'Buffy' Writer Behind the Camera
by Ian Spelling
After four years of slaying 'em with words, Marti Noxon has taken matters into her own hands. The "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" scribe got her chance to step behind the camera for the first time when series creator Joss Whedon assigned her to direct the Dec. 19 episode, "Into the Woods."
"Directing was something I've always wanted to do - I just didn't feel ready until now," Noxon says. "This is my first job on a television show of any length, and I've been biding my time and learning from the master, from Joss Whedon.
"It just got to the point where I realized I couldn't read any more books," she says. "There's a part of directing that just can't be taught. It's very intuitive, and you have to learn by doing it. So I knew that I had my head packed full of ideas, and I had to go have the experience.
"And it was terrifying."
Whedon, series star Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the cast and crew were very supportive, she says, and "didn't laugh" when she presented a game plan that fell apart on the set. But she drops barely a hint as to the plot of "Into the Woods," which she also scripted.
"It's about ... 42 minutes long," she says by telephone from the show's production office in Santa Monica, Calif. "It's about Buffy and Riley (Marc Blucas), and it will take them ... in a new direction.
"There's not really a B-story," she adds, "because it is a big Buffy-Riley episode. It was also a good episode for me to direct because it's arc-heavy, with a little bit more melodrama, which is what I write more than the other stuff."
The Internet is abuzz with rumors that Riley will soon die, perhaps in "Into the Woods." Noxon refuses comment - "It's about 42 minutes long," repeats the woman who first unleashed the bloodsucking/killing machine in "The Wish" and concocted the image of Faith (Eliza Dushku) strangling Xander (Nicholas Brendon) while she deflowered him in "The Zeppo" - but acknowledges that Riley is popularity-challenged.
"A lot of people just don't like that boy," she says. "Some of that is it's just hard to step out of the shadow of Angel (David Boreanaz). I still get letters from fans asking us to please get Buffy and Angel back together.
"Also, some people think the character is just too much of a straight guy," she adds, "and that's about the writing. That's the character we saw and the character we wrote. For some people, he's just too vanilla after Angel.
"We were in a bit of a pickle after the Initiative stopped because, up to that point, Riley had something to do, a mission of his own," she says. "Then he lost his sense of purpose and kind of became that guy standing behind Buffy going, 'You go, girl!'
"That was unsexy and we were aware of it, but we were stuck for a little while," Noxon admits. "If you've seen recent episodes, he's starting to fray around the edges. That's very compelling to me, that this straight guy is starting to get a little strange."
Overall, Noxon considers season five of "Buffy" among the show's better ones. The characters are a year away from high school, a year beyond Angel and the better part of a year past Oz (Seth Green).
Recently introduced characters, including Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Glory (Clare Kramer), are working out, and Spike (James Marsters) has gleefully returned to his nefarious ways.
"The show has new life," Noxon says. "Not that I felt it was bad last season, but I feel for some reason that it's a little revitalized this year. The actors are all doing great work and so far, so good. The ratings are strong. It's all good.
"On a personal note, I've felt amazed that I've been on the show this long and it's still fun, still exciting," she adds, "and I feel like we're doing stories that I think people want to see."