After filming big-budget superhero blockbuster The Avengers, you’d think Joss Whedon would have taken a holiday. In fact, that was the plan. Instead, he decided to shoot another movie – in just 12 days, and without anyone finding out about it.
Having scripted his take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing in less than a month, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer persuaded some of his favourite actors to stay at his home in Santa Monica, California, to shoot the movie – and had them swear not to breathe a word about it until it was finished.
Sean Maher (star of Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi western Firefly) plays evil villain Don John in the film, with former Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion in support as Dogberry. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, alumni of Buffy spin-off Angel, star as fast-talking couple Beatrice and Benedick.
The entire movie was shot at Whedon’s home, which stood in for Leonato’s estate, where the play takes place. A tight budget saw the cast accepting meagre pay deals and even wearing their own clothes.
Shot in black and white, Much Ado about Nothing is described by Whedon as “kind of a noir comedy” - and he says the fact that it's one of the few Shakespeare plays written in prose, rather than verse, will make it more accessible to a 21st-century audience.
“It’s very modern,” he told website Inside Movies. “The language, the jokes, and the attitudes translate really, really easily. [The actors] do say the words as they’re written [in the play], but they connect to a modern audience in a way that portions of the other comedies don’t necessarily.”
Details of the film did not begin to emerge until Sunday night when tweets linked to a website featuring a single photo of a man standing in a lake, wearing scuba gear and holding a martini glass.
Below the photo was the cast list, followed by the words "Bellwether Pictures is proud to announce the completion of principal photography" on what was described simply as "a film by Joss Whedon based on a play".
Then, on Monday, a press release added more detail, including the name of the play and a quote from Whedon: "The text is to me a deconstruction of the idea of love, which is ironic, since the entire production is a love letter - to the text, to the cast, even to the house it's shot in."
Whedon owns independent production studio Bellwether with his wife, Kai Cole. The director says he is yet to be approached about distributing Much Ado about Nothing but plans to take it on a tour of film festivals and does intend for it to be released in cinemas.