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Felicia Day, who built a massive and enthusiastic following with her web series The Guild and now nourishes an entire community of talent on the Geek and Sundry portal, answered a full hour of fan questions last week at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. While her audience was filled with adoration for Day and her effects on the perception of women in gaming and geek culture, the actress only wanted to know the best pizza place in Chicago. There was some dissension.
“Hi, guys, welcome to class,” Day began, taking the stage next to “seven invisible friends.” Noting the late time of the panel, She joked that she thought by now “everyone would be eating pizza, because it’s Chicago, right?” She said she had Giordano’s the last time she was in the city, and asked by show of applause who thought theirs was best. A decent amount of clapping followed, but definitely not a consensus. Fans shouted a few other suggestions, so Day said anyone who asked a question would also have to choose the pizza.
The first fan began by recommending Piece in Wicker Park, mentioning that “they brew their own beer and they win awards.” “You know, I don’t drink beer, I’m just gonna say that out loud,” Day said, to some surprise. “Listen, it feels like you’re drinking a loaf of bread to me.” The fan’s question was about Day’s decision to move from acting to creating her own shows.
“Well, I graduated from college and I told my dad I’m going to be an actress no matter what, from no basis in reality,” she recalled. “I didn’t have a degree in it or anything. I got a real degree. So I said ‘Boo-ya, Dad, that degree, 4.0, shove it!’ And I moved to L.A., not knowing anything, guys, nothing. I didn’t get an agent for two years.” Eventually, however, things turned around — to some degree. “I got a Starburst commercial, which was my big break, I got my union card. I told my grandma to watch at 11:24 pm for my TV debut. And they cut me out.
“And then I did an independent movie where they tried to get me naked in the audition, and I wouldn’t, and they cast me anyway. And I took the job. I got paid $90, and the check bounced.”
She added, though, “It got better from there,” including a turn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Between acting roles, Day said she became addicted to World of Warcraft, playing more than 12 hours a day, which of course inspired her character Codex on The Guild. Quitting cold turkey after her friends staged an intervention, Day said in the aftermath she felt that “time moves so slooooooww!” Codex and The Guild then became something she could create for herself, which she could star in, to occupy her newly expanded sense of time, and would keep her working between other roles. “I wanted to write something, and I wanted to write a comedy, and I wanted to write something that no one else would ever write.”
Day advised actors to “always have something else going on” that will allow their voice to be heard. “As an actor, you’re always waiting for someone’s permission,” she said, and having other work allows one to be “not so desperate you have to take anything.”
The next fan recommended venturing to Gino’s on the South Side or Lou Malnati’s for pizza, with the latter receiving a hearty chorus of applause. He asked about Day’s vision for continuing what he described as a “renaissance” for the culture and business of entertainment and how consumers could aid the process. Day cited her new network Geek and Sundry, noting that the business aspect was new to her even after her experience with The Guild. “I’m an artist, an actor and a writer first, so all of the business stuff has been a very steep learning curve for me, but also very education as far as where the world is going,” she said. “The inevitability is that advertisers and the people who make the media now, they are going to exist, they are going to have the power, because that’s where the money is. They are established, they know how to make content. The best thing for you guys to do, to make sure the independent voices break through … if you like something that’s independent, support it. Spread the word. And make sure you’re not just transferring your fandom to those big things you think about.” She added that this can, in turn, give independents more power as “money from old media flows into the new.”
Day said she has not yet been asked back to voice her Dragon Age II: Redemption and DLC character Tallis in the upcoming sequel, but enjoyed working with producer David Gaider on the previous game. “I spent four months just researching the game,” she said, causing her discussions with Gaider to be more in-depth than perhaps was the case with other voice talent. “You know just as much about this as I do, it’s creepy,” Gaider told her. On the subject of Dragon Age III, she added, “Whether I’m involved or not, I will be playing.”
Day also talked about the collaborations that take place in web-based media, in which stars of one series will make cameo appearances in others. “You basically share your audience, educate your audience so they know about you through collaborations,” she said. “You don’t see the guy from Community going over to NCIS … although that would be super-cool.”
Day said the vast nature of the web is part of what makes collaborations both unique to the medium and necessary for exposure. “There’s like a million channels. There’s no way one person could keep track of it all,” she said. “Even if you follow my Twitter feed, I’ve got people following my Twitter feed saying, ‘What’s the Guild?’ — and I’m like, ‘Where have you been?'” Collaboration, then, is “about being visible in a lot of different ways to remind your audience to come back.”
Commenting on her brief but memorable appearance on Jane Espenson’s Husbands, Day said it wasn’t a matter of Espenson “getting” her to do something, but rather a chance to be seen by people who will like her own shows. “You want to collaborate with people who have certain sensibilities. It’s like playing with your friends.”
Talking about the success of The Guild, Day noted it was “always incremental. It wasn’t overnight.” And while she’s said she didn’t expect the show to take off, “I wasn’t surprised when it did, because I knew it was great.”
Day said she really enjoyed doing The Flog, but producing it was difficult, as she made 50 episodes with just “me, an intern and a director who only came in [occasionally] — I mean, [it was] crazy. Trying to do that and run a network and write The Guild and star in The Guild and produce The Guild and do Supernatural — no, not good.” She cited the CPR episode as her favorite and said she and her brother would do more retro gaming videos. Day said the program and its introduction of board games into her life has been “a door to fun for me.”
Asked about the possibility of Dr. Horrible 2, Day said, “I’m pretty sure they have this TV show that’s about to be picked up,” referring to Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “I know they wanted to make something, but things got kind of backed up.” A fan shouted, “He brought back Coulson, he can bring you back, too!” Day laughed as the audience applauded loudly.
As a fan thanked her for launching Geek and Sundry, Day said she’s proud of the channel’s first year. “We made 600 videos in a year, guys. That’s a lot,” she said. In Season 2, many shows will be returning while others will make their debut.
The next fan also spoke about Day’s inspiration to aspiring writers and artists, and in mentioning her Supernatural character Charlie prompted a shout from the audience of “congratulations on not dying,” to loud applause. Day replied, “But I’m so good at dying!” The fan at the microphone asked whether Day sees herself as a “representative of the female nerd community.” Day joked that, “I have a responsibility to not pose in a bikini.” But her role in fan culture is not a primary concern. “I just wanted to create a character I thought I would play really well and I didn’t see. Now every girl hacker on TV is a cute girl hacker and that’s a cliché — uh, six years ago there wasn’t anybody who did that. Hopefully I helped contribute to that.” Day noted that her characters on Eureka and Supernatural were created with her in mind, “and that’s a huge compliment.”
Day also said she doesn’t see herself as a “girl gamer” but “just a gamer.” “If I can make it more acceptable for women and girls to love those things, that’s a total win as a byproduct of what I’m doing.”.
Asked about the possibility of doing more comics, Day said she has a lot on her plate but “comics are always on my mind.” “Trying to do less, better, is kind of my mantra right now,” she said. “I have an outline for a completely different comic right now, I just need to find the time to actually write it out.”
Day said writing for television or web series and comics use different skills, as web series require limited locations and rely on dialogue — “You can’t go to the Eiffel Tower, we’ve got $20″ — whereas comics can have unlimited locations but “you have very little room for dialogue.”
The next fan up said that, being from northern Indiana, she wasn’t too familiar with Chicago pizza. But when she nervously admitted “I like Papa John’s,” the audience erupted in boos. “Don’t boo the woman!” Day said. Then, in a mock-whisper, “She’s from Indiana.”
After the laughter subsided, the fan asked about funny stories from the set of Supernatural, whose stars have a reputation as pranksters.
Day described them as “versatile and professional,” although they’ve also nurtured an on-set atmosphere that allows for fun. “If you guys watched the LARPing episode, there’s the scene in the tent [where] there’s all this dialogue about the map, which was really fun. And then I turned to Jared [Padalecki] and it was a close-up on me and Jensen [Ackles]. And [Padalecki] was just saying, like, ‘ballsack’ — he was just Tourettes-ing it,” Day said. “And I was like, ‘You cannot mess up your guest role! You cannot mess up your guest role!'” She demonstrated how she held an expression to keep from laughing through the scene. “And of course Jensen’s so professional, he’s just like, ‘100 percent, I don’t care what he’s saying.'”
Following up on an earlier passing comment about a “ginger club,” a fan asked if strawberry blondes could be admitted into such an organization. Day gave a doubtful look, but the ginger sitting next to me in the front row was more vocal, prompting Day to point and exclaim, “She’s saying no!”
A fan laughed about seeing Day in Bring It On Again, and being surprised by her cheer moves. “Talk about out of my element, guys,” Day said. “I played a ballerina who was angry and was healed by cheer. Listen, it was a job. And it was awesome. It was a fun job. The cool part about being an actress is having to do weird things that you would never do normally. Cheerleading would be one of them.”
Day encouraged fans interested in making YouTube videos to “just jump in making videos — that’s what YouTube’s about.” “A girl named Jenna Marbles has 12 million views on every single one of her episodes, more than anybody on network TV,” Day said. “The fact that she’s not better known as a phenomenon and credited, and when people cover her it’s in a very condescending way- she is stomping the butts of TV! I think that’s awesome, and it shows you that there is a lack of gatekeepers, that you can go around [them] to be creative.”
Asked about Kickstarter, Day recalled that she funded The Guild through PayPal before the crowdfunding site came online. “If Kickstarter had existed in 2007, we would have used it,” she said, adding that she would consider using it now if “I had a project I couldn’t make through other means.” On the success of the Veronica Mars movie funding, Day noted that the base was relatively modest. “Only 30,000 funded that project — 30,000 can raise $2 million, you can do some great stuff.”
Responding to a question about her dream project, Day said, “It would be a Wes Anderson comedy on a spaceship. […] Joss would write the script, but he’s busy … and I would be a captain.”
A fan asked about Day’s most interesting fan mail or social-media interaction, and a recent piece came to mind. “A woman dropped some yarn that she made today in Codex’s colors,” Day said. “Things like that are pretty amazing. I guess the thing that impacted me, that hangs on my wall in my office, is a beautiful print of a half-naked woman, but there’s a story.”
The pictured woman’s boyfriend created the painting as part of an auction to raise money for her medical bills when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24. Day retweeted a link to the auction, and two years later the woman presented her with a print at a signing. “She wrote this thing on the back, with the picture of the tweet, saying how much that helped the auction and how that helped her to overcome breast cancer.”
“I also have a crazy case of dolls that people have given me,” she said. “If you go to my house, it might look creepy that there are all of these dolls just of me.”