Joss Whedon's a hero with 'Dr. Horrible'

Web-based musical was conceived during the WGA strike

With SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers still at odds over new-media residuals (among other things), Joss Whedon is ready to see just how viable the Internet is as a business model.

The CAA-repped multihyphenate screened his latest creation, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," to an invitation-only crowd of cast and industry professionals Thursday night at CAA before Act 1 of 3 officially streams online Tuesday at DrHorrible.com.

Whedon conceived the hourlong "supervillain musical" during the 100-day WGA strike and funded the production, which cost in the low-six-figures, with "Girl Scout cookies."

"We didn't think about making money," Whedon said of the project that initially was conceived as a podcast. "I did it as a Web thing because I didn't want something so big that it wouldn't work on the Internet.

"Everything was done aboveboard. We went to all the unions to make sure everyone involved had a waiver, etc.," Whedon said. "The DGA came out to be sure. We knew we had to do everything street legal."

The "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator wanted to do something original and came up with a "musical for the Internet" and wanted the project to "work as a story. We had the idea of the blog, and this low-rent/underdog feel to it."

The story of Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris, CBS' "How I Met Your Mother") and his nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, Whedon's "Firefly," "Serenity") and the not-so-good doctor's bid to get into the Evil League of Evil and win the affection of Penny (Felicia Day, "Buffy"), the musical truly illustrates that "everyone's a hero in their own way" and is packed with Whedon's trademark sarcasm and wit as well as clever commentary on how "society is slipping" and changing the establishment.

Whedon called in lots of favors when it came to casting the production.

"Anytime Joss calls, it's going to be something cool," said Fillion, who joked that a musical was something he hadn't yet gotten to do with Whedon.

Day said she received an e-mail out of the blue from Whedon that simply asked, "Can you sing?"

"I couldn't stop listening to the songs," said Harris, who previously sang onstage in "Rent" and juggled filming "Dr. Horrible" while wrapping up "Mother." "The songs are just great. I still listen to them on my iPod."

Recorded at soundstages at Whedon's Santa Monica home during March, Harris said the process was intimate and that the musical "has a unique purity to it."

"We had freedom to behave as professional amateurs during this film," Harris added.

Asked how "Dr. Horrible" was different from Season 6's fan-favorite "Buffy" musical "Once More, With Feeling," Whedon said: "Everything was completely fresh and new. We could tell a story that felt completely complete."

"We didn't have anyone to answer to," added Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-wrote "Dr. Horrible" with Whedon, Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

"We all got in each other's soup to make one holistic soup," said Whedon, who filmed "Dr. Horrible" knowing he had two months to complete a script for Fox's midseason entry "Dollhouse."

While plans for a regular "Buffy" sing-along were met with legal resistance from Fox, Whedon was more than excited about the idea of "Dr. Horrible" stepping in.

"If people think that this is wonderful and want to sing along in costumes and go at midnight, who am I to stop them?" he said.

And a "Dollhouse" musical? "I rule out nothing," Whedon joked.

Act 1 of "Dr. Horrible"streams Tuesday, with Act 2 on Thursday and Act 3 bowing July 19. All three parts will remain online until July 20 at midnight, at which time they will be removed from the site.

"There's a 48-hour period to watch the end. We wanted to make an event out of it – like an old TV event," Whedon said. "It's a way to start building buzz."

In the meantime, plans are in the works for a soundtrack and Whedon is hoping to make it downloadable but will know more once it starts streaming. A planned DVD release will feature "Commentary!" – an original musical score commentary – as well as a "serious" look behind the scenes at "Dr. Horrible."

"I'm not against anything with in terms of distribution," Whedon said. "We're doing things our way but are willing to partner with people."

As for what comes after the streaming concludes, Whedon and crew joked about doing a sequel. "We're not actively doing it, but definitely considering it." One thing is certain, there will be more "Dr. Horrible" comic books. "It's a rich area," he said.

"Dr. Horrible" also will screen in its entirety during a July 25 panel at the San Diego Comic-Con. And yes, there will be "Dr. Horrible" shirts for sale there.
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