The diversity of fandom in the Star Wars community is something we at Fantha Tracks celebrate, we were delighted to hear the news that the Looking For Leia project was being made into a six episode docu-series that will explore Star Wars fandom from a female point of view.
As we pulled our thoughts and questions together, 2 fantastic things happened, firstly with 2 days still left of the campaign the Star wars community pulled it out of the bag and got Looking for Leia to their target of over 1001 followers on their Seed and Spark campaign and then Ava Duvernay via her social media accounts announced that Victoria Mahoney would join the team on episode IX as second unit director.
So it’s with great pleasure we welcome Annalise Ophelian the director of Looking For Leia to Fantha Tracks for a two part interview about the project and future plans!
FT: Hi Annalise how are you and the team feeling having reached your target?
AO: I’m so humbled and grateful for the incredible support of Star Wars fan community! And the support is so vital – the funds we raised during the campaign are going immediately to post-production needs. I’m able to purchase a pair of huge editing hard drives, keep the crew working, book travel for pick up shoots, all of these things are possible because of the success of the campaign. It’s also a tremendous vote of confidence in the project, which helps bolster us and also our potential distributors.
FT: We know you have the series outline and filming completed, what are your next steps for Looking For Leia now?
AO: Like a lot of independent productions, I’m wearing a lot of hats and doing lots of things simultaneously. The crew is headed to the East Coast for a week of b-roll and pick up shoots, I’m steadily transcribing and reviewing all of the interviews and events we filmed in 2017 and working on first assemblies of all six episodes, I’m outreaching to writers to join the team for each episode and also prepping a call for videographers to help us with pick up interviews in areas we weren’t able to travel to, all of this work will happen through the summer. I’m concentrating my research and assembly work on the first episode, which is about our fan foremothers and women in early sci fi/fantasy fandom. It sets the tone for the whole series, and in reviewing all the footage for this episode I’m also able to code and organize footage that will go into subsequent episodes.
FT: Let’s take a step back just for a bit we know that you are a huge Star Wars fan, but what made you decide or what was the inspiration to create Looking For Leia?
AO: I went to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim in 2015, it was my first Celebration but certainly not my first con. My experience at conventions, and before this project of fandom in general, has always been feeling like the odd woman out. I’m used to navigating very cis male geek spaces, which is especially striking to me because as a queer woman there simply aren’t many straight cis guys in my daily life. But I’ve gotten good at navigating comic book stores and fan conventions over the years, as one of very few women, and I expected to do the same at Celebration Anaheim. And when I got there I was really struck by how many women were at the convention, and the diversity of these women in terms of background and cultural position but also in terms of expressions of fandom. And it really got me thinking: who are these women in fandom? Why am I just noticing them now, and what else is out there? This was before The Force Awakens had been released, and of course the topic became even more significant after we learned that Rey was the protagonist of that film. Suddenly there was this concept that “women are now into Star Wars because of Rey,” which struck me as wildly inaccurate and out of synch with my own experiences, as a fan since 1977.
I started pre-production research, to see if a film project on women in Star Wars fandom had been done in film before, and in 2015 I didn’t find anything. I kept developing the project in 2016 as I was touring my last feature, thinking “well, someone is going to step in and do this,” and no one did. I developed the title and conceptualized the pieces as a sort of first person road trip doc, and my plan was to collect enough footage that I could create a compelling reel and get an on camera interview with Carrie Fisher, that we’d end the project with my talking with her about her iconic role and what she’s observed about Leia’s impact over the past forty years. And then after the 2016 election, I was in such a state of despair like so many people in my communities, I felt the next project I did needed to be something joyous, something rooted in optimism and a sense of how we resist and survive and thrive, and I committed to start filming in January 2017. When Carrie Fisher passed in December 2016 I felt like the project died with her, like so many people I fell into deep grief. My partner was the one to say you have to go to SWCO, and you have to connect with women there and hear their stories, this isn’t the end of the project, this is the beginning.
FT: How did you choose the people who appear in the series and what struck you about them?
AO: I’m acutely aware that the women who I’ve gotten to interview on camera represent the smallest percentage of women in Star Wars fandom, this is such a massively huge group of humans and I could never hope to fully saturate it. At the start, we had a contact form on the website. The very first response I received was from a woman in the South Bay of San Francisco who was a teacher, who saw Revenge of the Sith three times in a row with her future husband on one of their first dates, who grew up in the Philippines and made her own Star Wars lunch boxes and t-shirts because there wasn’t merch for her to buy, who named her daughter after an EU character who wasn’t Mara Jade, and who started a My Little Pony Jedi cosplay mashup group. And I thought yeah, these are exactly the women I was hoping were out there.
So initially, it was a combination of folks who contacted us to share their stories, and then I had a series of exploratory phone calls with women writers and creators in fandom – Linda Raj Hansen, who I’d met in Anaheim and writes for starwars.com and FANgirl blog put me in touch with Tricia Barr, who put me in touch with a dozen women, I asked each who I should be talking to and what they felt was important to cover in women’s participatory fandom. And in those first few months of interviewing, part of the question was always “who else should I be talking too?” Another part of the selection process for interviewees is to be in critical conversation at every step with how we normalize what “woman” means – generally the subtext is that “women” are white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, 18 – 35 years old, Christian, and born in the U.S., and we know this because women outside of these groups get identity qualifiers: trans women, women of color, disabled women, Muslim women. So this group of people who share an experience of classification by gender are actually an incredibly diverse and intersectional group of humans, and in a project that is at it’s heart about representation and how we find and see ourselves, it’s critical that we’re not replicating normative whiteness and other cultural norms as “silent” and creating special add on boxes for everyone else. As a white cis queer filmmaker, I’m informed by my own experiences of marginalization and also by my own position in dominant culture, and I work with paid consultants and advisory boards to check my work and foster accountability.
FT: Looking for Leia began life as a film but now thanks to the Seed & Spark campaign it will become a docu-series what made you and the team decide this?
AO: In January I sat down with my 12 terabytes of footage and started working on an outline, a first pass of a treatment, and I got pretty despondent. Fitting the arc of the story I’d been told by interviewees in 90 minutes meant summarizing and skipping so much. All along I’ve been saying that there was enough content here to work as a series, and I do feel that SVOD services and web series have deeply changed how audience accesses and interacts with media – episodic television is much more accessible to much broader audiences, and for time-sensitive material it offers much more immediate access as well. So as a creative exercise I started outlining what a series could look like, and I did this in a Facebook message to my brother, who is a video editor and is working on the project, and it just flowed, just boom boom boom. Six episodes at broadcast length half hour (which is 21:30 – 24:00 minutes each) gave me air and room to tell a story in a compact arc that let me hear more from more women and didn’t need to directly hand off to the next topic. There was thematic containment and also more room to showcase the stories, and then immediately also more opportunities to involve more women in the creative process. I’d like each episode to have a different writer, I can bring on more animators, I have a dream list and a more practical list of voice over talent to narrate each episode.
On indie projects I’m also a great believer of the adage many hands make light work, and I think it benefits the project tremendously for me to be in show runner/creator mode shaping the arc and tone of the piece, but to bring in women who will be working on the episodes simultaneously, so our post production process is a bit hectic but also really efficient. No one person is responsible for writing the whole series, six women will each take on a 10 minute voice over narration script. It’s incredibly helpful in animation, which is laborious and time consuming, to have a several women each doing a couple minutes of animation rather than one woman animating the whole thing. It’s great bringing folks to the table for that kind of work and also adds so much in terms of diversity of imagery, voices, and talent.
Look out for Part two of this interview coming soon….