Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Buffyfest Interviews Buffy S.8 Motion Comic Creator, Jeff Shuter

Jeff Shuter is the man responsible for the animated motion comic form of Whedon and Dark Horse's notorious Buffy Season 8. This will be the 7th or 8th incarnation of the Buffy franchise, with no end in sight for our snappy slayer. All episodes of the motion comic are now out, 19 in total, and they are being compiled on DVD for release next week. We'll be giving away a few copies, more on that tomorrow.

Still can't wrap your brain around this motion comic business? Check out our conversation with creator Jeff Shuter. (I asked him if it's "Shutter" like Shutter Island or "Shooter" like Shooter McGavin. He clarified with Shutter Island.)

Following this video clip is the full text interview below:

Buffyfest: So, Jeff, how did you come to be on the Buffy Season 8 Motion Comic?

Jeff Shuter: How did this come to be? How did I get here myself? I was, I had been working in this field in this genre for about 6 years and I had an opportunity to look at this material and see how it would fit into this type of format and explore. It's all a very experimental thing. I think there's a lot of polar opinions about motion comics, about whether or not this can be brought to life in this way. And, I thought, it's a great format for this type of thing because obviously it's a series adaptation, it's a movie to a show and now this ::gestures to signage of Dark Horse's Season 8 comic.::

Buffyfest: Yes, it's been done in many forms.

JS: Yes, We have freedom, it's not as something we've taken completely from scratch and trying to bring to life. So you can look, you can find there's a reason for it. But also, it's like in terms of this material and really try to incorporate my own take to what it is, I found that in fact there was some controversy about what this comic is. I thought "I love that, I love the controversy", you know, let's find out how to bring her back in a new format.

Buffyfest: Now were you a fan of Buffy or any of Joss Whedon's works before?

JS: You know what's interesting is I watched the show, in high school, a lot of my friends were super into it. I was into it, I watched it, but I wasn't a die hard fan. So what's interesting is when I went into this, I think part of the reason I wanted to get involved is the challenge. I wanted to really come into it in terms of figuring out what exists in the comic that doesn't necessarily exist in the tv show. To a certain extent, and with the resources of what these things are, you're never going to recreate the TV show. I feel if that's what folks want, they'll get that in this, but that may not be 100% what this is.

Buffyfest: Did you go and re-watch anything?

JS: Absolutely, I watched...I was a student of Buffy for quite a while. Really just trying to get a sense of what Buffy is and Buffy is quite a lot of things. I found that going into I'd like to say that my decision in breaking down the material was mixing Season 7 with Season 1 you get to Season 8. If you are a student of numerology...

Buffyfest: 7+1=8

JS: You know...it's that simple.

Buffyfest: Interesting...

JS: That's exactly my reasoning behind it. Because to a certain extent it makes sense, right? And also because there is so much numerology takes place in what's going on. I was like "That's the best way to do it" and in Season 1 she's in high school she doesn't realize the power and she's just...she's just starting to understand the consequence of the Hellmouth. And then in Season 7 it blows wide open.

Buffyfest: Literally.

JS: Exactly! What she knows is destroyed. In fact, I even added in S.8, the very first issue of the book, I really wanted to make that connection to Season 7. So in the shot after General Voll I'm assuming you're familiar...

Buffyfest: I've seen it (laughs).

JS: No, but I mean the comic.

Buffyfest: Oh! I've read them all, of course.

JS: So in the first book, right? They're in the helicopter, they're flying over and General Voll is talking about They're terrorists" and "We don't like her ideology" and all that stuff...

Buffyfest: yep

JS:...and I wanted to add that iconic symbol of that sign falling as they go across, as the helicopter goes across.. I really wanted to make a personal statement because that, to me, was where we were going with this. The sign has fallen, we're going over that crater and now this universe, this Hellmouth has expanded.

Buffyfest: It is an impactful beginning.

JS: Exactly.

Buffyfest: Now in the world of motion comics...how is it doing? Is it getting a good reception?

JS: It's amazing, actually! It's doing really well. We started this as this little... this little digital project, you know? And we were kind of hoping we'd experience it, we were hoping we'd explore it and just invent stuff along the way and really kind of adhere to the books. That was the thing, I wanted to make the book central, that was really important to me. That's my background. That's what was critical to me coming into this. And I think what's helpful is that it shows! From what I hear and I don't know all the bean counting, per se...from what I hear it's attracting almost as well as a cable show...it's attracting much better, people are really pleased with how this is doing. I think as people start to get used to the new interpretation and it brings in new people as well, which i think it awesome. It's drawing new viewers.

Buffyfest: Now, were you at all concerned about people who were really familiar and used to the voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar and everyone else...they're so ingrained. Was the voice acting a concern?

JS: No, I mean, that's a tough question because ultimately we knew that, that we were gonna, that we were going to break away from that. We wanted to find, you know, actors that could...that didn't necessarily sound the same because that's very difficult. We had limited resources making this. So we wanted to find people that had a similar identity. I wanted to find people that I felt gave a sense of what Buffy's about. And of course . I know that I'm sure that by saying that...that's going to be ripped apart likely...

Buffyfest: I don't know about that...

JS: The thing is everyone , everybody has an idea of what Buffy sounds like. I wanted to find somebody that sounded like....We found Kelly, who played the role who, I think she, talk about a lot of weight on somebody's shoulders. She pulled it off and played it wonderfully. But we wanted to find someone, Kelly has a mixture of Season 1 and Season 7. She's got the seriousness of Season 7 with the kind of spunk and kind of wide-eyedness of Season 1.

Buffyfest: Now, there is going to be 19 episodes in the end of Season 1, correct? And all compiled on DVD?

JS: Uh, that to my knowledge that is what is the case. In terms of the other stuff they're gonna be doing, that I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that it's gonna be, from what I hear they're doing a lot of stuff. it's coming packed with a lot of extras.

Buffyfest: Do you know if it's the 40 issues of the season packed into 19? Or each one is it's own episode?

JS: From what I hear and I think they're still figuring it out, I think they're still playing with ideas, they want to make it, I know they want to make it really special. They want to make it really cool.

Bitsy takes over.

Buffyfest: So, how was working with Dark Horse?

JS: Oh, well working with Dark horse, I worked with Dark Horse, I worked with the books, my involvement with Dark Horse was strictly to read...

Buffyfest: So was there input from any of the artists involved?

JS: You know what that I can't....you're asking me a tough question. That is outside of my pay grade. I have no idea how that works.

Buffyfest: Ok, that is alright.

JS: Just so you know basically, I was given the books and said learn them and learn them well. Make them beautiful and make them wonderful.

Buffyfest: Before they multiply...

JS: Exactly. To a certain extent.

Buffyfest: OK, so let's switch tacks. So you had mentioned elsewhere that you had hit the ground running for the first 4 episodes. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you faced as you were learning how to do this?

JS: In terms of the like aesthetic of the comic or learning the world?? All of the above?

Buffyfest: All of the above.

JS: I think, I was saying stuff was constantly happening and experimenting with the format, trying to see where and bringing it to life that allows the viewer to feel that at the same time they can let go! Maybe follow the world itself, just recreating that experience. That's been going on for a while, trying to figure it out. It's not necessarily new, but what's cool is that it's constant experimentation, it's constant reinvention. That's what happened here. We really were inventing. It took about a good 6, 7 weeks of just like throwing stuff against the wall trying to figure what, trying to see what stuck, what makes sense, and we went through the first I'd say like 3 or 4 issues before I really felt that what that we'd started to see the work that our crew was bringing together. It started to mold and shape. It started to get to what I felt was the open aesthetic and literary, and hopefully given those who love the canon this material, has become a poetic voice for the material.

Buffyfest: Were there any innovations that you had throughout the project that you were especially proud of?

JS: Absolutely. It was sort of a development of a sophisticated camera system, it was based on digital effect software. We figured out that what really brought this to life and what really gave us a sense of movement in this particular production was having a sense of this inside camera that maneuvered around, cut out characters built it out like a diorama like you do, like you do in first grade. We build it that way with characters and props and the backgrounds. Then we choreograph that movement to an outside camera to something that's moving hub in general. I found that when choreographed right to specific points of dialogue you really get the sense of the narrator. You really get the sense of the voice. Then it was literally just shaping that and finding in that voice to the way the actor that played Buffy spoke and to the way that the world sounded. Finding those sort of focal points and building, making that choreograph around that essentially creating Buffy! That's her voice!

Buffyfest: Was there any particular scenes that you did and you thought "That's it!"

JS: In issue 5, it's with the decoy Buffy. And it happened there because I started to really click in my mind what Buffy is, to a certain extent. You can kind of see that. It's like when you look in the mirror and you look at yourself but you see yourself in a different way, you know? It's sort of like that issue to me was putting Buffy in a mirror and seeing what she saw that deeply describes what it is to be Buffy. Then it was in that moment throughout that episode where I really felt that things came together. Let's see there's another one too where we really felt in issue 10, when we're talking about dreams and we're talking about ripples in ripples and sort of narratives within narratives, that's also where I felt that it wasn't just a sense of Buffy that was a, to a certain extent that was... it was symbolic, it was an emblem of what this Buffyverse is. Because these books are not just a continuation, I feel that they are also written for the fans too, you know? I feel they are a celebration of what this world is about. And I felt like this stuff about dreams is emblematic...that I felt things coming together because I was really playing with when I got a sense of "dreams within dreams" to how these characters relate and how their world unfolds, I started playing with the aesthetics of windows within windows and, to a certain extent, that's what I felt was the key aesthetic moving forward at that point, that became the rest of the show.

Buffyfest: It's interesting that you happened to pick those two issues because they're two of the most popular issues and two that really resonated with fans...

JS: Really? And you know I didn't even know. That's interesting...cause I went into this....you know I didn't want to do...I did diligence, obviously, I watched the series, I did diligence on the show, but I went into this not wanting to know too much. I wanted to discover it alongside of everyone who is watching. I wanted to feel like, I really feel like that comes across. I hope people don't think that's, you know, weird, but I wanted to...I feel that this work represents me as a reader, substantially, discovering what's amazing about this universe at the same time that they are. I think that I started to feel a connection with Buffy and started to have a sense of the narrator as we moved along. That's why I felt like it was really truthful, because look I can't sit here and quote every quote from the TV series I'm not going to try to, I wanted to experience it and I wanted to make that possible.

Buffyfest: Um, speaking of discovering things, there's this lovely Buffy Jones Soda, have you had chance to try any of it?

JS: I have! I have! It tastes like Root Beer and it tastes like...no it's great, it's awesome. I love Jones!

Buffyfest: Is there any particular one that you like?

JS: I like, you know what? I like them all! I have them all at home. They're great, they're cool! I think they're awesome! I like the uh, to be honest with you, the orange and cream and that's because I come from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Buffyfest: That's awesome. Thank you very much sir.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why they are being amibguous about whether or not the other issues of the comic will be made into motion comic episodes?! The DVD says Season 8, and is out next week or so. Except it is actually 1-19 of Season 8. So why can't they just admit that and say "yes no plans of yet to digitalise the others, but we're looking into it". Stop screwing people around.

Tara said...

Agree, anon. It is weird to cut it there anyway.

Anonymous said...

i agree- why is it so hard to figure out if and when we will be seeing all the other issues?? Has this guy made #20-40 and they just havent released them? iTunes stops at #19 too. I am confused!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Fox and whoever else is making these are just waiting to see how well they sell before committing to any more.

Also, this guy is kind of annoying and very nervous. Did anyone else notice how he so "smoothly" glided over the question about artist involvement? Pfft.