So, Dr Horrible, then. Unless you were offline during the month of July 2008, you heard about DR HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG: a musical comedy film produced for the internet by Joss Whedon, a man who has yet to be properly punished for once calling me his "youngling." Written by Joss, his brothers Zack (who co-wrote a pleasing episode of DEADWOOD) and Jed and Maurissa Tancharoen. A musical comedy, in fact, about a small-time mad scientist supervillain, the superhero he hates, and the Tess Trueheart drawn between them.
I only watched the end of it, because, as much as I love Joss, I hate musicals. Musical comedy makes my balls itch, frankly. And no-one wants that. It’s one of the things Joss and I will never agree on (like, you know, my being his youngling. Which I am not. At all). I think Gilbert & Sullivan are a cultural curiosity at best and I like ALL THAT JAZZ because Roy Scheider dies at the end. Joss believes that Gilbert & Sullivan are culturally relevant (and presumably still washes his clothes in a stream and goes on ether frolics) and is friendly with Stephen Sondheim.
But it was a lovely little production. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion are always watchable, and some of the non-musical gags were inspired. (I actually later went back to the earlier episodes for the Bad Horse stunts.) And, clearly, it was forty-five minutes that delighted a great many people.
(Not interested in the fanwank about the ending, nor in Dr Steel losing his shit, so don’t even think about bringing me any of that. You’ll go right into the spam filter.)
Most interesting to me, though, are the guts of the idea. Joss Whedon blowing his savings account on staging a 45-minute serial for the internet (that will doubtless prove to be i2dvd — internet to dvd — apologies once again to Bill Cunningham for perverting his "d2dvd" coinage).
I was crapping away here the other day about the ratio of linkblogs to people actually
producing original content. And then Joss blows a couple hundred grand on not only producing a bit of original content with unusually high production values, but also an Internet Event. It was free to view if you attended within a stated time window. It was in fact Appointment Internet. That is not something that many people have ever managed.
And while there are elements of the project that only someone of Joss’ position could pull off — the money, the cast, the values, etc etc etc — I think there are still lessons to be taken from it that apply broadly. Not least of which are, Be Short, Be Bold, and Get It Done.
I can’t tell you how many new hopeful comics writers I meet who have never finished anything in their lives because their intended first project is a hundred-episode epic that creates a whole new universe or three. And I tell them all the same thing: you’re screwed. No-one will want it. Not until you’ve written something short, capable
of being produced on a budget, and finished. Your epic may be worldchanging, but no-one will ever know because no publisher will gamble that kind of money on an unknown. And that’s before you get to the vagaries of the attention economy.
Production values are nice, but not necessary to producing compelling work. People gave Dr Horrible 15 mins because it’s Joss, but five minutes is a great length for net video. 500 words, 5 pages, whatever. Be short. Be great.
And if you can get an evil horse in there, that’d be good, too.