The one watching over the Skip Beat Campaign explains how she got into anime, what she learned from Time of Eve, and Indiegogo over Kickstarter.
Oh hey, it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve done an interview that you can read and you can listen to it on your own time…well that’s changed today. A few weeks ago the Indiegogo campaign for Skip Beat launched, but it still has a ways to go before it can reach its goals. I did a quick chat with Pied Piper President Ann Yamamoto, and she explains what she’s learning about this Skip Beat campaign, how anime came into her life, the cost of a dub, and why Indiegogo over Kickstarter.
TheOASG: So how’s everything been since the Skip Beat campaign launched?
Ann Yamamoto: It’s definitely been a roller coaster and a huge education. When I was putting the campaign together based on my understanding of the fan base based on metrics, on MyAnimeList, Crunchyroll, Anime News Network, etc, I had a certain expectation about the kind of responses we would get, and I discovered that the way that people were responding was very much dictated by the platform we had launched on. It was hard to see if the fans were out there and are not coming aboard because of their hesitation about flexible funding and it being on Indiegogo which is a platform that people have less confidence in…or–
TheOASG: I just think more people use Kickstarter.
Ann: Yeah, exactly. And I decided to do the Indiegogo platform because the goal is so ambitious, so I wanted to give some security to the dub team who is putting so much time, energy, and investment on their end for putting this campaign together and if we got really close to the goal and we didn’t make it — I know that if we get close we can still have enough funds to create great rewards, and I didn’t want to have to tell the dub team, “Well, we were 90% there, we couldn’t do it, we’ve lost everything.” So Indiegogo was able to give that cushion so that solved a problem for me on the production team side, and then I had informally asked people around me if that seemed workable and I got a fairly positive response. But then upon launch, it’s a very different response from fans, and I can see from the fan perspective that I’ve given a cushion from the production side but shifted risk to the fans, and that’s not good *laughs* It’s not fun.
So since launch it’s been a question of how to get this project into shape so fans can get behind it and how to really reach the fans and then understanding who the fans are and what’s their motivation? And if the fans are there and the numbers that I’m expecting to make this project work.
TheOASG: Before we get more into Skip Beat, let’s get to know you a bit more. What got you interested in anime?
Ann: I’ve always been interested in anime and definitely inspired by anime. Satoshi Kon was my first director that blew me away, and then for my professional career work, I’ve spent my whole life doing Japanese media. So working as an American for Japanese media generally on the Japan production side creating TV shows about the United States for the Japanese side. In that process I had opportunities to work with really famous Japanese creators, like when I was working in New York I was able to work for the production team of Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy character designer).
So as part of my work in media I was working at a company called DIRECTIONS in Tokyo, which produced the anime Time of Eve, so that gave me the opportunity to handle the overseas promotion and marketing and distribution for that title on behalf of DIRECTIONS and that is what really got me on fire about anime. Being able to be a part of creating something with people who are so incredibly passionate about anime as an art form and that’s what keeps me going.
TheOASG: Did you ever think you’d be doing something like this when you was growing up?
Ann: Never in my most wildest dreams *laughs* This was definitely not something in any kind of career plan or “plot out life” course. It’s all very much serendipity and a lot of it has developed because of relationships I’ve developed with people over years and years and years, and getting really fantastic opportunities because of it.
TheOASG: Name me some of the challenges, regrets, or triumphs from working on Time of Eve.
Ann: I think the biggest triumph is putting out that title, having no idea how anyone would respond. We felt like we’d be lucky to get 300 people behind the project, and we’d feel like, *phew*. To get the kind of response that we did was just mind blowing, so that was a huge triumph, to see just how the title meant to so many people. The second triumph was coming out of the end of that and feeling like that was a really meaningful and worthwhile project. It was really well spent, it was two years, but it was two well spent years because at the end of that, with the people that participated we were able to do more with Time of Eve that would’ve ever been possible through just a traditional distribution because we knew the fans were there, and because they were with us we were able to get access to lots more material, like the official fan book, the light novel, exclusive merchandise, etc. That would have never been possible and it was like, “Because we did this together with the fans we could do something that was truly exceptional.”
And the other third triumph I think is I felt like the backers educated me on what it means to put out a great release. They also given me something very special, which is the credibility to be able to go to license holders in Japan and go and say, “This is what I was able to do with fans on Time of Eve, I would like to license your property and to be able to do this to your property together with the fans.” It’s very tough to have enough credibility to get a license from a license holder, so I feel like Time of Eve gave me a fan base to be able to bring more titles out, and that was also a big triumph.
TheOASG: Where did you get the idea to license Skip Beat? How long did it take for you to get approvals for everything?
Ann: I had initially set up a meeting with TV TOKYO to discuss another title which for various reasons turned out to not be available, but they showed me their back titles in their catalog that that was still unlicensed, and I saw Skip Beat there. I found out that they had many offers from licensors in North America but they turned them all down because they required a dub. A dub is a huge investment and nobody was willing to take the title. I felt like I just couldn’t leave it there. I felt this was the only possibility for Skip Beat to have an official release because I knew that the only way to address that risk was to mobilize the fans, and understanding that this is a problem we have to solve together.
After TV TOKYO decided to seriously entertain my proposal it actually moved really quickly. They were able to get approval from the production committee. I think the whole process took 2 to 3 months, which is very fast. Like I have other offers [to other companies] that I’ve made even months prior to that which the production committee has not gotten back to me on, so it did move very quickly.
TheOASG: I’m a little surprised that nobody considered dubbing Skip Beat. Was this something TV TOKYO told you or did they get word from companies about why they wouldn’t dub it?
Ann: They told me that with that requirement nobody had come to them with a proposal that included a dub, and because of that they have not accepted a proposal, and since then I have spoken with another North America distributor who confirmed to me that they did consider the title but felt it was very challenging to do a dub. I mean a dub is a huge expense. If you have an in-house studio it’s one thing, but even if you have an in-house studio for 25 episodes I don’t know what the costs are in-house but I would imagine it’d have to be $100 to $150,000. If you’re using an outside studio it’s like $150 to $250,000, and to have that kind of investment, you have to know if you can make sales of half a million to be able to recoup your investment. So it’s tough, it’s a big hurdle.
TheOASG: How much debate was involved between using Kickstarter and Indiegogo? Or was it, “We’re gonna go with Indiegogo?”
Ann: Initially the plan was to use Kickstarter. I had a great experience with Time of Eve, and Kickstarter campaigns are always so much fun. It was just when I brought the dub team on, they are essential to making this project happen. I’d only take this project because Mela Lee, Christina Vee, and the rest of the dub team are taking the dub on as a passion project, so it’s not the price tag of going to a big studio. They’re really doing this as a labor of love and as I said before we had concerns about coming close to the goal and what are we gonna do, and at that point I had considered the possibility of, “Well if we get close we’ll have to re-launch it” or try again or something like that, so it was just like, “Well let’s do an Indiegogo.” And at that point nobody’s really done an anime campaign on Indiegogo. There’s examples of really successful games that have done well on Indiegogo, and Christina Vee, she had been involved in Skullgirls which did really really well on Indiegogo, so seeing that example I was like, “Well, let’s give it a try!” But now I see that really makes it difficult for people to show their support.
TheOASG: In your interview for Forbes, you mentioned you didn’t feel like bringing over Skip Beat was a risk, but it was more of an opportunity to fill a gap in Western media. What makes you say that?
Ann: Well I see that opportunity. Skip Beat is a story with a strong, female lead, and there’s a lot of discussion now about that. For example, Disney shows that are marketed for girls or for women, but still don’t necessarily have strong female leads, and I think Skip Beat is a standup show in Japanese anime and manga, and it certainly has a lot to offer for American audiences just in the context of choices that are out there for them. That’s the whole reason why TV TOKYO has been so adamant about the dub. It’s not like that’s a decision that’s going to make them more money at the outset because they could have licensed this property years ago if they didn’t insist on a dub but they want it because with a dub it could reach so many more people and they really believe Skip Beat has a universal appeal, and they want the title to have that chance.
TheOASG: What do you see happening precisely to Skip Beat at 11:59EST on March 31? What’s your hope?
Ann: We’re actually right now looking at different options at what we can do with the campaign, so I’m hoping that at that point we are fully funded or are very close to it, and we have the option of relaunching the campaign with a different configuration and we have the option of if we stay with Indiegogo of extending the campaign.