Buffy, the Vampire Slayer began 20 years ago and was groundbreaking in it’s fight work. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Sophia Crawford, the stunt double for Sarah Michelle Gellar on Buffy. She discussed the work that goes into creating fights, and what it was like to be the slayer half of Buffy Summers, as well as breaking some ground of her own as the first person to be credited as a stunt double for a character on a television series.
Music In the Dark: How did you get into stunts, and then specifically, doing stunts on Buffy?
Sophia Crawford: I was teaching English and working as a model in Asia and had an opportunity to move to Hong Kong and work as an actress. It was there I began studying with the Hong Kong stuntmen as all of the films required me to fight. Years later I moved to Hollywood to co-star on a television pilot. I worked as an actress and stuntwoman and when they started shooting the very first episode of Buffy I was brought in to double Sarah. From then on until the end of season 4 I did all of the fighting and stunts for the Buffy character.
MItD: Did you have input on the stunt choreography on Buffy? IMDB lists you as stunts for seasons 1 & 2, but stunt double for seasons 3 & 4. What is the difference?
Sophia Crawford: I was Buffy’s stunt and fight double from season 1 till the end of season 4. That was my job. The first thirteen episodes had a different stunt coordinator and when season 2 began they hired Jeff Pruitt to choreograph all of the action scenes. I worked with him until we left the show. He and I later married and are still happily married today. Jeff and I had worked together on feature films and on The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (in which I played the Pink Ranger and Jeff directed the action scenes).
Some stunt coordinators won’t allow any input, but Jeff and I had a great relationship and he allowed me to make any changes I needed. Plus, he choreographed Buffy to fit me so it all flowed easily for us.
As far as IMDB goes: They don’t always accept our corrections. Sometimes they refuse to list television shows I’ve worked on. I’ve tried to add Sons of Anarchy over and over but they won’t add it. Even worse, they mix people up. It would be great if we could fix that since so many people use their service. You shouldn’t always rely on IMDB for credits. You have to get the person’s actual resume’ submitted by them. Jeff Pruitt was able to get me an on-screen credit as the Buffy Stunt Double for seasons 3 and 4. That’s why IMDB lists it that way. The prior seasons I wasn’t in the credits at all as traditionally they only list the stunt coordinator due to space.
My credit as Buffy’s Stunt Double was the first time that had ever been done on a TV series. Jeff argued that since they wanted me under exclusive contract to be “the Slayer” side of Buffy and not allowed to work on other shows then I should have a chair just like the actors and a screen credit too. They all agreed.
MItD: What was your favorite scene on Buffy to film? Is that also your favorite scene to watch?
Sophia Crawford: I have so many favorites it’s hard to choose just one. This was a show with great scripts and I got to play with incredibly talented stunt people five days a week. It was great fun for us! I like the ending of “Graduation Day, Part One” and I was floored by how much action Jeff was able to squeeze into the destruction of the Initiative complex at the end of season 4. I loved doing the graveyard fights too.
I think my favorite episode to watch as a viewer, however, was “Hush” because it was something I’d never seen done before. It was unique to do an entire episode without dialogue.
MItD: The fight scene between Buffy & Angel in “Becoming – Part II” is probably one of the show’s most iconic scenes. What was that like to film?
Sophia Crawford: Joss’ original idea for that fight was supposed to portray Buffy running away from Angel because she didn’t know how to use a sword and then do the sword catch bit at the end to turn things around. Jeff asked Joss to let him choreograph a sword fight between them instead and it worked great as a dramatic build-up to the end of the season. I remember that I had fractured my finger blocking a punch in an earlier fight and had to tape it up and hold onto the sword with just three fingers and my thumb.
One funny thing is that we used a different stuntman to double Angel that day who was good with weapons, but he had a receding hairline. We had a great wig that matched David Boreanaz’ hair, but the hair person didn’t want to bother with it and told Joss it wasn’t needed. Later, when we saw the footage you could really see the difference in their hairlines. If only they had put that wig on him it would have been perfect. Still, it was a great scene and the acting Sarah and David did at the end was really emotional.
MItD: There were some intense fight scenes with Buffy & Faith as well, culminating with their fight at the end of “Graduation Day, Part One”. What were those scenes like to film? Was the location difficult for the fight on the roof in “Graduation Day”?
Sophia Crawford: We were originally supposed to film on a rooftop for the “Graduation Day, Part One” final fight. Sarah didn’t want to be in the cold and wind all night so they built a small rooftop set on our little sound stage. It worked great for us, but it was tough for the camera department. I’m sure Joss and the director of photography would have loved to have been able to show the downtown night skyline, but they had to use a backdrop and be very clever with the shots. They did a great job with it though.
MItD: Did the fact that it was two women fighting, or two slayers, affect the way the scenes were approached?
Sophia Crawford: Two slayers fighting would be different than Buffy slaying a typical vampire. Sometimes the vampires would have martial arts ability and sometimes they were totally inept. With two slayers they needed to be more equal in the fighting department. Each script dictated what the attitudes were during any fight scene. Who the characters were and what their relationship was leading up to a fight scene had everything to do with how it would be choreographed. Good fight choreography is both directing and writing. Everything is planned for specific camera angles, editing, and created to fit what is happening with the characters in that episode according to the screenwriter.
MItD: When you would approach a fight/stunt scene, what would be in the script to work off of? For example, would it say, “Buffy fights vampire” or would there be more detail?
Sophia Crawford: Usually scripts say something like, “WHAM! She blasts him with a hard kick that sends him reeling and they exchange a brutal combination of moves”. They have to write something to give us the idea of what is happening. Even if the screenwriter was a fight choreographer and attempted to write out the fight scene choreography move by move, it would take the length of a script to describe every detail that happens within the fights of an episode of Buffy. Then it would be pointless because situations change on the fly and the choreographer has to adapt the fight and perhaps re-choreograph on the spot. Sometimes Joss would simply write, “She Pruitt’s the S.O.B.” as he knew Jeff would choreograph something appropriate. Jeff would often meet with Joss and discuss what they liked for an episode. The fight choreographer is the one person who knows what exactly will happen. The script gives him the general ideas of what the characters are feeling, saying, and how things should end up. The actual fight itself is up to the choreographer.
MItD: Do you think Buffy had an impact on how women are depicted fighting on television?
Sophia Crawford: Yes, I do believe Buffy has had an influence on how women are depicted. I worked for years in Hong Kong action films. Over there women fought like the men. But when I arrived in Hollywood I found producers at that time really didn’t think women fighting on screen was something people wanted to see. Shows like Buffy helped to change that attitude.
MItD: What was the process of working with Sarah Michelle Gellar like? Did she ever do any of her own stunts?
Sophia Crawford: Sarah was an awesome actress and she played Buffy wonderfully. However, she wasn’t really a martial artist. I tried to show her things that she could do as we went along. During season 1 we didn’t get to do that much. We’d have Sarah do something, then I’d do something with one or two moves and that was about it fight-wise. Then in season 2, Jeff Pruitt took over and convinced Joss to let me do all the fighting and just use Sarah for close-ups. Suddenly we were able to do longer and more complex fights and it really helped the show. That’s how we were able to accomplish so much action in the time we had.
A big responsibility was keeping Sarah safe at all costs. Jeff wouldn’t allow a stuntman to even muss her hair. We’d have her do the staking and whatever dialogue was needed. Jeff would choreograph it specifically to arrange spots to put her into the scene at least for three shots and they would edit my fighting with her face. It worked pretty well.
As far as Sarah doing stunts, I’d have to say no. She never did any nor did she want to. It would not have been a smart thing to do and she understood that. Her job was acting. It was my job to take the physical pain. Eventually Joss and Jeff even made a rule that only a stunt person could punch an actor – never an actor punching another actor. That rule saved a lot of actors from getting black eyes and halting the production. Jeff would have Sarah fall out of frame onto a pad or into his arms. That was the only stunt related thing she did. He would have her swing her leg, throw a single punch, or duck and we’d edit that together with the full fight I had performed. We were ordered to keep her safe and that’s exactly what we did. I took the Buffy fight scenes very seriously and dedicated myself to it completely. The hours were grueling, but it was very satisfying. I can see the Buffy influence not only in the writing and the type of characters we see in new shows, but also the influence that the action scenes we made had as well. I’m very proud to have been a part of it.
Since Buffy, Sophia Crawford has done stunt work on Power Rangers and Sons of Anarchy. She hasn’t said goodbye to the Buffy universe or vampires, also working on Bones and The Originals.
Published on Music In the Dark/April 2017