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From Cityofangel.com


E. Craft & S. Fain (angel writers) - Cityofangel Interview

By Tara DiLullo

Thursday 29 April 2004, by Webmaster

From Pen & Paper We Devour an Exclusive Interview with Writers Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain

hey’ve been friends since high school, love heavy drama and have a penchant for writing that cute, Texan sweetie named "Fred." Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain are part of the small, exclusive group of women to write for Angel and are the only official writing team added to the staff in its five year run. The women joined the fun in the fourth season with their episode, "Supersymmetry" and have written all or part of eight episodes in their two-year tenure. During the waning days of the series, Craft and Fain talked to CityofAngel.com about bringing their feminine sensibilities to the show, tapping into the power of Joss’ brain and lessons learned when messing with Angelus.


Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain at San Diego ComicCon 2003

Unlike many writing teams that come together later in life or at the start of their professional careers, Liz and Sarah have known each other for most if their lives. Both women hail from Kansas City, Missouri and attended Pembroke Hill High School where they embarked on their first writing collaboration as editors of the school newspaper. They split up for their college careers, but Liz explains they always stayed in touch. "Sarah went to Williams College [in Williamstown, Mass] and I went to Columbia University [in New York City]. I stayed in New York writing young adult books [& cafe] and editing the Sweet Valley High books, while Sarah did "Teach for America" in North Carolina for a year and went to Grad School at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to study film." After almost a decade apart, Sarah came home for a Christmas vacation and told Liz over some drinks she was moving out to Los Angeles. "I was flying blind," Sarah laughs. "I thought I wanted to write movies." By her third drink into the conversation, Liz decided a change of scenery would do her some good too and made the decision to join her friend in Hollywood.

Liz was able to shift her book editing job to the West Coast and Sarah picked up work as actress, Lauren Holly’s (Dumb and Dumber, What Women Want) personal assistant. Liz calls Sarah’s gig "crazy," but it opened their eyes to the inner workings of Hollywood and the potential of writing for television. Sarah explains, "We had no intention of writing together when we first moved here, but Lauren had a development deal so I started reading a lot of scripts and acted as a writing assistant for her dad. Growing up in Missouri, it doesn’t even occur to you that you can write for TV. People are more sophisticated now." Liz concurs, "We didn’t even know there was such a job and kids aren’t really encouraged to be writers in the Midwest." But once they saw what others were writing, the women decided to give it a try. "We decided to come up with a TV show, but we had no clue what we were doing," Liz laughs. "We did a treatment for a show called Oracle. We had a friend from high school [Todd Skulking] that gave the treatment to his colleague who then became our agent. He spent a year and a half convincing us to write spec scripts, it took so long!" In the meantime, they decided to merge their talents and pitch themselves as a writing team. They got their first job as writers for the series, Just Deal and the NBC Saturday morning teen comedy, All About Us, but their first real scripted drama show came in 2002 with ex-Dawson’s Creek creator, Kevin Williamson’s drama, Glory Days. On that show, they cut their teeth on the day-to-day grind of writing for a one-hour series and working in a television writer’s room that was interestingly enough, uniquely staffed completely with writing teams.

They also spent time working out their writing style. Liz explains, "We started off writing every word together and that is just tedious, so we don’t do that anymore. We usually split stuff up. We each write half of the script and give each other notes and re-write together. It’s a constant process, sort of like of being married," she chuckles. Sarah adds, "In general, we have a really similar sensibility. There is an element of wanting to have your own creative input so if you split it up, you know "that scene was my scene." You get that benefit without having to do all the scenes." Liz continues, "I think writing is always sort of a torturous process, but the most satisfying. What I like about TV is that you have both. We both like working with people and the comradery. I wouldn’t be happy not having that, but it is nice going off on your own to write an episode." Sarah concurs, "You get to be the isolated, solitary writer but you also get to go into an office with people." The pair wrote two episodes for the series, The Lost Girls and Everybody Loves Rudy but Glory Days was quickly cancelled giving its time slot back, ironically, to Angel.


With actual professional experience under their belts, Liz and Sarah went looking for a new show, but their agent already knew where he wanted them to land. "He had it in his mind that we should work at Angel," Sarah says. Both being big fans of Buffy and Joss Whedon, the ladies were shocked when they got a meeting to pitch for then executive producer, David Greenwalt. They were "terrified" to such an extent Sarah recalls, "People kept telling us this is just the meeting where you hope not to screw it up too badly so you can go back in the future." Once there, they ended up pitching to not only to David, but Joss and Tim Minear,who all responded well to their pitch for a Fred episode, which eventually came to be, Supersymmetry. They were hired as staff for the fourth season, where they joined writer Mere Smith as the female perspective in the writer’s room.

Mercedes McNab as Harmony in Harm’s Way

Their first episode for their inaugural season was the fleshed out Fred-centric pitch that won them the job. The idea was to explore the idea of Fred reconnecting with a professor who ended up being the reason for her Pylean banishment. It became the fifth episode of the fourth season, Supersymmetry and despite the idea being their baby, it was a tough story to crack. Liz reveals, "Breaking it was torture! It ended up Joss and Tim broke it. Gunn killing the professor was from Tim." Sarah adds, "One of my personal pet peeves of what often happens to Fred is when she loses her agency and somebody else comes in and rescues her. As much as I loved the twist with Gunn at the end of Supersymmetry, I also wanted Fred to be the one to kill the guy. It was her decision and I felt like it was kind of taken from her. It was great drama though." Liz continues, "It worked for me because we made an issue that Gunn took it from her. So, I felt like that was ok. Overall, we were very pleased with how it came out. It really took Fred and Gunn’s relationship to a whole new level." Sarah enthusiastically adds, "Amy [Acker] is so amazing in it and she just nails everything." Their next episode, Soulless is still considered one of the best of that season. Directed by actor, Sean Astin, it dealt with the return of the evil Angelus being trapped in a cage by the Fang Gang. "It was pretty scary, but Angelus is such a great character," Liz says. "Angelus’ voice is so clear and strong and there is such inherent drama in any exchange," Sarah agrees. They also share Joss helped them tackle the episode and the one of Angelus’ most memorable lines, "Doing you’re Mom and trying to kill your Dad, there should be a play" was a Joss addition to the script.

They contributed, by varying degrees, to three other episodes that season. Their next, Release was a collaboration with Steve DeKnight. "Steve really wrote Release," Liz shares. "We had written the outline, but he gets all the credit for that episode." Next, they helped Jeff Bell with Players and Liz continues, "Working with Jeff was great and I think he found it fun to work with us. We broke the story according to storyline. We did the hotel scenes and some Gwen and Gunn stuff." Their last episode for the season was Shiny, Happy People, which introduced the Big Bad in the form of lovely actress, Gina Torres (Firefly, Alias). "That was out toughest episode by far," Liz shares. "The group had a tough time figuring out what the tone of that episode should be and part of it was because it was the first Gina episode. That episode was a sea change in the season."


Season five on the series found them as the only women on the writing staff, with the departure of Mere to the show, Tarzan. With a year already spent writing on the show, they found themselves far more comfortable with their roles in the writer’s room and writing for the show in general. Plus, the introduction of new cast, like James Marsters and Mercedes McNab, was a huge incentive for the duo. "It was so great to have Spike. We re-watched a lot Buffy to try to understand Spike, who has been through so much," Liz shares. Sarah concurs, "James is so talented and it’s great to write something imagining how it is going to be said and have it come out better than we thought, due with him." They also felt more accustomed with the rest of the character voices and were able to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses in writing them all. "We get Fred," Liz offers. "This season, I liked seeing Fred in the lab, in charge and not being the cute girl who gets rescued. We do really miss her," Sarah adds, and then continues. "I have a hard time writing Wesley. There is a very fine line with making him obnoxious and making him likeable. Accidentally, I sometimes go too far with the obnoxious. He can’t be too British."

As for the overall tonal change in the show’s fifth season, with a switch to less arc-oriented storytelling in favor of more standalone episodes, the women were initially concerned. "We are much more the arc-y, character type [writers], but we’ve found doing standalones is very fun," Sarah says. "We tend not to be as bogged down as we usually are with the past. It is fun and freeing," Liz agrees. Their first episode of the season, Unleashed was a classic example of that new attitude. "We loved writing Unleashed and that wasn’t arc-y at all," Liz offers. "It was such an emotional episode even though it was a standalone." As it ends up, they introduced the character of Nina, played by Jenny Mollen, in that episode who has shown up several times this season in a smaller arc as the slowly evolving new love-interest for Angel.

"She’s also no good at being bad. She’s just hasn’t been successful at being evil." Sarah on Harmony Episode nine of the season, Harm’s Way was another standalone for the ladies to conquer but it had the added benefit of being chock full of comedy, which is pretty new for writers. The story revolved around a day in the life of ditzy vampire, Harmony Kendall as she tries to wrestle with her dual natures as a vampire and the sweet natured office assistant at Wolfram & Hart. The character of Harmony was usually reserved for executive producer, David Fury who loves writing for her but due to his writing episode 100, the duty fell to Craft and Fain. "It was the luck of the draw we got it," Sarah explains. "But Fury had a lot of input," Liz laughs. "Fury never hesitates to share his opinion on anything," Sarah also laughs. The lighter tone and writing for such a diametrically opposed character proved to be the toughest aspects of the script. "We haven’t done any straight comedy for Angel. Fury started out in sitcoms and no one is funnier than Steve and Drew [Goddard] is hysterical. It’s just not our natural state." Sarah shares. "And Sarah had a much easier time with Harmony than I still continue to," says Liz. "Harmony has no moral compass, but she’s trying really hard to have one," Sarah continues. "You can really take advantage of that and let her have some really funny turns." Liz continues, "She’s also no good at being bad. She’s just hasn’t been successful at being evil. It’s more that she wants to fit in and be liked rather than having a morality. Our instinct is to make her nicer, but we had to remind ourselves not to do that which was the tricky thing in that episode because it really ended up being about her in an egocentric way. I think it worked. I also think the blood test [story] helped a lot, because it explained why for all these months she’s been clean. Mercedes was so amazing. She really pulled the episode off."

Their last contribution to the season and the series was the episode, Underneath, which ignites the final arc of the season. It allowed the duo to explore one of their favorite new elements of the season, Illyria [Amy Acker]. " We loved being able to get into the repercussions of Fred’s death and transformation into Illyria particularly in regards to Wesley," says Sarah. "Alexis has a challenge in expressing all that in a way that isn’t huge and he has been really amazing. We saw him do a scene last night that broke my heart." Sarah calls Underneath their favorite episode of the season and maybe to date. "We really love this one. The story has a core that is consistent throughout the entire episode and it doesn’t get off-course. Plus, Skip Schoolnik directed it and he is great. We work with him everyday." Another huge plus was their close collaboration with Joss on the story. "Joss had a lot of input in it, since that is really his storyline." Liz adds, "We also wanted to contribute to sending these characters off and this episode allowed us to do that so I feel satisfied."

Underneath, Sarah & Liz’s final Angel featuring Adam Baldwin

Liz and Sarah admit their two years on Angel were truly amazing " not only professionally, but also in experiencing the fan support and feedback synonymous with Whedon creations. "It’s really overwhelming," Liz says. "We’ll probably never get that again." Sarah continues, "We were distanced from a lot of it, but people do send letters and are really amazing about sharing their feelings, sometimes good and bad." Liz expounds, "We came in for the show’s fourth season and we feel more distanced from it because we didn’t create the show. Yes, we contribute but we haven’t been here from the ground up." Sarah adds, "We feel a little like poachers" and Liz finishes with a laugh, "A little like we are leaching off of someone else’s fans. It feels very odd, but people are very nice and were excited to have the female writing team."

Like the fans, Liz and Sarah were also heart broken to find out Angel was not being renewed next season, but they also understand it’s the nature of the business. They lament most not getting to work with the staff and the crew anymore, but they hope to work together again someday. As for their immediate future, the women already have a new gig lined up as staff writers for the FX cable networks critically acclaimed drama, The Shield. And proving that Mutant Enemy members do take care of their own, Craft and Fain were hired for their new gig by former season two Angel writer, Shawn Ryan. They begin work on the series in June and in the meantime, will take some time to relax before they transition to their new challenge. And though they may be leaving to a new home, they admit the Whedon-verse will always be part of their lives, and to back it up Sarah laughs sharing, "We both have Angel and Buffy mouse pads and we’ll continue to use them!"