Slash fiction has been around for about as long as fandom has (thank you, Kirk/Spock shippers), so you’d think it would be part of the mainstream by now. But despite its prevalence, writing and reading slash fan fiction is still considered a fringe interest, which is why that corner of the internet responded so strongly to the existence of one independent TV pilot. Truth Slash Fiction is the story of a high school student named Emma who is welcomed into a writing group who create and share their stories about Emma’s favorite band, Truth. The show will move back and forth between Emma’s real life and the stories themselves. It features original music and a new boy band who are poised to become a meta-sensation.
Truth Slash Fiction isn’t just preaching to the choir; it’s inviting outsiders to gain a better understanding of the appeal of this addictive art form. The show is making the rounds at television festivals all over the country. Over the summer, the show was awarded Best Comedy Pilot and Best Actress at SeriesFest in Denver. Next up is the ITV Festival in Vermont and the New York Television Festival. Fans are already rallying around the show, making fan videos and leading campaigns to persuade Netflix to pick it up. But other members of the slash community are wary that the show may not be truly representative and could contribute to negative or inaccurate assumptions about what they do.
We sat down with the guys behind Truth Slash Fiction, creator and writer Charlie Sohne, director Daniel Schloss, and composer Tim Rosser, to get the Truth (#sorrynotsorry) about this groundbreaking new series.
Sage: The first thing that I want to know is, where did this idea come from, and how aware were you of this community before you started?
Charlie Sohne (Creator): Honestly, not at all really. I read – I think it was a Slate.com article. And I was taken with it, because it profiled a slash fic writer and it was right after After [a famous Harry/OFC fic] had sold. Because After is hetero, so it’s interesting that this book sold for six figures when actually, the more vibrant part of the community is writing slash fiction. It profiled this one writer, and she was really funny and she made a great case for what slash fic was in the relationship between her as a writer and the boy band. And I was struck by how much she sounded like the people who we all were in high school and college. Very creative, funny. But the big difference was that rather than being off in the corner working on a novel, she – because of AO3 or because of Wattpad – was part of a much broader community, which had a social aspect. And around the same time that I was reading this stuff, (to Dan) you came to us, and were like, “I want to do a narrative project, would you write something?” And it was kind of like kismet. I was like, “Oh my god, I just read this thing.”
Daniel Schloss (Director): Charlie and I were roommates in college. And every summer during college, we’d make movies that Charlie would write and we would direct together. So we hadn’t done that in a long time. I run a small content production company in Brooklyn doing branded content work and wanted to get back into narrative. So as soon as Charlie had this idea, it was very appealing to me. It was extremely imaginative; it had the chance to do a real emotional story but also really funny parts and epic musical sequences, So, everything about it, from the boy band to bringing the stories to life to Emma’s story…I was really excited.
Sage: When did it go from, “We want to do a narrative,” to “This is a series, not just a short film or a feature.”
Dan: Everything Charlie writes is ambitious in an amazing way. There are a ton of characters in this, there’s a boy band to create, there are a lot of locations. From the beginning, Charlie was talking about it as a web series. We decided we couldn’t do a whole season; we didn’t really have the resources to do that. We wanted to tell the story right. We wanted to put everything we had into the pilot and then hope and pray that people would like it enough that we could get the resources to hopefully do more of it.
Charlie: What was most interesting to us were the slash writers. From the beginning it was a character piece. And especially now with TV, it’s a format where you have much more time to explore characters. And there were so many. The more research we did, there were a variety of reasons why people come to slash and why they write slash. And the relationships of different writers to the boy band is dramatically different. So, there was something more narrow about being like, “here’s a movie about a slash writer,” where you’re going to focus on one. Where, over the course of the series, we’re going to have a chance to focus in on all of these characters in the writers group and get a broader perspective of what slash is.
Sage: Such a cool idea to do a writers group that actually meets to take that online part into something that’s a little bit more cinematic.
Charlie: That was a big early decision. It was thinking about presenting that sense of community on-screen. If you could tangibly see five kids sitting down in the back of a bookstore, I think it would communicate emotionally what’s going on on AO3 in a much more film sort of way.
Sage: And those people would, if they could! If they lived in the same place.
Dan: I didn’t know if there were many slash groups that met in real life. And I always wondered if when people who wrote slash watched it, they would think it was unrealistic. And it’s been very gratifying, a lot of people on Twitter have said, “Oh, if only! I wish I had that.”
Kim: It’s so collaborative, but not. You have all these people producing work for free for the masses.
Dan: And editing each other’s too.
Sage: And creating trailers and fan art and mixes.
Kim: “I loved this work and I’m going to make a photo collage.” So the series is going to focus more on the writers as opposed to exploring the dynamics in the boy band?
Charlie: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s been the interesting thing in talking to places that might want to do it or might want to fund it. There’s the opinion that, “Oh, the boy band, what’s that like?” And I think that the boy band’s characters will play into it, but we’re keeping – at least for season 1 – Emma’s world…I don’t want to say sealed. But it’s important to us that this is a realistic show. It’s a show about a normal girl who goes to high school and has friends. We don’t want to become this sort of aspirational, Disney Channel thing where, then: she meets the boy band! I get the plot reasons for stuff like that. What’s appealing about the show is that people see themselves reflected in it. So you don’t want to make it too much of a level of unreality where we’re no longer engaging in how slash fiction plays into people’s lives.
Dan: The boy band is present in their lives like they would be present in our lives. Tim and Charlie are going to write a ton more songs and you’re gonna hear the music a lot and we’re hopefully going to product a lot of music videos. And the stories that they write will come to life and echo the emotional journeys of what’s going on in Emma and the writers group’s real lives in high school. So they’ll be present in those ways, throughout.
Charlie: That is a good point. A major way they’ll play into it is through the slash stories themselves. In the pilot, you get a little taste of what the slash stories will be like. I’m excited, in the future, rather than doing snippets of three stories, getting to see a story unfold that actually parallels the real-life drama.
Sage: When writers hear negative opinions about what they’re doing, it’s because people think it’s so separate from their lives. Like you said, if you’re sitting in the corner writing a novel about anything, nobody would say, “You’re a teenage girl, why are you writing about a thing you don’t know about?” They would think, “You’re an artist, and this is coming from a particular place.” And yet that’s not really the conception of fic. So I love that you’re going to be connecting it to her life.
Kim: And so often, fan fic is for YOURSELF. It’s so a weird and interesting relationship to explore, because you’re expressing your love for this boy band but you’re doing it for yourself and to share with other fans.
Charlie: I’m coming to this obviously later; I don’t think I’m an expert at all. But it’s interesting to see the evolving relationship with that and what’s the level of interaction between a fandom and canon or between a fandom and the real people involved. And that’s the reason that we wanted it to be an ensemble show. Because the level of emotional engagement to the canon or to the actual thing depends on the person. And there is this sort of inherent sexism that is tied up in fan fic generally and particularly with slash fiction, where it’s viewed as somehow different than other creative pursuits. So that’s an advantage depicting it as a writers group. You give people outside of the community an image that they’re familiar with, it draws that connection. Actually, one of the first things that I read was that Rainbow Rowell book.
Sage: Oh, Fan Girl! It’s great.
Charlie: I think she hands in a piece of fan fic to her college professor. And that’s a big debate. Someone the other day asked us, “What do you want people to walk away from the series with?” And I do think that’s a large part of it: to recontextualize fan fiction and make people realize that it’s an artistic pursuit and it’s an artistic pursuit through which people find community. And a lot of the judgments or over-generalizations of it are off base.
Sage: I was on Tumblr and I was like, “Oop, they heard about it.”
Kim: The Larries found it.
Sage: The Larries found it. And some people were excited and some people were a little bit trepidatious, because they’re so used to being made fools of. And they were like, “This looks great, but are we going to be the butt of the joke again?” There’s that constant fear.
Dan: We’ve gotten a lot of emails. And I’m relieved that through our trailer and a couple of things online, it’s coming through that we do have respect for the community and we don’t want to misrepresent them. We’ve had lots of emails like, “We just want to make sure that you’re going to be careful about this, because we’ve gotten a lot of flack.” And we are going to be careful about it.
Charlie: And that’s actually great. These people’s concerns have been shared. We’ve gotten very personal, well thought-out emails that engage with the subject matter. And that’s great because it leads to a conversation, where we can be like, “Great, I totally see why you would be worried given the context of the way the community has been treated.” But it gives us a very direct way to answer some of the concerns.
Dan: And learn from them.
Charlie: And learn from them. And everything has been communicated in such an open-hearted, open-minded way. Just like, “Hey, I’m really excited that this thing is happening, but I just want to make sure that I’m not going to get hurt by this.”
Kim: That particular sect of the fandom does get attacked a lot. Not just by the fans. By the media, by the people running the band, so I totally understand that.
Dan: As much as we can with the show and with the platform we have, to be inclusive of the entirety of how fans interact with the boys and what kind of stories they write, that’s kind of our goal.
Sage: I like that you put out that FAQ that says yes, you’re focused in this particular show on a young woman, but you’re very aware that the demographic can be very different.
Charlie: That’s a big part of it. As the series goes on, there are two queer characters in the writers group, they’ll be significant parts of the story. This is not just going to present the community as one thing.
Dan: It’s like how Orange Is The New Black started with one woman going to prison and at this point the show is an ensemble piece.
Kim: Do you think you’ll open up the age bracket in the future?
Charlie: Definitely, as far as acknowledging the spectrum of the diversity of the community. But we are really thinking of this as a high school drama, so as far as the main characters in it, it’s going to be very focused on high school stories. But I think it’s a very worthwhile thing to note that this show could be one of the few points of representation for the community and with that, comes a certain level of responsibility to acknowledge the community beyond that.
Sage: In terms of putting together the boy band, what kind of conversations happened with that? Were you looking at any particular models of bands?
Tim Rosser (Composer): We had a little process of putting it together. We wanted to have a group that was in the show and the guys who were in the show also sang the songs. So we ended up with a really killer group of guys.
Charlie: I think we auditioned about 80 people. And we’d worked with Matt [Doyle] a little bit before and we’d worked with Danny [Quadrino] a lot. But through the process…
Tim: We met some really fantastic guys, who we’re happy to know.
Charlie: It worked out really well, but it was a bit overwhelming, doing an audition process like that. Like, everybody’s awesome!
Sage: Did you have character sketches? Or was it like, okay: five best guys, and then we’ll figure it out?
Charlie: I did, but then we changed it.
Dan: We had a lot of conversation during the audition process. You know, because when you see a boy band, you’re like, “That’s the bad boy, that’s the…”
Kim: When I first started getting into One Direction, I identified them by which one of the Backstreet Boys I thought they were.
Dan: Yeah, and that’s actually happening now on Twitter, comparing them to One Direction. In the original scripts, there were character descriptions. And then during the audition process, it never really mattered to us which one was which or which name was which or even what the characteristics were as long as they held it together and got along and had something for everybody.
Charlie: Now the characters as they exist are very, very much based on the guys we ended up with. We were really interested in finding really charismatic people who were amazing singers and then beyond that, I felt pretty flexible with who those five people were.
Sage: That’s the process of becoming a fan of a boy band. At first you say, “That’s the Nick Carter.” And now, if I say to you (to Kim), “Describe Harry Styles to me in five words,” you’d be like, “I can’t! He’s too many things!”
Dan: I love how some of the people who found us on Twitter and Instagram are describing the boys themselves in ways we didn’t, necessary. Someone wrote a whole thing about Theo, who’s played Troy [Iwata] and his glasses…I’m really excited, this could get very meta, if people start writing about our boy band.
— Kianna ; Mac (@crunuckles) September 19, 2016
Sage: I was in high school when 2ge+her came out, and they were a real boy band, to some degree.
Charlie: I know my calculus.
Kim: And the boy band from Josie & The Pussycats.
Dan: We’re gonna go on tour. There’s no end to the possibilities.
Sage: For the process of writing the music, were you like, “Okay, we need a ballad, and then we need a dance song…”?
Tim: We were really lucky, because One Direction popularized a boy band that does a lot of different styles. So we get to write whatever we want. We have some throwback-y things, which One Direction also did, and some contemporary dance stuff, and ballads. I’m just trying to churn out with Charlie as many songs as we can, so we have options and put together the best list we can. It’s been really fun. It’s very different from my personal background and I love going on that adventure.
Sage: You’re mostly writing songs for musicals. You’re rarely sitting down to write a song that can be about literally anything.
Tim: Right. And learning what the priorities are of this kind of song. I have so much respect for people who are really good at it. I’ve never listened to as much pop music in my life as I have in the past year, and it’s been a real learning experience.
Charlie: We wrote 17 – and I bet there were more that you didn’t even send me – but 17 1 one-minute song snippets and out of that, we pulled maybe two.
Tim: Right, we got one song out of that batch. *laughs* I start with a lot of ideas, little sketches, and I’ll narrow it down myself to what actually has possibilities and doesn’t sound too much like something else but has something special about it and that’s in the realm. And then I’ll share it with Charlie and narrow it down further. And then I’ll fill some of them out into full-length songs. It’s really fun. I think I’m going to take of what I’m learning doing this into musical theater with me, because it’s really changed my perspective on song writing.
Sage: The film festival process, does that make it easier to be seen and heard?
Dan: The whole concept of taking a pilot to festivals thing is relatively new. It does take a lot to come together and most of the time, it’s a studio or a big production company doing like 20 pilots and then picking a couple to present. But I think in the last couple of years, with webseries and such, there’s mentality of DIY. “Let’s just do it.” New York Television Festival and ITV have been around for years, every year each of these festivals, they’re like “We’ve had the most submissions ever!” So it’s definitely a brand new world. We’ve been talking to some companies about how things are structured and I think it’s new for everybody. We don’t know if we get to air, if we get to use THIS shot or if we have to re-shoot THAT scene. It’s a cool process though, to get to hang out with other filmmakers. It’s been the three of us for so long, so it’s great to see how people react. We’re so excited.
Sage: How did you find your lead actress [Jordyn DiNatale]?
Dan: We worked with a casting director through the entire process. She was really incredible.
Kim: You’ve gotta have an actress who really grabs you with this type of concept. As an audience member, I’ve GOT to care about this girl.
Dan: She’s got a real quiet charisma, she’s just great. She’s going to be a star.
Charlie: She’s a really smart story-teller too. The choices that she makes, you feel so safe as a writer because she GETS text. I think a lot of the pilot, it’s not like giant monologues, a lot of it is subtext and it’s what the actress brings to it. She really knows how to arc a scene and chart it really well. That was really lucky.
Sage: The concept just really fits in with everything on MTV right now.
Tim: Call your cable company! That’s the way to do it.
Charlie: Someone started this hashtag and then everyone’s posting pictures of writing in Netflix requests. It’s like how much does it take for them to actually sit up and take notice?
Kim: Didn’t it actually trend when the One Direction fans found it?
Charlie: We learned VERY quickly the power of the fandom, in a very visceral way. I think we had 500 followers before they found us? And then in two days that became 15,500. It was trending #1 worldwide. It was insane. Things that you intellectually know about the One Direction fandom…to suddenly see your phone freaking out from the notifications you’re getting? It’s was…wow.
Sage: They’re also so bored because of the hiatus!
Dan: (laughs) It is good timing.
Kim: They are SO fast with everything. They find you and then they bombard you.
Charlie: Oh, I am SO happy with that though! I am like, “Please bombard me!”
Sage: I love that the boy band is really only going to exist through the stories because it’s normalizing the concept. Whether you actually believe in the shipping or not, how can you look at it and think that people WOULDN’T see it?
Kim: Also that young women would not only accept it, but CRAVE it. We’re taught, in the history of boy bands, going all the way back to the Beatles, is that every girl has her favorite boy that she wants to marry…
Dan: I wonder who in the Beatles this kind of stuff would be written about…
Kim and Sage: (simultaneously) John Lennon, come on.
Kim: Please, you know people would have been writing about Paul and John. Anyway, it’s how it’s marketed. And I can really see this show as a way to at least try to open people’s minds.
Tim: This is part of what initially drew me to it, is this idea that the marketing of One Direction wanted fans to interpret and consume the media in one way.
Kim: The Sony emails. *Everyone laughs*
Charlie: And then the fans get it and are like, “Great! We love this but we love what we’re going to create around it more.” That’s so empowering and cool and badass. I think it’s a two-way relationship. The fact that the fandom is really vibrant even after…I mean they are technically on break?
Kim and Sage: Hiatus.
Charlie: I mean, the fandom still exists independently of whether or not they are putting out an album because it’s also about the community and the interaction with all the other people who care so much about it.
Dan: I’m very excited that the fandom has found us and I’m even MORE excited for the rest of the world to find out about us and seeing how THEY react. When I talk to people about the show, I immediately get a sense of whether the person has an understanding or comprehension of this concept. I think the pilot does a really good job, because it starts with Emma NOT reading slash fiction or having any idea what it’s really about, it takes the audience on the journey of discovering it too. I’m hopeful that it WILL open people’s minds and show them the plethora of reasons as to why someone would do this. I get why people don’t understand it at first. When I started, I didn’t know anything about it. But the more I learned, the more fascinated I became.
Kim: You fell down the Rabbit Hole.
Dan: We want to keep falling! For seasons to come.
Charlie: The articles about it were certainly interesting, but when I actually started READING slash fic, there was no coming back.
Kim: I was very reluctant getting into the whole thing at first.
Sage: YOU WERE.
Kim: I was like “I LOVE them but I don’t know about this.” Sage finally sent me one story, it was probably a 40-thousand word fic, and I read it in ONE sitting. And I all of a sudden find myself sobbing and I get on gChat with Sage and I yell that if this story didn’t end happy, I was going to get an Uber to Brooklyn and murder her. (Note: The fic is Another Hazy May and you should read it.) Sage responded saying “I would NEVER send you something that doesn’t end happy, Kim.” And I really haven’t looked back since. I haven’t read a “real book” in I don’t know how long.
Charlie: Because WHY?
Kim: The writing is EXTRAORDINARY.
Charlie: I will say the great thing about this sort of community is that it was easy for me coming in from the outside to find the fics that people were really responding to and to find the well-written stuff. I don’t think I’ve actually read anything poorly written just because I went to the stuff that seemed like everyone talked about.
Kim: Especially in the Larry fandom, there are DEFINITIVE works. Like if you haven’t read them, what the hell are you doing?
Charlie: That’s something that I continue to learn. I read a bunch while I was writing this and now that the Larries have found the trailer, I’m getting recommendations all the time! Some of them I had read, many of them I had not.
Kim: We can help you out. We have a masterlist.
Tim: I would LOVE to see that, it sounds great.
Sage: We grew up with Backstreet Boys and *N SYNC. The relationship between the band and the fans is so different now. I went to three One Direction shows last year and every show was full of rainbows. Harry Styles would run around with a rainbow flag and people would LOSE THEIR MINDS.
Kim: They were really about creating that safe space. I think that’s something that Harry especially did, he created a space for his fans to feel safe and express themselves how ever they wanted.
Charlie: Which is so great. Looking back at Backstreet and *N SYNC, there was really such a weirdly homophobic aspect to the culture around it because the whole thing was like 5 guys dancing and singing and some people being like, “That’s so gay”. And that in the late ’90s, it’s amazing how much the world has changed. You think about some of the things Harry has said in interviews or done, you’re just like “Oh my god, wow.” It’s a different world, you know?
Kim: Sage pointed out in one of our previous 1D posts that moment in the “Drag Me Down” video when Harry has the rainbow mug. Some people are like “That was unintentional” but do you think that if Nick Carter or Justin Timberlake had done it back in the day…
Sage: Somebody would have slapped it out of their hands, I swear to God.
Kim: It’s infuriating as a fan that people, including other fans, disregard it as a gesture.
Charlie: I think it’s great because it really is a sign that pop culture is changing. I mean pop culture is still very narrow in many ways but it’s becoming a more inclusive space and I think part of that is the signals that the band themselves give, especially in terms of One Direction. And now the fans have more of a voice. I think that’s a great thing about slash fic too is that it almost doesn’t matter, in a way, what’s in canon. What matters is that it gets refracted through that community of fans.
Kim: When I read a fic…all these fics are so many different things. You’ll have one where Harry is a cowboy or Louis is a violinist and they can be whatever they want. What makes a fic good to me is when they have those defining characteristics where you’re like “Of course, that’s how they would be.”
Charlie: This is why I love the AU stuff so much because it does get big and it goes to these other places but the most important thing is keeping it grounded. It’s like “Young and Beautiful“, right?
Kim: *sighs* “The moon knows we’re in love.”
Charlie: Yes! You know you could be at a university or you know, another one I read, one of the first ones I read, it’s called “Bring Your Body Baby,” and Harry works for Manchester United and Louis is player on the team and it’s REALLY good. There’s actually not that much sex in it…
Kim: “Young and Beautiful” too, which made me NUTS. I was like “DON’T I DESERVE THIS AFTER ALL OF THAT?”
Charlie: You become much better at reading tags and knowing what you’re in for going in.
Kim: “Young and Beautiful” was such an emotional journey that I really needed that release. But that author doesn’t write smut, in any of her stuff. I was like “Can’t someone who DOES write a tag to this or something?”
Charlie: You should write it!
Kim: Oh no. Sage and I pitch ideas to each other all the time, but we could never WRITE them. We had a great idea for a Bachelor AU but then someone wrote one and it’s FANTASTIC.
Charlie: Oh my god, that sounds amazing.
Kim: Have you read “Escapade”?
Sage: Oh my God, “Escapade,” it’s a Wedding Date AU.
Kim: She sold it to a Gay Romance imprint. Obviously with the names changed. When I first started reading Larry fic, Sage told me I had to EARN “Escapade,” I wasn’t allowed to read it for a while. What about “These Inconvenient Fireworks”?
Charlie: No! I clearly need your masterlist!
Kim: This girl wrote what is probably the DEFINITIVE Larry work on Live Journal and then disappeared and never wrote anything again.
Tim: She’s like the Finding Forrester of the fandom.
Sage: You also get so much more comfortable about reading this stuff in public. When I first started, I would shield my Kindle, but now I’m like “Whatever, if you’re reading over my shoulder, ENJOY.” In the Doctor Who fandom, which I’ll admit, I haven’t read as much fic for, there’s such a divide between the old school fans who don’t believe in romantic Doctor/Companion relationships and the new fans who DO.
Charlie: Which is one thing I will say about the One Direction fandom, as opposed to Sci-Fi fandoms: there doesn’t seem to be a contingent of people who DON’T get it. Which is great. This is something we’re probably going to be exploring in the show. Different fandoms have such radically different reactions to slash. You’re right, some people really haven’t adjusted to that or feel like there’s something about that that shouldn’t belong in the fandom. I think it’s because there are more women in this fandom as opposed to Doctor Who or Battlestar.
Sage: Which is funny because Star Trek basically invented the concept.
Kim: Slash was massive in The X-Files too. All that Mulder/Krycek slash that went on.
Sage: Is there anything else you guys want to add?
Charlie: We want to express that we recognize that this subject matter is sensitive. We know that there is a history of the community be misrepresented, and none of us take the fandom lightly. We’re going to try very hard to get this right. And I think as much as possible, the way we see this show evolving is with a certain kind of interaction with the fans. We don’t want a firewall between what this show is and the community around the show, if there does become one. We want to interact with the world of the show and we think there’s a real opportunity to make a show that actually responds to the fandom. That’s the next step right? I think people are ready for that.
Sage: I think when anyone tries to DIRECT fandom, it fails.
Charlie: I think sometimes creators get really touchy because there’s a possessive feeling that this is MY story.
Kim: WHAT? That never happens.
Charlie: *laughs* How DARE you have an opinion? I think particularly with a show like this, which is about a community, we want this to be everybody’s show.
Thank you SO MUCH to Charlie, Dan, and Tim for their time. Let us know your hopes and dreams for Truth Slash Fiction in the comments.