Interview: Joss Whedon on ‘Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’
Creator Joss Whedon is no stranger to innovation and odds-defying creative success, having launched a massively popular television series out of a panned film, reinvented and reinvigorated various comic book properties, and transitioned a cancelled television project into a well-received feature film. With this week’s debut of his three-part musicial series Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, he looks to break new ground once again, as the project he conceived during the recent Writers Guild strike and created with "friends and family" hits the Internet and looks to test a new model for online distribution of creative projects.
Starting on Tuesday, July 15, the first 10-minute episode of Doctor Horrible, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, will be posted on drhorrible.com. Subsequent episodes will be posted on July 17 and July 19, and remain free to view until midnight on July 20. At that time, all of the episodes will be taken down until the DVD of the series is released at a later date. Whedon promises to let fans know more about the DVD release and his grand experiment in distribution during the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con convention, during which he’ll screen the complete series one more time for attendees.
I was recently given the chance to have a short conversation with Whedon about Doctor Horrible, the impetus for this new project and his experience working with one of my favorite actors, Neil Patrick Harris.
COMICMIX: The genesis of this project occurred during the Writers Guild strike, and you’ve mentioned that there’s a reason for that. Can you elaborate on how this project fit into the greater discussion with creator unions and members’ rights?
JOSS WHEDON: It’s a concept I had come up with before, but when the strike happened it sort of morphed into this idea of doing this thing for the Internet with my brothers and my sister-in-law and friends, and just trying to put something out there that was more than just "what can we shoot in our living room" but not part of a giant scheme. But when I say "scheme," I don’t just mean in the sense of a giant scheme with the studios, but also like the Internet people who were like, "Let’s go out to Silicon Valley and get $100 million and make TV shows that are just like the ones we make on TV."
My feeling was, if we’re going to try and create a new paradigm, let’s actually create a new one. Everybody is still talking about those millions of dollars and still waiting on them to create these Internet TV shows. I tried to make some of those slightly bigger deals, but they were just not happening with any kind of speed. I eventually just said, "If this is going to happen, it has to come from me. It has to be me."
The idea was, we’ll do it for fun, and if our fun for some reason causes other people to have fun, and they end up paying for that, then I will actually have the opportunity to create a different paradigm of payment and profit-sharing for writers and artists involved in the project.
It was a pie-in-the-sky thing that I didn’t think would actually happen, but I very much prepared for the idea that it would, just in case.
CMix: What has the experience taught you thus far about working in an online medium as opposed to the environments you’ve worked in prior?
JW: Being your own master is fun. It’s a little tiring, but it’s definitely very freeing. It’s still a medium that’s being figured out, though.
One of the advantages I had was not needing to make a profit on this. Because I am the studio, I’m not breathing down my own neck — which I think might be physically impossible anyways — to make sure I get a return on this. So i have the artistic freedom to make it exactly the way I want and I have the joy of creativity that isn’t dependent on questions about how it does on opening weekend and all that kind of stuff.
CMix: How did the collaboration with Neil Patrick Harris come about, and why is he the right guy for the role?
JW: It came about because we’re friends and he has the best voice of anyone I’m friends with. I nervously asked him if he would like to be involved and he was all over it before I even had time to explain the project.
Basically, it’s one of those things where, after the fact, nobody else on Earth could have played it. He’s perfect for it.
Again, it was a matter of "let’s keep it friends and family," but I had to think about who was the best guy out there who also happens to be a friend?
You can find out more information about Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (and watch a trailer for the series) at www.drhorrible.com, where the first part of the series will premiere tonight, July 15. The second episode will be posted July 17, and the third (and final) episode will be posted July 19.