By Ryan Swearingen, Co-Founder/Editor
Felicia Day is often called a “geek goddess,” a title she’d surely wear with pride. Whether writing and starring in her original web series The Guild, acting in Joss Whedon’s cult favorite, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or “playing with herself” as her in-game Dragon Age character, her exuberance and passion are undeniable. She’s made a career of refusing to accept the status quo, choosing instead to create her own opportunities.
The Guild, and its chronicle of a group of online game addicts led by her alter ego, Cyd Sherman (and her in-game alter ego, Codex), has become a success story of the ability of web video to reach a devoted and substantial niche audience. After five seasons, Felicia is expanding her web video kingdom beyond The Guild to include a lineup of seven new and original web series on her new YouTube Premium Channel, Geek & Sundry. The channel is positioned to be a geek paradise, with shows such as The Flog, in which Day explores outrageous occupations, TableTop with Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame), which gives tabletop gaming the “celebrity poker” treatment, Sword & Laser, where Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt discuss the latest in sci-fi and fantasy literature, the animated comics of Dark Horse, a refreshed The Guild, and more.
Felicia joined us by phone the week before the channel launch for a conversation on what to expect from Geek & Sundry, following one’s muse, and milking goats. Not necessarily in that order.
stated: Thanks for joining us. I’ve been a fan since discovering The Guild in season one. I’d never seen anything quite like it and was immediately hooked.
FELICIA: Oh, thanks!
stated: It’s been inspiring to watch it grow from a scrappy underdog into what’s really a model for doing web video well. I know you were home-schooled in order to focus on violin, singing, and ballet, and that you connected with friends online through the “Ultima Dragons” club. The connections between the character you created for The Guild, Cyd Sherman, and yourself appear pretty strong, right down to playing the violin. How much of you is in Cyd and how are you different?
FELICIA: When I set out to write a part for myself, I wanted to bring some of myself into it. But she’s more introverted and stunted than I am or ever was. But I wanted to capture a part of myself. In the beginning I was a lot more like her, but I learned to do things the hard way if wanted to stick around. You have to keep reinventing yourself. That’s why I’m doing The Flog. It’s me channeling myself and helping people. Everyone’s trying to find their muse, whether it’s their profession or their hobby, and so we’re highlighting people who are doing things and experimenting.
(“Do You Wanna Date My Avatar” music video featuring the cast of The Guild.)
stated: And The Flog is named after your old blog of the same name, right?
FELICIA: Wow, yeah. You have been following me for a while! Yeah, before I started playing WoW [World of Warcraft], I created some websites, including The Flog. I enjoyed building sites. I was really into the forums and things. And when I was brainstorming for Geek & Sundry, I thought…it’s The Flog. The Felicia video blog.
So I’m producing all these shows and am really hands-on. Geek & Sundry is a startup, with no official office budget. The budget is what you see on screen. I had to hunker down and think what I could do weekly that would bring me joy, and that was The Flog. And part of what I want to do is not only help independent artists and creators, but also share cool things with people. And then every week I’ll be doing a segment where I go out and learn things. I cook from my favorite cooking blogs, I do some music videos, and violin; so it’s basically whatever I like. Whatever crosses my path. Hopefully as this goes on, I’ll do some collaborations with people, and I have some cool guests coming on and doing activities with me. The whole idea is to introduce new hobbies to people and encourage people that you should follow that whim, and try out glassblowing because, you know, it could be a one-time thing, or maybe could find a career in it! You never know. You have to look into it.
stated: That’s so much fun and you could take it anywhere. It’s kind of limitless.
FELICIA: Yeah, I know, and as adults we’re not really encouraged to try things and to explore ourselves. I think we’re always changing as people, and if you limit yourself and feel like, “Well, I’m an adult—I can’t go be that crazy aunt who takes pottery class,” you might be missing something that’s really fulfilling. And that’s kind of what life’s about—exploring who you are almost by elimination. So I definitely was excited to sit down and brainstorm all the things that I’ve always wanted to do. And our first episode is blacksmithing, so it’s pretty crazy. It was an extremely cool experience and I got it on tape.
(The Flog Episode 1)
stated: Did the interest in blacksmithing come out of the whole sort of Guild / Dragon Age world?
FELICIA: Oh, absolutely. I have a specialty in blacksmithing in Skyrim, so that was number one on the activity list.
stated: Yeah, why not start there?
FELICIA: I mean, listen, that is no joke.
stated: It’s crazy. We forget that people still do this for a living and a trade and it’s been around for ages and yet, I doubt that technology has changed so drastically in blacksmithing, right? It’s probably done the same way as it was 300 years ago.
FELICIA: Yeah, it’s definitely interesting to see how they use technology but at the same time there is artisanship there. And on another level, I think we don’t really appreciate how we get things. We don’t appreciate on a macro level, like, “What is it like to make this thing that I consume without any thought any more?” So when we go and milk some goats, it’s going to be… like there’s an actual man who owns those goats and then he milks them and he treats them really well, so I want to support that goat! You know?
stated: Absolutely. Everything today is packaged and instant and online and we don’t even have to think about where it came from.
FELICIA: Yeah, exactly. And I’m not saying it’ll be deep thoughts every week—it’s definitely going to be amusing. But with every show on Geek & Sundry my little agenda is to introduce people to new things that they may be able to take into the physical world. Whether it’s discovering new comic books through Dark Horse, or discovering new tabletop games through TableTop, or reading along with the sci-fi/fantasy club. Every single one of these shows is not meant to be passively consumed, it’s meant to be effective and community sharing. So that’s what I’m really proud of.
stated: That makes a lot of sense now that you’re saying that, because looking at your lineup, every one of them is about a shared experience.
FELICIA: Yeah, even the more scripted stuff like Written By a Kid [coming] later this summer, it’s about storytelling. And the activities around that and the community are about people sharing their own creative stories and finding that child within them to be able to not be judged about the quality of their work or whether people will accept it. You can just explore the creative space. It’s not on the nose, but it’s like subliminal, which is like… I could go very easily to TV with a pilot, and I would be on a TV show right now. In fact, I chose to do this rather than be on a TV show last year, because I find it that much more interesting and fulfilling to be closer to my audience.
stated: Well, exactly. It’s interesting because the networks are starting to get onboard and trying to figure out how to make that Social TV connection and plug into audiences, but the model isn’t the same. It’s just not possible to actually crowdsource your content and build it from the ground up and interact directly with your fans in the same way. And obviously, you’ve got a much higher level of control over what you’re doing creatively this way.
FELICIA: Yeah, I still own all these shows, which is really important to me. And like you said, none of these shows would necessarily be a TV show, but to me The Guild kind of testifies to the fact. I never did The Guild to please everyone on the Internet. I did The Guild because I knew that gamers who played WOW [World of Warcraft] and other online MMO’s [massively multiplayer online games] would get all my in-jokes, and then we would be able to share that experience that we were all experiencing every day in a fictitious world. So the thing for these shows, this opportunity is amazing because we’re able to create a slate of, I think, very high-quality shows for a web series, and really talk to an audience that is existing, but also grow that audience. Like now I have people coming up to me and saying, “I never gamed before I saw The Guild.” Well, that inspired them to start gaming, in the same way that TableTop hopefully will encourage people to support these very small, independent game creators and buy their game, have a game night, and then feed that back into our online community by sharing their experience with the first time they ever played Ticket to Ride or something like that. So it’s about taking that step further in social media where people aren’t just being marketed to. Their physical lives are connected to their online lives. They just need to be kinda like breeched and bridged a little bit more.
stated: Well, that’s the power of the Internet, right? It’s a bit clichéd to say, but there’s a niche for everything, and it immediately lets you connect and realize that while you may have thought what you were doing was so alone and unique and even strange, it’s just not. Because suddenly you connect and there’s literally a website for everything, and a message board for everything, so you find out that you’re not alone and it is all a shared experience.
FELICIA: Yeah, that’s what’s beautiful about it, that people can discover and accept themselves and maybe follow their whims a little bit more because they’re connected in a global way versus a localized way where they might not be accepted. So, I looked at my Guild fan base, and the community around my show, and I decided that yeah, I want to make a slate of shows that talks to those who already like what I do. So I really feel like every one of these shows kinda draw in those aspects and hopefully people will be enriched by them, and discover new things, and make more friends.
stated: Absolutely. As if you don’t have enough on your plate already, can you share if there’s a season six of The Guild on the way?
FELICIA: Yeah, my eye will be turning to season six as soon as we launch this channel. We’re re-launching The Guild on Geek & Sundry, so that’s going to be its new home. The videos will remain on The Guild channel, but we’re re-launching them as movies, so we’re taking out all the credits and the end credits so you can watch seasons 1-4 as movies. Not only will they be movies, but they’ll be high-quality HD for seasons 2-4, since we shot it in HD, and there’ll be annotated gag reels. We combed all of our archives and basically as you watch the episode or the season, you can click on those annotations and go to exclusive gag reels, and then go back to the videos. It was a really cool way to kind of refresh all those seasons so that even if you’ve seen The Guild, you’ll be able to watch it in a brand new way. And then season five will roll out—which was an awesome, epic season. So yeah, after we launch, I’ll move on to my next project.
(“Do You Wanna Date My Avatar” music video for The Guild)
stated: So if you’re moving The Guild’s home—not to get too business-ey, but this is part of what fascinates me about the model—will you still have a relationship with Microsoft and Xbox Live? Will it still be available there?
FELICIA: Yeah, I wish I could say it was more definite, but everything’s not decided. I’ve always had a great relationship with Xbox and Microsoft, and no matter what, I really love working with them, so it’s just a question of what’s happening after the channel launch. Hopefully, as a long-term goal, aside from The Guild, my goal is to make Geek & Sundry… you know, we’re kind of the indie underdog of all the YouTube premium channels, so we’re making very boutique shows in a way. I don’t want to flood the audience with content, and I want to make each episode special. So we have an episode pretty much every day, but it’s just really high quality, and that’s been my goal. So if we prove the concept, and we have a big enough audience and can get enough subscribers and all that stuff, the goal is to make more of these shows under our umbrella and grow the community and also grow the number of shows we can do. So it’s going to be a big proving ground. I’m excited and we’ve already got a lot of subscribers now, so we’ll see!
stated: And I just saw you’re doing a Google+ Hangout this weekend for like 12 hours?
FELICIA: Yeah…I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I had this idea that in order to launch the website… So we’re launching a big community site on our Geek & Sundry site, so there’ll be chatrooms there all the time around each show, and then really nice forum integration that’s makes it easy for people to login and logout. So at the same time, I was like, “Hey, let’s do something on Google Hangouts,” because I love the technology and I already do a romance novel book club just as a hobby thing on Monday nights. So I was like, “Hey, a great way to launch Geek & Sundry would be to do an all-day Google Hangout, and we’ll bring in viewers, we’ll bring in guests…”.
But 12 hours is a long time, so we have crazy things planned, we have a lot of giveaways…we’re going to crowdsource a TV show. We’re going to have people write it, and then I’ll have people perform it from comments online. I don’t know. I’m doing some CRAZY stuff. Whatever I can do to fill 12 hours in an interesting way.
stated: Well, you’re writing the rules, so you can do what you want.
FELICIA: Yeah, exactly. Other than Game of Thrones being on when I’m online, I’m going to be amusing at least. I might put up a “watching Game of Thrones thing” and be like, “Hey guys, I’m back.” [laughs]
stated: “Excuse me, I had to duck out to catch Game of Thrones….” You were also talking about your “Vaginal Fantasy Hangout,” and I think you’ve got another one tonight?
FELICIA: Yes, I do have one tonight. I was just doing a bit of audience comment culling for that…
stated: And this is the third one?
FELICIA: This is the third one, yeah, but we pick the book out beforehand, and… This is very much just a hobby and we do it on my personal channel.
stated: Well, the nice thing about it is that while it’s engaging content, the production time and everything is I assume much lower because you can just turn the camera on and go. You don’t have to edit, and there’s no post or anything afterward, I assume.
FELICIA: No, no, it’s nothing. It’s literally..it was a whim. It was something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, because that’s my hobby. It’s like my reality TV—bad romance novels. So the cool thing is that the Google Hangout technology allows you to bring in up to nine people and broadcast to infinite people and it automatically queues it into the backend of your YouTube channel. So you can go in through YouTube and edit out the beginning and the end, so I just cut off any boring part in the beginning when we’re getting setup and then it just becomes an automatic video. It’s great.
stated: You don’t have to wait around for video to render or export.
FELICIA: Nope. Nothing. That’s the only reason I’m doing it. It is low-key.
stated: That’s great. We actually interviewed Veronica Belmont about this time last year, and I’ve followed her for a long time too, so it’s fun that you guys are doing this together.
FELICIA: Oh, cool.
stated: Yeah, just the whole lineup that you’ve put together for this is pretty outstanding. What I love about it is that it feels like a bunch of friends who just love doing this getting together and saying, “Let’s put on a show. Let’s put on seven shows! Whatever, let’s do a whole channel.” But it doesn’t feel haphazard.
FELICIA: Yeah, it’s true. When I was putting the slate together, I thought about my favorite people and my favorite projects and my favorite things. And Veronica does my romance Hangout, and she’d never read romance novels before I got her into my group, but she’s very smart about fantasy and stuff, and the idea that we turn her podcast, Sword & Laser, into a video show was appealing to me because nobody’s really tried to do an internet book club that really concentrates people in a way that makes it an event. So she and Tom [Merritt] are so knowledgeable about the subject matter, and so passionate about it, and so community based, that I was like, “This is going to be the show that really introduces people to books that they’ve never read, and creates the congregating point for people around great books that don’t know how to reach out to other readers. So it’s really important to me, that part of the community kind of going back and forth with a video and interacting with each other.
stated: And I love that it’s an existing show with a built-in audience, but this is a completely new way to experience it, since it was audio before and now it’ll be a full-on web show.
FELICIA: Yeah, I know like four or five different shows online that I’d love to do that with, so…we’ll get through this first year and we’ll see.
stated: Absolutely. And I did want to pick your brain a little bit because I’m always curious—because I know you’ve had so much free time—but speaking of other shows, ether TV or web, are there are any that you’re watching and digging lately?
FELICIA: Yeah, there’s this really nice web series called Squaresville that they started doing and it’s totally indie financed and—especially for a low-budget web series—it looks really nice and reminded me of My So-Called Life, which is my one of my favorite shows. And there are always smaller web shows like Aidan 5 and Mercury Men that I think probably could find bigger audiences if people just knew about them. But it’s just so hard to find content online.
So that’s really why I’m doing The Flog, because like every week I want to open with things I like, and that’s going to be me personally picking things that I really feel like, “Hey, I bet people could really discover this in a way that they wouldn’t normally because they don’t know or it just doesn’t come across their Twitter feed or whatever.
stated: It’ll be fun to see what you start sharing and curating.
FELICIA: I mean, there’s some weird stuff too. It’s not all serious!
(The cast of The Guild in the “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar” music video)
stated: Of course. Do you have any time to play any games these days?
FELICIA: Well, I played 120 hours of Skyrim, so that was a problem. It was great. I loved it. I made a video giving a tour of all of my houses, so that was fun. And then I just literally started playing Mass Effect 3 because the last month I’ve been so overwhelmed. I went and did an episode of the Supernatural show and in between that with launching this channel, it’s very stressful. But Mass Effect is one of my favorite games ever, so I’m pretty excited to get a little bit of time maybe this week, but…probably not. Maybe after launch!
stated: Well, you’re just launching a channel, nothing big…
FELICIA: Yeah, just a little thing like launching a whole video channel from scratch… [laughs]
stated: I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet, but I keep hearing how everyone is unhappy with the ending; but I guess they’re changing it?
FELICIA: Yeah… I’ve been trying to tune out because I don’t want to spoil it for myself. But I don’t really have an opinion on it one way or another. It’s kind of tough when it’s a “you can’t please everybody” kind of situation.
stated: I’m sure you get this question a lot, but I’m dying to know because I loved Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Is there any chance you and Joss Whedon will work on something again soon?
FELICIA: I mean, I would drop everything to work with Joss. But he’s a bit busy with that little film called The Avengers. But I heard rumors of more Dr. Horrible talk, so I can only cross my fingers about whether I’m involved or not. But it’s just awesome and the fact that it will hopefully continue…it deserves to be continued. It was really groundbreaking and visionary and whatever happens, I’m there for them whatever they need. If they need craft service, I’m there! [laughs]
stated: We’ll make sure he knows that… But I think there’s absolutely more to be done with it. What I love with that show is that, from my understanding, it was sort of a lark, right? It was the writers’ strike and he was looking to do something and had this idea and you guys just kind of did it?
FELICIA: Yeah, that sort of advocacy of spontaneity, of making something, is so important for online content, and it was so important to me when I put together Geek & Sundry. And you’re right; Dr. Horrible embodied that. For somebody like Joss to kind of scrap together and make something when he could be doing huge, huge projects with all the resources in the world at his disposal, it just really comes back to what is fulfilling to you as a creator and an artist. You don’t need millions of dollars, you don’t need to be speaking to millions of people if you’re doing what you love and it resonates with even a small audience, you know? I think that’s what’s beautiful about the web. You can have things that exist—that don’t have to be a blockbuster or a big popcorn movie—if you’re finding an audience that is more engaged and committed to you and supporting you. And that’s what I think emerges from the web.
stated: Absolutely, it’s really exciting and we can’t wait to see what’s in store on Geek & Sundry. Thanks so much for doing this, it was a pleasure.
FELICIA: Thank you very much for covering us!
SPECIAL BONUS: Just-released music video, “I’m the One That’s Cool,” featuring The Guild