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Chicks On Anime
Producing a DVD

by B. Dong, S. Pocock,

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

In order to learn about the thought process behind producing a DVD, and deciding what content goes on it, we talked with Funimation's DVD producer, Clarine Harp and tried to figure out why DVDs don't cost a dollar. If her name sounds familiar, it's because she does voice work as well, with popular roles including Hibari Ginza from Speed Grapher, Kaede Nagase from Negima!, and Sei from Burst Angel.

Bamboo: Let's start with some basics. Clarine, can you tell us a bit about your job as a DVD producer? What does that entail?
Clarine: I gather all of the elements needed to make a DVD or Blu-ray disc and pass them on to the authors. I work with many different departments to ensure we have the materials we need in time to author a release. This includes menus, music loops, audio, video, subtitles, etc. A lot of planning goes into each release to ensure we have covered all of our bases.
Bamboo: Are you the QC point, then? If something is busted, does it stop with you?
Clarine: Yes, it does. The DVD department at Funimation includes quality control, translations, subtitles, compression and authoring. Good QC is critical to the success of any release, so any problems we run across need to be fixed quickly in order to make our deadlines.
Bamboo: Do you actually have to watch every single thing that floats by you? That sounds kind of exhausting, actually.
Clarine: Well, not me personally! The quality control group watches every piece of video to make sure we don't run into problems. This can be tedious if we have four audio tracks on a release. We try to split the work up between people to keep a fresh set of eyes on everything.
Sara: So at what point in the production process do you jump in? Are you involved with the DVD process from the moment the masters arrive from Japan?
Clarine: Since translations fall into the DVD department, we jump right in when materials arrive from Japan. Once the editing department has conformed the video and created the types of files we need, the Japanese scripts and video are sent to the translator. Meanwhile, a few of us check the tapes and product samples to see what extra features are available. In our department, we are involved in the process at the very beginning and the end.
Bamboo: Sorry, conformed the video? What does that mean?
Clarine: We receive materials from many different licensors. The editing department conforms the video in order to be processed by Funimation. Sometimes we receive large digibeta tapes with several episodes on them. In order to input the correct timecodes into our subtitling program, we need everything to start at the one hour mark. Since material delivery can vary from company to company, the editors make sure we are using the same point of reference. Does this make sense?
Sara: It does to me, since I've authored DVDs before. I know what you're getting at. I'm curious about what sort of decisions go into printing a DVD title. Let's say Funimation acquires a license for a brand-new TV series. Who makes the decision about how many episodes, extras, etc. fit on each DVD? Release formats, like season box sets as opposed to singles, dub vs. no dub, vary from title to title, correct?
Clarine: The decision on how many episodes to include in a release is done at the executive level, with input from various departments. I am provided with a disc count and number of episodes. Once I know what parameters to work in, I create menu instructions with a detailed breakdown of the content. If I feel a particular disc count or episode number will affect video quality, I provide my input at that time. Extra features, on the other hand, are dependent on budget, as well as disc space.
Sara: How does budget affect extras? Where does that money come from? Does Funimation pay license fees for video interviews and things?
Clarine: I am provided with a budget for each release. This budget will include every part of the process from translation, authoring, quality control and subtitling. An extra feature costs more on the back end than some people realize. For example, it may take one hour to record an actor on a commentary. Not only does the actor need to be paid, but the ADR Director and engineer as well. Then, the commentary is passed on to the mix engineer, then the compressionist, DVD authors and finally, QC. The cost adds up very quickly! As far as Japanese extras are concerned, the fees depend on the licensor. Some provide materials and others require an access fee.
Bamboo: Well that's kind of cool. So you get to decide which extras end up on the DVD? What makes or breaks a decision?
Clarine: A lot of factors are involved. First, I check the budget to see if we can afford to have extras. If so, we check the tapes and original Japanese releases to see what is available. Some shows have a ton of extras and others don't. If I find something cool, then I will request approval to use them. These days, a make-it or break-it decision is made due to the amount of space available on the disc. If we have a higher episode count on a release, we are limited to the amount of special features we can provide. Ultimately the episodes or movies themselves are given priority over bonus content.
Sara: Now, I'm also curious about some of the titles Funimation has recently been re-releasing from other companies like ADV. I noticed that Le Chevalier D'Eon, for instance, retains ADV's commentary tracks. Do you keep other companies' extras in most cases or add some of your own?
Clarine: Those releases are special cases. For Le Chevalier D'Eon, I was given approval to retain all extra features. For most post-production titles, we do not create extra features ourselves.
Bamboo: I'm interested in the process of choosing extras. One of the comments that I hear from fans is that the extras are one of the biggest factors in deciding whether or not to buy a DVD—especially if you can stream or download the show itself.
Clarine: I sometimes feel that way too! This is why we make an effort to include as many extras as we can. Sometimes, there are no Japanese extras available and we don't have a budget to request commentaries or outtakes.
Sara: Could you give us a rough estimate of how long it takes to produce a typical Funimation DVD? From the moment the materials arrive to the moment the DVD is shrink-wrapped and ready to hit shelves.
Clarine: That's a tough one. It really varies from show to show. In cases like Beck, we had to spend more time on the release in order to procure music rights and record the songs. Also, it depends on when we receive materials. If we receive piecemeal shipments, then this will slow down production time.
Sara: How long did Beck take? For each single, I mean.
Clarine: Honestly, I don't remember. It seemed as if we were working on that title forever! The pay-off was great, though.
Sara: The market for anime DVDs has been changing recently, especially over the last year or two. I've noticed that for a lot of titles, instead of going with the singles-then-box set release, Funimation has been going with half-season box sets. What sorts of changes does that require on your end? Or from Funimation as a whole?
Clarine: I really like the change in release strategy. As an avid DVD-buyer, I love purchasing entire sets of TV on DVD. The half-season sets are a way to get the product out to people quicker, while still giving them larger chunks of the series. In order to do this, every department within the production-side had to re-think their process from start to finish. It's very non-linear in that we are working on completely different parts of the process all at the same time.
Bamboo: I really like the boxsets, too. Not only are they cheaper, but it's so convenient. It's nice not having to wait every four episodes. Is it more work for you, though? I've noticed that Funimation's release schedule has not slowed down at all, especially with all the titles you absorbed from ADV and Geneon.
Clarine: Some shows don't really pick up until you watch a few episodes, so I feel a larger number gives you a better feel of the series. It is a lot more work, though. The DVD department has grown quite a bit larger over the past two years. Even so, we work more, but we love what we do. After putting forth this extra effort, it's nice to know people appreciate the change, Bamboo.
Sara: I have kind of a long multi-parter. First off, a comment: I've been noticing a lot of chatter from online fans—particularly those fairly new to anime—who insist that the half-season box sets are an excuse for North American companies to price gouge the media and force them to pay extra for titles they assume would be cheaper as a full season box set. Personally, I find this accusation sort of ludicrous, since any price drop from singles is kind of a God-send (especially for those of us who remember anime on VHS, which cost about $30 a tape for 2 episodes) and anime seems to be getting cheaper and cheaper all the time.

Can you explain why anime is so much more expensive to buy than domestic North American DVDs? That seems to be confusing to a lot of people, especially those just now getting into anime, who weren't around when singles were the mainstream.

Also, can you see the price of anime adjusting to the rest of the North American market? For instance, will it ever be feasible for Funimation to release a full series as a single box set as its first N.A. release?

Clarine: Tough question! I can try to address both your comment and question at once. Anime production costs in the U.S. are higher since the shows are not produced domestically. Companies in the U.S. pay for a license in order to distribute within the country. Like the question I answered about extra features, there are many hidden costs involved. There can be anything from material fees, to translation, dubbing, etc. Plus, there are many other departments within the company who contribute to the success of the release. This can include marketing, licensing, human resources and others. I think the decision to release half-season sets addressed the concerns of fans who wanted more episodes at once.

I have not personally heard any complaints about this strategy because people often tell me it's great that they can have more episodes at an affordable price point. Can you explain the actual argument in this case? As far as North American pricing is concerned, your guess is as good as mine. I have minimal involvement in the acquisition of titles since my position within the company is primarily concerned with the production of the release, instead of the front-end financials.

Sara: Well, like I said earlier, the argument comes from people who were never around when singles were popular. It basically goes, "Why should I pay $40 twice when I can buy the full season for $60?"
Bamboo: I think a lot of fans just don't understand why they can't buy a season boxset for $35. Or they use the argument, "Well, why should I spend so much money for a show I might not like?"
Clarine: Ah, okay. I remember buying VHS tapes for $30 each when minimum-wage was $4.25 an hour, so I think DVD prices are much better. Maybe I am just an old lady. *laugh*
Bamboo: Heh, both Sara and I are from that era, too. I remember buying Evangelion two episodes at a time for $40!
Sara: 13 tapes, aw yeah! Though when I talk about it, I am accused of "Hey kids get off my lawn!" mentality.
Clarine: Seriously, though, in regards to trying out series, episodes are becoming more available at places like Hulu, Joost, iTunes, XBOX 306 and funimation.com, to name a few. It's quite inexpensive to try out a series to see if you like it. I have been approached by many people who tell me they downloaded a few episodes online and based on what they saw, bought the series on DVD.
Sara: I have to say I'm kind of flabbergasted by how cheap and readily available anime is now. I never would have expected this even five years ago.
Bamboo: I guess times have just really changed. I am still kind of surprised at just how many TV shows I can buy on DVD. Like, live-action American TV shows. So I'm someone who can appreciate the novelty of being able to finally buy a show on DVD.
Sara: In the past, season box sets and thinpacks were released only after the singles had been on the market for a while. Does Funimation plan to release full seasons of titles like Ouran, or will only the half-season box sets be available indefinitely?
Clarine: I really don't know about the release of full season sets (24-26 episodes) at once in the future. Many of the comments we receive are from fans who want to watch shows right after they air in Japan. Production time is longer if we have to work on 26 episodes at a time, as opposed to 13. What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you prefer to purchase half-season sets or are you willing to wait longer to buy the entire series?
Sara: As a collector, I can't imagine not picking up the titles I'm interested for my shelves, but more and more fans are growing increasingly content with online streaming.
Bamboo: I like half-season sets, actually. Part of me still does like that suspense. Plus it's easier to plunk down the money for half the season, rather than the whole one.
Sara: I'm happy with the half-season sets, too. I think they're a good compromise between getting anime sooner and soothing my wallet. Speaking of iTunes, this brings up another point—do you think hard-copy formats like DVDs are becoming obsolete?
Clarine: I don't think DVDs will become obsolete as long as there is still a market for collectors. Personally, I am a hardcore collector. If I love a series or movie, I am going to purchase a disc so I can pop it into my DVD player whenever I want. Plus, I can get the cool packaging and insert booklets.
Bamboo: Let me ask you about subtitles. DVDs are fairly limited in what kinds of subtitles they can display, because of the software. Fansubs are pretty ridiculous nowadays. They can make fonts that mimic anything. Do you think DVDs could ever get to that point? Maybe new technology, as a necessity to adapt? They're functional, but honestly, they're not very pretty.
Clarine: Subtitles on DVDs are currently limited to a small number of fonts and colors. We try to pick them based on the best-looking and easy-to-read using the software we have available. I hope we will have more options in the future. You never know, because technology is always changing.
Sara: Speaking of new technology, what's it been like producing content for Blu-Ray? Have you worked on any?
Clarine: Yes, we have worked on a number of titles. We currently author Blu-ray discs in-house and this is a huge challenge. I have learned so much from this process alone. Producing one of these discs takes roughly two to three times longer than a standard-definition DVD release. The entire process is different, but I feel we have gotten to a point where we understand how to handle this in our day-to-day schedule.
Bamboo: Here's a softball. What's the best part about your job?
Clarine: Only one? I think the best part of my job is never dreading coming into work every morning. I have the rare opportunity to work on shows that I really like and the end result is physically present in many stores. It feels great to walk into a retail shop and see something I helped put together. As a long-time anime fan, this is a great feeling.
Sara: Obligatory recession question: How is Funimation holding up?
Clarine: As with most companies, we have felt the pinch of the current economic crisis. But, I think we are holding up pretty well. New initiatives seem to be starting up every month and I am confident we will be okay.
Sara: OK, I have one last quick, indulgent question. What's your favorite title you've worked on so far?
Clarine: Sara, that's a hard question to answer. Since I also do voice work, I often equate my "favorite show" with my "favorite character". To be honest, the front-runner on both sides of the equation is Speed Grapher, which remains close to my heart.
Bamboo: Is it ever awkward producing DVDs with the content that you're in?
Clarine: Not for me, but maybe for the QC group. Since they are required to watch everything we produce, I sometimes get strange looks from people who have viewed shows like Speed Grapher. Hmm... Wonder why?
Bamboo: It's got to be great being able to be part of a show that you have to compile the content for. It seems like a great way to really, completely feel "hands on." So many people would be jealous!
Sara: *laughs* DVD production seems like a very thankless task to me, so I appreciate the effort you put into it.
Clarine: Hence, why I love my job! I get to feel completely immersed in a show and this is the icing on the cake.

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