“Help Nathan Buy Firefly” & “The Spidey Project”: Two Studies in Fan-Sourcing

This Tuesday saw the end of what some considered, for the past few weeks anyway, to be a sign of life in the necropolis that is Firefly fandom. It was always a slim chance, if we’re to be honest with ourselves. The Help Nathan Buy Firefly Facebook page got over 100,000 fans based on a single offhand comment from Nathan Fillion, the actor who played the rebel-hero-turned-space-cowboy, Captain Mal Reynolds, on the short-lived TV show. It was organized by anonymous fans that were looking to gather support for a crowdfunding scheme for Fillion’s purchase of the rights to Firefly, the sci-fi epic that ran for one season in 2002. The goal was to acquire the rights to the show from the production company, and give it to the original cast and crew members, who, according to this comment from Fillion, might be interested in creating more episodes. I never considered it an actual possibility, because Fillion mentioned his interest in a discussion of the magic of the Firefly atmosphere. Everyone who worked on the original project discusses this—it was the perfect cast, crew, script, director. Everything converged perfectly in one short burst of fireworks to make the single season that has inspired so much.

If we learned anything at all from our 9th grade English class on The Great Gatsby, it is that it is impossible to return to the perfection of the past. So is it any surprise that Joss Whedon, the creator and director of Firefly, gave a wholehearted “No” to this idea; causing the project to shut itself down instantly? Whedon seems to have his plate quite full right now, with upcoming projects like The Avengers film, and rightfully so. He had his heart broken over Firefly, gave her a real viking funeral with Serenity, and moved on. It could never be the same after that, and while it is nothing short of tragic that it went down that way, there was nothing to be done once its coffin was nailed shut.

Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark

And yet, if we see a beloved franchise heading, blissfully ignorant, into a trainwreck of bureaucracy and overproduction, can we stop it? Here is where the same sort of viral campaign that drove the misguided “Help Nathan Buy Firefly” has been put to ingenious use.

The Broadway world has been buzzing for months about this season’s biggest flop-to-be, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. In spite of the direction of Julie Taymor and a previously-unheard-of $65 million budget, the production seems cursed. Even a skeptical non-thespian needs to bang their head against the nearest wall when they hear of the repeated injuries and near-death experiences, not to mention recastings and production delays. On top of those disasters, previews began anyway and even when performances didn’t land actors in a coma, the reviews were unanimous—the show was just terrible.

Theater type and mild Spider-Man fan Justin Moran wasn’t about to take this sitting down. He had an idea and he had the internet: he put up a YouTube call for collaborators on a $0 budget Spider-Man musical that would open before Turn Off The Dark—at that point he had 31 days. He wanted the first Spider-Man musical in New York City to not be an embarrassment and the results have been stunning.

In a week, there was a script and a score, in the next week, rehearsals had begun and a 100-seat theater had been secured. It was all happening at no cost—everything was volunteered in response to Moran’s video. It has become known as “The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,” a nod to the power inherent in a massive budget and a cherished and culturally significant superhero that was given to people who have been treating it irresponsibly.

The show, billed as a “Spiderman” musical (without a hyphen for legal reasons), is very consciously going to have the nature of parody, more referencing the camp nature of the superhero musical concept than specifically Turn Off The Dark. But not to fear, Moran has assured inquirers that his co-author is a wholehearted comic zealot and a stickler for the details that matter to fans. The Spidey Project has completely sold out its two March 14th performances. It seems likely be filmed for the internet—there is no profit being made off the play to begin with and it would be poor form to keep it from the people who have helped The Spidey Project pick up speed in the first place.

I, for one, eagerly await the results of the past month and the work of fans trying to save a stage interpretation of a beloved character. And if it does prove that a budget is actually needed to create a quality musical, at least no one in The Spidey Project has invested tens of millions of dollars and years of hype into it. At the very least, it came from the heart.

Rena Finkel is gothed-out fairy from New Jersey who writes on all things subculture and loves pre-Modernist literature like it’s her own child.  She studies fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University.


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