Joss Whedon Doubles His Money With The Help Of ‘Dr. Horrible’

Feb 5th, 2009 | By | Category: Video, Video Podcasts

Knowledge@Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania business school’s online journal, has a great interview with televsion producer Joss Whedon. Whedon, the screenwriter/head writer of the “Buffy The Vampire-Slayer” movie and television series, creator of cult favorite “Firefly” and its movie counterpart “Serenity,”talked with the magazine about his recent web-only miniseries, “Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”

The whole article is worth reading, but what really caught my attention was Whedon’s explanation of the financial aspect of “Dr. Horrible,” and how/whether the popular story might “serve as a model for similar original content.”

“Dr. Horrible” was written by Whedon and some family members and friends, and was produced on a shoestring budget of around $200,000.  The actors donated their talent, as did some of the production department heads (who, he says “could [afford to] do this on a lark.”). The crew were paid for their work. The people who worked for free were offered a percentage of future earnings “as soon as we got in the black.”

Whedon continues, “We said we were going to roll it out for free and then put it on iTunes. We just steamrolled past everybody’s idea of how you market and of how long it takes to do these things. We had people [drawing up] contracts in days that usually take months, because we were tired of people sitting around.”

It worked out well for the production members who donated their time, since “Dr. Horrible” has, via iTunes, a DVD with added features, and streamed over the Web with advertising, made back what Whedon says is “probably about twice what the original budget was.”

Expounding more on “monetizing” content on the Internet, Whedon continues,

“When the studios talk about the difficulty of monetizing the Internet, they’re not lying. There are a lot of paradigms wherein you aren’t making that much money. But it’s all pure money for them because they have these libraries they can just put on. They’re really not interested in putting on original stuff because they can just throw the libraries on and make free money off of that. None of us is in that position.

<snip>

“I’m not a business man. I’m also not a techie. My ideas on how to monetize the Internet for independent productions are ideas that other people have already had. But I am in a position to try to take advantage of them in such a way that we get a toehold in this medium and [establish] a system of creating some original content before the giant companies sweep in and fence it all off.

“The movies, TV — everything is melding, everything is shifting. If you saw it on a movie screen, it’s going to be on your phone. That territory is moving … now in a destructive way because we’re losing residuals. But eventually it’s just going to be an inevitability that … the studios are going to have to rethink how they monetize [content]. Obviously TiVo makes their relationship with advertisers different. And that’s going to become more and more the case. A lot of it can’t be predicted — at least, not by me.

“But if somebody isn’t out there creating a system wherein independent production can thrive, it will wither.”

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4 Responses to “Joss Whedon Doubles His Money With The Help Of ‘Dr. Horrible’”

  1. 1TimStreet says:

    Sure would be nice to see a case study on this that shows the breakdowns on the different revenue streams.

  2. Tim, maybe you’re just the guy to do that comparison. You’ve had great success with corporate sponsorship of individual French Maid TV episodes – how does that stack up with other monetization models?

  3. msbpodcast says:

    I’ll consider it a victory when a project gets pitched to possible small investors, (when enough by in, it gets the go head,) gets produced, gets distributed and the money flows entirely over the internet.

    Screw the big mega studio deals.

    There are plenty of times projects are left to wither on the vine because of the block buster mentality.

    You’re given two week-ends because they’ve got to move onto the next mega-project. The access to the screen real-estate is the scarce resource you’re all competing for.

    Some shows are never made because the producers know they’ll never have the attention span required. Screens cost money.

    Meanwhile, disk space and an internet connection are almost free…

    The economics are all inverted and you can now afford to take the time a project needs and deserves.

  4. mike welker says:

    This fits with a niche marketing focus, along the lines of that classic dichotomy, think of the major studios with power and interdepence–i.e., over-ownership that squashes creativity, as a massive shotgun vs. the little independent, now with the tool to provide die-hard fanatic fans what they want–content they like? Not according to Whedon’s creative model: he says, give people content *they love* and watch what happens…

    For a few starving artists and writers feeling like they had nowhere to go, you’ve got the new Hollywood cowboys seeking a place on the frontier, carving out their realm and hoping to defend it with guns…

    The model is feasible: imagine you can “grab”, let’s say, 10,000 fans, raving fans, who just absolutely LOVE your content, your artistry, your voice, your story, whatever, it’s a story, and people crave stories that appeal to their intelligence, their hearts, their troubles… stories that are cathartic, they makes them experience being ‘beside themselves’ in a human, healthy way… now, see if 10,000 raving fanatical fans will hand over, let’s say, $100 of their hard-earned bucks, say that’s about 1 day of work, of their labor, of their toil and sweat.

    Get them to do this and help you make the content, too–i.e., http://www.evilleagueofevil.com... wow, now the content is “theirs” too… in a different way… but get them doing this every year, and, behold, you have a base for further creativity–10,000 raving fans hand you $100 each. That’s $1,000,000.

    Ergh! It’s not enough for a second Serenity movie, but that sure does spark interest in Whedon, giving him more power with studios, and more voice to fans, who even though they paid off a movie and went out and bought DVDs in droves, then bought Blu-Ray Discs of the same movie in droves… well, I digress.

    Don’t be fooled by his humor and his artisty… Joss Whedon is brilliant and one who possesses common sense. Yes, the studios will wake up.

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