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Whedon.infoAn Exclusive Interview with Writer & Co-Executive Producer David Fury
Sunday 1 June 2003, by Webmaster
He sings, acts, writes, directs and plays a mean round of mini-golf. David Fury does it all and he loves it that way. The winding path his career has taken over the last decade surprises even him but he loves the opportunities it’s afforded him. In his five-year tenure with Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, he has been able to cultivate his various artistic passions (acting, comedy, singing) while discovering new talents. With Buffy the Vampire Slayer ending this month and Angel renewed for a fifth season in the fall, Fury took some time to talk to us and reflect on how a certain blonde with a calling and a vampire with a soul changed his life.
THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE STAGE
The saying goes, "What shapes us makes us" and in the case of David Fury, healthy doses of comedy and horror helped to make this man. Born in Denton, Texas but raised in Old Bethpage, New York, David was heavily influenced from an early age by these two genres. He cites Dark Shadows and Monty Python as two particularly beloved sources of inspiration. Always interested in the performing arts, David headed to Manhattan to pursue acting and stand-up comedy after graduating from high school. On stage, he appeared in productions of The Fantastiks, Godspell, and Cabaret. But he created the best of both worlds (performing and comedy) for himself when he co-founded the comedy troupe, Brain Trust at the Manhattan Punch Line Theater. The troupe allowed David to hone his performance skills as well as help shape his developing career. Reflecting on his experience with Trust, David relates, "The most satisfying thing about working in the comedy business is being around a bunch of funny people and creating something that is funny and meaningful at the same time." He adds, "A lot of what we did was improvisation. It wound up turning me into a writer. I hadn’t intended to be a writer but when we started doing sketches, I needed to write something for me and the others to act in so I started writing sketches." It was a talent that indeed surprised him. "I started to see ’Wow, this is something else I can do that is a lot of fun.’ More importantly, I loved being able to do it." It was a skill that complemented his love of live performance. "What being in front of an audience did for me was being able to have instant gratification and being able to hone [the act] on a nightly basis. Being able to change it, alter it and find different nuances and just have a good time with people I enjoy being around."
Insanity reigned in Brain Trust!
Brain Trust became such a successful comedy troupe in New York City that they were invited to appear on The Tonight Show in Los Angeles. While there, the group also opened a West Coast version of their show. Once in Los Angeles, David began to see a distinct shift in what people began pursuing him for his writing. He explains, "The attention I first got writing sketches, I kind of shrugged off and went ’Oh, ok, great.’ Pretty soon people were asking me for screenplays and teleplays, things it never occurred to me to have [written]." But the offers didn’t stop, so he wrote spec scripts alone as well as collaborating with fellow writer (who happened to be his wife), Elin Hampton. David laughs when sharing the ulterior motives for his writing pursuits. "The only reason I got into television was to gain some credibility as someone who could write for television so I could launch a series for my comedy group."
" I’m very shocked by the success I’ve had as a writer... such success is mind boggling to me." That television show for Brain Trust never happened, but his skill with the pen ended up getting him hired to write for several television shows, including The Jackie Thomas Show, Dream On, House of Buggin and the animated hit, Pinky and the Brain. David Fury, self-described actor and comedian, found his career shifting into completely new territory. "I’m very shocked by the success I’ve had as a writer," David muses. "The idea that I have risen to such success is mind boggling to me. I forever characterize myself as an out of work actor with writing as my day job. [An] "it pays the bills" kind of a thing." He laughs when adding, "But as soon as I get that big acting break I’ve been hoping for I won’t have to write anymore. Which sounds terrible to all these people who dream about having what I have. I wish I could tell you that this was something that I really struggled and worked hard at this was my dream. It just wasn’t. But the fact that I’m doing it, I enjoy it because I’m around a bunch of funny people much like when I was with my comedy group."
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
The transition over to Buffy came by way of a long and winding road which kept leading back to Joss Whedon’s door. Going all the way back to the beginning, he explains, "I actually met Joss when Buffy [the television series] was in development. I was writing with my wife, Elin Hanson, at the time and we were up for a show [Life’s Work] at ABC for Disney. Then, we got this meeting for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which at that point was just a presentation at The WB. They were going to pick it up for six episodes for mid-season." Explaining the context of the situation at the time, David adds, "The WB was a network on its way out. It hadn’t found its identity and was getting creamed." Despite the inherent issues, David and Elin met with Joss. "The thing was, I originally went to Elin and said, ’Hmm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer?’ The interesting thing was that I took Elin to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer [the movie with Kristy Swanson] the first day it opened because I loved the premise so much." He laughs remembering, "I saw the ad campaign for it and went ’I love this!’ I was so excited that I skipped work that day to go see it." It ended up being a waste of a hooky day. "I hated it. I didn’t think it worked. It was a bummer."
" I have to tell you, I really did not like the [BtVS] movie." Flash forward again to the television show and David found himself sucked back into the concept. "I was still curious because I still loved the premise. So I said ’Let’s meet with Joss and we did at his old offices in Santa Monica. We got to talking and we hit it off really well." Describing Joss, Fury remembers, "He was just a real funny personable guy. We joked around and he was very complimentary about our work." Then the inevitable happened. "A question came up about the movie and I said ’I have to tell you, I really did not like the movie.’ And he was like "Oh, thank God!" And I went ’I absolutely love this guy.’ We came out of [the meeting] and I turned to Elin and said ’I think I want to do Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She said "Really?" and I said ’Yeah. This sounds fun and exactly the kind of thing I’d love to do.’ Except it didn’t happen. "Unfortunately, our agents talked us out of it. They said we would be crazy to go to a WB mid-season [show] when we were going to get staffed in a fall premiere a highly publicized sitcom sandwiched between Roseanne and Home Improvement." Fury sighs when adding, "We thought we couldn’t lose. We let our agents talk us out of it and we took that show, which of course ended after eighteen episodes. Meanwhile, we watched Buffy become a phenomenon in its first season." With perfect comedic timing, Fury waits a beat before adding, "We fired our agents and got new agents who happened to be Joss’ agents, coincidentally."
With new representation and a television season come and gone, David and Elin approached their common agents with a request: ’We’d really, really like to get in to see Joss again.’ Expecting a rejection "because we turned him down in the first season," they instead found Joss open to a new meeting. David explains, "He brought us in during the second season to pitch to him. We pitched him a story he bought right away [Go Fish]. A success all around, Mutant Enemy then approached the duo about signing on as full-time writers for the series. But circumstances would yet again prove to be a stumbling block. Looking back at the timeline, David explains, "At that point, Elin and I were splitting up as a writing team. She got offered Mad About You so we had to turn down the job yet again. It just seemed like fate was against us. We missed out on the first season. We missed out on the second season and now we were missing out on the third season so it must not be meant to be." Grasping at a last option, David remembers, "I said to my agent ’Would Joss considering letting me freelance by myself?’ At that point Joss had never read anything that I had written by myself." Imagine David’s shock when Joss said "Yup, I want to give him the chance to do that." David adds, "That [episode] was Helpless, which sealed my fate. After that, they said, "You’re coming onto the show. We want you to write the second episode of Angel, the show that we are developing, and we want you to come onto staff next year."
"Helpless" is David’s first solo Buffy episode David was now part of the team, and the "frustrated actor" turned writer found a home that allowed him to flourish beyond his wildest dreams. He started as a Producer and quickly climbed the title ladder, achieving Co-Executive Producer status on Buffy in a brisk three years. Last season, he was also made a Consulting Producer on the spin-off, Angel. On the writing front, he’s responsible for all or part of seventeen episodes of Buffy and all or part of eight episodes of Angel. That’s a lot of time away from the acting he so dearly loves, yet he admits that it’s been far from frustrating. "What this particular show and Angel have afforded me has been the opportunity to do all sorts of things. The thing I’ve loved about working here is that I’ve been able to act - little acting jobs [a demon on Angel and The Mustard Guy in the Buffy musical episode]. I’ve been able to direct and write and edit." He continues, "I don’t mind being a writer then because it’s not about me being categorized as a writer. Writing is just the ticket that gets me inside. And once I’m inside, I can do anything I want and that’s exciting to me. As long as I can continue to do that, I don’t feel I have the need to focus on any one aspect of it. If I can continue to do a little acting here and there, to do some directing here and there, to do whatever…some make-up, maybe some costumes," he adds laughing, "It’s just the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to do all of it is a great plus."
That ability to experiment outside the proverbial writing box applies to his writing style as well. Hired primarily as a comedy writer for Buffy like fellow funny woman, Jane Espenson, David ended up being responsible for a plethora of darker toned episodes including "Sleeper," "Helpless" and "Grave." The darkness carried over when he wrote for Angel, where his first original script for the series [episode two] was scrapped in the eleventh hour by the studio for being too dark. Straying from the flat-out comedic became another challenge to be embraced rather than lament. David explains, "In the same way that I haven’t been able to miss acting so much because I’ve had some opportunities here, I don’t feel like I miss the comedy because every second or third script of mine is a funny episode. I get to write the light ones generally. Do I miss everything being comedy? No, I don’t." He adds, "I love the fact that I have been able to discover that I can write drama, that I can write teen angst, that I can write a love scene and a horror story. These are all things that I never knew I had in me based on my little sketch writing. The sketch writing played very much into the Buffy scenario of allegorical, metaphorical things that end with humor." Angel on the other hand was a different situation. "When I was doing Angel, when it was just pure, flat-out, dark mythology and great yarns, it was interesting to see ’Hey, I can do this too!’" Enthusiastically, David explains, "I’ve been doing that for the last five years since I’ve been writing - discovering what I have inside me that I didn’t know I had and that’s exciting and something I’m going to miss. This is a show where you don’t get pigeonholed. Joss hired Elin and I based on a Pinky and the Brain show. He hired us for a one-hour show based on an animated sitcom script for a show that he never even saw. That’s a guy that doesn’t pigeonhole. [Joss] says, "Good writing is good writing."
Over five seasons, David has labored to advance his craft but regardless, the actual writing process (for any writer) can be a daunting one. He has recognized his own personal challenges, sharing in true Buffy-speak, "I’m a very slow writer. I’m a little bit last-minutey. I can’t do what everyone calls "crap drafts," which are banged out, quick drafts [that the writer] then works on re-writing. I’ve discovered how long it takes to write a script without killing myself, which is eight days. That’s why when I get these stories that break four days into prep, I usually have to go ’Hey Steve [DeKnight], Wanna write this with me?’" Continuing he explains, "I don’t want to stay up all night. Some people can still do that. Me? I have three kids. I want to play with them. I don’t want to be in my office trying to bang out a script."
" This is a show where you don’t get pigeonholed... Good writing is good writing." After some thought, he describes his personal-writing albatrosses. "I procrastinate quite a bit. It’s the same way I got through school. I’m one of those, wait to the last minute kind of guys. As much as I try to say ’Today, I’m going to write the first half of the first act.’ I’ll write that scene and go ’I’m exhausted.’ Then I’m going ’I’ll write the first two thirds of the act tomorrow’ and that basically drags on to the point where I have something in by day eight." Laughing he adds, "I envy the people who can churn it out really quickly. Jane Espenson is one of those people. She wrote an episode in thirty hours. I just want to strangle her and say ’How do you do that?’ So, I wind up playing. We have a little office miniature golf course set up in the Angel offices. There is a putting green and then we’ve taped numbered holes, one through ten, throughout the entire floor of the building. You hit off from the putting green and you bank off walls and hit through desks. I played so much golf when I was on a four-day deadline. I was thinking, ’I can’t do this - I have to go play golf.’" Chuckling, he asides, "That’s the kind of writer I am."
Going back to the mini-golf, when asked whom the King or Queen of the Mini Links was David sized up the competition, "Oh, I don’t want to say. I’ve been playing very badly lately. Steve DeKnight is pretty solid. Brent Fletcher who is our script coordinator—he is actually quite good as well. Then there is Drew Goddard [freshman Buffy writer and new Angel season five staff writer], who is a young up and comer and he has been having his day lately. Before he used to be the joke and now we can’t laugh at him anymore because he is getting too good."
OK, PHONE ON A STICK, "ACTION!"
Directing for television became part of David’s repertoire during season five of Buffy with his directorial debut, "Gone." While he directed plenty for stage and for Brain Trust, television directing wasn’t a lofty goal he set for himself. "I never solicited directing," David explains candidly. "I did "Gone" which was a mixed experience for me. There were a lot of things [in that episode] that I’m proud of, that were good, but ultimately it turned out to be for various reasons, a very difficult time at the show. There was a kind of depression hanging over the place and quite frankly I was far too ill prepared to be directing at that point. And choosing an episode where I had to direct invisible characters, believe me, was not the best idea in the world." Another huge challenge for David was just the fundamental technical aspects of the job - of which he had no previous experience. ""Gone" to me was my schooling," David explains. "Tim Minear prepared himself by directing second unit before he directed [his episode] and so did Steve DeKnight. When I showed up and was behind the camera, I went ’I have no idea how to do this! What am I doing here?’ The first shot was me directing a phone on a stick!"
An example of why directing Gone was such a challenge
Despite the headaches and steep learning curve, David was willing to give it another go this season. "I was told last year that they wanted me to direct again but that they were going to put it in the back nine [of season seven]. They were afraid between working on both shows that I would be too sidetracked too early with the directing." David laughs concurring, "I was perfectly fine with that. While Steve DeKnight did an amazing job with episode seventeen of Angel ["Inside Out"] and hopes to direct six or seven episodes of Angel next year, me? I’m good with one. It’s twelve or thirteen hour days and I’m away from my family and my kids. As rewarding as it is, it’s a lot of work."
The second time was the charm for David. "Lies My Parents Told Me" became his second directorial effort and by his enthusiastic accounts, an experience far and away more satisfying than the first. "This was a great, great experience. This particular episode played to my strengths, which was working with actors and getting performances out of them. We had a great time doing it as opposed to "Gone" which was like working with puppets." He adds with a sigh, "You can’t really direct voice-overs. You live and learn."
Stepping into the director’s chair again, David had his own previous experience to draw from but he also got some words to the wise from a colleague. "I got this advice from Doug Petrie when he was directing his episode ["Get It Done"] this season. He stopped caring about what anybody thought of him," David shares with a laugh. While it may seem harsh, David explains, "When you are directing and you’ve got excellent people on the crew who all have strong opinions, it’s knowing to stick with your own vision of something and not caring if anyone is offended because you didn’t take their advice. You listen but you say ’No, we are going to do it this way.’ They wind up respecting you for it and they appreciate that kind of decision making." It became a real issue for him, as he expounds, "One of the mistakes I made was trying to make a fun atmosphere, which was more collaborative and in so doing, I was starting to feel people weren’t liking what I was doing. The thing is - it’s all about the show. It’s not about personalities and if you put out a great show people will be happy about it and that’s what counts. I think I learned that more than anything."
David also came to the episode with some specific things he wanted to accomplish this time around. He ticks off the list explaining, "I wanted to move the camera more than I did in "Gone." I wanted to find ways to stage scenes where I could get everybody in one shot. That’s a thing I’m still learning, which is to consolidate my shots to allow for a group scene of seven different people and not feel I have to do it in two different shots. I’m watching other directors but I think I managed to do it much better than on the first episode I directed."
"Oh William, tell me more about that Mr. Fury. They say he’s quite brilliant."
And considering the puppet issues in "Gone," David also wanted a more performance-based episode, which he feels he achieved this time. "I’m most proud of the performances, which I feel I had a very heavy hand in. James Marsters was amazing. The actress, Caroline Langerfeld, who played his mother was fantastic. Also, D.B. Woodside and Tony Head with their plotting in the basement. The thing about [these actors] is that they really love direction. They really want to talk about it." He continues, "What you find on a show that has been on for seven years and what I found in season six when I was doing "Gone," is the actors have gotten to a point where they don’t want to talk that much about it. Basically, their things are "Can you get me out of here by 2 o’clock? I have a hair appointment."
It was a bit of an unexpected situation as he explains, "Suddenly, I’m thinking this is quite different than what I thought it was going to be. I’m thinking everybody is going to say, "Hey, Dave is here! Let’s have fun and make the show!" and instead, all it became about was "Get me out of here." But here are some actors…James is an amazing actor who loves, loves, loves the process and loves to be directed and we had a ball doing it. Caroline being a guest actress - guest actors are always on their best behavior. And D.B. is a professional but he is new to the show so he’s not jaded, and he recognized he had an amazing opportunity with this episode to show his range and he acquitted himself brilliantly. More than anything, the performances I wanted, I think it came across and we worked hard to get there, but we got there and I think it was pretty great."
Along with his directing duties, Fury also co-scripted "Lies My Parents Told Me" with Drew Goddard. Working with the new writer was another one of the very positive outcomes of the episode. "It started out that I wrote acts one and three [of the script] while he wrote acts two and four. But after we exchanged our acts, we wound up being much more collaborative in that he took stabs at scenes that I felt I wasn’t in love with and I did the same for him. It came to a point where we were truly collaborative which is something I haven’t truly been on all the scripts I’ve shared. If I share a credit, generally it’s been me from the teaser through act two. You can take that to the bank. I’ve always done the first half of the script." David laughs adding, "In this case, we shared a lot of scenes and plus we got to play a lot of mini-golf."
While "Lies My Parents Told Me" was primarily about the characters of Spike and Wood, it also dealt with the second betrayal of Buffy by Giles. The first came in the episode "Helpless" when Giles drugged her on behalf of the Council of Watchers - an episode David Fury also wrote. In "Lies," Giles worked behind Buffy’s back to plot an assassination of Spike, which ultimately failed. It was a key episode in illustrating where their relationship had evolved. David explains, "Well, it was leading toward what Spike was saying to Wood - that Slayers no matter how many people are around them, they stand alone. For all of Buffy’s relationships, basically she is alone." Her literal and figurative act of closing her door in Giles’ face at the end of the episode was meant to be shocking but indicative of that realization. "That [act] was just one more reiteration and I hope it played a little bit differently than we’ve done before - that Giles is no longer useful to her. He has just betrayed her as a friend but as a mentor he has literally taught her everything that he can. Giles left before, saying, "I’m standing in your way from growing." Now it’s not that, it’s you just have nothing else to offer me. It’s pretty significant to what we are leading towards, which is Buffy literally standing alone and realizing she is alone in this fight." As an aside David also offers, "The original title for the episode when I wrote the outline was "Mothers and Sons." It was Drew that brought it to my attention that it really was also about Buffy and Giles. It’s not just about mothers and sons, its about parents and he was right. I realized I had to change the title for that reason and I think it all resonates from that."