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Feather of Hope talks fansites and fanart with OUAF's Gareth

Feather of Hope talks fansites and fan art with OnceUponaFans’ very own Gareth!

The Feather of Hope theme of this month is fandoms. We discussed the importance 
of being part of a fandom and the relevance of shipping on Twitter, and of course there was our big charity auction. Now October is slowly coming to an end, and we decided to finish the fandom theme by taking a closer look at the impact of fansites. It wasn’t hard for us to decide who to turn to with regards to that topic. When we think OUAT and we think fansites, we immediately think Once Upon a Fan (@OnceUponaFan)! And so, Dieuw(@Diejj) interviewed OUAF’s owner and editor in chief, Gareth(@OUAFBoss)! 

Dieuw: Hey Gareth, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I know you are very busy juggling your work for the fan site with your commitments and work in every day life, so thank you for your time. This also immediately brings me to my first question: What made you decide to start a fan website(www.onceuponafans.com) for once upon a time? Your website has become an enormous success, but it must also be a lot of work, did you expect it to become this big when you started with OUAF?

Gareth: Believe it or not, the creation of the fan site stemmed from total boredom! I had gone through a major operation and was off work recovering. I’m very active on a day to day basis so being confined to the house for long periods was driving me crazy. I had been a huge fan of Lost and came to Once Upon A Time through word of mouth that Adam and Eddy had a new TV show. I checked the show out and was hooked from the first episode. I knew from the start that it was a show that I really wanted to explore and discuss in detail.

So the site began as a small hobby, something to keep me occupied during the recovery time from my operation. Initially, it was just a small group of us discussing the show on social media. Back then, I knew every member of the site by name! Now it is something else entirely, it has gone way beyond a hobby. We’ve done over 50 interviews with cast and crew from the show and collaborated on projects with sites and companies like TV Tag, Tourism Richmond & TV Fanatic. We have also raised over $30,000 for charities like With Kids and Stand Up To Cancer through various auctions and travelled all over the world to cover various conventions. All in all, it has been an incredible, highly surreal roller coaster ride.

Dieuw: OUAF is also very active on social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. That inherently brings along interaction with fans. How do you experience this? What do you think fan sites can contribute to the experience of being part of a fandom?

Gareth: I think fan sites have a vital role to play within a TV fandom. I feel like they serve as a community hub for all different kinds of fans. They offer a safe place where fans can geek out and be themselves. In some cases, fan sites also offer a respite from real world problems and even form part of an alternative #OncerFamily.

I get dozens of emails every day from Oncers all over the world, and some of the stories that fans share about how the show has helped them are equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Stories about the friendships that have been made through this show, the obstacles that people have overcome because the show has inspired them to take action to change their lives.  We have had fans with very little confidence send in amazing articles which have been published on the site, which in turn has led to them publishing their own novels/magazines etc. The show and OUAF has become a force for positivity and change, and I am so, so proud of that.

Dieuw: There has been some criticism on the show lately as well. Do you address, or do you have to address this in running your fan site when you decide what to post or write about? Eg. Posting less of a certain ship or actor when there is some controversy around their topic, or do you do the opposite and post more about that to bring the topic back in a positive view?

Gareth: I try not to think of the show in terms of ‘ships’. I have never been much of a shipper. I appreciate the show from a storytelling perspective. I’m more interested in the motivations of characters and the long term story arc and mythology rather than specific relationships or characters.

As for decisions on what we post, that is very much dictated to by the episode’s content each week and which character is highlighted in that episode. If the episode is an Emma episode, then sure, there will be lots more Emma/Jen Morrison material posted that week etc. As a fan site, we try to remain as unbiased as possible and try to give all groups a voice, which was why we did the fan interviews earlier this year focusing on specific aspects of the fandom.

With regards criticism of the show, I have never shied away from being critical. In fact I think I was overly critical last season, Season 3B in particular, just didn't work for me. I think it is important to be critical of the show at times. I certainly wouldn't be interested in reading a ‘picture perfect, everything is wonderful’ analysis. Every show has faults. I think it is healthy to acknowledge and discuss those faults. It certainly doesn't make you any less of a fan.

Dieuw: You post a lot of fan art as well, everyone can send their drawings, paintings, fan vids or edits to you and you post he majority. That is great! However there also have been times that people have been downright mean to the artists in their comments on the artist’s work, bashing the art. How do you deal with this?

Gareth: I love the fan art. Really, really love it. It is one of the elements of the fandom that I am so proud of. Such amazing talent from people of all ages. We get so many submissions now that I just don't have the time to write back to every single person who submits work. I just hope the fact that we published the art shows how much we loved it.
We’ve had a few cases of artists being bashed for their work. It seems to happen more on Facebook than Twitter in my experience. I have often joked that posting artwork on our Facebook page is like sending an artist into the Gladiator pit because some of the comments can be so brutal. Art is so subjective. What is trash to one person can be a masterpiece in the eyes of another.I guess it is a risk you always take when you put something in the public domain to be critiqued.

I just want fans to remember that you can give positive criticism without being nasty. Whenever we see outright bullying and trolling though, we take steps to ban the user across all our social media and delete the comments. There is no place for them within OUAF. Our forums are also managed by admins. We take a zero tolerance approach to any kind of online bullying or intimidation, particularly with the younger audience that OUAT attracts.

Dieuw: One last question, we have mainly been talking about the website and your interaction with fans. How important do you think that fandoms are to TV shows and/or as a social phenomenon in general?

Gareth: I grew up in the dark ages before the internet. Back then, there were hardly any opportunities to meet or talk with celebrities you admired on a regular basis. Social media has changed all that. Now celebrities are only a click away, they are completely accessible. In many ways, sites like Twitter and Facebook has taken some of the mystique away from our idols and brought them back down to earth.

It is an exciting time for fans right now, to be able to engage on that kind of intimate level with cast members of their favourite show on a daily basis. They should never take that for granted. Events such as live tweet sessions, Reddit Q&A’s, Weekend conventions, they all help build a sense of community within a fandom.

On the flip side, writers and producers now have instant fan feedback to the latest episode or casting news etc, which can be a double edged sword. I do take issue with fans who tell the writers how to write their show. At the end of the day, it is their vision. Whether I love or hate the final outcome, I want to see Eddy and Adam’s vision for the show come to completion, not a fan edited version of it.

Overall, it is a great time to be running a fan site. TV companies and networks are working far more closely with sites like OUAF now. They have realised the massive role fan sites can play in motivating fans to vote in events such as awards and polls etc. I’m very proud of the things we have achieved with Once Upon A Fan and want to quickly say thanks to all the staff who work on the site voluntarily. They all do an amazing job and help to keep the site functioning efficiently on a day to day basis. It has turned into one hell of a hobby!


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