Joss Whedon's uber-passionate fans were shocked to discover Sunday night that he'd secretly shot a new movie version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in just 12 days. Whedon is the cult hero who created the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and the viral web hit Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog — projects that "are the definition of awesome to nerds everywhere." How did Whedon, who also just finished shooting the hotly anticipated superhero blockbuster The Avengers, manage to make an entire movie without anyone in Hollywood reporting it? Here, a brief guide:

What is the project?
Whedon's take on Much Ado About Nothing was shot entirely in black and white, and will be what Whedon describes as a "noir comedy." It stars a who's-who of Whedon players, including Nathan Fillion (the star of Firefly and Castle), Firefly's Sean Maher, and Angel's Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. The film was financed, in a way, by Whedon himself. It was produced by Bellwether Pictures, a micro-studio that Whedon and his wife, Kai Cole, created for "small, independent narratives for all media," according to a press release. Whedon says the film will be ready to run at the spring 2012 film festival circuit.

And he shot it in 12 days?
Just days after wrapping principal photography on The Avengers — the upcoming superhero mash-up starring Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, Chris Evans' Captain America, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and Chris Hemsworth's Thor — Whedon "recharged his batteries by diving into the contemporary adaptation of the play," says Hugh Hart at Wired. Whedon told Entertainment Weekly that he was planning a 20th anniversary vacation with his wife during the final days of the Avengers shoot when she said, "Let's not take the vacation. Make a movie instead." So he adapted a script, cast his reliable stable of actors, and shot the entire film at his Santa Monica house — yes, in just 12 days.

How did people find out about it?
Whedon specifically requested that his Twitter-happy cast refrain from leaking news about the project during its brief shooting. But as soon as it wrapped, the film's existence was revealed through a cryptic tweet by Nathan Fillion that linked to, the film's official website. Sean Maher followed by tweeting, "I promise you it's the real deal and we're VERY excited about this." Bellwether Pictures soon followed with an official press release. 

And fans are over the moon?
"That thud you heard was everybody in America with a liberal arts degree fainting dead in excitement," says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. Whedon is that popular. While it may seem a little strange for Whedon to swap slayers and superheroes for Shakespeare, the Bard's major themes — "family, sex, betrayal, violence, and clever wordplay" — are found "all over Whedon's body of work." And while Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing "remains the gold standard," says Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress, it's exciting to imagine how the undeniably creative Whedon will approach the material.

Sources: Black Book, Collider, E! Online, Entertainment Weekly, NY Times, Wired (2)