The American Cinematheque's latest series, “The Internet Goes Boom,” couldn't have kicked off at a better time. With this year's Creative Emmys, the Internet programming age received a massive jolt of mainstream validation with the short-format, live-action entertainment program win for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon's wildly popular three-part, musical-comedy-action, Neil Patrick Harris-starring supervillain origin story. (Yeah, it's a mouthful, but that barely begins to do it justice.) To say anything Whedon does is wildly popular amongst geek circles is a bit of an understatement, as evidenced by the throngs of fans who turned out at the Egyptian for the screening, as well as for leading lady Felicia Day's equally beloved Web series, The Guild. (It was quite a diverse crowd, as well, from Whedon's Dollhouse cast members Dichen Lachman and Enver Gjokai cheering on the boss, to a pint-sized Dr. Horrible in the second row with his beaming mamma.)
As Whedon, Day, and their fellow creators and cast members attested during the Q&A following the screening, the process of pulling off quality webisode product can be challenging no matter what your status in the industry. Dr. Horrible was born partially out of a desire to do something outside the system but also out of Whedon's inability to work during the last WGA strike. He also revealed that he took great inspiration from Day's web sitcom about a rag-tag group of gamers, mixing the terrific eccentricities of RPG nerds with Preston Sturges-like comic timing. (Of course, as Day pointed out to the crowd, “Everyone aged three months during season one” because it was so difficult to find funding to finish. The Guild's opening season was completed thanks to fan donations sent in to keep the production going.)
Advice, then, for anyone out there hoping to join in on the future of subverting the studio system? Well, for one thing, don't over-think it; to some degree there is the tendency for everyone to edit their projects into a corner. But as Day admits, “After a certain point, you just know when [to stop second-guessing] and just shoot it and get it out.” Sure, you're going to regret things or think you could have written this line or that line differently, but it's part of the process. “And I just have to say,” she continued, pointing at the screen behind her, “that I'm a lot more comfortable seeing myself two inches high than 20 feet.”
When there is so much potential to be seized now, from numerous editing platforms to various ways to monetize a project — iTunes and Amazon and Hulu were essential to making back costs on Dr. Horrible — how do you know where to start? “Just get your friends together and shoot something,” Whedon advised one audience member in particular, prompting uniform laughter from the panel when he got the response: “That's easy for you to say, your friend is Nathan Fillion.”
Whedon stopped giggling long enough to expand his comment — get your friends together, shoot it and do your best, “…but there's no reason not to do something. The industry is in such dire flux right now, there's no reason to wait for someone to pay you to do it.” And as his co-writer and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen pointed out, “You watch every show now and when it's over they tell you to go watch it again on NBC.com…”; it's not as though the networks aren't aware of the web's potential, too, and utilizing it however and whenever they can.
By the way, for those who are fans but not necessarily burning with the desire to get into the webisode biz, there was plenty of news: Whedon and crew are hard at work on Dollhouse, which Fox recently announced would receive a complete broadcast of Season 2's initial 13-episode order at least. His Drew Goddard-partnered horror project Cabin in the Woods was bumped from this February to January 2011 at the behest of the studio, not by his design or desire — “Apparently, 3D is all the rage with you kids these days, and they think it will help foreign sales.” And the much rumored Dr. Horrible sequel? Maybe not soon, but likely. “We have high hopes,” Whedon hinted. “And a title. And some songs. And three-and-a-half jokes.”