By Emily Rome
May 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing has been on the festival circuit since September, but no other festival has made ado about the film quite like the Seattle International Film Festival, where Much Ado screened for a crowd of 3,000 on Thursday.

The Shakespeare adaptation – which Whedon shot in a 12-day stealth production at his house during what was supposed to be his post-Avengers vacation – kicked off the festival for its opening night at Seattle’s McCaw Hall in what became a record-breaking event shortly after ticket sales opened. The gala screening and party sold out in six hours on April 8, which went on to become the biggest box office day in SIFF’s 39-year history.

“We knew there was going to be a lot of demand but we didn’t really think it was going to go that fast,” SIFF artistic director Carl Spence told EW about the event that featured appearances by Whedon and cast members. “We’ve had other films with major stars that have done well and sell out, but it usually takes a couple of weeks.”

Typical of casual Seattle, the event’s attendees represented a whole spectrum of attire – from floor-length gowns to black kilts to jeans and T-shirts (including ones bearing the logos of Captain America and Captain Hammer). But the audience was largely united in its enthusiasm for the Whedonverse.

The event had a vibe more akin to Comic-Con than most film festivals, thanks to the crowd half the size of a Hall H audience and heavily populated with vocal Whedon fans. In the packed opera house venue, laughter and cheers were aplenty throughout the crowd-pleaser comedy and during the post-screening Q&A, which featured a lot of playful banter and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Whedon and actors Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, and Clark Gregg – all fan-favorite alums of Whedon’s past projects.

While Gregg explained to the crowd how he got his part as Leonato in Much Ado right after working on Whedon’s “art house blockbuster” (as Spence called it) the actor’s mention of The Avengers launched the audience into a chorus of cheers. Realizing the power he had to up the noise level around him, he slyly continued, “because I was a big fan of his from Buffy…” which of course got the crowd cheering again. Fillion joined in the game, yelling, “Castle!” and Gregg followed with a shout-out to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – and the hundreds of fans dutifully raised the roof with each name drop.

“I was really amazed about how well the movie was received,” Denisof told EW Friday afternoon. “They were just completely involved in the story and picking up all the fine points and laughing when you hoped they would laugh and being quiet and intent when it was time to listen. It was a great night and a raging party afterwards.”

At the after party, Denisof – who grew up in Seattle – got things going as he pulled Spence to the then-empty dance floor – which wasn’t at all empty again until the end of the night. Spence noted that though SIFF-goers have always known how to party, the group at Thursday’s post-screening festivities was particularly “lively and had great energy.”

With many Whedon devotees mixed in among the SIFF veterans at the event, Spence believes a new audience has been introduced to the festival (which is North America’s biggest film festival in terms of number of attendees and number of screenings over its 25-day run).

“I think we brought some new people into the fold, who got a taste of what the festival is. Now they may come back and try something else,” Spence said.

Indeed, attendees Kerri Thomas and Sascha Golden, both 25-year-old residents of Seattle and fans of Whedon’s work, told EW that after hearing about the screening, they decided to volunteer for the festival and book tickets for more movies.

In a poetic coincidence the Bard would surely appreciate, this year’s Much Ado screening at SIFF comes 20 years after another SIFF opening night that featured an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing – Kenneth Branagh’s take on the play kicked off the festival in 1993.

As for whether there’s a Shakespeare encore in Whedon’s future – perhaps for his post-Avengers 2 vacation? – the writer/director isn’t making any promises yet. When Q&A moderator Dave Karger, chief correspondent for Fandango and former EW writer, asked whether another stealth shoot palette cleanser could be expected someday, Whedon had this response:

“I don’t know – which may be the three most beautiful words I’ve ever uttered,” said the ever-busy entertainer, “I have some commitments with Clark, I have this other movie – there’s a lot of stuff I need to get done. And after that, I don’t know what’s next. I’m going to hold onto this feeling for the three weeks that I have it.”

So, Joss the Boss, just know that your fans expect to hear an announcement of a brilliant new project three weeks from now. Until then, enjoy the allure of the unknown and the release of Much Ado About Nothing.

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing opens in U.S. theaters on June 7. A U.K. and Ireland release is set for June 14. The release follows last year’s world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, the U.S. premiere at South By Southwest last month.

The 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, which will screen 447 films from 85 countries, continues through Sunday, June 9.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome

Read more:

Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ bus is why Vine exists

When the Bard met Joss Whedon: Watch the first trailer for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

‘Much Ado About Nothing’: Check out the new poster; Plus an Alexis Denisof Q&A

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