Joss Whedon shared an eye-opening fact during Saturday night’s reunion of the “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” team: He’s made more money from his independently financed 2008 Internet musical than he did from writing and directing Marvel’s first blockbuster “Avengers” movie.
Whedon noted this point during the Q&A following a screening of the 45-minute “Dr. Horrible” tuner starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion, who took part in the reunion that kicked off Paleyfest NY at the Paley Center for Media. The stat made jaws drop, as 2012’s “The Avengers” grossed more than $600 million domestically alone.
The foursome shared fond memories of the DIY production process on “Dr. Horrible,” a pioneering moment for made-for-Internet content. “I do enjoy the purity of its success,” Harris noted. “It just was what it was.”
“Dr. Horrible,” a musical about the titular super villain played by Harris, was conceived of by Whedon during the 2007-2008 writers strike — the title came to him in one big burst, he told moderator Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times. Whedon directed “Dr. Horrible” and collaborated with his brothers, Jed and Zack Whedon, and sister-in-law Maurissa Tanchareon, on the script and the music and lyrics for the original songs.
Five months after Joss Whedon pitched the idea to the other writers, “Dr. Horrible” was released via iTunes and Hulu in three acts spread across three nights in July 2008. The project was later released on DVD and in 2012 was licensed for linear TV airing by the CW.
Whedon said he initially tried to lineup traditional Hollywood backing for the project but had no luck. He finally decided to go it alone from his own pocketbook. “This is my mid-life crisis,” he joked. “It isn’t a car — it’s an Internet musical.”
The production crew was skeletal, which meant some creative improvising. Musical sequences were filmed with a crew member carrying a boom box playing the song on CD while the actors did their best to lip-sync.
Fillion played Harris’ nemesis, Captain Hammer, while Day limed femme fatale Penny. Harris joked that had “Dr. Horrible” been on network TV, there would have inevitably been “the Captain Hammer variety special.” To which Fillion replied: “You laugh, Neil, but I’m telling you it’s going to fly.”
The group remarked on what a gamble “Dr. Horrible” seemed to be in an era before the Internet was truly established as a platform for long-form content. “This is before the Internet was inside everyone all the time,” Day said. Whedon said he was floored after he wrote “the dorkiest fan letter” to “Hamilton” maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda and found out that Miranda was a big “Dr. Horrible” fan.
Whedon credited Day’s pioneering web series “The Guild” as providing inspiration and a guide for how to produce for the Internet. The group also noted that Day was the first to tell them about Twitter around the time they were promoting “Dr. Horrible.” “I’m the grandma of the Internet,” she joked.
Whedon said that the gratifying experience of working on “Dr. Horrible” gave him the confidence to take on “Much Ado About Nothing,” the 2012 black-and-white rendition of the Shakespeare play that he filmed at his home.
On the question of whether the gang will ever get together for another “Dr. Horrible” adventure, Whedon was noncommittal. He said the plan for a sequel “is where it’s been for a long time.” Two weeks after the triumphant premiere of “Dr. Horrible,” the creative team began writing songs and conceiving stories. But at the same time, “I went to work at Marvel,” Whedon said, “and the rest is a blur.”
Saturday was a double-header of Whedon series reunions in New York City Earlier in the day, Fillion and other cast members from Fox’s cult-fave Fox drama “Firefly” held a 10th anniversary reunion session as part of New York Comic Con.
(Pictured: Joss Whedon, Felicia Day, Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion)