Fan fiction is an important part of life for many a fangirl/boy, but it’s not something that’s often represented in the media. Slash, a new indie film starring Michael Johnston, explores the unique world of fan fiction – and many of its ups and downs – from the perspective of a teen writer.
Johnston – whom Teen Wolf fans will recognize from his role as Corey – plays Neil, who writes erotic fan fiction about Vanguard, a Star Trek-esque hero. He soon meets Julia (Hannah Marks), a more confident, experienced girl who pushes him to put his fan fic online. When the website’s moderator takes a special interest in Neil’s work, it opens up a whole new world of opportunities, including Neil’s first convention trip.
We spoke with Michael about his character, the experience of filming at an actual convention, and why Slash will appeal to Teen Wolf fans (as well as a few Teen Wolf teasers!).
Tell us a little bit about Neil.
Michael Johnston: Neil is just your average 15 year old. Well, I wouldn’t say average. He’s into writing fan fiction – more specifically, erotic fan fiction – of his favorite superhero, and he kind of keeps to himself. He’s not sure about his sexuality. He’s also very inexperienced when it comes to pretty much everything in his life, like relationships. Throughout the movie, he experiences a lot of firsts. The general theme kind of shows that you don’t need a label and it’s okay to not really know what you’re into yet.
As you mentioned, fan fiction does play a pretty big role in the movie. What was your experience with that world prior to the film, and did you read or even write any while prepping for the role?
Johnston: I absolutely knew about what fan fiction was. I auditioned for Slash before I was on Teen Wolf, and then I got on Teen Wolf, so quickly after booking that I got a ton of fan fiction written about me. I’ve seen some of it, and some of it’s pretty wacky. Also I do a lot of voiceover, and more specifically one video game anime series that I did called Tales of Zestiria had a lot of fan fiction. I already had some about characters that I’ve played out there, so I definitely already knew what it was. Actually I was like, “No way, a movie about fan fiction? That’s so funny.”
I love the relationship between your character and Julia. How would you describe their relationship and how was it for you working with Hannah Marks?
Johnston: I don’t want to throw out any spoilers, but throughout the movie they become very close. I feel like Neil probably learns a little more from Julia than Julia learns from Neil, but they have a lot of fun together – and Hannah and I had a lot of fun together. From the moment I met her in the shuttle on the way to the airport to fly to Austin to do the movie, we hit it off. I stuck my hand out to give her a handshake and she said no and she gave me a big hug. She’s like, “We’re gonna have to be real close.” [laughs] We just had such a great time making this delightfully weird little movie.
It looked like you guys were filming at an actual convention. What was that experience like?
Johnston: We were! For both of us, it was our first Comic Con. It’s really funny because for those scenes we were filming there, we were dressed up. We literally just went to the Houston Comic Con dressed up as the fictional characters, and we would have people walk up to us and be like, “I love your costume!” And I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s Vanguard,” and they’d say “I love Vanguard!” And Vanguard wasn’t even real. [laughs] It was really amusing. We had a great time.
We tried to make it look like we weren’t even shooting a big movie because we didn’t want people interrupting us, so they had the camera stripped down and instead of a dolly we used a wheelchair. We just blended right in, and it was a lot of fun. I even had my first con food experience – it wasn’t great tasting.
We literally just went to the Houston Comic Con dressed up as the fictional characters, and we would have people walk up to us and be like, “I love your costume!” And I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s Vanguard,” and they’d say “I love Vanguard!” And Vanguard wasn’t even real.
Were you guys filming at an in-session high school as well for the rest of the film?
Johnston: Actually I think we were at a community college. But it was a real school. Being at a school definitely helps you feel like you’re at school. I’ve been on fake school sets and I gotta say, being able to shoot at a real school brings you back to those high school years. Actually, I think schools are creepy. I hated high school. But it definitely helped. A lot of the locations where we shot were really real – that’s how it goes on an indie film. I feel like big budget productions and TV shows and whatnot are able to have a set. This was very genuine.
Throughout much of the movie, Neil is struggling a lot with who he is and embracing what he loves. What advice would you give to teens going through similar circumstances?
Johnston: I would say that you don’t need a label, and it’s not important to know who you are. It’s different for everyone obviously, but I think your younger years are the time for you to explore yourself and to learn from mistakes and to just be yourself. It’s less important to know where you fit in. It’s more important to just make sure the people you surround yourself with are genuine, honest people who care about you. That’s kind of the theme of the movie, too. It takes time to find your tribe, and it’s okay to not know where you fit in. It’s another reason I really related to the film, because it was a lot of firsts for me.
I think a lot of people will want to watch Slash due to knowing you from Teen Wolf. Why would you say this movie will appeal to Teen Wolf fans?
Johnston: There are definitely sci-fi elements of the movie that are involved – although I don’t think sci-fi elements of the movie are what will make people want to watch it. I think what makes people want to watch is just the fact that it’s such a unique movie that tells a story that’s not typical in a coming-of-age movie. Most of my fans from Teen Wolf are young people, and some older, and I think that Slash kind of relates to the same audience – mostly young people who are going through something similar, and then some older people too. I think that you can find ways to relate to the movie – anyone can.
Speaking of Teen Wolf, is there anything you can tease about what’s coming up for Corey from the rest of the season?
Johnston: I can say that Corey’s becoming very important, and he’s finding his place for sure. I started the show barely kind of being in it, and now Corey’s in almost every episode. He’s trying to figure out his powers and how he can help the pack fight the bad guys. I think very soon we’re going to start to see that Corey’s powers are going to become very useful in figuring out what the hell is going on on the show. The writers keep me on my toes. I never know what’s going on either until I get the script, and sometimes even after the script I still don’t know what’s going on until I see it on TV. Then I’m like, “Ohhh, that makes more sense.”
We’re rooting for you to bring Stiles back.
Johnston: Yeah, we’re working on it. We’re trying.
Lastly, at Fangirlish we’re all about embracing your pop culture obsessions. Is there a movie or a book or anything that you’re loving right now?
Johnston: I just saw Fantastic Beasts. I’ve always been a fan of the Harry Potter movies, and I’ve gotta say, it was different – but god, I loved that movie. It was so much fun. I think it was just so well done, and the effects were amazing. I just watched every episode of Broad City, and I love it. You can just sit there and not pay attention and kind of eat something and laugh. I pretty much love anything like that.