Column: Whedon Says It’s All About the Message, Not the Medium

Sep 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Web according to Joss Whedon: Soon Internet video will be significant enough to merit a colony of moonpeople and their doctors.
Joss Whdeon
OK, that might sound a little strange, I’ll admit. But let’s not forget this is the man who brought us a super-villain who blogs about his evil exploits in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”—oops, probably not the best topic for a blog that the authorities might read.
But that gives you an idea of how Mr. Whedon’s creative mind works. I spoke by phone with the showrunner of TV cult hits like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” about “Dr. Horrible” and its impact on the Web video economy.
The show, released online in July, logged more than 2 million views in its first five days and has become one of the landmark hits on the Web. It’s also in line to break even soon, thanks to ad revenue from video sites, soundtrack downloads on iTunes and a pending DVD release, and potentially turn a profit.
“It did teach me that there is this no man’s land between the YouTube videos and a TV series and independent movies that is not bound by restrictions of budget or length of structure or genre,” Mr. Whedon said. “It is just bound by if you have the material to make it. And you can put it out there, and if more people start doing that, it will become more common, the way YouTube has become a daily exercise for people to troll through and look through. This is one foot on the moon, but soon we will have a colony of moonpeople and then there will be a colony of doctors on the moon, too.”
When he conceived the Web musical during the writers strike earlier this year, Mr. Whedon admitted, he didn’t expect the warm reception from critics, the press and audiences. “It was a lark,” he said. “It was a deliberate lark.”
He also said “Dr. Horrible” will go down in his career as the most fun he’s ever had on a project. “When you make something for a giant corporation, you collaborate with them to fit their mold and it’s a long torturous process. ‘Dr. Horrible’ was a six-day shoot, conceived with love, written with laughter and made with a lot of joy and energy and then well-received. From conception to distribution it was less than five months, and you can’t top that.”
But what if the show were on television, too? Would that be icing? That’s why I asked him the question, albeit flipped around, that I ask other Web creators: Do you aspire to be on TV? Of course, Mr. Whedon is a reverse engineer. He made his mark in TV before turning to the Web. Still, I wanted to know his aspirations for the project.
“For me it’s like going on a date. If all you are thinking about is getting in bed, you aren’t going to have a nice dinner,” he said.
Fortunately, Mr. Whedon had a nice dinner and, unlike most Web stars, he’s poised to make money. So are his actors.
The show cost in the low six figures to produce, with the main stars working on deferred pay. “In a couple months we can start paying off everybody and, even if it’s a small pie, we are cutting it up in a way that the actors and writers get first-dollar gross,” he said.
Check out Joss Whedon as one of TVWeek’s Top 10 Web video creators here.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve never written a TV hit nor have I ever had a budget above $300, yet I have nearly 15 million collective views online with Wicked Awesome Films in a little over two years. When I see someone like the prolific Joss Whedon get it, it excites me!
    It’s the message – not the medium. Damn straight. We need more pros like Whedon to get on board. And while Dr. Horrible is fun, we must all be honest that included in the message of a fun, well-written story for the web – there was something else in the message of this show too…
    Much like when it was big news that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (later Judd Apatow) were on board with Funny Or Die, it was big news that the Buffy creator was going online with something original. That added/padded the views with the great publicity of a successful TV creator creating something for an online audience.
    But the truth is that viewers/consumers don’t care! They want to see something well done and worth their time. Bigger budgets and name brand creators like Whedon make that happen, regardless of medium.
    I’m thrilled that he made Dr. Horrible on a lark and it was a great experience for him – it shows on screen. More please!

  2. as a creator, editor and producer, who spends oodles of time in the “money never changes hands” category, I welcome the advice of Mr. Whedon. Everyday, opportunities come along to partner in productions that we might pass up on, perhaps because we’re so busy chasing down everything else. I also like the concept of “cutting it up in a way that the actors and writers get first-dollar gross”, in recognition of the starvingest of the artists.
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  3. That’s great to hear that he had the most fun of his professional career making the Dr.Horrible series.
    Hopefully many other creators get involved with web video and also have the time of their lives too, it can only lead to positive things longer term.
    Are we starting to see the beginnings of a huge movement here?!

  4. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I loved Dr. Horrible.
    But it was mostly successful because of his name. He had fans already to tap into for it’s success.
    I hardly think it’s gong to change (or even begins to change) the landscape of web video. The old-school media still have a lock, for the most part, on visual entertainment. They have the money to produce it right, and make it look “professional” which is what people expect if they’re going to pay for it.
    There will be exceptions here and there, but for the most part old-school will rule for a long time to come.

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  13. Hopefully many other creators get involved with web video and also have the time of their lives too, it can only lead to positive things longer term.
    I hardly think it’s gong to change (or even begins to change) the landscape of web video. The old-school media still have a lock, for the most part, on visual entertainment. They have the money to produce it right, and make it look “professional” which is what people expect if they’re going to pay for it.
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