Hey gang, Jason and Stacey here with a pop quiz for all of you internet savvy guys and gals out there. Who’s the one person every woman at a comic convention (who may or may not be wearing a costume that’s a little too tight for propriety) wants to be, and every carpal tunnel-suffering, ventrilo-chatting dude wants to date? Well, it’s none other than the online sensation and “Whedon-verse” media darling, Felicia Day. Stacey and I were fortunate enough (and by “fortunate enough,” I mean hounded until she finally gave in for pity’s sake) to sit down with the always congenial and extremely funny Ms. Day over mochas and blueberry muffins at “Milk” in West Hollywood where she regaled us with stories about “The Guild,” her new series from Dark Horse based on the award-winning webisode series.
Q: Let’s talk about the evolution of “The Guild.” Did it start simply as an actress vehicle, or were you in this because you had this idea to create a full on series?
A: No, I created it as an actor vehicle, ‘cause I wanted to write a part for me that no one would write in Hollywood or ever let me play. Codex is kind of a geeky girl and she’s very introverted, everything you don’t see in T.V. unless it’s a very tangential character. So, I just did it – really as an exercise. I didn’t have any idea that it would ever get made. I just had this idea that I would do it as a half-hour comedy because it’s a nice format. And it was just a sense of accomplishment I felt when I finished the end that it was worth the whole exercise, and the fact that anything happened after that is kind of a miracle.
Q: So you had no idea that you were tapping into this incredibly embroiled fan base that would just grab hold of this?
A: Initially we did, but it became way more than that when we started production. I’ve never produced anything before and it was so much fun. We did everything… I would drive out to Sylmar at 7:00 am because someone posted they had free computer monitors, so it was me getting into the car to get that set dressing. There’s a painting on Tink’s wall that, in fact, is a piece of wrapping paper ‘cause I wanted something colorful behind her head and I couldn’t afford to buy anything. Even a print was too expensive because we were completely out of pocket. So we bought a two dollar piece of wallpaper and then my boyfriend and I downloaded some tattoo art off the internet and drew it with a sharpie. And still it’s the thing we use. That’s just what it is if you don’t have any money and you just make it work.
Thankfully we have enough film making know-how: we were on set, so we knew the director’s experience; our experience as actors, and my co-producer Kim Evey had already done a bunch of web videos so she kind of had tips about how to make the video pop and make it more polished. Our combined small pieces of knowledge about filmmaking helped make it look more polished than the average web series at the time – this was just 2007 and people weren’t doing web series very much at all. So then we just put it up, and I’m a very focused person, so it became this mission in life to get as many people to watch the thing ‘cause I really believed it was brilliant. Guess you have to believe your stuff is brilliant in order to go on.
Q: You’ve seemed to figure out something most major studios have yet to wrap their heads around, and you’ve already gotten a sponsor. Have you figured out how to make The Guild profitable? Did you promise to make money and then people jumped on board?
A: We are now able to make some money off “The Guild,” which is good because it’s been our 24/7 job for three years now and we’re just kind of getting there. The first two episodes were out of our pocket, almost no money, and then we put a paypal button up because we couldn’t afford to do the show ourselves. We were able to tap into a niche audience who was very passionate about our show and willing to donate five dollars in order to participate in the show. From Indonesia, England, we had donors all over the world and it really brought a community together who were able to share in the pleasure of making a film together without having all of these layers of crap and junk.
So then we wanted to pay back our crew, because we didn’t pay them at first. The donations just paid for cost, so we were like ‘let’s make a DVD.’ We had no clue about how to make a DVD, it’s too many processes for you and me to appreciate, but we had to do it on our own because we didn’t have money to pay people who knew what they were doing. So we made a lot of mistakes, and we continue to make a lot of mistakes, but I have to say it is the most valuable way to learn. And we‘ve learned a lot of things along the way: we self-publish the DVD, we package them out of my kitchen – thousands of them and it was a horrible experience because order fulfillment was not what I got into, but that’s what we had to do. We did have some volunteers come help us, but at the end of the day it was me and Kim doing all this stuff.
We did have a lot of studios and producers want the show after season one. And the way Hollywood works is that you just add layers that would just soak up money in between. We knew the internet better than they did, so we couldn’t see the value they would add, especially for the money they were offering us. I was like: ‘so wait, let me get this straight. You’re going to pay me not very much money to take my show and the property, and not even guarantee our attachment at this point, and you’re going to have creative input, but you don’t actually use the internet?’ I was very protective ‘cause I felt like this does not just belong to me, it belongs to everyone who donated to this show, too.
So we started doing season two on DVD money and before our cameras rolled, Microsoft came in and said, ‘We want this. We’re going to develop independent content and we’re ok with you owning it.’ They were able to bring Sprint on board as an overall sponsor when most studios at the time couldn’t get sponsorship attached to a webseries. Now it’s more common, but it’s more branded entertainment. This year Sprint is just saying basically ‘Presented by Sprint,’ which is the old T.V. model from the fifties. I think it’s a testament to how their trust in us has grown. Also, I think they’re smarter because people identify and see value in their product versus seeing their logo everywhere.
Q: When did you get the idea to expand from a web series to the video (“Do you want to Date my Avatar?” music video) and the comic book?
A: I would love to take credit like I’m some sort of visionary. We usually owe an extra video, like a holiday video, for Microsoft. It was twelve episodes and an extra video, that’s what they requested. So I had to come up with an extra video and there was this weird timing issue where I didn’t know what to do as the extra video. I got the idea when I was writing and listening to “Joyride” by Roxette. And we had some scanned art sent in so we were really inspired by the fans. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own Avatar costumes?’ And it just steam- rolled from there. ‘Oh Jed [Whedon], do you want to do this with me? I know you won’t because it’s too weird…’ And then he said yes! I called him as a lark and asked him to direct because he had never directed anything before. And it came out just brilliant! So, every single step of the way that was something – I’ll release it here and here and here, and I’ll do this on the launch date… There was this list of things I wanted to do and hoped the fans would support and like it. It’s all not an accident, there’s a lot of work that goes behind it, but it is sort of just following creative inspiration in a way that’s not allowed through traditional means.
With the comic, I knew Scott Allie [editor of The Guild] from working with Joss on “Dr. Horrible.” He wanted to do a comic right away and I waited a year before I said yes because I didn’t have time and I didn’t think the show was developed enough to deserve a comic. Then I came up with the idea, but I had no idea what I was getting into. And that’s how Felicia operates. Unless you do stuff that scares you, then you’re not pushing your limits and you’re not going to learn how to do new things. So with the comic, it was this huge endeavor that I really didn’t know at the time since I put it off as much as I did. At the end I was extremely happy, but the process was much more challenging than I had imagined. Now I respect comic book writers a hell of a lot more!
Q: How did you find your artist Jim Rugg?
Jim is great! I met him through the “Penny” comic, and that was initially the reason why I wasn’t sure if we should use him. I love his style, but was a little wary because he had already done me as Penny. And then he sent some samples, as if he was looking through a webcam and I knew the style was completely different. In my mind, the whole underlying tone is independent. Some artists that had done demos for the book were too comedic for my taste. And especially for this character – if I was going to do another character’s point of view, then a quirky or cartoony style might work better. But for Sid specifically, I wanted to explore the real underlying emotions of why someone would get into finding satisfaction from an online community in a real way versus a real community. She’s kind of a sad person, that’s her character, and I didn’t want to desecrate that by making everything so slapstick early on. Jim’s indy style is just so perfect! I’m very happy with the way they came out.
This seems to be a good place as any to take a break. Don’t miss our next column for the second part of Felicia’s interview. And since we know you don’t need any incentive ‘cause she’s so cool, it’s probably just a waste of our time to mention that we’ll be holding a contest for an autographed copy of “The Guild” #1. Be back next time for details on how to win!!!
Follow us on twitter: Jason -@GoTodash; Stacey – TVStaceyLevin