makes for a very interesting community.'