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The media are still scratching their heads over how Joss Whedon managed to keep his latest project, a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, entirely under wraps until it wrapped filming.
Amazingly, no one involved in the project leaked word — at Whedon’s request — until late Sunday, when stars Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher along with costume designer Shawna Trpcic tweeted out a link to a website announcing the project.
The site provided scant details until a press release was issued Monday, confirming the movie was a modern take on Much Ado About Nothing and features a slew of frequent Whedon collaborators. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof star as Beatrice and Benedick, while the supporting cast includes Fillion as Dogberry, Clark Gregg as Leonato, Fran Kranz as Claudio, Sean Maher as Don John, Tom Lenk as Verges and Reed Diamond as Don Pedro.
So how did Whedon manage to keep the large cast — as well as the crew — quiet?
For starters, Maher told The Hollywood Reporter, Whedon made sure to ask everyone to keep it on the down-low before shooting even began. Maher was asked to be a part of the movie about a month ago.
“I had just come out publicly and was doing a lot of press for [his now-canceled series The Playboy Club] at the time, and I knew I was going to be rehearsing for Joss’ film,” Maher said. “So I specifically asked Joss if I could talk about the movie, and he asked me not to: He had a bigger strategy in mind.”
That strategy clearly included the late-Sunday tweets and reveal of the website, which featured a single photo of a man in what appears to be a lake wearing scuba gear and holding a martini glass positioned under a cast list. The site read, “Bellwether Pictures is proud to announce the completion of principal photography” and said the project is “a film by Joss Whedon based on a play.”
On Monday, a press release added more details about the project, including that it’s the first feature film from Bellwether, a “micro-studio” created by Whedon and Kai Cole for the “production of small, independent narratives for all media, embracing a DIY ethos and newer technologies for, in this particular case, a somewhat older story.”
Meanwhile, the film’s secrecy also was helped thanks to the fact that Maher and the rest of the cast and crew are frequent Whedon collaborators.
“Everybody on the set loved him so much and wanted to be there, so nobody leaked or talked,” he said. “Everyone on this project has the utmost loyalty to him.”
Whedon even cracked jokes whenever he saw one of the cast or crewmembers on their mobile phone: “He’d remind us, ‘Don’t you dare tweet that,'” Maher said.
Whedon didn’t offer his reasoning behind the secrecy, saying only: “Trust me, I have a bigger strategy at hand.”
Meanwhile, the entire shoot took place over only 12 days, with Whedon filming anywhere between 12-15 pages a day.
“Because we were doing it in such a short period of time, you had to be 100% prepared,” said Maher, who plays the villain Don John.
Maher said the entire filming process took place in Whedon’s own home in Santa Monica.
“His house is magnificent — not ostentatious in any way, shape or form,” he added. “It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever been in. And the entire action takes place in Leonato’s [Clark Gregg] estate, so it was perfect for that.”
Maher also confirmed what was hinted at in Monday’s press release: That the film was shot on a tight budget. In fact, the cast wore their own clothes — with the help of the costume designer — and came to the set hair- and makeup-ready.
“We all got paid — we didn’t get paid very much — but that goes toward the point of, none of us was there for the money,” Maher said. “We were there because we wanted to be.”
As for the decision to shoot the movie in black and white, Maher said the film has a “very noir” and “stylized” feel to it. He said Whedon — who plans to take the film on the festival circuit — also stayed true to Shakespeare’s dialogue while putting his own touches on the production.
Whedon “sort of tried to rein it in from not being theatrical,” Maher added. “He wanted to make it as intimate and realistic as possible.”
In his press release Monday, Whedon said: “The text is to me a deconstruction of the idea of love, which is ironic, since the entire production is a love letter — to the text, to the cast, even to the house it’s shot in.”
For his part, Maher said he was initially nervous about taking part since he’d never done Shakespeare before, though he did jump at the chance to work with Whedon again after starring in his TV series Firefly and its big-screen follow-up, Serenity. He also relished the chance to play a villain for the first time in his career.
“It was so fun; I got to be deliciously mean and manipulative,” he said. “I’m so grateful that Joss thought of me for this; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done.”
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