Last month, thousands of creative minds met for an Intervention, an annual event (whose name is a combination of “Internet” and “convention”) designed to equip attendees with the motivation and tools needed to take their talents to another level. Intervention got its start seven years ago and has the unique ability to combine high-profile guests, intriguing panels, gaming, cosplay, and vital information with an intimate environment. Attendees are able to participate in the same activities they would find at larger geek conventions, yet Intervention is still small enough for fans to avoid queuing for hours to get into a coveted panel or grab a photo with their favorite sci-fi actor.
Convention founders Oni Hartstein and James Harknell are both major Doctor Who fans, so it was natural for them to have director Rachel Talalay as an Intervention guest. The recent recipient of Women in Film + Television Vancouver’s “Woman of the Year” award directed four episodes of Doctor Who in Seasons Eight and Nine, including the Hugo Award-nominated “Heaven Sent.” She has also worked on Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as well as upcoming episodes of BBC’s Sherlock. Rachel Talalay’s name is new to some people, but many TV and film aficionados have appreciated her work since the late 80s. I was fortunate to attend a spotlight panel on Talalay and grab a quick interview with the self-proclaimed “punk feminist” and I learned a few things along the way:
Rachel Talalay was given her own spotlight panel at Intervention and sat down with Oni Hartstein for an hour-long discussion about her career. She started the panel by introducing her latest TV film On the Farm, which was adapted from a 2010 book of the same name and released in Canada (under the title Unclaimed) earlier this year. On the Farm follows a young sex worker named Nikki Taylor as she bands together with two other women (a social worker and police officer) to push for justice for sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who have been murdered by a serial killer. Talalay said the film is representative of marginalized women all over the world whose voices cannot be heard. She wanted to make this movie and tell a story about the universal struggle women face every day. On the Farm’s intentional focus on the women’s stories instead of the serial killer himself has garnered critical acclaim and reflects Talalay’s feminist spirit.
While discussing On the Farm, Talalay opened up about her collaboration with Wholock (a fanfic mashup of Doctor Who and Sherlock) creator John Smith. The YouTube sensation is known for his visual effects and helped Talalay create magic on several projects. Talalay repaid his hard work by introducing him to Sherlock and Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat. Of course, Moffat said he was a fan of John Smith’s work! She then gave fans a quick demo of how Smith created CGI water for the upcoming Sherlock season. Talalay also brought one of the writers from her 1995 Tank Girl film to a Doctor Who set at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where Season Eight episode “Dark Water” was filmed.
When she was shooting her debut film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Talalay’s stepdaughter gave her a British comic named Tank Girl to read between takes. The futuristic comic featured an eponymous feminist anti-hero who teamed with genetically altered soldiers to defeat W&P, a corporation which used water to control the masses. The budding director developed an attachment to the comic and became interested in directing a film. After getting permission from the comic’s publisher to make the film, Talalay pitched it to several places, including Steven Spielberg himself. Talalay told the Intervention audience that Spielberg’s studio said the movie was “too hip” for them. Tank Girl eventually got picked up by MGM and featured Lori Petty (now known as Lolly from OITNB) as well as rising actors Ice-T and Naomi Watts.
During Talalay’s time working with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, she often found herself at the receiving end of a few harsh accusations. Talalay said she was often put on panels at conventions and attendees would accuse her of inspiring people to be serial killers. She took the criticism in stride and now says she believes people can learn positive lessons from horror films. I can only imagine what her mentions would have been like if Twitter was around in the early 90s.
I caught up with Talalay between two of her panels for a quick chat. Our time was brief, but I enjoyed every moment. I started the conversation by bringing up her “Woman of the Year” speech and noted her obvious affinity for Doctor Who. I was curious about her relationship with Doctor Who prior to working on the show and how it tied into her desire to become a part of Whovian history. Check out her response below:
Intervention’s focus on pursuing creative arts and allowing nerdy passions to fuel a person’s drive toward success seems right up Talalay’s alley. I asked her why she thought conventions like Intervention mattered and she talked a bit about the growth of cons in terms of diversity and women’s participation in general:
At DragonCon, a few panelists came together during a Doctor Who Series 9 review panel and said they thought “Heaven Sent” was designed with the long-term fan in mind. I agreed with them to a certain extent (especially how the Doctor’s struggle with loss and facing his own fears was presented) but I wanted to know what Talalay’s thought about the comment. She believed “Hell Bent” was for the long-term fan because of all the references to Whovian culture – Gallifrey, Time Lords, Daleks, Weeping Angels, Cybermen, the Sisterhood of Karn, and the concept of stealing a TARDIS. Conversely, “Heaven Sent” was one where a new fan could sit down and actually be able to gain a general understanding of the show.
8. She Has One Hell of a Tumblr Page
Talalay lives her life behind the scenes but she is a fan of using social media to engage with fans. As a trailblazing producer and director, she is often asked for advice on how to succeed in the film industry. Talalay uses her Tumblr page to address frequent fan queries about career advice as well as general questions pertaining to scenes in shows she has directed. At Intervention, Talalay said she does not agree with fans lashing out at creators online and trying to impose their will on them, but she does appreciate when fandoms push for important changes like diversity. Her Tumblr page is also filled with interesting artwork, behind the scenes info about Doctor Who, tidbits about upcoming projects, and commentary on her past work.
For more information about Talalay, follow her on Twitter or check out her Tumblr page. And, look out for her film On the Farm, which will be screened at LA Femme Film Festival (October 20-23).
Tai Gooden is a freelance writer, author, part-time blogger and full time Whovian who has written for several online publications including The Guardian, xojane, HelloGiggles, HuffPost Parents, and BlogHer. When Tai isn’t waiting for the TARDIS, she can be found rambling on Twitter.