Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

from the do-call-us,-we'll-call-you-back dept

Though she's had a few minor successes with roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and House, Felicia Day has been quietly building herself a successful career under the radar of mainstream Hollywood. Her self-produced web series, The Guild, which follows a nerdy crew of World of Warcraft players through their offline hijinks, is now on its third season. In an interview with Wired, Felicia Day shows that, whether she knows it or not, she is definitely dabbling in CwF + RtB (if you're new here read this).

Felicia has done a great job connecting with her fans. Her @feliciaday twitter account boasts nearly 1.4 million followers, and the nature of her conversations on twitter demonstrates that she is well versed in the medium. The Guild is funded by sponsorship from Microsoft and Sprint, DVD sales, and individual donors.

It's a good start, but like others, Felicia seems to fall into the "give it away and pray" trap -- while it's great to rely on the good grace of donors, she could do much better if she gave her fans a better reason to buy. On her recent appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show, Felicia expressed her surprise at the prospect that someone would support The Guild with a $100 donation; however, what if, for $1,000, you could spend a few hours tackling quests on World of Warcraft with Felicia? Surely there's a fan or two out there that would leap at that opportunity. Day does not disclose the economic details of her franchise, but she keeps alluding to small budgets and tiny profit margins. I would be curious to see the exact numbers, but there's nothing wrong with running a small, lean, efficient operation: given the choice of owning GM or Craigslist, I'd definitely choose Craigslist. This metaphor works for entertainment too: remember Waterworld? This doesn't mean calling for the end to the lavish spreads of food on movie sets. Of course not. From what I hear, Google has great food too.

Much like with the music industry, it is getting easier for creatives to self-produce quality works without the support of a major studio. And, as we experiment with new business models (like CwF + RtB), perhaps we will find a better way to produce TV shows and movies than the traditional model. In the traditional paradigm, starving actors work jobs as waiters and waitresses while plying their craft during their off-hours in the hope of being "discovered" and hitting the acting "lottery." Otherwise, many live job to job or eventually burn out and go find a different job. With the tools of production and distribution now being available to the masses, when can acting be the "day job" for more people? Hopefully soon.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 3:52am

    Lottery

    the hope of being "discovered" and hitting the acting "lottery."

    This lottery model is pretty well entrenched in the creative industries and actually it is used as a tool of oppression.

    Major studios/record labels have a few big stars - and everyone knows tht they are very wealthy.

    The industry is happy to overpay this small group because their existence helps to attract too many people into the industry - which in turn depresses the wages and working conditions of journeyman actors and musicians.

    To keep these journeymen in the business (and help keep basic incomes low) the industry allows them to retain a few copyrights (usually fairly worthless ones) which then act as a kind of lottery ticket. The thinking is: "Maybe that song will get used in a big film, maybe that show I was in will get repeated". People overvalue lottery tickets. A ticket with a 0.00001% chance of winning £100,000 is worth one penny - but people won't sell it for 10p, "just in case". Of course these armies of hopeful but impoverished artists can always be called upon by the middlemen when they want to defend copyright enforcement/extension etc.

     

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    Call me Al, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 4:00am

    Felicia also had a role in "Dr Horrible's Sing A-Long Blog" which was a project from Joss Whedon and was posted online for free before then being available to download from I-Tunes for a reasonable price. Its now also available on DVD. I loved it so much that I happily paid for it.

    As I understand it this was a bit of an experiment which arose out of the Writer's Strike in the US. The idea essentially was that writers and other talent can pool there resources and produce worthwhile content without the need for studio backing. I suppose it works similarly to The Guild.

    I don't know successful it was financially and I haven't heard of any similar projects from Whedon since, which does make me worry that its success was too limited to act as a proper advertisement. Or it could be that Whedon has plenty of other, fully paid work on offer so is too busy to mess around with the Net.

     

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    Sheinen, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 4:42am

    I've followed the guild since it's arrival on the 360 marketplace (free downloads).

    As well as being a potential advert for new business models it's actually very inspiring! I wrote my own mini-series directly as a result of that show and I'm due to start filming within the next few months.

    It definately proved to me that you don't need a lot of money or high skilled actors to make something that works. You just need a good idea and a little talent!

    Hopefully more people will start doing this and we'll have some fantastic amature entertainment competing with the mainstream studio releases! We can only hope!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 4:51am

    People often forget an oddity of our age. It used to be that actors and other artists often struggled to make ends meet. They were making personal sacrifices so that they could continue to produce their art.

    Somewhere in recent history, probably due to advances in media distribution, some artists (from different genres) got very wealthy.

    Recently another advance in information distribution may have begun to reduce the salaries of these artists. For one thing, people like Felicia Day have now taken some of the audience. For another, there's no necessary cost to the end user.

    Felicia Day is unlikely to obtain great wealth this way, but she can make a living. And that's going to be the new model. Instead of Hollywood being filled with lavish excess, it will have to become leaner and smarter to stay afloat. In the future, just being famous isn't going to prevent you from needing to work.

     

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    R. Miles (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 5:12am

    Tossing two cents into the pool...

    It's a good start, but like others, Felicia seems to fall into the "give it away and pray" trap -- while it's great to rely on the good grace of donors, she could do much better if she gave her fans a better reason to buy.
    First, note I support the fan model, but I've a question regarding this statement.

    In Felicia's situation, does it occur that something so "simple" is probably not as easy to implement as you'd suggest?

    The $1,000 to play with Felicia sounds like a good idea, but what if Felicia can't open up time to do so?

    Techdirt just recently published an article about being careful what's offered.

    Suddenly, I find myself reading a contradiction. I'm sure Felicia would love the opportunity to open up those profit margins, but if they're slim now, could the very reason "praying" is due to the slim profits to invest in scarce items?

    Trying to come up with ideas to create value is much more difficult than it sounds, especially if such value on scarcity involves an initial investment which current funds may not cover.

    Maybe the crew of Floor64 could do pro bono work with her in exchange for reporting the changes in building scarcity showing an increase in profits so that readers can see for themselves given Felicia isn't a "big star".

    At any rate, it's still nice to see some are making changes, as slow as they may be.

     

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    Richard (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 5:22am

    Wealthy Artists

    Somewhere in recent history, probably due to advances in media distribution, some artists (from different genres) got very wealthy.

    The first wealthy musicians were Paganini and Lizst. They made their fortunes through concert tours (which were admittedly very hard work).

    However the modern wealthy artist image is very definitely managed by the industry middlemen. Their intent is to present any artist who is currently in fashion as being wealthy. In practice this is an illusion for those whose careers in the limelight are relatively short. For those who become established at the top it does become a reality - but I believe that this is only tolerated by the industry because it attracts the young hopefuls in and encourages them to sign unfavourable contracts.

     

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    Richard (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 5:29am

    Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    The $1,000 to play with Felicia sounds like a good idea, but what if Felicia can't open up time to do so?

    If Felicia can't open up time to play for $1000 then she has a problem that mostof us would be envious of!

     

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    Misanthropist (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 5:49am

    Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    The $1,000 to play with Felicia sounds like a good idea, but what if Felicia can't open up time to do so?

    Anyone who can't afford the time to rake in effortless 1000$/hr wages does not have a problem making money.

    And since that was the entire basis of your rant, it looks to me like you were just trying to poke fun at mikes expense.

    Wow, how miserably that failed!

     

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    ChrisB (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 5:57am

    Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    The problem is artists aren't comfortable asking for money. That is why they (or their company) hire publicists, who are very very comfortable asking for $1000s to do public appearances, etc. The reality is no one is going to look out for your career except you, and if you don't value yourself enough to ask people to pay, you're going to starve.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:02am

    Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    If Felicia can't open up time to play for $1000 then she has a problem that mostof us would be envious of!
    You're missing the point. If 30% of these people pay $1000, that's 30% time Felicia must find to honor the value paid.

    I'm keeping an open mind here to think this percentage is high, but one thing I've learned is never underestimate the potential of consumers.

    It wouldn't be good to turn and tell these people "I'm sorry, but I didn't expect this to be such a hit, and now, I must return some of the purchases as I simply can't accommodate such demand from my time."

    Ouch. I sure as hell wouldn't want to receive a message like this.

    Imagine if Techdirt said "Sorry, guys. We ran out of t-shirts. You're no longer an Insider as we felt justified to return your money."

    The hidden message: "Buy something else which hold less value to you as, obviously, you didn't do so to begin with."

     

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    R. Miles (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    WTH? Apparently, I had lost my cookie and didn't notice I was logged out.

    Possibly an opportunity to present the message BEFORE submitting, rather than after?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:26am

    Re: Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    how about auctioning the time instead of selling it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:40am

    "Give it away and pray"

    I disagree with this comment. Looking at what she is doing sounds very much like what this site is advocating musicians to do. My interpretation of what she has done with The Guild is simply create a platform for her to showcase her talents, while making money at the same time.

    She freely distributes content, then charges for scarcities, such as a complete DVD box set for the season, and at the same time she builds up a fanbase that recognizes her, and promotes her for upcoming roles. Now if she walks into an audition she has The Guild and a fanbase to reference when she auditions for a role.

    The Guild is her version of a free MP3 download, the DVD is her version of a "scarce resource", and a television/movie role would be her version of a live performance.

    I don't see the The Guild as a goal in itself, but a means to an end. As well, she really seems to enjoy her work, so bonus.

     

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    antimatter3009 (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    She could sell specific timeslots. Instead of selling it as $1000/hr, she could sell it as $1000 for 1-2pm on Wednesday (for example). Then she gets to control how many timeslots exist. She could also do this and auction them off as someone mentioned above. Start it at $100 and let people bid up to a few hours before the slot and whoever has the highest bid gets it.

     

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  15.  
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    Internet, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 6:47am

    Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

    /The Guild is funded by sponsorship from Microsoft and Sprint, DVD sales, and individual donors./

    /it is getting easier for creatives to self-produce quality works without the support of a major studio/

    /On her recent appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show/


    Microsoft and Sprint are not small-time , plus she apparently is already a successful actress.

    This is not an internet "youtube" moment , or internet "find" , it is a corporate project , supported by corporate partners , with suckers donating money.

    I've never watched it but I have heard of it through TV interviews , that's not normal , that's corporate.

    /With the tools of production and distribution now being available to the masses/

    But without the sponsorship ... Where's my Microsoft money for my projects , where's my TV interviews ?

    She is already a part of the Hollywood machine and this internet thing is an offshoot of the main industry.

    Go ahead , create your own story , and watch as nobody cares , sure some people will listen or watch, but you aren't going to get an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show.

    Maybe if you can become a youtube star you might , but there's a lot of crazies out there competing for that next "thing" that becomes an internet moment.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:09am

    Re: Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

    What about Pure Pwnage?

    Internet founded, internet based, made 'stars' of the actors and now is being picked up by Showcase in Canada (where the actors are from), and gave them a day job of making an internet show.

    Also spawned/spread several decent sized gaming memes so it certainly had an influence on their audience.

     

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  17.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    The problem is artists aren't comfortable asking for money.

    and this is usually presented as being undignified. Copyright (contrived scarcity) is then presented as a more acceptable and "dignified" approach.

    However asking for money - or bidding for funding - bidding for contracts - is the staple of most organisations, public and private, these days. You just have to get used to the idea. The heads of NASA, CERN, Fermilab have to do it all the time.

     

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    6 (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:16am

    Yeah I had been meaning to cite her to you as a case in point of exactly what you've been saying. Still, she has required corporate sponsorship to keep the whole thing going and to be able to finally pay the cast (a small amount).

    Even so, I support her and them. The third season is kinda sux compared to the first, but I'd say it's about to pick up if I know them.

     

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    6 (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:18am

    "what if, for $1,000, you could spend a few hours tackling quests on World of Warcraft with Felicia?"

    Exactly. That's the way to bring in the money and it is easy to think of ways to Reason to Buy this particular show. Painfully easy. If I were her I'd be rollin in bank already.

     

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  20.  
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    Woadan, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:25am

    I have been following The Guild since the 4th episode of season 1. I follow Felicia and Sandeep on Twitter. And I read anything I become aware of about the actors and the series.

    It is true that in season 1 Felicia accepted donations from fans. But she stopped that after her costs were covered, and with the deals with Sprint and MSN for seasons 2 and 3, she hasn't needed to ask for donations and, indeed, has not been asking for any.

    I doubt Felicia would have gotten the funding for seasons 2 and 3 without having first proven herself with season 1. Also, she has stated in the past that she could have gotten more money from other sponsors, but she wanted to keep creative control, and the deals with Sprint and MSN allowed her to do that.

    And don't forget that the cast did a great "parody" video prior to the launch of season 3. Google on "Do You Want To date My Avatar". Over a million hits on YouTube in the first 2-3 days.

     

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    scarr (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    She doesn't have to sell an infinite number of spaces. In fact, limiting the number to a degree would increase their value. Selling 5-10 spots would be an easy way to raise $5-10k when needed, and that's just one potential avenue.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:32am

    Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is amazing (and available for free on Hulu!). (It's also probably a nice CwF+RtB example itself in that the extras on the DVD include novel things such as commentary in song form and some fan-created content. They also sell "hammer" T-shirts like the one worn in the movie, etc.)

    I thought Felicia Day quit WoW (hence all the progress getting her career back on track).

     

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  23.  
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    LoL, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Music biz in need of overhaul.

    Forrester consulting agrees with Mike.

    Some will cry now LoL

     

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    Samsara, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 7:47am

    Re: Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

    You're ignoring history. The first year was completely funded by Day and fan donations. It would not have continued without those donations. It was only after the show was a hit that corporations started throwing money at her. Of course, they all wanted control and ownership of the show in exchange. Day declined and then MS and Sprint came along with a moderate sum and few demands.

     

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    Alessar (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 8:22am

    She's Way Ahead of You

    Ms. Day and her castmates have already played WoW with donators from the first season. They formed a guild and invited their supporters to it and played with them for a bit.

     

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  26.  
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    Jim O (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 8:32am

    Re: Lottery

    The idea of overpaying a small group in exchange for hordes of henchmen is explored by Mr. Levitt in Freakonomics. He discusses it with the structure of inner city gangs, but it is the same idea. Interesting take.

     

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  27.  
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    John, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    That's just overselling a limited resource, not a flaw in the idea but a flaw in execution. Don't offer more time than you can give.

     

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  28.  
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    R. Miles (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    Anyone who can't afford the time to rake in effortless 1000$/hr wages does not have a problem making money.
    Again, YOU don't have any idea how her schedule is, and neither does anyone here.

    While the auction/block times are good ideas, one can't assume this is applicable to Felicia. That's all I'm saying.

    For all we know, she probably had this idea but couldn't enact on it.

    But the gist (which you clearly skipped over) was that finding ways to create valuable scarcity is harder than whipping out a "Anyone who can't afford" comment.

    And since that was the entire basis of your rant, it looks to me like you were just trying to poke fun at mikes expense.
    It wasn't a rant. I'll assume you don't read every article on Techdirt, but I'll excuse this statement because of it.

    Mike knows I only poke fun at him in his content=ad remarks, and even then, I do side with him on some regard.

    Wow, how miserably that failed!
    Coming from someone whose reading comprehension skills can be outdone by an 8 year old, I can't help but laugh at this statement.

     

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  29.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    "The $1,000 to play with Felicia sounds like a good idea, but what if Felicia can't open up time to do so?"

    That's the issue I keep returning to with music models. Josh Freese sold lots of different activities for various prices and then realized in oder to fulfill his obligations to have lunch with fans, he was having to turn down music work.

    If you are going to start selling services, you might ask yourself what is most lucrative. It could turn out that a well-paying day job is a better way to fund your music than to sell lunches with fans.

    It may turn out that what fans want, for example, is plumbing services. If you are a musician selling plumbing services to your fans, you're a plumber. If you are selling lunches, you're a lunch date. If you are selling trips to Disneyland, you are a traveling companion.

    And the whole,

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 12:30pm

    Re:

    lolol @ the vague insults hidden in your praise, though I can't disagree on any particular point and enjoy The Guild myself.

     

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  31.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    It hasn't been established that she would get $1000 for an hour for game playing.

     

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  32.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re: Tossing two cents into the pool...

    "If Felicia can't open up time to play for $1000 then she has a problem that mostof us would be envious of!"

    It hasn't been established that she would get $1000 for an hour's worth of game playing.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    The celebrity game

    A lot of these models where musicians or TV stars might sell their services to fans for a high dollar amount seem to be based on their celebrity value. Unless the creative person is selling something that is the creative itself, then the side activities (like auctioning off your personal possessions) can be done by anyone. Paris Hilton, for example, doesn't appear to have many talents as such, but presumably some folks would pay to hang out with her.

    That's what's throwing people who think of themselves as creative types. When your money-raising activities drift into areas that anyone can do, save for their lack of fame, then the creative part itself becomes devalued. It serves only as a vehicle to attract enough people who want your time to make your time worth selling. So doing something outrageous that gets you press may serve the same function as doing something creative.

     

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    Mikael (profile), Oct 1st, 2009 @ 2:16pm

    not to get too technical on ya Dennis, but....

    They actually never say that they play world of warcraft. They said early on that they used non-specific names when refering to the game they play to keep from getting in legal trouble with Blizzard.

     

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  35.  
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    William George Ferguson, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 4:37pm

    Re: Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

    /The Guild is funded by sponsorship from Microsoft and Sprint, DVD sales, and individual donors./

    This isn't exactly correct. The Guild started life as a spec script for a traditional tv sitcom that Day shopped around Hollywood. When everyone told her some version of 'too niche', she and her producing partner Kim Evey did the first several pages as a 3 minute webisode, paid for out of their own pocket. They did the next several pages as episode 2, again paid for out of their own pocket, Day set up a web page and put a PayPal button on it. From that point they made new episodes once they had enough money in hand for the next episode, up to about episode 8 of the first season, at which point she took the PayPal button down because there was enough money in donations to make the final two episodes. They self-produced the DVDs for the first season and sold them through the web site, and labeled and Day and Evey mailed them themselves. The DVD sales brought in enough money to pay off all outstanding debts, and to pay something to actors and crew members who had basically donated their time in the first season. What was left went into making the first episode of season 2 (plus additional money Day put in out of her own pocket), at which point Microsoft signed a deal for an exclusive distribution window, and arranged sponsership with Sprint. The key to that deal is that Day maintains complete Intellectual Property rights on The Guild. Microsoft has a 2 month exclusivity window, after which Day can do whatever she wants with the episodes (she's currently uploading season 2 to YouTube).

    Her appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show was her first ever appearance on a network talk show. It came about because she was Fallon's first guest on his webisodes that led up to the broadcast premiere, showing him (or trying to) how to use his character on World of Warcraft (she is a WoW addict, which is what led her to write the original script). At that time he invited her back for his network show (something he's done with several other online netgeeks)

    As for suckers giving her money, they haven't accepted donations from viewers since episode 8 of season 1 was posted.

    The current model is that Microsoft pays her for temporary exclusivity in distribution, Sprint pays Microsoft to put its 5 second blurb on at the front of each episode, and Day keeps the production budget within what Microsoft is paying her. What profits there are come from DVD sales and ancillary items.

    Day didn't miss a bet on monetizing The Guild, she turned it down. She has said that she was offered quite a bit of money from Corporate big players once The Guild went past a million views per episode, but they ware all traditional deals, basically buying the Intellectual Property, and she wouldn't sell it.

     

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    ShortCinema, Oct 3rd, 2009 @ 5:44am

    Re: Felicia Day Building Acting Success The Entrepreneurial Way

    I know it has been, thankfully, pointed out by other comments in great detail and with better writing skills than me and I need to add to the chorus.

    I've never watched it but I have heard of it through TV interviews , that's not normal , that's corporate.
    So let's begin with how you have no idea what you are ranting about because you couldn't bother opening up another browser tab and doing even the tiniest bit of research. It's called Google (or bing if you prefer.)

    This is not an internet "youtube" moment , or internet "find" , it is a corporate project , supported by corporate partners , with suckers donating money.
    Again it is called Google...use it.

    But without the sponsorship ... Where's my Microsoft money for my projects , where's my TV interviews ?
    Felicia Day and crew did the work FIRST before interviews and sponsorship. Stop whining and decrying the Hollywood machine and PRODUCE your work. Put a link up here so we can see it.

    Kim Evey has starred, written and produced several online comedy webshows prior becoming the producer of The Guild. Kim's husband, Greg, has produced a popular Youtube show as well as other web series. (He has directed some episodes of The Guild)
    Again that word, WORK.

    If Felicia's and Kim's "main industry" connections reveal anything, it shows that they know how much hard unrewarding work is required before their results make a blip on anyone's radar. They have been putting in their time for years, what have you been doing?

    They have been and you must be willing to fail and then start all over again.

     

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