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Jen Schönbrunn: ‘I wanted the movie to feel like we were lost in the haze of the Internet’

Jen Schönbrunn: 'I wanted the movie to feel like we were lost in the haze of the Internet'

The director of We're All Going to the World's Fair reflects on her Sundance breakout and the importance of allowing trans filmmakers to tell their own stories.

Jen Schönbrunn: ‘I wanted the movie to feel like we were lost in the haze of the Internet’

The directors of We Are All Going to the World’s Fair reflect on their Sundance breakouts and the importance of allowing trans filmmakers to tell their own stories.

AAfter premiering at Sundance and screening at Virtual Fest throughout 2021, the internet-set experimental upcoming/horror drama We’re All Going to the World Fair has begun its big rollout. In her feature debut, director Jen Schönbrunn filters her personal history online and turns her trans cinematic language aspirations into a film that captures the peculiarities of virtual connection and feeling disconnected from herself.

LWLies: Can you talk about your experiences as a teen online that you went through creating the World’s Fair?

Schoenbrunn: I belonged to the generation where computers entered the home and slowly became a magnet—especially for me as an oddly creative kid. It was a place that was really important to me, because it was hard to have both of those things where I was growing up — it was seen as dark or weird or dangerous or wrong. I would wait for everyone to go to bed and be at the computer, write and read fanfiction, lurk on message boards and meet up with school and weirdos online. It was something I never acknowledged or talked about in my “real life”. That’s the major experience that I was portraying emotionally and trying to explore with the film.

I was drawn to darker tones—the horror movies and sad music and The X-Files were inviting to me as a kid. I couldn’t find a gaze that I found beautiful or exciting in broad daylight. I have this vivid memory from fourth grade: He asked us to bring a book we loved and I brought a novella from an episode of The X-Files. This “future football player” kind of kid asked me what book I brought. I just remember seeing his face fall and he was saying, “Oh, you’re into that sort of thing.” The memories we have from that age are all about things we don’t understand yet, which are very fundamental, and that’s a strange memory to me. And [World’s Fair] That’s why it is a queer film.

Since the Internet is so different now than it was in our teens, how did you frame your experiences in contemporary Internet film making?

I had already decided that I was not so interested in realism. People sometimes get frustrated with a movie for not giving you a year, and I think that goes for different aesthetics from what we see. It’s drawing as much from dial-up Wild West haunted landscapes as it was from my childhood online as it is from the creepypasta amateur YouTube aesthetic of 2012-era. Maybe a little less than the contemporary internet. Choosing an internet to live in felt limiting. It all had to do with how personal the film is and how much it is about reflecting on these different generations, who had a similar experience to me, finding myself in the light as a gay man. that screen.

How did you develop Casey as a character based on your own experiences, and how much did Anna Cobb contribute to it?

I wanted to find an ally to create that character, instead of putting it all on the page and trying to fit a human into this preconceived notion of that character. Much of the film rests on Anna’s shoulders, as someone we’ve been watching for most of the film. You needed someone who was incredibly talented, who felt very alive and very real – like stumbling with someone online and who is this person when the camera is off…something haunted.

In Anna, I found someone who was imbued with personality and charisma. She is very attractive and smart. The other thing Anna has in common is an incredible craft and work ethic that I think is borderline unhealthy for someone her age – she takes her work so seriously. so i wrote [Casey] 70% of the way there, and then the final 30% was to sew the character for Anna and let Anna get into it. And Anna is very different from Casey – Anna is very goofy, she doesn’t like computers, she doesn’t like horror movies. But he put himself a lot into it and found a way to get that character into the lead. And in that space, he tapped into this loneliness and anger, and that’s all that makes the character sing.

What did Casey bring to the film for you as well as capturing the perspective of JLB (Michael J. Rogers)?

One of the main things I wanted to say about the Internet is how ephemeral and ephemeral it can feel. Structurally, I wanted the film to feel like traveling from one bedroom to the next, and in between we are lost in the haze of the internet – feeling far and away from the heat of the film’s opening. It would take an absurdity to over-explain, [but] I think it has a lot to do with dysphoria and transness and loneliness. It also has a lot to do with the idea that the Internet disappears – videos come in, people disappear. You might know someone’s first name, but tracking down people becomes impossible, especially if they’re not telling you details about their lives, which isn’t what Casey is intentional.

Like Casey says in her last line, “One day soon, I’m going to disappear and you won’t know what happened to me.” She says it’s like a threat, and that the threat is real. It has a lot to do with the ways we try to get to know people but can never know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. It’s a metaphor for the way I’m talking about online experience and performance in this parasocial space—the ephemerality of human connection.

As well as the technology being used, most of the world’s fairs experiment with their own visual style. What does it mean for you to embrace the cinematic language of this technology?

I really connected with it as someone who came across a microbudget filmmaking scene under a film culture that, even in its “independent” places, commercial realities, capitalist. deeply rooted in activities and wealth-building – and, as a result, is deeply stereotyped and risks feeling like a zombie. It’s rare that I see something that seems completely new and exciting and isn’t trying to fit into a monocultural commercial landscape. Where I saw creative work happening was in a nutshell, whether it was by radical microbudget filmmakers or by kids on the internet. If you immerse yourself in that work, you can see patterns and aesthetics and cultural passions that feel new and fresh. They are choosing something that is very contemporary and which is not explored in a realistic way in the film [without being] Watered in a more traditional, commercial form – it is bleeding some of its power to fit into IP’s structures.

In the making of my film, it gets you into a set of expectations for what kind of movie you’re watching, in the same way that Casey’s videos take you into what she wants you to think and feel. The legs are then protruded from under the film in a number of ways, one of which is the camera and the aesthetics and perspective and the “production quality” or “amateur nature” of the film. Maybe what matters most is who our narrator is – this increasingly complex conversation about who we are following the camera as the film goes on.

When you make a movie, you’re spending a lot of your time and social capital and emotional health so that 80 minutes is something that you find exciting. If I was going to cut this with the least amount of resources at my disposal, it had to be something I felt creatively grown up with. It couldn’t have been on a big budget, so it had to be something where I would go into this swing with ambition.

As a trans viewer, how the film subtly presents transness and dysphoria is particularly exciting to me. How did you strike a balance between making a film based on transness and capturing the specific inner nuances that are meant to change people’s lives?

The answer is very simple: I was trans and made a movie. This film moves along with my own transformation. By the time I started working on the film, my egg hadn’t cracked; I wouldn’t have asked the question “Are you trans?” And yet, I kept trying to open up to the feeling that I would later call dysphoria.

By the time I got there, I tried to live up to the artistic practice of showing nothing, and it was really scary. Instead, I focused on coming from a real emotional place and the need to express the feeling that I was working through. [I was] Opening up to stuff from your teens, but also the process of discovering your transparency and understanding gender and identity deeper than ever before. It all went straight into the movie without over-interpreting or playing it safe. It wasn’t until the film premiered at Sundance and I noticed that it resonated with other trans people that I allowed myself to pull myself out of this year-long process of creating something that I didn’t outline. was doing.

One of the things you struggle with early in the transition — the first thing I tell people when they come across as trans to me — is to be real. That deceitful syndrome that isn’t talked about as our enemies try to use it against us is a real part of the initial transition. Seeing these things I always thought I was just a weirdo or I could never understand why I’m different from everyone else [in] Other kids dealing with the same desires, attitudes, and conflicts as me were one of the most valid things in my life.

In your director’s statement, you say that we’re still looking for ways to clarify what it’s like to be trans and feel dysphoria in film. What do you expect to see from your trans peers in the search ahead?

Again, this is a very simple answer: Trans people are being given the opportunity to do personal and difficult work that is legible to them, even if it is not legible to cis gatekeepers. A big part of what I do is set up meetings to try to make new movies, and I’m rarely — albeit — across the table from a trans person. I don’t think there are any trans people in real positions of power throughout the industry. Or if there are, they’re still in the closet and probably always will be, because unfortunately it’s an age thing. I speak in college classes and there are always two or three non-binary kids who speak from personal experience as to why. [World’s Fair] Resonates, and I think it’s generational.

If I’m standing on a soapbox talking about trans shit and what we need to do to redefine it, it’s because not many others in my age group are doing it. I’m a little ahead in my life right now, and I’m getting opportunities to do things that are big and hopefully make a difference in this ongoing conversation. But really, in five years my hope is that there will be trans movies everywhere. I have peers that I like and see who is doing well in the space. But it’s so nascent. Even a few years ago, it didn’t exist at all. It just needs to keep growing. Autonomy, Trans Final Cut: That’s what needs to happen.

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Ketya Cerny