My first keynote experience at SXSW Interactive was a memorable one. Sarah Lacy used her 2008 interview with Mark Zuckerberg as a platform on which to advertise a book, her own brand, and a personal friendship with the then 23-year-old Facebook Founder, which amounted to an hour’s worth of audience anarchy, small talk, and non-questions about a company now sporting a $50 billion dollar price tag.

felicia-day-sxsw-keynoteMy latest keynote experience at SXSW Interactive was a memorable one, too. Not because interviewer Liz Shannon Miller constantly injected herself into the conversation with Felicia Day (she didn’t) or asked questions more self-serving than engaging (they were good). But because you came away with a much more vivid picture of Felicia Day the gamer, the fangirl, the online video content creator, the actor, the woman, and the person than you had before you watched the keynote with exactly one bajillion other people in the main room, in one of a few dozen supplemental broadcast rooms, or from your laptop by way of the live stream.

You got to know Felicia. I know that sounds kinda cheesy, but it’s true.

A good chunk of the SXSW world is already aware of a good amount of what Day discussed. The Guild’s backstory, how the first two monthly episodes were self-funded and the rest of the 10-episode first season was financed by audience donations from some 500 individuals. How the show got picked up by MSN, became sponsored by Sprint, spawned iTunes top-sellers and comic book iterations, and how and why Day’s maintained control and ownership of all the associated intellectual property. The fanboys and girls in the audience and on the web also probably know about her upcoming Dragon Age series, Season 5 of The Guild, and her appearance in a werewolf-themed Syfy action/fantasy flick.

But the internet-at-large may or may not be aware of the idiosyncrasies behind Day’s personality and success. How she’s a violinist, loves cupcakes and animals, prefers fans and passers-by to come and say hey rather than tweet, “OMG! I just saw the redhead from that web series. She’s short!”, is incredibly supportive of advancing women’s roles in the tech, gamer, and entertainment industries, but prefers to show that support by practice over preach, and how she’s spent more than eight hours a day for the past four years crafting her projects and building a “rabid” fanbase through genuine interaction and appreciation.

Sure, Day revealed some worthwhile industry news. The announcement of her involvement in the Dragon Age web series drew over 200 million online impression just two weeks before the launch of the Dragon Age 2 video game, which most likely was a huge factor as to why the title’s been atop the best-seller charts for the past two weeks. The fact she sold over 4,000 DVDs of Season One of The Guild, enough to finance Season 2 even if MSN and Sprint hadn’t come on board. And how she and production partner Kim Evey are planning to assist and launch more web series this year by way of their Knights of Good production company.

But I think the key takeaway here has little to do with business. It’s the realization Day’s got one helluva following, and she deserves it not because she’s a Joss Whedon favorite or a girl who’s easy on the eyes in a male-dominated subculture, but because she’s put in a ton of hard work, has a palpable love for what she does, and could be a poster child for the new Thank You economy.

You can’t over exaggerate how appreciative Day is of her supporters. It’s her work ethic and that sense of gratitude that’s accumulated one of the most active and ardent fan communities in the entertainment industry, online or off. When you watch her talk about it all on a stage like the one at SXSW, you can’t help but become a fan, too.

Photo credit: The Bui Brothers

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