How do you tell the tale of a woman whose life history is broadcast across the internet through cyber fame?
Piece by piece, frame by frame.
That was the undertaking South Whidbey High School senior Joshua Lancaster undertook two years ago when he elected to document the life of an autistic transgender woman and internet celebrity, Christian Weston Chandler, for a video production class.
The 70-minute documentary, titled “Christian Weston Chandler,” has garnered over 300,000 views on YouTube and thousands of comments weighing in on not only Chandler, but Lancaster as well.
Lancaster’s teacher while working on the project, Jeff Greene, said his product was the best he had ever seen in the 15 years he’s been at the high school.
“There’s three students that have done extraordinary work in the time I’ve been doing this — his by far was the most intense,” Green said. “Usually the students are going to give you half effort, just to get the thing done. He didn’t do that. He went completely over expectations of what was required and never looked back.”
Though most people are still unaware of Lancaster’s product, the few that do know about it are more interested in the fact that Lancaster receives monthly paychecks from the media conglomerate. Lancaster placed advertisements on the video after it became more popular.
The support for the documentary has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that Lancaster doesn’t even notice them anymore. His attention is drawn to the negative ones, which are few but memorable.
“I’ve gotten so many positive reviews that I’m kind of numb to it,” Lancaster said. “Someone will say something negative, which is pretty rare, and that will effect me more than all the people saying something positive.”
Lancaster estimated that he spent over 300 hours working and editing the film, while his research began in sixth grade when he first learned of Chandler.
Chandler became cyber famous when her videos revealing details about her life caught the attention of 4chan, an image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously. She has gained somewhat of a cult following across the country, Lancaster said. But the story of the woman had never been told.
When Lancaster considered his options for his final project in his video productions class, which was originally intended to only be a short five- to- 10-minute documentary, he felt the urge to create a longer piece about Chandler.
“I was like, ‘Mr. Greene, I really want to make something, can you let me do a little thing?’ He said, ‘How long?’ And I said, ‘15 minutes.’ ”
The first version of the documentary was five hours long, so Lancaster had to figure out a way to shorten the length while also being concise with the information he presented. He also opened the documentary by telling the audience to take what they will from the film.
“I say take any information about someone with a grain of salt unless it’s like Jeffrey Dahmer,” Lancaster said. “I say just do the research for yourself. I really try to get that point across, like here’s the facts without any opinion, and make your own opinion about it.”
The open-to-interpretation style worked, Lancaster said. Ninety percent of the comments are based on discussions, rather than criticism or nonsense.
“The reason I didn’t tell many people was because I thought it wouldn’t be anything,” Lancaster said. “I thought it would maybe get 1,000 views and that’s it. But, it’s at a quarter million now, which is crazy.”
“It’s nice because you’re never sure about something until someone says something about it,” he added.
Though he would prefer to be a filmmaker, Lancaster said he also has interests in the field of psychology. While making the film, Lancaster worked as a peer tutor in a special education classroom at the high school with special ed teacher Charlie Davies.
While Lancaster was creating the film, he would observe on a daily basis the effects of mental disorders on fellow students. Davies had high praise for Lancaster, who came to him one day with an interest in helping him around the classroom.
“He’s inquisitive, he’s thoughtful, he wants to seek understanding,” Davies said. “I say it all the time, I think Josh is one of the brightest kids at our school. I think he’s got thoughts and gifts that a lot of people don’t even understand.”
Lancaster said that he’s attempted to contact Chandler a few times but to no avail. He heard rumors that Chandler is aware of the documentary but has no interest in watching it.
“Anyone that bothers (her), (she) thinks they’re out to get (her) nowadays,” Lancaster said. “(She’s) really gone downhill mentally even though (she’s) kind of always been that way. (Chandler’s) definitely gotten worse.”
In addition to attending South Whidbey High School Lancaster is also enrolled at Sno-Isle Tech for welding and metal fabrication. Lancaster said his plan is to pursue filmmaking further while using the welding industry as a more immediate solution in terms of finding a career.
“To me that’s working within the system. You’re getting really good at doing something for someone else. But when you create content, you’re making it for only yourself and other people asking for it.”