It is a great pleasure to welcome Jessica Leski, Director of I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story.
Jessica welcome to EverydayFangirl.com and thanks so much for taking the time to discuss this awesome Fangirl documentary project with us!
Patty: What does the title of this documentary signify?
Jessica: The title is a direct quote from one of the main characters in the film, Elif, a One Direction fan from Long Island, New York. It comes at a fascinating moment where she is at a backyard pizza party with friends and she starts spiraling into a 1D fantasy, imagining Niall Horan casually turning up to the party. She suddenly stops and catches herself and wails to her friends “This is not good! I used to be normal!” I loved this moment as she was both allowing herself to sink deep into her fandom fantasies, but was also aware and present enough to question her behaviour. Each of the characters in the film is struggling with what being a fan means to them and how to reconcile it with their ideas of growing up and being a woman in the world. That was something I found very interesting – the judgement and consequential shame that can come with loving a boyband and how to own it and celebrate it, rather than hide it away.
The film will hopefully lead audience members to question what is normal behaviour, and consider that they may have judged fans too quickly and too harshly.
Patty: What prompted you to create a documentary on this topic and who or what inspired you to?
Jessica: The fact that I had never liked a boyband before. When I was in high school in the late 1990s, arguably the golden era of boybands, I was actually dismissive of the entire phenomenon. The boys, their music and their fans didn’t interest me at all. But then in 2012, I was driving and heard the One Direction song “One Thing” on the radio. I remember scoffing at how simple the song was – they repeated the chorus so many times! But by the end of the song, it was stuck in my head. As soon as I got to my desk I looked up the video clip on Youtube. And I was hooked. That video clip in particular was such a magnificent introduction to boybands for me – the co-ordinated outfits, the hairstyles, the goofing around, the attempts at dancing. It was so innocent and wholesome and joyful. This led to an internet spiral into the world of One Direction. I had never been a fan of something since the internet had become such a huge part of my life. And so I was floored by how much access I could have to material – photos, articles, videos. This felt so different from being a fan when I was a teenager, carefully cutting photos out of magazines to stick into a scrapbook. It very quickly followed that I discovered how truly amazing fans of this era are. I was astounded by how talented, creative and hilarious these 1D fans were. I’d never seen fan art before, or read fan fiction or seen a twitter hashtag take off. It made me think that I may have misjudged the Backstreet Boys and Nsync fans I’d known when I was a teenager. And I started to think that I’d like to see a film that gave boyband fans a voice, away from judgment and ridicule. I didn’t feel like I’d ever seen them treated that way.
Patty: What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a creator and how does your work reflect some of these attributes?
Jessica: Ha ha, this is a great question! I think you have to be a little bit insane to be a filmmaker, or probably to be any creative person trying to make a living as an artist. Finding that balance between sanity and insanity is challenging for sure. I think what is key for me is deeply loving the projects I work on. You are stuck with them for so long and you have to constantly defend them and hype them up. It really helps if the love you feel is real, to put it mildly. You have to believe in yourself and your ideas, even if those around you are implying or even outright stating that you shouldn’t.
I also think that finding collaborators who share a common vision and drive is so important. This can be very hard to find, but so worthwhile for those moments when you feel that you’re a part of a cohesive and inspiring team. Documentary teams are very small and intimate so it’s essential to find people who have different but complimentary skills to your own.
Patty: What kind of research did you have to do for this documentary and how is this different from others you may have worked on before?
Jessica: Researching for this film was so much fun! Sometimes too fun – and the lines between work and play were easily blurred. I lost track of how many times I tried to convince Rita, the producer, that scrolling through tumblr and instagram were not just important, but absolutely critical activities. But arguably they were; we found some of our key interview subjects online!
Beyond delving into boyband history starting from The Beatles to today, I also researched a lot about the history and evolution of pop music, our physiological reactions to music and the teenage brain. We interviewed a wide range of people in the first year of making the film – musicians, psychologists, neurologists – even former boyband members! The film evolved a lot over the years we were filming, which was a very different experience for me. It was often challenging, wanting things to move along faster, but also a blessing to have had such a large amount of time to research, explore and grow with the characters.
Patty: How did you decide which Boy Bands to cover and which Fangirls to interview?
Jessica: In my very early plans and ideas for the film I wanted to cover as many boybands and as many different kinds of fans as possible. However I realized what was at the heart of this project was a desire to demystify the boyband fan, to allow audiences access to a kind of person who routinely gets judged in a negative light or simply dismissed. I decided to focus instead on a key group of fans that were smart, honest and open and had had a wide range of experiences. All that mattered to me was that their bands were different and that they were from different generations.
It’s been very rewarding to have audience members communicate how much they connect with the stories in the film, whether their particular boyband was focused on or not. Even more rewarding is when fans of entirely different things can see themselves in these women – we’ve had horror movie fans, heavy metal music fans and fantasy novel fans all feel a deep sense of connection with these stories.
Patty: Love how diverse the documentary is and that it spans multiple eras. Was this a conscious decision during the process or was this something that developed organically?
Jessica: Yes this was something that was very important to me. Because I came to boyband fandom later in life, I had a distinct feeling of having missed out on what had come before. I had so many questions for fans of different generations. I wanted to explore how being a fan may have shifted and evolved over the last 50 years and also if being a young woman had changed. I think the findings were really surprising.
Patty: How long did this project take and when/where will this be released?
Jessica: We started filming this project in 2013 and followed the key characters for a number of years. The film had its world premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto in 2018 and has spent the last year traveling to film festivals all around the world. It will be released onto various US digital streaming platforms from September 17th 2019 (Amazon, InDemand, DirecTV, AT & T, FlixFling, Vudu, FANDANGO, Sling/Dish).
Patty: What are you a fan of and for how long? Are Boy Bands your passion too or is it something else entirely?
Jessica: I’d say I’m a fan of boyband fans even more than the actual boybands themselves. But a large part of my heart will always belong to One Direction, as they were the catalyst for this journey and the reason I got to meet so many incredible people and work with such a wonderful team. I’m holding out for the reunion tour… I’m thinking maybe 2030? 😉
Patty: What makes you laugh?
Jessica: I am still feeling all the good feelings from watching the first season of Pen15 earlier this year. I ADORED it. I also love watching Broad City re-runs. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are absolute geniuses.
Patty: How would you describe yourself and your creative process?
Jessica: I’m both focused and easily distracted. So many things in the world fascinate me. I feel like documentary filmmaking gives me permission to sit back and observe, and that’s one of my favourite states to be in. I like to give my creative process a lot of flexibility. I find if I get too fixed on one idea or one way of doing things it closes the door to opportunities, and a great thrill about making documentaries is all the unexpected things that can happen along the way.
Patty: Anything else you would like to share?
Jessica: As mentioned previously, the film will be released on digital platforms (Amazon, iTunes, DirecTV, AT&T, FlixFing, InDemand, Vudu, FANDANGO, Sling/Dish) on Sept. 17th. Find out more about this release through the following links:
I am continuing with my series of interviews with Fangirls that I have met through social media!
Today, it is my pleasure to interview fellow fangirl, Annalise Ophelian, who is an award-winning documentary filmmaker (MAJOR!, Diagnosing Difference), queer psychotherapist, and Chihuahua fetishist.
I first became aware of Annalise through the interview she gave on Episode 44 of the Fangirls Going Rogue podcast and I was able to briefly meet her in person last month at Star Wars Celebration Orlando.
Welcome Annalise to The Adventures of The Everyday Fangirl and thank you for taking the time to answer these questions about being a Fangirl.
When do you realize you were a Fangirl?
I probably only started using this term a few years ago, like around 2015 when I attended my first Star Wars Celebration. But my Star Wars fandom started when I was 4, in 1977 after seeing A New Hope in the theater. The following summer, it played at the theater near my house in Fort Collins, CO at the 10 cent matinee, and I went every single week. I was Princess Leia for Halloween, had action figures, read along to the children’s books with cassettes with my younger brother. In the early 1990s, when there were only the EU books and comics and not much else for Star Wars fans, I became a huge Star Trek: TNG fan, that franchise started me going to conventions, which I’ve continued attending throughout my adult life, and also collecting trading cards and such. So geek fandom has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.
How has social media helped or hindered you?
I’m so grateful for social media, especially as a woman who loves geeky things, I did not find community until the advent of social media. And I can’t image how Looking for Leia would even be possible without social media, because women’s fandom is so vibrant on-line, particularly in the arenas of podcasting, instagram, and blogging. I’m able to connect to a much broader group of women across geographic locations, and I think it’s also served to help broadcast women’s fandom in a much more accessible way. Women don’t need a publishing contract or a corporate sponsor to create and disseminate art and commentary about their fandom, it proletarianizes media and digital access.
When did you first see Star Wars or other favorite fandom, such as Star Trek, Lord of The Rings, etc. and did you love it right away or did this grow on you over time?
Summer of 1977, right after I turned 4, was the first time I saw Star Wars, and the following summer I saw it 10 times in the theater. Star Wars was definitely love at first viewing, I’ve talked with my mother about it and she’s said “Yeah, we offered you other summer activities, but all you wanted to do was see Star Wars.” And space fantasy is my favorite genre, I never got into Tolkien or D&D. I did love ST:TNG, but I was more in love with the social allegory than the sci fi aspect, although having said that I did have technical manuals for the Enterprise D, so that’s something.
What have you learned from the Star Wars fan community or other fan communities that has had a positive impact on your life?
I feel like Star Wars fans are some of the kindest fans I’ve ever met. I’ve been to three Celebrations, and at every one there’s this joy in attending and knowing that every human around you will happily engage in a conversation about Star Wars. The sort of posturing or “geek cred” thing I associate with Reddit or other forms of (predominantly male) fandom doesn’t come across to me so much in Star Wars fan community, and working on Looking for Leia I’ve been really moved by how women’s fandom shows up in their lives. Female Star Wars fans are hard core! I’m talking levels of geekdom preserved for sitcoms, we’re a deeply passionate, committed group. I’m queer-identified and I came out in 1987, so I’ve been an active member of LGBT community for quite sometime, and I’ve always relied on that community for mirroring and support and safety. But when I attended my first Star Wars Celebration, I felt more at home and among my people than I ever had before. I felt like I could show up fully, like I was understood and understood others, there was this comradery and this language, both spoken and unspoken, and it was just blissful. I remember coming home from Anaheim and having this sort of culture shock, it was jarring not to be sitting on a floor talking with people about Star Wars for seven hours a day. I also think Star Wars fans are unique in the way we can love a thing and also have multiple critiques of it and these things don’t cancel each other out. There’s a nice duality there, it’s very both/and: I love this thing; and I hate this thing; This is my favorite part; and this is the part I want to be done better.
I also love how so much of the Star Wars universe is fan created. Characters who are unnamed on film and have no lines get back stories and complex relationships in fandom, and this fandom informs canon and vice versa. So the creativity and love of story that Star Wars fans have is deeply inspiring to me, especially because I’m not a fiction writer or a narrative filmmaker, as a documentarian my work is about observation and consolidation more than creating something entirely new. So that sort of creativity is inspiring.
What else do you Fangirl about?
I’m a huge Disney fan, lifelong Disney fan, I live in Northern California but generally have an annual pass and make it to Anaheim several times a year. Next year for my 45th birthday, I’d like to go to Disneyland in Shanghai and Tokyo, and then I’ll have been to every Disney park in the world, and my mother and I have taken two Star Wars Day at Sea Disney cruises and are booked for our third next spring. I was really happy when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I felt like these folks know how to take care of my childhood, and they’ve certainly proven that to be true. And I love that my two major fandoms now live in the same place, and I can wear head to toe Star Wars gear and be perfectly dressed for the parks! I joke with my partner that I’m basically a teenage boy, I only want to see Marvel and Star Wars movies, basically anything with super heroes or explosions in space, and I love sci fi and fantasy TV shows, and I never pass a comic store without going in. Because of “Looking for Leia” I’d say my Star Wars fandom, which is usually pretty central, is definitely occupying all of my bandwidth right now!
Anything else you want to say to others about being a Fangirl?
I think it’s funny how we gender things. Like droids, why do droids have gender? We assign qualities to gendered fandom that I think are arbitrary. Princesses are for everyone, and warriors are for everyone, and these can be two different categories or one category. Having said that, I love seeing how women show up in fandom, because one thing that is true of geeks is that we are often drawn to these stories of outsiders struggling to find their way in the world because they mirror our own struggles, our own sense of alienation and dreams of belonging and comradeship and heroism. Right now, my favorite thing in the world is how women have taken Claudia Gray’s concept of “Huttslayer” Leia from “Bloodline” and completely redefined the cosplay and character associated with “Slave Leia,” totally upending the male gaze and reclaiming the agency and self-determination of that character. To use a phrase I heard repeatedly when asking women about female characters in Star Wars, that’s badass.
What cool Fangirl related project or projects are you working on that you would like to share?
I am currently working on “Looking for Leia,” a documentary about Star Wars fangirls. Those that want to learn more or Fangirls interested in Getting Involved can visit www.annaliseophelian.com or www.lookingforleia.com!
Thanks again Annalise for answering these questions and letting us to get to know you and your fandom better.
Today, this everyday fangirl is excited to welcome Hansi Oppenheimer from Troubled Girl Films about her latest creative endevor, Squee! The Fangirl Documentary Project.
What does the title of this documentary signify?
“Squee” is a sound some think fangirls make. At least that is how pop culture sees it. I chose it as the title since it’s the sound of joy and excitement and that’s one of the things I most love about fandom and fangirls in particular. Fandom is one place you can express your feelings – whatever they are – and show your passions and excitement. So I am calling the film ‘Squee’ because it’s all about Fangirls, their community, creativity and expressing joy.
I’m very involved in fandom & fan culture. My previous film, Color Me Obsessed, is an oral history of the the band The Replacements as told by their fans. The Village Voice called this unique take “the Rashamon of rock-docs.” After Color Me Obsessed, I struggled with a film about fanfic for a while, but then I realized that my interest in it was because fanfic is primarily written and read by women. I’m very interested in the creation of fanworks and transmedia, fandom as community, especially how women bond on tumblr, LJ and other platforms.
I think being an artist is all about accepting your own madness. Allen Ginsberg said “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” Funnily enough, I met Ginsberg back in the late 80’s. I was briefly in the lock up ward with Allen’s lover, Peter Orlovsky. When Allen visited him, I asked him to sign the book I was reading. He signed it “Dearest Hansi, So Happy To See You Here” (signed Allen Ginsberg)” Insanity and a sense of humor are the things that allow me to continue to make art.
I hope my work expresses my humor, a little craziness and my respect for freedom of thought. As JG Ballard said “In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom.“
First and foremost, I love listening to stories.
Mostly, I talk to people. I think everyone has a valid story to tell and I’m always happy to hear them. When I’m not working, one of my favorite things is to sit in an “old man” dive bar and talk to the old regulars. But I also do research all the time. My background prior to film was as a tape librarian. I’m a huge meta and aca-fan and I read tons of essays on everything pop culture related.
Currently I’m an uber- fan of Supernatural and The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Sherlock, also-Torchwood, Constantine, Bates Motel, Bob’s Burgers, American Horror Story, Grimm, Gotham, Arrow, Flash, anything by Joss Whedon (BTVS is my #1 first fandom), Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, Agent Carter, X-Files, The Tick, The Guild, Big Bang Theory, Star Wars Rebels, Twin Peaks, Robot Chicken…
I have a pretty dark sense of humor.
Buffy. Whenever I have a really bad day, I cue up a marathon and weep my eyes out and then I’m all better.
I’m an old punk rock chick. I worked on “zines’ back in the day and spent a lot of my youth at CBGB’s.
I’ve worked as a tape librarian, worked in the porn industry (in post production) been an actress in My Name is Earl, Blue Bloods, Nurse Jackie, Life on Mars, Californication, Law and Order, Brain Games, Dexter among other shows. I was the writer/creator/producer on Color Me Obsessed, I’ve taught kids how to make films at DCTV, work at the Tribeca Film Festival every year, worked with the Big Apple Circus, at Lincoln Center and The Daryl Roth Theater. I spend as much time at cons as possible and will be hosting a fangirl podcast on http://thesupernaughts.com/ in May.
When will the project you are working be completed?
Squee should be starting to “squeen” at festivals and cons in late 2015.
Anything else you would like to share?
People can donate funds to help with our post production costs at gofund.me/squeefangirlfilm or help by liking and sharing our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/fangirlproject or our Tumbler http://squeefangirlproject.tumblr.com/ or follow us on Twitter @troubledgirl.