Talks at Google presents: Jane Espenson

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 13.04.2012

>> Female Presenter: Join me in welcoming to Google, Jane Espenson.
>> Jane Espenson: Thank you. This is fun. I like being here at Google.
>> Female Presenter: OK, I'm gonna take you back. Back.
>> Jane Espenson: Doodoodoodoo. It's all blurry.
>> Female Presenter: Pre 1992.
>> Jane Espenson: Oh no, OK.
>> Female Presenter: So what were you doing then? You were in linguistics.
>> Jane Espenson: I was in grad school. I was in college from '82 to '92.
>> Female Presenter: Right. [laughs]
>> Jane Espenson: You've hit the archaeological level that is my college years.
>> Female Presenter: And what were you working on there?
>> Jane Espenson: I was working on cognitive science. So, I started in computer science
added linguistics as a double major as an undergrad and then realized, "Hey, linguistics
plus computer science equals cognitive science," which you can tell isn't a science because
it has the word science in it.
And spent five years doing that in grad school with George Lakoff.
>> Female Presenter: OK. So, you went to reality and became a writer. So, is there anything
about your past like, '82 to '92 about conceptualization of causation and metaphors that has informed
your work?
>> Jane Espenson: I ask myself about that. For one thing, I needed those years to grow
up. So, my pseudo-maturity is a result of those years. But certainly, the stuff that
I like to write has a metaphorical layer in it. I don't--. I'm not particularly interested
in writing household drama. I like writing sci-fi. When I write household drama, I like
it to be something like the show "Dinosaurs" that I worked on, where it's like it's a normal
American household but they're dinosaurs.
I find it allows you to speak more honestly about what's going on in the world. So, the
events on "Battlestar Galactica" could have taken place on an ordinary aircraft carrier
on water, but it's much more exciting that it's an aircraft carrier out in space, in
You can speak about both those shows, Dinosaurs and "Battlestar Galactica" took on middle
eastern wars as a topic in a way that a show wouldn't be allowed to if it was like we're
going to do a show about U.S. soldiers. So we could switch around who was being the bad
guy in any particular episode. We could move the morality around a bit or remove it entirely
without there being real world implications we could expose the real world.
And so, the fact that I like that metaphorical layer, it's probably not so much that grad
school supplied me with that interest, but that they were both caused by the same initial
interest in it. I like the idea of how do we really understand things. How do we filter
things so that we can grapple with them? And that led me both to grad school and to my
interest in sci-fi. Certainly, my interest in sci-fi predated grad school.
>> Female Presenter: So now, I'm skipping a question because you're bringing up the
moral cheat sheet.
>> Jane Espenson: Yes.
>> Female Presenter: And I love that expression. Not having it in other words.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah. This is an idea I had when I went in to speak--. When you get
hired on show they don't just look at your writing samples and say, "OK. Show up Monday."
You also have to come in and meet with the show runner and sometimes that meeting is
very perfunctory. They know they like your writing. They know they're inclined to hire
you. They just want to make sure that you're someone they can stand being in a room with--that
you're not crazy. So, I call this the "wear pants" meeting.
>> Jane Espenson: If you show up wearing pants then you're probably OK because they already
like you. But sometimes you wanna--. If you really want the job, you wanna go in armed
with some insight about their show. So, what I came in with at "Battlestar" was that I
admired that it had no moral cheat sheet. And Ron, the show runner, leans so far out
in his chair in excitement, I thought he was going to fall on the floor.
I was like "OK good, I hit something." Yeah, because that's exactly what he had been going
for. For so many shows you know that your hero's not going to make a bad choice, not
going to make an immoral choice. On "Star Trek", for example, this was always the way.
So, if Picard was advocating this, unless he'd been body switched you knew that it was
the right thing to do. So you could as a viewer sit back and go, "OK good. He's doing the
right thing."
You didn't have to think about the choice. Ron came out of the "Star Trek" world and
then created "Battlestar." And I think it was very much a reaction in his mind that
he wanted to tell stories with shades of gray that weren't so clear-cut. And he really loved
that I picked up on the fact that even though we love and respect President Roslin, we love
and respect Admiral Adama, doesn't mean they're always right.
You don't have a moral cheat sheet to go, "Oh, who's making the argument? Adama? OK.
That's the right thing to do." He did--. Made wrong decisions, immoral decisions all the
time. Sometimes, they were right and immoral. Sometimes, they were wrong and immoral. But
you had no way of knowing which one it was going into the argument. And often, both sides
had their merits and you just had to go, "Which would I do?"
And it was--. It makes for a much more involving and participatory show. And I've thought a
lot about what makes a cult hit, what makes a show with a fandom where, where the fans
are so passionate about a show that they consider themselves a community. A lot of that has
to do with the degree that they are engaged with the show.
The amount where it feels participatory for them. In an argument in which they are not,
being told passively which side to be on but they have to actively engage and think about
what side they'd be on. That's one of the ingredients in the recipe for cult stardom
and "Battlestar's" certainly achieved that. I think that's a big part of why.
>> Female Presenter: OK. So, you prefer writing for TV as opposed to--.
>> Jane Espenson: Oh, yes.
>> Female Presenter: OK. Why?
>> Jane Espenson: Oh my god. Movies are awful.
[laughter] They--. In TV, we're the boss. In movies,
directors are the boss. Now that Joss Whedon has gone to movies, what's he doing? He's
writing and directing. Because otherwise you are not even on the set. Your script is the
launching point for visionaries to come in and imagine a world and the writers work is
done on most movies. I don't care for that. On TV, we're the bosses, we create the world,
we make the decisions.
A director is hired week by week, they come in, sometimes they're fantastic sometimes
they are very visionary. Sometimes they come back a lot and they become part of the fabric
of the show. But a lot of times, it's just a guy that comes in for a week and he has
to do what we say. And if we don't think he's doing it right, we can fire him.
We have the power. We sit there on the set. Technically, if I want to give a note to an
actor, I'm supposed to tell the director and the director gives that note. But usually
we're sitting in a chair just like this and I look over and there's an actor right here
saying, "How should I say this? What did you mean by this or can I do this?" And I'm just
giving them direct instructions.
You'd never have that on a feature set. Also, features never have to get made. There's no
machine demanding that, "Well, we've got a time slot. You said September third; we gotta
put it on the air. We gotta send it out." Then stuff gets shoved it gets moved, they
make new decisions. A new head of studio comes in all those things are sidelined. Cabin in
the Woods has been done for years. You know, Joss's amazing new movie. And it's coming
out now. Luckily it is still fresh as a freshly cut thing.
Because it's amazing. It doesn't show the delay but delays happen. TV is a monster that
eats every week, you need to get stuff on the air. So I have had six episodes in the
last year. I had six episodes of "Once Upon A Time". Eleven episodes of "Husbands." My
"Game of Thrones", I guess, was in this last year. Just--. And some other stuff I wrote
that hasn't aired yet for secret projects. Or you could end up with something ten episodes
eleven, whatever, a year.
Whereas a feature writer can go four years working on a project and nothing hits the
screen and maybe never will. Nonsense. Come to TV.
>>Female Presenter: So you mention "Game of Thrones."
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah
>> Female Presenter: And the scene to me that is the most horrific is that golden crown.
>> Jane Espenson: Oooo [laughs]
>>Female Presenter: And you mentioned in one of the interviews I watched-- I watched many
this weekend-- that you don't write in sequence necessarily. Can you talk about that?
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah. I find that I wanna write the scenes that I can most strongly
visualize first. And these are usually two person emotional scenes in which people are
sitting down and talking. And every script's got some of those. And they usually are the
scenes that make you cry, that make you feel, and they are delicate little scenes. But they
are also often the ones you have most clearly in your head when you sit down to work.
And you're not--. You don't have a lot of considerations in your mind other than pulling
the emotion out. You're not worried about the geography and who spoke last. "Is that
person been standing silent in the corner for two pages?" Like they're--. I tend to
go to those first. And those tend to give you a pretty good place to aim at. Like, you've
gotta get the characters to the emotional states such that they can have that heart
to heart talk.
The last scenes I tend to write are action and great big group scenes where you've got
seven people in the scene. Just because there are so many moving parts. There is so much
architecture to figure out. Like--. And they're often procedurally scenes. All you need to
know about the fight is who won because that's what drives you into the next scene. So, you
can kind of skip that for now. "Oh, there's a fight and Buffy will win it."
I'll go back later and figure out what she stabs him with. [laughs]
But I'm not going to waste brainpower on that right now when I've still got the big emotional
moment to write. So, I tend to write out of order. A lot of authors don't. A lot of TV
writers just go front to back. On "Game of Thrones", that was totally weird because it
was pre-existing material. It was an adaptation. So, I was literally told, the scene, your
episode will go from this page number to that page number. So, the first thing I did was
go to the book, look at the scenes, transcribe George R.R Martin's dialogue and start messing
with it from there.
Because you know the amount of scene that's, the amount of dialogue that's in one of his
scenes could fill ten pages and it needs to fill two and a half for the scene. So, you've
gotta pick and choose. So, there's a lot of work to be done but the--. All those pivot
points, all those big things are there. In a certain sense, everything is equal importance
when someone has already done the heavy lifting and working out the heartbreak.
So that, I think, I really wrote that one less out of order than anything I've ever
written because the plowing of the field had been done. I was just going along planting
in the furrows.
>>Female Presenter: Remember that one.
>>Jane Espenson: I just thought of that. That's pretty good.
>> Female Presenter: Well, Spike was one of my favorite characters. Buffy and I like Rumpelstiltskin
now, too a lot. Do you have characters? Someone you like writing for?
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah. Rumple has been amazing because can't go too far. I've never dealt
with a character who is so gloriously over the top. Spike was amazing to write for. The--.
Even though I don't in real life like bad boys, they're fun to write for. Anya I loved
writing for because she's so blunt. And in a way, she was super easy 'cause you just
had to write what she was thinking, or to say what she was thinking.
But in another way, it was like finding the funny thing that she's thinking was more of
a challenge. I love that. Willow and all those "Buffy" characters had such distinct voices.
They were all fun to write for. I liked writing Giles. Learned an interesting lesson writing
Giles. We were all--. We were--.
Season Three, there was a whole new crop of writers and we were all getting used to writing
these characters that already existed. I was new. The show had been around for two years.
And another writer and I were talking about coming up with British-isms for Giles, making
sure he sounded British. And Joss pointed out, [coughs] "He sounds British 'cause he's
"You don't have-- it's not a novel, you have to use the language to convey to the audience
that he's British. He's going to be British no matter what you write."
"So, you don't have to work so hard to make sure he's saying biscuit in every scene."
"Just let him talk and he'll bring the Brit with him." And that was a huge lesson. You
forget the difference between writing for a short story and writing for a screenplay
sometimes, even if you've been doing it a long time. But I loved writing--. "Torchwood"
was great. I got to write--speaking of British stuff-- I got to write all the linguistic
confusion of these Brits in the United States dealing with, "What do you mean by vest?
"What do you mean by pants? Why are there so many kinds of milk in the grocery store?"
There were just great little cultural things that were really fun to put in. And writing
for Captain Jack and for Gwen were great. I've just been really lucky that I've written
for about 15 characters that I could point at and say Starbuck.
Oh, my God. And getting to write for Starbuck, amazing. Oh, and seriously Lannister, Peter
Dinklage, Tyrion. Oh, my God. Could there be a clearer more charming and amoral but
moral? I don't know. Great, great voices. I've been very lucky.
>> Female Presenter: That's quite a list.
>> Jane Espenson: I know, yeah, you try to pick one. [laughs] Who do you think?
>> Female Presenter: You've got me thinking. I like all of them.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah, if you could write all of those, which one would you want to
>> Female Presenter: Goodness. Can I come back to that?
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah, OK.
>> Female Presenter: I want to turn to "Husbands" now.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah.
>> Female Presenter: So, that's quite brave of you. You did that--
>> Jane Espenson: I was terrified.
>>Female Espenson: and you paid for that, too.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah that--. Season One was entirely out of pocket. Season Two, the
fans have put in 50K. I'm gonna match that 50K. And we're hoping that there may even
be some sponsor money or something coming in because we wanna do it that much better.
We wanna upgrade the cameras, get the red cameras and get better sound, better locations.
We were shooting in a friend's house for Season One and we had to often choose the take that
didn't have the cat noises in it.
Because there were two pissed off cats locked in the bathroom of that house while we were
And so, there's a lot of takes that just have this Mrooowwww.
We said we want to rent a house where we can go and have a genuine production at place.
It turns out, renting a house that these two guys would have in L.A. is a substantial amount
of money. We wanna get guest stars and real--. You wouldn't believe where the money goes--
production insurance, stuff you don't even think about. It's like, "Oh, that's how many
thousand?" So, it was very brave. Thank you for noticing.
Yeah, I was scared to death Season One. Now Season Two, I'm going in like, "I know the
product turned out well for Season One. We did not fall on our face." We did not end
up with things that I was, I was terrified that we'd get a call like, "Oh we had a glitch;
the digital files are gone. We didn't get day two of shooting." That would have killed
us. We wouldn't have been able to do anything.
We didn't have the location anymore. We couldn't have gone back and re-shot. We just would
have been lost. So, I just was just trembling with fear every day. Now, going in knowing
, "OK, I've seen it work once," we can do this.
>>Female Presenter: Shall we show people?
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah. You guys wanna see a little of Season One of "Husbands?" I'm
very, very proud of it.
>> Female Presenter: These are scenes picked for Googlers.
>> Jane Espenson: So, they're very, very short, little mini episodes. I'm gonna show you two
episodes. Episode 2 and Episode 11. The basic storyline is, these two guys haven't been
dating very long, they go to Las Vegas, they wake up drunk, married. And they're high enough
profile that they've gotta deal with, what are the implications of getting a divorce?
So, this is Episode 2. This is, they have just woken up in the Las Vegas bathroom and
they have noticed they are wearing wedding rings. So, this is their--. How they react--.
Ooo, I want full screen first, this is their initial reaction to this terrible situation
they find themselves in.
[Jazzy Music]
>> Brady Kelly: No. No we're too famous for something this fucked up to happen.
>> Cheeks: "Out athlete and America's gay sweetheart married during drunken Vegas weekend."
Nah, It's too long for a headline. See this is why I am an actor not a writer.
>> Brady Kelly: Jesus. We're going to look bad. And we're going to make the cause look
bad. And we're gonna look bad.
>> Cheeks: People already kinda expect this sort of nonsense from me.
>> Brad Kelly: We can't be married. They're novelty rings in exchange in the spirit of
high camp such as we gays are known for.
>> Cheeks: Satirical performance pop art.
>> Brad Kelly: Yes. We celebrated marriage equality by getting fake married Vegas style.
Which is hilarious because we've only dated six weeks.
>> Cheeks: And for two of those I couldn't stand you.
>> Brad Kelly: What? And we know it's fake because if we got real married we need a license,
and I don't see the license.
>>Cheeks: There may be a document in my pants.
>> Brad Kelly: Certificate of marriage. It's notarized. Oh we drunk notarized. OK, OK,
>>Cheeks: Use your words.
>> Brad Kelly: Annulment. Marriages can be annulled if you're too drunk to know what
you're doing. My teammates do it all the time.
>> Cheeks: So, that's why you're called the Dodgers. Wrong time but it's comedy gold.
>> Brad Kelly: I'm serious. If we act fast and no one finds out, it's as is if never
>> Cell phone voice: Google alert.
>> Cheeks: It's a Google alert. It's about us. Is that how you spell travesty?
>> Brad Kelly: Yeah.
>> Cheeks: Are you sure?
>> Brad Kelly: I won a spelling bee once.
>> Cheeks: Really? So much to learn about each other.
[Jazzy Music]
>> Jane Espenson: And this is the very last episode, the very last episode. So, they've
been through a bunch of stuff and they're dealing with a little last second panic conflict
before they settle in and realize that maybe this will work after all.
[Jazzy music]
[Dryer noise]
>> Cheeks: This is because I didn't update my relationship status on Google Plus?
[Dryer door slams] >> Brad Kelly: Yeah.
>> Cheeks: I didn't think about it.
>> Brad Kelly: Yeah I figured. Now that you're aware maybe you could.
>> Cheeks: Sure. Next time I'm online. [ Huffs ] Yeah and I'm the girl. Select, married,
>> Brad Kelly: Thank,s babe. I really do think you--.
>> Cheeks: Hold on, I'm updating my status. Home with hubby, smiley face.
>> Brad Kelly: Oh, that's sweet.
>> Cheeks: Hang on I'm Tweeting. Hash tag, k-i-s my h-u-b.
>> Brad Kelly: Mmmhm I get what you're--.
>> Cheeks: I'm emailing it--
>> Brad Kelly: OK--
>> Cheeks: Tagging--.
>> Brad Kelly: Cheeks--. >> Cheeks: Tumbling--.
>> Brad Kelly: Will you--.
>> Cheeks: And Digg. Ok. Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?
>> Brad Kelly: I just--. I wanna--.
>> Cheeks: OH, hang on we need to Twit-pic the new tattoo above my ass that says, "Mrs.
Brady Kelly." Smiley face.
>> Brad Kelly: Done? Because I get it. I- I've got a better idea. How about we stop
talking and get into bed, and find something else to do.
>> Cheeks: Winky face.
[Piano Music]
>> Brad Kelly: So, we're really married. Like for realsies.
>> Cheeks: Yes. It's beautiful and politically necessary.
>> Brad Kelly: And I love you. You said I should surprise you with--.
>> Cheeks: Flawless execution. I love you, too.
>> Brad Kelly: Hey, Cheeks.
>> Cheeks: Yes, darling?
>> Brad Kelly: What's your real name?
[Jazzy Music]
>> Jane Espenson: So, we mentioned Goggle twice and we didn't even know we were coming
>> Female Presenter: I think it's time for our questions.
>> Jane Espenson: Sure.
>> male#1: In general how does writing for a TV series work? For example, between the
credited screenwriter for that episode, and the more permanent creative team running the
show? Who's responsible for which decisions, and how do they work together?
>> Jane Espenson: Great, great question. You work in a room. Every day I go to work and
I go to a room and it's full of funny people, and we sit there and we break an episode.
So, we know what episode's coming up next. We know the story, general story usually that
we wanna tell in it. And it becomes--. It comes down to the show runner guiding a discussion.
In my current show, "Once Upon a Time" we have twin show runners. Not really, they're
partners and they run the show together. And so they will say, "Ok we wanna do a Cinderella
story this week. And we sort of figure it's probably about this." First thing we talk
about is, what's the theme of it? What are we trying to say with this episode?
That's really important. Shows that don't start out there often sort of fail to get
one of the important ingredients in making a cult hit. Which is, that people have to
feel that there's a reason to watch it. That there's a reason to tell the stories. So,
start with theme, and it could be as simple as love conquers all.
Doesn't have to be deep, but it has to be real. Has to be something you really believe.
And then, you start figuring out "Ok well what's going to happen to her? We think she's
gonna come up against this bad guy, and we think at the end she'll be in this place."
And you start working it out by act breaks. Act breaks are the moments that go into each
There always used to be four acts in a TV show. Now we're up to six. There's been some
act inflation 'cause then they get more commercial breaks. So, you've gotta figure out a story
that can turn that many times. So, stories have actually gotten perhaps a little shallower
in the last few years because you have to--. You're just getting your feet under you in
an act and you've gotta turn the story. You've gotta come up with that big dramatic "Hey
this isn't what we thought. You have to do it more often."
If you work on a show, like "Game of Thrones" you don't have to do that because you don't
have commercial breaks so it's very different. But--. So, the show runner's responsibility
is guiding that discussion. At a certain point, you've filled up a white board with all the
details of all the scenes that are going to go in this episode. In which order and which
ones are right before act breaks. And at a certain point, you declare it broken. Which
means it's fixed.
And someone--. One of the writers is sent home to write it. That's when that writer,
that writer's had a responsibility of participating in the room, pitching ideas, pitching lines,
like saying things as little as " I think he should put cinnamon in his coffee." It
was a big discussion early on, of whether characters should bond over something they
don't like in the coffee shop or something they do like in the coffee shop.
It's a tiny, tiny point. But that you know your contribution could be that small. Or,
you could have said, "Actually I don't think this is the week to do Cinderella because
I just had an idea that is a whole different idea." So, you participated in the room, but
your work to me really starts when you're sent home and you've got this beat sheet,
this list of the scenes and what's going to happen in each of them.
And you have to turn that around and come back with a 52-page document with every decision
filled in, every line of dialogue written. That's your main duty as a writer. Now on
most shows, writers, particularly higher-level writers, are also producers, so you theoretically
you go to the set. You go to show and tell with the prop guy and you say, "No, not that
cigarette lighter, that one." And you go to costumes and you say, "I do not like that
hat," or whatever it is that you're saying, and then you sit on set and you sit with the
director and you say things like, "I don't think we got it.
That performance wasn't quite right." Whatever. But it's very cold. The set's a tedious place
to be. And on our particular show, our set is up in Vancouver and we don't go up. So,
our job pretty much ends when you turn in that draft of the script. So, the prod--.
The executive producers, though, have to be worried about everything. They have to fly
up to Vancouver and look at the hats.
They have to deal with the manager of the actor that's calling. They have to talk with
ABC marketing about the posters and what gift they are going to give at Comicon. And whether
they should be inviting the press in to talk to them about the mid-season episode. They're
deciding lots and lots of stuff that has nothing to do with the, what's the next line or dialogue
in the script. This is the reason I really like being a writer.
I don't know, does that answer your questions about the different responsibilities? 'Cause
there's a lot of different other ways--. Oh I can also talk about younger writers versus
more experiences writers. When you're hired, you're hired as a staff writer. Built into
your contract is a series of promotions. Your next season you will be a story editor even
though you're not editing anything. You're doing the exact same thing you did as a staff
The next year you're executive story editor, then you're co-producer. And you may think,
"Ahh, that's the jump to producer." No, co means not--.
Co-producer not a producer. Step after that is producer. Then you're a producer. Then
supervising producer. We lost some light. [laughs] And so, you move up through these
links of these insane titles all of which are just different kinds of writers. And you're
producing duties may or may not expand as your title goes up.
>> Male#2: So, where did you want to go with "Caprica?"
>> Jane Espenson: Where did I want to go with "Caprica?" "Caprica" was handed to me, I was
not involved in the conception of it. I really knew nothing about it. I hadn't seen the pilot.
The casting was all done, the hiring of the staff was essentially done, and I was brought
in to write it with --. Or not write it, to run it with Ron Moore. So, we had an initial
sit down with Ron Moore where he sort of laid out where it would go. And I did my best to
stick to where he wanted it to go.
>> Male#2: So, you didn't have your own ambition before Kevin Murphy came in or anything?
>> Jane Espenson: I had my thoughts about what characters I felt were working with story-lines
I felt were working. I was working within a big team. David Eick was there also as executive
producer. SyFy has a lot of authority over their shows. So, I was part of a group that
was steering it in directions. I think the show turned out remarkably well for having
so many cooks.
[laughs] Yeah, it was. It was a little hard to know exactly where it was going. I think
it was, as most Season One shows do, even though it was continuation sort of a "Battlestar"
universe. It was also Season One of a show with a very different feel to it. We were
a domestic drama with robots.
And so, I think there wasn't huge anonymity of decision about exactly where it should
go. And then to a certain extent, I think it was kept open on purpose. Let's see what's
working, let's see what's not working. So, if you are implying that there may be a feeling
of a lack of a unified vision, I think that's probably true.
>> Male#2: And a second quick question. How is it in the "Husbands" comedy that the one
man didn't know his husbands real name when he had a Google+ account?
[laughter] >>Jane Espenson: Cheeks, Cheeks signed up
for the Google+ account with the name Cheeks. He also looks at his own marriage license
and didn't see his real name. We had that marriage license printed up so it just says
Cheeks. [laughs] So, I think it's like Cher. I think Cheeks has had his name legally changed.
>> Female Presenter: So, there's a question right here.
>> Female#1: So, I wanted to tell you how much I love your work.
>> Jane Espenson: Thank you.
>> Female#1: Noticing your name in the credits was sort of a starting point for me in realizing
that there were writers were making these characters say these things. Which is odd
because I had, at one point, thought I would pursue writing as a career. And I realized
that over time I kept seeing these characters who were making me feel things and your name
kept popping into the credits.
>> Jane Espenson: Aww.
>> Female#1: And I would watch the DVD content and realized I would listen to the things
you were saying about the characters. I realized this wasn't an accident, that there are really
writers who really shape and inform how we experience TV. And with the internet right
now, that's really changing. I see what you are doing with "Kickstarter" and I'm excited
about this project.
And I can directly connect to you and inspire this project to happen because of a writer
I believe in. So, I'd really like to hear from you about where new media is taking things
in terms of the current action. It's not just the actor anymore who's the visible presence.
So, I'd love to hear from you.
>> Jane Espenson: So many fizzy, fizzy thoughts coming after that. Number one of which is,
the experience you described I had pre social media. Which is I read an interview with April
Kelly who was a "MASH" writer. And seeing the woman's name talking about writing for
"MASH" is what made me go, "that's a thing I can do." So, I'm glad I could do that 'cause
that was done for me. And I'm so thrilled that that's your view of the "Kickstarter"
because I was actually very reluctant to do it 'cause I knew I could put in money.
I didn't want to take money from people who have less money than me. I was putting in
all I could afford, but I know that people might be scraping around for their ten dollar
bill to give, and I didn't want that. That would hurt my soul. And so, when we realized
that we could give incentives, that would make it worthwhile for people so they would
get something of value.
And we also realized that giving them a Season Two, a high quality Season Two, was something
that would make it worth it. And beyond that, the sense that they're involved in it. That's
what really surprised me and made me thrilled, was that people were enjoying giving because
they felt like they got to be part of the team. And they got to support a project they
believed in, they got to support marriage equality, they get to support good comedy,
they get to support online content.
There's a whole bunch of stuff you get to support. And the "Kickstarter" is still sittin'
up there. Go to "Kickstarter" look for "Husbands" we're there. Every dollar we get will help
us make it more and better and bigger. But yeah that's-- and yeah that future of social
media, that fact that crowd funding now makes it possible to do for even, for anyone with
a dream and good big idea to get out there, raise some money, make something on your own.
But I gotta think that online is where the future of the new wave of content is going
to come from. And because you don't have to be a broadcaster, you don't have to appeal
to everyone in every demographic, you can take risks. You can do a show like ours with
this young, sexy married couple. TV will put gay marrieds on TV but they generally won't
make them sexual.
They do everything to desexualize them. They cast a straight actor as one of the guys,
or they give them babies or something. As much as I love "Modern Family", I love "Modern
Family." But there is a certain trend to make you not think that these guys are having hot
sex. And our show is all about, these are newlyweds, of course they are. But they are
still making every mistake that every other newlywed couple does. All newlyweds do.
So, we wanted, we wanted to do content that was a little spicy, a little intriguing. Something
you can't get everywhere else. And online is totally the place to do it and I just have
a feeling even though right now this is a mechanism for us to feed money into a system.
I gotta think ultimately online will become a place where it isn't just a one way thing
where someone's gonna crack the code for figuring out how to make this a legitimate two way
conversation between us and the audience.
>>Male#3: One of the things on the flyer there, in fact the headline, introducing you there
is that you are a "Hugo Award" winning author for your work on "Buffy."
>>Jane Espenson: Right.
>>Male #3: You're probably not aware that it was actually controversy when they created
a category for the "Hugo Awards"--
>> Jane Espenson: Ohhhh.
>> Male#3: that was primarily aimed at television shows. There used to only be just one that
covered movies and TV, and it mostly went to movies.
>> Jane Espenson: Right.
>> Male #3: Some of the criticisms of it were actually, "Oh there's no reason just to create
a category just for "Buffy." Because at the time--
Now as it happens--
>> Jane Espenson: Nice. [laughter]
>> Male #3: Now there's no need for a category just for "Doctor Who."
>> Jane Espenson: Right, right.
>>Male #3: But had you been familiar --. Had you heard of the award even before you received
it? And was--?
>> Jane Espenson: Oh, "Hugo?" Yeah.
>> Male #3: was it worth--? One of the major criticisms from within the "World Science
Fiction Society" is, "well, nobody in movie and television ever pays attention to that.
They don't really give a darn about that."
>> Jane Espenson: Oh.
>> Male#3: Was that worthwhile did you think?
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah. Oh my "Hugo," that's all I really have. I have half a "Hugo" and
two "Streamies," and that's all I have because sci-fi stuff is generally not recognized in
Hollywood. And so, to have the "Hugos" recognize it is like our only way to get legitimacy.
The "Battlestar Galactica" won-- what was that? What's the really fancy one?
>> Male#3: "Saturnite"
>> Jane Espenson: No "Saturn" is not fancy.
>> Male#3: I've never seen one.
>> Jane Espenson: "Saturn" is adorable and I would love one 'cause I don't have one.
But the one like a--. It was like--. It wasn't a "Bradbury." Anyway it was a--.
>> Male#4: [inaudible]
>>Jane Espenson: No, no. It wasn't even a science fiction award. It was like an award
for being genius media in a mainstream kind of world. We'll figure it out, someone will
look it up. But--.
>> Male#5: [inaudible]
>> Jane Espenson: I know.
>> Jane Espenson: Somebody pull your phone out. What did "Battlestar Galactica--?" But
they won it the year before I was there so, I don't have it. But yes, those awards carry
big clout in Hollywood because those, the showbiz awards, everybody knows them; everybody
has them. The non-showbiz awards are like, " Oh you're legit; you've broke-- the real
people, the smart people gave you the award."
"Hugo Award" is huge. "Hugo Award" is bigger than any of them. I am so pleased with it.
>> Male#3: I'll bring that up anytime someone criticizes it.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah, no, don't criticize it. And I was--.
>> Male#3: Suggested was the "Peabody" that you--.
>> Jane Espenson: "Peabody" thank you.
>> Male#3: By the way, I was sympathetic to your talking about with "Husbands," the worries
about filming in a house and so on. When I was in college, we did--. Our science fiction
club filmed two one- hour long "Doctor Who" fan movies and it was the same thing. In a
house, we're about to lose the light, that kind of thing. I know.
>> Jane Espenson: Oh, it's so hard. Stuff that you don't--. I learned so much doing
web content as opposed to big TV, about things that you don't think about on the set, like
feeding the crew.
That sort of happens automatically. But on the web series I'm stopping at Taco Bell and
ordering 20 burritos at the drive-thru before I go to set 'cause somebody's gotta feed 'em.
And just, "Oh, wait, nobody remembered to bring the champagne glass. Well, we have an
enormous margarita glass. That's funnier anyway."
Great happenstance, but also great panic if we don't have. There are two scenes in this
in which Shawn forgot, who plays Brady, forgot his shoes. So, he's shoeless in a couple scenes
and you just don't pan down enough to see it. But yeah, just things happen and I also
learned a big thing about being in the editing room, which is on all previous projects I
thought if a line had to be cut or something had to be changed in the editing room I felt
like, " yeah that's was a problem with the script I should have caught it at the script
Now I go "No, there was no problem with the script; this is how it had to be. Having the
script a certain way got a certain performance, now we cut it out in the editing room. That
is the best way to have made this moment happen." You don't-- it, really is the next pass. I
had heard that, I'd never believed it. So, it's something a lot of people learn in film
school, I'm just learning now.
>> Female Presenter: OK, I think we have a yellow question. Yes.
>> Jane Espenson: Yes.
>> Female#2: Hi, my name is Tricia. One thing I've always liked about your shows, they tend
to pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
>> Jane Espenson: Yeah.
>> Female#2: And I was wondering if this was a coincidence. And if it's not, is it something
you have to fight for? And have you ever encountered resistance to having multiple female protagonists
in a scene, in an episode, or even in a show premise?
>> Jane Espenson: You do what you can in the writers room. Depending on the room that you're
in. you may reach some resistance if there's a scene with two girls and they're talking
about a guy you can say, "Have you guys heard of the Bechdel Test?" That's often how I do
it 'cause then they feel like it's not just me and an agenda. It's like, fans are gonna
notice and then sometimes that pays it that, that will help.
But I haven't actually faced that in a long time. If you look at "Once Upon A Time," we
just have so many lead females with Regina, Mary Margaret, and Snow, I mean, no I doubled
one up. Snow is Mary Margaret, and Emma. It's impossible for them to be giggling about boys
in every scene. So, there's just tons and tons and tons of Bechdel falling left and
right. We had one who worried me a little bit when
we had Snow and Red Riding Hood talking about their men. And it was Snow going "I think
you like this guy, what are you gonna do? You gonna run away with him?" That scene turns
into "let's go kill a wolf."
So, after a while I calmed down and I was like, you know what? This one passes. [laughs]
And you don't want to be so crazy to it that nobody can ever talk about relationships because
relationships are at the heart of a lot of people's lives. So I try to always keep it
in mind that sometimes you get it in and sometimes you don't. Yeah.
>> Female#2: Something that makes it unique is that it's not that the relationships are
the only reason the woman's in the show.
>> Jane Espenson: Right.
>> Female#2: "Buffy" was ultimately a show about a woman who had a job fighting demons.
>> Jane Espenson: Absolutely. And there were other important decisions beyond Bechdel in
how Buffy was treated. Joss made really sure that nobody ever challenged her ability to
lead on the basis that she was a woman or a girl. Whatever she was. It was--. They might
challenge her on other reasons like you're exhausted, you're crazy, you're infected with
a demon spawn, or whatever.
But it was never "you're a woman." And similarly, on "Battlestar Galactica," President Roslin
was never challenged on that basis. And I love that Ron set up a world in which there
was not a history of gender discrimination. And in fact, when I got to write the "Face
of the Enemy" web series, I co-wrote those, in which we learn that Lieutenant Gaeta is
Although I hate to even use that word gay in the "Battlestar Galactica" universe because
they don't seem to have a word. Because it's just that. Some people love here and some
people love there. They've never thought of separating them out and giving them a different
name. But we learn that in that episode and I tried really hard to write that so that
this-- nobody was shocked by that.
There's actually a shot in it of Colonel Tigh giving, looking askance. That wasn't intended
to be a "you've got a boyfriend?" That was intended to be like "how come I didn't know
you had a relationship with another crew member?" So, I hope people read that in the way it
was intended. That writing a show, that what a great freedom it is and that it's another
way to apply metaphor.
It's kinda like, here's our world as seen if this had, if we didn't have this in our
history. Look what's the same, look what corresponds, look what's different. I love that.
>> Male#6: All right. This one is from Tricia Weir. If you could choose any show you've
ever worked on and retcon it out of cancellation with a new season,
which show would it be?
>> Jane Espenson: I-- it's interesting 'cause sometimes that doesn't mean it's the show
you love best. I don't think, I think "Buffy" ended well and has been continued in the comic
book. So that would be a weird one to go back and continue. Where do you continue it from?
The end of the current comic book season?
"Torchwood" ended too soon. I mean, we don't know if there's going to be more "Torchwood."
Russell's dealing with stuff. But I would love to see more "Torchwood." Obviously there
would-- "Once Upon a Time" I'm certain will continue. So that one's good. I'm getting
to make more "Husbands." "Firefly." "Firefly" deserved more. "Firefly" ended too soon, had
stories left to tell, Joss was excited about the--. That's why he made "Serenity" it's
like there was more to do. I would love, love, love to write another season of "Firefly."
>> Male#6: Why in God's name, this is my question, was "Firefly" canceled so soon?
>> Jane Espenson: I--. Yeah I actually don't know. I don't think I could if I did know.
But I think it just was probably a mismatch between what FOX was finding profitable on
their airwaves. That was still a time when ratings triumphed over DVD sales. The studio
makes the DVD money. The network sells the advertising. So they, the network cares about
the ratings. You can be huge in DVD sales and the network may not even know about it
or care about it.
So, I think studios in which the studio and the network are all one entity, this sort
of happens at SyFy more, I think they're more likely to keep a DVD hit show around. Then
FOX was, 'cause I don't know that they cared about the cult following. They were just looking
at the weekly numbers and I am sure they were probably, in their spreadsheets, they were
probably right. The numbers didn't justify it. I think there were more numbers they weren't
seeing. But I'm guessing.
>> Male#6: So, you're telling me short term thinking killed "Firefly?"
>> Jane Espenson: Short-term thinking killed a lot. Yeah.
>> Male#6: All right, and I have one more question for you off the Dory for you. This
is from some dude named Dan Block, and the question is, "your website says you wear very
bright colors. Are you sure about that?"
>> Jane Espenson: [laughs] I generally do. When I come to an appearance like this, I
try to class it up. So--. But I don't know that I've ever even worn this black blouse
before. Normally I'm in very, very bright colors. But it--. I like to think it's reflected
in my writing. I always try to put humor in anything I write, even a dark show. But today
I'm giving you dark Jane.
[laughter] >> Male#7: Just a question on the business
of writing. You've given some perspective on what really happens when a show runner
kinda goes forward with everything. When you look at a show that becomes a big success
and writers kinda disperse to other shows, it seems that, that unified vision you spoke
of earlier seems to deviate. And I think a good example is something like maybe "Lost,"
>> Jane Espenson: Mmmhmm.
>> Male #7: they clearly had a vision that over time, they really deviated from that
just because from my perspective, it just seems like a lot of the writers kinda jump
ship and kinda did their own thing. But is that how it normally happens in Hollywood?
>> Jane Espenson: I thought you were going to ask different question so my mind's still
there. Shows sometimes weaken over age and sometimes because people leave. Sometimes
they get stronger over age because someone comes in with a great strong vision and reinvigorates
it or vigorates it. So I think it really matters show to show. Trying to think of a show. I
worked on "Ellen." And "Ellen," the first season of "Ellen" was called "These Friends
of Mine."
And then they fired all the writers and they got rid of a bunch of cast members, and it
came back as "Ellen" and then it sort of stumbled along with an eleven rating for a while. And
then they were like, "Oh, she wants to come out let's incorporate it in that show." Oh,
my god. A season of huge, huge, huge ratings. The show found itself. The show was about
something. Then my--. Then they were all fired. New staff came in.
I don't know where they went actually, they may have just all, I don't know what happened.
But I came in for the season after she came out. We were telling great stories. The show
had a reason to exist, which it never had before. It never had a hook. It was just a
girl in a coffee shop, and then suddenly the bookstore. So we had a reason to tell--. We
were telling exciting stories.
Stories that had never been told before. But eventually the numbers went back down to the
eleven. The show went back to its rating of the people who really loved it and loved her.
So it went away. But I felt like that was a show that got stronger because somehow you
found a thing for the show to be about. So, I think lots of different things can happen.
Shows have a lifespan. A lot of shows have about five seasons in them, and then they
go away. I mean, British TV takes us to an extreme. Well there's about six episodes in
this show, let's do that. So sometimes, it's about shows outliving their natural lifespan.
The story's done, let's make more story. But what I thought you were gonna talk about it
the way a show can have an academy in it that's so strong, the writers can learn so much,
that they then-- when they go to other shows, they take that philosophy with them. Which
is what happened to "Buffy." Because almost all the "Buffy" writers are now running shows
or doing other big things in other shows.
And they all brought with them the core of the Joss beliefs about, make me feel, make
this about something. What does this mean to the main character? Go deeper. Make your
genres. Make funny in your sadness, put sadness in your funny. Walk away with those things
and any show you go to you're gonna bring those to. And so, the "Buffy" explosion sent
"Buffy" stardust out into the universe.
>> Female Presenter: I think we have time for one last question.
>> Male#7: Yeah. What are some of your favorite shows that you didn't write or perhaps wish
you could partake in writing?
>> Jane Espenson: Oh. "MASH."
Where have you gone? "Lou Grant," "Mary Tyler Moore," "Bob Newhart," "The Odd Couple." A
lot of the shows from my childhood that I grew up watching and imagining, including
the stupid shows. "Welcome Back, Kotter." "The Love Boat."
"What's Happening?"
I had stories in my head for those shows and never got to write them. I would have loved
to have written an episode of "The Wire." I would love to have written, so many good
shows that I would love to get my teeth in. Sometimes a really dark show, maybe like "Breaking
Bad" or something where it's like I would love to see how much humor I could get in
How much can it bear? That was my favorite thing to do on "Battlestar," was to take a
really dark scene and see if I could put a joke in it. Because that joke is gonna play
twisted, sick, and even darker than if I hadn't made a joke.
And so, I loved that there was a scene where everyone is talking about how everyone is
so starving on the ship that they're eating paper. And then eventually they stop eating
paper. Why is that? Paper shortage.
That kills me 'cause it's just so sad. [laughs]
And yet it's got the structure of a joke. I love that. So I'd love to pick something
really dark but right now, I'd love to write a "Community" or something but I don't have
the chops. I feel like--. I come out of comedy. I spent a lot of years writing comedy. That
show's so good. I can't touch that. I would be writing, I feel, a lesser species. Give
me a dramatic show and let me put some fun in it. So what's the darkest thing out there
right now? Point me at it. I'll do it.
>> Female Presenter: Well, thank you very much for coming to Google today.
>> Jane Espenson: Thank you.