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Fans on The Warpath

All true otaku out there -- hear the call! Say it loud and say it proud with a new documentary film examining all that is anime fandom

For far too long anime fandom has been getting the short end of the stick. Sure, we might have entire department store sections devoted specifically to our hobby (but drugs still are cheaper), companies seem to bow down to our ravenous whims, and even mainstream America finally seems to be catching onto the Japanese way. Yet through it all, we have yet to fully embrace our [insert religious metaphor] given heritage to be who we are... otaku.

Yes, brothers and sisters, it is time for us to leave our dark hovels and emerge into the light of day (no, you hopefully won't turn to dust). Otaku is no longer a bad word. It's our term. Raise that banner high and gladly scream out, "I AM AN OH-TAH-KOO!"

Okay, a bit over the top, but the otaku revolution is well underway and thanks to the great filmmaking talents of Eric Bresler and Movies of My Dreams Productions, we finally have Otaku Unite!, a feature-length documentary currently making its way through the convention circuit, dedicated solely to us. Covering everything from historical factoids with Gilles Poitras and Frederik L. Schodt, to interviews with studio reps, the historical side of the emergence of North American fandom is as in-depth as any book on the subject. But fleshing it out are the often side-splitting looks into how far we tend to go for our beloved hobby.

Animefringe was fortunate enough to catch up with Otaku Unite!'s own director, Eric Bresler during one of his brief hiatuses between cons to ask him a few questions about this delightful documentary.

Animefringe/Adam Arnold: Thanks for agreeing to the interview. Let's go ahead and jump right in. What made you decide to produce this sort of documentary in the first place?

Eric Bresler: A few years back, there was a wave of fandom-centric documentaries... It may have started with Trekkies, which I like... I also saw a Star Wars one, a Rocky Horror one, an Elvis one... The majority of these weren't very well made. When we stumbled upon anime fandom in the summer of 2000, I was surprised that such a large fan group existed outside of the public's eye. So this type of documentary was trendy at the time (and still is, for that matter) and I felt that we could do anime fandom justice in the form of a historical document. The visibility of fandom has probably tripled since shooting on OU! began. I like to think that my movie will continue to help it grow.

AF: Tell us a little bit about the production of Otaku Unite! How much work went into it exactly?

EB: The production history of OU! breaks down like this:
Summer 2000: Pre-production
Fall 2000: Shooting began at the first Sugoi-Con
April 2002: Shooting wrapped, Editing began
September 2003: Editing wrapped
Its impossible to describe the amount of work I personally put into this project. I handled all aspects from production, to web design, to making stickers and pins. All of the money came out of my own pocket, which is why my life hasn't been very stable the past few years. I moved four times last year alone. But I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and I will never forget the people that helped me along the way.

The most difficult part of production was definitely editing the piece. I wanted to create a work that simultaneously appealed to both anime fans and the general public. I wanted to avoid condescension at all costs (which some movie-makers surely would have embraced), but the quirkiness of anime fandom could not be left untouched. So basically, I chose to balance out the project between fandom history and quirky modern milestones, such as the first anime con wedding. Judging from the feedback we've received thus far, I'd say I did a pretty good job.

AF: I'd say so; it was a really educational piece at times. It's not often that you get to put a face to a name, but the film pretty much captures that. You even seem to have made a star out of Jonny Otaku. Did you intentionally seek him out or did you just sort of happen upon him?

EB: Jonathan Cook, aka Jonny Otaku, actually contacted me through instant messenger one night... I was planning a weeklong string of shoots that began in Baltimore and ended down at Anime Express in Daytona Beach, FL. He luckily contacted me a couple weeks before the trip and told us about how he was a huge anime fan and that we should interview him. He lived in Chattanooga, TN, so what became our first of three interviews with him fit in perfectly between our stops at Studio Ironcat in Fredericksburg, VA and Dave Merrill in Atlanta. Jonny Otaku is a funny guy. Everyone involved in OU! liked him a lot, but most interesting is the reactions of those who view the documentary. Anime fans seem to be split down the middle, some feel that he is a misrepresentation of anime fans, while others think he is the perfect illustration of a large portion of fandom. And then there are anime fans that identify with him. I tried to portray him in a completely fair, unbiased light... I didn't want him to be an object of ridicule for those outside of fandom, but I certainly couldn't downplay his eccentricities. Ultimately, I'm happy with the way that he is portrayed in OU!... Since shooting wrapped, Jonny has apparently dropped out of fandom to pursue an acting career and we wish him the best of luck.

AF: Did you have to sell anything or max out any credit cards to cover production costs?

EB: There are credit card bills that still need to be paid. More than anything, I miss my out-of-print Criterion DVDs. Not that I'd watch Salo more than once, but it was nice to have strictly as a collector's item.

AF: True, Salo isn't one of those movies that I'd want to watch more than once either. How much did you end up getting for your copy of Salo?

EB: I sold the Criterion editions of Salo, The Killer, and Spinal Tap to an ebayer in Switzerland for $750... It was a very good deal for the buyer at the time when they were going for much more than that. But considering they were each $30 retail, I made out pretty well.

AF: Did any mishaps ever happen at any of the conventions you filmed at?

EB: We handled all of our shoots in a very professional manner... There wasn't any footage out of the 90+ hours that we have that didn't come out perfectly, so I was happy with that. There were plenty of times that either we or our subjects weren't completely sober, but these always turned out to be the best interviews.

AF: Were there any specific interviews that you didn't get to include that you wish you had?

EB: We did a great interview with Joyce Brabner, Harvey Pekar's wife, who you may have recently seen in American Splendor. Their adopted daughter is a big anime fan and she supervises an anime club in Cleveland. We also followed around an anime fan who goes by the name "Otakuman"; he lives in Cleveland also. Look for him on the DVD. There are a few individuals that I wish we'd interviewed, such as Fred Ladd and Robert Fenelon, but time and budget constraints prevented us from doing so.

AF: Was there a specific part of the documentary that in hindsight you wish you had done differently?

EB: I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out and I am excited about moving on to other projects.

AF: Are there any upcoming cons you'll be screening Otaku Unite! at?

EB: We have a bunch of screenings lined up...you can check out the list here: http://www.otakuunite.com/info.html There are always more being added.

AF: I understand you are planning on releasing a DVD later this year. Tell us a little about that.

EB: There is no specific date set for a DVD/VHS release; I'm looking for a professional distributor to handle it, so that it can be done correctly. We have so much interesting archive footage that can be included as extras, and we definitely want to do a commentary track or two where we can talk about our adventures in fandom as outsiders.

AF: Have you looked into Miramax or Columbia TriStar? I know they might be long shots, but with Comic Book: The Movie and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters and Marvels out on DVD, it seems like there is a market for these kinds of fan-centered releases. Then again, what about the mainstream anime companies?

EB: Part of me would like to go with an anime distributor, but a more mainstream outfit would definitely expose OU! to a larger audience. I don't want the movie stuck in the anime section at your local Suncoast since it would only be exposed to that exact segment of the population. I'm definitely taking my time... After 3 years of production, I want the DVD to be done correctly.

AF: What kind of extras are you planning to include?

EB: Deleted scenes, unused interviews, music videos... lots of fun stuff.

AF: So, what's your next big film project going to be?

EB: It's a secret. It has to do with one of my passions and it will be fiction. I'd also love to do Otaku Unite!: The Movie, a fiction film with anime fans, giant robots, and kaiju monsters, but we'll need outside investors for that one.

AF: An Otaku Unite movie, huh? That'd be pretty interesting. Anything else you'd like to add?

EB: We love receiving input from anime fans, so any questions or comments can be sent to info@otakuunite.com. The success of Otaku Unite! truly depends on the efforts of the fans out there that want to see it screened in their area or released to home video formats. The biggest help anyone can give us is to tell the anime distributors and festivals out there about OU! and let them know that there are thousands of people that want the opportunity to view it. Support the cause, shop http://www.otakuunite.com/store.html.

Eric B.'s top 5 favorite punk rock songs:
1. The Boys, "First Time"
2. The Nips, "Gabrielle"
3. X-Ray Spex, "I Can't Do Anything"
4. The Pogues, "Rake at the Gates of Hell"
5. The Ramones, "Chainsaw"

AF: Okay, Eric. Thank you once again for talking with us.

EB: Take care.

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