Hello Industry!: Documenting the Other Side of Fandom
Animefringe joins Manuel Stagars and Georg Fick for a look into the latest anime industry-themed documentary, Hello Anime!
Since the Pokemon craze of the late nineties, anime has gone from a niche market into a phenomenon that has become a part of the collective pop-culture consciousness. As with any phenomenon, filmmakers are ready to take viewers on a trip into the very heart of their favorite hobby by interviewing the people responsible for its success. Otaku Unite! told the origins of how anime got to where it is today, Go Go Anime! explored fandom from the fan's point of view, and now Hello Anime! has set out to tell the other side of the story by bringing fans up close and personal with the very people in the industry responsible for making their favorite shows and for bringing anime, manga and fan-related goods to the United States.
This past month, Animefringe had the distinct pleasure of discussing the documentary with filmmakers Manuel Stagars and Georg Fick. Join us as we delve into the movie-making process!
Animefringe/Adam Arnold: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in filmmaking. What projects have you been involved in?
Manuel Stagars: I've been a music producer for a long time, before I ever made a film. Mainly, I had been producing albums with artists and writing film scores. I've also dabbled in advertising. For example, I wrote songs for commercials, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wrigley's Chewing Gum... This just didn't seem very meaningful to me at some point, so I decided to create projects that would have more of a purpose that could educate people; projects with a positive message. Film seems to be a good medium for this, so I started a film production company and made Hello Anime!
Georg Fick: I started as a documentary filmmaker back in Germany, where I'm from. Documentaries always fascinated me, but it is hard to make a living. So I switched to features, worked as an electrician, and later as a gaffer, and eventually became a cinematographer in features, commercials and music videos. My training and experience was on celluloid until I moved to Los Angeles. My first feature in the States, "Jack the Dog" was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. It was shot on DV and transferred to 35mm cinemascope.
AF: What prompted you to set out and make Hello Anime!?
MS: I was always an anime fan, and for a long time I wanted to make a documentary about anime. When I met with fellow filmmaker Georg Fick, we discussed the best way to approach it and came up with a concept. We wanted to make a new form of DVD that would let the viewer edit the film while they watch it. In a traditional documentary, you have a storyline and an opinion you want to bring across -- but what would that be with a film about anime? Do you focus on conventions? Cosplay? Anime artists? How to draw anime? Itís such a broad topic that we decided to approach it from a totally different perspective.
GF: When I met Manuel, I had experimented with different ways of using the new digital tools, hardware and software for independent filmmaking. I was looking to get back as a filmmaker into documentaries. One of my first jobs in Los Angeles was about digital artists in Hollywood and brought me together with amazing animators. Since then, I'm a sucker for animation, mainly of course anime. So when Manuel suggested to make Hello Anime!, I was right there.
AF: What sets Hello Anime! apart from other documentaries, such as Otaku Unite?
MS: I still have to see Otaku Unite... I wish that Hello Anime! could be set apart from all other documentaries! We decided to focus our DVDs on interviews. That means we met with a lot of the people who shaped the anime trend in America, or who were deep inside the business in Japan and made interviews with them about their experiences in the business. They were all saying very unique and strong things, like for example, Scott Haile [game designer for Sony and Sega]: "Anime used to be our secret weapon. Today, itís core to the game industry. You have to have anime-quality movement in your games or you don't even have a game." I hope itís the strong content that sets us apart from other documentaries.
GF: For Hello Anime!, we chose to use the possibility of a DVD to work in a non-linear structure. During a conventional documentary, the viewer has to follow the timeline and pace edited by the filmmaker. There might be parts which you would like to skip, and others where you would like to hear more. So we organized our footage along menus, which gives the viewer the possibility to go straight to what she/he is most interested in. From there, she/he can follow new interests or just browse through the content with the remote control.
AF: How did you settle on the personalities that you interviewed, and how hard was it to track some of them down?
MS: We made a list of people we wanted to interview, and most of them turned out to be available... We wanted to get the inside view to the business in America from two perspectives: anime artists and anime entrepreneurs. Everybody we contacted was very helpful and interested. It was also very cool that [animation company] Madhouse was open to let us film at their offices in Tokyo, certainly one of the highlights in making the movie!
GF: Yes, once we started the interviews, our interview partners were also very helpful [in] putting out calls and opening doors.
AF: How long did it take to produce the 2-disc set from start to finish? What type of camera and film were the interviews shot on?
MS: All in all, it took us about one year to finish the project...
GF: ...We shot on DVCam. We wanted the gear to be as small as possible to keep the interviews very casual.
AF: DVCam? That's really impressive. Judging from the quality of the DVD, I could've sworn you shot on something more expensive. Did you get to pick the locations beforehand, or did they just sort of have to make do with an office corner?
MS: We had to be very spontaneous. In general, we wanted to work with what was there in the normal environment of the interviewees. I personally like a setting outside best for an interview, but sometimes thatís not possible because itís too noisy, too rainy, too dark, etc. In Japan, for example, it was freezing, so we couldn't make the interviews outside. Some people also invited us to their homes, so the interview turned out more personal if people sat in their favorite chair as opposed to in some well-lit conference room. Especially on the second DVD with the footage from Anime Expo, itís cool to watch whatís going on behind the interviewees. In the interview with Peter Paine [from J-List], there are all kinds of funny costumes walking by. Or watch the cheerleaders in the ADV booth in the interview with David Williams...
AF: You keep the interviews uncut and under each personality instead of intercepting them throughout a full documentary. What made you settle on this style?
MS: We thought leaving the interviews almost uncut delivers a very honest insight into the personalities of the interviewees. If Iím really interested in a topic, I want to know everything about it, so if there is a specialist speaking, I want to absorb everything that heís saying.
AF: Obviously you started with a set number of questions, but were there any interviewees that let you be more spontaneous in your questions?
MS: Yes, it entirely depended on the situation. We didn't let anybody see the questions beforehand, so the interviews are all pretty fresh and unprepared. The only exception was Masahiro Kimura and Nasanori Shino from Madhouse in Tokyo, who wanted to prepare for every question. It seemed impolite to not send the questions to them beforehand.
AF: On the first disc, the interviews are framed in a sketch storyboard, whereas the second disc has them full-framed. Why the distinction?
MS: The first DVD is about anime artists, so we wanted to give it a funkier look, something that would look like a sketchbook. The second DVD focuses on the business aspects of anime, so we went for a cleaner layout.
GF: On the first disc, there is also music mixed under the interviews [songs written by The Universal Artist]. We got the idea of putting casio sounds in the interviews when we watched The Life Aquatic, tried it out and it just felt right. We wanted to give it a playful character. The interviews on the second disc are so full of the vibrant energy of Anime Expo, adding music or flashy graphics would have been too much.
AF: Of the people that you've interviewed for Hello Anime!, who did you relate to the most?
MS: Hmm... I liked the personal stories most. The interview with Cindy Yamauchi was very cool; she was very open about everything. Also, Scott Haile was great and Marlon Schulman too. He had a little buffet ready for us with bagels, cream cheese, coffee...
GF: I can relate most to Masanori Shino. He loves to spend the day doing his art, but feels exploited by the industry. We had a few people more on our list who were very excited about our concept, but their schedule prevented them to be on this disc set. But we are in contact, and there are more DVDs to come... No names, sorry.
AF: Was there anything that was incredibly surprising that happened during the interviews?
GF: When we went to Anime Expo, we met first with the guys from VIZ Media right when they were setting up their booth at 8 AM in the morning. They kept asking us where we wanted to set up our cameras and the crew, but in fact all we had as the little DVcam and a small boom mike... They couldn't believe we didn't have a big crew and tons of equipment with us. That was very funny.
MS: I was just very surprised how cool and open-minded everybody was towards our project. They all talked so openly about their personal experiences, but also about their problems with the anime industry. I didn't expect that.
AF: I know everyone has their own method, but do you have any tips for all those would-be filmmakers out there?
GF: In the past, I've filmed a lot of movies on 35mm, 16mm, HD and Beta, so I know what the smaller cameras can't do. It's just important to not try to get something out of the equipment that it can't do. For example, in low light situations, DV gets critical, so you need to carry an extra light. Also, the audio postproduction was very important. It helps a lot to have good audio, and little mistakes in the image are easier forgotten when the sound is good.
AF: So what's next for you? Going to shoot a follow-up, or try to have Hello Anime! distributed by a major company?
MS: There's a few new projects in the pipeline, so stay tuned...
GF: We are working on concepts to push the idea of an interactive documentary experience. We also encourage the fans to contact us and let us know what they would like to see next. While we are looking for bigger distribution, we make the DVD available through Amazon.com. A cool thing would be to be on Netflix. If you are Netflix member, please put Hello Anime! on your suggestion list. If enough of you do that, Netflix will make the DVD available for rent.
AF: Thank you both talking with us!
MS: Many thanks again. Cheers!
Want to snag your own copy of Hello Anime!? Then be sure to drop by the official Hello Anime! website at www.hello-anime.com, where you can learn more about the documentary, view preview clips, and even order your own copy.