Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Culture Lesson: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

(The above clip is my favorite song and you can see Act I, in full, on Hulu here.)

As the Internet may, or may not, know, I have very very savvy parents. They are hip to technology! They do not jive to Dr. Phil's genderist ways! They are not swayed by Sarah Palin's folksy catchphrases! And they know how to fix things!

Unfortunately, they do not know about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and practically laughed me out of their home during dinner, post-Emmys, when I tried to explain that a project could be written and developed, filmed, edited, produced, and broadcast online for free, and result in a lucrative and critical success.

The three-episode Internet serial Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was just that: imagined, created, written, and developed during the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America Strike. Maurissa Tancharoen's and Joss, Zack, and Jed Whedon's Web series was aired online, for free, in July 2008.

Whedon explained online:

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

Each episode was approximately 14 minutes in length, and followed Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), a bumbling would-be, wanna be, villain over his quest to commit an evil deed to gain acceptance to the Evil League of Evil. If the plot sounds silly, it's because it is, but I thought it was also warm, fuzzy, and funny. And if it sounds nerdy, Joss Whedon is credited with creating Buff the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Serenity, and Dollhouse.

Whedon's regular standbys, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day also had lead roles as Horrible's nemesis, Captain Hammer, and love interest, respectively.

So the whole thing was streamed online, and since it was in the Internet, there wasn't any money to be had, right? Ha!

Self-funded with $200,000, Whedon had to wait to pay the cast and crew. But the following November, Whedon wrote that he had successfully paid the cast and crew, and Forbes reported this August that the series made $2.5 million. (So, Dad, it's no Transformers, but it's far from a flop.)

After airing the episodes online free for three days, viewers could purchase the episodes through iTunes for $4.99. Two weeks later, the episodes were available on Hulu for free, with advertisements. And finally, in December, the episodes were packaged in a DVD for $14.99 through Amazon. The DVDs sold so well that Dr. Horrible was the No. 2 seller in the first week of 2009, and the No. 1 selling musical. Naturally, the DVD had extras, including musical commentary, three easter eggs, and video entries from Evil League of Evil applicants.

So, the streaming joke from this year's Emmys makes more sense now, right? And you can concede you were wrong about making money from the Internet? It's not easy, but if the quality doesn't suck, maybe there's hope for both of the industries I have degrees in, right? (RIGHT?!)

Here's the clip from this year's Emmys, which Harris dutifully, and brilliantly, hosted:

Oh, and the series won an Emmy too. Plus a Hugo! And it was nominated for a Constellation award!

Additional Resources:
Offical Web site
IMDB entry
The Web Auteur, Forbes
Horrible Pirate Signal Interrupts The Emmys, Blast-O-Rama
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Wiki article

No comments: