I love Felicia Day. She is funny, charismatic, creative and, most of all, one smart cookie. She is on the cutting edge (I believe) of the future for film, TV and other screen media and is someone we can all learn from. In case you don’t know who she is, Felicia is the Queen of the Nerds & Geeks (or maybe even Empress). She is behind the success of the award-winning The Guild web series (with more than 150 million online views) and the new premium YouTube channel Geek & Sundry. She started out as an unconventional actress who was frustrated with jumping through all the conventional Hollywood hoops and opted to carve out her own unique career. What can film, television and even other web series creators learn from Felicia Day and her ability to attract fans? Why do I heart her? Here are five lessons we can all learn from this savvy web gal:
Lesson #1 – Don’t sell out.
When she began to write The Guild, Felicia had been a struggling Hollywood actress for five years. When they began to shoot the first season she only had enough money to pay for the camera and bagels. Once The Guild started to pick up a following it would have been very easy for her to cash in her IP chips but she chose to keep the rights to this passion project. Microsoft came on board for an “unspecified licence fee” for season two, but she didn’t have to sell her IP to make it happen. The cash allowed people to get paid up front, but the series is not one that is making her rich, even today. However, by retaining her rights it allows her to avoid making compromises to story and character because of gatekeeper demand, which means she can connect directly with the hearts of her audience and turn them into hardcore fans. This loyal audience will now follow her to any other project she is a part of like her YouTube Channel.
How you can not sell out:
Understand that just like your first short film, web series and new forms of screen media storytelling may require you to invest a lot of time and money (and the time and money of friends and family). You need to prepare yourself for that. If you are lucky enough to be offered financing through a traditional gatekeeper like a broadcaster or distributor, it may be very hard to turn down. However, understand if you take that deal you will be expected to compromise and make changes to fit into the more traditional screen media model. Also understand that things are changing and investing in figuring out what the new model is may end up being a better road to long term success. This is especially true if you have a niche audience in mind and understand how to reach them.
Lesson #2 – Be your audience.
One of the reasons Felicia is so good at this web thingy is that she grew up online. She was a home schooled kid who spent most of her time with Internet friends and can throw around words like CompuServe and Prodigy without batting an eye. She is a bright, over achieving gamer who knew this community was tired of seeing itself portrayed only as nerdy teenage boys in basements. She was in the thick of her audience for 8 hours of virtual time every day. She continues to have a keen understanding of who she is speaking to and for, because she is one of them. You just have to look at her latest music video with her Guild pals to see how deeply embedded she is:
How you can be your audience:
Maybe you are part of a community that would love to see its story being told, because it doesn’t have a voice in mainstream traditional media. Other web success stories like The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl prove this Felicia Day lesson over and over again. Go tell those stories.
However, you do not have to necessarily be part of a community or particular niche interest group to bring this lesson to bear. Really this is about deeply understanding who you are talking to and for. I, of course, believe that this requires planning and research and the gathering of data (like keyword research) to help you find a way to your niche. Once you’ve identified and found your audience, then the key is to participate authentically in this community to further understand and learn what they want and need.
Lesson #3 – Be a team player.
Felicia was lucky in that she has basically lived her life doing market research for The Guild. She cannot help but be authentic in the way she participates in this community and it is clear she understands the value of her online relationships. Her work simply becomes an extension of this and she can naturally leverage other key members of her tribe, nerd heroes like Joss Whedon and Will Wheaton. She is also willing to reach out and lend her own web star power to other projects like Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog and the Legend of Zelda parody The Legend of Neil (something she pokes fun at in the 2009 Streamys video “How to Make an Award Winning Web Series”). And she happily reaches out to fans and actively engages in conversations with them (just check out her Twitter feed or Google Plus page to see examples of this).
How you can be a team player:
It’s pretty simple, be an authentic, contributing member to the community you want to reach. By actively engaging and participating in that world, you cannot help but be a good team player and learn exactly what it will take to succeed with that audience. Offer to guest blog, share behind the scenes scoops as your project unfolds, get excited about what others are doing and help them spread the word. This in turn will get people invested in and enthusiastic about what you are doing, and provide you with a real sense of belonging to the community.
Lesson #4 – Don’t be a wallflower.
Like many people of the nerd and geek ilk, Felicia Day spent many years being shy and thinking people would not be interested in the stories she had to tell. It took her a long time to get the courage to start writing and then launch her web series. However, as the immediate and positive comments started rolling in, her confidence grew. She now spends a lot of time in shameless self-promotion, doing interviews, speaking at conferences, starting and participating in online conversations. If you do a search on Google, there are over three and a half million mentions of her online right now.
And check out this sampling of articles written about her:
- “Felicia Day Shifts to Producing Role with New YouTube Channel,” The Hollywood Reporter
- “Felicia Day: A Rising Star of the Internet Geek,” The Washington Post
- “Comic Con Icon Felicia Day,” The Los Angeles Times
- “Actress Felicia Day Reroutes Her Career with the Web Series ‘The Guild’,” Fast Company
- “How Felicia Day Recruited Millions for Her Guild,” Wired Magazine
How you can not be a wallflower:
Again, this is fairly straight forward. To be an Internet success story, you cannot be a wallflower. You cannot just create and hope people will show up. You need to get out there and pound the virtual pavement and promote your projects with heart and enthusiasm. Even more effective, do some big picture thinking and have a clear marketing plan that, I strongly recommend, leverages the power of the online media, social networks, search engines and niche sites with bloggers and community forums. Strategy does not undermine authenticity, but will make you more effective in reaching and galvanizing a community on your project’s behalf.
Lesson #5 – Don’t be a dick.
In a recent episode of her show on her YouTube channel, Felicia encourages her audience to send her suggestions and reassures them that she will give them credit if she uses them because “I’m not a dick.” This may be the heart of her success. She is a positive force on the Internet, one who doesn’t tear down others and puts out content that, well, just makes life better. If I am feeling down there is nothing better than a shot of Felicia Day to pick me up. Did I mention? I heart her.
How you can not be a dick:
Again, pretty simple, just don’t be a dick. Don’t indulge in troll like behaviour in forums. Don’t put negative conversations or content online. Use the manners your mama taught you and say thank you, give credit to others when you use their stuff, be respectful and authentic. A little charm and enthusiasm is also not misplaced in this lesson.
What Do You Think?
Are you a Felicia Day fangirl or fanboy? Have you been as impressed as I have with her business savvy way of looking at audience and screen media? Do you think she has other lessons to teach creators of film, televison and online video content? I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
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Or revisit the previous issue: 5 Things Film & Television Can Learn from Gamers