On Friday afternoon, Ballroom 20 of the San Diego Convention center was filled to capacity for the "Dr. Horrible" panel at Comic-Con International San Diego 2008. "Dr. Horrible" creator Joss Whedon was joined onstage by cast members Felicia Day (Penny), Simon Helberg (Moist), Nathan Fillion (Captain Hammer) and Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible), and his co-writers Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon, to talk about the pioneering online musical, and CBR News was there.
For those unfamiliar with Whedon's lastest opus, "Dr. Horrible" is a story, told in three 15-minute acts, about supervillain Dr. Horrible's attempts to impress the love of his life (a Laundromat buddy named Penny), triumph over his feelings of inferiority to his arch nemesis, Captain Hammer, and secure a position in the Evil League of Evil. The seeds of the project were sown in the heat of the recent WGA strike, when the intractability of the AMPTP forced writers to explore opportunities outside of the traditional studio system.
Dark Horse Editor Scott Allie kicked off the panel by running down a list of once and future Joss Whedon Dark Horse collaborations. Allie assured fans that more "Serenity" comics are on the way, slated for late this year or early next. Allie also said that the "Captain Hammer" comic on MySpace Dark Horse Presents was not the last "Dr. Horrible" tie-in that Dark Horse was planning, and that Whedon's other contribution to MySpace DHP, "Sugar Shock," would be available in print soon in the MySpace collection. Then he introduced the man of the hour, Joss Whedon.
Whedon humbly admitted that of all the exciting projects he'd told fans about at his Comic-Con panel the previous year, the only thing he's actually made headway on is "Cabin in the Woods." That project is a go, with Whedon producing and Drew Goddard directing. Then Whedon thanked Dark Horse for making the panel possible. "I've been collaborating with Scott Allie for years," Whedon said. "If I'd gotten them done on time it would have been months." After that, Whedon introduced his fellow panelists. The cast came out to thunderous applause, Neil Patrick Harris wielding his character's infamous death ray. Fillion made a show of pulling out Harris' chair, and then proceeded to pull it away from his co-star at the last second.
Without further ado, Whedon opened the panel up to questions from the audience. Since "Torchwood" features "Buffy"/"Angel" alum James Marsters, and several of the show's regular cast have musical theater training, one fan asked if Joss would ever consider approaching "Dr. Who's" Russell T. Davies about doing a "Torchwood" musical. Whedon said he thought that was a great idea, but that Davies was doing such a good job with the show that he ought to do it himself.
Whedon has a penchant for killing off characters or just generally making their lives miserable. One fan asked if the writer ever got the urge to say, "Screw it, I want a happy ending."
"How do you know I didn't have one?" Whedon said coyly. Day's Penny meets an untimely end in "Dr. Horrible," a resolution which some fans took issue with. But the actress herself thought her death was perfect as scripted.
"You do kill a lot of chicks," Harris said.
"My personal life is not the point here," Whedon chided. Then he pointed to his fellow writers and insisted that Penny's death was their idea.
With the title character of Whedon's first comics work, "Fray," guest-starring in the current arc of "Buffy: Season 8," another fan asked if there was a chance of the future slayer getting her own series. Whedon explained that while fans won't see a "Fray" series in the foreseeable future, he isn't ruling it out. "I'd like to," Whedon said. "It's a question of how much time we have."
Someone else asked if Whedon would consider doing "Firefly" webisodes. Whedon exchanged a knowing glance Fillion. "You killed all the guys I didn't like working with, so I'm in," Fillion quipped.
One fan asked the panel to recount their favorite "Dr. Horrible" moments. "I'm just gonna say, 'The hammer is my penis.'" Harris 'fondly' remembered stumbling over the rapid-fire opening to the song "Brand New Day" for six hours while he tried to memorize the lyrics. Though come production, the actor nailed it on the first take.
Tancharoen said her favorite memory was "watching Joss be Captain Hammer, singing to Felicia on the Universal backlot." When she revealed she has the whole exchange on tape, the audience shouted "DVD Extra!"
Jed said his favorite moment was when Whedon said they didn't have enough money to have a dance number for the third installment of the musical, and suggested they make Harris a giant instead.
One fan asked what had been Whedon's favorite death to write. When he said it was Buffy's mother, Joyce, the audience groaned. "Not favorite like, 'Whee, fun,'" Whedon clarified. "That was Penny."
"Have you ever killed anyone by accident," someone asked.
"If by accident you mean they were suddenly leaving or not available for sequels, then yes," Whedon said.
The writers confirmed that they fully intended to tell more "Dr. Horrible stories. Whedon said his initial thought was to make the next story very dark, like "Godfather II." "But then I looked at what we'd made and thought, 'Maybe more like 'The Incredible Mr. Limpet,'" Whedon said.
A fan asked how discouraging it was that so many of his projects wound up being cancelled prematurely. "I'm older and balder/wiser than when I wrote 'Firefly,'" Whedon said. "I take it one episode at a time. Any episode we can get out is a bonus."
Whedon said "Dr. Horrible" was intended to be a model for a new way to put out media. He hopes it will help create a new creative community that includes "all of us, and maybe not so much some other people." Whedon was quick to add that he loves the work they're doing at "Dollhouse," he doesn't want to eliminate the studio system completely, but "things are changing."
After spouting bravado the entire panel, Harris observed, "You're still Captain Hammer."
"You thought that was acting?" Whedon asked, incredulous.
"It's actually shaped like a little hammer," Fillion said, causing Harris to shake his head. "I mean, little for a hammer. I showed Joss one time, and he just won't shut up about it."
"That was a great day," Whedon played along. "The day you got the part of Mal."
Next, Fillion lauded his fellow cast and crew members. "Simon, you were brilliant," he began. "Felicia, you combine geeky with sexy-hot. Neil, I wrote you that letter, I don't have to tell you." And he went on to thank the writers.
Whedon confirmed that the blond extra in act III of "Dr. Horrible" was not, in fact, Sarah Michelle Gellar. "It was Nicholas Brendon," Whedon joked. "The man is a chameleon."
In season one of "Buffy," Whedon introduced a character named Jesse, set him up to be a friend of the protagonists, and promptly killed him off, just to mess with audience expectations. One fan asked why Jesse's friends weren't particularly affected by their close friend's death. "You're right, they didn't react as much as they should have," Whedon said. "Thanks for pointing out my flaws. Luckily there aren't people everywhere."
And what are the panelists favorite musicals?
"Sweeney Todd," Jed said. Day picked "Into the Woods." Fillion went with "Little Shop of Horrors." Whedon seconded Jed's choice, and added "Singing in the Rain." Harris said the first musical he learned all the words to was "Les Miserables," but that his favorite now was probably "Rent." Simon slurred "Little Shop of Horrors," and made sure the audience didn't mistake it for "Little Shop of Whores."
Before the panel wrapped up, Jed made two announcements about the upcoming "Dr. Horrible" DVD. First, it is going to feature "Commentary: The Musical." Second, soon they will be accepting 3-minute video submissions for the Evil League of Evil, and the top 10 entries will be featured on the DVD. All three chapters of "Dr. Horrible" are available now on iTunes, and the soundtrack will be downloadable within the next couple of weeks. The cast and crew attended a Comic-Con screening of "Dr. Horrible" later that night, and on Sunday the con wrapped up with a screening of the "Buffy" musical episode, "Once More With Feeling."
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