Interview with Ash Coyote, Chip Fox, and Eric (Ash) Risher on The Fandom and Kickstarter
by Pup Matthias
Can you believe it’s been nearly six months since This is Life with Lisa Ling: Furry Nation premiered? It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already since Furries had such a positive piece done on us. As good as that hour of television was, it could only cover so much when presenting a community with over fortyish years of history to those with no personal connection. If we want to showcase just how diverse and vibrant our community is, we will have to do it ourselves.
That’s what inspired Youtuber/Filmmaker Ash Coyote, her husband Chip Fox, and Filmmaker Eric (Ash) Risher (who also directed the Doc Furries) to create The Fandom. It’s a documentary series for furries, by furries, that just wrapped up their first season. Below is a Q&A with all three of them.
ASH: The Fandom was an idea I had after watching the CNN special on furries. I felt like they sort of glossed over our community and missed a lot of what makes it such a special place to me. So I did what I always do, I picked up my camera and decided to tell the stories I wanted others to see so that they might get a more complete view of our community.
ERIC: My first film, Furries, is something I created to serve as an introduction to the community. But working on that film introduced me to the reality that there was too much diversity to cover it all in a single film; I was inevitably going to have to leave something out. The idea of a series that could take its time tackling the nuance of people or themes was already appealing. When Ash approached me to work on The Fandom, it didn’t take much convincing.
CHIP: I saw a need within our community for furries to tell their own stories. Furries have been burned by the media going back decades. YouTubers and mainstream media tend to look at furry as easily exploitable content. I thought we needed a more in-depth look at furries as real people, not just as an oddity.
I also saw the need to show furs what it’s like on the other side of the screen. We need to hear what it’s like to be a fursuit maker, an artist, a musician, an event organizer, a performer, or one of the first furs who started it all. I wanted to give ourselves as a fandom some perspective on how much time and effort goes into making furry a great community.
But how did this dynamic trio come together?
ASH: Chip and I are married of course. Chip helps with audio, scheduling, advertising, social media, and funding. BUT we met Eric by chance over the summer last year. He and I hit it off almost instantly having a shared background in film. He showed me the docushorts that he had worked on in regards to our community and I was really impressed. Eric is a super talented filmmaker. We hung out a bunch over the summer then I shot this piece at MFF. Later on, I asked him if he would like to edit the project.
ERIC: I live in San Francisco Bay Area, but I travel to Colorado in the summers to help teach a documentary workshop to high school students. I met Ash and Chip while I was in town, and I think we became instant friends. I was really humbled by Ash’s cinematography and technical knowledge. Getting to work with beautiful footage is a real treat as an editor, so I knew I couldn’t pass by this opportunity to work together. And honestly, the filmmaking process is a pleasure when you can feel the passion from everyone involved, and that’s what working on The Fandom has been like.
CHIP: Thanks to how connected the furry fandom is, we met Eric while he was in town for work. His experience and skills with story telling really impressed us. We really bonded over our goals to highlight stories which have had an impact on our lives.
What may shock you though is how they were able to make the seven episode season happen.
ASH: The Fandom (the series) was shot over 3 days at Midwest Furfest with 2 additional shoot days locally. For the most part it was a very run and gun operation with just Chip and I running camera and audio. All our B roll was acquired in our down time. I think over the course of the whole convention we left our hotel room maybe 4 or 5 times. In fact, if you pay close attention, you can see that it’s all shot in the same suite. In many cases our interview subjects were last minute so I had maybe 15 minutes prep time on the interviews for planning. It all added up to a really hectic but fun shoot. I think our last interview was 3 am on monday morning of the con. I will let Eric discuss the editing of course because that is his field of expertise. The release was staggered out weekly for 7 weeks with the episode usually being ready to roll out by wednesday.
CHIP: During our time at MFF we helped make a music video for a fursuiter on YouTube. He brought a few friends who were comfortable being on camera and we spent the entire night in the hotel room interviewing them. The next day we had several others who volunteered to talk to us and it became a 3 day marathon of filming these interviews. We only left the hotel room a few times during all of MFF. We only had a chance to fursuit once.
After the convention, it took several weeks to sort all the content, decide how to present it, and what subjects to cover. Since we didn’t have much time to leave the hotel room, we went through our archives and found footage from MFF we filmed several years ago.
ERIC: I helped shoot some of the b-roll at MFF, but my primary role was editing. Ash and I met up again in February to review all of our footage and to map out the course of the series. We took notes on the talking points of each our subjects and discussed the themes and layouts of each of the episodes, finally stitching together rough assemblies. We’d watch my work, discuss notes, make changes, and repeat. Because we’d be seeing the same core cast of interviewees throughout the series, I thought it was best to let the first episode serve as a general introduction (to the fandom, the interviewees) and then reveal more information bit by bit with each new episode.
The reception has been huge. Becoming some of Ash’s most popular videos, The Fandom gave Furries a variety of reactions.
ASH: Overall the reception has been pretty positive. There have been some complaints about not covering certain aspects completely or perhaps not enough perspective. Honestly with how tight the shoot was I am thrilled with how it all came out despite its shortcomings. I look forward to having the time and the budget to do this properly.
ERIC: I would say the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re always receiving requests to explore new topics, and I think the benefit of a series is that it keeps the door open to examine new ideas or people…or to revisit old themes with a new perspective. I’ve seen a few critiques, and generally they’re pointing to the limitations of our production. Nothing’s perfect, but considering how much we were able to accomplish with a set of interviews that were shot one weekend at the world’s largest furry con, I’m really proud of us.
CHIP: Reception has been extremely positive. We’ve also had some people declare they won’t be watching it because all media is bad, including furry created media. We knew from the beginning we had serious limitations because we shot 90% of it in one location over 3 days with a limited cast, so a small amount of negative responses were expected.
This is only the beginning. Right now the crew is at work making both a second season of The Fandom and a feature length documentary looking into the history. Running a Kickstarter to raise 20,000 dollars to make it happen. Something they planned to do right from the beginning.
ASH: We knew pretty early on in post that this project deserved a feature treatment. The series was originally going to be a hour long special but we decided to break it down into episodes for youtube instead, that way people could enjoy it over time. Around the same time as our edit of the series Chip had the idea of covering the history of the fandom for a future project so I began the research phase and realized that we had something really intriguing. I put together a treatment and started lining everything up to make it happen.
ERIC: I think Ash covers this well. The series lets us really dig into a single idea for much more prolonged a period of time than you could get away with in a feature film. But a feature is perfect for tackling a large narrative, and that’s what we have with the history of the fandom. I don’t think this is a subject that could be treated fairly if condensed down to the same 7-10 minute YouTube series format. Moreover, I believe this story will resonate with audiences beyond the furry fandom, as it touches on many cultural milestones including: developments in animation and technology; the rise of the internet and early sci-fi fandom culture; the growing LGBT community and the AIDs crisis. I believe that this allows for a more complex story that can – hopefully – transcend the value it will have as a record of the origins of the furry fandom.
CHIP: I’ve wanted to expand on this since the beginning. We can only touch the surface in a 90 minute film, let alone a 10 minute YouTube video. However, I thought it was important to start small before taking on a much larger project. The YouTube mini-series was a great test-run. It helped us learn what resources we were lacking, time constraints, what we were able to do for free, and what topics really resonate with people.
I always wanted to expand on furry history and how it became a more open place for LGBTs. Even though I joined the fandom in the early 90’s, there was a lot of history I didn’t know. I felt it needed to be captured before we lost it.
But as The Fandom and the Kickstarter started to pick up steam did the problems appear. Mainly Twitter shadow banning Ash’s account and many Furries in general as well as Kickstarter seemly not promoting Ash’s campaign even though it’s tracking to do well.
ASH: The shadow ban on twitter was pretty frustrating. From what I was able to see in my metrics it hit us during the release of our second episode and was then lifted on our fourth. This has been an ongoing issue during the duration of the release, My whole account was shut down for a couple days just last week. It was super stressful. Almost the whole cast and crew was hit with bans and as you can imagine it severely impacted our visibility. All our media was flagged as nsfw, our accounts wouldn’t show in the search engine and retweets would only show to folks who followed one of our accounts. Just no fun all around. Thankfully there were a lot of people who stepped up and helped us during this time, infact without their help I doubt we would be as close to our goal as we are today.
As far as Kickstarter not promoting the project I am not sure. They have specific criteria to pick out the projects that they promote. I will say we have consistently been the most popular documentary and most popular film overall on the site despite all the roadblocks we have experienced along the way. Perhaps furry is too out there for Kickstarter? Who knows.
ERIC: The situation with Twitter has been beyond frustrating. Seeing the shadow bans impacting others simply for participating in or supporting our project was the worst part. I can only speculate why it happened. The Kickstarter situation is also confusing.
CHIP: Twitter has always been problematic. I see it get worse as users become more active on the platform. When visibility increases so does the harassment and trolling. Twitter still has nothing to prevent its own systems from being gamed and no suitable systems to resolve it. It was especially frustrating when we needed to promote the Kickstarter.
TheFandom is the #1 most popular film project on Kickstarter thanks to our amazing community. I can only guess that furry may still be too taboo for Kickstarter editors to even look at it.
It has been a struggle they have been facing time and again now, but our community has come together to help everyone affected by the ban and promote their voices more.
ASH: For the most part we had to spend more on advertising to try and get back on track. Thankfully Chip is really good at all that stuff! I have also kept a watchful eye on our accounts and have tried to be proactive about getting other folks accounts fixed. We’ve always tried to move away from twitter as my primary social media. I am really frustrated that platforms can just tank your visibility without checking to see if there is a legitimate reason to do so.
ERIC: We had many furry on Twitter rally behind us as we tried to make sense of the situation and grab the attention of any Twitter employee that could help us. I think the support they showed us during that time made a big difference; not only in getting some accounts unbanned, but also in regard to aiding our visibility. It’s been a struggle but we can’t deny the support we’ve felt from the community.
CHIP: The community bringing attention to the problems until twitter took action was so helpful. To further combat the problems, we networked with furries on other platforms and put more funds into advertising to get the word out. I don’t like having to advertise, but sometimes it’s the best option when there’s a time limit.
That hasn’t stopped them though. Through the shadow bans and kickstarter champaign they have been hard at work making the feature and season 2.
ASH: Chip and I just went on an epic 3000 mile road trip for the feature. We knocked out 10 interviews with 30 hours of footage and a lot of wild stories to tell. Our road trip took us through Santa Fe, Tucson, Phoenix, Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, San Jose, Salt Lake City then back to our home here in Colorado. The main goal of the trip was to get a head start on the feature film as well as to document and collect some of the archival material crucial to telling the story of the fandoms early years. It was an amazing trip. I am still trying to decompress from it.
CHIP: The road trip Ash and I went on was a huge amount of work in a short amount of time. We were able to cover more topics such as art, conventions, music, diversity and more. Most stops along the way only gave us time to have one meal, sleep, then interview before leaving for the next location. It allowed us to gather some great interviews on furry origins and what the fandom was like before furs had the internet. We filmed so much that we had to buy several more harddrives. It will probably take quite a while to annotate it all.
ERIC: I’ve been starting to look at the new interview material and make notes. I have to say, I’m really excited by what I’ve seen so far.
So what is the goal doing this feature?
ASH: We would like to have a film that gives an honest look at the fandom from within, and gives the outside world a glimpse at what is an incredibly unique and vibrant community. Ideally I would like to distribute the film through Netflix or a similar streaming service.
ERIC: I’m glad to be working on a furry project that finally grapples with the question of “why”. What is it that really motivates us to get involved with this whole animal-people community? I think my past work has done a great job of unpacking what the fandom does for people who are already involved, but not so much when it comes to defining that spark of inspiration. And what better way to handle that theme than by looking at the origins of the whole community? That’s a personal goal with this film.
CHIP: Ash and Eric sum this up well. We’d like to make this as widely available as possible so the whole fandom can see it and possibly learn a little more about the community they enjoy.
As positive as The Fandom has been, it did have its share of criticisms.
ASH: We have faced a fair bit of criticism on the project specifically in terms of incorporating more diversity into the cast, and of course the ill fated titling of the “Religion” episode, which has now been changed to christianity to better reflect the content within. That was my bad. We literally launched that one from the road and I was so scattered.
But addressing the diversity element we honestly tried our best to incorporate as many voices in the project from diverse backgrounds. When we started the series, most folks didn’t know what we were about, so it was hard to find people willing to interview and put themselves on camera. Since releasing the project we have had an outpouring of folks interested in talking with us for season 2 and for the feature, so I think it will be a well rounded production that covers as many folks in our community as possible. The series is more an introduction to what we want to do with the film, and only just touches on the subjects we would like to explore more in the future.
ERIC: The critiques we have received have been, for the most part, quite reasonable and understandable. We yearned for a bit more diversity too, but I rest easy knowing that we can use this feedback to grow and to better our future work. I don’t think filmmakers should necessarily bend their craftsmanship for the sake of pleasing an audience; but our mission IS to deliver authentic furry voices and experiences, so we would be remiss if we ignored criticism. I don’t think it’s a secret that there’s more to the fandom than what we’ve been able to show so far; I think the criticism is really more of a plea for us to keep going so that a more diverse group of voices can be heard. And frankly, that’s something we’re already on board with.
CHIP: I expected some criticism on religion, occupations, and diversity. That is basically what we saw and that’s understandable. Another issue we faced is that the audience can’t always know about diversity when someone isn’t ready to talk about it or is inside a fursuit. We had hoped to cover more of that as well, but our resources for season 1 were extremely limited. Nobody had seen season 1 so there was nothing for volunteers to judge us by. Because of the 3 day shoot schedule during a convention, we were limited by who was at MFF, if they were willing to talk about certain subjects on camera, and if they had time in their con schedule for us.
Now that people have seen what we can create, I’m sure more furs will be willing to talk to us. Hopefully we’ll have the resources to travel and hear from more diverse viewpoints too.
Why are Furries so critical of media whether it’s positive or negative?
ASH: For the longest time I was also critical and still am in some ways. The media has had a long history of taking advantage of our community. In many ways whenever a project like this comes up, people treat it like it’s the worst case scenario. I had folks telling me that they refused to watch it for all sorts of reasons. I think it comes down to the fact that the fandom means something different to everyone involved. It’s a very personal experience and as such it’s hard to really cover that in a film or any form of media. It has been a challenge for us being furries ourselves. There is so much depth and diversity to our community!
ERIC: The fandom has been burned by media portrayal in the past, and that makes us cautious. I continue to meet furries of all ages who refuse to confide to their coworkers, and sometimes families, for fear of being ostracized in some way. It makes sense to me that the community would regard any new media with suspicion.
CHIP: External media has always portrayed furries as a weird curiosity no matter if it’s a positive or negative portrayal. Furries are right to be cautious about media exploitation because the resulting reactions from the public will always effect the most vulnerable in our community.
So with all this talk about the feature, what is Season 2 of The Fandom going to be then?
ASH: So season 2 will be a companion piece to the feature film. It will cover some elements of the history of our community as well as other topics in the arts. The Kickstarter is for the feature so we can have enough of a budget to travel and capture the subjects that would best fit the narrative along the way we will also be gathering extra material for the second season of the show. All this should be released by early next year.
ERIC: Ash sums it up great.
CHIP: Hopefully we’ll be able to show what we’ve been hoping to capture all along and more of what everyone has been asking for!
And will there be more of The Fandom beyond the feature and season 2?
ASH: Yes! I would like to continue the series as long as there are stories to tell in our community. Beyond that I also have two other documentary features in pre-production that will start principal photography after this film is released. One of the films will be a continuation of my exploration of Trans Identity similar to my series “Trans Voices”.
ERIC: Very excited for these projects as well!
CHIP: We have several projects in the works, but it’s hard to say what we’ll be able to accomplish!
With all the ups and downs, praise and critiques, what has been the biggest takeaway?
ASH: Honestly, with the series it’s my way of giving something back to a community that given me so much.
ERIC: This has been proof of what I’ve felt for years: filmmaking is so much more productive when it’s a collaborative effort. My last film “Making a Musical Tale” was basically a solo endeavor and it has a lot of shortcomings because of it. Things that I notice, at least. But it’s been great to meet fellow furries who share the same interest in filmmaking, and I think our strengths play off of one another really well. I’m still in disbelief that this is all real…it’s all come together so naturally that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
CHIP: We couldn’t have made the series without our friends and some serious teamwork. Each of us volunteered our energy, time, money, and resources to help make this happen. The film wouldn’t be possible without the amazingly supportive furry community behind us.
And you can still make that happen. Right now at the time of this writing they are less than 900 dollars reaching their 20,000 goal. But even when they reach it, there are stretch goals of 30k where they will have a professional score, and 40K where they will go International. Our community, figures big and small, have come out to support this project.
Deo I think sums it up best.
You can donate to their kickstarter here! Till next time Fluffer Nutters. Have a nice day.