Felicia DayFelicia Day : The Road To Web Stardom
Thursday 6 August 2009, by Webmaster
The Road To Web Stardom
Actress Felicia Day scores with offbeat Web hits.
LOS ANGELES — Who knew that a gaming addiction could help lay the path to Web stardom?
Two years ago actress Felicia Day broke through the millions of videos posted on YouTube with a series called The Guild—about gaming addicts—that she wrote, produced and starred in.
Last year, she helped her friend Joss Whedon, director of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, figure out how to market his Web production Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It’s since become one of the Web’s most popular shows. (Day plays the female lead in Dr. Horrible.)
Day, 29, first gained recognition as an actress when she appeared as Vi on Buffy in 2003. But she struggled to find satisfying work once the show ended. "I’m kind of quirky, so I wasn’t working everyday," she says. "I wanted to write something I knew, and I had had a bad addiction to gaming."
She wrote a pilot called The Guild about a group of online gamers. The networks were interested, but didn’t get that people actually interact with each other online. The concept of girl gamers was a very foreign one to them. So Day decided to produce the show herself online. That meant teaching herself everything from Wordpress (blogging software) to Photoshop (for photo editing) to Final Cut (for video editing). "I didn’t have the funds to hire someone to do those things for me," says Day.
She knew The Guild would appeal to other hard-core gamers, so she pitched it to blogs she read like Kotaku and Joystiq. Those sites helped spread the word about the show, which became a viral hit among a niche group of gamers. The premier episode has been viewed 2.7 million times.
By the third episode, YouTube took notice and started promoting The Guild on its front page. In September 2008, Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) offered Day a deal to distribute the second season over X-Box. Microsoft renewed for a third season, which will air beginning in August. Sprint ( S - news - people ) now sponsors the show on YouTube.
Based on similar shows, Forbes estimates The Guild costs between $7,000 and $10,000 per episode to produce. Day won’t share details about the show’s finances. She does say that the sponsors provide her with enough money to pay the people who work on the show, but not enough for her to quit her day job. Day recently appeared on an episode of My Boys, which airs on TBS.
"My work in mainstream TV and movies definitely helps me pay the bills," says Day. "But I get to do what I want creatively at the same time."
She likes that her support comes from companies like Microsoft and Sprint rather than from a studio. "In my situation, they [Microsoft and Sprint] spend a fraction of what they would spend on an ad. They’re not in the business to influence the creative process, and they know they’ll be reaching the audience they’re looking for," says Day.
When Joss Whedon was trying to figure out the best way to release Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog on the Web, he turned to Day, who plays Penny in the three-part series.
"We showed it at [talent agency] CAA, and their own Internet people didn’t know what to do," says Whedon. "But we have Felicia Day, and she knows more about the Internet than anyone."
"I advised him to think like an audience member," says Day. "How would they want to experience and buy it?"
Based on this, Whedon decided to treat the series like an event, putting it up for three days for free and then moving it to more traditional outlets like Hulu and iTunes. Day also helped Whedon ignite his fans to market the show for him. Using social media like Facebook and then-nascent Twitter, he was able to publicize the show without spending money on a public relations firm.
Dr. Horrible has grossed $2.5 million so far, and everyone involved got paid. "Felicia Day is the queen of all Internet," says Whedon. He’s only half joking.