Obscure anecdotes

There is a small group of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans who would like to know why Jeff Pruitt was no longer the fight choreographer after season 4. I am posting his old statements from Usenet on the issue as well as what may have led to it. Naturally, you have to start from how he got involved with the show…

“First off, let me apologize for the season one fights. Sophia did the first season without me. I was off doing other projects. They were worried about having me do the series because she and I were dating (they had seen problems erupt from those kinds of relationships at work). I took the job because I found that I became known as the Power Ranger guy. They had forgotten my movies and typecast me as a guy who makes kid shows. I originally didn’t get Buffy because of it. I came on the show during the middle of the first episode of the second season. We started off slowly and I gradually started getting a little more leeway with the fights at the very end of the second season.”

His involvement was definitely an improvement and set a precedent:

“Now, I have been listed as one of the top 100 Most Creative People in Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. That is the first time that has ever happened to a stunt coordinator. When I increased the audience by 250 percent and made it into a big money-maker for the Warner Brothers/Fox, they forgot all about the children’s show thing. The first season was rated 104 out of 107 shows. After the second season began, it became the WB’s top show and a huge hit. Buffy merchandise now outsells – guess what? Yep. Might Morphin Power Rangers.”

As for how Sophia Crawford became involved:

“Dan Inosanto’s daughter was in a couple of episodes at the beginning of the first season. The stunt coordinator at the time was trying to train her to become a stunt woman. Joss Whedon had Sophia come in and re-shoot some of those shots. After that, he told the guy that he didn’t want anyone else doubling Sarah. The guy was good but he would not listen to Joss, who wanted someone who understood him and translate his vision to the screen. Once Joss met me, he decided to take a chance. I have argued with other producers but never with him. I actually love his ideas.”

He explains more about why he never argued with Joss:

“I had just prematurely left a show that I was shooting in Europe because my Dad was dying of Cancer. I quit and flew in to be with him for the last three days of his life. I was sort of stunned after that. I felt like dying. The last thing that my Dad said to me was not to worry. He also said he would put in a good word for me. I flew back to Los Angeles with no prospects and, just as I landed, I got a page from Joss! I met him and, within an hour, I was the new stunt coordinator.”

To get a good idea of how tough that it would be for the soon-to-be newlyweds, I should skip to when it ended for the pair in 2000 circa June:

“Sophia just got back from the doctor. He says that she has 5 old fractures in her spine and the cartilage in her neck is destroyed from the net gag incident along with the fact that she kept working instead of resting in a brace. She also tore a ligament in her foot while we were working (a few days ago) on the Playstation 2 Buffy game. As for the series, she had to do the fights from the start to the end usually in one long take so that the editors could see what it was and understand it. With fights as long and brutal as the ones which she did, it was much tougher on her to do than her H.K. work was. The most life-threatening injury was a stunt near the end of Passion that created some serious bruises across Sophia’s legs and hips. Check it out. You too will go “ouch” as Sarah and I did.”

Perhaps things would’ve been better for all involved had Jeff been hired before the series began filming. He alludes to this when talking about his first meeting with Joss:

“I finally got to meet him and show him a different way of doing the fights from what they had been doing. After our first couple of fights together, he turned to David Greenwalt and said ‘We should have had him all along.’ That made me feel great. But, lately, I hardly get to see him and staying on the Joss course is a bit harder. People try to play with his creation when he is not around and do the things which I know that he’ll hate later when he sees it.”

Even as early as 1998 (towards the end of the second season), he had to prove that he wasn’t tendentious about Sarah Michelle Gellar:

“I was asked by one of her fans to be nice for once, so here it goes – one night on set, Sarah was standing outside the studio gate between takes and she was talking to one of my stuntmen. He was one of our Angel stunt doubles and was in full Vamp make-up. She told him to step outside the gate, try to flag a car down and see if he could get a ride with that face. So he did. One of our executives saw him out in the road in the middle of the night trying to flag down cars and scaring people, so he was furious! He was going to make me fire the poor guy, but then she ran over laughing, told the exec that it was all her fault and that she made him do it. Finally, the boss calmed down and my buddy got to live to fight another night.”

Despite being an American, his foreign sensibilities regarding fights sometimes got in the way such as season 3 at the very beginning of 1999:

They have that typical U.S. producer fear of being too Hong Kong-ish or something. Joss has come to trust me and lets me do whatever I want as long as I don’t go off in a direction that he doesn’t like. He wants her fighting to be fast, hard and a little rough around the edges. Next season, I may throw in some Jackie Chan-style bits and I really want to do more stunt falls on the show. It depends always on the story, the mood, and of course how much time we have to shoot.”

As for a similar season 2 anecdote:

“One of the few times when and where I have gone off-track involved an Asian stuntman leap from a grave to attack. I had the stuntman and Buffy trading kicks and blasting each other. Joss then took me aside and told me that the kid in the grave was just an average kid who didn’t know how to fight yet. He says that the newer Vamps (unless they already were fighters) have not had time to learn any martial arts the way that older Vamps like Spike and Angel have. The fresh-from-the-grave guys are just hungry for blood. This type just goes blindly for the throat. That’s why you will see the henchmen doing the martial arts and the kids from school who get bitten just trying to go for a neck bite.”

Another season 2 anecdote:

“Joss and I added a fight to the Halloween episode that Bruce Seth Green had directed. It was used as the opening teaser. The fans commented on how much better it was than the lame ending fight of that episode. Well, Bruce directed that ending in the way which he wanted – so that was the result. The fans blasted me for that ending. So, while one guy may have his name at the front of the credits as director, that doesn’t mean much when it comes to fights. For the most part, they haven’t a clue as to what we are doing or why. I often howl at the demo tapes we get from directors who want to work on the show. I know who really is responsible for the action on their reels. Believe me – it’s not the guy whose agent sent the tape in.”

An appraisal that was made in 29/09/99:

“I tell my stunt guys who work on Martial Law just how lucky they are. The H.K. guys are in total control of the editing there, they have their own action unit and shoot all the footage the way that they like. Over here, we have to “persuade” some mighty fragile egos to do what we want.”

30/10/1999 (a rant about the editing department):

I have our editors put a sound effect in for everything during our rough cut and then we send it off to them (the official sound guys). Sometimes they copy it. Sometimes they don’t. I guess it depends on how lazy they feel that day. We keep trying though and I have a few of the editors over here harping about it over the phone to try to make it happen for me.”

22/1/00 (a Saturday assessment of Sophia circa season 4):

“She is constantly covered in bruises. Every weekend, she is in the hot tub trying to heal. She’s one never ending injury all season. She has broken fingers.”

24/1/00 (gripes of wrath):

“I like to make use of the room when we film fights, but so often it’s a matter of being told that we can’t touch that chair, can’t dent that wall, can’t put your foot on that cloth, etc. Sometimes U.S. TV reminds me of a fashion show. The way that we do things has often sent photography directors and editors into a panic. Not to mention prop departments. That’s why the H.K. guys go so nuts when they first arrive and try to work under these conditions. They are shocked by all this stuff.”

11/2/00 (intentionally not shooting a scheduled scene during the previous day):

“I deliberately didn’t shoot a fight even though the director kept asking me about the fight. I told him that we’d just simply go off the script and that there would be no choreographed fight at all. Just the one stunt that I’d already set up and planned. I did this because I kept hearing how our fights were not important to the show and that the crew would finish early if it weren’t for those stupid fights. So guess what? When I left, they were still trying to shoot the same scene that they’d started that morning. Just a few lines and a single stunt. Hopefully, they see that it’s not the stunt department that holds things up.”

About the episode that was to be aired on 15/2/00:

“David Solomon, while directing Goodbye Iowa, kept telling a stunt girl to do one thing while telling the crew that she was an idiot and not capable of listening. The truth is that the guy was telling all of us different things and I told him so. He’d make me set up one thing and then claim that I was in the wrong place. He didn’t seem to know what he was saying. That or he was just trying to get us riled.”

10/05/2000 (The Yoko Factor):

“During the Riley vs. Angel fight on last night, I had Angel throw Riley for over fifty feet straight backwards. In the long shot (the kind that Jackie would use that shows the start and finish of the stunt), you see Riley sail like a rocket. It was wild looking. Much sharper than a normal wire-jerk that you’d see ordinarily. What happened? It was cut to show only the ending of it. I had Angel get shocked by a taser weapon and back-dive off the loading dock to land groin-first on a pipe. It was cut completely. This was something that the producer had wanted in the show. I have it on behind-the-scenes video. So at least the stunt guys get to see the painful stunts they do.”

Primeval (the post-Yoko episode):

“I did 13 wire stunts and 25 air ram stunts. Not to mention back-dives on steel stairs and other painful falls. I even have Sophia on a wire kicking in a couple of places. I didn’t get permission this time. I just convinced the director to go for it and we did it. Will it all get in? Who knows? If it does, will you even be able to tell what is happening to the stunt guys or will we stay as tight on actors faces as we can? I can’t say for sure. We are told that it’s not about the action and that it’s not an action show. So you can see it’s not easy for us.”

Sophia throws in the towel before she’s even fired (11/2/00):

“Sophia really does not want to go back next season. She’s reached the end of her rope with all of this stuff and I can’t blame her. I’m trying to keep her going, but it’s not easy. We plan on just enjoying working with our stunt guys and ignoring the b.s. for the rest of the season. If another offer came up that looked good to her, you’d see a very different Buffy in the fights. It would not be the same. Trust me on that one.”

She didn’t follow through with the quitting because:

“We could have accepted work on Dark Angel, but we decided to tough it out on Buffy (we wanted to complete the full 100 episodes for syndication before leaving) and so the gig was given to someone else. Partly because I would not commit to fully leaving, and part of it was because they got a phone call from someone high up at their studio telling them not to hire us. I was told this by a Dark Angel employee who eavesdropped. This way, Sophia would be available for Buffy duties and not leave before they were ready.”

Sophia’s firing in June (the airing of the season 4 finale was in the previous month):

“Joss and Marti Noxon called Sophia into the office. Sophia was told point blank that she was being fired because she knew too much about things. When Sophia asked why they thought that firing her would cause her not to talk, she was told by a new female producer (i.e. Jane Espenson) that if we talked to the media, we would never work in this town again. Sophia just laughed. I was told even more, but I won’t go into that here.”

The justification for her laugh and himself being fired:

“Many of us have heard those exact words before in this business. The President of Fox even said them to me once when I refused to order the stunt guys out of the dressing room when they were protesting about not being paid (this was on a movie project). But I still worked for them later and so did he. He’s now a big producer because of Titanic. We laughed about it all later, but that does happen and it is a real threat sometimes.”

The suspenseful months leading up to the firing (same day):

“I thought there was something weird going on, but I didn’t know what. Our boss ordered me not to speak to Joss about anything. He told us everything was okay and not to worry about anything. So we trusted him. They told me it was just my imagination running away due to the sneaky politics going on around me and I should just ignore it. I was told that it was all just a part of show biz that I had to endure for the good of the show and that it comes with being on a difficult show for a few years. People tend to take it out on others. Sophia did try to call Joss anyway (this was many months ago) and I even wrote him a long letter (ditto as before). He never responded to either of us and we were told that he is just too busy on Angel, so we believed it. We were just being carried along so that we would finish the action scenes for the season. My mom died of cancer during the prepping of Hush. It was tough on me and caused a lot of stress inside.”


“The next day, I met with Joss alone. It seemed that he had been reading some of my private e-mails for a year and I didn’t know anything of it. He quoted some of it to me so I would know he was telling the truth about having it. What happened was that everything was great as long as I was simply praising him and the show, but then Sarah stormed off the set that night and told some of our friends how she was out to get us. I then got upset and started talking openly in my e-mails to friends about certain things that I have never once said in public. I think someone wanted to score points and get in good with him or something, so that was the method that they used.”

Jeff’s legacy lived on from season 5 onward:

“I made a call to a friend of mine and he sent in material based on what I told him was needed for the show. Now he is going to do the job. His name is John Medlen and he is a martial arts guy who has worked for me before and followed my movies over the years. He knows what to do and I have complete faith in him.”

A S.M.G. tirade is launched:

“I spent 11 to 16 hours a day with her for three years. She dated one of my best buddies (which no one has ever known or written about) and I had to deal with it day in and night out. So did he. We both saw each other’s best and worst sides. It’s just that she fell into the old cliché of the spoiled starlet routine and there was nothing any of us could do to stop it. It’s an old story, and it really was out of control. If I really told you the details, you could never believe it. I can’t believe it, and I even have some of it on video to watch with the guys. It’s psychotic and chilling, but what Ted Casablanca said is actually true. I think there is a problem with dual personalities at work that is made worse by certain “dietary aids” that she indulges in. It brings out the worst. That could be at the bottom of a lot of her actions. Either that or she is just plain not nice. But something is not right in her head.”

I’m sure that you’re wondering as to whether they got on at all:

“Sarah and I actually got along until I dared to talk back to her one night when she was being particularly rude. No one is allowed to talk to her like a regular person. Only sucking up is allowed. That was the only time she ever got upset at me. That doesn’t mean that I condoned how she behaved or treated other people. As far as her and I go, we didn’t have problems on set other than that one night. That was only because she had been trying for two years to figure out how to get rid of Sophia and she’d heard that Sophia would leave if I did. So she thought making a scene would help her cause there. She seemed to calm down later, but it’s hard to know what she is really up to. She really is a lot like the character that she played in Cruel Intentions. But normally she did her thing to other people – not me. I just didn’t go along with it.”

More shade is thrown:

“The star is the face of the product. She knows that and so do they. There is no way in hell that she would be replaced. I only know of one actor that had that happen to him and it was early on in the first season. He was not the “lead” in the series. That’s one of the reasons you see stars acting the way they do. They come to expect special treatment because they are told over and over that they can do no wrong. Thereby, everyone around starts to kowtow to their every whim. Stars know they can hold up production and it will cost millions. A director buddy of mine told me about V.I.P. (another series with many former Buffy crew members sharing great Sarah stories) being ruined by Pamela Anderson because she would sometimes just decide to go home as she pleased and he would have a ton of shots left. They had to shoot around her mood.”

Dirty laundry is hung out to dry:

“You can feel the tension go up whenever Sarah steps onto the set and we all know that we are in for some draining diva behavior until she leaves. So if she said that she didn’t want to do anything at all on any given night, the crew felt blessed indeed. That’s why I can honestly say that she rarely ever gave us a problem on the fights and left it to us. It allowed us to get on with making the show and not waste our precious time trying to make her feel above everyone else. God help poor guys like the guy who had to play Parker (Adam Kaufman). Nice guy. But only a guest star and, thus, on the receiving end of the diva activity. Really nasty stuff. No one ever insulted her (myself included). You didn’t dare do that. Only once did an actor speak up and yell at her. He only got away with it because he has a long term contract and is a main character. Believe me when I say that we all cheered for him later.”

Dirtier laundry is aired:

“Lots of crew members have gone on to work on other shows where the b!tch legend has spread. These are people who have had to deal with it first hand on a daily basis. Many magazine reporters have said the same thing privately too. They just are afraid to print it because they want access to the show. I was asked if it were true and I said honestly that it was.”

The dirtiest laundry might explain the real reason behind the firing:

“We taped every single stunt on the show for over three years. We always watched the tapes later to try to make sure that we did something a little different in each fight. That’s all. However, it was impossible NOT to catch some non-stunt things going on. Sometimes, the camera was simply left on when we didn’t know it. Sometimes, one of the guys would pick it up and tape something funny that would surprise me later when I watched it at home. Like shots of Sarah doing her “diva thing” on set, people goofing around, romance, intrigue and some not so nice things too. We all got a kick out of that when I sat down to watch the stunts. The guys just loved seeing the surprised look on my face when those non-stunt things would suddenly pop up. I never expected to see the Angel stunt double for the sword fight (i.e. Brad Martin) humping that statue of the demon either. But it’s there. I really never thought that I’d see shots of him with his tongue in that thing’s ear. Hard on the eyes it is too.”

It’s easy to get an us against the world vibe, but he tells it how it is:

“Aly is a wonderful and warm person. Nick is as funny as Xander in real life and a great guy. I and the entire crew love every moment that Eliza is with us. I wish she were always there. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Please put me in her club. Most of the crew got along very well. People just got totally exhausted and, therefore, started attacking each other. Especially when the scripts were never ready on time and Sarah was holding things up. No one could dare say anything to Sarah or the ones in charge, so they took it out on each other.”

Months before they were fired, there was an omen:

“One of the producers thanked me for putting on a good show in spite of all the trouble that we get from the little cliques and negative types who couldn’t care less if they were on Buffy or Dawson’s Creek. It’s all the same to them. A lot of them hated the whole idea of the show, so I have no idea why they worked there. I guess it was just a paycheck to them. I don’t feel that way though. I love the writing and the fact that I got to make fights with my girlfriend everyday on such a quality show. It was perfect for me. Every so often, we’d get a new Unit Production Manager because our last one would get fed up. Each time, they would say to me that they were amazed at how we turned in such quality work on screen when all the nasty politics and power plays were taking place around us. Like I said, most of the crew were not like that.”

This is why I regard the series as being just 9/10:

“Sarah is useless when it comes to performing action. Why didn’t they hire someone who had at least SOME skills? They thought they did. She told them that she was a Tae Kwon Do expert. That was just a little actor b.s. to help her snag the part. It happens all the time. Plus, she demands to leave as soon as possible, so we all tried to shoot as little as we could with her. It was the only way. Otherwise, we’d never have made the tight schedule that we had. Why not have her practice like that with us? If you see Joss on the videotape which they sell of Becoming, you’ll see him fib a bit about how we trained her to do most of the sword fight. Actually, she watched us go through it and we trained David to do a few moves. She held the sword a couple of times and complained. That was the extent of it.”

As to why I prefer the action in Angel, Jeff nails it:

“More time and money is spent over there. Often a second unit is able to get all the cool angles on stunts a day before the main unit arrives. They get a paid rehearsal day. We get a half hour before we shoot. They get all the equipment they can use. We are told NOT to use equipment very often (or even stop the fight to set up a stunt) because the main unit is too far behind by the time that they get to the fights and they need to shoot everything in a simplified way. That means doing all the fights from beginning to the end then getting a few actor shots in before moving on to more acting scenes.”

You would think that this would result in better behavior:

“It was worse. At least everyone acted nice to my face at Buffy. Over on Angel, when the stunt guys come out, they say crap right at them. Plus, they’ve even gone as far as to tie all the crash pads together and hoist them from the ceiling of the stage – just to give the stunt department a hard time when they showed up. Angel is only in its first season.”

Sarah can’t rein in her reign of jealousy when raining on someone’s parade (this was when info was relayed to Jeff no less):

“She is a little ticked off over some new blonde from Bring It On (Clare Kramer) that is doing some fights on the show now as a new character, so she’s sort of been making a fool of herself recently by trying to do as many shots as the new girl does. But that will all get worked out in editing with the two new Buffy stunt doubles. They’ve had three or four for different things this season. It’ll be cool.”

Sophia was hotter back then, which explains this:

Sarah was always trying to get Sophia fired and always gave her a hard time. Everyone knew this. We just had to keep trying anyway. Sophia was determined to hang in there until we had the full 100 in the can. She asked me to ignore it and hang in there too. She made 78. I tried really hard to bite my tongue and hang in there for her. Try to put yourself in my place and imagine what it would be like seeing the kind of things I saw and being told to keep quiet about it. No matter what. Many of the other crew members couldn’t hold out as long.

Considering that Kate Beckinsale was wary about playing Selene in Underworld, it would’ve been poetic justice if Sophia had been the star and surpassed Sarah in relevance. If Chuck Norris can get his own TV series then there’s no reason why Sophia couldn’t have starred in BlindspotHere is a page where you can see Jeff’s videos.


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