From an Emmy, to the UN, to ‘Clone Wars,’ artist finds her independent voice

When it comes to the geek cred game, artist Alina Chau has leveled up about as far as any of us could dream. After all, she’s on a first-name basis with George (that’s Lucas to you) after working as a 3D story artist on the popular animated series “Star Wars: The Clones Wars.”

After studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alina won a student Emmy for her thesis film. Her first student film, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” plays daily at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. 

This auspicious beginning led to an internship and then a full-time gig with video game maker Electronic Arts and a more than decade-long career in the gaming and animation industries.

Alina’s gorgeous personal watercolor illustrations reflect her lifelong passion for causes including children’s rights and the environment. Her artwork showcases the diversity of her multicultural upbringing, as well as her love of travel.

An adjunct professor with picture books in the works and a graphic novel due for publication next year, Alina took a moment to chat about her love of the films of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, her pop culture-inspired gallery and exhibition work, fond memories of her time on “The Clone Wars,” and her experience as a woman working in animation and gaming. 

You’re an artist who worked in the animation and gaming industries for more than a decade. How did you come to work in those fields?

I was an animation major at UCLA Film School. When I graduated from school, I applied to animation-related jobs. I start working for a couple studios as a PA and intern. Then I interned for Electronic Arts. When the internship ended, they brought me in as a full-time animator. That’s how I got started in the industry … from there, I just kept working for different projects and studios.

Were you artistic as a child? I read that you inherited some of your talent from your grandmother.

I’ve loved drawing since I was very little. That’s kind of the only activity that could keep me out of trouble. Art was a hobby when I was a kid … it didn’t occur to me that art could be a career until I was applying to college.

You earned your master of fine arts at University of California, Los Angeles. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I would say it’s important to develop an independent voice. UCLA education philosophy encourages students to develop their own voice and vision. The longer I stayed in the industry, I discovered having a personal vision is one of the most important factors to maintain a healthy and sustainable career. This is especially important with today’s industry, it develops and evolves much faster than ever. Knowing how to maintain one’s vision and passion helps you grow and evolve along with the trends, as well as really helps to overcome creative blocks and burn-out.

You won a student Emmy for your thesis film, “E=mc2.” That must have been an amazing experience. What was that like?

It was an honor to be selected among many wonderful and super talented candidates. For a student, it was an eye opener. In a short time frame, I got to network and went to some big industry events. It was humbling and a great experience for a kid who’s still in school. At the time, I was busy graduating and looking for a job. It helped to have an Emmy on the resume to find a job.

Another of your films, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” shows daily at the United Nation’s New York headquarters. Tell me more about that.

This was my first year student film. When I was younger, I often participated in various humane organizations and activities, such as UNICEF, OXFAM, World Wildlife Fund, etc. I was an activist in children’s human rights. When I finished my first year film, I decided to donate the film to the UN.



Your personal watercolor illustrations have a sweet, dreamlike fairy-tale quality that I love. How would you describe your style?

I never really think of how to describe my artworks. I love storytelling. That’s why I choose to be an animator and story artist. I try to tell a story in my paintings.

What would you consider to be the biggest influences on your art?

It would be my memories … I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from my childhood.  I also love a wide range of art forms for inspiration.

Your work is very culturally diverse. Does that have anything to do with your love of travel?

I do love to travel a lot. I also come from a culturally diverse upbringing. My family are Indonesian and Chinese. I was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong during the British colonial era, studied in the UK briefly, and immigrated to the U.S. My personal cultural upbringing is a mixing pot of Indonesian, Mandarine, Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, British, and American. Growing up, I never felt I completely fit in each culture, yet I am also a bit of each. It’s this mixed cultural upbringing that made me extra aware and sensitive about the important of diversity.

I saw a few pieces in your portfolio that were a bit political. (I thought they were excellent!) What was your inspiration for these works?

I do have opinions in certain political subjects. I was always a bit of a sensitive child when it comes to standing up for children’s human rights and environmentalism. Looking back, I think this could be because I was kind of an immigrant all my life, moving from one country to another. I personally experienced that it could be challenging to adapt to a new life in different regions, but there is much beauty to sharing life with a diverse range of people. This experience make me very aware of the importance of appreciating different cultures, races and social interests. To learn how to appreciate differences, it’s important to openly discuss and share the experiences.

Looking through your artwork on your website, I detected many pop cultural influences, especially Disney, with illustrations ranging from Beauty and the Beast, to The Little Mermaid, to Coco, to Aladdin. What is it about Disney characters that inspires you?

I don’t do fan art for myself. All the pop culture influenced paintings I did are created for the official tribute shows with galleries or studios or commissions from collectors.

I also recognized many other unique interpretations of fandoms, including Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” He-Man, “Bob’s Burgers,” Super Mario Bros., “The Simpsons,” Lord of the Rings, Voltron, “Game of Thrones,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

They are all created for specially invited official tribute shows. Although I love pop culture and love all these titles, I personally do not create fan art for myself. This is because when I was working for studios, I always developed titles for the studios. When I get the chance to develop my personal art, I prefer to explore my own potential and find out what I can do, discover my own voice. I also try to be respectful to other’s intellectual property.

When it comes to fandoms, you said you “like a bit of everything.” What are some of your favorites?

That’s a tough choice … I would always have a special spot for Star Wars, since I worked on “The Clone Wars,” and had many wonderful memories working with the Lucasfilm animation team and George Lucas.

I grew up with Miyazaki films. Growing up, every summer after finals, it’s a tradition to run to the theater and celebrate the end of the school year with the latest Miyazaki.

Spielberg, Lucas, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, etc. Frederic Back is another of my all-time favorite animators … too much to list.

You said if you had to choose just one fandom, it would be the films of Miyazaki. How did you discover him and what do you enjoy about his work?

I grew up with Miyazaki and watching tons of anime and manga as a kid. My first Miyazaki was “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It blew my mind away, it’s epic. She is a princess, but unlike most other animated princesses, she is beautiful, strong, smart and kick-butt! It’s a unique universe with awesome creatures … it was very different from most animated shows I saw at the time. I’ve been hooked on Miyazaki since.

I understand you especially love “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Why?

“Howl’s” one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t say I especially love “Howl’s.” I like each Miyazaki for different reasons. “Totoro” is a very special one, ’cause it captures childhood so beautifully. This movie grew in my heart over the years. I learned to appreciate his mastery of capturing children’s emotions and acting the older I became.

When I was a kid, it was one of my least favorites, because the characters in the film feel so much like me (when I was a child).  But as I grew older, when I watched that film, it just brought back all the childhood memories because of the same reason, the children felt so real and believable that we could all relate to them.

“Howl’s” is enchanting and beautiful. I love “Spirited Away” for its perfection. The storytelling is so well done and tight … it’s amazing!

You worked as a 3D story artist on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Wow! For those who don’t know, what does a 3D story artist do?

3D story at Lucasfilm is like storyboard, except George doesn’t believe in storyboard. So instead of going from script to storyboard, we get the script and we go straight to Previsualization in 3D. Think about it as storyboard in 3D with rough animation. So the directors could see the entire episode with rough key frame animation, cinematography, and close to final edit … the end result is the same as an animatic in a traditional animated film.

What was the experience of working on “Clone Wars” like?

It was a lot of fun. The team is awesome. We get notes from George, one learned a lot very fast from the master. The studio is in Big Rock Ranch overseeing a lovely lake, which is next to Skywalker Ranch. It was a beautiful location, which feels more like a Japanese spa retreat than a studio.

Are you a Star Wars fan?

I own a Vader lightsaber and a Clone Trooper helmet (wink).

Tell me about your work in the gaming industry. What was challenging about it and what did you enjoy most?

The turnaround in gaming is very fast, one learns how to animate very fast and good. The workflow of the game animation pipeline is very different from TV or movies. Instead of thinking in shots and sequences, you think in assets. The scheduling in games was rough, there was a lot of crazy overtime. At least this was the case when I was in gaming. It was hard to have a normal life, since we needed to work almost every weekend and tons of late nights.

It was a good learning opportunity. I think the biggest takeaway is understanding the technology and the pipeline, especially with our everyday technology becoming more and more gamified. It’s a good learning experience to understand the thought process of game development.

Are you a gamer?

Not at all. I died in a game in less than five minutes and get motion sickness in almost all first-person games and some RPGs. I could make a game, but not play it. I can never play any game I made.

What was your experience like as a woman in the animation and gaming industries?

When I first got into gaming, I was one of only one or two women in the animation production team. But over the years, there were more women joining the industries. In animation, there are more women in the production team, but last time I worked as a story artist, I was the only girl on the team. I do feel as a woman we have to work harder to have our voice heard or our achievement recognized. I left the industry for a few years now. From what I heard, there are more women in a production team now.

You’re also an adjunct professor at several universities, including Savannah College of Art and Design. Why is teaching important to you?

I felt it’s important to give back to the communities. Being a teacher also keeps one in touch with the latest, you learn a lot from the students as well. Also, sometimes when one works in the industry for years, we get a bit jaded. Sometimes we forgot about the passion and love of the craft. It’s nice to see the students with big dreams and passion. It is a good reminder of why we choose the career path … keep the fire and passion burning.

Your art has been featured in dozens of exhibitions in L.A., New York, Paris, Japan, Spain, and other places. What’s it like to have your work on display like that?

It was an honor as well as a humbling experience.

You’re currently developing a children’s book publication and some art projects. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing?

I am working on three picture books, which I am very excited about, but unfortunately I can’t share the information about those books. The project I could talk about is my graphic novel, “Marshmallow and Jordan,” with First Second. This would be my first graphic novel and will be released in winter 2019. You can learn about the graphic novel from the School Library Journal announcement.

Are there any dream projects you’d like to work on in the future?

I hope to author and illustrate a lot of books.

All artwork by Alina Chau.

For a film about one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses, ‘Solo’ is lacking in badassery

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Is it just me or was the arrival of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” a little underwhelming?

Despite the fact that Disney and Lucasfilm unleashed the usual merchandising and promotional blitz for the film months ago and despite much discussion and debate on the part of fans, “Solo” hit theaters without the fever pitch of excitement and near veneration that typically accompanies the release of a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, if we’re going to be experiencing a new Star Wars movie every year, we can’t sustain the level of enthusiasm and intensity that surrounded, say, “The Force Awakens.” We’ve got to pace ourselves, lest we burn out. Thus, the generally “meh” reaction.

“Solo” is the first of several planned prequel or spin-off films focused on popular characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. A Boba Fett movie was recently confirmed, for instance, while an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel is rumored to be in the works.

Already there are two contingents forming on social media in regard to the merits of “Solo,” or lack thereof. They seem to be split evenly into one camp that thinks the movie is just fine and another that thinks it could have been much better.

It also feels to me like everyone is slightly nervous and bracing themselves for an outpouring of vitriol similar to the wave of pure hatred that crested after the release of “The Last Jedi.” I don’t think anybody has the strength or energy to go through that again, and this raises an interesting point.

Since we’re now living in a world where we have a virtually endless supply of Star Wars stories, we’re going to have to start allowing for subjectivity and personal taste and accept the fact that not every person is going to like every movie, nor should they be required to.

As a passionate fangirl, I’m preaching to myself when I say, let’s allow everyone to have their own opinions when it comes to the galaxy far, far away. Let’s not attack each other and squander our time and energy trolling each other. I’m issuing a call for a more tolerant, peaceful, pleasant Star Wars fandom.

With that said, I’ll open myself up to the trolling and declare that after seeing “Solo,” I’m leaning toward the more disappointed side of the spectrum of reactions.

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There are many things I enjoyed about the movie, and considering its tortured production history – during which director Ron Howard pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up – perhaps the fact that it isn’t a complete catastrophe is impressive in and of itself. On many levels, though, I wouldn’t consider it a success.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the young Han and was subjected to many rumors during production questioning everything from his resemblance to Harrison Ford to his acting ability.

As it turns out, Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying the roguish smuggler in his formative years. He’s enough like Ford to be recognizable as the beloved character, but he’s not enslaved to showy imitation. Confidently tossing off some of the cocky Corellian’s best one-liners, he’s got the Solo swagger down and adds a touch of vulnerability, befitting a man who has yet to turn cynical.

A script by legendary Star Wars producer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, ushers us into the seedy underbelly of a galaxy under the control of ruthless mafia factions. It opens on Han’s home planet, where the scrappy survivor and aspiring pilot, and his resourceful girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are forced to do the bidding of the “foul” Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Meanwhile, they scheme to procure their own ship and escape the planet to find freedom among the stars.

Han’s relationship with Qi’ra is sweet, I suppose, but it didn’t work for me because Clarke, out of necessity, plays her as such an enigma – she’s part femme fatale, part girl that got away, with a hint of a dark side – that I could never get a complete read on her and who she is. (She’s also the definite type of leading lady Lucasfilm is stuck on – the brunette, white female. Can we get a woman of color or maybe a redhead next time?)

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Howard infuses “Solo” with vibes that are half “A New Hope,” half “Return of the Jedi.” The film is well stocked with weird, but likable aliens, eccentric scoundrels, and an underworld atmosphere that calls to mind the comically debauched palace and barge of that most famous of Star Wars gangsters, Jabba the Hutt. The movie is rough around the edges in a way that perfectly suits the story of a scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han. (It’s also annoyingly under-lit and has the most hyperactive soundtrack of any Star Wars film yet, but I digress.)

At the start, this is all very promising. Things are looking good as Howard treats us to a fun speeder chase and an unexpectedly visceral scene set on an Imperial battlefield that has all the grit of a World War II skirmish. It is here that Han hooks up with a band of thieves, led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his right-hand lady, Val (Thandie Newton), one of several characters who exits the movie far too quickly.

Howard dutifully walks us through the requisite origin story details. We learn where Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he came by his iconic blaster, and how he acquired his beloved Millennium Falcon.

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The Falcon, of course, comes into his possession after he meets charming gambler Lando Calrissian, played in his younger incarnation by Donald Glover. Glover’s Lando is undoubtedly one of the highlights of “Solo.” Clad in a fabulous sleek and silky wardrobe, he oozes irresistible charisma, elegance, and deadpan humor. Every minute he’s on-screen, the movie feels more substantial and satisfying than it actually is.

Lando presides over one of the weirdest scenes in the film, which involves his droid sidekick, L3-37, a sassy, egalitarian ‘bot voiced by “Killing Eve” writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. L3 carries on Lucasfilm’s tradition of creating lovably memorable droids, but as with many of the best personalities in “Solo,” she’s not around long enough to make much of an impact.

After the initial introduction of Lando, “Solo” struggles to find its footing. It’s a funny movie, but a lot of the humor falls flat, as does the romance between Han and Qi’ra. (The bromance between Chewie and Han, however, is timeless.)

There are large swathes of the script that just drag in terms of pacing and hooking the audience. Even a visual-effects-heavy sequence built around that legendary OT reference to making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs is depressingly blasé. For a large portion of the film, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to really care about what was happening.

When it ends, “Solo” feels incomplete. Perhaps that’s intentional given the rumors that Lucasfilm may be planning a sequel. However, the movie doesn’t earn that right in the way that, say, the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” did.

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There is a moment in the film’s third act where we catch an electrifying glimmer of what “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could have been. I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves a character whose true identity is suddenly revealed and it is so stunning, I nearly leapt out of my seat.

Up until then, “Solo” displays a considerable lack of badassery for a film built around one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses.

I hope with all my being we see this magnificent character again in future chapters of the franchise.

Photos: Disney/Lucasfilm. 

When your garden needs a little walking dead, Zombie Gnomes artist is here to help

Is your garden looking sad and boring? Backyard in need of sprucing up? Want to add some thrills and chills to that mediocre front yard?

Fortunately, Jane DeRosa-Stever and her husband Chris are here with an unconventional solution to your humdrum garden blues. It’s a little bit R-rated, is guaranteed to get the neighbors talking, and involves a hefty helping of humor and gore.

The Stevers sell their famous Zombie Gnomes — a playful, gruesome twist on the classic garden gnome ornaments — out of their Etsy shop, ChrisandJanesPlace. You may have seen their clever, red-hatted, undead creations at WonderCon or horror conventions, where they get a lot of attention from fans of all ages, especially kids.

Jane’s background in theater and painting, along with her family legacy of animation and an internship at Disney’s vintage El Capitan Theatre was the perfect preparation for starting this unique business, which began as a joke of sorts but soon blossomed into a fun — and bloody — phenomenon.

She and Chris draw inspiration for their ghoulish designs from horror classics like “Evil Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and “The Walking Dead” TV series, along with traditional folklore and gardening culture. They’ve even spun their hand-painted ornaments into a book, and there’s a sequel in the works.

I talked to Jane about Zombie Gnomes, her magical Disney childhood, and the zombie apocalypse. 

Jane DeRosa-Stever, her husband Chris, and their sons, Anthony and Liam, at Sequoia in 2017.

I read that Chris dreamed up the idea for Zombie Gnomes while stuck in traffic on the 210 Freeway. Tell me about the first Zombie Gnome you ever made. Chris’ practical effects skills and your theater painting skills were put to good use on this project.

The first Zombie Gnome that we made was Patient Zero, which Chris sculpted for his practical effects class and I painted it up for him. Chris developed a lot of his techniques for our business from that class, such as his sculpting, moldings, and casting.

When I started theatre at Azusa Pacific University, I got hired to paint up their sets, which I had done before in high school. I became head of the paint department by my senior year and occasionally I helped with color and texture design. Mostly, I painted sets and props, which was a lot of fun. One’s mind gets to wander, which is nice for a stressed out college student.

Jane and her husband, Chris, when they first started making Zombie Gnomes.

Zombie Gnomes started as a joke, but eventually became a serious business. When did you first realize there was a demand for such a thing?

When we started getting a lot of sales. I wish it was more magical than that.

Some of your pop culture inspirations for the gnomes are “Shaun of the Dead,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Evil Dead.” How have these horror favorites influenced your products?

Well, we enjoy all of those films and TV shows, so we wanted to make something not only that we would find entertaining but other fans would, too.

You’ve also drawn inspiration from folklore and “gardening culture.” In what ways?

When we first started making Zombie Gnomes, we based a lot of our sculptures off of gnome folklore. Gnomes are usually 6 1/2 inches tall and we used some similar color schemes for their designs. We do make larger ones now so people can show them off in their garden if they so desire.

In regards to gardening culture, we see what’s popular at gardening stores and get ideas of how our Zombie Gnomes could be incorporated. For example, pinwheels are a popular garden decoration. So we made a gnome that has a hole in her belly where you can put a pinwheel.

Zombie Gnomes are handmade and painted by local artists. Walk us through the process of designing and manufacturing a gnome.

So when we first started, it was just Chris and I. We did everything from designing to manufacturing to shipping. Then work got really crazy and we had to hire some local artists from the colleges in the area to paint. We were just starting out so we had no idea how to manage the huge amount of orders we were getting, so as time went on we made some changes in our production to be more efficient. Now we are able to handle all of our orders between the two of us now.

How do people generally react when they first encounter your Zombie Gnomes? They’re a little bit R-rated.

They laugh, actually, and usually say, “Zombie Gnomes.” My favorite reactions are when kids see them for the first time. Usually their eye bulge out and mouths drop. Some of them stay for a while just staring at them, saying, “Whoa!,” “Eww,” and things like that. It’s pretty great.

How would you describe your customer demographic? Do they tend to be horror fans?

Actually, no. We do have fans of horror who do buy our Zombie Gnomes but it’s really quite a variety of people who are interested in them. Some have gnome collections or have fairy gardens and want to add something funny to their collection. A majority of the people who purchase them think they are just really funny. To be honest, when we go to cons we see all different age groups gawking at our display.

You’ve said it can be “hard as a husband and wife team designing and creating fun products but we love doing it.” In what way is it challenging?

We spend almost every waking moment together and that can be trying. Not only do we work together, we also raise our kids together. So finding a balance between work and personal life can be challenging. We try very hard to have good communication.

We also have to find a way to be to firm but kind when critiquing each other’s work, which is difficult. It’s much harder than give notes to a co-worker or an employee. However, I actually feel more in love with Chris doing this with him. I saw how hardworking and dedicated he was and we worked so well together, marriage seemed plausible to me.

How would you describe your collaborative dynamic?

We respect each other’s opinions, which I think is a huge reason why we work so well together. Also, we think very similarly, so that helps.

Custom Zombie Gnomes.

You do custom and personalized gnomes. Tell me about some of your favorite custom orders. 

One of my favorite custom Zombie Gnomes was a woman asked us to make Zombie Gnomes taking down an owl. I had so much fun studying the coloring of different owls. I don’t get to spend a lot of time doing detail work so that was a nice change.

You’ve also branched out into literature with the book “Zombie Gnomes: The Epic Tale of Wyrick.” How did this idea come about?

It’s actually something we planned from the beginning. We thought giving the gnomes stories would be more enjoyable to our customers. Our line of thought was gnomes to books to TV show or movie. I was having trouble finding work when I graduated college and I realized if people didn’t give me the opportunity to create then I would just do it on my own. Also writing my own book was a life goal. So two birds, one stone.

I understand you’re working on a second book, “The Forging of Evelyn.” What can you tell us about it?

The first book is about Wyrick trying to find his family. The second book leads off from the end of the first where we actually meet Wyrick’s daughter, Evelyn. We follow her through her journey in the Zombie Gnome apocalypse.

You’re a bibliophile who collects a lot of books, so was it exciting to publish your first tome?

Very. As I said previously, it was a life dream to write and publish a book. It really hit me when I saw it in the first bookstore who started selling it, Dark Delicacies. I was really proud of myself that I actually did it. Of course I wouldn’t haven’t been able to do it without Chris or my mother who did the illustrations.

You also sell some non-zombie items in your shop. Tell me about some of your other products. 

We sell a variety of home and garden décor, such as our Easter Island Head Planter, our Cat Unicorn Head Mounts, and the Unicorn Skull. We just enjoy creating unique and fun things.

Jane at the Zombie Gnomes booth at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

You and Chris frequently take your Zombie Gnomes to conventions and other events. Tell me about some of your favorite places to rep your products. 

We mostly do comic book conventions like Wondercon and LA Comic Con, but we started branching out into horror conventions last year, which was great. People love them and we usually do very well at cons. I love doing all of the events especially because Chris and I try to make sure we go to at least one panel to learn something related to our craft.

Some serious artistry goes into your gnomes. You earned a degree in theater arts from Azusa Pacific University with a focus on storytelling. How did this prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, first off, thank you for that compliment. I did get my BA in Theatre Arts hoping to get into directing and writing. Being that the programs for either of those were not fleshed out yet, I tried to learn as much as I could. I auditioned for plays and wrote my own monologues. I even wrote a one-act for my senior project.

Really, I was just trying to be a sponge and soak up as much as I could while I was there. I stage managed, worked on sets, and so on. I think it really prepared me for what I do now because it’s a constant learning experience. We are always trying to create new products and be more efficient and half of the battle is having the curiosity to actually do it.

What story are you telling with your Zombie Gnomes?

Life is scary and you just have to laugh at it sometimes.

You grew up in a family of animators and your father still works for Disney. You must have had a magical childhood. 

I think so. My parents also love Disney movies so I grew up watching all of the classics. I loved when my parents would point to their work or give me a little history about a certain scene or something. It was really fun. Also not many people can say that they live off of their art but my parents are examples that it can happen. My parents never told me that I couldn’t be an artist because I couldn’t make a living off of it so that was different.

You participated in the Walt Disney Internship Program and worked as a stage manager at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. What did that job entail?

Managing the shows before the movies started, help running movie premieres at the theater, things like that. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about management, working with professionals in the field and the general public. I had many mentors but I spent most of my time with James Wood who was the best manager I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He taught me a lot of how to be a good manager, which I think really helped me out with our Zombie Gnome business.

That sounds like an amazing experience! What was it like to work at that gorgeous, classic movie venue?

It was magical. The theater has so much history and to be able to walk through it every day was such an amazing opportunity. It was the only theater that would do the premiere for “Citizen Kane,” which I realized when I walked through their hallway full of old pictures. I actually grew up going to that theater as a kid for premieres for my parents films. So it has a very special place in my heart.

Jane with a “The Birds” cosplayer at ScareLA in 2017.

Let’s talk about your personal fandoms. As a fellow Hitchcock fan, I must ask you about your love of the director’s films. How did you discover Hitch and which of his movies are your favorite?

My parents and my grandfather, who lived with us most of my childhood, are big old movie fans. We enjoyed watching classic movies together on Friday nights and would have TCM on almost all the time. They introduced me to “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” and “The Birds.” I loved them.

It’s funny, I don’t really like Hitchcock as a person, but his films were thrilling. He also used my favorite actress Ingrid Bergman in a lot of my favorite films of his. My favorite films of his would probably be “Shadow of a Doubt” (love the woman protagonist), “Spellbound” (Because of the Dali sequence), and “Rear Window” (because, duh).

You’re into “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” What do you like about those series?

So much. Buffy being a badass superhero who was also feminine. I love the development of all of the characters in the shows from being teenagers to awesome vampire killers. I love when Buffy dies and comes back and she deals with not being in heaven anymore. When we met Dawn and everyone is like, “Yeah, Buffy has a sister. What? You don’t remember her?” The musical episode is magical even though not everyone could sing very well. Of course, there is Faith, who for me is a great anti-hero. “Angel,” I thought, was such a solid show and I am so sad it got cancelled to soon.

Are you Team Angel or Team Spike?

Spike. He was funny and didn’t sulk all the time. Got to love that in a guy.

How many hours have you spent playing Fallout?

Too many, but it is a good way for me to de-stress.

Jane and Chris dressed up for Halloween in 2016.

What was your introduction to Harry Potter?

I was in junior high and I heard some kids at my Christian school talking about how their parents wouldn’t let them read the books because they had witchcraft in them. I asked my mom about it and she said I couldn’t read them for that reason. She was into witchcraft when she was younger. So as a Christian, she felt like she had to protect me. However, as the years went on she got over it and I finally read them. I love the books and even got my mom interested in them.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw, all the way!

You’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan. Who’s your favorite inhabitant of Middle-Earth?

As a teenager, I loved Aragorn because he was handsome and brooding. I also enjoyed the elves because they were just so smart and composed. Now that I’m older I think I really enjoy the hobbits. They are just so fun and full of life. They are very clueless though …

Do you prefer the books or the movies? Or both?

The books are very tedious. I don’t know if I have completely finished one because they are just that tedious. I can only care so much about the description of a mountain that I will not hear about ever again. However, I do love and appreciate the books. My husband and I love the movies and watch them a couple times a year. We actually saw them in theaters when they came out again.

If you were stranded on an island with just one movie by Hayao Miyazaki, what would it be?

“Spirited Away.” One of the most beautiful and magical animated films ever made. Close second would be “Princess Mononoke.”

Do you and your husband have any future plans or dreams for ChrisandJanesPlace or your business in general?

Always. We want to keep getting bigger and better. That includes new Zombie Gnome products, books, and other products. Of course, we are always working to get more of our products in stores across the U.S. and the world.

Let’s wrap up with a few zombie-related questions.

Why do you think zombie stories have become such an iconic part of pop culture?

I think it’s the thought of losing control of one’s body. Having no free will and possible killing the ones you love is terrifying. I like how Robert Kirkman puts it in his introduction in his first volume of “The Walking Dead,” “Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society … and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too … But there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”

What will be the cause of the zombie apocalypse? 

Cuts to the CDC.

What’s your survival strategy for when the zombie apocalypse hits?

Going to a hardware store

Which is scarier: Classic slow-moving zombies or fast-moving rage-monkey zombies?

Fast. Always fast.

Should there be a Zombie Gnome movie?

Yes, but of course I’m not biased at all.

 

Geek Home Decor: A cozy, retro Star Wars retreat

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first installment of “Geek Home Decor,” a new series on No Man’s Land showcasing the geek-themed homes or rooms we’re currently drooling over. Maybe you’ll discover some decor tips or be inspired to put together your own “nerd cave.” If you have a room or house you’d like to show us, send a description and or pics to lavendervroman@gmail.com. 

Jacob and Stephanie Patterson

Washington-area Star Wars fan couple Stephanie and Jacob Patterson have stopped fighting it — as so many of us nerds are still clumsily attempting to do — and let their obsession with George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away take over the entirety of their apartment. The result is a Star Wars fanatic’s dream come true — a cozy retreat with a retro twist that’s one with the Force.

Jacob explains how Star Wars came to dominate their place:

“May the Fourth was an excuse to decorate the apartment with all our Star Wars stuff. We’ve been decorating the apartment every May for the last few years with everything Star Wars, adding more every year. There wasn’t much to the process of decorating the apartment, apart from putting a bunch of our stuff out on display. I did make some banners to decorate.  

“Pro tip: When decorating for a themed room, a new ink cartridge and a bunch of card stock are your best friends. I found a bunch of images I liked online and used GIMP 2, a free art program, to make them all the size I wanted. Then I just print them, cut them out, punch a couple holes out of each of them with a hole puncher, and string some ribbon through the holes.

I also used a sword display plaque, previously used to display Sting from Lord of the Rings, to display my Darth Vader lightsaber.”

Here are images from some of the banners created by Jacob:

According to Jacob, every room of the apartment he and Stephanie share contains Star Wars items.

“Our kitchen has an R2-D2 measuring cup set, an R2 popcorn bucket, some vintage looking art (Dark Side Blend Coffee and Rebel Cola), and some lightsaber flatware. Our bathroom has a Star Wars shower curtain. Our bedroom has a bunch of Star Wars Pop figures as well as some Star Wars novels and comic books. And our living room is full of the majority of our Star Wars collection.”

Jacob describes some of his prize Star Wars items:

“I really love the helmets I have (the Black Series Poe Dameron X-wing pilot helmet and the new Black Series Darth Vader helmet). The Poe helmet has battle sounds, and if you talk into the microphone, BB-8 will talk back. The Vader helmet is super detailed on the inside and fits together magnetically in three parts. It also changes from the classic Vader breathing sound to the asthma-like wheezing when you take off the top part of the helmet just like at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

I also love my original, old beat-up Star Wars novelization from 1976 and my vintage action figures I picked up from a great vintage toy shop in Tacoma. Stephanie’s favorites are her Boushh Leia Pop and vintage Lando action figure.”

Although Jacob is a lifelong Star Wars fan, most of the Pattersons’ collection is relatively new.

“I have had Star Wars items (mostly toys) since I was three years old and I got the Ewok village for my birthday,” Jacob said.

 “The majority of those toys, however, were sold at a yard sale a few years later. I didn’t have much Star Wars stuff in the dark years of the late eighties and early nineties. I still have the movie posters from the re-release of the trilogy in 1997, but the majority of our collection is stuff we got within the last few years starting on Force Friday 2015.”

Among the items Jacob and Stephanie would still like to add to their decor scheme:

“If I had the ridiculous amounts of money to afford it, I would love to get the Regal Robot Millennium Falcon Asteroid Coffee Table and their Han Solo Carbonite Desk,” Jacob said.  

“As far as things we could actually afford, ThinkGeek has a hallway carpet runner of the New Hope opening crawl that we really like.”

Is there any downside to having a Star Wars themed apartment?

“Guests might look at you like you’re a ridiculous man-child, but that doesn’t really bother me, because I am,” Jacob said.

I asked the Pattersons which fandom they’d choose if they were to do another themed room/house.

“Definitely Harry Potter,” Jacob said. “We have a small collection, but it would be fun to have the room to make it bigger.”

Enjoy some more photos of the Pattersons’ Star Wars apartment:

We’re loving the Lando love!

Photos courtesy of Jacob and Stephanie Patterson. 

‘Looking for Leia’ director gives Star Wars fangirls a voice

It’s currently cool to be a Star Wars fan, especially since Disney bought George Lucas’ epic trilogy with the aim of spinning it into new content for all eternity.

If you’re a woman of a certain age, however, you may remember the days when Star Wars fangirls were, at best, lonely or, at worst, made to feel like freaks. It’s only in the last few years the fandom has become so popular, its inclusiveness has been taken for granted.

With this in mind, documentary filmmaker and psychotherapist Annalise Ophelian dreamed up “Looking for Leia,” a six-part docuseries headed into post-production. The project began with a question: “Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that?”

A lifelong fan of Lucas’ original trilogy, Ophelian was inspired by her first experience at Star Wars Celebration, further galvanized by the demoralizing 2016 election, and persevered through the challenges presented by an independent, self-financed production and the sudden passing of the original Leia, Carrie Fisher.

As a queer woman, Ophelian was drawn to documentary film because she didn’t see herself represented on screen. It’s no surprise then that representation is a high priority for her, both in front of and behind the camera. “Looking for Leia” places an emphasis on the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, while promoting women in film behind the scenes as well.

Along the way, “Looking for Leia” has become something more compelling than a simple doc about Star Wars fangirls. It’s a thoughtful exploration of the transcendent nature of fandoms and intergenerational bonds, as well as a bold exercise in intersectionality and “decolonizing” the documentary.

As Ophelian describes it, the series is “a joyous gender justice project,” and it’s been warmly embraced by the Star Wars community, which means hopefully we’ll get to see it soon. 

First of all, I have to tell you, I got a little emotional watching a trailer for “Looking for Leia” because I discovered Star Wars in the late ’80s and I remember feeling sometimes like I was the only girl who loved it. Does this seem to be a common reaction to your project?

It is! I’m now joking saying “making women cry since 2017,” because it’s such a universal response. But I don’t think it’s sad crying. I think it’s the kind of emotion we experience when we see ourselves reflected in a space where we’ve become acclimated to being excluded for so long.

Tell me more about the concept for “Looking for Leia,” which explores the Star Wars phenomenon from the perspective of a diverse group of fangirls. It started as a film, but evolved into a six-part docuseries. 

I started with a question: Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that? And from there I started talking with folks, all over the US and some places out of the US, and a picture of participatory fandom emerged, and also of the function and role of fandom in participants’ sense of self and relationships with others.

In January, when I went to start assembling, I realized that 40 years of transmedia franchise translates into a lot of forms of fandom and it simply wasn’t going to work to squash these into a feature format. I’m also really fond of episodic, streaming and web-based media. I think it’s tremendously accessible and also much more reflective of how we’re consuming media right now. So in the spring I started developing this as a limited episode series, which gives us a bit more breathing room around each topic.

I’m not sure many people are even aware female Star Wars fans were marginalized in the past. Why do you think that is? 

Well, I think the assumption is that women are new to Star Wars fandom, and to geek culture in general. When I started the project in early 2017, every media inquiry started with, “What do you think has brought women to Star Wars fandom recently?” and I had to answer every one with, “Women have alway been in sci-fi and fantasy fandom, from the start. In fact, we invented the genre.”

Interestingly, I don’t get that question any more. The cultural conversation in the last year has shifted and I think there’s a slowly growing understanding that what we see, in terms of who is visible, doesn’t reflect who is there. It reflects who has the access, who has the resources, who is listened to and believed. I also think it’s perfectly human to only notice things you relate to. So when cis guys tell me, “I didn’t know any girls into Star Wars when I was growing up,” that means those girls weren’t known to them, not that those girls didn’t exist.

I think fanzine and letter zine culture is a great example — in the late ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, there were upward of 1,000 of these in print, 95% of the editors and contributors were women, and these zines were hugely text rich, in some cases hundreds of pages of single spaced type with very few illustrations, just gobs and gobs of fanfic and theories and exposition on Star Wars (and other geekdoms). And for the women who read and contributed to these zines, this was a huge part of their community and connection to their fandom.

But until now these have had very little mainstream coverage. I didn’t know about them until researching this project. We’re really bringing our histories into the light and preserving them in this series, so that the next generation can look back and say, “This is my fandom heritage, I have roots here and I have foremothers who paved the way.”

You were inspired to make “Looking for Leia” after attending Star Wars Celebration in 2015. The 2016 election furthered your resolve. How did these events spark the idea?

I’d been to cons since the 1990s, during the “dark times” when Star Wars was effectively over and there was no thought we were getting more. I became a big “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan and went to Trek conventions, and later WonderCon and local cons, ZomBCon, stuff like this. And I was very accustomed to being one of a few women — Trek cons had more women than most, but still, I would show up, often with my younger brother or by myself, and be prepared to navigate a sea of cis fanboys.

And I went to Celebration Anaheim with the same mindset, and was really amazed by the number of women there, and how welcoming the space felt. In particular, I loved the Reed Pop rules of conduct, this idea that “cosplay is not consent” and that things like “no bathroom policing” were put up front in the con rules.

I felt like the organizers understood some of the problems that women, cis and trans, and nonbinary folks go through in these spaces. I left Celebration feeling incredible, like I’d tapped into a community where I could show up fully for the first time, just talking about Star Wars 12 hours a day, I had such con drop going home! And it was the first time I saw groups of other women, and it made me want to know more, because these were people I did not see in mainstream representations of fan culture.

I was finishing up my last feature (“MAJOR!”), and then on the festival circuit with that film, which was a biopic about a black transgender activist and elder, and during the making of that film I was acutely aware of how out of my lane I was making it, as a white cisgender woman. I was asked to come onto the project and said yes, but throughout knew that the next project I did I wanted to be thoroughly in my lane, and a fangirl project felt both very culturally appropriate and also like a sort of self-care break. The last film had taken an emotional toll.

And then in the ramp-up to the 2016 election and especially right after I, like so many, felt scared and hopeless and I knew if I was going to keep making film I was going to need a project that had some joy infused throughout it. I think a main theme of all my work is resilience as a form of resistance. I tend to see the ways people survive and celebrate and find this more compelling that the sort of otherizing trauma porn that documentary can sometimes turn into.

“Looking for Leia” appealed to me as a joyous gender justice project, and also as a project that could treat a subject that has traditionally portrayed as shallow or frivolous as significant and meaningful.

The project hit a hurdle early on after the passing of Carrie Fisher. How did you deal with that obstacle?

I was getting ready to drive my mom and brother to the airport when the news of her passing hit my Twitter feed, and I just got up and walked into the bathroom, closed the door and sobbed. And then I kept crying, in line at the grocery store or in my car, at all kinds of inconvenient moments for the next two weeks.

It was just such grief, I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my community since the late 1980s and there’s something unique about losing artists. When Derek Jarman and Marlon Riggs both passed, I was so deeply heartbroken. It was a grief not just for the person but also for the work, knowing that there would be no new creations from these artists and that the world would be a lesser place because of it.

I felt like the project died with Carrie. My original concept for the piece was to road-trip around the US, and I thought I’d be able to put together a compelling reel to show her reps and she’d sit down and give me an interview to tie the film together, talking about her iconic role and her relationship to fandom.

I already had my tickets to Star Wars Celebration Orlando and had planned to film there, and my partner said, “You have to go, you have to talk with women about what Carrie Fisher meant to them, but also women are going to show up for this Celebration and you should be there to hear their stories.” Shortly after that, I learned about the Drowning in Moonlight Gala (honoring Fisher) and spoke with the organizers, who were incredibly generous and invited us to film there, and it moved forward from that point.

You dreamed up “Looking for Leia” before Disney released “The Force Awakens.” Did the new generation of Star Wars films change the nature of the project at all? 

All along my intention has been to focus on participatory fandom, and fandom as an internal experience, more than content critique. So the films, shows, and books themselves exist in this project in terms of reference points or sites of fandom, but I don’t get into the impact Rey has had on the franchise or the fandom. This is a strategic decision in terms of working with IP, but also story/character analysis is very subjective, and as I think we can see on Twitter, folks can get really riled up about their faves and why something is or isn’t subjectively “good.”

I will occasionally get angry letters from folks saying, “Why aren’t you talking about such and such, because this content is by far better than this other content,” and I always write back and say that’s not what this project is about, I don’t have stakes in what’s good or bad, I’m interested in women’s subjective experience of loving with and connecting with a thing, and all the complexities that involves.

What I wasn’t expecting, and perhaps was silly to not anticipate, was that the franchise would be so incredibly huge. When I conceptualized this project we didn’t know Rey was the protagonist of the new films, or that we’d be flooded with options for women’s merchandise, or that we’d be getting new Star Wars content every year for the rest of our lives. The fan community still occupied outsider space, and since 2015 it’s now become the most mainstream and popular thing you can love.

With tons of financing and resources I would have ideally finished this series and be launching it this summer, but as an indie producer who is self-funded and also needs to work to keep a roof over my head, my process is slower. Staying focused on fandom as a phenomenological experience helps the project stay timely despite the incredible changes happening in the franchise itself.

You recently reached a major crowdfunding milestone on Seed&Spark. Congratulations! Tell me more about your crowdfunding efforts and how the Star Wars fan community is showing support for the film. 

I can say without reservation that this project would not exist without the support of fan community, who have been so generous through two rounds of crowd-sourcing and also with resources and time and talent. I’m acutely aware that the number of women with incredible stories and invaluable expertise in the world far outstrips my ability include folks on film, and I also appreciate the generosity of spirit that folks have in understanding that even if you aren’t on screen, I hope you feel a part of this series, that it feels like something that belongs to you.

Looking for Leia is in its second round of interviews and heading into post-production. What will this next phase look like? 

In the grand tradition of independent media making, it looks like a small group of us wearing many hats and spinning many plates! I’m simultaneously recording pick ups and b-roll while assembling, roughing out narration and hiring writers, roughing out animation and hiring illustrators, animators, and compositors, working with our amazing composer Christy Marshall on the score and mixing the a cappella John Williams music arranged and recorded by Kate Burns, Bri Holland, and singers from the Archer School for Girls, and seeking private sector sponsorship to help us cover licensing and legal costs and get us through the final stages of post, like color grading and titles and sound mixing, which really add up in terms of cost.

It’s been wonderful to work with so many great women and non-binary artists behind the scenes, and I’m excited to bring more hands on deck as we head into the final stages.

What has the production experience been like so far? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? 

Working on this production has been completely joyous. I get to talk with women about what they love, and it’s impossible to do that without some of that love rubbing off. Also, in daily life, I don’t think we have this conversation enough, “Tell me what you love and what purpose it serves in your life.” And, of course, the conversation is always complex, particularly for folks who live at the intersection of marginalized experience. None of us gets to love a thing in an uncomplicated way, but those complexities all showcase an incredible creativity and capacity for survivalism, and they speak to what we need more of.

The challenges are the expected ones. We’re a small crew and limited in the number of places we can reach geographically, we’re self-financed and in constant conversation about how to get what we need, and all of us are working more than one job, so there’s a point where there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve been on the road every couple of weeks for the past year and I miss my chihuahuas desperately when I travel!

What events and locations have you traveled to in search of footage? 

I’ve only filmed at a few conventions, because they’re logistically very difficult and expensive to film. We were at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, D23 in Anaheim, and GeekGirlCon in Seattle, and we were scheduled to panel and film a bunch of stuff at Universal FanCon. The demise of that convention definitely hit the production hard.

Conventions are places where we can talk to a geographically diverse group of folks without having to travel ourselves. We’ve also filmed all over the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’m based, Southern California, Seattle, Rock Point, Arizona, New York City, and Boston, and have pick ups scheduled in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Lexington.

We’ve got folks in Texas, Nevada, and Georgia that we’re hoping to bring to us. And I’ve had preliminary interviews with women in Oaxaca, Mexico, Osaka, Japan, and Lehore, Pakistan and would love to include these, but we don’t have the funding to do international travel at this point.

You’re striving to tell the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, many of them marginalized. Why is it important to you to focus on these women? 

I think often when we say “women” what we’re really saying is white, cis, straight, able-bodied, 18 to 35 year old Christian women born in the U.S., and we know this is what we mean because all other women are given an identity modifier — women of color, trans women, disabled women. And it creates a sort of either/or dynamic that also erases the incredible diversity and intersectionality of women’s voices.

One of my goals in this and every project is to push back against white supremacy and heteronormativity and all the ways the dominant group gets to occupy the silent neutral center, and shift the lens to ask women who live at the intersection of marginalized identities to speak from their own experiential expertise.

It’s also important, I think to ensure that these women aren’t only being asked to talk on identity-specific issues, aren’t just showing up on the designated section about race or sexual orientation or disability, but are present in front of and behind the camera in all aspects of the project.

Can you tell me about some of the memorable women you’ve interviewed? 

Honestly, every woman I’ve had the chance to talk with on this project has been memorable and amazing. I’d have a hard time narrowing it down. But I will say that I love hearing from women across generations.

I was talking with folks from the Empire Saber Guild in Madison Square Park, and I asked the question, “Who experienced bullying for being a geek in their childhood?,” and every woman but the youngest raised her hand, and the youngest person there said, “I haven’t experienced any of that, and it’s because of you. You all went through that so I don’t have to.”

I love seeing people’s creativity, and hearing how fandom has been a comfort during times of loss. I love hearing mothers and grandmothers talk about passing along their love of these stories to their kids, and I love hearing grown women talk about their mothers and grandmothers who were sci-fi and fantasy fans in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and passed that love along to them.

The very first woman to reply to the contact form on our website last year is a Montessori teacher in the south bay of San Francisco who courted her husband by seeing “Revenge of the Sith” together three times in one weekend. She grew up in the Philippines in the 1990s and made her own Star Wars T-shirts and lunch boxes because there was no merch to buy in stores, and she created a group of My Little Pony Jedi mash-up cosplayers because she loves being able to make Jedi robes in bright rainbow colors and wanted to combine two of her favorite franchises.

There are just so many stories that showcase the ways we participate in fandom as a celebration of our capacity for joy, and a testament to the ways we use magic and story as a means of comfort and survival.

You’re also promoting women in filmmaking by recruiting many of them to work on the series. Why are you taking this approach? 

Cisgender men are incredibly over-represented in film industry jobs, from production into post-production. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2017, women accounted for 8% of directors (and the Annenberg numbers are a bit broader and put this number at 4%), 10% of writers, 24% of producers, 14% of editors, and just 2% of cinematographers. Two percent. Those grip and electric jobs, operating the cameras and rigging the lights, the actual people on the set as the film is being made, that’s an incredibly cis male work force.  Of the top 250 grossing films in 2017, 3% were scored by women composers.

Where we see those numbers shift at all are in indie projects like “Looking for Leia,” and in documentary in general, where women still only represent around 37% of all directors.  In terms of funding, women directors experience a fiscal cliff. When we’re able to get one project made, we’re often unable to secure funding for subsequent projects, and have a harder time raising money and getting production backing for films about women.

And women directors are also more likely to hire women to other production and post-production roles. Dee Rees made “Mudbound” with women at the head of all creative departments and below the line her crew was almost entirely women. Ava DuVernay has hired all women to direct both seasons of “Queen Sugar.”

I hire women, both cis and trans, and non-binary folks and trans guys to my crews because these are the people I connect with in community and want to work with, and also because I think we tell different stories. And I want my communities to have robust filmographies and get hired for more jobs, and we’re only able to do that when we have projects to show for it.

This line about hiring the best person for the job, which inevitably is the excuse given for hiring all white cis male directors, is a cognitive distortion. Producers are hiring the person who had the most access and the greatest resources to build their career, and this is a historically very homogenous group. I’m incredibly encouraged by shifts in the industry and the ways women who do achieve a level of success are reaching back and pulling up other women with them.

I read that you began making documentaries because you didn’t see yourself and your story represented on screen. How has that informed your career? 

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the process of filmmaking, largely because of Star Wars and Alien. The making of these films completely compelled me, the way these worlds were created with practical effects to become real. And in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no messaging whatsoever that filmmaking was a career option for me. I watched behind-the-scenes reels and saw only white cis guys building models, operating cameras, talking about process.

I was raised by American ‘70s and ‘80s cinema, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, and also Ridley Scott and James Cameron. These men were (and are) held up as masters and Lucas in particular is the reason why I’m able, technically, to be a filmmaker — his digital innovations proletarianized filmmaking and made it possible for the equipment used in filmmaking to be accessible to the masses.

But even when I started making films 10 years ago, the only place I saw myself was in documentary. I wasn’t questioned as a documentary filmmaker, I think because that genre is somewhat inherently feminized — women are supposed to be good listeners and in the service of someone else’s story. But I was also compelled to documentary because in the 1990s I was incredibly influenced by the work of Marlon Riggs, who was making deeply personal, political, poetic work about identity, internal experience, and navigating systems of oppression, and also Derek Jarman, who was making experimental narrative.

Both of these men were creating queer film in a way I had never seen before and made me feel like I could tell a story like this. So when I did finally approach the camera, it was after a lifetime of loving cinema without ever feeling like it was something I was allowed to make, and also loving documentary as a site of self-determination and agency and expression of untold stories.

You’re also a psychotherapist with degrees in clinical psychology and a private practice. Do you feel this gives you any unique insights into fandoms like Star Wars? 

There’s a benefit to having a lens on human behavior that seeks to understand the utility of actions. I believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and that some of us have less to work with in terms of internal and external resources than others. I think this framework does help me take fandom seriously, as a site of identity formation and something that informs relationships with others and in the world, and I’m often puzzled by media representations of fandom as something silly or weird.

The lens also helps me understand some of the mechanisms at work in on-line trolling and toxic fan behavior. But above all I’d like to think that my work in clinical psychology serves me as a researcher of human experience, there’s a methodological rigor to how I ask questions and then consolidate what I hear into a story, and an inherently collaborative practice that involves asking participants, “Did I get this right?,” which is very similar to how I work with people in therapy or supervision.

Star Wars played a big role in your journey to become a filmmaker. You’ve been a serious fan since 1977. Would you share some of your earliest Star Wars memories? 

My earliest Star Wars memories are actually from the summer of 1978, when Star Wars was playing at the second run theater within walking distance from my house in Fort Collins, Colorado. There was a one-color newsprint flyer with the summer movie offerings and I’d scan it every week to find which screening I’d go to. I saw it every week that summer. This was just after my brother was born and it would be years before he’d be old enough to do Star Wars with me, so those early experiences were just of loving the world, the music, the design of the ships and the look of the Tatooine desert.

You’ve remained strong with the Force throughout the years. Why is it such an enduring passion for you? 

In retrospect, I can say there’s something about the production design and the score and the story that is instantly familiar and transporting. As a child I listened to the read-along story books with my younger brother and to the Story of Star Wars album and relived the films over and over, to the point that I realized I could speak along with the film verbatim.

When I was in college in 1990 there was a completely non-sanctioned marathon of all three films and I was so excited for this, I actually had one of the promotional posters, this 11×17 xeroxed picture of Obi Wan with “Use the Force” on my wall. That college screening was the first time as a semi-grownup that I sat in a room of other semi-grownups and realized, hey, this is really a phenomenon, we really love this story. The world building was so perfectly all encapsulating. It was an immediate escape into something totally unlike my daily life and also completely familiar.

What are your thoughts on Disney’s new entries in the franchise, especially “The Last Jedi,” which sparked so much fan hate? 

I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan. My mother was at the park the year it opened and Disneyland has always been something we’ve done together, and the films and television shows were a huge part of my childhood, so I was quite happy when the Disney acquisition happened. I felt like this company has taken such good care of my childhood, and this means we’ll get more Star Wars.

In 1977, Star Wars was amazing because it was completely new, and yet totally familiar. And these new films are completely familiar, yet totally new. Liking a story is such a personal, subjective thing, and I can certainly appreciate that in a 40 year transmedia franchise there is going to be stuff folks like and stuff folks don’t. I loved “The Last Jedi.” It’s perhaps my favorite Star Wars film, on par with “Empire.” I felt like it was made for me in a way none of the previous films felt.

As someone who saw the original trilogy in the theaters as they were released, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to watch my childhood heroes go through life and age in a way that is very relatable, will all the existential crisis and trauma and loss that is natural to life. I think I’m still adjusting to the fact that I’m going to get new Star Wars content for the rest of my life!

Lucasfilm recently announced Victoria Mahoney will be the first woman in the history of the franchise to serve as second unit director (on “Episode IX).” What are your thoughts on this news? 

Well, my first thought was this is great, everyone is going to learn what a second unit does!

I think these studios are in a unique position to really incubate and resource a huge amount of filmmaking talent, and in doing so create a new form of blockbuster that speaks to a massive underserved audience. I look at what Marvel did with Ryan Coogler and Rachel Morrison (in “Black Panther”). Every frame of that film is so incredibly deliberate and revolutionary, it’s a testament to what can happen when you shift who gets to tell the story and I want more of that.

A lot of progress has been made regarding women in the Star Wars universe, especially with strong female protagonists like Rey. In your opinion, what progress still needs to be made? 

One of the things I loved about “Black Panther” was the complexity of the women characters. Each of them had their own unique role to play and contributions to the forward progression of the story. Each of them existed in collaboration with male characters but without being defined by them or just in the service of furthering men’s plot lines. And all of those women were black.

We’re way past the time of shoehorning characters of color into white characters’ story lines. That column is oversaturated with 125 years’ worth of whiteness on camera. I’d love to see characters of color, and particularly women of color, at the center of Star Wars narratives both on screen and behind the camera as storytellers.

I have to ask: Porgs. Yes or no? 

Um, I’m just gonna answer this with a picture of my office bookcase:

Who is your favorite Star Wars character of all time? 

The Millennium Falcon. I have a tattoo of it, and I love it so much. I also love AT-ATs. The vehicles have always been my favorite part of Star Wars.

Do you collect any Star Wars memorabilia? 

Well, since working on this film, I’ve found myself with a disturbing amount of Star Wars Lego, FunkoPops, and Porgs, which all somehow find their way into my house under the guise of “research.”

You’ve said, “I don’t often cosplay, but when I do, it’s as Han Solo.” More details, please! 

The first time I dressed up as a Star Wars character was as Han Solo for the Disneyland Halloween party a few years ago. I hand-sewed the Corellian Bloodstripe on my pants and hand-painted my DL 44. I was so proud of the costume. And I talked my partner into dressing up as Leia. I bought his costume on Amazon and people were crossing the park to shake his hand and not even noticing that I was dressed as Han!

Do you devote yourself to any fandoms besides Star Wars? 

I was a huge “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan, collected trading cards and ship manuals and went to conventions. In 1990, I spent what at the time felt like a fortune to get front row seats to see Patrick Stewart talk and get his autograph. I think it was like $90. I love Harry Potter and was really excited to do a workshop at this year’s Granger Leadership Academy on decolonizing documentary filmmaking. But Star Wars was my first fandom, and it remains my most robust fandom.

If people reading this would like to support “Looking for Leia,” what’s the best way they can do that? 

Follow us. We’re fun on social media! We’re @LookingForLeia on Twitter, @LookingForLeiaSeries on Insta, and facebook.com/lookingforleia on FB.

We’re an independently funded project not affiliated with Disney or Lucasfilm, so the financial support is always useful. We’re particularly looking for folks working in tech whose companies would like to sponsor the production of the series, and we’ve recently been fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies, so donations are tax deductible.

Folks can find out more about contributing on our site, www.lookingforleia.com/support.

What are your ultimate hopes for the series? 

I’m excited for women and girls in fandom to have a series of their own, in which they can see their own experiences mirrored and validated and learn more about the experiences of other women identified folks as well. And I’m excited to bring the conversation about participatory fandom into the mainstream, and to show it as a worthy topic that has so much to tell us about our capacity for creativity, joy, and resilience.

I think these sorts of stories bring us closer together, and this is sorely needed right now.

Photos: Looking for Leia copyright 2017 Floating Ophelia Pictures. 

Meet ‘Renegade’ steampunk novelist, cosplayer R.J. Metcalf

I thought it would be fun to interview a steampunk fangirl since we haven’t seen this particular fandom represented much on No Man’s Land. I don’t personally know any steampunk enthusiasts, so I asked my social media friends to help me track down a possible interview subject. 

In a happy twist of fate, I was introduced — via Facebook Messenger — to R.J. Metcalf, who enjoys rocking her own steampunk style, alongside her husband, Mike. More importantly, she happens to be an independent author about to release her first steampunk fantasy novel, “Renegade Skyfarer,” the first in a series call the “Stones of Terrene Chronicles.”

R.J. is gearing up for the book release, scheduled for July 1, with a Facebook launch party and official countdown beginning June 1.

Meanwhile, she graciously found time to offer her insights into the steampunk genre, her world-building collaboration with Mike, and what it’s like to be an indie writer who subsists on dark chocolate and lots of chai, while geeking out on anime, the Star Wars Expanded Universe, “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” and her family’s epic board game nights.

You can learn more about R.J. and her book series here

You’re about to publish your first book, the steampunk fantasy novel “Renegade Skyfarer.” That’s a huge accomplishment! How are you feeling about it?

Nervously excited, to be honest. I wrote it over a year ago and have spent this much time editing and polishing it, and it’s about to be ready for the world to see. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling, knowing that it will be visible to the critics.

For those who don’t know, what exactly is “steampunk”?

It’s a genre that started small, and has been gaining steam throughout the years (no pun intended). It takes the “what if” question and directs it at our technology. What if, instead of coal and solar power for electricity, it was all steam-based? What if each home needed boilers and converters to power their lights, their ovens? What if instead of cars running off gasoline, each car has to be fueled with water, with great billows of steam puffing behind it every time someone puts the pedal to the metal?

Steampunk is most recognizable by the clothing. It’s typically classic 1800-early 1900’s Victorian wear, with leather belts and accessories, goggles, and brass buttons. But steampunk also covers Western (think Lindsey Stirling’s “Roundtable Rival” YouTube video), and you can really steampunk anything.

“Ghostbusters” is a popular cult-classic to steampunk, as is Star Wars, and even Disney. In fact, if you Google “steampunk Disney,” you’ll find some fantastic art, and if  you add “costumes” to the search, you’ll be able to see the gorgeous cosplays that people have done!

R.J. Metcalf and her husband Mike at the Renaissance Faire.

How did you first discover this genre and why does it appeal to you?

I can’t remember when I first learned of steampunk. I’m guessing I first learned about it a Renaissance Faire, or maybe Anime Expo, or maybe it was during high school, many moons ago. I love the style of costuming, the leather, the gears and gizmos, the sepia color scheme that so many aim for.

Personally, my husband and I keep our steampunk on a practical scale — would I need this if I lived in this time? Would this provide sufficient protection for the job I’d have? — but so many others play on the elegant beauty of steampunk, and that’s just as glorious.

I understand your book has an airship in it as well as dragons that are more like dinosaurs. That sounds awesome! Tell me more.

Indeed! “Renegade Skyfarer” has two specific airships in it — the Sapphire and the Phoenix. These airships are a bit different than the steam-powered tech I mentioned previously, as these aren’t “steamy” airships. These are older models that use gravity stones for their lift. Propulsion is steam-based tech, but these two beauties were fashioned in the days where certain materials were available for more streamlined engineering. The newer ship models are steam-based, and those look similar to the airship pictures you’d find if you were to do a Google search.

The world of Terrene that the story takes place in has as much in common with our world as it has different. I’ll highlight the differences, as those are what stand out and make the world interesting.

I’ve already shared about the airships, so we’ll push those aside in favor of the gravity stones. The land and the people of Terrene have a spark of life to them that our world doesn’t have. This magic allows people and certain rocks to absorb or harness elements — like the gravity stones. Other rocks naturally absorb heat, or lightning. Sages or mani-meds (manipulator medics) can infuse specific rocks with healing abilities that speed time on an injury, allowing to heal faster. Or the cold stones, that families use during summer to keep their produce cool. There’s a nation that focuses solely on creating new applications of these stones in the medical field, and it’s pretty impressive to see what they churn out.

Now, just as the people have an ability to manipulate, so do the dinosaurs or, as we call them, dragons. Imagine a pterodactyl with metal-tipped claws that crackle with electricity when it swoops for its prey. That’s a terror in this land. Velociraptors manipulate light to provide natural camouflage, and are aptly named “stalkers.” Plodders would be recognized as stegosaurus in this world. And their plates heat on demand to burn predators — or hunters.

The idea for this book originated with your husband, Mike. How did the concept come to be?

It’s something he’d been dreaming of for years. In our early years of marriage, we’d walk around town and he’d talk about this world, and this tragic story of one character, and how that essentially domino-affected everything else, and of this guy, Ben, who’d arrive to the world, and how he’d meet certain people, and then this would happen, and that, and it would end after this particular thing … I loved the world that he created. And he has a knack for thinking of all the little loose ends and tying them together, finishing a story strong.

So, it’s your husband’s story, but you’re the writer. Describe your collaboration.

Like I said, he’s the one who thinks of all the plot points, how they tie together, how it’s going to end. But character motivations? Character heart? That’s all me. He may say that Ben’s going to do this or that, but I’m the one that looks at that and says, “No, he wouldn’t do this. He’d be going over there instead. If you want him here, he has to have a reason for that.” And then we brainstorm if we’re going to create something to move him where we want, or if we’re going to let him lead the story his own way. (Ben takes over a lot)

So Mike and I will drive places and discuss story points, then Mike will compile it all in a loose 3 to 4 page synopsis for me. From that, I create a loose outline that we look over together and move chapters around to maximize the pacing. After he approves the rough outline, I pre-write all my chapters, then start writing in earnest. He’ll read them as I go and provide feedback, in case I write a chapter with a completely different vision than he’d had, but 95% of the time it matches to what he’d imagined — or it’s better than he’d hoped.

After we finish that first draft, we look it over again, then send it off to our editor. She works her magic on it, and once we get her notes back, we pore over them and after we shed a tear or two for changes that need to be made, we debate back and forth on how we can make things work and then I start editing. It’s a fun process, because we love seeing how the story gets strengthened by her insights, and we love working on the challenge together. It’s been exciting to watch this go from a germ of an idea to a series!

“Renegade Skyfarer” is the first in a planned series, the “Stones of Terrene Chronicles.” I understand you’re already writing the sequel. Would you ultimately like to build an entire franchise around this idea?

An entire franchise? **Gets starry-eyed for a moment.** That would be the most epic dream come true.

You’re a mom of two. How did you ever find time to write a novel, let alone a whole series?

I wonder that myself, sometimes. Um … I don’t sleep. **nervous laughter** Well, I do sleep, just not as much as I used to. When I’m in outlining/pre-writing mode, I can still go to bed around midnight and get up at seven with my boys. When I’m actively writing or editing, I’m afraid to admit that I tend to crash anytime between midnight and three in the morning, then still get up at seven with my boys. Those days I really try to take a cat nap on the couch when my 3-year-old naps.

For the rest of the exhaustion, chai. Lots and lots of chai and dark chocolate.

Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

My process is fairly straightforward. First, I’ll turn on some sort of music. With “Rengade Skyfarer,” I had a YouTube playlist that I listened to almost on repeat. With (the sequel) “Void Born,” I listened to my VB playlist while pre-writing, but listened to several epic soundtracks with an Irish coastline soundscape while actually writing. Sometimes I’ll light a candle or two on my desk, but I’ll almost always have a steaming salted caramel chai. I love my chai. Maybe a bit too much.

You describe yourself as an “indie author.” I understand this can be challenging because other people don’t necessarily take your craft or your self-set deadlines seriously. Would you speak a bit about the specific challenges of doing this kind of work?

**laughs**

I’m going to try to keep this short, and not a multiple-point essay.

Being an indie author means I do all the work. Not only do I do all the writing and editing, but I have to find an excellent editor and a book cover designer. I have to learn how to market, and how to create and run my own website and every social media platform I’m going to be present on. I need to pay out of my own pocket for my editor, my cover designer, my formatter, my proofreader, my publishing costs, my marketing costs, and all the other little things that pop up along the way.

Could I write a book, create a cover myself on Photoshop, then slap it up on Amazon? Of course. But then I’d be vanity publishing, and only giving other indie authors a bad name. It isn’t as easy as so many think it is. And no, authors aren’t rich.

As for deadlines, I can’t even try to count how many times I’ve had people find out I’m an author, then ask why I can’t hang out on this day, or go to that event because, after all, “You’re self-published. You can do whatever you want.” Yes, I am indie-publishing. And if I don’t hold myself to a deadline, I’m never going to have anything to show for what I say is my job! If someone works at home, they still have to get their work done. They may have flexible hours, but only so flexible.

I set many deadlines for myself: have the first draft done by August 1. Have the second draft done by August 23 and send it to my editor. Complete developmental edits by September 16 and send it back to editor. So on and so forth. If I don’t have deadlines, I won’t push myself. If I don’t push myself … I’m just a Mom on the couch, watching Voltron cartoons with her boys.

What do you enjoy most about it?

Telling the story. Watching the reactions of my readers, hearing them talk about the parts they loved or hated, and how they’re excited about this, or fearing that. Knowing that my words have reached someone, and touched their life. That’s amazing.

Tell me your writer’s origin story. When and how did you begin?

Jamie Foley. It’s all Jamie’s fault.

I found Jamie through a series of random circumstances, and became her beta reader. During that time, we started chatting about ourselves, and I mentioned that Mike had this story idea that we wanted to write someday, but we wouldn’t be working on it until after the boys were grown up and out of the house (because who could write and be a parent at the same time?). Jamie wouldn’t hear any of my excuses. She pointed out that she had three books under her belt — as well as a 2-year-old.

If she could do it, I could do it.

So, January 2016, Mike and I started outlining our prequel, “Betrayal by Blood.” By July, I had the manuscript complete and through the first editorial pass. Jamie invited me to Realm Makers, a speculative fiction convention for Christian authors. I’d found my writing tribe, and my fire to write blazed brighter.

I wrote the anthology in November during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and then I was able to set the two manuscripts aside. I had a solid foundation that I could use to write the series on. I knew what happened, when, why, where, how, and with who, so I could accurately reference past events without timeline errors later on.

In short, the only reason I’m here as a writer is because a crazy, awesome Texan author wouldn’t give up on me, and kept pushing me to excel still more.

You took some creative writing classes. What was the most important thing you learned from them?

To write with heart. If there’s nothing connecting the reader to the characters, there’s no reason to care or continue reading.

You also used to write fanfiction. What kind? Tell me more about that.

Oooh, my fanfiction days.

Mike and I used to be really into an anime called “Attack on Titan,” and several years ago there were a couple of fanfiction prompts for two of my favorite ships: Jean Kirschstein and Mikasa Ackerman, and Levi and Hanji. I just had to be involved! So I wrote seven drabbles for JeanKasa based off the seven prompts, and then again for LeviHan with the different prompts provided for them. I’m still pretty pleased with the stories and emotions captured in them, but I cringe to think about what the grammar may be. … I haven’t had the guts to look at them since I started writing.

What are some of your biggest influences in terms of books and authors?

Hmmm. Growing up, I loved anything in the DragonLance series, and even now consider those books among my favorite nostalgic reads. The Yuuzhan Vong New Jedi Order series from the original Star Wars Extended Universe taught me about emotions, plots, and what grabs a reader or not (I’m partial to “Dark Journey” and “Traitor” in that series). I’m also partial to Dee Henderson’s mystery/suspense/romance books. And my husband and I both love Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Great pacing, deep characters, and so very thought provoking. We also love the fun of Percy Jackson.

I love to read. I’m trying to resist adding my next five favorite series and it’s hard to resist the temptation!

You don’t just write steampunk, you also do steampunk cosplay with your husband. How did you get into that?

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this question and … I really don’t know. I think we saw some pictures of our friends (of whom we based two of our characters off), and they made steampunk look so amazing, that we just had to join in!

I understand you once worked as a seamstress. Do you make your own costumes?

I used to! I’ve discovered that writing and sewing take up the same portion of my brain, so it’s either writing, or sewing. Not both at the same time. Back in the day, I would make our renaissance faire costumes, and then I also made our anime cosplays. Steampunk … we just buy leather goods. Lots of leather. And metal.

R.J. Metcalf and husband Mike indulge in some steampunk cosplay for a Christmas dinner at their church.

Tell me about some of the steampunk cosplays you’ve done.

At this point, we’ve only done two specific steampunk cosplays. Our formal steampunk (which we wore to our church’s Christmas dinner once, just because it was fancy and fun and we could), and our casual, fairy hunting steampunk.

And, actually, we’re working on a different type of steampunk costuming right now, as we’re involved with a group cosplay with our friends that we’ll be wearing at Realm Makers this year. Mike will be a steampunk Captain Hook, and I’ll be a steampunk Gothel. Our cover story is that Hook catches fairies for me, and I make youthful beauty potions out of them. The theme of the convention this year is “dark fairy tales,” so we’re running with it!

What types of events do you go to in costume?

Before we had our boys, Mike and I would go to Anime Expo in Los Angeles, the Renaissance Faire, and Anime Los Angeles. Now that we have kids, we have to be much more selective on how often we’re out, and how we’re going to dedicate our time to our hobbies. Nowadays, we dress up for Ren Faire (And I confess I’m a lazy mom, because I haven’t made the boys costumes for that yet. Every time I make them something, they grow out of it within a week!), and we dress up for Realm Makers. If we can steampunk for both, we do. I’m looking into some local steampunk conventions now that I have a steampunk book out, and I can dress up, sell books, and call it a business trip. Win-win!

How would you describe the steampunk “culture”?

Varied. There’s the sexy steamy side of steampunk, there’s the practical steamy side of steampunk, the pop culture side of steampunk … It’s fun, because anyone who wants to be involved in the style can find a place to call their own. Mike and I tend to be practical in our steampunk costumes. Who are we dressing as? What tools would they have? Yes, that corset looks amazing, but would a mechanic really wear that? What can they afford for gear, or are they scrounging? Someday we’ll throw together an over-the-top crazy fun steampunk cosplay, just because we can.

You’re a self-proclaimed “otaku,” which means you’re obsessed with certain aspects of pop culture, sometimes at the expense of social skills. What would you consider your defining moment as an otaku?

I 100% blame Mike for my love of anime. We met in high school, and that’s when I first learned of anime classics such as Rurouni Kenshi, Full Metal Panic!, Full Metal Alchemist (the original), and TriGun. From there, I learned of Final Fantasy, cosplay, and quite a few other animes. I didn’t think I’d gotten too into it until I told my Mom “thank you” in Japanese at the dinner table. That’s when I realized I may be a “bit” obsessed.

R.J. and Mike as Roy and Riza from “Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.”

You are into a lot of fandoms! Does your family share your love of geeky things? What are some of the shared and individual activities you enjoy?

Like I said, Mike is the one who got me into anime. So we share that. And we both love video games, though we haven’t had the time to play nearly as much as we once did. Fun fact: our cats and our boys are named from characters in Kingdom Hearts. The boys are just entering the world of video games and have been having a blast with the Lego and Mario games. Only a decade to go until they’ll be old enough to play Halo with their Mom!

Mike and I love board games, and we’ve managed to infect most our friends and quite a bit of our family with the fun. We range from Ticket to Ride to Talisman, Forbidden Desert to Takenoko, Age of War to Seven Wonders, and so many more. Our linen cupboard is full of games, and a literal quarter of our closet has the overflow of games and puzzles that didn’t fit.

In addition to all that, Mike has been playing Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K for the last …I don’t even know. More than a decade. Fifteen years? Forever. He’s been playing since forever. He assembles his army (dwarves for fantasy, tyranids for 40K), paints them, then puts together army lists and battles them against other nerds. Our kitchen table has witnessed many a fictional slaughter, as has the local friendly game store. He’s also into the tabletop X-Wing game, and while I played it a bit when it first came out, writing is more my thing.

I’ve heard you enjoy hosting game nights. Describe a typical game night at your house.

Food, fun, and chaos.

We’re blessed with several families and many friends who enjoy gaming, so we try to have anywhere from two to nine game nights a month at our place. Typically we have one family at a time, and we’ll eat dinner, then open up the table to play. And, by “open the table,” I should say that we have a custom gaming table. Because we’re nerds like that.

It has a three-inch-deep vault that allows us to set up games in advance (like Settlers of Catan or Arkham Horror), cover the game, eat dinner like normal people do, then open up and start playing. (It’s also great for hordes of Legos or puzzles!) Oftentimes I’ll use our friends as an excuse to bake dessert, because I love to bake, and if I bake when it’s just our family, I will also eat everything myself.

Mike and R.J. as Shinsui and Nanao from “Bleach.”

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?

That not everything be so sexualized. Seriously now, girls can be nerds and, no, we don’t all want to be in Princess Leia bikinis. Give us books with strong females who go through a lot, but come out victorious — and by all means, let her rely on her girl and guy friends during those trials, but don’t let her be a damsel in distress all the time. Give her balance. A dose of reality. Give us video games with kick-butt women who aren’t scantily clad or relying on their feminine wiles or so overly butch that they don’t even fall into the category of “lady.” Give us ladies who are strong. Ladies who are compassionate. Ladies who can cry — and who can fight.

And, I just have to say it. Enough of the boob armor. It’s a great way to get killed. A real chest plate would deflect a sword, not invite it to cleave the breastbone. Give us women who are smart enough to pick the right gear for combat!

R.J. and Mike as “Lancette” and Pidge from “Voltron: Legendary Defender.”

Let’s talk about some of your many, many fandoms, beginning with anime and manga. How were you first introduced to these Japanese art forms? What are some of your favorite titles?

Again, I blame Mike. He had a job in high school, so he could afford all the imports. Between him and our church friends (who we affectionately called “the Russians,” as that’s where they were from), I had close to an unending stream of anime at my fingertips.

Classic favorites that I love: Rurouni Kenshin (we have all the manga), Full Metal Alchemist (we have all the manga, the original series, and the new series, Brotherhood), TriGun, Fruits Basket, Madoka Magika … I still love the first two arcs of Bleach, but the story tanked on the final arc, and I’m still not over that disappointment.

As a gamer, you’re into Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. How much time would you say you’ve spent immersed in these worlds?

In my entire lifetime? More time than I should’ve. A culmination that spreads beyond a week? I don’t know. I’m scared to think about it.

You’re a fan of fantasy BFFs C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Who’s your favorite resident of Narnia?

Oh. Whales. That’s a hard one. Lucy? Edmund? Probably Edmund. I love his character development.

Who’s your favorite resident of Middle-Earth?

Aragorn. Hands down.

Which do you love more, Tolkien’s novels or their film adaptations?

Aghhh! How can you ask such a hard question? I don’t know! I really enjoy how the movies streamlined the story, letting go of some of the slower plot points. But I also don’t like the movies because they streamlined the story and left out of some really cool world-building bits. (I’ll just say, as a seamstress and costumer, I still drool over the outfits.) I like the immersion of the books, and the beauty of the movie. I can’t decide.

This is one of those questions that’s going to keep me up at night, you know that?

R.J. Metcalf and her “framily,” a group of writer friends.

When it comes to Harry Potter fandom, you’re a SlytherPuff. That’s one I haven’t encountered before. How exactly does that work?

Mike and I have a close group of writer friends that we refer to as “the Paladins” or our “framily,” and they’re the ones that first pointed out my SlytherPuff tendencies. I confess that I have a notebook with pages of notes on people. Likes, dislikes, food allergies (I love to bake and cook and don’t want to accidentally poison someone!), and along with all those innocuous notes, I also have addresses, birthdates, relatives, etc. The framily calls me crazy. I call it detail-oriented. I’m friendly and welcoming to just about everyone. I’m also watching everyone and everything, deducing weaknesses and strengths. I’m a housecat. Fluffy and friendly with claws and teeth.

You’re an aficionado of the Stars Wars Original Expanded Universe. How did you discover it? What are some of your favorite EU storylines or characters?

I think I got my first Star Wars book in third grade. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. I was hooked and had to get my hands on every book that I could find. (My poor parents spent so much money on their book-addict of a daughter’s collection) I mentioned the NJO series already, but that was really formative for me, as it came out during my junior high and high school years.

I really related to Jaina, I cried (spoiler warning!) when Anakin died, and my heart broke for Jacen. Everything after that series, especially in regards to the twins … oh man. So many feels. I remember occasionally having to just set the book down so I could breathe and calm down my raging emotions. I want to make readers feel the same about my series.

So … are you a fan of the new generation of Star Wars films Disney is churning out?

Come to Dark side. We have the old EU.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be so bitter about the new Star Wars stuff if they gave it the same treatment they did Marvel. With the Marvel movies, they allowed the comic books and other ongoing things to continue. With the new Star Wars, they axed all the stuff that was planned to come out, then they started discontinuing some of the books. It hurt.

All my Star Wars books are boxed up and in the garage right this moment, because I was too bitter to keep looking at them. (It took over seven boxes to get them all, too.) **deep sigh**

If they had said, “Hey, we’ll finish what we started, wrap it up, just know that these older stories are a different time continuum,” or something like that, I’d be fine. Then we could have our glorious old friends and enjoy the new stuff. But no. They burned that bridge. (I think this is the calmest I’ve discussed the new Star Wars yet)

As for the new movies … The special effects are pretty.

R.J. Metcalf and friends participate in a Voltron cosplay.

You’re also a “Voltron: Legendary Defender” enthusiast. What do you love about the animated series?

Everything! It’s something we can watch with our kids, and our eldest loves to quote it. The story has been fun, and for the most part, the pacing has been pretty good. Characters are complex enough for us adults, and yet family friendly enough for our boys. It’s tense, yet has laughter.

Our framily cosplayed at Realm Makers last year as the Paladins along with Empress Zarkona and Prince Alluran. Basically, we used Rule 63, which states that for every male character, there’s a female version in another world, and same for female characters. Our group ratio was perfect for that, and we ran with it.

Also … Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir! I confess I’ve seen that on the Netflix queue but am not familiar with it. Sell me on it.

Irony abounds in a love square that will have you agonizing and laughing all at once. Two “average” Parisian kids have magical amulets (earrings for Marinette, a ring for Adrien) that turn them into superheroes. Marinette has a crush on Adrien, but he has a crush on the superhero Ladybug. Adrien’s alter ego, Chat Noir, is constantly flirting with Ladybug, and she’s constantly turning him down. Marinette has no idea that she’s turning down Adrien, and Adrien has no idea that his classmate is Ladybug. It’s painfully ironic while also being funny, super cute, and did I mention ironic?

Yo-ho, yo-ho, Pirates of the Caribbean is another one of your things. Why are you particularly obsessed with this Disney attraction?

The attraction at Disneyland means shade from the burning summer sun. And it could be said the first movie was Mike’s and my first date, so it holds a special place in my heart. Back in high school, we were allowed to hang out together, but I wasn’t allowed to date yet. So when the movie came out, we used his little sister as our chaperone and went out to see the movie in the theater. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

Do you have any other writing projects currently in the works?

Well, I just got “Void Born” (book two) back from my editor, and Mike finished outlining “Traitor’s Crown” (book three) last night. I’m going to be editing “Void Born” first, then diving back into “Betrayal by Blood” (the prequel) to edit that and get that over to my editor, too.

Basically, yes. So many writing projects. Assuming I can stay on top of all my deadlines and we don’t have anything big that hinders progress, I’ll be able to take a breather in summer of 2020.

**laughs, then twitches**

Are there any dream writing projects you’d like to tackle in the future?

I’d say I’m living my writing dream! I just got my ARC’s (Advanced Reader Copy) in the mail today, and holding the physical form of book has been absolutely surreal.

Where can we purchase a copy of “Renegade Skyfarer”?

Amazon! It’ll be available on Kindle (and it can be preordered now), and the paperback will be available on Amazon July 1.

You can also follow me on my website — rjmetcalf.com — or on my Twitter — @StonesOfTerrene — for more updates as they come.

 

5 Ways Free Comic Book Day Will Help You Work Through Your ‘Infinity War’ Trauma

SPOILER ALERT: If you still haven’t seen “Avengers: Infinity War” and have managed to dodge spoilers so far, maybe skip this story. It’s got ’em. 

It’s been a week since “Avengers: Infinity War” smashed its way into theaters like a great, green Hulk set on breaking our hearts, along with box office records.

For the love … er, I mean … hate of Thanos, we were not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster of watching our most beloved Marvel superheroes fight their darndest to save the universe only to dissolve into pixelated ashes and cease to exist.

Many of us are still trying to process the feelings of shock, disbelief, and downright grief triggered by the sudden demise of half the population of the MCU, including Gamora, Doctor Strange, Bucky Barnes, Star-Lord, teenage Groot, poor, poor Spidey, and our new favorite, Black Panther. Oh, yes, and Nick Fury. (You did not just kill Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Feige!)

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Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope shining through, like Thor appearing out of the sky with flashes of lightning and glowing eyes, clutching Stormbreaker. For today is Free Comic Book Day!

Scheduled annually the first Saturday in May, Free Comic Book Day is the time when participating comic book shops hand out free comic books to anyone who sets foot in their stores. The event was launched in 2002 by a panel of retailers, publishers, suppliers, and Diamond Comic Distributors.

Many shops also organize special activities, including cosplay, signings, gaming and tournaments, kid-friendly fun, demos, raffles, and other surprises, which makes for the ultimate geek day out.

What does the pain, carnage, and devastation of “Infinity War” have to do with Free Comic Book Day, you might ask?

Well, the event is a welcome opportunity for those of us still reeling from the movie to band together and begin the healing process we so desperately need.

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Here are five ways Free Comic Book Day will help you work through your “Infinity War” trauma:

1. Embrace a little retail therapy: The best part of Free Comic Book Day is the free stuff, of course, but nothing lifts the Thanos-shattered spirit like a geeky shopping spree. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting your local comic shop and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have all these amazing Marvel movies to delight and traumatize us.

So, pick up those new books you’ve been wanting to try, along with some awesome merch (many retailers also sell action figures, collectibles, T-shirts, toys, and other goodies), and spend that cash until you don’t feel like crying anymore.

2. Commiserate with fellow fans: As I mentioned above, Free Comic Book Day is a great excuse to hang out with fellow geeks and comic fans. If your local store is going all out, it often feels like a mini comic-con with a festival atmosphere. If you’re looking for like-minded people to discuss your “Infinity War” questions and theories with, there is no better place or time. Most of the fans assembled for the event are feeling your pain and there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

3. Find clues to where the next movie is going: One way to “move on” from the misery of “Infinity War” is to spend the many months until the fourth, untitled Avengers movie arrives dreaming up theories about where the franchise may be headed. We were already given a tantalizing teaser in the end credits, so you may want to bone up on your Captain Marvel knowledge or explore the origins of dastardly mass murderer Thanos.

Comic book options include The Infinity Saga; Thanos Wins; the Fear Itself run by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker; Captain America: Reborn; and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “In Pursuit of Flight.” If you’re not sure what to read, just ask the shop owner or staff. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

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4. Healing through humor: “Infinity War” went to dark, dark places we don’t typically except to go to in Marvel movies, like genocide, for instance, and that moment when your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man dies in Tony Stark’s arms. (I’m not crying. You’re crying.) Maybe it’s time to step back from all that goth gloom for a while and chill out with some of the lighter, funnier comic book titles available.

Options include Scott Pilgrim, One-Punch Man, Deadpool, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe. Your friendly neighborhood comic shop staff will help you find titles that encourage humorous healing.

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5. Remember, superheroes never really die: Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Vision, and our other favorite Marvel heroes may have disintegrated before our eyes, but deep down we know most of them will return, probably in the next Avengers movie. They also live on forever, immortalized in hundreds of different comic book incarnations.

So, if you’re missing Black Panther, maybe pick up one or two of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent stories about Wakanda. Or, if you’re inconsolable about the loss of Doctor Strange, why not check out some of the good Doc’s earliest titles from 1969? Again, if you don’t know what to read, just ask the comic shop staff.

If you’re wondering where you can celebrate Free Comic Book Day, there’s a shop locator on this website. Discover Los Angeles also put together this list of participating shops in L.A.

Now, let’s put a smile back on your face (but not in a creepy Joker kind of way).

 

Loyal Browncoat, actor, cosplayer keeps the ‘Firefly’ faith for more than a decade

There are few fandoms as fiercely passionate and loyal as the Browncoats — devotees of the abruptly cancelled TV series “Firefly” who remain dedicated to Joss Whedon’s sci-fi/western cult classic and still pine for its return.

Actor Rebecca Safier has been keeping the “Firefly” faith for over a decade. After discovering the series and feature film “Serenity,” she became a volunteer, secretary, and board member for the California Browncoats, a nonprofit group that raises money for charity through promotional events related to the show.

As a result of her involvement with the California Browncoats, she’s logged many, many hours at conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con, appeared as a character who gets eaten by zombies in a novella set at SDCC, participated in an accidental staring contest with Nathan Fillion, cosplayed as the ethereal but lethal River (played by Summer Glau), befriended nerd queen Felicia Day, and played small parts on geek favorites “The Guild” and “Dragon Age.”

A fangirl since before social media and the internet made rabid fandoms commonplace, Rebecca’s first obsession was classic “The X-Files,” followed by a deep dive into the world of the 1996 TV series “The Pretender.” 

With the fate of the California Browncoats in a state of uncertainty at the moment, Rebecca may be ready to move on, but when it comes to “Firefly,” she can’t stop the signal. 

Rebecca Safier as River from “Firefly” with a unicorn at San Diego Comic-Con.

You’re a board member and secretary of the California Browncoats. For those who don’t know, what is a Browncoat?

Browncoats are fans of the show “Firefly” and/or the film “Serenity.” As seen during flashbacks in the show, the name is taken from a term for members of the rebellion in which two of the show’s protagonists had fought.

California Browncoats is a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the fandoms of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” TV series and the “Serenity” movie. Members raise money for charity through conventions, auctions, and other events. How did you first become involved with the group?

I met James Riley (one of the founding members of California Browncoats) at a “Serenity” promotional fan event at Universal Studios in August of 2005. He and some other fans in both Northern and Southern California had already been exhibiting at conventions to promote the fandom and the upcoming film. I’d actually been to their booth at San Diego Comic-Con the previous month, but I didn’t know anyone at the time. I ended up volunteering with prep and working at the booth the following year.

In 2007, the organization incorporated due to the large amounts of donations being taken in at events. A few years later, some of the founding members decided to move on, and I was asked to join the board of directors.

When and how were you introduced to the “Firefly” television series?

I was aware of it when it was on. I remember thinking it sounded interesting, but I was in college, and I had a job on Friday evenings, and DVR was not available to me. It basically fell off my radar. It turns out I was late to the party on all of the Whedon shows. Around the time “Buffy” was ending, a friend told me I should have been watching it, so I borrowed DVDs.

At some point, I found out this show I was now enjoying had the same creator as that other show I was previously interested in, so of course I also tracked down “Firefly.” Looking back, I’m ok with not having watched “Firefly” originally because, unlike early fans of the show, I got to watch the episodes in the correct order, and I only had to wait a few months for the movie.

Rebecca as River battles Captain Hammer (her friend Todd) at San Diego Comic-Con in 2008.

Firefly” was infamously cancelled after just 11 episodes and then released on DVD by Fox after a massive fan outcry. What was your reaction to the cancellation of the show?

Well, it didn’t affect me at the time, but I do remember after I watched the final episode, I immediately went online to make sure I’d heard correctly there was a movie in production.

The short-lived series premiered in 2002. Why do you think it still holds a place in the heart of so many fans?

It’s just so good. I often find if I go back and re-watch a series, there are some weak episodes I might skip. Firefly doesn’t have any of those. All the characters are great, and you can just tell that everyone involved enjoyed it. I think that feeling is contagious.

Tell me about the role you play as a board member and secretary of California Browncoats.

Well, the board makes all the major decisions for the organization. We decide what events we’ll attend (or create) and select the charity those events will benefit (based on suggestions from, or past support from, “Firefly” cast and crew). We also appoint a chairperson for each event and oversee that all necessary planning is done.

As secretary, I maintain the legal paperwork and take meeting minutes. I also hold the office of Talent Relations, so during event planning, I’m the point of contact for anyone who may be making an appearance.

What do you most enjoy about being so deeply involved in the group?

We are a company, and it is work, but it’s also a group of friends from different parts of California that I wouldn’t necessarily see as often if we weren’t working events together. Also, we’ve supported some great charities.

Rebecca, as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” villain Illyria, works the California Browncoats booth at San Diego Comic-Con.

Have you volunteered at a lot of events with the Browncoats? What are some of your favorites?

Oh, yes. As I said above, I started as a volunteer technically a year before the company incorporated. There was a time when we had several events per year: the conventions run by Comic-Con International, a couple smaller cons, Can’t Stop the Serenity (a charity event), and a few events we organized ourselves or co-sponsored. I didn’t ever get to WonderCon when it was in San Francisco, but I was at almost all of the rest.

Something we’ve had since the early days is a meeting room at SDCC. We make announcements about cool upcoming products or other news Browncoats might be interested in. I used to be in charge of planning what would happen in there.

One year, I had several speakers scheduled, and right in the middle of Shawna Trpcic talking about the series costume design, Nathan Fillion walked in the room. It stressed me out at the time because my schedule went out the window, but it was really cool. There’s also a hilarious picture from a moment when Nathan realized he kept looking at me, since my chair was on the stage, so he decided to stare me down. And afterwards, I got to joke about that time Nathan Fillion crashed my party.

Nathan Fillion “stars down” Rebecca in the Browncoats Meeting Room at San Diego Comic-Con 2009. Photo by @bixmediocre with permission.

How does working a convention differ from simply attending it? 

Last year, I went to my first convention in probably 10 years as just an attendee, and it was really strange. I could just walk around the exhibit hall and not have to worry about what time it was and whether I needed to be back at the booth for a shift. I could make the choice to go wait for a few hours in line for a really popular panel. I can still do that when I’m working, but there’s a difference when filling out the form for our shift coordinator and, for example, saying I’m busy for a six-hour block of time so I can be in Ballroom 20 for a 3 p.m. panel. I can do it occasionally and know I’ll probably be working for the last three hours of the day, but I have to be much more selective about making that request.

Who’s your favorite “Firefly” character and why?

River. As a character, I enjoy her journey from basically helpless (for all we know) to saving the day. As an actor, Summer Glau and I are similar types, especially back when the show was new. We also used to have an inside joke that I had to test if our storage containers were the right size for us to use.

Rebecca tests out a storage container in homage to her favorite “Firefly” character, River.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I don’t think I specifically have a favorite, but if I was forced to choose and only had time to watch one episode, it would possibly be “Out of Gas.” It’s a little bit of everything from the series in one episode.

Are you a fan of the “Serenity” movie?

I wanted to say of course I am, but I do know someone who likes “Firefly” but not “Serenity.” But yeah, I like the movie. Remember, I’m a River fan.

Were you devastated by the death of Wash (played by Alan Tudyk)?

Yes, both Wash and Book. But, of course, Wash was the big surprise/shock moment, and as a viewer, you don’t get a lot of recovery time after that one.

Alan is actually the most recent cast member to make an appearance with us, and he’s great. After the event, he even sent us a box of signed things for future fundraising.

Is it my imagination or did you appear as a character in a piece of “Firefly” fanfiction?

I’m not sure about fanfiction, but I am a character in a mostly unrelated novella. One of our board members was acquainted with Seanan McGuire, and she was writing a prequel to her “Newsflesh” series (written as Mira Grant) in which the zombie virus outbreak happened at SDCC. She wanted to do it as a fundraiser, so we auctioned off two characters to be named and modeled after the highest bidders.

Then, to make it more authentic, she also used the California Browncoats members. I hadn’t yet met her, so she just used a little questionnaire. I think she got me pretty well, except “Doctor Who” is not one of my fandoms. I guess that’s how you can tell us apart. Fictional Rebecca who likes that series is the one who gets eaten by zombies in “San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats.”

You’re a cosplayer and one of the characters you’ve portrayed is River. Tell me about the process of putting costume together. What sort of fan reaction did you get with that cosplay?

I guess the actor in me gravitates towards characters that are my type, and River was a good match for me. All of my cosplays are on the obscure side, but I think that makes it more fun when someone knows it. River mostly wears normal clothes, so it’s not really recognizable if you’re a solo cosplayer. However, there is the outfit from the beginning of “Serenity” that stands out, so that’s the one I picked. It’s still pretty simple, and as the film gets older, it seems to get recognized less, but people at least know it when I’m at our booth.

When and how did you get into cosplay?

I didn’t really know about cosplay, but I went to my first convention in 2001 and entered a character lookalike contest, so I guess that was my first official cosplay? Or maybe it was the She-Ra costume my mom made me when I was 5 that I wore all the time. However, in 2005, my then-roommate, Dana, asked me if I could make her an Illyria costume for Comic-Con because we were planning to go that year for the first time and as a joke I said I should make one for me too. Then it turned out to be less of a joke.

You sew your own costumes. That sounds challenging. Tell me more about that. 

My mom enrolled me in a sewing class when I was in kindergarten. I sewed some things occasionally but didn’t really do much with it. Years later, I needed pants for work and was having trouble finding a good fit, and in the process of making my own, my roommate got an idea.

“Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon poses with Rebecca and her roommate Dana, the twin Illyrias, at San Diego Comic-Con 2008.

You’ve cosplayed as characters from Whedon’s other series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” I’d like to hear more about those and other cosplays you’ve done.

Illyria was basically a leap into the deep end of cosplay. The show was recently ended, so there wasn’t a lot of reference material, and there are a lot of pieces to that bodysuit and makeup. I had to watch the fight scene between Illyria and Spike over and over to get the best angles. It’s also the cosplay that has drawn the most attention. We really weren’t expecting that much from a character who was in just a few episodes, but people do know it, and even if they don’t know the character, it’s still a cool costume. And then there was the time that Joss spotted us on the con floor and came up to us.

For a while I also had Dawn’s blue gown from “Once More With Feeling.” I know Dawn gets a lot of hate, but I really liked that dress.

Outside of the Whedonverse, I did Kira from “The Dark Crystal.” I still pull that one out every once in a while. The wings broke a long time ago, but they’re too big to deal with at SDCC now anyway.

Then there’s my most obscure one: Bibi from “The Apple.” Maybe three people per year recognize it when I wear it, but I enjoy a good hilariously bad movie, and “The Apple” is my favorite. Sadly, I don’t have good pictures of that one, and I’m saving up for new boots because my old ones aren’t wearable anymore, so I don’t know if I’ll have it with me this year.

Rebecca as Kira from “The Dark Crystal” with fantasy illustrator Brian Froud at San Diego Comic-Con 2007.

You haven’t had as much time to cosplay lately because you’ve been busy working conventions, but you said you have one cosplay you really want to do. Will you let us in on what that is?

I don’t know! I kinda want to say so that it’s in print and I have to do it, but it’s quite elaborate, and if I don’t get around to it soon, I’ll be mad at myself for saying I was going to do it. I think I’m going to keep it a secret. Sorry!

Does cosplay come naturally to you since you also happen to be an actor?

Probably. I like playing dress-up.

Your bio says you’ve been acting since you were 5 years old. What attracted you to that art form?

I didn’t always want acting specifically, but I wanted to perform. My grandmother had season tickets to the Pennsylvania Ballet and used to take me with her. I started dance classes at 5, and I was in a play in kindergarten. I guess it just stuck. However, I did go through a brief teenage phase of wanting to go into parapsychology. It wasn’t entirely because of “The X-Files,” but it definitely coincided with my obsession with that show. But then it was back to acting for me. Now I get to pretend I’m a ghost or an alien (I’ve been both).

You earned a degree in theater from Northwestern University. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

Hmm … I don’t know about most important, but here’s one that can tie into the geek theme. One of my favorite classes was Children’s Theater. We examined entertainment for young audiences and how the argument “it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not because it’s for kids” is nonsense. It is completely possible to make entertainment for children that they enjoy and that adults like too. It’s been interesting having that situation come up in fandoms, where certain entries in a series that weren’t as well received were then dismissed as “for kids,” and I don’t buy it.

Rebecca in the green room of “The Guild” Season 5.

So … you met Felicia Day through your convention activities and subsequently played a small part in “The Guild,” which earns you major geek cred. Please tell me all about that experience. 

We actually met at SDCC after “The Guild” Season 1. They didn’t have a booth, and through Whedonverse tangents and acquaintances, they ended up sharing ours for part of the time. Then when she needed help with some behind-the-scenes stuff for Season 2, I was available. A few years later, she had a part for me in Season 5. I was in the green room with Brent Spiner and Grant Imahara and Richard Hatch. I’d met geek idols before, and I’d been on set before, but this was the first time I got to combine the two. It was great.

Is Felicia Day as utterly cool as she seems?

Haha … she told me to say no. But yes, aside from being awesome to me and putting me in her projects, she and Jane Espenson recently teamed up to do some spring cleaning and donated a bunch of items to California Browncoats for fundraising purposes. It took two cars to get it all to our storage location.

Rebecca in costume as an elf on the set of “Dragon Age: Redemption.”

You also played a background elf in Day’s “Dragon Age” series. I need more details, please.

This is actually one of my favorite stories. I got an email from Kim Evey in November 2010 asking me if I was available on a day in January. I thought it was a typo and had to check if she meant December. When I got to set, Felicia told me she had Kim contact me early because she figured I needed to be an elf and wanted to make sure I was available. That made my day. Possibly my year. I did need to be an elf. If you don’t watch the main action, you can find me wandering around the Dalish camp in Episode 2.

You’ve said that as an actor you get to “watch tons of TV and movies” and “get to pretend it’s research.” Where do I sign up?

It’s actually something I was taught in school, even if I wasn’t doing it already. Watch the shows you could be working on and know what the show is like if you go in for an audition. As a geek blogger, I’m sure you have the same excuse. Know your fandoms!

One of your more interesting acting roles was as a “creature suit performer” in the sci-fi movie “Vanquisher.” Again, I need more details.

I was actually unaware that movie had come out! It was filmed so long ago and they kept pushing the release date. I think at one point my credit had been “skinless Zorn” and I’m not sure why they changed it. It was an interesting shoot, though.

It was my first time in full prosthetics and they covered me in shampoo to make me slimy (I was an alien with no skin). After the makeup was off, I forgot I was wearing black contacts and made myself jump when I caught a glimpse in the mirror. Back then, I was really into “Supernatural” and I think also “Charmed,” so getting to wear the “demon eyes” was probably my favorite part.

You’ve also been a stand-in for HBO’s “Westworld.” What was that like?

In terms of actor day jobs, I prefer working on set in any capacity than doing anything else, and standing in often involves some acting anyway. We do the rehearsals for lighting and camera while the cast is changing wardrobe, in hair and makeup, or not on set for any other reason. I’ve actually been a stand-in on many shows.

I was surprised a few months ago to learn “Westworld” gave me a credit, which hasn’t happened before. I like the show even better than I already did, especially since I was just filling in for one of the regular stand-ins! As for the actual shoot, I don’t think there’s much I’m allowed to say. I don’t want to get in trouble with HBO.

Rebecca wears her Space Camp shirt to watch the Space Shuttle Endeavor roll through the streets of Los Angeles.

You’re a self-described “sci-fi/fantasy geek.” Tell me your geek origin story. I understand you attended Space Camp twice as a kid, so it must have started early.

Yeah, it started so early, I don’t actually remember. I’m sure I got some of it from my parents. My mom liked Star Trek (The Original Series). I think I started watching “The Next Generation” because my dad was watching it. I was obsessed with “The Ewok Adventure” when I was little, and I vaguely remember thinking I could speak Ewok. I used to dress up as She-Ra all the time. I saw “Labyrinth” in the theater when I was 4 and it’s been my favorite movie ever since.

My cousin, who is a few years older than me, went to Space Camp, and I guess I wanted to do it too when I was old enough. I enjoyed it and went back to the program they have for middle school students. I definitely don’t like all of the geeky things, but my personal circle on a geek Venn diagram would contain a lot.

Rebecca at a screening of “Star Trek II” in 70 mm.

Space nerdom does not die. You’ve recently been reading a lot of astronaut autobiographies. What’s the fascination?

Out of the population of the world, only a handful of people have left the planet and come back and written books about being in the space program. So that’s one thing. I’d had a few of those books on a list I’d been meaning to get around to reading. One day, I needed to kill some time before going home and was near a small library branch and decided to see what they had that was on my list. They had Deke Slayton’s book, so I got to check that one off.

That one is fun if you’re into NASA history because it has his thoughts on all the flight assignments he handled, including the ones that didn’t happen due to changes/accidents. Occasionally, I’ll keep checking another astronaut book off the list. The most recent one I read was Jim Lovell’s book, which was the basis for the movie “Apollo 13,” and I found the chapter at the end about how they figured out what caused the explosion really fascinating.

Fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle (“The Last Unicorn”) is your favorite fiction author. How did you discover Beagle’s work and what do you love about it?

I think like many of Peter’s fans these days, I first saw the animated film “The Last Unicorn” when I was little. Just like my geek origin story, I’m not sure where my unicorn obsession started, but it could have been there. In high school, I ended up with a copy of “Immortal Unicorn,” which is a collection of unicorn-themed short stories Peter curated. The story of his that was included was my favorite in the book, so I decided to seek out the rest (starting with “The Last Unicorn”).

I like fantasy films, but I often find it hard to read fantasy books. I tend to wander when there’s extensive world building in text. I love the characters, but also with the way Peter uses language, he can hold my attention even when there are (gasp!) no unicorns. In fact, my favorite book is the non-unicorn, unconventional ghost story “A Fine and Private Place.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of his pre-2016 books. With his current legal difficulties, I want to get the new ones directly from him (even though I’ve been so impatiently waiting for “Summerlong” since it was announced about 18 years ago), so a friend of mine who is going to Dragon Con already knows she’s getting a shopping list.

You’re also into old-school detective/adventure-style video games, like Myst and Nancy Drew. Do you secretly dream of sleuthing?

I mean, not professionally, but I’d love to go to an escape room and just haven’t gotten a chance yet.

A portion of Rebecca’s “X-Files” magazine collection.

The original “X-Files” was one of your early obsessions and that was before Internet fandoms proliferated. How was it different from the fandoms of today?

I actually haven’t been active in an online TV fandom in quite a long time. There have been so many technology/website changes, I’m not even sure where you go now (Facebook?), but there are probably similarities in terms of fans and their interactions with each other. “The X-Files” wasn’t before internet fandoms, but it was before I had access to internet.

I mainly read X-Files Magazine and other entertainment magazines when they did stories on the show. Plus, I had a good friend who was also obsessed with the show, so I didn’t need to find anyone else to chat with. Eventually, I did get internet, and I knew about “X-Philes” but I’m not sure why I never sought it out. I guess by then the show was huge, and I ended up gravitating toward the small group I found to chat about another show …

Rebecca as Miss Parker (played by Andrea Parker) from “The Pretender” in a lookalike contest at a “Pretender” convention in 2001.

Your entry to Internet fandom came with the 1996 series “The Pretender.” I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed anyone who had that experience. What did you like about it and how did you express your fandom for that series?

I had been a fan of the show and the concept of a genius who could do anything, but I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. After a couple seasons of that, I got to college and was exposed to unlimited broadband internet. I had been experimenting with IRC and somehow found the chat room #thecentre and met a couple people there who told me a good place to hang out was the Yahoo Club (they were clubs before groups) for the actor Jamie Denton.

There were scheduled chats after episodes aired, and you could also just be in the chat room whenever, with people all over the world in different time zones, and sometimes Jamie would jump in. The woman who ran that club organized a convention that I went to. After the show was cancelled and TNT stopped making movies, Jamie changed his professional name to James and went on to other things, and we as a fandom followed him. I stayed active into the days of “Desperate Housewives” before the group dynamic changed and I ended up having to focus more on Browncoat activities.

Returning to the subject of “Firefly,” do you feel like recent revelations about Whedon’s treatment of women have put a damper on the fandom at all?

I’m not actually sure. I know there were some things said online where some people seemed to be reading more into it in light of everything else going on with men in Hollywood, which as far as I know isn’t what happened with him. He probably fell off a pedestal for some fans, but we were just at WonderCon, and our booth traffic was basically equal to last year, and no one brought the subject up to me.

While we’re on that subject, as a woman is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of geek culture and fandoms?

Oh, sure. I’ve been grabbed at con. I think it’s silly when there’s an uproar over a fictional character being cast as female. I don’t know that I can add anything that isn’t just agreeing with things other people have already said.

“Even though I’m not super obsessive about (“The X-Files”) anymore, when it came back, I had to go to the photo op at The Grove,” Rebecca said. “Not visible: I’m definitely wearing a 20-year-old ‘X-Files’ sweatshirt.”

I’ve heard the California Browncoats might actually be calling it quits after San Diego Comic-Con in July. How would that impact you?

We made an announcement at the end of last year that we were looking to close the organization unless we could find other people to take it over. All of the founding members have resigned, and those of us who took their places are ready to do the same. As I said, I’ve been involved for over a decade. I’ll be a little sad, but I’m ready to step down and focus on other things.

We did get some interest and are currently in talks with a few people, so we’ll see how it goes. Either way, I don’t know what it will be like in the future if I choose to stop by where our booth has always been. It will probably be really weird. There was only one year where I went to SDCC and I wasn’t working at a Browncoats booth in the back of Hall A.

Do you feel that interest in “Firefly” is declining?

I don’t think it’s declining exactly, but there are so many new shows. There’s only so much a fan can focus on. There are a few companies that have merchandise licenses, and there was a recent announcement about a new series of “Firefly” novels (and one of the authors is a friend of California Browncoats, Nancy Holder, so that’s really cool). People still want “Firefly” things and get excited when they see them, but it might be less of a priority for some. However, almost everyone will still say something about wanting Netflix or an equivalent to step in and make more episodes.

As a fan, would you still be interested in seeing a “Firefly” reboot, reunion, or new movie?

I’d say a tentative “yes.” I’m concerned about a crowd-funded production where the creators feel pressure to include fan service elements that may affect the story quality. I think if a more open-minded studio picked it up and the timing was right for everyone involved, it could work.

Is there a future for “Firefly”?

You can’t stop the signal.

 

Catherine Elhoffer saves geek fashion, one clever, inclusive design at a time (with pockets!)

For geek fashionistas who struggle to find cute, comfortable clothes that reflect their fandoms and accommodate their curves, or who long for quality wardrobe staples that go beyond disposable, flimsy T-shirts, or pine for the luxury and convenience of pockets in that adorable nerd dress, Elhoffer Design has become something of a safe harbor.

With a personal passion for pop culture, a background in costume design, and experience gained from gigs with a couple of major geek fashion companies, Catherine Elhoffer launched a unique one-woman operation that specializes in subtle, playful designs that evoke beloved characters from Star Wars to Harry Potter, Game of Thrones to Ghibli, and Doctor Who to Hamilton.

Catherine’s painstaking, hands-on attention to detail, emphasis on craftsmanship and quality, and compassionate dedication to empowering the “lady-nerds” she knows and understands has gained her a steadfast and appreciative customer base that clamors for her latest offering, whether it’s a dusty rose frock with a floaty skirt inspired by Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo or the perfect, rainbow-striped sweater inspired by a certain Time Lord.

(Pssst, she just revealed part of her Treat Yo Self collection, based on the “Parks and Recreation” TV series.)

When it comes to the limitations of the geek fashion industry, Catherine is wonderfully candid about the never-ending “size/fit” battle, society’s weird beauty standards, diversity as good business practice, and the absolute necessity for pockets in women’s apparel.

Most of all, she’s determined to do what she can to make a difference. 

Your fashion company, Elhoffer Design, offers “Geek-Bound” apparel with subtle nods to a wide variety of fandoms. I love that your designs aren’t obvious, but clearly embody the spirit of the characters they portray. How did you arrive at this approach to geek fashion?

So I come from a costume design background with a degree and years of professional costume design work in film/web/TV/commercials, and I use that when approaching designing apparel since it’s all inspired by pop culture icons.

I can take the costumes or character style and break down the lines, colors, textures, and all that work and then funnel it into a fashion piece. I work very organically in that I’m not saying, “Oh, Princess Leia is huge, I need to do something with her silver/white belt printed onto a T-shirt,” but instead let the inspiration hit me when it’s right (for my latest Princess top, that was from seeing a fan art piece come across my twitter feed of her in her white dress … and my brain just clicked everything in place. It needs to be a crop top with an oversized top, raglan sleeve, big hood under a turtleneck … It wasn’t forced).

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

Most of my pieces are a mix of character inspiration and modern fashion trends. I do a lot of Google image searching for different fashion styles I want to do (like coming up is flutter sleeves) and then seeing how people are executing that style. I’ll often stumble across other looks or styles and I’ll just pull that image into an “inspo” folder and go through that folder when I’m wanting a refresher for looks I like.

Cardigans from Elhoffer Design’s Everyday Witch Apparel line.

Can you tell me a little about the process that goes into designing a piece?

I always draw something up first, whether it’s hand drawn in my sketchbook or digitally drawn up on my iPad. If it’s a cut/sew piece (like a dress or a blouse), I then normally make a sample piece in my sewing studio first as my factories sometimes get confused by my random ideas, because they’re just different than what’s being mass made right now.

If it’s a sweater, I have to print out the “art” to size so that the factory can program the knit. Then I pick out fabrics/colors or knit styles, pass specs of what things need to be, and wait for samples. The wait can take months depending on the piece. But it’s almost always worth it. Then once the sample arrives it might need tweaks or changes. Almost always notes are needed.

What’s your geek origin story? When did you first discover your geekier inclinations?

I remember watching X-men the animated series when I was 5. I loved that show and ate up every episode. I also got a Sega Genesis when I was 5, and I played it all the time. That was the beginning of the end, honestly.

You studied costume design at university. Why did you decide to pursue this particular art form?

I had joined the local renaissance faire when I was a teenager, and I had taught myself to sew and found that I was kind of naturally good at it as well as loved every second of it. I would whip up costumes overnight and wear them the next day at faire or at different events. And it was fun to see other peoples’ responses when I’d tell them I made something in 10 hours or whatnot. It was a fun challenge.

So when I went to college I discovered the theater costume shop and knew that I had to be there. When talking to the costume design professor, Bonnie Krueger, she looked over my sewing portfolio and, while it was certainly rough, she saw the potential I had. So took me under her wing and I learned so much from her and her decades of experience in theatrical costume design. I don’t know if I would have kept up the program if it wasn’t for her. She was incredibly passionate and always made me feel incredibly special. I also was one student in a program of like three, so it was incredibly small and focused. I was designing a huge 1770s show in my junior year, so I was given opportunities that I was so grateful for.

Forest Neighbor Oversized Sweater from Elhoffer Design’s Friendly Spirits Collection.

There’s something very theatrical about geek fashion. How did your costume design degree prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, costume is just fashion worn with intent, and knowing how to design a costume, I also know how to strip it down, too. So they really line up beautifully. I can take the work that costume designers have labored over and strip that work down to the bare essentials needed to tell the story of a modern look. What would Daenerys Targaryen wear if she was going to a modern gala? What about Lando Calrissian if he was a modern woman heading to give an office presentation? That’s the costume designing I’m doing now.

I understand some of your earliest costumes were inspired by the St. Louis Renaissance Faire and then evolved into Lord of the Rings-inspired clothing. Tell me about that.

I was hugely inspired by the designs in Lord of the Rings, and as I was in the Faery Guild of the Faire, all of us girls in the guild were trying to basically reenact Arwen and Legolas and like all the looks in that movie. I would make a lot of everyday tops for school that had just crazy flaire that reminded me of elvish fashion from the films. Looking back I roll my eyes, because my sewing needed a lot of experience, but the only way to learn is to just do it and learn from your mistakes.

What was your first professional big break?

For my costume design work, which helped get me to where I am now, it was getting my first feature film costume design title and job on “Yellow Rock,” a Western that really tested my knowledge and craft. I learned a ton on that project, including working with difficult personalities as well as getting first-hand mentoring on Lakota history and fashion.

You worked with Her Universe and designed a Totoro-inspired gown for Ashley Eckstein to wear at the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. What did you learn from that experience?

I love that gown so much. Everything I’ve ever made helped me learn more about my own personal design aesthetic and how I translate characters to fashion. That dress was a fun way to make a character into a couture, high fashion piece that could be easily recognizable but still incredibly couture and sleek. It’s still one of my favorite pieces I’ve made. I learned a lot about sewing sequins on that one, as the entire bodice is made from drop sequins, and you have to remove a lot of sequins when sewing high-fashion pieces for them to look right.

You also designed for Welovefine, working on items licensed by Marvel and other major fandoms. That sounds like a geek’s dream come true.

I loved what I did but hated my job. I loved working with licensors and making collections that fans loved and I still get recognized for, but the company was incredibly toxic and, while I learned a ton about clothing production, it was a rough year of my life.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own and launch Elhoffer Design?

WeLoveFine fired me, which was a great kick in the ass to do it solo. I was sick of bosses who didn’t believe women would actually spend money on quality garments, who thought my style was too subtle and wouldn’t read as the character or style … and who would fight me on pockets. I don’t like fighting over pockets. It’s a thing everyone needs to just accept already.

What was the biggest challenge of going solo?

Growing my audience was my biggest fear. I only had 2,000 followers on Instagram when I was fired, and I knew those 2,000 people/accounts weren’t going to be able to keep me afloat. So I started taking orders from friends for dresses or pieces, and then would post pictures of the commission as it was being worked on. I grew pretty quick, which then had even more people reaching out to me to commission apparel.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

Freedom. I love not having to be talked down to by higher-ups who think they know better than me or who think I’m a fake geek girl. I’ve developed relationships with a few factories in Los Angeles who never talk down to me or think I don’t know what I’m doing (though I will joke with them that I am Science Cat and have no idea what I’m doing).

Elhoffer Design’s motto is “helping lady-nerds feel amazing and powerful.” How do you feel your clothing accomplishes this?

To start with, I size my product to women with curves. So my fit is much more accommodating to women with boobs and hips, and when you get a garment that fits you beautifully you instantly feel better about your day. Pockets help, too, because phones don’t have to be shoved into a bra or lost in a purse. And I use simple lines and colors to evoke characters that inspire us all, and when you dress yourself in the morning and put on a top or sweater that reminds you of Khaleesi or a character you love, it’s impossible to not channel that power throughout your day as a reminder that you are a queen and deserve to be treated as one.

One of your priorities is creating fashions for “all shapes and sizes.” Unlike many fashion companies, Elhoffer Design really seems to be doing that. Why is this important to you?

Well I’m a solid XL, even a 2XL in some brands. I’m not small. I’m not skinny. I’m not thin. And I love myself and my body, so it’s about time that I look as good as I feel in my skin. I’m also super short, so I design things that can be hemmed to look good on me, but I have tall friends who also want to feel like queens, so I try to be a bit more diverse with my designs so they can work on different lengths. It’s hard, because mass made clothing (even in the small runs I am doing now) means that you can’t custom make for each person to fit them best, but I try to make pieces that can be easily adjusted to fit different bodies.

Elhoffer Design’s Galactic Baron Wrap Top, left, and Galactic Smuggler Crop Top.

I love that the models you use in your promotional photos are incredibly diverse, not the cookie-cutter types we tend to see in fashion advertising. What’s the thinking behind this?

Well, from my past work experience I found that customers responded when you’d show more than one body type on a site. Also, as a human who also shops online, I like when I can see it on someone more like my shape to make sure I can pull it off. Also, I have a marketing degree, so I know a bit about how to sell things. In general, the more information you can give a potential customer about the product they’re buying, the more likely they are to purchase from you. So why not apply that to clothing and show variety? I can’t accomplish that with every piece every time, because often I’m the one taking the pics and asking friends to model for me, but I am trying my damn hardest as a business of one.

You’ve said fighting the “size/fit” battle is never-ending. What are some of the hurdles you encounter in making clothes that anyone and everyone can feel comfortable in?

Well for bigger shapes in particular there’s a ton of different shapes to design for. Pear, Apple, Triangle, Inverted Triangle … like, not everything can work on every body. But I tend to work with nicer fabrics that have spandex knit or woven into them, which can help fit just a little nicer and a little better on bodies.

I’m also constantly battling society’s standards of beauty and comfort. A lot of women think crop sweaters means they crop just under their boobs and shows off their tummies, so I have customers who are hesitant to buy my cropped cardigans. But I had a customer message me this past weekend who was so thrilled she took that risk on the crops because they pair perfectly with her flared dresses, so it’s a huge hurdle for customers.

Do you think the geek fashion industry in general is doing enough to fight this battle?

Oh, no. The geek fashion industry is still a subset of the fashion industry, which is also doing a terrible job at this as well. Big companies are still making money on whatever they make, so why change the model or fit? It’s selling. If every person stopped shopping from the retailers that are known for poor fit, they’d change their fit instantly. But they’re making money so no need to change.

What would you like to see change in that regard?

I mean, I want real pockets in everything. Not small ones, but real substantial ones. Feminine fits should be for people with boobs, because smaller chested humans can always get things tailored down, but letting things out is nearly impossible with the way modern clothing in manufactured. And decent pattern grading is crucial. Nothing is graded well in the mass market. But I really don’t see that changing.

For those who don’t get the pocket thing, why do so many women get excited about that? 

Those who don’t get it tend to be cis dudes. Pockets allow freedom. You don’t need to carry a bag that hurts your back or shoulder, you don’t have to worry about losing that bag or getting it stolen off of you while walking. When I go to Disneyland I don’t need a bag, I can fit a water bottle, phone, keys, and money in my pockets. It makes it easier to ride the rides, to relax, and to have fun.

Your customers seem very personally invested in your company (they can participate in preorders, which help fund new designs, for instance). How do you cultivate this level of loyalty and trust? 

Well, I try very hard to respond to everyone quickly and basically always appear to be online. It started back when I was doing handmade and I’d post progress pictures and reply to questions and all, because I run my own social media. And as I was starting out doing preorders it was crucial that my customers trust that I’m actually going to deliver the preorder, because there are companies in the geek world who take preorders and then don’t deliver on time or don’t deliver … at all? So I don’t ever want people to think my company is like that.

So communicating online with customers is crucial. Live streams also help my fans and customers see that I’m a single human. While I certainly have teams at my factory, it’s me doing the bulk of the back end work on my site. I want to grow to being more people, but I also want to grow my business safely so I can’t just hire people to do everything for me.

One of your collections, Love is Love is Love Apparel, helps support LGBTQ groups that focus on reducing suicide and aiding in education and support. Why is this cause close to your heart?

Well I have plenty of friends and family who are LGBTQIA, and I want them to know that they’re loved and important and matter. After Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech post-Pulse, and then the recent administration’s hatred towards LGBTQIA humans … I wanted to try and do something. We all have to try and do something.

Elhoffer Design’s Queens of Winter Apparel collection.

What do you personally like to wear?

I live in high-waisted leggings and oversized tops when working.

One of your recent projects is a collection inspired by Valiant Entertainment’s Faith, available at ThinkGeek. Tell me more about that collaboration.

Well, Valiant reached out to me asking if I’d be willing to work with them on a collection, and I can’t say no to that. Once we had ideas and samples, we brought Think Geek into the collab and they were incredibly interested in the designs and collection. It was a long process but was so incredibly rewarding!

You’ve said that Star Wars was your original fandom, but you’re “cooling” on it. Why is that?

Well the fandom is getting a little intense online with the new movies and a lot of people hating on them. That, and I loved the EU (Expanded Universe) so hard and it’s still rough for me to not have a character like Mara Jade to really love. I’m also not a huge fan of the animated series, which seems to be where Star Wars fans are living right now.

I’m also finding, as an adult, it’s hard to give all my time or love to any fandom and it’s hard for me to blindly love things. So my white-hot passion for Star Wars as a teenager has definitely cooled as my fandoms have diversified and my life has become more complicated.

When it comes to geekdom, you have a dazzlingly wide variety of interests. Why don’t we do some fun questions pertaining to your various obsessions?

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Hufflepuff. 100%.

How many hours have you spent playing “Legend of Zelda”?

Too many. Probably 3,000+. I’ve played the SNES one through probably ten times across eight platforms/emulators … And “Breath of the Wild” already has 500 hours logged.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?

“The Next Generation.” Picard is my captain. Always.

Team Spike or Team Angel?

SPIKE. Angel only was good after getting a soul. Spike turned good and then went out and GOT a soul. I love Spike.

Who’s your favorite X-Man?

Kitty Pryde. She has a DRAGON.

Elhoffer Design’s Hamilgown Tunics.

Do you know all the “Hamilton” lyrics?

Almost all. I’m still not fluent in “Yorktown.”

Do you Twitter-stalk Lin Manuel Miranda like the rest of us?

OF COURSE.

Which movie Mr. Darcy is the best Mr. Darcy?

Colin Firth. Though Matthew Mcfadyen is so gorgeous …

What are some of your favorite Disney movies, characters, attractions, etc.?

Hercules, Buzz Light Year Ride, and Princess Aurora.

Which Studio Ghibli movie is your favorite?

“Howl’s Moving Castle.”

You recently returned from exhibiting and doing panels at WonderCon in Anaheim. What was that experience like this year?

It was interesting! It was my first major convention to sell at and I learned a LOT about the show. I love doing panels, too, cause I love talking about all my experience and sharing my knowledge!

Along with your Elhoffer Design work, you create costumes, such as the Princess Leia outfit recently worn by John Barrowman at Awesome Con. What do you enjoy about that?

There’s nothing I don’t love about working with John, he’s such a sweetheart and always wants to make the most CRAZY and awesome costumes! He always wants the “Barrowman Flair,” which is just so enjoyable as a designer to have that freedom to have fun!

Do you do any cosplay yourself?

The only cosplay I’ve ever done to a con was Thor-Girl. And that was so much fun but incredibly exhausting! I hate wigs and makeup, so cosplay is not my forte. That’s why I love bounding. Much easier and more comfy!

What are some of your future plans or dreams for Elhoffer Design?

Grow bigger, make more money, hire my qualified and incredibly talented friends, team up with some amazing designer friends on collabs, keep getting bigger and bigger!

Are there any fandoms you haven’t tackled yet that you’d like to transform into fashions?

Jurassic Park/Dinos. I wanna do NASA, too. Not sure if those qualify as “fandom.”

Let’s (cautiously) celebrate Hollywood’s new favorite trend: female directors

Image result for ava duvernay queen sugar
Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.

Here at No Man’s Land, we like to celebrate the groundbreaking and historic achievements of women in Hollywood because, let’s face it, the industry remains notoriously male dominated. At this point, any victory, even the smallest, can feel monumental.

Over the last few weeks, a lot has happened worth celebrating, so let’s break out the champagne and party poppers!

The first reason we have to say “Yay!” is an exciting new trend in the television industry that has resulted in the hiring of dozens of female directors.

“A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay got the ball rolling by hiring women to direct every episode of the first two seasons of “Queen Sugar,” a move supported by executive producer Oprah Winfrey. Five of the seven directors featured in the first season were new to episodic television. The roster included women of color from diverse filmmaking backgrounds.

DuVernay, who got her big break directing an episode of “Scandal” for show-running legend Shonda Rimes, recently announced she’ll continue this all-female streak for the third season of “Queen Sugar.” And she’s inspired other TV producers to follow suit.

The second season of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” which premiered on Netflix in March, featured all women directors, thanks to the efforts of showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.

Image result for jessica jones fight like a woman

According to a recent L.A. Times article, Rosenberg’s initial goal was to hire a directing team that was 50% female. After taking her plan to Netflix Vice President of Original Series Allie Goss, they decided to go all in.

“I’ve been on 25 years of shows and nine times out of 10, those directing staffs are all white men,” Rosenberg said. “So why not all women?”

The makers of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” also recently announced that women, including actor Lucy Liu, “Queen Sugar” vet Neema Barnette and “Eve’s Bayou” helmer Kasi Lemmons, would make up approximately half their directing team for Season 2.

According to the L.A. Times, other shows, including “The Deuce,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” have designated women to direct at least half of the series’ episodes.

While a couple of recent studies found that women directed only about 7% of the top-grossing movies last year, 21% of all TV episodes were directed by women, an increase of 7% from 2015-16. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen, but it’s certainly an encouraging trend.

And, yes, even though there has been some good news out of Hollywood lately regarding female filmmakers, the movie industry can do better.

We’ll begin our celebration of positive developments with last month’s news that DuVernay is slated to direct an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s “The New Gods” for DC.

After helming “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney, DuVernay is more than qualified to direct a big-budget comic book movie. As the first woman of color to direct a DC superhero film, she should inject some much-needed diversity and energy into an uneven franchise.

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J.J. Abrams, Victoria Mahoney, and Ava DuVernay.

Last week, DuVernay was one of the first people to break the news via Twitter that “Star Wars: Episode IX” is making history by hiring Victoria Mahoney as second unit director for the film. (A second unit director is responsible for supplementary footage and maintaining the film’s look and continuity.)

DuVernay, who is a friend of “Episode IX” first unit director J.J. Abrams, tweeted: “Happy to share this historic news. A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away.”

Mahoney has enjoyed a successful career in television, directing episodes of “The Misfits,” “Claws,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Queen Sugar,” as well as the TV movie “Red Line.”

It’s great that Lucasfilm has embraced a woman of color as a director, even if many of us still think it’s high time they entrusted first unit duties to a female filmmaker.

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Christina Hodson

In other heartening Hollywood news, screenwriter Christina Hodson has been hired to pen DC’s upcoming Batgirl movie, which the studio appeared to put on ice after the departure of Joss Whedon.

The “Avengers” writer-director’s presence on the film had become something of a feminist nightmare after his ex-wife’s revelations about his treatment of women.

Hiring a woman to flesh out the story of one of the comic book world’s most famous and complicated superheroines would seem like an obvious advantage, but studio executives don’t always see it that way, so Whedon’s exit and Hodson’s entrance come as a relief.

Hodson’s previous projects include “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” to be released in December. She also scripted DC’s untitled Harley Quinn movie, which is speculated to be based on the popular all-female Birds of Prey comic book team.

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Cathy Yan

DC announced last week that the untitled Harley Quinn project will be directed by Cathy Yan, a former journalist who earned acclaim for “Dead Pigs,” her directorial debut and a Sundance Film Festival hit.

In an industry in which there are very few Asian directors in general, Yan will make history as the first Asian-American woman to helm a potential comic book blockbuster.

With Yan on board, along with DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, returning to oversee “Wonder Woman 2,” DC is shaping up to be a strong champion of women in the director’s chair. It can only bode well for the success of the franchise and for representation in Hollywood.

While I’m excited about the baby steps we’re seeing in the daunting quest to solve Hollywood’s gender parity problem, there’s still a massive amount of change required.

We live in an America where there is basically only one Ava DuVernay and one Patty Jenkins in comparison to dozens of Steven Spielbergs and J.J. Abramses.

Women make up 50% of moviegoers but only 8% of movie directors, only five women have ever been nominated for a best picture Oscar, and women accounted for a meager 24% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of last year. (For more sobering stats, check out the Women and Hollywood website.)

Here’s hoping the industry keeps the momentum going when it comes to hiring women to write and direct so someday we can celebrate female filmmaking triumphs without reservation.

Photos: ABC Columbia, fandom.wikia.com, blurbstory.com.