A Conversation with Clay Liford

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Interviews by Fans
Title: A Conversation with Clay Liford ("Slash: The Movie")
Interviewer: Elizabeth Minkel and Flourish Klink
Interviewee: Clay Liford
Date(s): March 28, 2016
Medium: online
Fandom(s):
External Links: A Conversation with Clay Liford
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A Conversation with Clay Liford ("Slash: The Movie") is an interview conducted by Elizabeth Minkel and Flourish Klink.

The focus of the interview is Slash, Liford's film.

This interview was the 18th episode of Fansplaining, though is only available in transcript form, not audio.

Introduction

We’re doing things a little differently for this episode of Fansplaining, because technical difficulties rendered our guest’s audio unusable. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Clay Liford, the director of SLASH, a film that’s (partly) about fanfiction, which premiered at SXSW a few weeks back—and caused a fair bit of controversy in the fannish world. This is a full transcript of that conversation. Flourish and Elizabeth re-recorded the episode with a full critical review of the film, and a discussion of this conversation, and that’ll be out very soon—but we recommend reading this first!

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

Flourish Klink: Right. So was it—it sounds like it was sort of a YA movie that then found fan, fanfic in particular as, like, the thing that it needed to express itself rather than being a movie about fanfic that then found a YA plot.

Clay Liford: Right, exactly. And I would even, I’m not sure I’d classify it as YA only because I feel like a lot of YA that’s written in that kind of, within the high school world genre it tends to be a little more reductive and not as honest. So hopefully the one perspective of this being from a person who survived and not wanting to talk down to kids, you know, that was one of the important points. But you know, there’s some really smart YA out there too, it’s just I think sometimes it can be a little reductive emotionally.

CL: Right, right. We’re in no way, shape or form a documentary and it’s not the type of thing that I would ever even want to express or pretend to be. You know, it was, I feel like we got enough of the pieces right and we definitely, we were at panels at different comic-cons that were specifically slash panels, and yeah, it’s, they’re boxed in these hotel rooms in these conventions and they’re a much smaller swath than would go to, like, an Iron Man panel or whatever, but yeah, I think you know, it really came down to narratively how do you externalize things that are so internal. When you do a movie about writers in general it’s very very difficult to show an externalization of that, so the only drama we had was where we go into the third act where we go into the comic-con.

But you have to have kind of that narrative thrust, and having, like, a live reading for example, having that thing there allowed it to externalize a lot of the internal issues that a lot of the characters were having.

Elizabeth Minkel: ... Do you feel, like, I don’t want to sound attack-y, but do you feel like it was a fair representation of the fanfiction world?

CL: Yeah, I mean, here’s the thing. I feel, like if anything… Do I feel like people are gonna watch this movie and immediately afterwards want to start writing fanfiction? Not necessarily. But I think at the very least people are gonna understand why the characters do what they do and I don’t feel like in a judgey way either. Look, I’m gonna get details wrong. It’s gonna happen. The difference between, the only difference between the fan community and a doctor watching ER or a cop watching The Wire is the fact that the doctor and the cop isn’t gonna be on the internet afterwards and talk about it because they’re doctors and cops. But my brother’s a cop—

ELM: Yeah, my dad doesn’t watch Law and Order. He can’t.

CL: You know, we are talking about a very specific thing and we had to form… We made our own websites, it’s a BS website, but it is… it’s abstracted enough that in a 90 minute film I’m not having to explain what One Direction fiction is, I’m not having to explain different… it’s hard to be especially because we’re kind of, from a narrative film standpoint, not being a documentary, we’re one of the very first films about this subject.

CL: ... I’ve read scripts that are definitely more faithful as far as the actual nuts and bolts of operation within the community, but I feel like those are deeper tracks, you know? And for us it was about how do we get what we feel is a very positive message to as many people as we can. And so you know we kind of have a foot in both worlds so it’s a difficult way to have to walk that way. When you want to, like, I genuinely want people within the fan community, within fanfic to at least see that we’re trying to do something that’s positive. We’re not gonna get all the details right, but that’s not from a lack of knowledge, those are from shorthand, those are from abstractions. It’s not, it’s not me not knowing what I’m talking about, it’s having to take abstractions to tell a story that’s going to be accessible to people beyond that community, cause that’s who we’re trying to reach.

I mean you guys, the sex positive stuff that’s in there, you guys know that stuff. (all laugh) I’m preaching to the choir there. This is for people, on the one hand it’s for, I want to make a coming of age story for kids who don’t have a story like this. They have no representation. And that was first and foremost, and that takes front stage for me over the idea of slash fandom, you know. But secondly it was to kind of expose people in a non-judgey way to something that I think has a lot of social, political value.

CL: ... We tried to hit it from both angles. We genuinely tried to make the pieces from Neil and Julia not sound goofy. They still sounded like they were from teenagers, but there were no overt jokes in there, and I feel like it would have—to be a comedy, to live in this world, it would have been completely, there’s just no way we can do it and still… Because I think you get to that point and just, everything is too reverent and nothing, everything is too reverent to the point that you can’t laugh about it it’s gonna come off as schmaltzy. We’re already riding the line, it’s the most sentimental movie I’ve ever made. By far and away, I don’t know what that says about me. But I think you have to ride that schmaltz line too. If everything was too congratulatory within the community…

Because I hear a lot of comments, you know, people going “oh, this should have been made from inside the community,” and to some degree I agree with that because the worst thing that could happen would be I made the Adam Sandler movie of this. Right?... Where it’s like “Look at these people!” I can’t do an Adam Sandler voice. (all laugh) You know what I mean? The worst thing I could do would be pointing fingers and laughing because that’s not even how I feel at all, but you know, it—that does nobody any good. But I feel like there’s also the problem, you flip that, where it’s so insider and so reverent that no one else can connect to it and for some people it would reinforce the way they feel about that, not having any knowledge about it. Like, it’s weird, there is a balance.

CL: For me it’s like, you know, it’s tough because again, so much, you have 90 minutes, so much of what you have to do is abstraction. I’ve heard some comments, there’s some very specific, I mean, I read what people say so I know what’s going on.

FK: No, don’t google yourself! That way lies madness!

CL: I know. It’s terrible. I see that, one thing people are saying is what we’re doing isn’t inaccurate but is very 2002? Was some of it? I was like look that may be the case, but there’s never been a film about this, so we have to start somewhere and, like, to jump so far ahead where people are like “this shoulda been on Wattpad!” and I’m like, how am I gonna explain that? You know.

CL: I think, you know, if you start thinking too much about these things and you start being worried too much about these things you’ll never make anything. So I, though I worry about these things I worry about them only to a point because I would never leave the house! I would never leave the house if I was worried about every one of these details. And I probably concern myself more than I should. Um, I mean, it is important to me, the whole thing with the community I know that—it’s like, when we make these films it’s like a lot of times we make films about a community without the intent to include that community at all because that’s not your general audience, that’s not the people who are buying tickets or who are streaming it or whatever. But at the same time, it's—I, I feel like you know, hopefully people see the message itself is very positive and want to propagate that.

Because I do think that us doing well, us being well received, and we are being generally well received so far, by the community that actually signs the checks to make those movies, that it’s going to do nothing other than make it easier for the next person. And once that door is open the opening will get larger each time, and I think it’s going to be—and maybe to some degree this is going to sound pretentious and I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but maybe this is the gateway film. For people who don’t really understand the subject. I do honestly believe that it will get easier to get other films about fandom made.