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Catching Up With... Felicia Day

April 22, 2009  |  10:30am
Catching Up With... Felicia Day
As a television actress, Felicia Day's biggest roles have included eight episodes on Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and single guest spots on shows like House and Monk. So if there's any question as to whether acting for the computer screen can lead to stardom, one need look no further than Day's 422,000 followers on Twitter. The mathematics/violin performance major at The University of Texas has starred in two of the biggest Internet series, Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, where she was caught in a love triangle with Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion, and her own creation, The Guild. The latter was pitched as a TV pilot, but the networks saw the idea of a beautiful girl's addiction to online gaming as too niche for broadcast. She boiled it down into three-minute segments for online viewing, and it's since won multiple awards and millions of fans. Paste recently caught up with Day about The Guild, social gaming and the advantages of broadcasting online.

Paste: First off, what made you decide to create The Guild?
Day: Well, you know, I’m an actor and I make a living acting—I make a really good living—but I was bored. I’ll be in a series for three or four episodes, but then I‘ll be off the series and downtime, as an actor, is a little more than most people understand. Most of the time you’re just sitting around taking coffee with friends. So I got bored and I was looking for something else to do with my life, in addition to kind of filling the time, and I decided to write something. Before that, I had filled my copious time with an addiction to online gaming, so after having shaked that eight-hour-a-day problem, I decided to write something. They say always write what you know, and what I know is all about gaming and everything related to role-play gaming, because ever since I was six years old I’ve done role-play gaming; it’s definitely my life vice.

Paste: So you had the idea, and originally you thought it would be a TV show?
Day: Yeah, I wrote it as a half-hour pilot, and you know, at the time, there were not very many web shows. It was mostly sketch comedy, but there weren’t very many shows where people were like, “I’ll watch a show online,” so it wasn’t really the first thing I thought of. I wrote it as a half-hour pilot because that’s the format I know and I showed it to producers and network people I know, and they were like, “Oh, yeah, there’s some really great stuff in there. There are some really great characters, but I don’t know what the hell is going on.” Even then, people didn’t understand, even now, people don’t know that when you game, people talk to each other, so people thought, “Oh you know, maybe she gamed before and now she has boyfriend and she works at a coffee shop.” So my co-producer Kim Evey, had done a lot of web video in the early days and she had just had a viral hit, Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show,  which was featured on a lot of TV shows, and it was kind of a wacky knock-off of Japanese kitsch shows. She was like, “Well, let’s do this for the web, because that’s where most of the people you’re talking about, most of your audience, is. They’re the kind of people who don’t watch TV, they’re on the web.” So we took the first act and shot it on our own dime, it was kind of a fun project and we had no kind of aim for it, other than just like, let’s make this script, so here we are now.

Paste: But this is not your only web hit. You’re also on Jos Whedon’s Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I know you had been Vi on Buffy, but how did you land that role?
Day: I had been doing The Guild for about six months when the writers' strike happened and by then we had gotten a pretty good underground following. I’m very persistent; I know the Internet very well, because I grew up on the Internet. I had Internet when there was just dial-up, and the Internet was my social outlet. So I had done pretty well with my show, and Jos had seen it, and I, of course, bugged everyone I had the emails of, and he said “Yes, I like it.” We were walking around in a circle with our signs at the Strike, and he was like, “I want to make a superhero musical.” So I was like, “That sounds amazing, please go do it.” And then, around the corner of the year, like January or February, he just randomly sent me this e-mail saying, “Can you sing? -J." It was the most random e-mail ever, that’s how Joss does things, and I was like, “Yes, why do you ask?” So it turns out that he and his brothers and fiancé Marissa had wrote the script, and originally they envisioned it for their backyard, but it turned into so much more, so that’s how I became a part of it. It was really amazing. I mean, I guess you could say it was because of The Guild. I’m a big champion of people doing things outside the system.

Paste: Did you have any tips for Joss?
Day: Oh yeah, I give tips whether people want them or not. Not on the production side; he’s a master of the story, but as far as distribution, and getting it out there. But the thing about Joss is that he had a huge Web fan base, so that helped. But it’s a completely new field that’s being invented as it goes on; it’s a new genre that’s being invented, which is really exciting.

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Paste: So you have two seasons under your belt. When does the third season launch?
Day: We don’t have the definite pick-up. We’re still coming off of the finale, but I’m starting to get my stuff together, because I’m going to make my show no matter what. The thing about Web video is that we’re not rolling around in money like most TV and film, and by necessity we have to wear a lot of hats. So, you know, not only do I write all the episodes, but I star in them, and I co-produce them, and I manage the Web, and fan correspondence, and I go to conventions and meet our fans and down the line to Photoshop and Excel. Since we can’t pay anyone to do it, we rely on ourselves, and our volunteers, so now that I’ve come off of Season Two, I’m staring to gear up for Season Three.

Paste: Where does the money come from to pay the actors and the production staff?
Day: For season one, we self-financed, and then we just randomly put up a few call buttons and I didn’t think anything would happen with that but people just started giving us money. This one fan gave us $100 and I e-mailed him and I was like, “Did you mean to put the period there?” But as the show became worth more, and the season went along (we released one show a month for the first season), we got more and more money, so for the last two episodes we were actually able to pay our actors. We shot on donation but up until then we’d been totally doing it on cost—bagels and cameras as I like to say. But for Season Two we had a different model because we got so many offers, like dozens of networking producers and venture capitalists to produce the show, but the rebellious inner spirit I have made me not want to sell the rights to my show, 'cause no one knows what’s going on on the Internet more than me. So all they were doing was providing money to shoot the show, but before I had already shot the show, we had made it. So that’s the power of saying no, and I was nervous and didn’t want to sell the rights. I wanted to have creative freedom we started shooting. Then, Xbox and Microsoft came in and were like, “We love the show, we want you to do what you do with it, we just want to help you produce it and make it and roll it out really fast.” They created a revolutionary business model, because not only did they get a sponsor on board, but they distributed it over all the Microsoft platforms so you can download it for free off of Xbox live and HD which is basically like downloading a TV show. So our little independent, shot-in-my-shed show is essentially one click away from 30 Rock.

Paste: That’s awesome. I just finished Season One and now I realize I can go home and watch Season Two on Xbox.
Day: And, you know, Season Two we had a much higher production value; we shot in HD, we had an amazing crew, many of whom worked for free, they e-mailed me and were like, “I work in the industry, I want to work for free, I love your show.” So I was like, “Come on over.” Season One, I wrote a half-hour pilot, but Season Two, I wrote 12 episodes from scratch, and I’m really proud of it. There’s a lot more storyline going on, and anyway, in addition to being on Xbox live, I found what works for the show. And you can stream it on MSN and download it on Zune and watch it in eight different languages, which was something I was really pushing for. The Internet doesn’t have barriers, so why should we? A lot of streaming videos are region encoded, which I’m like, “why?”

Paste: Do you get a lot of streams from China and Japan?
Day: Yes, and we can actually see them. As far as Xbox downloads, we’ve far and wide exceeded their expectations in all the English-speaking countries, and we also have huge numbers of downloads we didn’t really expect. Gaming is universal, and hopefully my show is universal.

Paste: Do you still play?
Day: Yes, I do unfortunately. You know, we don’t name the games in the show, but its pretty much a lot of things that are similar to World Of Warcraft, because that’s what I played eight or nine hours a day. I’m not an addict, like I can play two or three hours a day, but the Guild Master in the show has become a real, live addict, like he’ll IM me at three in the morning and be like, “My blacksmithing’s up to 335.” I’m like, “Who are you?” And when we first started playing he emailed me and was like “I thought the show was funny before, but now, when I go back to Season One, I get so many more of the jokes—I know what I was saying.”

Paste: Life imitating art there, I guess… So you’re still acting in other TV shows?
Day: Yeah, I have a Dollhouse episode coming up, and I have four episodes of Roommates coming up and I just did an episode of My Boys. The funny thing is, I don’t see it rubbing off in Hollywood. You know, Web video is still the bastard step-child, so I don’t think that my work is making people aware of me in the mainstream, so even through I have my own show, there’s a huge disconnect. But I think in the next year, there’s going to be a huge amount of people getting used to watching video on the web, with Hulu, and Xbox Live, so hopefully the people like me who are pioneering will start rubbing off.

Paste: Do you have any other projects you’re working on right now?
Day: Yeah, I wanted to do a sitcom with Machinima.com; a sitcom in a Sci-fi or fantasy world, using gaming footage to assemble a sitcom. And unfortunately I have another project, and I say unfortunately because it would be much better for me financially to be doing a TV pilot or movie. But I’m just really enjoying opening the doors to new projects, because the stories that people are used to seeing on TV and film aren’t as interesting to people anymore, because on network, by definition, you have to appeal to as many people as possible. But on the web, you can make something that is a little more niche oriented, which it’s easier to get the word out for. And I think that’s great—like, why not make things that are more tailor-based to people's interest than a bunch of white people drinking coffee together? 'Cause we’ve seen it, we’ve seen it done really well, so let's start doing things that people haven’t seen before.

Paste: So do you think more people with TV backgrounds are going to start looking at this? And do you think Joss is going to do another Web series?
Day: I know that Joss is very interested in doing things on the Internet, because, I mean, look at Dr. Horrible. He had no PR budget for that, it was all word-of-mouth, and it was a complete independent success. But I think the more web video there is, the more press you’ll get, as well as all the people who want to tell stories that haven’t been told before but cant do that on TV because different stories are a risk. But with lower budget you have more creative freedom, so if you can do that yourself and retain ownership, why not try that. The traditional ways of getting concepts across are breaking down.

Paste: Do you find that people are surprised when they find you are a gamer, that you play World Of Warcraft? Is there still that kind of stigma?
Day: You know, our first season we got a lot of comments like that: “Girls don’t game!” But at conventions, like 50% of of the people who come up to us are girls who game, and I think there’s a huge undiscovered market, especially with social gamers. It’s a great social outlet, with your friends. Social gaming is revolutionizing the ways girls spend their time. It’s a better way to spend your time than watching TV or movies. If I gave voice to some girl gamers out there who are not respected then that’s fantastic. But yeah, mainstream culture, they’re like, “Yeah, you don’t look like a gamer,” but I have [400,000] Twitter followers and a lot of them are gaming geeks, and now I’ve really discovered who I want to talk to and who my audience is.

Paste: Excellent. Well, I really enjoy the show, and now I’m going to go home and watch Season Two.
Day: Yes, go home and watch it on your Xbox!

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