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May 23 2005

How I got fired from writing for Buffy. Gulp. Former Buffy scribe Carl Ellsworth recounts a cautionary tale for all you aspiring screenwriters out there. Luckily this one has a happy ending.

Leadership is a lonely place and you are required to make the hard decisions. While this is no invitation to be mean or careless of people, often what has to be done but is upsetting in the short run, works out for the best in the long run.

A colleague of mine once had to sack someone and this person was understandably not too happy. I never forget the day the same person came back in the office a couple of years later to thank my colleague because she said, that was just the kick up the backside she needed to sort herself out.

Kudos to Carl Ellsworth for being so painfully honest and I am glad it all is working out for him.
Well said, miranda. I am also glad everything is working out for Carl Ellsworth. It sounds like he has learned a lot about the business and himself and I say good for him!
He got fired after writing Halloween? But ... but ... that's one of the good ones..... - no, one of the very good ones!
I'm wondering if Joss had to rewrite the 'Halloween' episode. I can't imagine he'd fire the guy if that was the script he delivered, because that episode is a classic. I'm glad everything is working out for him, and I'm pretty excited to see Red Eye when it hits theaters.
Aw, poor guy. I'd have spiraled into a depression myself if that had happened to me, even if it was the right thing. To be fired by Joss. Can you imagine?

Halloween is one of the very good ones. But it sounds like Ellsworth wrote the first draft, turned it in, and then Joss took it from there and made whatever changes needed to be made. Ellsworth is still the writer credited for the episode, but that doesn't mean that Joss didn't make substantial changes/improvements. According to many interviews with ME writers, Joss would very often work his magic with scripts written by others and not take credit for it.
Does anyone here wish that the creative forces behind Tru Calling had done the same thing with THIER writers?? Some of those episodes were just painful.
Good point Genia. If the WB cancelled BtVS at the end of S2 and he said "It wasn't my fault, the writing wasn't good enough" what do you think they would have said? He was in charge of the show and has to make the big decisions.
Yes, it's all true- being in a position of leadership often requires you to have to make painful decisions and you can't always be friends with your colleagues anymore. I'm glad that Joss still seemed to have a very good relationship with the writers, cast and crew of his shows, but unfortunately he probably did make hard decisions that worked out better in the long term.

I'm glad that Carl Ellsworth doesn't seem to bear any grudge against Joss, and it sounds like he fired him as sensitively and honestly as possible.
"we're taking the script away, and we have nothing else for you" doesn't sound particularly sensitive! I can't imagine Joss actually saying those words though. Unless of course it turns out Angel is autobiographical and he had a moment of true happiness...
I don't know about Ellsworth, but Jane Espenson's been quoted as saying (actually I'm paraphrasing) that one of the good things about working for Whedon compared to others in the business is that he didn't rewrite her as much as others have in other productions. I think she said that in the Firefly audio commentary for Shindig. He changed the dialogue in a couple scenes, and a few other things were shortened due to time, but she seemed content with that. Of course she also knew Joss would be hearing said commentary so maybe only her hairdresser knows for sure.

As for having a 'cautionary tale' to tell about working for Whedon. He should be thankful. I wish I could say I used to work for Joss Whedon but got fired.

[ edited by ZachsMind on 2005-05-23 17:35 ]
But, then again, Jane Espenson is just... guh. Amazing.
Well I am kinda surprised this guy fell into a depression. This sorta thing happens on a daily basis in Hollywood, and really sorta comes with the territory. If they don't like what you do, or you're not a good fit in some way, then you won't be part of the team.

Hey, I'd be depressed too, but then I'd never work as a writer in Hollywood;-) Working in there, especially as a writer, you gotta have a really thick skin. Writers are so important yet so often treated badly. Frankly, this is just a 'sorry, it's not working out' story which is nothing compared to the many 'Swimming with Sharks' style horrors you hear sometimes.

And yeah, Joss was boss on Buffy. I'm sure he tried out many writers and kept the ones that really fit well, and didn't keep the ones he felt didn't fit well. Part of the job. Don't really see anything very shocking. Glad to hear he's doing well now.

Btw, on Joss rewriting a lot of stuff uncredited; (which pretty much every writer on Buffy has confirmed)I remember noticing that the writer Dan Vebber wrote eps many consider classics in S3 (Lover's Walk and The Zeppo) and never wrote anything else. I always wondered if he simply moved on by himself (he wrote Futurama later and now American Dad) or if he too was deemed a bad fit and was let go. And if he was a bad fit, did Joss have to rewrite those eps too perhaps? Both those eps seemt to get the characters very right.
Lover's Walk and The Zeppo are some of my favorites of season 3. Man, Season 3 was great wasn't it? I heard Joss rewrote LW but there's so many rumours; one can never be sure. I really liked Halloween too.
Well, if there was all this rewriting going on by Joss, then I can see why he feels he must be an integral part of any show he puts on the air. It also explains some of the changes in story in the last couple of seasons of BUFFY. It also explains why ANGEL stayed pretty consistent through its 5 years, since I think they had a strong team from the beginning with less Joss involvement than BUFFY had from the beginning.

And I had a work situation where someone was let go and it was handled kinda badly, but the 2 people involved are now friends -- each admitting their behavior (which was shaky on both parts) was colored by lack of experience in such matters and just plain old awkwardness. And everyone still works for the same company (the "let go" guy got a job elsewhere in the company)!

I would love to know just how much of what ended up on screen was pure Joss.
Actually I think Joss rewrites a lot -- from the commentary on "Earshot", Espenson says that the scene with Buffy and Jonathan in the watchtower, where she tells him nobody cares about his pain because everybody's going through their own pain, no matter how glossy and together they look on the outside, essentially the heart of that episode, is all Joss. And many of the writers have commented that whenever there's a joke that kills & they get complimented for, it's usually a Joss-joke. So generally, re-writing good. I think for "Shindig", Joss was understandably stretched thin -- running three (Omigod, think of the bounty! three Whedon-esque shows on network TV at the same time! I swoon!) shows at the same time while for early Buffy he was more actively shaping the writing. In the commentary for "Wild at Heart", Joss and Marti talk about even though it's her ep, he wrote the crucial exchange where Willow asks Oz as he's leaving, "Oz... Don't you love me...?" and he answers, "My whole life, I've never loved anything else." Marti talks about how she learned from Joss that sometimes you just lay it out baldly, when the characters need to say the actual words with no subtext or wibbling.

And given how Ellsworth says they took the script from him, I'm sure the end product was heavily rewritten.

And yeah, what ever happened to Dan Vebber? I heart "The Zeppo".
What makes me depressed is that I am 32 and have no career.....kind of..I used to, but...
"Lover's Walk and The Zeppo are some of my favorites of season 3. Man, Season 3 was great wasn't it? I heard Joss rewrote LW but there's so many rumours; one can never be sure. I really liked Halloween too."

I didn't work on Buffy. Joss wrote "Lover's Walk." - Tim Minear, 25th May 2004. Buffistas.org, Minearverse2 - Getting his words out (now archived)

explains why ANGEL stayed pretty consistent through its 5 years, since I think they had a strong team from the beginning with less Joss involvement than BUFFY had from the beginning.

Less Joss involvement - Yes
Consistant writing staff - No. Seasons 2 and 4 kept only 2 writers from the previous seasons (on a full time basis), and Season 3 only kept three. Four writers (excluding Joss) served as Executive Producers, but no more than two at a time.
It's not the happiest story, but it's a moving one.
From a KY native, The Courier-Journal is considered overall a highly respected institution, the best of the best in the state. As is Xavier High School, at least among private education institutions.
If you've never been to KY, it's hard to imagine there are some really, really swanky places there.

"What makes me depressed is that I am 32 and have no career.....kind of..I used to, but..."
Same here. 32 and in school. Planning every day for the next career move, though. It doesn't have to be all dismal. Hey, I got fired from the last job I loved. 5 years ago. Now I'm six credits short of being formally qualified to hold the position of the woman who fired me. How's that for sending a signal?

[ edited by April on 2005-05-23 18:35 ]
"Writer gets fired" would not be front page news in Hollywood. Writing as part of a team is such a difficult to predict job. Someone may have a great writing sample or track record elsewhere but just not "click". If you want job security, look elsewhere. At least Joss told him to his face, I've heard of people find out from security when they try to turn up for work.
Halloween is one of my favourite early episodes. Kudos Carl.
April - I am thinking about going back to school, but I am scared of being back in the position agin. I do not thinkI could handel that.
He was young and probably admired Whedon, so it's not too surprising he'd become depressed. People in Hollywood sometimes have thick skins; sometimes they develop them; sometimes they're they go insane from being depressed and become the "Swimming with Sharks" guy.

Thing is, it doesn't sound like this was really a "firing" in the sense that it doesn't sound like he was a staffer yet. This was a one-offer and he simply wasn't "invited" to participate in the rewrite probably because, like he said, he was having trouble writing good dialogue. I think Joss deserves credit for being upfront about it. A lot of people in Hollywood would have given poor Carl what Michael Eisner called "the elastic 'yes.'" I.e., "you know, Carl, we're going to rewrite this script, but we really liked what you did. You'll hear from us." And then, of course, Carl never does. It might have seemed harsh, but Joss was, I think, being a mensch by being upfront with the guy.

In any case..."Jackson Rippner"??...perhaps Joss was on the right track with this guy, though I generally think highly of Wes Craven, who is swell guy. Hope the movie is better than the character's name, or it somehow works in context.

[ edited by bobster on 2005-05-23 18:57 ]
Jonas, it does suck to be in this position financially. I always planned to go back, but getting fired gave me so much more incentive. My new husband fled the country. Sheesh. I missed 8 days of work.

But soon, I could possibly hold that position of county-wide program coordinator for English Language Learning (ELL) students. Devilishly plotting the whole time to infuse my curricula with the wondrous works of Whedon. Not always feasible with Buffy but Fray and Firefly sure solved that problem. Fray has incredible oral spoken dialouge in print with awesome pictures. With Firefly, no magic or demons and less flowery language for students to decipher. Just glorious not-always English language amongst an incredibly multi-cultural group. With jokes even an ELL student can comprehend.

Do I sound bouncy? I love my job.
I agree with many others. Halloween was a classic. One of those episodes I really missed post S3. Even if Joss had to rewrite it. The idea behind it was already fantastic. This is the episode that really got me hooked on the show.
April, Jonas, could you continue your conversation via e-mail, please? Thanks!
NP, Caroline. Sorry. The Whedon/English curriculum scheming makes my heart go all a-flutter.
Halloween is one of, if not, my favorite episodes of BtVS. I'd be curious to compare the first script that Ellsworth wrote and the final product. Unfortunately I do not have the slightest idea on how I would go about doing that. But for that reason, when I found out he was going on to write this new film, I'm personally excited for it. Can't say I've been too excited for any film by Wes Craven is quite a while, but this is one I'm very anxious to see when it's released.
Ed Dantes, without reading through all the other posts, Joss did indeed rewrite the LOVERS WALK episode. I have no idea about THE ZEPPO, but you have to wonder.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Zeppo has Joss all over it, whether intentionally or not. As I understand it (please feel free to correct me), in a sense Xander IS Joss as an anti Mary-Sue character, built into the BuffyVerse. A lot of early Buffy is based in part on his own memories of high school life. Take away the vampires and other metaphors for the real horrors of adolescence, and the first couple seasons of Buffy are a distorted reflection of his memories of youth; Xander was like a placemarker for young Whedon himself. It's easier to envision a scene if you can figuratively put yourself in it.

There's a scene in Zeppo where Xander walks up to Buffy & Angel, who are again having that melodramatic romance moment that happened so many times more seriously elsewhere in the series, and Xander walks in and interrupts.. It's funny, but at the same time it's a real moment built out of the convergence and divergence between Xander and Buffy. He still holds her in high esteem but he's also moved on, while she was still spinning her wheels in an impossible relationship. It was such a telling moment. It's classic Joss. It's got his timing, his words, and his unique tongue-in-cheek look at his own work. Maybe someone else did write it? But I'd almost lay money that the end result was largely due to him.

I tried so hard to capture the essence of Whedon's Xander when I wrote House of Mirrors but no one can do Xander like Joss does Xander. This is part of why there's less of Xander in the later seasons, because other actors couldn't put words in his mouth the way Whedon does. If I had written House of Mirrors during season six and had been able to submit it as a solicited manuscript to Mutant Enemy, what I wrote woulda gotten red marks all over it, gone through three or four drafts, and the final work would probably look nothing like my humble attempt. That's par for the course.

I mean okay, any other writer might think of Xander stepping in on Buffy & Angel while they were all googly eyed and frustrated, but only Whedon could make a moment like that so simultaneously believable and unbelievable. Whedon might as well have left his signature on the camera lens. And then the build up scene with him and the dead guy with the bomb?
XANDER: Being blowed up isn't walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It's little bits being swept up by a janitor dead, and I don't think you're ready for that.
Jack: Are you?
XANDER: I like the quiet.
That's gotta be Joss.
Just to add that Keith Topping's book (the recent collected Slayer one) has a paragraph or two - I think extracted from an online discussion at the Posting Board or somewhere similar - in which either Jane or Marti talks about how closely Joss would be involved in every single episode of BtVS (before AtS started up, at least), pitching the structure to the assigned writer, then coming back to sharpen up the script, add jokes, lines, whatever. In other words, his uncredited imprint was all over many of the episodes. As EdD, ZM, and Ocipital, to name but three, have said, it's likely that he was more responsible than we know for episodes like Halloween, Lover's Walk, and The Zeppo, and probably many others.
Wow. Again, great thoughts, Zachsmind. You pin-pointed several things that I missed. Tell me, there are several such thoughts within 'Gingerbread' along the same lines with Willow.
In other words, his uncredited imprint was all over many of the episodes. As EdD, ZM, and Ocipital, to name but three, have said, it's likely that he was more responsible than we know for episodes like Halloween, Lover's Walk, and The Zeppo, and probably many others.


Yeah every time some writer gives commentary or interviews, like some already said here, they always comment on how the best lines, or scenes in their ep are Joss', so I'm not surprised. Thanks to my fellow whedonesquers on 'Lover's Walk' though. I would love to know exactly what is Joss' and what not, but given how good those eps are, but that the writers were let go, I'm assuming they're mostly from his pen.

Other examples that I'm sure of are were Joss' even though his name's not on the credit are Spike's speech in the church in 'Beneath You', or the Buffy/Holden dialogue parts in 'Conversations with Dead People' and....damn there were far more that I don't remember right now...
EdD: I believe the Buffy/Holden dialog has been firmly awarded to Joss - both in the DVD commentary track, and in various places in print. And, yeah, the Beneath You speech sounds like a promising candidate also . . . which is not to say that the other great writers are schlubs; it's just that some moments are so damn jossian.
The Halloween episode is wonderful. I can't imagine that anyone would get fired after writing what we've seen, so my guess is that the script was revised a lot.

After watching Jane Espenson's commentary on "Earshot" and discovering that all the bits that I loved were the ones that had been revised by Joss, I concluded that the reason Season 6 sucked is that most of the writers couldn't cut it without Joss's revisions. The concepts weren't bad, but the writing was never up to the level of the previous years.
I think James Martsters has said more than once that Joss rewrote the church scene from Beneath You. I also recall the whole "love's bitch" speech as being credited to Joss as well as most of the rest of Lover's Walk.
Definitely the end of 'Beneath You' was Joss, I remember reading somewhere that the ending used to be different, then it was re-written and re-filmed to what we see now. Unfortunately I cant remember where I read that. Maybe on a site with the two different script endings posted?

Ooh my first post :)
Room with a View though. I'd hate to think that's not 100% Espenson. Especially Cordy's famous "bitch" monologue. If Joss had anything to do with that one, I don't wanna know. I gotta crush on Espenson after that episode. Anyone with a brain that creative is super hot. So if Whedon touched that script, that'd just be ..cringeworthy.
I remember reading, in several places, that the ending of Beneath You was rewritten, in large part due to a strong suggestion made by SMG, who said it was too theatrical - Joss agreed.
Zachsmind, keep your Espenson crush. Sure, Joss worked his magic here and there with the scripts his ME writers turned in. Sometimes he rewrote whole scenes but took no official credit for them. Sometimes his fine tuning was very subtle. But his hand was always there. Everyone acknowleges that in interviews. And heck, if the script process involved multiple drafts with notes each time from Joss I'd say that he was heavily involved from start to finish.

But Espenson is a marvel whether or not Joss rewrote some of her lines and scenes. In her commentaries for her various Buffy episodes she'll point out which lines were hers and which were Joss's. Many of the greatest ones were hers. Joss may be God to me but he couldn't have done what he did without the collaborative input and work of the ME writers. Buffy, Angel and Firefly as we know them were group creations. This includes not only the writers but the actors, the set designers, the music scoring folk, costumers, special effects people, etc. etc.
Yeah, Petrie's original ending for Beneath You makes an interesting read. I don't think it's up anymore, but when reading it I felt that it actually seemed too straight forward, rather than too theatrical, although I guess that depends on how it was initially shot. Like it was more like Spike going "hey Buffy, I've got a soul." And Joss made it all poetical, as is his manner.

Also, all the stuff in England in Season Seven was written and directed by Joss, so the 1 or 2 scenes of England stuff in Beneath You were also his. Oh, and Spike and Angel on the plane in "Shells" (the little Jack Daniels bottle) was by Joss, as was the opening of the same episode, that continued from where "A Hole in the World" left off, with Fred and Wes. Anya's song in Selfless is his too, although I guess that's a different type of writing. Also, I remember reading somewhere that he did a major rewrite on "Dirty Girls."
vera, welcome to WHEDONesque. BTW, jayne loves you.
After watching Jane Espenson's commentary on "Earshot" and discovering that all the bits that I loved were the ones that had been revised by Joss, I concluded that the reason Season 6 sucked is that most of the writers couldn't cut it without Joss's revisions. The concepts weren't bad, but the writing was never up to the level of the previous years.


That would undoubtedly be true , assuming that you consider S6 to "suck". It immediately presents a different perspective for someone like myself who thinks the sixth season was good, every bit as wonderful as all the other seasons of this tremendous show. If we are to assume that Joss played little or no part in the writing of that season it simply adds weight to the argument that all the writers were superb.

I hardly need to say that Joss is clearly a brilliant writer. His work stands up for itself. I don't think I should need to draw attention to the quality of the work of the other writers who collaborated with him for so long, whether it be Noxon, Espenson, Fury, Petrie or whoever.

Joss had the final say? Absolutely. Joss frequently rewrote parts of the scripts? Absolutely. We all know this, but I would like to put in a word for the other writers. Without them the show would not have been as brilliant as it is. This is a purely subjective opinion on my part, but personally I don't believe, "they couldn't cut it without Joss's revisions."

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