Building ‘The Guild’7 May, 2010 By: John Latchem
Actress Felicia Day is no stranger to the world of fanboy entertainment. She’s played a vampire slayer on “Buffy,” had her head cut open on “House,” and inspired the lust of both a superhero and a supervillain in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”
Since 2007, Day’s primary exposure to that cultish crowd has taken the form of her Web series “The Guild,” which she created to channel her obsession with online role-playing video games.
“It was the first thing I’d ever written,” Day said. “I wrote it as a half-hour television pilot. When I showed it to people, they said there was some funny stuff, but they didn’t understand half of it.”
Then Day showed it to her friend Kim Evey, who had experience producing viral videos, and she suggested making it for online distribution.
“So we took the first act and cut it into a couple pieces and put it on YouTube,” Day said. “Then we ran out of money. We put up a Paypal button asking for donations, and people sent us money and we were able to get through the first season.”
Day said the first season led to offers to turn “The Guild” into a TV show. “But the distribution didn’t seem much better than YouTube, and they were offering so little money, I decided to keep it on the Web,” she said.
“The Guild” has since garnered more than 50 million total views, and in 2009 collected Streamy Awards for best comedy Web series, best actress for Day and best ensemble cast.
Day stars as Codex, a wallflower who turns to online gaming to build confidence. She is a member of The Knights of Good, a guild of gamers who aid each other in online quests. The cast includes Jeff Lewis as Vork, Sandeep Parikh as Zaboo, Amy Okuda as Tinkerballa, Vincent Caso as Bladezz and Robin Thorsen as Clara.
The third season, which New Video NYC releases on DVD May 25 at $14.95, finds The Knights of Good on the verge of breaking up under the weight of personal issues and the pressures of a rival guild, the Axis of Anarchy.
The idea of a rival guild, Day said, stemmed from complaints she received from hardcore gamers that the show wasn’t taking their hobby seriously enough (though a vast majority of feedback is positive, Day notes). Members of the Axis of Anarchy are based on a variety of gamers she encountered at conventions.
The Axis leader, Fawkes, is played by Wil Wheaton, best known to sci-fi fans as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Wheaton has developed quite a reputation as a fanboy villain lately not only on “The Guild” but also playing a caricature of himself on “The Big Bang Theory.”
“The ‘Big Bang’ stuff came after I wrote him the part,” Day said. “It’s so funny they wrote a part for him that is so similar. But at least he kind of gets to play himself there.”
Day said her production team self-released the first season on DVD, selling it via their website, WatchTheGuild.com. A distribution deal with New Video put a DVD of the first and second seasons into stores nationwide. While DVD gives fans of “The Guild” access to a wide array of exclusive bonus content, Day said the show’s true home is online.
“For me this show is not just an excuse to make a DVD, but it helps,” Day said. “It increases revenue and we’re able to monetize the show. Plus, people bring the DVDs to conventions and ask us to sign them.”
Day said she was excited to be able to involve the show’s fans in the third season by asking them to submit bizarre audition tapes as if they wanted to join the team. Some of these were included in the episodes and more are on the DVD.
“We held a secret contest in the fan forums,” Day said. “We wanted them to send videos for the DVD extras. They didn’t know they would be in the actual episode. When we told them that they got so excited.”
The third-season DVD includes more Knights of Good applicant fan videos, a Halloween episode, a “Do You Want to Date My Avatar” music video, a “How to Build Vork’s Sword” featurette, commentary with the cast and crew, Axis of Anarchy interviews, gag reels and a panel discussion with Day and her creative team in which they discuss how anyone can make their own Web series.
“The ability to release it yourself is always there,” Day said. “The big thing to remember with Web content is that 90% of the work is done after you finish producing and editing it. It’s so hard to motivate an audience to watch.”
As for “The Guild” on Blu-ray, Day said fans shouldn’t expect it anytime soon.
“It’s prohibitively expensive,” Day said. “We looked at the numbers.”
The series is available in HD via the Xbox Live platform from one of the show’s primary sponsors, Microsoft, which has extended its online distribution agreement to the fourth season.
In Web terms, the concept of a “season” is relative. Episodes vary from three to eight minutes in length, with an entire season running about an hour and a half. In fact, Day says, the production process more closely resembles a movie than a TV show.
“Our format is basically a feature length script with cliffhangers along the way,” Day said. “If I were to do the episodes with the idea of combining a few and repurposing them for TV, I’d have to tell the story differently.”
Day said she spends several months preparing the script for a season, which is then modified during a read-through with the cast. Each season is filmed over the course of two weeks, with the fourth season due this summer.
“The traditional way to structure a TV show is to reset everything at the end of the season or every episode,” Day said. “I feel if something happens in the characters’ lives, I want it to affect them and carry through.”
Day said season four will pick up where the third season left off, but should be more lighthearted and less stressful on the characters. She also hopes to pair off different characters in combinations not seen before.
“It’s hard not to write more because all the actors are so wonderful,” Day said.
Writing the latest season proved to be more challenging, Day said, since she also wrote a three-issue comic book origin story for her character, which is being released by Dark Horse Comics.
“Joss Whedon offered to help me with the comic book and I didn’t take him up on it,” Day said. “So when I finished I told him I should have taken him to lunch to get that advice from him. I guess the lesson is to swallow your pride, Felicia.”