Sunday, January 06, 2013

The First 15 Minutes Project: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

High School Week begins! 
Welcome back to the 15 Minutes Project.  Both of my new projects contain high schoolers, so I thought I would look at some memorable high school intros all this week.

You’ll note that I’ve added some new categories, including “Expectations Managed”, and “Dramatic Question Posed” in keeping with recent posts.  Also, I’m trying to focus more on nailing down the “moment of humanity” (formerly called “when do we fall in love with the character”), though I find it’s still hard to identify, so let’s collect some more data and then parse it.
  1. Opening narration over graveyard imagery: “In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, demons and forces of darkness…” 
  2. Cold Open: schoolgirl and football player break into school after hours to make out. She seems scared. He reassures her that they’re all alone. She says good, turns into a vampire, and kills him. 
  3. Buffy tosses and turns in bed, has a hallucinatory dream showing hordes of vampires attacking the school.
  4. Buffy wakes up in the morning, looking concerned. Mom calls out. “Buffy, don’t want to be late for your first day!”. Buffy rolls her eyes and sarcastically says “No, wouldn’t want that.” 
  5. Cut to school where there’s a lot of kids and loud music playing. 
  6. Mom drops her off for first day: “Think positive! And honey? Try not to get kicked out?” Buffy smiles and says “I promise.” They exchange a smile. Mom drives off. Buffy turns and looks at the school, intimidated.
  7. Trying to seem cool, Xander skateboards past everybody, asking them to scoot out of his way, but they ignore him. He sees Buffy and wipes out. Williow stumbles upon him on the ground. He’s glad to see her, but only so that she can help him out with the math. She suggests he get a book from the library. “I kinda had a problem with the math.” “Which part?” “The math.” She suggests he check out a book. “Check out?” “You know. From the library, where the books live.”
  8. They enter school and meet their friend, Jesse, who says that there’s a new girl. “So what do you know about her?” “What? New girl!” “You’re certainly a font of nothing.” 
  9. Buffy meets with the principal, who tears up her bad transcript and promises her a clean slate, but then he starts to read it (she burned down the gym), and begins to tape it back together. She starts to explain that the gym was full of vampires, but stops herself. The principal tries to be a nice guy but ends on a stern warning.
  10. Buffy comes out of his office, dazed. A girl bumps into her knocking her to the ground and sending her stuff sprawling. Xander sees and rushes over to help, says “Can I have you?”, then corrects himself to “Can I help you?” “I’m Buffy, I’m new.” He’s totally flustered: “Xander is me, hi. Maybe I’ll see you around at school, because we both go there.” She says “Nice to meet you and leaves. He sees she left something behind: a stake?
  11. Class with Buff and Cordelia in it. Buffy has no book and shares with Cordelia. Cordelia suggests she get her own in the library.
  12. In the hall, Cordelia finds out that Buffy has transferred from L.A. and says “I would kill to live in L.A.! That close to that many shoes??” She offers Buffy friendship, but then suddenly quizzes her to determine how cool she is: “Vamp nail police” “Over?” “SO over.” “James Spader?” “He NEEDS to call me.” “John Tesh?” “The devil.” “Okay, that was pretty much a gimme, but you passed.” Then they run into Willow, who Cordelia openly ridicules (“I see you’ve seen the softer side of Sears!”), making Buffy feel suddenly self-conscious. Willow flees the onslaught. Then Cordelia invites Buffy out to a club that night, and says she’ll find out everything about Buffy later. After she leaves, Buffy sarcastically says to herself, “Gee, that sounds like fun.”
  13. Buffy enters the library, looking for books. She meets Giles the librarian and tells him that she’s new. He knows her name instantly and offers a book on vampires. “That’s not what I’m looking for.” “You’re sure?” “Way sure.” Buffy flees.
  14. In the girls’ locker room, two girls talk about the new girl and the rumors that she’s lame. Just then one opens her locker and a dead body falls out. She screams. END OF ACT ONE. 
  15. ACT TWO: Willow takes out her sack lunch. Buffy walks up and introduces herself. “Willow, right?” Willow looks scared, “Why? I mean, hi. Did you want me to move?” “Why don’t we start with ‘Hi, I’m Buffy’ and then segue right into asking you for a favor. It doesn’t involve moving, but it does involve hanging out with me for a while.” “But aren’t you hanging out with Cordelia?” “Can’t I do both?” “Not legally.” “Look, Cordelia’s been really nice…to me, but I really want to pass my classes and I heard a rumor that you were the person to talk to if I wanted to get caught up.” Willow’s happy to hear it and wants to meet in the library, but Buffy freaks out at the mention of it. Just then Xander and Jesse join them. Buffy introduces them. Xander says that he and Buffy go way back, going into a rambling, self-deprecating monologue, which weirds Buffy out. She can only say, “Nice to meet you guys, I think.” Xander returns Buffy’s stake, which Buffy hastily lies about.
Tomorrow: Another heroine who transgresses the popular/geek divide, in the other direction...


James Kennedy said...

Perhaps this idea *can* be filed under "Expectations Managed," but the Invisible Ink blog has a more specific idea of that the first scene should give an idea of the "outer boundaries" of the story. So
"E.T." starts with a scene of an alien getting marooned on Earth, and some government agents after them; only after that do we switch back to everyday life, but now we know that the craziest thing that will happen in this story is stuff with aliens and gov't agents. (If it had started with everyday life and worked up to aliens and gov't agents, it would have seemed too crazy and arbitrary a leap.) Similarly "Raiders of the Lost Ark" starts with a thrilling quest for some artifact before switching back to academic life; that's as crazy as it will get (actually, it gets even crazier at the end when actual supernatural things start happening). Similarly, "Star Wars" starts with a literal space battle. Now with "Buffy" it seems we start with a vampire murder, which establishes the supernatural "outer boundary." I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that, for the "First 15 Minutes Project," perhaps having a category called "Expectations Managed" is too vague, and maybe should be split into two other categories, one of them being called "Outer Boundary Defined." (I wonder if this "outer boundary defined" can work in reverse, too. When we meet Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs," we're never tempted at all to think of him as a supernatural creature, even though he does things that seem to require a supernatural fiendishness, because the workaday FBI context has been so thoroughly created.)

Matt Bird said...

Good to see you back, James, I thought I might have lost you with my Spielberg snippiness.

Yes, I'm just using "expectations managed" as a catch-all right now, as I try to identify what the tricks of that trade are, and "outer boundaries" seems to be part of it.

I think it was MacDonald who pointed out that even in Raiders there's a mysterious flutter in the air associated with the supernatural early on (maybe even in that first scene?), subtly preparing us for the introduction of the supernatural at the end.

James Kennedy said...

There's no way you'll ever lose me, Matt! I'm Team Bird all the way down the line!

I know what you mean about that mysterious flutter in the air, but that happens when they're already in Cairo, talking about the Well of Souls with an old man, and that's about 40% through the movie. The beginning of "Raiders" is 100% non-supernatural. But that's fine, even with this idea of "outer boundaries," because that's the very problem Indiana Jones must face in this universe, that he doesn't assign any supernatural powers to the artifacts he hunts. If there were supernatural powers associated with the idol in the first scene, it would've given the game away too much. Definitely it's set up that these artifacts are surrounded by danger and intrigue, though, and that's enough for "outer boundaries."

Similarly there is no "Force" in the beginning of "Star Wars" (perhaps significantly, even Darth Vader *physically* chokes the captain of the blockade runner instead of Force-choking him like he does with bureaucrat later). For "Raiders" and "Star Wars," the plot is kind of like the reverse of "Lord of the Rings" -- they're both concerned with a RE-enchantment of the world, a return of magic to a mundane place. IIRC, "Lord of the Rings" ends with the magical elves sailing west to the Gray Havens and a fantastical age coming to an end, giving way to the non-magical age of men. Magic leaves the world. But "Star Wars" has the Force reasserting itself in the world, and "Raiders" has spirits finally wreaking havoc in the life of a skeptic, so you have to keep that supernatural powder dry until the very end...

j.s. said...

Looking forward to the rest of the week. Hope you'll be including FREAKS & GEEKS, HEATHERS, some John Hughes too and maybe at least one less conventionally structured work like DAZED AND CONFUSED or even better PARANOID PARK or ELEPHANT.

Matt Bird said...

Uh-oh, batting oh-for-6 there, j.s. My choices are a little sweeter. Maybe I should do a follow-up: "Jaundiced View of High School Week."

j.s. said...

Please do! I can't stand most films about high school -- even some comedies that make me laugh, which is no easy feat -- precisely because they're too sweet.

Apropos of nothing I'd like to recommend a book I got for Xmas and just finished devouring: THE MARK INSIDE by Amy Reading. Easily the best thing I've ever read about confidence games (including the classic THE BIG CON), with a compelling true story that reads like fiction. But it's also kind of a shadow history of American capitalism. Here's a blurb from David Mamet that's not exaggerating: “Most scholarship reads like a trip to the dentist. The Mark Inside reads like a trip to the track.”