I had the opportunity to do a brief interview with Rob DesHotel, who worked as a story editor and writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer during seasons one and two. He talked about what is involved in being a story editor and the challenges of getting in different characters heads. The episodes he wrote are “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”, “The Puppet Show”, “The Dark Age”, “Phases”, and “Killed By Death”.
Music In the Dark: How did you get involved with Buffy?
Rob DesHotel: My partner at the time and I had written a couple of episodes of a half-hour Nickelodeon show called The Adventures of Pete & Pete, about two brothers named… well, I can’t remember their names, but it was a fun show with interesting characters and a quirky sensibility. When he started to assemble the Buffy writing staff, Joss apparently told his agents he didn’t only want to read samples from one-hour drama writers, he wanted to read everything. So our little script made it into the mix, we met with Joss, it was love at first sight (or maybe “like at first sight,” or even “non-disdain at first sight”), and he brought us on board.
Music In the Dark: What is the difference between a story editor and an executive story editor? How much involvement do you have in each episode in relation to the seasonal story arc?
Rob DesHotel: Not much difference. Executive Story Editor is the bump in title a writer gets after a season as a Story Editor. Because it was a small writing staff, we didn’t have a lot to do with the seasonal story arc. Part of that is because we were usually off writing a script, so we couldn’t take part in those discussions. Also, in the early days, Joss wasn’t totally sure where he wanted the show to go. There was a lot of trial and error, seeing what worked, which relationships clicked, which stories felt real and relevant to our characters, and especially trying to hit the perfect tone. During that first season especially, I don’t know that Joss knew exactly what he did want, but he knew what he didn’t want. So through the process of eliminating ideas that felt false to him, the show started taking shape.
Music In the Dark: Did Buffy have a collaborative writers room? How much was Joss Whedon involved with the story development of each episode?
Rob DesHotel: Again, speaking only for the first two seasons, it was fairly collaborative, more so in the second season. We all had input on our own episodes. Joss would come into our offices, we’d discuss the story at length, and then after a few days, have something resembling an outline. The thing I loved about Joss (besides his adorable giggle) was that he never said, “this is good enough.”
Music In the Dark: Most of the episodes you wrote are standalone episodes. Do you prefer the standalones as a writer? Are they more or less challenging to write?
Rob DesHotel: I found the standalone episodes easier to write, and not coincidentally, less satisfying.
Music In the Dark: Who was your favorite character to write for?
Rob DesHotel: I think my favorite character to write for was Xander, probably because I was most like him growing up. Not one of the popular kids, but that also freed me up to do my own thing. He’s a great example of something the show did better than any other at the time, and that was depicting the awkwardness and the persistent off-balance feeling of being fifteen years old.
Music In the Dark: How did you approach writing for Angel, and then Angelus, with such a huge personality change? It seemed like the writers had more fun writing Angelus with all the banter, particularly with Buffy and Spike.
Rob DesHotel: Angel was probably the hardest character for me to get a grasp on, not so much because of the change he went through, but because I think initially he was a fairly one-note tortured soul type. Once the change happened, he was obviously a lot more fun to write for, and it retroactively filled in the gaps, and his tortured soul took on more meaning and depth. And yes, writing for Angel and Spike was a lot of fun, but I enjoyed writing for Angel and Xander more – the bad boy and the good guy in love with the same girl and all that.
Music In the Dark: Are you Team Angel or Team Spike?
Rob DesHotel: Team Angel. Not even close!
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