Jane Espenson at NYCC: 'Serenity,' Crossovers and 'Once Upon a Time'
If you love television, chances are, Jane Espenson has written for one of your favorite TV shows. ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gilmore Girls" and "Game of Thrones" are just a few.) Espenson has also been at the forefront of radical new methods of storytelling, from penning several one-shots for the "Buffy" season 8 comic books to co-creating the TV show "Husbands." We chatted with Espenson at New York Comic-Con and got her to spill what she would love to see in the forthcoming "Serenity" comics, plus which of her two franchises she wants to see a crossover for.
Bookish: In the interview right before ours, you compared TV writing to writing a novel. Can you speak more to that?
Jane Espenson: I've always thought that writing a TV show is like writing a novel, [where] each episode's a chapter--and that's just become truer and truer. If you actually look at what gets adapted into good movies, it tends to be short stories: "Brokeback Mountain," "Blade Runner." Short stories are about the right length for a movie. Novels are an entire series--"Game of Thrones," for example. I wish we could do more of that--take a really good, well-structured novel and just lay it out as a TV show. You don't even have to change stuff. It would give you the freedom of knowing that the story is going to a place that's going to resolve well, which is a place that you have to guess at as you're writing a TV show.
Novels and TV shows have a great deal in common--particularly now that, with DVDs and downloads, you can start your TV show experience anytime and watch it in great big chunks--the way you might sit down and read five chapters at a time, you can watch five episodes. [It's] really driven the continuation of art-driven storytelling. It just fits the new model much better--for dramas. But, even comedies have arcs they go through, where they didn't used to.
Bookish: What would you love to see [Joss' brother] Zack Whedon do with the "Serenity" comics?
JE: I want to see Wash! I want to see Wash be all right. I loved that character so much. That death was so painful--but in the best, most narratively fulfilling way. I'd love to see them find some way to put Wash into the story; flashbacks is a great idea.
I want to see character moments. I have no burning desire to explore the outer verges of the universe and learn more about the Reavers. The thing I really want to see is more of the Zoe/Mal relationship, the Mal/Inara relationship, Jayne being funny and getting him into trouble, the saga of the Tams. I just want to know more about those people, spend more time with them. Kaylee is one of my all-time favorites--I want to see her finding love, losing love, learning to pilot her own ship. I want to see a situation where she has to steer the ship--and does it based on her knowledge of how the engines work! Piloting from the engine room.
Bookish: If you could do a crossover of any two franchises you've worked in, who would it be, what would happen and which medium would it be?
Bookish: Would he sing? Could he sing?
JE: Sure, he can sing.
Bookish: What books, comics, TV shows and/or movies are you obsessed with right now?
JE: "The Trophy Wife" [starring Malin Akerman and Bradley Whitford] is an interesting new comedy. I'm reading "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon, which Ron Moore's new show is based on, so I wanted to check out what that is. I'm reading a new book about Enron; I've read "Conspiracy of Fools," now I'm reading one from the employee's point of view, how the downfall happened--fascinating. I love audiobooks because I've got a fairly lengthy commute [in Los Angeles]. I re-listened to "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan" for work; it was really fun to revisit those.
Bookish: Are there specific details you've picked up in re-listening to these classics?
JE: Absolutely, particularly in "Alice in Wonderland." I'd forgotten what the Cheshire Cat says. I'd forgotten that they move around the table at the [Mad Hatter's] tea party--everybody gets up and moves one to the right. Which means that the unlucky one at the end of the circle is getting the food everyone else has picked through, but [the one at] the front gets the new place setting.
In "Peter Pan," it was really interesting to read how not-positive the Peter Pan character was; he was very, very selfish. We ended up going with a darker Peter Pan on "Once Upon a Time." It's much closer to that original, selfish conception than every interpretation in-between.
Bookish: What is the best book someone has ever recommended to you?
JE: You know what, probably "Game of Thrones." I was told, "You might have a chance to write a freelance 'Game of Thrones'; they want to come meet with you, so you might want to read the book." I was in an airport, and the airport bookstore had it! I started reading and it was so immediately, "How did I not know about this before? Yes, where's the meeting, and how can I get there?" and I got to write an episode. I had the amazing good fortune of having a book recommended to me, that I instantly adored, and got to write about.
Jane Espenson is best known for her work in the area of science fiction television. Her early work was primarily in comedy and included stints at "Dinosaurs" and "Ellen." She later moved to the hour-long format, where she wrote for shows including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Firefly," "The O.C.," "Gilmore Girls," "Dollhouse," "Battlestar Galactica," "Caprica," "Game of Thrones" and "Torchwood: Miracle Day." She also co-wrote and executive-produced the Emmy-nominated "Battlestar" webisodes, and co-created Syfy's "Warehouse 13." She has written comic books, short stories and edited books of essays related to several of these shows. She is currently proud to be Consulting Producer of ABC's "Once Upon A Time" and "Once Upon A Time: Wonderland," as well as continuing her work on the award-winning sitcom "Husbands" with her producing partner, Brad Bell, on the CW Seed. You can follow Jane (and her "writing sprints") on Twitter @JaneEspenson.