If you honestly and truly don’t know the name “David Fury,” you certainly know his words. He penned more than 25 Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel scripts (finishing off his reign at both shows as Co-Executive Producer) before heading to Lost. While there, he delivered several episodes – including the brilliant and oft-discussed “Walkabout,” where it was revealed that John Locke had been wheelchair-ridden before the crashed. He’s now taken on the world of Jack Bauer, hopping into the madness of 24. Whether or not that is more intimidating than a PopGurls interview still remains to be seen…
Many fans of Joss Whedon’s shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) tend to follow the careers of their favorite writers as much as their favorite actors. Before working on Buffy, had you ever been involved with a show where the writers got as much love as the actors?
There’s never been a show, to my knowledge, in which the writers developed their own followings. Audiences generally don’t recognize script-driven shows, and when they do, they tend to credit the show’s creator(s) and showrunner for every episode, regardless of whose name was on the script. Buffy was unique. And Joss [Whedon] was responsible for that recognition.
Have you found that people have followed you from Buffy to new shows?
If I’m to believe the bulletin board postings and fan mail I receive, I have to think “yes.” A great many told me they checked out Lost because of my involvement. I’m less sure about 24. It has its own core group of fans, and doesn’t represent the kind of writing I usually do – fun, bantery stuff – that viewers expect of me.
I think a lot of people were really excited to hear that you were going to 24. I started watching it again this season, partly for that reason.
I’m happy to hear that. I don’t have a usual forum to hear directly from people the way I used to. Buffy and Angel had “The Bronze” and the “The Bronze: Beta” fan forums. I was responsible for the creation of The Fuselage (the Lost fansite) and had fun conversing on that, and hearing feedback. But 24 doesn’t have any forums like that, so consequently I feel cut off from my show’s fanbase for the first time in eight or nine years.
I think Buffy was on the forefront of fans being able to interact with writers and staff. (For example, Grey’s Anatomy‘s writers/producers have their own blog.) After so many years of that immediate gratification of thoughts, and interaction, is it like settling into a world pre-Buffy?
I do think the fan/writer interaction was started with Buffy, no doubt. I think “The Fuselage” brought that kind of thing to ABC’s attention. It’s another one of Joss’ many legacies. As for being in a pre-Buffy world – that can never happen, if [there aren’t show-dedicated forums,] you can always read feedback on sites like Ain’t It Cool News or Television Without Pity. That’s a development that’s only about 10 years old. It’s the dialogue between the creative team and the fans that I miss here at 24.
It also helps for the work environment to be a happy, supportive place. That’s why Grey’s Anatomy is enjoying the interaction. [It’s] a happy place from what I understand.
Since continuity and story arcs are important, especially 24, do you get a framework of things you have to include in the episode? Or do you write an episode and someone else adds in things that might be part of a larger story arc?
It’s a very peculiar process over here. Basically we come up with a page of beats and go off to make something of it, usually directly to script. During the process of writing it, the scripts preceding yours and coming after yours are being drastically rewritten. Consequently, by the time you hand in your script, the mechanics, the characters, the structure has to change to accommodate the other stories. One winds up doing page one rewrites of the scripts with entirely new stories.
Often I’m called upon to write an act or two in someone else’s script. Or someone rewrites mine. Almost nothing remains from a first draft to a shooting draft.
Is it true 24‘s storylines aren’t planned out in advance? Do you at least plan a few episodes in advance, or is it strictly “make it up as you go”?
The first four episodes are generally worked out in advance, then it’s completely made up as we go. The closest thing to planning is if someone has a good idea for a set-piece (i.e. Jack has to kidnap the Pope), Howard [Gordon] or Joel [Surnow] will say, “We’ll do that in a couple of episodes.” Ultimately, or at least often, those ideas change once we get there. And we make something else up on the spot.
Wow. How was that to adjust to since Joss is infamous about mapping seasons out years in advance?
In truth, Joss never mapped out stories seasons in advance. That’s overstating it. He’d know what he wanted a season to be about, decide on a Big Bad and shortly into the season he’ll decide how the season will end. It was definitely the better way to work. Joss might know a couple of small things about the next season but there was no way to think beyond it.
It’s definitely challenging to write 24 this way, but the truth is – this show is a runaway train. It’s about movement, action, momentum.
Buffy was about emotions, relationships – a coming of age story. You needed to know where you’re going for it all to have meaning. 24 has no meaning other than to thrill you, keep you engaged in the ride.
This is true. And the ride has been pretty intense. It’s shown nuclear explosions, a gruesome virus, torture, and killed off several major characters, but FOX drew the line in Season 4 at stating outright that President Keeler had died. Is there anywhere else the writers wanted to go in season 5 where either the writers or producers said no, that’s too far?
Well, I know [co-creator and co-executive producer] Bob Cochran had strong reservations about making President Logan the bad guy. But as the show is run by a committee of Executive Producers, he was out-voted. The only thing the studio and network (as well as myself and others) objected to was the death of so many characters. Don’t misundertand, I was for most of them and I understood there was nothing to do with their characters [storywise], but I was afraid it would lose its shock value. Fortunately I managed to keep a couple of characters alive who were headed for the big CTU in the sky.
That was very kind of you! Any hints as to who was destined to be axed?
There’s a certain Secret Service agent whose death scene I wrote at least three times before the reprieve came in.
If it’s the person I’m thinking of, he would be greatly missed.
VP Gardner (Ray Wise) killed Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks. Henderson killed David Palmer. And President Logan is trying to kill Wayne Palmer. Should Arnold Palmer watch his back?
Killer Bob is definitely around. Arnie better have some defensive clubs ready.
Jack Bauer, Buffy and even Angel are consistently in precarious situations. What is it like writing for characters that are often on the brink of death in each episode but the audience knows that they won’t die (except, maybe if it’s the finale) as it’ll screw with the premise of the show?
It was much easier writing those scenes for Buffy and Angel. They could deal with their certain deaths with some levity and pithy comments. It wasn’t about their manner of death, it was about their attitudes. Jack has to deal with his demise directly, almost unemotionally. It may play realer, but it’s certainly less fun.
Where do you get to exercise the fun the most in 24?
Hmm… I haven’t figured that out yet.
Do you miss sci-fi? Do you feel confined by “reality” now?
We’re all confined by reality.
But, yeah, I miss genre shows. I miss writing allegory and metaphor. That was the fun of writing those shows. Saying something. 24 is about doing. And it’s great. But there’s nothing to say about it, except “that was cool.”
You started your career as an actor, primarily doing comedy/sketch comedy. In Buffy, you were the Mustard Man in “Once More With Feeling.” And on Angel, you played a man controlled by evil puppets. If you had been offered a series regular role in Buffy instead of a staff writer position, what role would you create for yourself?
Probably a geek professor at Sunnydale U who stumbles upon the knowledge of the Hellmouth and pathetically attempts to battle the demons on his own.
Or some evil flunky. More like my own life.
What was your inspiration for your first Buffy script – “Go Fish”? Did it have anything to do with the masses of women ever so thrilled to see Xander in a Speedo?
I loved the old Universal monster movies growing up. And Buffy had done its take on almost all of them – Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy. My personal favorite as a kid was The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
I was equally inspired by a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “Shadow Over Innsmouth” in which the people of a creepy New England town began to transform into these horrific fish creatures. It naturally fell into a story about the high school swim team and about jock politics.
The original story did not have the creatures killing anyone. It was about them trying to breed and worked as a rape metaphor. David Greenwalt felt there needed to be the death to raise the stakes. And, yes, it was my idea to put Xander undercover on the swim team, hence the Speedo.
That’s interesting — they really took the breeding part out. Feasting, but not really reproducing. And I think many, many people were overjoyed to see Nick Brendon all speedo’d out. So thank you.
You’re welcome. I’m not sure Nick was grateful.
In Buffy‘s season 5, you were fairly adamant that Spike was not redeemable. Then in season 7, you seemed to change your mind, solidifying that when Spike moved over to Angel. What made you change your mind?
Ah, yes, the Spike debate again. It was my personal conviction, based on the show’s mythology, that a soul-less vampire like Spike was incapable of being redeemed. Otherwise, Angel having a soul was irrelevant. Spike could be domesticated, sure, he could be conditioned via the chip in his head not to kill, but he was still a soul-less killer. My opinion shifted after two things happened: Spike was given a soul at the end of “Grave,” and I began to see that Spike was an anomaly in the vampire world. A small part of William’s humanity was left within him after the vampire Spike took over.
Do you think that fighting against that humanity was part of what made Spike particularly evil?
I’m sure it played a large part. Even the Judge said of Spike and Drusilla that their relationship “reeked of humanity,” or something like that. That was the first clue. Later, exploring the character in “Grave” and “Lies My Parents Told Me” helped me to come around on Spike.
Is it more rewarding to work on a show that’s a massive hit like Lost, or a show that’s been on for a while and then hits a stride of high critical acclaim (and good ratings) like Angel‘s final season?
Frankly, it was a lot more fun to be on a cult show that was highly regarded like Buffy and Angel. When your show’s a ratings hit like Lost and 24, everyone feels too pressured. We never really concerned ourselves with ratings at Mutant Enemy. Joss was about doing the show that he loved. Consequently, I think his shows will resonate long after the others are gone.
“Walkabout,” your Emmy-nominated (and extremely well-deserved at that) Lost script, was jaw-droppingly good and destined for water-cooler conversations everywhere. How much were you given to work with, and when you were done, did you sit back and say, “Damn. Yeah. This is it.”?
I always have an ambivalent attitude toward my work, so, no, I didn’t think “this is it.” But thank you for the kind words. It was Damon Lindelof, Lost‘s genius co-creator who had the brainstorm while writing “Tabula Rasa” – the first episode after the pilot – that John Locke was disabled when he bordered the plane. It was an audacious notion considering the network was wary of anything mystical on the show. Once we rationalized a reasonable scenario for this “miracle,” the idea was exciting.
I spent about a week in the room with the writers, breaking out the story structure. I think the idea that Locke was some office middle-management guy was already a given. And clues were taken from the pilot – Locke’s backgammon scene indicated he was a gamer, so that played a part. It was all there by the time I wrote the outline, and then the script.
Do you think Locke ever had a happy day?
I’d like to think so. Certainly, that first day on the island, when he regained the use of his legs and believed he’d found a higher purpose ranks up there.
That’s a very, very good point.
I miss John.
Was he your favorite on Lost?
He was. A fascinating and fun character to write. And Terry [O’Quinn] is such a brilliant actor, it was a treat to write for him.
Oh, I totally agree. Terry is one of those people who would pop up from time to time and always be good, but i think Lost let him really shine.
Yes. I’m sorry to hear he’s unhappy now. I hope things have turned around.
Season 6 of Buffy does not tend to be the favorite of a lot of fans. From the number of interviews Marti did that year, it seemed that the writers were aware of the fans’ frustration. Was the staff aware and what was the general feeling about that?
We’re always aware of the fans’ feelings, good or bad. But this was the story Joss wanted to tell, and we all understood it. Buffy couldn’t just crawl out of her own grave and be fine a few episodes later. Joss felt it would be a cheat. Buffy’s ambivalence toward her life, and the people around her, is a common phase many young people go through.
People hated to see her push people away, they didn’t like the way she treated Spike – that has nothing to do with the quality of the episodes. There were great ones in there, along with one of Joss’ masterpieces: “Once More With Feeling.” Many people just didn’t dig the darkness. I had the same reaction to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. So I get it.
The Willow’s witchcraft equals heroin storyline seemed particularly heavy-handed for a Buffy plot arc. Did the way you tell a story change when the show began attracting a wider audience, outside of the hardcore fans that made it a cult hit?
Perhaps it was heavy-handed. But it was apt. Just as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was. We never changed the way we wrote the show, but sometimes the allegory becomes too overt: Magic equals drugs. You try things, you learn.
Obviously TV is your medium, but do you have any books in the works? Everyone has a story or two kicking around in their heads, and while you’re blessed enough to be able to get some of those stories out on to the screen, surely there are some that you haven’t been able to tell or that would work better in a printed medium. Have you ever considered it? Or perhaps a concept album? I mean, you did have that glorious “they got the mustard out” solo.
Heh – I’ve never considered a novel. I leave that medium to better, smarter writers than me. But I do have movie ideas that will see the light of day when I find the time to write them. And maybe a graphic novel. But for now, I’m riding the TV train and its been good to me. It’s allowed me to work with brilliant, talented people who’ve given me a pretty good career. Not ready to jump off the train yet. They may have to throw me off.
I don’t think you’re in danger of that any time soon. But people may eventually come begging for more Mustard Man.
And, for the record, I am helping develop my wife Elin Hampton’s musical. You may hear my sultry voice on a recording yet.