The easiest way to explain slash fan fiction is to say that it explores the possibilities of Kirk and Spock becoming more than just captain and first officer. Once you’ve made that mental leap, it’s a quick jump to Han and Luke, Batman and Robin – you get the idea.
The Internet and its abundant anonymity is a fertile ground for the genre. And that seemingly safe space on the Web captured the imagination of Clay Liford, the North Texas native who wrote and directed “Slash,” which made its world premiere last month at South by Southwest.
“Slash” centers on Neil (Michael Johnston), a 15-year-old struggling with his sexual orientation. He works through his feelings online by writing erotic fan fiction about his favorite comic book, “Vanguard.” When he meets Julia (Hanna Marks) – a fellow fanfic devotee who goes to his high school – he develops a friendship that expands his life both online and off.
“Slash” shows at the Dallas International Film Festival tonight at 10:30 and tomorrow at 7:30p.m. I caught up with Liford last month in Austin after the film’s world premiere to talk about making a movie for the Internet age:
Art & Seek: “Slash” is a movie about outsiders – in fact it’s a movie about outsiders who are even outsiders among their fellow outsider. Did you consider yourself an outsider growing up?
Clay Liford: Oh, most certainly. … One of the reasons why I chose this subject matter is because from a point of empathy, it’s still one of the last outposts – it’s like the Alamo of outsider art now.
A&S: Was it easy for you to access those teenage feelings as an adult?
CL: I don’t think you ever stop feeling like an outsider. I certainly still feel like a weirdo in the non-pejorative sense of the word. You never really quite shake that. I have not integrated myself into the mainstream enough to begin to shake that. So when I sat down to write that, those feelings were like they were yesterday. Everything came back. More to the point, I guess, it started off as an outsider coming of age thing, but it really kind of looped into this idea of who you are. There’s a lot of pressure the younger you are to define yourself. High school’s very clicky – life’s very clicky! And I think one of the hardest lessons I learned – and it’s something you learn with age – is you start to relax about those things. I’m no less weird or less of an outsider than I was when I was 15 or 18, I just don’t care as much now.
A&S: It’s also tougher for teenagers today because they have to define themselves not only in person but online. They all have these second lives.
CL: That’s a very valid point … This scenario for this movie could not have existed 20 years ago. We always said that we wanted to make a coming of age movie for the Internet age. Because if you think about it, most filmmakers are either my age or up to like 10 to 15 years younger at the most. If you’re doing a coming of age movie, you’re typically doing it about your life. So you’re doing nostalgia about things you grew up with. And I didn’t want to do that – I wanted to do something that was firmly rooted in the modern age and firmly rooted in the Internet.
A&S: Did you feelings about people who write fan fiction change over the course of making the movie?
CL: Yeah, absolutely. … As I started developing it and going deeper and deeper into it, I started seeing correspondences between writers, and it was very touching. It reminded me of correspondences between writers from print – things I had when I was a member of fan clubs. … Seeing those correspondences and seeing people help each other and seeing that this is a place they can talk about things no one else is talking about – I had whiplash how quickly I changed my tune as to how I was approaching this.
A&S: In your research, what was the weirdest bit of slash fiction you came across?
CL: There seems to be an inverse proportion between how innocent the source material is and how depraved the sex is. So you’ll find, like, Thomas the Tank Engine in really, really naughty stuff.
A&S: Maybe we’ll leave it at that.
CL: I would say so.