Future Entertainment Part 2: Anticipating Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog?
In the previous article we reviewed ‘The Guild’ and discussed how this 10-part Web Series came to be made. In this part we’ll be looking forward to the musical ‘Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’. This new Web Series created by Joss Whedon does not have a release date as yet, but is reportedly just about finished and expected to be out in the next few weeks. “It’s the story of a low-rent supervillain (Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible), the hero who keeps beating him up (Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer), and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to (Felicia Day as Penny).” (E!Online- Watch with Kristen). How did a famous Hollywood writer/director come to make a Web Series and what might that mean for the future?
It Started with a Strike
Late last year negotiations of the three-yearly ‘Minimum Basic Agreement’ between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down. There were entrenched disagreements over various issues including DVD residuals and renumerations for ‘new media’ content written for and/or distributed through digital technology such as the Internet. As soon as the strike started all WGA writers ceased writing for TV and Film and started campaigning for a workable solution to the points of disageement and kept up a constant and vocal presence on the picketline. The writers had support for their strike from many quarters, not least actors and fans. Eventually a deal was agreed and the strike ended on February 12th, 2008. In the interim many people were considering alternatives to TV and Film which lead some, not surpisingly, to the Internet. So it was with Joss Whedon.
He was already aware of the potential of the Internet and of the success Felicia Day had had with ‘The Guild’. In a podcast interview on ‘HowIWoW‘ Felicia said “…Joss Whedon saw The Guild and was impressed and wanted to do something on the Internet during the strike so he wrote the musical and asked if I can sing…”So it isn’t surprising that Joss managed to assemble a team quickly and get the ball rolling.
From the Top – The Writers
Doctor Horrible’s writers are Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. I’m going to out on a limb and guess you have heard of Joss Whedon. If not, then, well – just go to his page on Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and oggleat the amount of things he’s been involved with. Among the many credits for Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the episode ‘Once More, With Feeling’ – a musical episode wildly popular with fans that Joss wrote all the music and lyrics for. You may have noticed a certain similarity between three of the surnames above. Joss, Zack and Jed are brothers, and Maurissa is Jed’s girlfriend. A family affair, then, on the writing front.
Jed is singer/songwriter/guitarist with The Southland. The Southland have been together since 2002 and released their first CD ‘Influence of Geography’ in May 2005.
Maurissa has worked as a writer on ‘Oliver Beene’ and as an assistant on ‘NYPD Blue’ and ‘Brooklyn South’. She has also danced professionally and was the Co-Executive Producer of the TV Series ‘Dancelife’.
Zack has been a regular assistant on ‘Deadwood’ since 2004, and he has also written and acted for the series. In addition to this he also worked on other productions including ‘Angel’ and ‘John from Cincinnati’.
During the WGA strike, Zach, Jed and Maurissa, along with Nick Towne created a brilliant support video WGA vs. AMPTP that they put out on the Internet under the group name ‘NervousCircus’. It’s a satirical look at the strike from both sides that results in a well-produced, -written and -acted comedy short. Watch out for the ‘Panda fur’ quote. ‘NervousCircus‘ has also put out the ‘Apartment 4B’ comedy shorts written by and starring Jed and Maurissa. There are four episodes plus three other shorts, but my favourite is ‘Apartment 4B: The Halloween Special‘. In this episode we see Jed’s transition from confident wizard to pouting child via one well-meaning comment from Maurissa. The acting is fabulous and the script is crisp and funny. Highly recommended. So, in summary, we have a collection of experienced and talented writers, some of whom have already produced Internet content.
The three main actors are Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. Readers of my other blog (the last geek bus home) will be aware of the high regard I hold both Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion. But I knew of Neil Patrick Harris first thanks to ‘Doogie Howser, M.D‘, a show I loved and hated in equal proportions as a kid. Mr Harris has a long and distinguished career that started even before Doogie. He is currently appearing in ‘How I Met Your Mother‘ on TV and ‘Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay‘ on the big screen. One of the roles I love the best is Mr Harris as Colonel Carl Jenkins in Starship Troopers. An accomplished singer, he stars as the eponymous Doctor Horrible.
Nathan Fillion is one of my favourite actors. He starred in Joss Whedon’s much-loved series ‘Firefly‘ and feature film ‘Serenity‘ as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, has been a regular on TV and is currently appearing in ‘Desperate Housewives‘. His recent cinema credits include ‘Waitress‘ and ‘Trucker‘. A versatile actor with a very strong following, Mr Fillion stars as ‘Captain Hammer’ in Doctor Horrible.
Felicia Day is the brains behind ‘The Guild’, which she wrote and stars in. Her many other roles include playing ‘Vi’ in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘ Season 7 and ‘Blue’ in the movie ‘Prairie Fever‘ (note: not all the entries on IMDb are correct. Apparently Felicia did not appear in ‘Hotel Erotica Cabo’). Ms Day is an excellent actor with a real flair for comedy and she stars as ‘Penny’ in Doctor Horrible. In summary, we have three outstanding actors, one of whom has created and acted in an Internet series.
For details of the rest of the cast, see DoctorHorrible.net.
Joss Whedon is the Director and Executive Producer and most of the rest of the crew are experienced and have worked with Joss before. The Producers are David Burns (who worked on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’) and Michael Boretz (who also worked on ‘Angel’ and ‘Serenity‘). The Director of Photography is Ryan Green (who worked on ‘Serenity’), the Editor is Lisa Lassek (who also worked on ‘Serenity’ and ‘Firefly’) and the Costume Designer is Shawna Trpcic (who designed for ‘Firefly’ and ‘Angel’). Head Makeup is Keston Ridley (whose film credits include ‘Ring Around the Rosie’) and Assistant Makeup is Nicole True (Wreck the Halls).
The ‘Officially Official’ Fan Website
As is fitting for an Internet-based product, Doctor Horrible has sparked massive interest in the web community. As of this afternoon a simple ‘doctor horrible’s sing-along blog’ search on Google returns 86,500 results. Perhaps the best known of the websites, though, is the Official Fan Site. Set up with lightning speed on the 16th March, the site was ‘outed’ on Whedonesque on 24th March, less than a week after Joss had confirmed Doctor Horrible’s existence. It immediately became a central source of information for anyone wanting to know more. On 27th March the site became ‘Officially Official’ giving it the distinction of being a popular website for something that wasn’t even made yet. The ‘Official’ website has a spanky-looking poster but no other content so far. In a recent E!OnlineWatch With Kristen, Kristen spoke to Joss and apparently the advertising for Doctor Horrible is…Joss, which makes the Fan Website all that more important (disclosure: I was lucky enough to make contact with the creator of the official fan site early on and I am currently a Moderator on the site).
On 16th March, after rumours had been circulating, Joss Whedon posted the following on Whedonesque:
“So…..In the end shooting lasted only 6 days and the 36-minute product is just about complete. So when/how/where is it going to be released?
The bag is catless.
During the strike I started writing a musical intended as a limited internetseries, 3 episodes of approximately 10 minutes each. Writing with me was my brother Jed, his fiancee Maurissa, and my other brother Zack. To my shock and surprise, we finished it. To my greater shock and surprise, we managed (withthe help of many people I’ll be praising at length soon) to drag it into preproduction (yes, just as DOLLHOUSE was given a start date two months away and all my comics were due.) And today, after a grueling week of writing everything ever while trying to be a producer, I got to start shooting. A musical.
This much I will say: It’s the story of a low-rent super-villain, the hero who keeps beating him up, and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to. And I’m having the time of my life….”
In an interview published in Scifi.com today Joss is quoted as saying:
” ‘We’re literally just finishing it,’ he said. “And then we’re going to show it to my people at CAA [Creative Artists Agency] and a bunch of other people and discuss ‘How do we go about this? Where is the venue for this?'” Whedon anticipates that Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog will appear first on the Internet, followed by releases on iTunes and DVD.”
These are important considerations. If this project doesn’t pay for itself then people have worked for nothing and potential future investors are going to think twice. That will have massive implications for all Future Entertainment and Joss is right to want to make sure everything is in place to maximise the monetization. It might be hard for us to wait to know when it’s going to be released, but a little more patience now pays dividends later.
This is a professionally planned and executed mini-series created by experienced and talented people, many of whom have worked together before. How is it going to be released is yet to be finalised but we can rest assured that it is going to be well-made. I might be biased in that there have been very few things created by Joss Whedon that I don’t like but given the above evidence I think it’s fair to say that Doctor Horrible is going to change the way people think about Internet content and Video in particular. Now would probably be a good time to make sure you have an iTunes account and your credit card has a little more flexibility. When the actors saw the rough cut they were unanimous in their praise for the production. Nathan Fillion, talking to TruckerMovie.net said:
“It’s gonna rock…Six days of filming, this incredible music that we were singing, these incredible lyrics, these wonderful songs… I saw a rough cut of this thing and it’s frickin’ great. It’s changed my opinion as to how things are going to work in the future as far as taking the producers out of the equation and the internet is now your distribution. I think everything’s going to change and I think this is certainly my first experience in the direction things are going.”
Yes, the times, they are definitely a-changin’.
In Part 3:
What does this new form of entertainment mean for the future – is TV dead?