The Guild, which is created, written, and starred in by Felicia Day, started small. Telling the tale about a group of online gamers and their lives on and off the computer screen, The Guild originally used YouTube as a platform for short, five to six minute episodes.
The Guild quickly garnered a large online fan base, however, and within its first season alone it boasted over 15 million hits web-wide. In Season 2, The Guild partnered with Xbox and Sprint for release on the Xbox Marketplace and other Microsoft distribution platforms. Now, Season 3’s DVD may be found in retail stores across the United States and Canada. The Guild is an amazing example of the Internet as a powerful tool that can be used for the success of independent artists and companies alike. CGMonthly sat down with Felicia Day, following her first trip to Canada, a month-long sci-fi movie shoot in Hamilton.
CGMagazine: What’s the name of the video you were filming for? When is it scheduled to come out?
Felicia Day: It’s called Red. It’s a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’ll be coming out later this year on the Space channel. I’ve never been to Canada before. It was definitely a learning experience, but I had such a good time. It was cold, but I’m from Los Angeles so anything below 50F is way too cold for me. They had to get me one of those really thick coats. I had four pairs of thermal underwear on. It was kind of absurd.
I’m glad you can say you had a good time despite the weather. Right now, though, you’ve been doing PR work for The Guild’s Season 3 DVD release, right?
Felicia Day: Yeah, it’s pretty cool that The Guild is actually coming out in stores. Making the DVD has been a learning curve from the very beginning. First we made the DVDs by hand and packed them in the kitchen, then we sold it online, and now it’s in stores. It’s still something that thrills me.
The Guild started as a small online project which rapidly grew. Now that you are selling in stores though, do you think the business plan of offering the episodes online first will affect your retail sales?
Felicia Day: Selling DVDs in stores is a bit different because our first DVD was made just to pay back our cast and crew. The first season was carried through by donors on PayPal who donated $5 or $10. Whenever we made enough money we would shoot another episode. This lasted for about eight months. We created the Season 1 DVD because we had a lot of extra footage, gag reels and extra stuff we wanted to put on, and we thought we actually had an audience who’d want to see it. We hoped to use the extra money from the DVD to pay back all our cast and crew for their hard work.
For the last two seasons, though, we’ve been really lucky and we’ve partnered up with Xbox and Sprint to release the show. Now we have a production budget and we can pay people up front, which is fantastic. The DVD is a bit of a challenge. If you think about it, we offer the episodes for free, so why would someone buy the DVD? That’s why the minute we start production on the actual episodes, we are thinking about the DVD. This is especially the case with the season 3 DVD.
It has the “Date my Avatar” video on it, which just went totally viral, and it has behind the scenes footage and a video on how to make a cosplay sword. There’s a lot of stuff in this season that no one’s ever seen before. It offers an incentive for people who haven’t seen the show before to pick it up, or for people who do know the show but want to see all the extra stuff they haven’t seen before.
Before this year, you’ve sold your DVDs online. How come you are moving into stores now?
Felicia Day: The company that we’re working with, New Video, released the Doctor Horrible DVD as well. They’re really flexible in working with people like us. They’re very smart in placing the DVD in places they know where people will enjoy it. As an independent show, being able to release a DVD in stores is kind of revolutionary.
It’s definitely in the spirit of our show because we’ve done everything ourselves every step of the way and we still retain ownership of the show now. Usually, if we worked with a larger company, we wouldn’t have as much flexibility or support since we’re a small show. It’s really a huge privilege to release the DVDs in stores though. Hopefully it’s opening the doors for people doing the same thing to get around the main stream barriers traditionally set up for releasing DVDs.
The Guild is so revolutionary because it pulls together so much of what the Internet offers. It brought together social media, networking, streaming, and short videos to create such a big success. Did you envision all of this in advance? Did you see where the trend of the Internet was tending?
Felicia Day: I wish I could say that I’m a brilliant visionary but that would be a complete lie. I’m a very focused person and I have grown up on the Internet. I love the Internet and I love how it equalizes everything in a sense. My passion for the Internet and for social media was definitely a leg up, but every single step of the way we were turned down by mainstream Hollywood or they wanted to operate in a way we didn’t feel was advantageous to the show.
So we would pause and ask ourselves, “How can we possibly do what we want with the tools that we have on the Internet and work around this barrier that’s been put up for us?” The cool thing about working with new media companies and tech companies is that they’re much more flexible in inventing new ways to do things. For example, we haven’t spent any money on advertising. The Guild’s entire success has been completely word of mouth.
We’ve also used free WordPress to make a blog and have had someone donate server space to host our websites. New things like Facebook fan pages and Twitter have also helped. I was on Twitter from very early on. Not as early as some of the earliest, but as far as filmmaking, we were the first on there. There are constantly new tools coming out for people to enjoy. We would always look at the tools and ask, “How would it service our fans?” I wish I could say it was some big plot, but it was really just looking at the tools on hand and using them because we didn’t have a budget.
So you were basically being clever about it. In a way, that is part of being a visionary.
Felicia Day: True. I’ve always been inspired by stories of other people. For example, on Star Wars George Lucas ran out of money and started using whatever as set dressing. He used spray painted Dixie cups as wardrobes and props in the background. That story just goes to show that if you don’t have the facility, you can still make it happen if you just put your mind to it and work around the parameters. I always take that story to heart: that the biggest thing in the world had to use Dixie cups because they didn’t have money. Look what happened with that!
The Guild is spreading into so many different formats. The show started on the Internet, but is now being released on DVD and as a graphic novel. You’ve really become a superstar. Do you find it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage The Guild now that you’re so popular?
Felicia Day: The Guild is my full-time job now. It’s how I support myself. It’s revolutionary and fantastic because I can get up in the morning and do what I love. I think the biggest challenge is just time management. The show has gotten so big and it continues to grow. The web series is a living and breathing entity on the Internet, so people are going to find the show where they find it.
Every day I get dozens of emails saying, “I have just discovered The Guild” even after we have been doing this for three years. I love it. So the show must be constantly maintained online and we still have to do other things like releasing the DVD, and writing the comic, and preparing for Season 4, and doing all the ComicCon preparations. We’re still just two women doing this—me and my producer Kim Evey—so it is a lot to balance.
Our goal this year is to delegate a little more and do other web series as well because we have lots of very talented friends and we want to help them make their stuff. As for me, I want to write other things besides The Guild as well as think of Season 5. But right now we’re on Season 4. So I’m dealing with one step at a time.
I actually found The Guild about a year ago, too. At that point it had been going on for a couple of years already. When I found it, I sat down and watched it for five hours straight to catch up.
Felicia Day: I love stories like that. I think that’s the brilliant thing about the Internet. People will find the show when they find it. It’s not about the initial blast of the thing. We’re like a big rock going down a very slow incline, despite how traditional media perceives success. We’re building momentum as we’re going on. It’s a privilege, though it’s also more complicated when getting people interested in what you’re doing.
Season 3 focuses more on the characters’ real lives. Originally the show focused more on the game and the characters were just faces behind the computer that didn’t really interact. Now, there are so many things going on beyond the game. Did you expect this to happen? What can we expect from Season 4?
Felicia Day: I think that, at the end of the day, someone hadn’t done The Guild before me because it is not the most dynamic thing to watch people staring at a computer monitor playing a game. Since we don’t name the game itself, the show really must focus on the personalities that are acting. I never want people to be bored, so the show definitely gravitates more towards the characters’ real lives but the game will always keep them together. Gamers aren’t just people who hide behind the computer.
They are people who have very complicated lives just like everybody else. The game just happens to be the way they spend their free time. It happens to be their passion or their hobby. The show will always continue to grow and we’ll see more of people’s personal lives because that’s where the real conflict and drama is. Storytelling is conflict.