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.