Otakon 2007 - Con Chair Interview

by Jonathan Mays, Aug 8th 2007

With 29 guests of honor, more than 150 hours of panels, about 250 hours of video, and almost 23,000 anime fans, there was plenty to occupy Otakon 2007 Convention Chair Sean Chiochankitmun over the weekend. But on Sunday morning, he spared a few minutes--and sacrificed some sleep--to reflect on his time at the second biggest anime convention in America.

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We're here with Sean Chiochankitmun, the Otakon 2007 Con Chair. Thanks for taking the time.

Glad to have you guys here.

Now you started Otakon seven years ago as a "gofer." Any good memories from that?

I'd say that was probably one of the more fun years of staff because you don't have quite the responsibility of being an Otakon staffer and you can go out and see things other than the beige walls of the back halls of the BCC.

Remember what the attendance was back then?

A lot lower than it is now.

7,500.

That's even hard to think about that.

Ever think it would be three times as big--more than three times?

Yeah, when you come in, you'd think it was crowded back then, but seeing 23,000 people in there and not even having the whole BCC back then, that's kind of crazy.

Wait, were you--where was the convention back then?

Oh, no, it was, my first year with Otakon was at the BCC, except at that time, we didn't have the entire thing. We were actually sharing it. One of the first cons I went to, we were split with a Muslim convention, and that was interesting because they'd all want to come over and see what we were doing. And we were kind of like, "That's interesting cosplay. I don't recognize the character from that."

So besides the attendance, what's the biggest change you've noticed in the last seven years?

I keep seeing the crowd get younger and younger. It may just be that I'm getting older and doing that, but we--hmm, great, now I'm stalling--I would think it's really just, there's a shift from some of the more obscure anime to what we're showing and what people are looking for at Otakon. We always want to have as much of the fansubbers come in, but we're having more and more difficulty, with things getting licensed, getting the rights for the newer and unreleased anime. And that's kind of the biggest challenge we're getting faced with.

Because we're fans--by fans, it's getting harder and harder to do the more fun things that we'd like to have come out. Back then, we were all under the radar, and you didn't quite have to worry about all of the licensing right you have to get to show everything at your con.

You still show fansubs now, right?

We do, but we have the permission of the companies to show the fansubs. So instead of--if a group comes in and says, "We don't want you to show that fansub," even if we had planned on it, greatest fansub in the world, gone instantly. Back in the day, we were under the radar of the Japanese industry, and you could get away with a lot more. But we do what we can.

With about six hours to go, what's your impression of Otakon '07?

Lots of fun. I'm glad the AAA concert went off well. It seemed well received. People had a great time at cosplay. We do what we do every year: trying to make you guys happy and fans happy and trying to stay sane while we're doing it.

Any event that particularly proud of?

Definitely the AAA concert, and I'm really, again, always happy with the Masquerade because it's a great chance for a lot of our con-goers to show some creativity. And the skits are always amusing, and the AMV's.

You had to deal with some weather delays for the guests. How'd that work out?

We had a lot of rescheduled panels, but it worked out pretty well. Nothing you can really do to control Mother Nature. We had a couple of guests have to cancel their flights and fly into Dulles, and that's always a fun thing to have happen.

What was the longest delay a guest had?

We had people coming in at least fourteen or fifteen hours after their scheduled arrival time, and that can really throw off their schedule coming from Japan.

But everybody got here, right?

Everyone got here. That's, I guess, the most important part.

I didn't see any big event delays. Did everything pretty much go on time?

Yeah, our guests are pretty understanding that we have things they need to show up at, and from there, even if they're tired, they'll still go on for us because they're really happy to see their fans. They're usually so enthusiastic to be here. It's really kind of hard to have them not want to do more.

In fact, most of the con seemed pretty well organized. Registration lines Friday, Saturday, blew threw those. Did it feel like a tight convention?

I'm really happy with our "reg" push-through. Matt Smiechowski, our pre-reg, and Mitch Hagmaier, our registration head, have had several years of doing what they're doing. It seems the lines get pushed through a lot more quickly every year. The fact that, by Friday night, we had pushed 16,000 of our pre-reg with Thursday and Friday through the door--we were happy just to see so many people able to get to the con quickly.

Have any early attendance numbers?

We're looking at at least what we had before. We're probably looking at a fair bit of growth. We'll know a bit later on in the afternoon what we actually end up with.

So more than 22,000?

Yeah, we'll end up with more than the 22,300 from last year. Probably close to around 23,000 this year.

You tried moving around a couple of events this year. Like the main events, you moved from the ballroom down to the exhibit hall. I think that worked out pretty well. What was the idea behind that?

Part of the idea behind that was that ZZ Top decided that they really, really wanted the arena, and we were unable to obtain it. But we'd been looking at how we'd been utilizing the BCC space because the BCC is huge and can hold much larger events than even us. I mean, there have been 100,000 person trade shows in here. It's just how's they're organized. We want to use our space more effectively to maximize what we're getting out of here.

The only consistent complaint I've heard about the convention was that some people were disappointed in the guest list.

We strive to work to get a guest list that appeals to everyone. Obviously we can't, with AX bringing in Yoshiki and his new band, with S.K.I.N. going over there, there wasn't a strong likelihood of them coming here. We try every year. Jim Vowles, our relations head, does the best he can. All I can say is, every year it'll get better, and we do our best for that.

You did have a couple of big ones this year. Maki Murakami had a huge audience, but then you have some like AAA that are kind of a hard sell.

It's kind of a hard sell, but it's trying to introduce fans to another aspect of that. They're a really high-energy band that we thought would be fun for the audience to actually see.

When you have a choice between bringing in a guest with huge demand and someone you can put on a big new stage like AAA, do you have a preference?

Well, of course we love to get a big name in here. The L'Arc-en-Ciel concert was a great big feather in our hats, but we will go for whomever we can get. If S.K.I.N. had come to us, we would have gladly gone with them. AAA came to us, and we really liked what they could do. We go with what is our best choice at the time. Sometimes their schedules don't allow for them to be here. It's kind of hectic when they're trying to release a new--with manga artists, with anyone, it's just trying to get their schedules to mesh.

Having a convention in July, you were squeezed by Comic-Con this year.

Yeah.

If you had a choice between July and August, would you go for August?

There's a good chance that the dates for 2008 will be a little later in the year and a return to our traditional timeslot.

You're committed to Baltimore, also?

Definitely committed in '08 for Baltimore. Check Closing Ceremonies, and we'll announce our dates for 2008 there. [August 8-10]

I don't think the Hilton is going to be ready for the next Otakon, is it?

The Hilton may or may not be ready for actual hotel use. They won't take group reservations for us. They're kind of nebulous as to when they're going to open.

So there's a chance you may get Hilton for Otakon '08?

Yeah, there's a chance that we may have it there. We've been looking at the space utilization that they're planning out, but because they can't guarantee the space, we can't bank on it being available.

Now, Otakon rotates its department heads, right?

It rotates a lot of staffers out, depending on them leaving and performance from previous years.

That's kind of unique to this convention. Why do you do that?

Part of it is to keep fresh minds in what we're doing. There's a high burnout rate on the senior staff for our section heads, and more severely Otakorp, our parent company, the Comptroller, President, Vice President, all--when you get to the top for President, as anyone who's running a convention can tell you, you're really glad when that Sunday rolls around and everyone's out. As much as it was the biggest thing you've ever done, it's kind of nice to relax after that.

We think that keeping fresh people in there prevents us from stagnating and getting stuck in the same rut and doing the same things over and over again because someone wanted one thing instead of everyone getting their ideas in.

Have any advice for next year's Con Chair?

Get some sleep, and try not to run Rental at 4:30 in the morning and get up at 7 in the morning. It's kind of a hard thing to do.

Thanks very much.

Not a problem.

Check out the rest of Anime News Network's Otakon 2007 coverage here.


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