You are well known for the stunts in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. How was it to work on such an action-packed and popular show?
Buffy was my favorite show because I loved the scripts and I got to work with my girlfriend (now wife), Sophia, every day. She was “the Slayer” and performed all of the Buffy fights, so I choreographed everything to fit her.
We were able to get a lot done in a single night, however it was exhausting. The constant switching from day to night shoots took a toll on the crew’s nerves over time. I used to make the action for the current episode shooting, while also doing shots for the previous episode. Then, I’d rush to location scouts and meetings with the director for the next episode. Sometimes, I’d go in on weekends too, just to prep and rig, as it was my only free moment. I lived ‘Buffy’ all day, everyday.
I have a YouTube channel, with a ton of home-movies from Buffy, for the fans! The Buffy fans were incredible; they were (and still are) interested in every aspect of the show. The stunt people recall their time on Buffy as being some of their favorite times at work — it was a lot of fun and I’m glad we got to do it.
Buffy (and Sophia Crawford) really helped to start a trend for women to star in action scenes in Hollywood. Sophia used to only work in Hong Kong films, in the pre-Buffy days. That show marked a real change for women in film and television.
How did you land the job on Buffy?
Joss Whedon, the creator, fired two stunt coordinators within the first thirteen episodes. Sarah wanted me to fill in, and pitched me as “the guy who made Power Rangers so successful”. Joss refused to be associated with Power Rangers (probably because someone suggested making Buffy into a ‘Pink Ranger’ type character) as it’s not the style he wanted.
However, before the first episode of season two, Joss fired the new stunt coordinator, so Sarah told Joss to at least meet me. When we met, we hit it off instantly. I was showing him footage from Mission of Justice and other things, and he said, “That’s Buffy! I want Buffy to fight like that. Can Sophia do that?” I said, “Of course she can.” He explained his experience of season one and told me that they had no time to shoot a fight longer than a couple of punches and a kick. He told me his ideas too, which I pointed out came from Japanese Anime, and we talked about old movies and what elements we would apply to Buffy. After that, Joss called the line producer and said, “I’m going in a different direction.” And that was it. After that, I tried to get them to extend Buffy’s fights, and get her and Angel to fight side-by-side (like Tommy and Kimberly in MMPR), and it worked!
Did your wife, Sophia Crawford, double for Sarah Michelle Gellar in all fight scenes?
Yes, up until we left, just before the start of season five. Sophia did a lot: she did all of the fighting and stunts as “the Slayer”; some acting scenes that weren’t close-up on her face; and promotional photos with Sarah’s face photoshopped onto hers. It was non-stop. The producers even demanded that we not work on other shows —it was intense. Before some jealousy business started in season three, Sarah and Sophia were friends.
Team Spike or Team Angel?
Angel, of course! Buffy with Spike was just gross…He’s too evil; not romantic like Angel (unless he’s being Angelus – in which case, all bets are off).
I loved working with James Marsters, though; he was great. I was Spike’s first stunt double. The second stunt double was David Leitch, who now directs the John Wick films, and will direct the Enter the Dragon remake. Dave’s head was too big, though (according to Joss), so I got another guy (whose neck was too long). Then, finally, I got Steve Tartaglia from Hong Kong films, and he became Spike’s permanent double.
For fight scenes, how did you make each fight look different?
If there was a set to be built, I would get a copy of the design in advance. On location scouts, I always took pictures/videos of where we were shooting, to see what stunts I could do. I’d have to consider how much time we had, and what I could and couldn’t touch. I’d walk around with a notepad and jot down stunt ideas that came to me. Joss actually did the same thing, but for dialogue. Sophia recalls when she would see us both walking around the perimeter of the backlot (completely oblivious to each other), making faces and scribbling on our pads. She said we looked like complete lunatics.
So, with my notepad, I’d just go to the regular standing set, about an hour in advance, and choreograph, using my little stick figure storyboards. I’ve always been able to come up with new choreography or stunts on the spot. I’ve seen people practice for weeks on a fight, only to have the location changed or the script re-written at the last minute, and the choreographers not knowing what to do. It happens.
I think of it like music or screenwriting. You should be able to change up the tempo (or scenes and characters) to create a new outcome. Anyone can prepare a fight scene weeks in advance, simply by copying scenes they’ve seen before. Totally reworking and changing everything on the spot, backwards and forwards, tells me that person knows their stuff.
What are you most proud of, from your time on Buffy?
I would say I’m most proud of Sophia, and how she always handles things.
Like, just before the sword fight finale (season two), a stuntman punched her index finger and cracked it. She taped it up and did the sword fight anyway, holding the sword with her other fingers somehow.
Also, without Sophia, we would not have had the big “Hell Fight” (season three). Joss wanted me to hold-off any stunt plans for the fight until we had time to talk. We were extremely busy, though, so I had a platform stage built to speed things up. By having the platform, stuntmen could fly off the stage onto hidden pads, and we could shoot without worrying where the bodies were. Thank God I did that as Joss and I had not been able to meet. He just turned to me and said, “It’s up to you, bro. Try to come up with something. If it’s only a couple of moves then we’ll have to live with it.” So, I quickly choreographed the fight with Sophia and the stuntmen — Sophia sprinted across the warehouse, used a mini-trampoline to get onto the platform, and did the fight in long masters. She knocked it out of the park.
What were the most challenging times on set?
As much as I loved Buffy, things did get tough at times. The lead actress would refuse to come on set sometimes, if something displeased her, and that would set tensions (and costs) soaring! Certain crew members would take things out on others, too – including us. Also, if Sarah wouldn’t do promotions for the show, they sent Sophia instead, but this just sent Sarah into a tizzy. The rest of the time was fun, though. It’s impossible to work on intense, long-term shows like these and not have friction from time to time.
It was announced Buffy might be getting rebooted. Will you return to the show?
I’ve always thought that one day they would get around to it. I won’t be there though, as me and Sophia had a falling out with Joss when we left. He’s gone off the deep end, in my opinion, and I don’t appreciate some of the things he does. As a writer though, he is the best of all time. I really enjoyed working together, and I’m proud of what we achieved.