Felicia Day is the creator and star of the hit web-series The Guild. She’s also appeared as an actress in the Joss Whedon short film Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, as well as on TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural. Her latest project is Geek and Sundry, a YouTube channel offering a wide range of geek-themed videos.
This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the hosts discuss various geeky topics.
I worked quite a bit on the book. It came about because Titan, the publisher, came to me after doing the Dr. Horrible Companion, and they said, “It seems like a natural fit for us to do a companion for your series.” I have so much on my plate that I was almost ready to say no, but then I thought, “Hey, how awesome would it be to have a book?” As I saw on the horizon that the show would be wrapping up after season six, I thought it would be an amazing way to wrap up our whole journey of these amazing six years that we had on a show that started in my garage and has become very well known amongst a certain type of internet-using geek. I was so pleased to work with them for the last several months on the book. We had a great interviewer who interviewed everyone firsthand, and then I worked really hands-on with the publisher to get all the photos right and add a lot of things that fans have never seen before, like behind-the-scenes pictures, original writing, and all sorts of extra, fun stuff.
Did anything that came out in those interviews surprise you, that your fellow cast members said?
It was really nice to have their perspective on everything, to be honest with you. We’d been running so fast on the treadmill, there was nothing that we’ve done in this show that was ever easy. We never had too much help. We were always doing it pretty much ourselves, me and my partner Kim Evey. She is an amazing person. She and I never had a full-time employee really to help us with this thing that became so incredibly huge. So, I never actually had the time to sit down and ask even the cast what they thought about the show. It was really heart-warming, a lot of the things that they said to the interviewer, especially since we all knew at the time of the interview that the show was going to come to an end in the format that we’d been doing it. Everyone has a really nice reflective quality on the show, without being too far away from it. A lot of the interviews took place right after we’d finished filming season six. Everything is fresh on their minds, and it made me realize what an amazing journey we’d taken together, and how, I guess, if there is any regret in my life, it’s that I didn’t enjoy the journey a little bit more while we were doing it. Honestly, the odds were so against us for so many years that there was no time to really pause and look at all the things we’d done that nobody else had done because it was too hard.
It really struck me, the way the book describes how you only had a couple hundred dollars at the beginning as your budget, and you would actually leave The Guild bookmarks in public restrooms just to try to promote the show. I was wondering, does that work? Did you ever have someone say, “Oh, I was in a restroom, and I came across a bookmark, and now it’s my favorite show.”
I don’t know if I ever got specifically the bathroom [mentioned by a fan], but I honestly did. I would carry a stack of about a hundred bookmarks with me every single place I went. I would leave a lot of bookmarks in bathrooms because, hey, you have nothing else to do in there, really. I would leave them at coffee shops, at auditions, and to me there was nothing too small. There was no venue or effort that was not worth my time, because when you’re starting from zero every single person involved in your project, that’s a person that wouldn’t have been involved otherwise.
You mention the challenges, and that was another thing that struck me in this book. From the outside, your career seems like one success after another. There’s Buffy, Dr. Horrible, The Guild, and Geek and Sundry, but this book really paints this picture of all these challenges that you’ve encountered working in Hollywood. Did you want to talk a little bit about what some of those challenges have been?
To me, it’s so funny, because in my world, I’m always struggling. I’m always the underdog. I’m always the person that’s going to be passed over. I don’t know if that’s something that I hold on to from my past as the actor who was rejected a lot, but at the same time, as somebody who lives in Hollywood and works in Hollywood as an actor still and works on the web, and still to this day, people in mainstream Hollywood don’t really understand or acknowledge the web as anywhere near equal or on par with what traditional Hollywood makes. There is, not a snobbery, but a lack of understanding and credence given to people who work on the web, even to this day. That mentality accompanies me with everything I do because I still have my foot in a world that doesn’t see what I do on the web as something legitimate. From the creator’s side, a lot of the creators do love the idea of working on the web—working without the gatekeepers and all the business and cookie-cutter parameters that people are forced to work in to make things in Hollywood. On the creator end, what we’ve done with the show has been recognized by a lot of writers, actors, and creators, but from the business side, the gatekeepers, they don’t see the stakes as being high enough for them to acknowledge them and give them as much credence, although that’s changing, but very slowly. That’s where the underdog mentality comes from.
You’ve talked about how, when you first got to Hollywood, people told you that you should have plastic surgery, and you were cast four times in a row as quirky secretaries and stuff like that?
Yes, early on, I was told to get a nose job. I needed to fix my teeth. I needed to get bigger boobs. I was told this by people who were agents and managers and people who manage talent, casting directors, and all this stuff. That certainly can get to you, but I did have enough of a strong sense of self to know that I didn’t want to change myself, but I did change myself to bring out the quirkiness and oddballness, and that became more saleable, but ultimately less fulfilling, because I was becoming a caricature of something that I was. It’s like me only being the “geek girl.” That’s what people know me for, but hopefully they know me as a three-dimensional person versus just a superficial cliché of somebody who likes geek things. That’s what I think Hollywood tends to do to artists, because it’s such a quick-paced environment to be in. There’s so many people trying to get in that you can only look at the surface of everything most of the time. It made me very unhappy to feel like a large part of myself was not being represented in what I was doing with my career. So that’s why I sat down and wrote The Guild one day. It was really about trying to find myself again and have ownership over myself.
You just had a piece on your blog about how in the new Star Trek movie there are few roles for women, and even hundreds of years in the future all of the most powerful officers in Star Fleet are all white men.
I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and I admire J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof. I had a great time, but it was something that surprised me, in that I always felt Star Trek was more egalitarian. I’m a Next Generation girl, so there are a lot of amazing female characters on that show, and that was always what I approached Star Trek as. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive about it, but I think maybe it’s just the people in charge on that movie didn’t notice. I don’t think they deliberately didn’t include women extras around that table, but someone did, and someone didn’t think consciously, “This is what we’re showing the world. This is what we’re showing that this world is.” And it’s mostly white guys, so I think it’s perfectly valid to put a spotlight on that and ask ourselves, “Is this really what we want to show people and convey that this is where our culture in the future would go, or what we want to convey today?” Because really, it’s all the unspoken, unconscious things and media that we look at that formulate how we think about the world.
What is the climate like right now for independent web-series like The Guild? Is that something that you would recommend that people get into?
It’s very interesting, because The Guild saw many ebbs and flows in the web-series business environment. There were a lot of media companies trying to get into the business and then they went under, and then they got into the business and they went under. Dr. Horrible also gave a big boost to web series around 2008, and that didn’t come to fruition in the way that the business part was realized. It’s very interesting because now it feels like finally the web is going to stick. The growth of web-series, digital content, and watching video online is going to be long-lasting. The peculiar part of it is that independent web content has actually taken a step back in order to facilitate the people watching regular TV shows online and all this other stuff as far as budgets go. The Guild was never very high budget, but it seems like nowadays, because there’s such a glut of entertainment, inventory, and video vying for people’s attention, that the audience is now diluted, and therefore people are less willing to risk money to invest in web series. I think it’s just a temporary thing, and I think it’s definitely going to go upward as people start being able to watch Game of Thrones on the same browser that they’re watching something on YouTube, but right now, I don’t know if something like The Guild could have launched and been able to get the show’s voice through all the other things that are vying for people’s attention. What I would give people advice about is just don’t wait, make what you want, something that really translates your voice into video, and do it because you’re never going to do it perfectly the first time, so you might as well start practicing now. Finding an audience is going to be very difficult, and just make sure that you’re safe and that it’s really true to yourself, and expressing yourself uniquely. That’s really all you can ask yourself to do. You can’t create something thinking, “Oh, I heard baking is really popular this month.” You have to genuinely be a baker and do something that’s unique with baking that the audience hasn’t seen before. That goes for scripted, non-scripted, or just a vlog, really. We’ve been doing a really cool thing on my network, Geek and Sundry: We’re doing a vlogging project, and we’ve been adding a lot of new talent to it. It’s amazing, we’ve gotten so many submissions over the summer to join the vlogging channel. Every single person, you can really tell the minute you watch a video whether they’re talking about something they love, or they’re talking about something because somebody told them to. People’s personalities just shine when you’re talking about something you have passion for. I would say, first and foremost, make sure that passion is there, because it’s a lot of work, and you have to make sure that you don’t consider it work because you care about it so much. That will get you through all the tough times, just like it got us through all the tough times in The Guild.
Do you want to say a bit more about Geek and Sundry for people who don’t know? What is it and why should they go check it out?
Geek and Sundry is the company that I started in 2011. The last season of The Guild is on the channel; it’s on YouTube. YouTube invested in a hundred channels to make all sorts of web series of all different backgrounds, and I was very lucky to be picked, and we were even luckier to get reinvested in for a second year. For about a year and several months we’ve been releasing really cool content, all the shows, about a dozen of them, have centered on things that you’d see at Comic-Con or a fan convention, or just feature geeky things and subjects. We have scripted shows, like The Guild season six; Space Janitors; Written by a Kid, which is a storytelling show where a kid tells a story in a science fiction or fantasy universe, and we re-enact it with a different director each time. We have a full-length thirty-minute show with Wil Wheaton, who created a show called TableTop; it’s where he invites three celebrities to come join him to play a different board or hobby game every week. It’s really amazing. It definitely has drawn a lot of people to the hobby that never would have thought of playing board games before. Like I said, we have a vlogger network of twenty vloggers that talk about everything from cosplay to thumb wrestling to comics. Really, Geek and Sundry is my translation of The Guild community transferred over to something that will be evergreen. It will be beyond just one show. It’s a network, a website destination, a forum, and a community that people can belong to, and they know the sensibility will be my sensibility, and hopefully they’ll really enjoy the shows, and be a part of what we consider a family.
On your blog, you had a video called “State of the Sundry,” where you’re just talking about the state of the union for Geek and Sundry and in that video you talk about how you would like to see geeks more as rebels and fighters. In what way do you see geeks as rebels and what sorts of things should we be fighting for?
I was going to do a silly music video instead to launch the second season, and I didn’t feel like it was very true, and I actually had gone through a lot of ups and downs after The Guild ended. It was an emotionally tough time for me, and I didn’t want to do something frivolous. Being involved in business and creating a startup company has been very challenging because I was a creator. I’m a creative person. I wrote, produced, and acted in a show. I did all the front-facing activity like the marketing and tweeting and all this stuff, but really it wasn’t so much the business stuff I was drawn to. In creating this company, we’ve gotten over a huge hump. The first year was extremely challenging to set up how this company would work, managing personnel, and at the time I needed to do a video, I didn’t want to do something silly or fun, necessarily. I wanted to say something about geek culture, because interacting with sponsors and the business side made me feel very superficial in the way that I was dealing with geek culture. I didn’t want to get caught in the trap of being clichéd or just dealing with things and subjects geeks like versus the substance of what it means to be a geek, which is essentially someone who’s brave enough to love something against judgment. The heart of being a geek is a little bit of rejection, but love in the face of rejection.
In that “State of the Sundry” video, you also talked about how the term “geek” has become something to monetize and market to and exploit. Could you talk about some of the ways in which you see that happening?
Dealing with the business side of a “geek business” certainly led me to interact with people on a much more surface way by necessity. When you’re building a business, you really need to hone in on what you need, and when you see the word “geek” in it, everybody thinks the cliché of the word “geek,” which is a person who likes comics, books, and games. Commercialization of “geek” is very popular now, obviously because if you look at the biggest movies and TV shows that we enjoy, they’re all fantasy and science fiction right now, so obviously anybody who is looking to make money is going to look to that as something to tap. I wanted to make sure in the speech that I did to remind people that to have this last longer than just a fad, to get people to really understand geekdom, we have to mean something to ourselves and not get trapped into, “Hey, everything’s just a mashup t-shirt,” because it means more than that underneath. If some kid who might not have been a geek otherwise gets attracted to geek things because of popular culture, encouraging that. We want to offer something underneath just the superficial to make sure that that person in ten years doesn’t abandon playing video games, or the idea of playing a board game with their friends, or rejects geeky things entirely because the societal tide has shifted to something else being popular. To me, being a geek is very organic. I’ve always been an outsider, but I’ve never been ashamed of being who I am. I think that that has served me in good stead, because at no point am I ever threatened by people who question who I am, or why I like the things I do, or my legitimacy, because I know who I am very strongly, and that’s what geek culture can reinforce as we struggle with this whole popularity situation.
As geekiness becomes more popular and acquires a cachet and a marketing angle, it has led to wrangling over authenticity and who’s a real geek and who’s a fake geek girl and a fake gamer girl.
I don’t understand. People should not be concerned. It’s like gay marriage to me, it’s like, is it really harming you? I think that it’s a horrible argument when you’re pinpointing people and asking them to prove themselves. Shouldn’t you be worried about something else? I don’t ever approach anyone saying, “You have to prove yourself to me.” You have to prove the negative here. That’s not even a valid argument. “Prove that you aren’t fake.” In rhetoric and mathematics, proving a negative is impossible, so I like to encourage people to be who they are, regardless of having to prove anything to anyone else. If you’re one of those people, and that person is judging you, and questioning who you are, I don’t know if there’s any point at which you’re going to intersect anyway. It’s not as if you’re going to be able to show enough street cred in order to say, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to be friends.” You don’t want to be friends with that person anyway.
I did want to talk about how in Geek and Sundry you had three channels devoted primarily to books and writing, Sword & Laser, The Story Board, and Vaginal Fantasy. Could you tell us a little about those?
The first season we did have three shows, now we only have Vaginal Fantasy, which is my romance genre book club. Sword & Laser is still an amazing podcast with Veronica and Tom. The Story Board is on hiatus because Pat Rothfuss, the host, is very busy working on his other projects. Books and literature are something that are very important to me, and I felt were underrepresented in video form. I don’t know if book readers are necessarily the biggest video watchers. The numbers kind of prove that it isn’t as strong as video games, comics, or anything like that as far as people who read books watching videos, but I think podcasts are much more popular as far as book readers translating. At the same time, it’s very interesting to me that if you sell 30,000 books, you’re on the bestseller list, and that much audience is certainly going to watch a video, so I think there is the potential, even in the future, to provide that for book readers as a social experience. That was really what we were trying to encourage. Sword & Laser and Vaginal Fantasy both have very active forums on Goodreads, which is a great service if you’re a reader. That socialization around books encourages people to step out from being an isolated reader and to connect the dots in ways that they wouldn’t have in the things that they read, and that’s why I think book clubs are great, and why I wanted to include them on Geek and Sundry in the first place. As we move forward, I certainly will look for more opportunities to represent literature on the channel.
Vaginal Fantasy, we should say, is for romance, science fiction, and fantasy cross-over type novels.
We do some historical [fiction] occasionally. We’re doing Tipping the Velvet this month and Swordspoint to celebrate gay and lesbian DOMA dropping. We’re going to do space assassins next month, so it’s very much a tongue-in-cheek, mixed bag, but it’s basically like popcorn.
Could you talk about the process of selecting the name Vaginal Fantasy for the show and what sort of reactions you’ve gotten to that name?
My mother thought it was porn, but I actually discovered romance novels when I got a Kindle. I’d never been brave enough to buy them in a store with a cover before. I got a Kindle and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to try those books I was always ashamed of reading.” Then it just got to be an obsession with me, because it’s my reality TV. I like to read them before I go to bed at night. It definitely turns my brain off. I was into Goodreads several years ago, and I wanted to shelve the books, and I felt embarrassed just shelving a romance, so I did them tongue-in-cheek as “vaginal fantasy,” and I made the phrase up. It made me laugh, and it also shocked people, but it also made them laugh, too. I love making people laugh, so I got the url years ago, and didn’t think anything more of it. I was just shelving books that I read and people tended to find them because of my Goodreads account and had a lot of fun. Google approached me with this new “hangout on air” thing about a year and a half ago, and they said, “Would you like to use this service?” I said, “I can’t possibly add something more to my plate that I wasn’t already doing already. What do I do that I don’t do a video about that could be fun and no work for me? Oh, these romance books!” So I approached three of my friends: Veronica Belmont who does Sword & Laser, who approaches everything from a very intellectual point of view. Bonnie Burton who is a wild card, she has a really awesome personality online, and she does crafts, and is just hilarious. She comes from a more feminist point of view. My friend Kiala Kazebee who is also very funny on Twitter and just a really good friend of mine. We used to trade these books back and forth before we started the Hangout. I reached out to my three friends, and I said, “Hey, do you want to do a monthly book club where we drink and discuss a book every month, have a forum, and just make it really informal?” They were in, and now a year and a half later we’re having a great time doing it. We have a lot of men in the club as well. We don’t just stay talking about the book. The book definitely spurs off-topic conversations about feminism or women in media, movies, books, or games. We talk about pretty much everything because we are drinking wine the whole time, and we tend to get a little bit more unfocused. It’s certainly the most social you can get around a book club. We have almost ten thousand members. We have women meeting up every month and discussing the books on their own and getting together to play games. It’s really gratifying to create this small, intimate group that enjoys each other’s company, and we’re rallying around something that you wouldn’t normally rally around.
You mentioned Swordspoint, which is by Ellen Kushner, right?
It is, yes.
That’s actually the sequel to Swordspoint. I had read the books already because I’m a big fan of hers, and they approached me to do a small part in the audio book for the sequel. It was an interesting process. I’d never done audio books before, and I’m definitely more of a visual learner, so audio books aren’t something that I’m particularly familiar with, but that experience, just being a part of that, was super fun. It made me want to do it again, actually.
One thing I really wanted to ask you about is that you say in The Guild book that you’re a big fan of the Ultima role-playing computer game series, which is one of my favorite series of all time.
Oh, well, thank you, high five.
Obviously Codex, your character in The Guild, must be a reference to The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
Of course! Thank you for identifying that. That’s very obscure, but definitely. I was a member of the Ultima Dragons, which was on Prodigy actually in [the] very early online [days], in like ’95 or something. I was so young, and I joined that service because I loved the game so much as a teenager, like a twelve-year-old. I would post fan poetry to the game on the forums and on the bulletin board. It was a formative part of my life to be able to reach out and meet people in this online world that loved what I loved.
What was your dragon name?
I was Genetically Altered Dragon.
Oh, how funny. I remember Crimson Dragon, Black Dragon, and there were many others that I interacted with, but I don’t know if I saw yours.
I didn’t post a whole lot, but I’ve always been more of a lurker-type personality online. Those games were a huge influence on me. I actually majored in college in political philosophy with an emphasis on moral philosophy, and I really trace that back to my interest in the Eight Virtues of Britannia.
It’s very formative. As a kid, you experience your personality being set by that fortuneteller, and for some reason that really struck a chord with me, that you could follow these virtues. I still feel like I have way too much honor to be in business, that’s what I always say.
What’s new with you? Did you have some announcements at this most recent Comic Con you want to talk about?
Absolutely. We announced several new shows for Geek and Sundry. We have a new show called Outlands. It’s an 8-bit animated show that’s going to be premiering in a couple of weeks on Geek and Sundry, by Adam de la Peña, who created Code Monkeys. He’s super funny. I’ll be doing a voice on that as well. It’s about a group of misfits travelling space and terraforming planets to support more consumerism, but really it’s just about the misfit personalities on the show. We also announced two other scripted shows. One is called Gamer E.R., with the sketch group Lost Nomads, and that’s Josh Gad, from Book of Mormon’s sketch group, so we’ll be doing a project together early next year. We have another superhero scripted show mixed with motion comics, called Caper. It was created by Amy Berg, who I worked with on Eureka, who’s one of my favorite writers, so I’m super excited about that. Lastly we announced a scripted show called Spooked, with Bryan Singer’s company Bad Hat Harry. It’s a half-hour paranormal comedy about a group of paranormal investigators, and that will all be on YouTube and our website geekandsundry.com this fall and early next year. We definitely have amazing shows that are non-scripted, like Table Top and all the vloggers. Now we’re looking to refocus around what The Guild provided, which is really small budget but character-driven comedy for the web. I’m super excited because that’s the stuff I love to work with most.
Speaking of Table Top, it was mentioned in the book, and just reported on Gawker yesterday, that the set for Table Top had previously been used for porn shoots, and I was wondering what reactions people have said to that revelation?
Strangely enough, we had already known about that. I think it was on Reddit a couple of months before as well. All we can say is that I think any location in Los Angeles, you can find porn being shot there. It’s just Los Angeles; this is where it’s all shot, there’s not one location, I’m sure, that’s inviolate like that. Wil likes to say that we always flip the covers, and that’s all I can say about it. I’m just shocked that there’s Table Top porn crossover, that’s all I’m shocked about.
As an actor, do you have any acting roles recently that people should check out, or coming up, or anything?
You can always find me on the channel doing my retro gaming show Co-Optitude with my brother. We have some really funny episodes. I just announced that I’ll be back on Supernatural, so I’ll be going to Vancouver later in August. I’m looking to develop new shows, so really I’m cutting back on everything to dig in and create new worlds like The Guild. We’ll see how long that takes.
We’re really looking forward to seeing what you come up with. I think we’ll wrap things up there. The book The Guild: The Official Companion is out now, and you should all go check out geekandsundry.com. Felicia, thanks for joining us.
It was fun!
Spread the word!