Buffy Between the Lines Interview : Tabitha Grace Smith and Kim Butler
and Kim Butler, writer/producer and co-producer of fan-community radio hit Buffy Between the Lines were kind enough to take the time to answer a few interview questions I emailed them on behalf of Playtime Magazine. (You can read my review of Buffy Between the Lines here.)
Alex M: This project strikes me as being a massive undertaking. Simply writing and editing that number of scripts into a cohesive season is a huge job, let alone finding a cast, recording, producing and marketing the season. How did the idea for this project come about and what made you think it was possible? That is, most projects like this would fall at the first hurdle; what made you feel you had the resources and the ability to pull it together?
Tabitha Grace Smith (Tabz): I’m a tenacious person once I get a hold of an idea. In college I did an audio drama adaptation of “The Final Problem” (a Sherlock Holmes story). So I kind of knew what was involved. My best friend, Andrew, and college friend, Shon , helped me with the recording and some of the editing and I had a lot of fun doing it. But it was just a class project and I really never thought I could do something like that again.
Fastforward to 2006, I become a die-hard Whedon fan and my friend introduces me to Firefly Talk(the podcast) and from there I start listening to other podcasts and start my own. During the course of this discovery I found Sonic Society’s Old Wounds. It struck me that this would be sooo much fun to do for Buffy. But I knew I couldn’t do it by myeslf. So I had a pretty robust friends list on LiveJournal and asked if anyone would be interested in creating an audio drama about Buffy and a bunch of people responded. The rest is kind of history.
I’ve never really not thought we could pull it off. I knew Kim Butler was really organized and I knew I had a great group of people who could write (I’d read their fanfic before) and it just seemed like something Whedon fans could do.
Why Buffy? What makes Buffy important enough to you that you’re prepared to dedicate so much free time to it? It’s just another TV show, right?
Tabz: I think all of us have had that moment in our lives when art (of some form) just inspired us or moved us or made such an impact on us that we’ve become nearly obsessed with it. I remember as a high schooler falling deeply in love with the TV show Due South. So much so that it kind of shaped some of my impressions about what was going on in my life at the time. But I’ve known other people who feel the same way about bands or music, books or movies. TV shows are just stories that people tell. And stories are, in my opinion, what bind us together as human beings. It’s how we relate to what’s going on and how we give intangible feelings life and put them into ways we can process them. So when we watch a great TV show we can see ourselves in the situation. That’s how it is with Buffy for me. Sure, I don’t fight vampires, but Buffy’s struggles and Buffy’s dreams and her life reflect thoughts, feelings and emotions I’ve had. So Buffy means a lot to me. So much so that I’ll dedicate free time to give back to fans of this great TV show.
Why Buffy Between the Seasons? What made you think that Buffy fans cared about what happened during this period?
Tabz: I don’t think I ever considered anything but within canon. I don’t personally mind alternative universe stories and fanfic myself, but a lot of people struggle with them. I didn’t want to have to fit within the season either because it would make it hard for us to establish our own voice. So between the series felt perfect and as I was thinking about it I realized what a leap the summer feels like between Season 5 and 6 and it just made sense. Now we kind of joke that it’s easier to write when the main character is gone since we do it again with Buffy Between the Lines Season 2 (Buffy has run away to L.A.) and we’re going to be doing something similar with Angel Between the Lines Season 1.
Following on from that, could you briefly discuss the character arcs for the season, what you think you were trying to achieve, and do you think you achieved it?
Tabz: A big reason why we wanted to do between 5 and 6 first was to show Willow’s progression from kind of sometimes practicing magic to full out relying on magic. It made sense within the series that Willow also stepped up and was kind of team leader. So I think that story arc was played out really well in Buffy Between the Lines. We didn’t always bash you over the head with it either, it was sometimes the little side comments we made (like Willow casting a caffeine spell) that I think were the most powerful to show that change. If anything didn’t work as well as I would have liked it may have been Spike’s missing Buffy. If so that’s my fault — I really tried to play to Spike’s strengths and he didn’t really like being emotional around other people and the only person we ever really seem him confide in is Buffy, and she was gone. So that was a bit harder to pull off. But I’m proud of Dawn’s arc — I never hated her character and I’m sad when people hate on her so much, so I wanted to bring out some compassion for Dawnie. After all, it’s hard being the younger sister to someone so awesome.
Your cast of actors is astounding. Could you tell me a little about how you found them and how you chose them?
Tabz: Well, we were really very fortunate to have people who were talented and willing to work really hard for no money.
Kim: This is where I can chime in a little bit more. Tabz had all of the writing experience and I had more of a background with acting and theater in general. So it seemed natural that she would man the writers and I would seek the voice talent. I put together a format and process for auditioning and Tabz made sure everyone and their dog’s best friend knew about the upcoming shows. We had a bunch of promosput together where we could tease people and we aired them on our ownand others’ podcasts. From there, it was a matter of wading through the six hours of audio we got and making the best matches. We felt it was important that the voice actor capture the feel of the character more than the actual tonal quality. I spent some time frantically emailing people to try other parts and then worked on making sure we had the best candidates for each role. A few roles were narrowed down to about five people and voted on by everyone who was currently involved. It was a fun but challenging process and I think Tabz and I were both stunned by the amazing talent we drew.
Can you briefly tell us how a show like this is made, from start to finish?
Tabz: Well, it all starts off with Tabz having an idea. Then Tabz gets a bunch of people to do her idea. Then it appears in your iTunes.
Kim: Well really it does start with Tabz having an idea… She presents the idea to a few of us and then we brainstorm on that idea and somehow we wind up with some episode ideas. Then Tabz finds some writers and gives them outlines for each episode. Once we have a good idea of the characters we’ll need, we line up the actors and the sound editors. We promote the idea and we have everyone do their various jobs, then we air it. Cake, yeah?
You’re now well into Season Two. What has the reaction to the show been like? Also, are you finding that you’re reaching out to listeners who wouldn’t usually bother with fanfiction?
Tabz: We always get fantastic feedback. We’ve gotten a lot of great constructive feedback. Very rarely do we get anything that’s outright negative. We actually have had a lot of feedback from people who were hesitant about listening because they hated fanfic. But now they’ve warmed up to the idea. That really makes me happy. I started off right after becoming a fan into fanfic because I love writing. So I’m very comfortable in the fanfic world — other people just seem to only stumble across the stuff that makes them go “ewww” and they then classify all fanfic as bad. So it’s nice to change their perceptions.
Kim: I have to admit, I was wary of fanfic to begin with, but Tabz showed me the way. Now we have gotten such really fantastic feedback.
This has been a huge project and its so exciting that people are finding some joy in it. I love it when people tell us, “It’s like having Buffy back!” That was my goal for sure. I knew as a fan this would be the next best thing to having more episodes of the show I love. Sometimes I wish I could just be a listener to get that same feeling.
How many seasons of BBTL do you plan on making? Can you tell me about Angel: Between the Lines in the works. ? Do you guys have any other projects planned?
Tabz: I have more projects in my mind than you could ever dream. Currently the projects in progress are Angel: Between the Lines Season 1, for which we should be auditioning in March, we also have Firefly Between the Lines which we’re just starting to write. There’s more possible projects in the works, but we need to get through these first.
Kim: Yeah Tabz and I could be here all day relating all the projects we’d like to do once we have time. We have a lot of things we are excited about and we look forward to continuing to work on them. Keep an eye on Between the Lines Studios, it’ll all eventually show up there. I’m guessing we are gonna be little old ladies before we’re done here.
Finally, can we have a one hour Javert holiday special? Also ” I love Javert” badges, T-Shirts, mugs and possibly a mousemat. That would be sweet. I’d buy one.
Tabz: I’m laughing when I read this. No, you can’t. But If you’d like to make those things — feel free! We love when our fans make stuff. Javert was a really fun character to create. Between Emma Rawlin and I we really nailed his character down and then Paul Maki just brought him to life.
You can listen to the Buffy Between the Lines Podcast directly at http://www.buffybetweenthelines.com/ or through Itunes and other podcast websites.