The Harvest – Commentary by Joss Whedon

We shot this in the graveyard in Hollywood. We shot there all season. Big deal – meant going out all night till sunrise a lot of times. This was the first season, when we still had that kind of energy. It’s in the second season that we actually built our own graveyard in our parking lot, that we’ve been using for several seasons. Which made out lives a whole lot easier, but doesn’t give you the scope that you get from this one. It’s a really beautiful place; looks great.

Back once again with the credits. And having praised Nerf Herder for their beautiful theme and how much fun it was, I do want to point out that if you listen carefully it does sort of go off the beat about halfway through. It loses tempo. They came in and recorded it really quickly, and we had to use it, and it does kind of lose it about halfway through. Then they came and recorded it again in the second or third season to tighten it up a little bit, so that was nice.

I thought for sure we were going to get in a lot of trouble with this opening, where Giles says, “Contrary to popular mythology, the world did not begin as a paradise”. That’s pretty much a dig on Christianity, saying that there’s more going on than people know about, and I thought people would object to that. I thought people would object to a lot of things that we were doing on this show. When you get into magic you get into a very edgy area for a lot of people. But I think people kind of respected its integrity. We never really offended too many people, at least not right away.

This is the first of the great Library Exposition Scenes. Poor Tony has had the most work of any actor to do, with extremely long paragraphs about how the world works, what the peril is, what the monster is. He’s been such a trooper, he’s brought so much to all these really tough speeches. Given them life where they had very little, because they’re just full of information. When we finally blew up the school at the end of Season 3, and we were in the library for the last time, everybody breathed a sigh of relief because these became the bane, for us when we were filming, of the show. TO go back into this space and talk yet again about what the peril was going to be.

Julie Benz playing Darla. Originally she had been supposed to die. Willow confronts her with holy water at the end of this episode, and as originally written she croaked. But while we were shooting this we were working on upcoming stories, and I thought the story for Episode 7, when we revealed Angel to be a vampire when he and Buffy were really starting to fall in love, would be much more interesting if there were a triangle. If we saw some darker side to Angel, somebody who represented – a rival for Buffy who represented his evil leanings. And Julie was doing such a great job for us on these shows that we quickly decided to have her run out in pain rather than die, because we knew we could use her. And even though we did kill her in Episode 7, we’re coming into Season 5, and Season 2 of Angel, we’re still using her. She’s just got great presence. She brings so much to it, she’s so lively.

This scene contains what feels like a very TV convention. The idea that they’re going to use Jesse as bait rather than kill him. Inevitably, in a horror show, you get the problem of “Why don’t they just kill them? When are they going to kill them? They’re talking, they’re not killing them!” and it feels very false. They talk about using Jesse as bait, which appears to be our way around it, but then later on, of course, we see that they have in fact killed him. Using him as bait anyway, which is nice.

The Master, we kept him trapped in the church for the same reason. The idea that he was stuck down there was so that he was not out for twelve episodes constantly trying to kill Buffy and failing. We knew we wanted them to confront each other in the last episode. We also knew that if for twelve episodes he spent every week going, “This time I will destroy Buffy!” and she beat him up, people would get tired of it really quickly.

A lot of time here in the library in this particular episode because we have to set up everything we need to know about vampires and the Slayer and whatnot. Xander makes a comment here asking if they can fly. The answer is no. The answer is no because of course we just didn’t have the money to make them fly and look good at all. So we picked and chose our vampire lore based on lots of different myths. In Dracula, Lost Boys, everything we’d seen we sort of took whatever we wanted. We kept the idea that a vampire couldn’t come in unless they were invited, and that’s made things very difficult for us but has given us some very interesting plot things to work with.

We decided early on that the Master would never be in normal face, because he was so old and so far gone. We made him more animalistic than other vampires. John Vulich, our make-up guy, does extraordinary work and his design for the Master was basically a bat. He thought he is devolving to this very demonic animal state, and so he is very bat-like in that respect. Although obviously, they don’t turn into bats on our show, because once again, we can’t afford that. And it always looks very silly.

You’ll see now it sticks out as odd to me, because poor Eric is standing there. I always figured he’d be cowering filthy in a corner and barely able to speak; and they just had him standing up and waiting for it. Which kind of cracks me up.

The computer! Our lover, our demon, our nemesis, our biggest doofy plot thing is the computer. We use it all the time to access things that could never be found on a computer back then, let alone now. It’s the element of cheese we can’t get around, because it just makes life so much easier when you’re designing a plot, is to get the information you need on a computer. Coroner’s reports, police reports, maps of the sewer system, things that could never be there, we were shameless in that respect. We’ll throw anything on there, because it just makes life easier.

Some shows – X-Files, for example – very much into the realism, the science behind whatever the horror is. Explaining it, really justifying it in the world. We are so much more about the emotion resulting from this. Not why there might actually be vampires, but how you might actually feel in high school if you had to fight them. And as a result we tend to gloss over the really intense details about how we might go through procedure, how we might find something, how we might kill something, how something might exist. We tend to say, “It’s on the computer and its ‘cos we’re on the Hellmouth,” and just get away with it, but that doesn’t make us bad.

This particular day we show about twelve pages of stuff in this library. Director John Kretchmer ploughed through an enormous amount of work, did a really good job not making it all completely static. Usually when we’re shooting a show we have maybe six or seven pages to shoot. If it’s fight day and we have to do a lot of stunts, maybe three or four pages. It’s still a gruelling amount of work, takes us between 12 and 14 hours usually to shoot a day’s work. When we’re in the library the page count tends to go up because they’re just going to be talking, but it still can be brutal.

We’re back at Torrence where we shot all our high school exteriors. This was just basically another scenes designed to reiterate the idea that Buffy wants to fit in and inevitably is going to get in trouble if she actually does the right thing. She’s going to come up against authority no matter what.

Coming up is another one of the stunts that we didn’t really have the time or the money to do an elaborate stunt. And in this particular case I think it works for us, in the sense that you get a sly kind of a filmic trick, that is actually a little more interesting than just seeing a great big stunt. That’s not a place for it, that’s a place where you just want to use the shorthand.

The scene was shot towards the end of Episode 12, again with some of the stuff in Episode 1. This episode came in short. Episode 2, The Harvest, it came in quite a few minutes short and we needed to make up more scenes to put in. Later on I shot this just as a little bit of filler and to get the characters a little bit more in focus. See Xander’s attitude, and Willow’s attitude towards him.

This has happened to us a few times, when a show will come in too short and we need to make up new scenes for it. It’s always a great opportunity because you can really look at the final product and see what is it that we need to bolster, what do we need to see, what can we accentuate? We’re never going to put a scene in that’s literally just filler, that’s there to take up space. There’s always got to be a reason, and often it helps you make connections between two things that don’t quite gel yet. So it’s actually a good opportunity, although production wise it’s a great big pain.

And Nicky’s hair was a lot shorter, so we had to really comb it down so it looked like it matches.

Coming up to another Buffy/Angel scene. One where we really start to get a feeling that he might have some affection for her despite their acerbic banter.

This chemistry between them was clear pretty much from this point, This was the first thing we shot in the studio – or in the warehouse, rather – that we all really had time to work on and really look at. And they have an energy together that’s hard to define. But it’s very clear and it’s very tangible, and very gratifying.

You know, we had people like David and Nick Brendon who had done virtually nothing before they did these jobs. And putting them up against people like Tony, Sarah and Alyson who’d been working for over a decade, each of them, and everybody holding their own. Everybody coming up to a very intense professional level, that’s very gratifying.

Of course, the question of whether or not Angel is standing in sunlight during this scene is one that will haunt us for my entire career. We always tried to keep him our of direct sunlight and keep a little direct sunlight in the frame somewhere else so that it’s clear there’s a hot spot that he’s not in. But inevitably he’ll get some little rim of light or he’ll be standing in something that looks like it’s glowing, and quite frankly it looks like he should be burning up. And it’s just difficult when you have a vampire that’s a good guy and is going to be around during the day. But we try.

One of my favourite kinds of actors to work with is the one we’ll see right now. The rat actor. The rat actor is a good, smart actor; gets it done, knows his lines, hits his mark. We’ve worked with a lot of rats on this show and they’re always very professional and delightful people to be around.

The suspense that’s created here has a lot to do with Mike Gershwin and his lighting. The blacks that she comes in and out of when she’s walking around are very rich and very black. And that’s something I hadn’t seen a lot of on TV before we did this show. You know, the idea that a frame wasn’t always perfectly lit, you couldn’t always see everything that was going on. In a show that was a teen show and a comedy on so many levels, it was not quite the norm. but we were always able to get this sort of depth and richness.

We shot all this on location in some tunnels way the hell out somewhere, I don’t remember where, but it was a trek, and they went on for miles and miles. Like the computer, the tunnels where a Sunnydale convenience. We knew we were going to have to get from place to place so we always indicate that tunnels go everywhere. After being on this location, it didn’t seem that farfetched.

This is another exposition scene. We spent a long time explaining the rules to people during this show because I wanted them to understand. The rules are very important in a horror movie, you can’t just make them up, you can’t suddenly have Stephen Duff show up because he’s wearing sunscreen in the street. You have to have very specific rules, so that when you break them it means something, and the audience always knows on that level what to expect if they don’t on a story level.

This is our first Book of Thoth. The Book of Thoth is the book that explains everything. Like the computer and the tunnels, one of those rote conveniences that are necessary for this kind of show, and Giles spends much of his time with the Book of Thoth.

Mercedes McNab playing Harmony. Somebody we’ve also come to again and again throughout the years. We finally made her a vampire in Season 4. She’s a delight, she plays a very ditzy girl very funny. She just kept coming back and coming back because we never got tired of her. And we still haven’t.

This is one of those little scenes that doesn’t register much but to me is very important, just because it’s the beginning of Willow’s real empowerment. The experience she’s gone through, almost being killed by a vampire, gives her just a little bit of an edge and she actually speaks out against Cordelia. Over the years Willow’s character has blossomed considerably, and she’s much more self-assured than she was at this point. And to see the beginnings of that, to see already the effect that her friendship with Buffy is having on her, is very sweet.

And why is Cordelia hanging out with that guy? I don’t think she hangs with that stoner guy that’s over there.

Oh, that “I don’t talk to you. Why? Because it’s boring” is another thing from my life, only actually I’m the person that said it. I thought it was really funny at the time, but the person I said it to was really upset. That sad little autobiographical note is just indications that the thing that’s very important about this show is that we are all Willow, and all Cordelia, and Buffy and Xander. Cordelia obviously stops being the evil one and becomes part of the group. That was very deliberate because one of the things I wanted to say with this high school show is that we don’t have categories like, The Nerd, The Cool Guy, The Popular Guy. Everything is fluid, everything changes. Alliances change. We’re all cruel, we’re all heroic, we’re all everything. That was an example of something from my own life that completely discounts my whole, “No, I was the good guy” theory.

Tried a lot of different things with the vampires. here you have these slow-moving Dawn of the Dead vampires. I think actually some of the scariest vampire images we have were in this scene. As the show went on they tended to be more just stunt men hanging out, and we didn’t really go for images like this one which I find genuinely creepy.

Here you see the eyes reflected. Those were actual reflections bounced into the light on pairs of glasses. they put little reflector eyes on glasses. That’s not something we ever did again. We were still experimenting with a lot of different things at this stage.

This scene embodies the “It’s really difficult to talk with these fangs in my mouth” syndrome. Eric developed a slight lisp during this scene. Didn’t really notice it as much with Luke and the Master because they hadn’t been normal before. Something poor David Boreanaz has struggled with for many years is being able to talk with those big old teeth in his mouth.

See? Perfectly fit, healthy vampires but they’re going real slow. I thought the director John Kretchmer did a very good job with that sequence. Just really building suspense. he shot this on a skateboard, put the camera on a skateboard to shoot down this tunnel, which I like a lot. Gives it a nice roughness.

Coming up to yet another scene that I had to shoot much later, because we were short. Again, a fun opportunity to come back to the Master’s take on things. Keep his character alive. This is also an example of both Mark’s charm and wit, and an example of how a little implied violence can be a lot more fun and a lot ickier than something actually shown.

Back to the library again, and more of what we call phlebotinum. Phelbotinum was a term coined by David Greenwalt when we were trying to work out the mystical reason, the mystical ritual, the thing that would solve the thing. You know, a lot of this stuff is based on myth, a lot of it is based on horror movies, and a lot of it is of course made up for our convenience. Because convenience is a beautiful thing. And at one point when we were trying to figure out exactly what Buffy would be trying to do, Greenwalt just shouted out, “For God’s sake, don’t touch the phlebotinum in Jar C!”. We have no idea to this day what it was supposed to mean, but it because our word for the vague mystical thing, such as “the Master is in the cork bottle” kind of theory that we have here. Sp phlebotinim is our constant on the show.

This scene, more on David Greenwalt. He stood beside me while we filmed this scene and whispered in my ear about all the hatemail I was going to get, and that I was going to be targeted by Christian groups for this scene for Satanicness.. and obvious homoeroticism. Hadn’t really meant to go there quite so much, but you know, if you look at it on one level, particularly this frame here…you might misinterpret what’s going on. And the show does have a lot of potent sexual metaphors, but this one was a little haphazard and by accident. But Greenwalt delighted in telling me about how I was going to be attacked and killed for what I was putting up on the screen here.

This was a brilliant idea to have him write in blood on Luke’s forehead. Of course, if we had actually been able to see Luke’s forehead in the scene it might have made it a little more potent.

This is to me just another example of one of the things that’s difficult to do on the show that the actors take care of really well. Particularly Nicky in this scene. The idea of saying something that is funny, which he does here, about something that is really tragic… for him to exhibit genuine grief about the death of a friends and at the same time say something that is actually kind of clever. It’s a fine line to walk tonally, and he does a very good job there. And that’s something these guys deal with all the time. How to express grief in a way that feels real to them but might actually be funny to the audience.

In the episode where they thought Willow has died Tony, Nick and Sarah all had to do that. They all had to play at two levels at once, and as actors they all have a very great understanding of that. We’re talking about people who see the whole picture. There’s not one of them that’s just about their own performance – they understand where it fits in the context of the story. And that’s gratifying, and I’m sad to say, kind of rare.

And here we go with some more great phlebotinum, where they have to defeat the Mercedes symbol for some reason. If I had to count every vaguely triangular symbol that they’ve had to draw, or find in a book, or rip off somebody or destroy or whatever, I should go mad and start babbling. Much as I am now.

This scene kind of just embodies very primarily the message of the show. Which is the difficulty of being a teenager and the fact that parents can’t understand, or can’t remember, how difficult it is. And we played it with a kind of broad, on-the-nose joke, but one that completely registers in terms of Mom saying, “That’s right, if you don’t go out the world will end,” which of course in fact it will. Because when you’re a teenager that’s how it feels. It feels like it will.

We also come at the end of the scene to what is also I think one of the most primal images. Very simple, says the most about the show, it’s just the idea that in this trunk we see a very normal girl’s life, we see all the things a normal girl might have, and then we see what lies beneath. And that’s a literal metaphor for the way we feel when we’re young, not that we ever stop feeling like that, but this is adolescence when it hits us hardest.

Coming up, this is one more scene, again, that was shot later on because we were short. We were really short, okay, so we had to make up a few minutes time. So we thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time with Cordelia, get to know her in all her delightful superficiality.

The scene originally started right here: her coming down to dance. And this is where we play a somewhat, perhaps obvious, but for us, potent, idea; which is basically that after Jesse has become a vampire he suddenly has some kind of charisma, no pun intended, some kind of sexual magnetism and experience that makes him completely different than the dork he was five minutes ago. Of course, Eric Balfour; very good at playing both sides of that.

Again, that’s something that feels extremely real from high school experience, because that confidence, that knowing that you have something, is really a lot of what it took to become something more than the dork that we were. It’s just that getting that confidence is nearly impossible. Jesse had to die to do it.

The pointless flip. We’ve actually kept those to a minimum on Buffy. The “I flip across a room I could have walked across” that Catwoman is so famous for. I’m not terribly fond of those. Stunts, you know, are a real problem to shoot, to choreograph, to find something new. Sarah always gives us extremely good footage, she’s very good at matching the stunt, of putting the energy in it. That’s something that, as the show has evolved, has become more elaborate and more exciting. The most important thing, though, is that they don’t feel too choreographed, too silly, too lifeless, that there’s a brutality in them, there’s a real urgency.

Not that we’re completely afraid of silly, like the pool cue gag, this is a little bit of whimsy, that I believe was banned in Britain, even though you never see a head.

Sorry about the “excruciating loser” and “sighted community” lines, Jesse, I should have known you were going to have that lisp problem.

And the requisite gloating before the actual biting, so that the hero has time to recover, the backwards headbutt, bt the way, one of my all-time favourite stunts. It’s a classic. Ever since Abel Ferrara’s China Girl, I’ve been in love with it.

And here’s Julie not dying, as previously written, but taking off to fight another day.

Okay, someone explain to Nick Brendan where the heart is located, I think that would probably help things.

The gag, the “sunlight that is not” gag, I had actually written, and I don’t tend to crib from myself that often, but I wrote it for the movie. It was how she was supposed to kill the Paul Reubens character, in an early draft, and I thought it was amusing, and wanted to bring it back. It works very well with Brian, because he’s so formidable, and for him to be such a dork is just charming. It’s also an example of Buffy being smart, and outwitting her opponent as opposed to just being the bimbo with powers.

Coming up is the shot where she scares off the vampires. What I said to John Kretchmer, the director, was very simple, “Give me the Spielberg,” I didn’t have to say anything else. He just did it.

This was the last of the added scenes, and we were very glad to have it, because it brought us back to Angel, and that’s a place people turned out to like to be. And his regard for Buffy increasing at the end of the show is a nice place to go off of.

Apparently, vampires and people they kill turn to dust, since there are no bodies in the frame in that big high-and-wide. We just thought it wouldn’t be as nice if our group, however down they may feel, dealt with their victory around the bodies of the people they failed to save because Buffy was grounded, it felt kind of, I don’t know, unhappy.

This is your basic summation scene. We find out that people forget everything they need to, nobody knows what Buffy did, even though they saw it perfectly well. And that there’s going to be plenty of other monsters to face besides vampires. That’s everything we need to go off.

I like the scene a lot just because I think everybody’s good in it, and it’s nice to have established the group that well. And to go off on Giles’ statement, “The Earth is doomed,” it says everything is not perfect. It’s a nice little way to go. Tony’s excitement at all the monsters we’re going to face is always a source of amusement for us. He’s always having just a little too much fun in the midst of all this direness.

Now I think we’re going coming to what is really the essence, the most beautiful part of the show.


And now I’ll shut up!

Author: Cider

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