Friday, July 8, 2011

An Interview with Jane Espenson, TV Writer Extraordinaire

by Laura B.
Guest Blogger

Jane Espenson has her hand in many a sci fi/fantasy television creation … all of which, I might add, are severely awesome. From writing credits on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones to producer on Torchwood, Caprica and many, many others, Espenson has cut quite a path through the sci fi/fantasy realm of television. She gave up her time to answer a few questions related to fairy tale creatures, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books and her love of boundary-pushing television. 

My original idea for this article was to feature different female sci fi/fantasy television writers, but for the life of me, your name just kept pushing all other names aside. What new female writers are catching your eye?

The ABC/Disney and NBC/Universal and other writers' programs keep helping new diverse writers, including women, get into the business. There are lots of promising young women, but there are also more established ones than are given credit they're the ones who are reaching the point where they are having a real impact on Sci Fi and Fantasy. I'm thinking of Doris Egan from Torchwood, Amy Berg from Eureka, Toni Graphia and Anne Cofell Saunders, both former Battlestar writers, Marti Noxon and Rebecca Kirshner from Buffy, Gillian Horvath, and lots of others. These women are so smart and are making good TV every day.

You've said before your early days as a female writer were akin to "being the one girl in the locker room" filled with male writers. What made you persevere through those times?  Do current female sci fi writers face such an uphill battle?

Buffy and the Scoobies
That was never the case on any science fiction show at least it never felt like that. I was referring to my early career as a sitcom writer.  Sitcom rooms are notoriously guy-centric and can be rough. I think lots of female writers are good at rolling and parrying and bouncing back in that kind of environment, but I wasn't especially good at it. I think the atmosphere has probably improved for a couple reasons younger women come in with thicker skins, and younger men have been raised in a nicer age, I think there seems to be less cruel humor now and more smart humor.  But then again, I haven't been in a real sitcom room in a long time. Maybe young female comedy writers still face this. But sci fi writers no, I would be surprised. That seems antithetical to the wonderful inclusive spirit of sci fi.

…and the obligatory follow-up: What do you think is the best way to encourage up-and-coming female writers?

Well, the existence of programs like the ones at ABC and NBC that I already mentioned, that's a big help. And I hope girls are aware of the presence of more working women writers who are already here. But in general, I think the same things provide encouragement to girls that do so to boys teachers to read their work and guide them, and good shows to inspire them.

Vampires, space dramas with allegories to current conflicts, supernatural secret service agents, fictional medieval kingdoms at war: Is there any area of the vast sci fi/fantasy universe you are dying to write still? If not, what non-sci fi options are on your radar?

I really have covered a lot of Fantasyland. I'm currently consulting on a show called Once Upon a Time that deals with fairy tale characters in a real world. That's a fun new area for me! I would probably like to write a few more aliens. Or robots. But I'm frakkin' done with alien robots. Non-sci fi ... hm ... I'm co-writing a web series called Husbands that's a newlywed comedy. I love writing something new to me. I love historical material ... I'm open to everything!

What is it about television writing? Why not books or a movie? We would kill to see a post-feminist zombie movie bearing your name!
Viserys' unpleasant end on Game of Thrones

I could possibly see myself writing novels. Although when I try to write prose I usually find myself yearning to just let the characters talk. Just talk!! Movies have never really interested me the writers don't have enough power and the stories remind me of short stories. I like novels and that's what TV series are like.

How has your time spent writing and producing Buffy the Vampire Slayer framed your current projects? Do you feel free to try more daring writing adventures because of the boundary-pushing shows you've worked on in the past?

Yes to the second part, absolutely! Boundary-pushing is habit forming! I want to keep trying new things and taking them farther, digging deeper! Buffy was certainly part of that. You can't work on something like that without wanting to repeat that experience, to find characters with that much metaphorical meat on their bones.

Is there anything we lowly fan can do to keep magical shows from disappearing after only one season? Because I have to say, if a full-page ad wasn’t enough to save Firefly

In the current model, I don't think there's anything that can be done. The networks have gotten pretty good at calculating exactly how many people are really watching and how much they can charge advertisers as a result. Showing passion isn't likely to convince them they've miscounted. Besides, by the time the fans rally, the actors, writers and everyone else are already working on their next jobs.  But maybe things will change as the tv and the computer merge into one device? I'm not sure why that would change that, but who knows? Things are going to change in some ways, why not that one?

Gwen and Captain Jack from Torchwood
Just out of curiosity, have you already received your copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons?

No! Not yet!

Now a lighter question: What do you read or watch for pleasure? Do you have a guilty pleasure entertainment outlet?

I just read the Hunger Games series and loved it. And Sarah Vowell's new book. And I can't wait for the new season of Project Runway! Whoo!

And finally, just to humor me, who would win in hand-to-hand combat, Buffy or Starbuck?

Buffy. Starbuck is tough, but Buffy has Slayer-strength!

Check out Jane Espenson's newest work on Torchwood: Miracle Day, premiering tonight on Starz at 10 p.m. EST. 
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1 comment:

  1. OK, now I'm wishing for her to write a novel. She's fantastic!