Paleyfest is for (Joss) Lovers – Dr. Horrible Edition

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Joss, Jed and Zack Whedon; Maurissa; Nathan and Felicia at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by marchustvedt)

Last night, for the first time in Paleyfest history, they recognized a web series and, of course, that series was Dr. Horrible.

For those of you who don’t know Paleyfest is sponsored by the Paley Center for Media (formerly known as The Museum of Television & Radio (MT&R) and The Museum of Broadcasting). The event is fairly corporate in feel, it’s held at the Arclight in Hollywood and price for non-members is $45 a head. Last year I attended the much touted Buffy Reunion panel and tonight’s event was much the same: only for Dr. Horrible.

The event opens with kind of a teaser for the Paleyfest. A video showing clips of previous panels and what the Paleyfest represents. Then someone usually introduces the evening, and then Joss got up and introduced the screening of Dr. Horrible (all three acts).

It was fun to see Dr. Horrible on the big screen. I believe all of the acting (subtle movements you may have caught on the smallish side on the internet and then your home DVD) is only enhanced by the larger screen. I also noticed more of the background elements (like there’s a Caring Hands poster in the hall where Captain Hammer is giving his speech in Act 3). People sang along with most of the songs and, unlike last year with the Buffy panel’s screening of Once More with Feeling I didn’t hear a bunch of complaining about the audience singing along.

Joss Whedon Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)

Then it was time for the panel. Matt Roush introduced the panel members (who had been sitting in the audience): Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion and Joss Whedon. During the first couple moments of everyone being on stage Maurissa announced she and Jed were getting married this Saturday (congrats guys). They also talked about how they originally thought Dr. Horrible was going to be a really small production. Jed quipped that they had asked “so are we going to do it in your living room or ours”. Then Joss decided to ask around. The head of Universal gave them the backlot “for a song,” Joss said. To which Nathan replied, “Freeze Ray?”

Joss then said that he was in talks with a lot of people about getting Dr. Horrible made, but no one was really moving on it. So finally “I made a deal with myself,” Joss said. “I gave myself really good terms.” As a result, as most Horrible fans know, the actors and crew worked for nearly nothing until Doctor Horrible started making money.

Now, last year at the Paleyfest Buffy Reunion Joss was late because of shooting Dr. Horrible and he reveled he had been at the laundry mat wrapping up filming when he ducked in the bathroom, put on a suit and ran down to the panel. Maurissa said, “It was a nice suit.”

Nathan continued the “feud” with Neil Patrick Harris by saying, “”I can’t even tell you guys how much joy it brings to my heart that… Neil couldn’t make it.” Roush commented to say that the only reason NPH wasn’t here was because he was out of the country.

The Whedon Bros and Maurissa didn’t give any specifics about the Dr. Horrible Sequel everyone keeps asking about, though they did comment that they had talked a lot about it. Apparently Dollhouse writer meetings have had a lot of “sidebars” talking about Dr. Horrible. The Whedons said they’ve talked about doing it in a different form (theatrically, on the internet again, legitimate theater). Then Joss “asked the audience” what form they’d like to see it. “Puppets?” He asked. To a rallying applause from the audience.

Matt asked Jed about the music and if it was “Sweeney Todd” in nature. Jed agreed saying, “Definitely a Sondheim influence because it’s unavoidable if you’re writing something that’s good.” Which garnered more applause from the audience (apparently there were many Sondheim fans, which made me happy).

Felicia Day at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)
Felicia Day at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)

Felicia commented that her first day she was really nervous about acting along side Nathan and Neil. And Joss and Felicia both relate how Felicia tried talking Joss out of just hiring her on the spot. “She wanted to audition.” Joss said with a laugh. Felicia confirmed that she had tried to audition, saying to Joss, “I’ll come to your living room. I’ll audition… you can hear me sing and then you can decide.”

Matt then asked Zack about his Commentary the Musical! song (Zack’s Rap) and if it was true. Zack said no, not at all. “”We were raised on listening to showtunes, which accounts for our popularity in high school.”He said it was his dad’s influence and then pointed out that the Whedons’ dad was in the audience.

Joss then waxed poetically about “the Guild” and Felicia’s experience with webseries. “The Guild’ was really the first series I watched on the internet, that I was involved in and made me laugh,” Joss said. He talked about how they took Dr. Horrible to some traditional media people who were suggesting what to do with it. According to Joss they hemmed and hawed and then Felicia Day “schooled them all” on how to do it on the internet. “It was quite a Buffy moment – the woman you aren’t paying attention to is the one who’s getting it done.” Joss confirmed that Dr. Horrible being on Facebook and Twitter was because of Felicia. When Matt asked Joss if he twittered Joss said he didn’t “and I think it’s dirty,” he quipped.

Matt then asked Joss about Commentary! The Musical! Which Joss said, “it took forever and it was horrible”. Attempting to write the commentary musical while working (Dollhouse for Jed/Joss/Maurissa and Fringe for Zack) was extremely draining on all of the team. They did have fun recording (which Felicia said was all of them packed in a tiny apartment). Their favorite memories from recording was how excited NPH got over doing his own foley work for “Neil’s Turn” (banging his shoes on the wall, stomping etc).

Matt asked Nathan about acting as Captain Hammer and singing for the first time. To which Nathan responded, “Actually one of my part-time jobs when I was working my way through university was I was a karaoke host,” Nathan says about his musical background. “I could kill The Rose.” Nathan also commented how Dr. Horrible was the “only time i heard ham it up” in regard to his acting.

Whedon Hat Tricks Not Limited to People (Dobber appears on Angel, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse)
Whedon Hat Tricks Not Limited to People (Dobber appears on Angel, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse)

One of the most interesting tidbits (which the Dr. Horrible team hadn’t realized when filming) was that Dobber, the horse that played Bad Horse, was also in an episode of Angel and he’s coming up on next week’s episode of Dollhouse. No information on which episode of Angel Dobber appeared in though there’s some talk of it being S2 or S3 amongst fans. Please dig out your DVDs and check the credits for Dobber.

Additional note: Jed Whedon was not intimidated at all by Dobber.

Of course, as many of you know, the idea for Bad Horse was one that Ben Edlund had pitched over and over again during Angel. Joss, imitating Ben, said “how would he make a radioactive device with only hooves?” Which made most of the audience laugh. Edlund apparently also was going to work on Dr. Horrible, but had a personal catastrophe involving a river and his home. Joss said at one point he wasn’t sure if they were going to get Dr. Horrible together to which Edulund said, “You have to! I have so many puns! So many puns! You need to do this!'”

Matt mentioned Simon Helberg (who played Moist) and how talented he was since he played piano for his song on Commentary! The Musical!. Maurissa, Jed, Joss and Zack all said that Simon was an underrated talent in Hollywood. Maurissa said that Simon has a black belt in Karate.

Rumors of Joss Whedon performing a song at This American Life’s live performance next week (April 23rd) were confirmed. Joss said he is singing his song “Heart (Broken)”. “The level of terror is so high that I’m sort of underneath it.” Joss said. “I’m just swimming through the terror.” [Editor’s Note: In addition if you’re missing out on the show they are doing a second night on May 2nd due to popular demand check this American Life’s website for more details.]

“Heart (Broken)”, Joss’ song on Commentary! The Musical! was the next discussion. As Joss confirmed the song was born out of working on Dollhouse. Fox was talking about doing a webseries alongside the production and they possibly had wanted him to blog the whole experience and he got overwhelmed with the idea that he had to explain every part of the process. “I was having a hard enough time just making the show and it was sort of making me crazy. I do think that there’s an element of truth in it, but like all the songs, I took it a bit further.”

Zack Whedon at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)
Zack Whedon at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)

Joss commented that he had a similar conversation recently with Drew Goddard about Cabin in the Woods since the PTBs wanted Drew to release a sort of commentary on the making of a scene. Drew complained to Joss that he just wanted people to enjoy the work and get it (or not get it). Joss said to Drew, “I understand! I wrote a song about it!”

Then Joss and crew talked about Penny’s death, which Joss says was the plan from the beginning. “It grounded us. We knew exactly where we were going. We knew exactly what it was. I think it gave us license to be sillier because we knew there was some weight to it, it was an actual sort of classically structured tragedy.” Joss also quipped that it made some people hate him. Which lead to Matt asking about fan reaction and what it’s like to see it almost immediately. Felicia said, “Every time I upload an episode of the Guild I’m sitting there hitting ‘refresh’,” mimicing the actions of clicking and scrolling Felicia said, “Refresh. Refresh. Racist comment. Delete. Refresh. Refresh.”

Maurissa and Jed talked about reading Whedonesque for their fan reactions. Maurissa joked about the expanse of information available on the site by saying, “I learn what I’m doing tomorrow on Whedonesque.” Joss added, sarcastically, that he found out that Sarah Michelle Gellar was in Dr. Horrible from Whedonesque.

The team then talked about how much Jed did. Not only the music scoring but he also created the website. Joss also “confessed” that the team had planned on doing Dr. Horrible in July because of San Diego ComicCon. “Just to be clear,” Joss said they asked each other, “we’re just doing this to be rockstars at ComicCon?”

Then, they opened the floor to fan questions, which allowed Joss to make the cavot that no one ask about what was on their iPods (a question that took over 20 minutes to answer last year at the Buffy reunion panel and made quite a few fans grumbly).  When Nathan asked for clarification Joss mumbled “you had to be there.”

The first question lead to Joss using the word “squee” in regards to his fanboyness for Neil Patrick Harris.

Another fan question (one that the fan would have liked to have asked Joss, but she said his response would be cryptic and leave her sad) so she asked Nathan what he thought about a sequel. “I would wear a darker outfit,” Nathan said. “The pants… would be darker… to symbolize… the darkness. And I’d grow my hair out and do more of a pompadour.”

Jed Whedon at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)
Jed Whedon at Paleyfest 2009 (photo by danregal)

Another fan asked the “why (after Firefly) would you go back to Fox. To which Joss responded, “and the reason I went back was because of Eliza. I don’t care; she’s worth it.” He described his relationship with Fox as equitable. Though he did lament some of the people who have (recently) left.

Another fan asked Joss (basically) why Penny’s character wasn’t more of a feminist icon and wasn’t Penny used by both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer. Joss did comment that both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer’s pursuit of “what a man’s gotta do” was what they thought they wanted out of life, but it wasn’t what they needed.

This conversation leads to Joss saying, “just wait till you see her [Felicia Day] on Dollhouse… and wait you will.”

Other questions included “will there be comics.” To which Joss said, “Lets go back in time… we already did them!” So Zack explained about the webcomics that they did with Dark Horse Presents and said that a Penny comic is coming June 1st, to which Nathan replied “in which she doesn’t do much.” Which lead to Felicia started beating him up.

Another fan asked about the future of web video, to which Felicia said that she sees webseries continuing to grow. The advertising model just needs to continue to catch up with the speed of the innovations happening on the web. She said with her Microsoft/Sprint deal she kept full creative rights to The Guild and she can see more companies finding out that that’s okay, especially since you can target specific demographics easier on the internet. The difference for her with working on web series is that everyone is doing their passion – and that’s what makes the series so great. She said her intention was to just act, not to move into bigger and better. “Trying to be a cool kid is not my goal,” Felicia said.

Beth, from Fannish Inquisition, asked the fesibility for Dr. Horrible really being a pioneer that others can follow, since Joss has deep connections within the industry. Joss agreed not everyone could follow some of what he did. He said with Dr. Horrible and the Evil League of Evil applications they realized just how many talented people there are out there who may just not have the production abilities they need to make something amazing. Joss would love to make (or have someone else) a middle ground for making web series where those with the production needs could meet with those with the creative ability to create high-quality shows. Jed commented that “the whole thing about the internet is just do it.”

Another fan asked “what would happen if you bounced wonderflonium. Joss said that it would be horrible. So horrible that he would twitter (which later he did).

Someone asked why, after Firefly, Joss went back to Fox. “I went back was because of Eliza.” He paused and then said, “and I don’t care, she’s worth it.” Which brought applause from the audience again. Joss then explained that his relationship with Fox has “always been equitable.” And he said that it wasn’t at all like Firefly this time around.

The crew then said that Dr. Horrible only took five months from their initial sit down to the posting. He called Dollhouse probably the worst thing he could have done after Dr. Horrible because he had so much freedom with Dr. Horrible and then he had to go back to working within a system. “It wasn’t being run by bad people or mean people,” Joss said. “It’s just that grind after the freedom of Dr. Horrible. It made me a much crankier person and a worse boss.” Then he pointed to Jed and Maurissa and said, “you can attest to that!”

The last question was about the super hero/super villain universe that Dr. Horrible created and if it was meant to be a place where it kind of sucked to be a normal person. Joss commented that he loves the post-modern superhero stories because they’re fun to poke at the superhero mythos.

The night concluded with a mad crush of people trying to get autographs and see those on stage. It was a fantastic evening and a great night for fans of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

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