Web TV: Felicia Day Talks New Media - Mania.com

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Web TV: Felicia Day Talks New Media

Also The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog.

By Stephen Lackey     February 12, 2009

Mania talks The Guild in our new feature Web TV
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Web TV is a new feature here at Mania that will be focusing on all of the edgy new media available on the web, on mobile phones, and on set top boxes that aren’t part of the traditional media system. We’ll be featuring news, reviews, and previews of shows along with interviews with the people that create them. For the longest time, the real stars of internet video were tech related and while those are still out there and of note, there are now many more options for all of us who want something new and innovative, something we won’t see on one of the major networks.
Felicia Day, a true geek, a gamer, and a fan of comic books, is at the forefront of the new media scene due to the success of her series, The Guild. The show found a huge fan base first on the web and now as a part of Microsoft’s XBOX Live and even on MSN. The show focuses on the misadventures of a group of friends who play an online RPG similar to World of Warcraft together. The group meets in the game but they also meet in the real world and generally, hilarity ensues. Day produces, writes, and stars in the series and she is the glue that holds the show together. Each character is fun and interesting but her quirky character is what will make you come back to the series from the first episode to the last.
If you don’t know her right away, you must not be a hardcore Joss Whedon fan. It was during eight episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that Day first garnered attention from genre fans and Whedon fans in particular. After Buffy, she appeared in episodes of Undeclared, Monk, and many others before starting her own online series. We were lucky enough to talk with Felicia about The Guild, her return to the Whedonverse in a new media series called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, and even what she’s up to in traditional media. One quick warning, if you haven’t watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, head over to Hulu and check it out before going any further because spoilers are ahead.
Mania: What was your first experience with web video?
Felicia Day: Probably what most people's are:  A cat on a treadmill, or some public access TV commercial with terrible acting.  Those are the roots of the internet!
Mania: What made you decide to create The Guild and was it always planned to be a web series?
Felicia Day: I created The Guild because I was bored and frustrated with the opportunities I was getting in Hollywood as an actress, and wanted to find a creative outlet in writing. The Guild was originally conceived as a 1/2 hour pilot for TV, but after I showed it around to my producer/executive friends I knew nothing would come of it in that venue because it was "too niche". My producing partner Kim Evey read the script, and having just had a viral hit with her own web series Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show she suggested we shoot the first part of the script for the web, because that's where the audience for a show about gamers was. And she was right.
Mania: So what process did you go through to create this series for the web?
Felicia Day: I created a group of characters I cared about and who I thought were funny.  I wanted to create a geeky "Friends" I guess.  We shot the first 10 pages of the script on our own dime and posted them on YouTube not expecting anything really.
Mania: As an actress and as a producer, what are the good and bad parts of producing a web series versus working in a more traditional medium?
Felicia Day: Well, of course the budgets are not even comparable. The money they spend on wardrobe on a TV show exceeds our whole budget for an episode. I do love the control of creating what I want without having to think "politically", and that we're inventing the rules as we go along. There are no rules, so we make them up. It's the wild west. I also love the fact that we have such a quick turnaround, and get instant feedback from fans when we post videos, good and bad. :)
Mania: What's the absolute most difficult part of producing and maintaining a web series?
Felicia Day: Getting people to return and remember to watch episodes.  There is always a lot of traffic on episode 1, but it's a different story around episode 5.  The internet is a big place, and even loyal fans miss when episodes go out.  They miss when whole SEASONS go out.  You have to constantly be reminding people about your show, without annoying the fans who are attentive. It's a fine line to walk. 
Mania: How did you get involved with Microsoft?
Felicia Day: We started shooting Episode 1 of Season 2 on our own dime, from our DVD money, because I wasn't willing to give up the creative rights to the show to get funding. After one day of shooting, Xbox came in.  They loved the show, got the vision, and didn't want to interfere or own it. It was a dream come true and was a relief to me after holding out for so long.  We had some great people interested in the show, but I followed my gut and took a risk. It doesn't always pay off; thank goodness it did this time!
Mania: Have you received feedback specifically from XBOX users?
Felicia Day: Yes, we've seen a MASSIVE influx of people who were not aware of the show and who are fans now. It's amazing how segmented the audience is on the internet. I think old media thinks of "internet viewers" as a monolith, but it's really like thousands of cable channels. The great thing about Xbox viewers is that they are able to see the show downloaded onto their huge TVs in HD, so it's like watching a "real" television show for them. The experience is amazing. 
Mania: Does creating the series now for Microsoft on the XBOX add any new complexities to your production and are you planning to adjust your writing for that fan base?
Felicia Day: No, I had always intended to open up The Guild from behind their computers, it's a constant balance between the gaming and non-gaming aspects of their lives.  The biggest adjustment was the additional crew needs with shooting in HD and the weekly rollout compared to monthly last season. That's been quite the learning curve. 
Mania: As an actress, what are your favorite kinds of roles to play?
Felicia Day: I love comedy, and I love sci-fi. I like a character with a quirky, offbeat sensibility, and I'm most comfortable when being made fun of. I don't know the psychology behind that.
Mania: As a writer what are your favorite kinds of stories to tell?
Felicia Day: I love mixing comedy and drama together, and stripping the glossy veneer off of what we're used to in Hollywood storytelling and I love throwing characters together who make a "family", but in a totally dysfunctional way.
Mania: Are you able to bring both of those favorites together in your web series The Guild?
Felicia Day: Yes, I have a deep love for each of the characters in the show. Especially since they are people who would never be brought together other than with gaming, and yet they love each other in a weird way. Behind a monitor we're all alike, that's what I like about meeting people on the internet.
Mania: How much, if any, of The Guild is improvised?
Felicia Day: Very little.  Sandeep and Jeff throw in great lines here and there, but it's quite tightly scripted.  I strive to pack as much as humanly possible in 5-8 minutes, and you can't have dead air with that restriction. 
Mania: How has being a part of the “Whedonverse” benefited and detracted from your projects?
Felicia Day: No detraction.  Whedon fans are the most supportive on the planet, and The Guild wouldn't be where it is today without those fans, and without Joss himself for casting me in Buffy and then Dr. Horrible after that. Getting the word out about a web show is extremely difficult, and I appreciate the fact that every fan who has linked the show is a PR agent in a sense.  It makes me proud to share the success of the show with each and every one of them.
Mania: How did you become a part of Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog?
Felicia Day: Joss and I had a short conversation on the picket line during the WGA strike about internet series, and he floated the idea of "Horrible" out there, very early stages.  I was very bold in making him aware of my own show, which he'd already watched .A few months later he sent me a mystery email "Can you sing? -j"  And that's how I got the part!
Mania: What were the biggest similarities and differences between working with Whedon on Dr. Horrible versus working with him on Buffy?
Felicia Day: Dr. Horrible was a wonderful set to work on, because it had the collaborative spirit of "putting on a show!"  There was no network to please, no notes; it was a grand experiment with wonderful songs. Working on Buffy was great too, but it was more of a "job", Dr Horrible was pure play. And pleasure. I had a bigger part in Dr. Horrible too, so that was fun.
Mania: Will there be more Dr. Horrible and have you heard if Whedon will find a way to bring you back from the dead?
Felicia Day: I know that Joss wants to make another incarnation of Dr Horrible, but I guess scheduling is an issue. If he brings me back, great, if not, I'll be a PA. I'd do anything for the Horrible crew!! 
Mania: What do you think is the key to getting the masses to start paying attention to new media?
Felicia Day: Giving it a face, making it easier for people to watch. Dr. Horrible made huge inroads, but it's still not mainstream to watch video on the internet.  It's a slow transition, but the more TV goes on the internet, and internet goes to the TV, the seamless road between them will be built.  It's only a matter of time.
Mania: What's the future of new media from your perspective?
Felicia Day: I think a lot of new talent will be "discovered" on the internet.  I think more people like Joss will delve into making content for the web because they can own it and have more creative freedom. I also think traditional companies will start to see real value in creating quality product for the web, because advertisers will see that it's a much more effective way to reach a targeted audience. Where the money goes, so goes the product.
Mania: What advice do you have for the would-be producer out there hoping to start an online project?
Felicia Day: Make something people can't find on TV. Tell stories that aren't being told.  Realize that you have to maintain a show like a garden, it's constantly in need of watering and tending to or it will die. The hard work comes after the actual videos are made, and that every viewer is a precious resource. All the PR money in the world will not make a show successful without fan support.
Mania: You are involved in several other new media projects besides The Guild. Can you talk a little about those?
Felicia Day: I am acting in Season 2 of Legend of Neil, Sandeep Parikh's (Zaboo from The Guild) web series for atom.com.  I also have a show I'm in production on for Machinima.com, a sitcom set in a gaming world. I'm getting ready to write Season 3 of The Guild and also developing another project that doesn't involve gaming. Lots on my plate!
Mania: What shows can fans see you in on TV coming up?
Felicia Day: I have a great 4 episode arc on the new ABC Family show "Roommates", their first 4-camera sitcom show.  Very funny, I come in at the end of the season.  That will be in May.
The Guild Season 1 and 2 are both available on the XBOX Live marketplace free of charge and on the web at www.watchtheguild.com.


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