Thursday, April 5, 2012

Amber Benson and I – The story of a Buffy Junkie’s First Fix

Last month, March 10, I went to Mysterious Galaxy here in San Diego for the Amber Benson signing of her fourth Calliope Reaper-Jones novel, “How To Be Death.” I was inside Mysterious Galaxy, reflecting on how it was Amber Benson who got me hooked on Buffy a year after it went off the air. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, almost ten years since I gave it a shot, is still the best series I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen and own quite a few complete TV show runs). The characters continue to generate a lot of excitement thanks to ‘Buffy Season Nine’ and the ‘Angel & Faith’ series from Dark Horse.

So how did Amber Benson get me hooked?

I went to the first (and only) Buffyfest in San Diego, October 11, 2003. It was a celebration of all things Buffy and had a lot of great guests. It had only been 5 months since the series finale and Angel Season 5 had just begun.

I wasn’t a fan so what was I doing there?

My friend was a stuntman at Stu Segal Studios here in San Diego. He got a call a few days before the event from the coordinators asking for someone to perform a few short stunt shows for Buffyfest around the convention center and then do a Q&A and workshop. He wouldn’t be paid as the entire event was for charity. I remember there were a few bottles that represented charities and with every ticket purchased you got a number of colored stones and you distributed your stones among the charities – the event was non-profit.

He agreed but worried about assembling a team on short notice that would be okay with working for free. His team included two people who had to drive from LA to San Diego for two practices and the actual convention itself, one person who was struggling with a cold, and one person who could only show up for the last half of the convention because she had an acting gig that morning.

I’m not, and never have been, a stunt performer. I agreed to go as a photographer/gopher.

The team he assembled was great but they didn’t really know each other well and only had my friend in common. With all the obstacles and short rehearsals and short notice, he feared that a few of them could drop out or no-show at the event.

Everyone showed up. It was all those years ago and I still think of that group fondly – they were committed and positive and happy to be there.

Now, looking back I have to laugh. When the team set up their shows and performed them spontaneously around the hall, they (and I) only knew that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about a girl who killed vampires. Knowing at least that, you’d think the shows would feature a girl killing vampires. Instead it featured three guys going around and attacking a few girls and guys in overly theatrical white vampire makeup (straight out of a 50’s movie). One of the team was a double leg amputee so when a vampire ‘broke his leg’ it looked real – that made a few onlookers gasp.

Sarah Hagan attended the stunt Q&A with her parents and little sister, Katie. Sarah and Katie were some of the people who volunteered and participated in the workshop portion. My friend had no idea who Sarah was and when he asked for her name, the audience laughed (I only knew who she was because I saw her signing earlier that day).

As someone with access to the areas the celebrities frequented, I had pretty casual encounters with most of the guests (strictly “Hi, how’s it going?” small talk).

Then I met Amber Benson.

While the majority of the celebs were in one room, Amber was a surprise guest and the coordinators set up a table in the dealer’s room for her where she was selling copies of Chance. When she got there, the majority of people attending were in a Q&A or other signing so it was just us on the stunt team and there were professional photographers taking pictures of her. The girls on the stunt team wanted to get pictures with her and Amber was very obliging. The team took turns and I took pictures of them with Amber.

My friend asked me if I wanted a picture with her and I refused. I didn’t know who she was. The stunt team didn’t know who she was either but looked at the convention as a gig and wanted pix with all the people they ‘worked’ with.

Then we talked to Amber for a while about Chance – mostly small talk. At one point, someone admitted that we hadn’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber told us it was a great show and that we should check it out on Netflix.

I don’t remember having any direct interaction with Amber herself but that one suggestion would start me on the path to Buffy-fever (Buffy-itis? Buffy-madness?).

Buffyfest was one of the best days of my life at the time and it wasn’t because it introduced me to Buffy or because I met Amber Benson. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the stunt team and after the convention I called a girl I’d met a few days before and asked her out (that resulted in a relationship that didn’t last long but ended amicably and was amazing while it lasted).

It would take a few months after Buffyfest but I thought about the fans and how excited they were and how cool Amber and the other celebs were. I ordered the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watched it.

It was a fun show. There wasn’t much to it – girl fights vampires with the help of her friends. Then came the final episode of the first season. There was that amazing moment where Buffy finds out about the prophecy and flips out, crying, telling Angel and Giles that she isn’t ready to die. I was crying. Somewhere in the first season I’d started caring about these characters.

I was hooked.

I watched season after season. At the time I think only the first five seasons were out. Back then TV shows were just being put on DVD – not like it is today where seasons of shows appear a few months after the season finales. I had to wait a few months for season six and a few more months before season seven came out. Once I got to ‘Chosen’ it took about a week before I could watch it, worried that it wouldn’t live up to the series (it did).

In the meantime I kept myself busy watching Angel seasons. Even though I hadn’t seen the beginning of season 5 at the time, I was a fan in time to see Angel’s final three episodes.

I saw Amber at the following Comic Con. She was signing promo cards for Inkworks’ “Women of Sunnydale” cards and signing photos. She was the first Buffy actress I got an autograph from and I got in line to see her every day she was there. I think I got one signed promo card, bought two photos, and a copy of Chance (it was a long time ago so I’m not positive).

Not a year before, I had refused getting a picture with her and now here I was – a huge fan of her work and the show that she’d been such a huge part of. And she was just as sweet at the Con as she was when I saw her at Buffyfest.

As a fan, Amber has created a lot of things I’ve gotten to enjoy besides Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber has written, produced, directed, and starred in her own films, written books with Christopher Golden, written short stories for comic books, and started writing her own line of novels.

I went to the San Diego Independent Music Festival to see Amber introduce “Lovers, Liars, and Lunatics.” She was signing afterward but I didn’t have anything handy to sign so I skipped it. Hey, I got to see Amber introduce a movie she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in and watched the film on a big screen – what more could I want? She always working on a film or story so there’s always something to look forward to.

I’ve only been to a few of Amber’s many signings at the San Diego Mysterious Galaxy to promote her novels. Each time she’s come, Amber was friendly and outgoing and took time to talk to each of her fans as they came up to get their books signed. And she was great during the Q&A portion that preceded it.

Amber Benson has meant a lot to me as a fan. I haven’t had the guts to say anything to her the many times I’ve seen her. Maybe she’ll read this blog? You never know.
Amber Benson and Speedball - 3/10/2012

1 comment:

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