Screening + Q&A: We're All Going to the World's Fair (2021)
Tomi: Hello everyone! Thank you for tuning in. I am here with Jane, the director of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Jane is a producer, director, writer—I think I first heard about you because you released a film on BitTorrent which I thought was incredible. I really appreciated—
Jane: They owe us money. [laughs]
Tomi: Who does?
Jane: It’s funny. Like, BitTorrent—BitTorrent was like we’ll give you some money if you put your film on BitTorrent. And we were like alright, cool. And then they like never paid us and we were like fucking BitTorrent! They got us! They fucking—thieves! That’s what you get, you know?
Tomi: There’s no one left to trust if you can’t trust the pirates.
Tomi: Well, thanks so much for joining us Jane. I wanted to start off—not with the movie, but, rather, the internet.Before we started streaming, Jane and I were talking about DNR, talking about this idea that it’s sort of people making art and writing sort of stemming from internet culture. So Jane, my first question for you. Obviously this film is about a young girl on the internet, what’s your background on the internet? What’s your internet origin story?
Jane: Uhm, I mean it’s long, I guess, because you know, it’s so many iterations like of the internet. My family got a computer when I was—I must have been like ten or eleven, in 1990. It was like a Windows ’95 I think, so it was around then. AOL chatrooms. What did I like? It was like, you know, watching The Blair Witch Projects on 56K dial-up and it was like X-Files fanfiction websites. And it was—I feel like message boards—it was, South Park UseNet, you know, in fourth grade and then it was like—
Tomi: Wait, South Park, you said?
Jane: Yeah. I loved South Park when I was in fourth grade. And like Simpsons—you know, like the Simpsons UseNet forum and eventually like the Buffy UseNet forum. There was like a Scream message board and then it was like—then I kind of left movies and it was more like—like once Napster hit and once like cable, you know, internet hit and I could download things. Like it was like the Saddle Creek message board, and like Weezer message boards, and then Radiohead message boards, and then like Hipinion, and then like—I was always a lurker. That’s the thing. I hardly ever posted and I just found it hard to like work up—I don’t think I was there to be part of a community actually. Which is why this place is really cool to me because I know that that’s like a very common thing that people obviously look for online. I feel like I would sort of troll the internet, either to be creative: like writing terrible X-Files fanfiction as a fourth grader, or to get cultured. You know, to be like oh, who—like what bands to these like older people say are cool? And, you know, like my IRL world was pretty monotonous, so that was sort of like a—the internet is this like place that I could use to distinguish myself as someone who is into different things than the kids around me.
Tomi: Do you have somewhere that you think of as the homebase? I guess for context, for me, it was the PenDragon Adventures Fantasy message board. It was a bad young-adult book series I loved in the 3rd grade. And then it was Gaia Online where everyone was a pretty anime girl. Do you have a singular, online space you think back to when you were, say, Casey’s age?
Jane: I mean, I don’t even know how old Casey is and I think Casey is meant to sort of be like an amalgamation of like a number of different eras of my internet use. I think if I had to choose two places—like my childhood was definitely this scream message board with—this is so random, but it was just like a community of fiction writers there and it was definitely like a proto-creepy pasta sort of realm. That was probably the place where I was like the most engaged creatively on the internet and then like this forum Hipinion which I think started as like a Pitchfork spin-off. Yeah, I just lurked there for my entire life and that message board is where I sort of from a distance grew culturally. And it was really interesting because when I was like sixteen it was a bunch of like edge lord-y kids but not edge lord-y like something off of like 4chan. I remember, as that message board aged, it pushed left as I did and I think a bunch of the members eventually came out as trans. You know, it felt lucky that I didn’t sort of like set down roots on 4chan, you know at age fourteen when I was like an angry kid in the suburbs; but thankfully I didn’t.
Tomi: Yeah, we’ve lost many brave soldiers to /TTTT for periods of their youth. [laughs] Many of them are in the chat now. I think there’s this interesting tension in the film between the internet as this space of sort of escape from suburban mundanity, but also this sort of space of exciting creation, right? And we see so often sort of internet spaces kind of portrayed as almost like a form of drug or something. And sure, there’s these addictive qualities to the internet. Social media, we now know, has been engineered to sort of keep us coming back for dopamine fixes. But I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about navigating this really kind of nuanced, beautiful line that I think you played with in the film between this space of creation and this space of escape.
Jane: Uhm, well thanks. That’s really sweet and something that is hard for people because I do think it’s like, forgive me, like a—not a binary way of—
Tomi: They said it. Drink everyone! [laughs]
Jane: Every day there’s like a Letterbox review—not that I read my Letterbox reviews every day, but every day there’s like a review that’s like, oh my god like I’m going to kill myself the internet is terrible. And that’s not really this film’s gaze on the internet. I think if anything, the film’s gaze is like people are terrible for the most part and so the internet, like any unmoderated structure is going to have really complicated power dynamics as part of it, especially for young teenage girls with insecurities that they’re exploring. In terms of the film’s perspective on bigger tent— kind of like is the internet good and bad? And social media or my politics are such that I have an opinion on the internet which is mostly just that a capital, commercial-driven internet is going, without emphasis on moderation, is going to breed a lot of bad shit. But I don’t think the film is so interested in that. The doc that I made before the film, I think, is a much more sort of like overtly political work whereas this one is like—there’s hopefully an understanding of the way that the internet actually functions and works, but it’s much more about this individual coming of age and the individual relationship to the internet is much more personal to what it was for me growing up. Which, as a queer and trans, closeted person was a really a special place to be creative and disembodied from my IRL identity, but was also depressing and weird and ambivalent in its way.
Tomi: What I’m picking up, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that, for you, you sort of set out to make this coming of age piece, and part of coming of age is the internet. Do I have that right?
Jane: I think that what drew me to so many of the questions were questions that I thought the internet was related to. You know, when I sort of heard about the creepy pasta community online and deep dove into the Slenderman mythos and, like, r/nosleep and the entire kind of structure within which that space was working, I was really fascinated by like the sort of the communal ways in which fictions were being created and then the ways in which those fictions online were sort of like relating to and inventing reality in some ways. You know, especially in the backdrop of Trump and this sort of seeming meme-magic, kind of power of the internet to change reality. And the Slenderman stabbing case was this kind of—what interested me about that story was a lot of these same sorts of themes. But I think what I was still digging for was something much more personal, because what I think, ultimately the reason I was so sensitive, the reason my antenna was up to that on the internet was because the internet had also been this space that allowed something. It allows a lot of toxic stuff; it also allowed me to explore the fiction that I could not be myself, you know? I think it’s just that it’s ultimately a film about a personal experience and about bodies and the way we relate to one another and ourselves and explore ourselves through fiction but it’s like using the internet as, you know, and the screen as a way into those bigger questions.
Tomi: You touched on this, so maybe I want to take it back and provide context for the chat. I caught the Slenderman film. I caught half of it once. I used to work as a popcorn clerk, the esteemed title, at a theatre that showed it once.
Jane: Oh no way! What theatre?
Tomi: The Parkway.
Tomi: Yeah, so I watched it on the clock, a little bit stoned and I didn’t manage to watch all of it; but maybe for the chat, could you explain this previous project of yours?
Jane: Yeah. And it’s not available right now. I kind of want to put it backup online or on the Pirate Bay or something at some point. But I didn’t want it to be a thing that people watched like before they watched World’s Fair. It was an interesting project. It like kind of started as—I was trying to figure out how to articulate what would ultimately become World’s Fair for so long and at one point I was sort of playing with archival from YouTube and like just pulling reference for what I thought would be a mood reel for what ultimately became World’s Fair and instead it kind of became its own archival documentary about Slenderman. There’s that HBO documentary about the Slenderman stabbing. This like true crime thing that just felt like exactly wrong to me in the way it was approaching. It really was the, “oh my god, the internet is dooming our children” kind of screed and I was so fascinated by many of the same questions that I was just talking about. The way in which this fictional thing had been created in this form that was so specific to the internet and this idea of willing things into the world and into reality through fiction and then watching it get re-fictionalized and watching it get commodified over time. You know, it was this sort of user-grown thing and then it was a Sony Pictures movie. I view it now also as a piece about trying—it was about a year before my egg crack and before I started to think about transition. I view it as a true, I’m searching for something that I haven’t quite found yet piece and then World’s Fair, which is like a sister project to it in many ways. To the point where there are like shots from the documentary that I re-created in World’s Fair and lines of dialogue shared between the two, and even some of the people whose archival videos I used in the documentary, which is called The Self Induced Hallucination, I then worked with those people on parts of World’s Fair. But I think it was like a stepping stone towards this, which was more of a personal thing than a—my partner just gave me apple cider!
Tomi: Bravo! Thanks for the cider and the insight. One thing that I just thought of as you started explaining that. I’m curious, it seems like you’re very interested in this kind of imaginative, very collaborative space that can exist in these online spaces. I’m wondering what it's like to then translate that to something like a film set and film production. You know, the internet and creative projects online are filled with these kind-of autonomous agents, right? Like all buzzing around doing their own thing. I’ll stop myself from using the R-word [whispered Rhizome]. Whereas a film set is this sort of very hierarchical structure and it is such for sort of an efficiency. I’m wondering, do you find yourself trying to bring any of those modes of working into your film production practice? And if not, why not? If so, what’s that look like?
Jane: The idea of the hierarchy that’s very, very, very present in the structure of most film sets—I mean, you said it was for productivity? I don’t know. I feel like it’s all about power, right? It’s all about the structures of both. there’s the structure that you are entering into when you like work on a film set whether you’re working as the director or a PA or a union grip or whatever, and that’s like a short term labor structure that’s quite hierarchical. But then there’s the structure that I enter as—and that like many others enter as artists into a commercial structure that goes beyond just the 30 days or whatever that you’re in production and just like the space. I guess my point being the idea of the independent artist who can sort of reinvent structures… It feels to me that there’s no such thing as a truly independent filmmaker in America in 2022, but that we all sort of choose where we fall on a spectrum, again, it’s not a binary. [laughs]
Tomi: Everyone in chat take another Drink
Jane: That film that we released on BitTorrent, it was this collaboration that was fully crowdfunded of filmmakers adapting each other’s dreams into short films. And it was made without a profit margin in mind and it was obviously made with money that wasn’t investment and so we just released it for free because we all kind of collaborated on it and it was no one's main job for a year. It was these two day shoots that got off the ground. And then the Eyeslicer, which was sort of this longer term project that I did after Collective Unconscious, was very similarly almost like a cooperative model of short films that were curated and also some that were funded and sort of this collective approach to releasing short form content; like, sort of built together into larger things. And I did carry a lot of that into World’s Fair. There are scenes in the film that are made—directed by other people. It felt important to me, if I was going to make a film that wasn’t the shitty Hollywood version: like talking down to how some people think online vlogging or whatever it is—you know, like content creation or art making is. To make it feel authentic, it felt right to sort of give the reins of the film over, and it also felt right to do that because it’s a film about, you know, like exactly that: this sort of like user-built thing. But at the same time, I was still the director and very much an auteur and very much like at the top of a power structure where, ultimately, I was in control of the project from the top down.
On the new film— I just wrapped this A24 movie which was like, oh, now I’m in the real hierarchical power structure. Like obviously World’s Fair was 100% a hierarchical power structure, but like stepping onto a film set filled with teamsters and dozens and dozens of people, and many of them—and just like real hierarchies and massive ones at that. Confronting the hierarchy that is the commercial film system, and how to interact with the forces of power on top of me when I’m on the hook for a real budget, is a totally different labor practice in its way. And so, yeah, I—it’s something I’m so interested in and I dream about making movies that are like truly given over to other voices in deep, deep, deep ways. And at the same time, I feel like so much of being able to be an independent artist who can also reach people in America in 2022, you have to participate in this shitty structure to do that; or, you don’t have to, but it’s definitely like a path that I’ve knowingly chose for myself.
Tomi: I feel like you kind of—specifically, with narrative moving image, if you want something at scale to some degree, you sort of do have to operate that way. I’m coming off a feature I produced for about $30,000 in principle that has completely consumed every inch of my life for like the last year and that's not a sustainable practice. But we gave it everything to do it ourselves, and to have solid control of every aspect, but I don’t think I want to ever do that again. Maybe I want some power? I don’t know.
Jane: I remember like doing Eyeslicer which was literally only ever a loss leader, you know? And we would just kill ourselves to raise a little bit of money to give a thousand dollars to a friend to make something cool. I would literally rent a car and drive from art house to art house doing screenings and it was like sleeping-on-couch-world and I was also sort of like trying to be part of DIY communities that had no actual power in any real way. And I remember at one point—not, like it wasn’t like a “I’m going to fucking sell out”- moment, but I remember being like—I’m just not interested in having no power at all. Making a film with A24, you know, and having the kind of footprint and voice and like reach that that film will have; like that’s power. I knowingly participated in a fucked up system to get that power so I could make that thing and do that. I don’t know that one is better than the other because I think like, you know, it’s a fucked country and world; but I’m glad I’m trying, at least, to make real, interesting things within that structure in a big way.
Tomi: I’ve got a sort of out there question. Tomorrow morning, we wake up, we read the New York Times, lo and behold an executive order has been issued: Jane is now in charge of re-organizing the entire film industry. What does it look like?
Jane: I’m going to need some more apple cider! [laughs] What does the film industry look like? The American film industry or the international?
Tomi: No, the American.
Jane: Oh god! I mean it’s like [pause] I think the real question is like do we just demolish it all? Like do we just demolish CAA, WME, and ICM? Do we have the power to do this, you know? To sort of say—yeah, it’s just like the entire structure of the film industry is one of business and commerce going at it in a really fucked up BDSM relationship. And, there’s always going to be abuse within that, I think, right? It’s just like inherent in the system. It just is a symptom of capitalism and like, so, I guess like to—any restructuring would be a fantasy unless we took care of that small issue in this country or like, at the very least, convinced real cultural resources to be put towards art outside of capital or whatever, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon, probably. And so like I guess you’re just left on your own. What I wish there was more of was DIY spaces built around supporting radical voices and, you know, queer voices and marginalized voices; because I think what we do have is like a ton of institutions like Sundance or, you know, whoever that act less as alternatives to this super-structure—capitalist super-structure and more as like filters to them to suck up young artists and feed them to the TV beast. It would be cool if there were more young organizations that were trying to sort of, knowingly, push everything left as much as possible. And by left, I mean like encouraging radical art and funding structures rather than encouraging a calling card for a Marvel movie.
Tomi: Mhm. Yeah, Jak, an old-head in the chat—Jak says “Yes. Correct answer: full communism, of course.” [laughs] I’ll maybe return to one thing with this film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. I think one of the most captivating things about this film for me is the way in which there aren’t moments of distinct sort of sorrow or sadness per say, yet the film has this complete tone of this utmost loneliness to it. I’m wondering what your sort of thought process was and what sort of formal or conceptual strategies you were thinking about when you built the broader kind of palette of this movie? Or maybe you can tell me I’m wrong and it’s not a lonely movie.
Jane: No, it’s certainly like a movie—a deeply happy—it’s like The Lego Movie is the tone I was going for. [laughs] No, it’s a pretty lonely movie. I think it was made during a really lonely time and made, like, while trying to look at really lonely parts of my life and of my queer experience. I think that maybe the answer to your question is that like so much of the movie is performance. The characters in the movie are almost always performing for somebody else; performing themselves, and when they’re not they’re alone. And usually what they’re doing when they’re alone isn’t like crying into a pillow, it’s numbing themselves with some content. But it’s not a movie about extremely sad people doing extremely sad things. I think it probably is that, but they’re not reading as sad because they’re like, you know, they’re turning that sadness into something creative usually. I think of like Casey’s screaming in that dance or like ripping up that stuffed animal and crying and it’s like, I buy her tears as a genuine expression of sadness that wasn’t pre-planned, but I do buy the act of her performing this for us as some kind of expression of deep melancholy or loneliness or sadness.
Tomi: Mhm. Well, and then I guess the question becomes like what even is the difference between those two things? Right? Like what even becomes the difference between this earnest outburst of emotion and someone situated in this media-saturated culture where they are in this performative state and so therefore that’s how all emotion has to flow.
Jane: And I think it’s also just like a way to set myself up to not be able to fail; to be like, alright, I’m going to make a movie where any expression of emotion could just be—if it doesn’t come out and it’s bad acting, you can just write it off as on purpose.
Tomi: [Laughs] It’s a bit! It’s all just a bit, it’s okay!
Jane: You can’t lose with that, you know?
Tomi: World’s Fair feels like it’s situated in a particular period and culture of online activity. Like it is this world of creepy pasta, it’s in this pseudo-YouTube space, yadda, yadda. But I’m wondering, for other artists interested in creating things stemming from these sorts of internet spaces, if you have any advice or insights into stuff you might have learned from this process or even the last film, the Slenderman film?
Jane: I think that it’s all about finding and evolving one’s personal style. I think it's kind of as simple as that. When I chose to make films—with the doc entirely and in World’s Fair, like partially, within like amateur, online, aesthetics or you know, like that as the medium, I was like, I want to make something that’s so beautiful, like a Tarkovsky movie like out of webcam footage. I want to create a dream space and I want to use like—okay, if I’m shooting this on like Photobooth on purpose, I’m not just doing that the way that some found footage films do that to be like here’s the story within this medium. I’m trying to use that medium to express something stylistically, so what are the qualities of that medium? The grain of it is very beautiful. And so I think it’s like, whether you’re working in the film form, or an online medium, or shorter form stuff; you just have to understand the medium and understand the form you’re speaking within and then like it’s just all about finding a style within that that’s built on a serious artistic pursuit and not just on like, yeah, I don’t know. Yeah, I just think like—Find your medium and make beautiful art with it, basically.
Tomi: Well, speaking of beautiful art; we have two questions. When are we getting the World’s Fair YouTube poop edit? And when are we getting the four hour lore video?
Jane: I mean look, I wrote a fake Wikipedia page so that—probably like eight pages at the end of the day. I wrote out what I thought was like the lore of The World’s Fair, but like in—in the universe where there was like a Wikipedia page that was like here is the lore that the people invented, not like oh, I’m going to write the lore like it’s cool. I’m going to play out this scenario where this was created and then a bunch of kids fought over the direction it should go in and then what it actually would have been. Here’s what I really want to happen. I really want Sony or someone like that to come and be like, yo that movie did pretty well. Do you want to make a sequel? And I would just sell it to them and have them make the really shitty studio version where it’s like the girl pulling the kid into the computer and it’s like—I would totally—I want them to do that and then it kind of works because it’s like within the context of like the world, it’s like this film is sort of set in a reality and then this is the shitty film that gets made in that reality. That would be cool. I would want that to happen.
Tomi: It’s like the appropriation of the sort of niche internet, earnest, culture; but it’s like all this fictitious sort of—
Jane: You’re totally right, you know, if someone wants to pay me, I’ll spend a week writing that script and having a lot of fun. Like it’s set at The World’s Fair, you know. Yeah. I have some ideas, call me.
Tomi: Well, maybe to wrap it up, you mentioned a little bit about this; what do people have to look forward to from you? You just wrapped principle on a new feature. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Jane: Yeah. It’s called I Saw the TV Glow.
Tomi: I’m sensing a theme.
Jane: Yeah, and we were talking about my screen trilogy beforehand. I was saying that my partner was saying I should get a shirt that says “Ask Me About My Screen Trilogy.” So World’s Fair is this movie about computers and the next one is about Television; but they’re really like World’s Fair is a movie about dysphoria and about searching for like a way to explore yourself in fiction before you’re ready to do that in real life and TV Glow is very much a movie that I wrote after starting my physical transition, but it’s really about like how it feels to kind of like understand and come to terms with your transnesse—like seeing yourself in the real world, outside of fiction. Both films kind of use the screen and this sort of disassociation through the screen to explore that. I don’t know, it was fucking crazy. We made it for A24 with like—like I think I’ve put together the coolest fucking cast of any movie in a long time. It’s like the wild cast and it’s super beautiful and strange and colorful and yeah, made with real resources, but I think just as weird—actually way weirder than World’s Fair. I’m really proud of it. We’re in the edit on it. Hopefully it’ll be out next year and I'm trying to make a TV show, which is the third part of the screen trilogy and if that happens, that will be crazy because that’s like an epic. That’s my Twin Peaks, so fingers crossed.
Tomi: Sweet! Well, thanks so much Jane! And thanks everyone for watching.
Jane: Goodnight! Thanks for having me!