How Joss Whedon’s ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’ Was Born: The Making Of A Cult Musical

Dr. Horrible has his evil eye set for Web domination next week — but it wasn’t so long ago that he only existed as a glint in Joss Whedon’s eye.

So how did the “Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog” materialize so quickly? (Click here to read all about the “Dr. Horrible” project.) It all started during some tedious downtime during the recent writers’ strike, when the Buffyverse creator decided that he wanted to do something creative, but was prohibited from writing for television or movies. What was left, besides comics?

And so, with his brothers Zack and Jed, and Jed’s fiancee Maurissa Tancharoen, he wrote up an idea that ordinarily could have been done for TV, but was actually better suited for the Web: a miniseries that could be shared. Joss-appeal was in place with the miniseries’ content: a superhero story (or spoof, rather) told through the eyes of a maniacal supervillain wannabe (played by Neil Patrick Harris), and told through song. (After the jump, hear from Joss and more!)

“It’s a big experiment,” said Michael Boretz, who produced “Dr. Horrible” with Whedon and David Burns (“Angel”). “Our goal was to show that you could do good quality content for a reasonable amount of money. It’s not amateur hour in the backyard, but it’s not epic and unaffordable. We’re counting on the fans to spread it around and make it an Internet media event.”

The reasonable cost of production — which they won’t disclose but say is less than a cheap horror movie would cost — is due to the fact that Whedon called in a lot of favors, for cast, crew, and locations. Whedon called upon Nathan Fillion (who had starred as Mal in “Firefly”) to be Captain Hammer, and Felicia Day (who had been a Slayer potential on “Buffy”) for the other leads.

“I’m surrounding myself with people like a reunion,” Whedon said, “but that’s because they understand what I’m talking about. I think. Generally speaking, I don’t have to over-explain myself with them. And the more people like that I have in my life, the easier it is to accomplish these things.”

“Maybe Nathan didn’t have the professional training Neil had as far as singing goes, but he can sell it,” Boretz said. “And Felicia, she’s got a beautiful, melodious voice.”

The supporting cast includes a lot of cameos from folks who usually work behind the scenes, including Jed Whedon, Tancharoen, Boretz, Marti Noxon, and David Fury (the latter two also had cameos in the “Buffy” musical episode, “Once More With Feeling,” as the parking ticket lady and the mustard-shirt man). And nearly everyone on the 30-person crew had worked on “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” and/or “Serenity,” and most a combination of all of the above, from costume designer Shawna Trpcic to editor Lisa Lassek to cinematographer Ryan Green (previously a cameraman on “Serenity”).

“Everything had to happen in two weeks, two to three weeks tops, so we started thinking of the crew we liked to work with,” Boretz said, “And we pulled in a lot of favors. A lot of people worked for a way reduced amount or nothing.” Why was everyone so willing to give up their time? “Can you think of a better thing to do with your life?” Boretz asked.

To keep costs down even further, they hunted for affordable locations, a challenge in Los Angeles. “Some locations make their whole years’ worth of salary on rentals,” Boretz said. So they squeezed five locations on one soundstage downtown, used an outside wall to fake a sixth location, and used a real street corner to become a seventh. Whedon also managed to snag the Universal backlot for one full day of shooting, for a scene that required exterior city streets where they could control the environment.

“Joss comes from a TV background, so he knows how to do a lot on a small budget,” Boretz said. “Like on ‘Serenity,’ he knew for some things, he didn’t need a whole ship, just this one corner. And he knows what he wants. He walks on the set, and in a couple of minutes, he has the scene all blocked out. Other directors spend days, if not weeks, trying to block.”

Seeing him work that way inspires everyone else, Boretz said. “He’s at the top of his game, so you have to be at the top of yours. You can’t deliver less. You get a lot of surly, negative people on movie sets – screamers – but his sets are always fun and enjoyable. The people he attracts are good people, and wicked talented. So you’re the best you can be. Even if you’re supposed to be evil. You’ll try to be the best damn evil person you can be.”

So, does “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” look to be a new cult classic? We want to hear what you think…comment below!