Director Chloé Zhao on fan-fiction

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the whole AO3/Xiao Zhan fan fiasco, and I’ve been too lazy to follow it, but it did get me back to reading fan-fiction, which reminded me of this interview by award-winning director Chloé Zhao, so here’s the transcription. Listen to the full interview with Sam Fragoso here. The whole interview is great and I love her so much.

Sam Fragoso: Do you think there’s something inside you that needs to tell stories because it’s the thing you’re best at or it’s because it’s the thing that makes you feel best?
Chloé Zhao: I’m not sure if it’s the thing I’m best at, I think I probably cook better – I’m a good cook – but it makes me feel good. I’m an only child, you know, and it comes from spending a lot of time growing up on my own just writing fiction and putting it online and reading it back. If you know anything about fan-fiction, you write the stuff for yourself. It’s what you want to see, and that’s probably something that I will continue.
Sam Fragoso: Your movies don’t feel like fan-fiction.
Chloé Zhao: You know what fan-fiction is?
Sam Fragoso: Yeah, I do, your movies don’t feel like that.
Chloé Zhao: They are, actually. For example, The Rider could be a fan-fiction of Brady’s life, but the way I want to see it. …You know how in fan-fiction, you take characters that already exist and then you put it in the world that makes sense to you. The good ones, the good fan-fiction will stay somewhat, mostly true to the original character, but their personalities have to be altered to a certain degree.
Sam: But then aren’t most movies fan-fiction, then?
Chloé Zhao: Yeah, to a certain degree.

I can’t find the interview anymore, but I remember listening to an interview of her back in 2016 where she said she was embarrassed to tell professionals she writes fan-fiction, but by this interview in 2018 she’s out and proud. Awww, progress!

Chloé Zhao has finished filming her first MCU fan-fiction, Marvel’s The Eternals, and Nomadland starring Frances McDormand. In addition, she has an Amazon film and a Chinese sci-fi film in pre-production.

10 thoughts on “Director Chloé Zhao on fan-fiction

  1. I like fanfiction just like everybody else, but there are some stories that really shouldn’t be allowed up on the internet. With or without warning tags. Some of these “fanfictions” are disturbing, inappropriate, if not downright wrong. For example: Supernatural fanfiction has gotten so bad that I don’t wanna even step foot in that fandom because I’m terrified of what I’ll come across. Incest, adult intercourse but the character(s) are underage, rape but the character(s) apparently like it, etc. The list goes on and on and that’s not the only fandom that has some messed up things it.
    I understand that these are just fictional stories and they’re not real, but some of y’all take fiction way too far. You got stories about grown ups in their late twenties falling in love with teenagers 15-16 years old. There are literally Black Butler fanfictions out there that romanticizes Sebastian Michaelis, a (possibly) 2,000 year old demon with Ciel Phantomhive, a 13-15 year old kid. In Naruto, you got people shipping Kakashi Hatake (27 years old) with Sakura (16 years old). In Avatar: Legend of Korra, there’s stories of Avatar Korra (17 years old) being in a relationship with Chief Lin Beifong (50+ years and older). In Final Fantasy XIII (13), there’s a bunch of people shipping Lightning (Claire/Eclair) Farron (21 years old) with Hope Estheim (14 years old). This is but the tip of the iceberg, and the underage thing isn’t the only problem.
    Because its been going on unchecked, people are starting to feel comfortable and bold enough to make the same kind of weird stories with REAL people now. These fanfiction websites really need to start taking some of these “stories” down before someone decides instead of banning the website they’ll DELETE the website entirely. Everyone shouldn’t be punished because a few authors took fanfiction too far.

    • Yeah I’ve definitely had this same argument with myself before, because I’m such a huge supporter of fanfiction and fanworks in general but I’ve also seen in passing some stuff that make me uncomfortable. I really only have an issue with works that are not tagged and warned for, because tagging/warning shows that the author probably is aware that the content is potentially morally/ethically dubious/wrong. In that case no matter how much I dislike the subject matter, I take on a more ‘fine, to each their own’ kind of viewpoint because I’m in fandom to enjoy myself and I don’t wanna waste time on things that would upset me or police what other people wanna do.

      The real issue is when I chance upon works without warnings, and there’s stuff like perpetuation of certain stereotypes or romanticisation of problematic behaviour. And it’s really uncomfortable to see since usually it seems like the author doesn’t realise the inherent issues. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do except to get out of there ASAP because I’m too Tired to bother fighting with people.

      So you know, fandom really can be that difficult sometimes. But the experience can also be really good! If you manage to find a circle of comfort that suits your liking. I’m forever thankful for the wonderful system on AO3, with their very detailed tagging and search engine. Not sure how the Supernatural fandom is like there, if you haven’t already maybe you can try searching for fanfics there and use the Include/Exclude filters! The filters are a real lifesaver for me :D

  2. Maybe because I don’t know all the details about this drama, but I don’t see how these quotes are relevant to the situation at all. I love reading fics, but there’s a big difference between fics about fictional characters and real life people. Like what his fans did was wrong, but I don’t think they would have cared that much if the fic was about one of characters XZ played and not XZ himself. Honestly rpf is just creepy to me.

    • It doesn’t, I was just going on a long tangent to explain why I suddenly thought about posting it now.
      I haven’t really followed specifics of the fight, but my general stance on everything related to Chinese entertainment is that at the end of the day, it’s all SARFT’s fault.

    • I wouldn’t say RPF and other types of fanfiction are all that different in terms of what inspire people to write and read them; generally people are only bothered to create works about people/characters who interest them and whom they care about. As the quotes above say, it’s like taking existing people into a world of your own, so RPF is like imagining these people act out a script you’ve written. Obviously with real people involved there are more concerns about keeping the works within a contained space, but with appropriate tagging and posting on the right platforms I really think RPF can be enjoyed just like any fanfiction. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but then again people have been writing and reading RPF for a long long time (like Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters wrote RPF themselves lol), and probably will continue to do so in the future.

      But idarklight is right, no matter how the whole fiasco started, at the end of the day the government is the one enforcing bans and restricting internet access. So it’s really entirely their fault.

      • Don’t know about celebs and famous people. I would feel creeped out and violated if someone uses me in any manner they wish in their writing for all to read online. (Obviously it’s extremely unlikely for a nobody like me.) Kind of similar to “stories” high school boys tell one another about a girl or a female teacher. Even when they clearly state the story is pure fiction the lady may still feel uncomfortable.

        • An entirely valid reaction to feel uncomfortable, which is why keeping fic to certain platforms only with all the appropriate tags and warnings in place is very important, to help maintain distance between the story and real life. It gives people the chance to first of all keep away from any type of RPF if they don’t like it, or second if they have searched it up to understand beforehand what they might be getting into and avoid it if they know it’s going to squick/trigger them.

          RPF does have a bad rap for being merely sexual fantasies, but unfortunately that’s a very reductive viewpoint. I’ve read some amazing stories that have left me mindblown, with that ‘wow’ feeling you get from watching a good show/reading a good book. Some have made me laugh and cry and feel, or led me to reflect on serious real life issues. So on the other end of the spectrum someone might be amazed that they could inspire creation to that level. (But yeah not that that’s gonna happen to me lol.)

          I guess at the end of the day it’s really about preferences and boundaries. Everyone has to learn to stay in their own lane, you know like don’t shove these stories into people’s faces unwillingly. But also, we gotta respect that people will write/read what they like within their own space. Certainly I have many things that squick me, so I’ve had to practise keeping to what I like and restraining from intruding if it’s not my thing.

          • I wonder whether RPF creators objectify those real people used in their stories: “I’m using you for my own purposes. I don’t care how you feel about it.”

            • I think some (maybe even a significant proportion?) of the celebrities are aware that fiction of them exists (I’m talking about the Chinese entertainment industry here). No one has expressly voiced out against it to my knowledge, though I haven’t researched into this area so I can’t be 100% sure. I’ve seen like one interview in passing where the person was very supportive of RPF haha, but we won’t know how widespread this viewpoint is.

              Of course if a celebrity takes legal measures against RPF of themselves that would be a whole other matter, but without a clear statement of disapproval I think fans generally assume it’s alright to create fanworks of them (including stories and art), as it is a very common way to engage with fandom.

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