Japanese Animation Producers Practice Their Pitching Skills In English

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Studio Durian pitched a film as Flip Flappers director Kiyotaka Oshiyama's next project

Five Japanese animation producers held an English-language pitching session in front of international producers and industry professionals during AnimeJapan 2019. The Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO) organized the session with support from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The VIPO has been training the producers in their pitching skills since January, and the pitching session was held "to encourage Japanese animation producers to gain skill to appeal in international markets, training them on how to provide effective materials and how they should deliver speech in English."

The five producers were Emmy Ozawa from Flying Ship Studio (FLCL Progressive, Yuki Yuna is A Hero Season 2 3DCGI), Yuki Nagano from Studio Durian (a studio set up by Flip Flappers director Kiyotaka Oshiyama), Ken Yoshida from Picona Creative Studio (Midnight Crazy Trail), Ryūnosuke Watanabe from Nippon Animation (World Masterpiece Theater), and Takae Masuda from POP-iD.

All the pitches showed drawings and explained the story and concept behind the proposed project. Some showed animation samples. They also explained the budget of the projects and what the producers were looking for from foreign investors. The English fluency level among the producers varied greatly when the program started, although the emphasis was more on breaking down the pitch itself in Japanese than on training English language ability.

Ozawa pitched a 3DCG television show aimed at children called Chiruta & Chanlula. The show is about gnomes and children, and will tell "stories of fostering a life, set in a secret mossy forest." Earlier this year, Flying Ship Studio produced a pilot, and the studio wants US$3 million to expand it into a series.

The feedback from international producers was that the pitch was very tight and concise. The only concern was that a European audience may have a different idea of what gnomes look like, but it could still appeal to a Northern European audience.

Nagano pitched a 2D-animated movie called Shishigari, to be directed by Kiyotaka Oshiyama at Studio Durian. The story follows a hunter-gatherer protagonist who encounters a single-winged fugitive, and the theme is about the clash between primitive humans and humans who have evolved too much (i.e. posthuman). Nagano showed off concept art and some teaser footage, and spoke in great detail about Oshiyama's pedigree as an animator and director. The format is a 90-minute film with a budget between 4.5 to 5 million US dollars.

This was the only pitch that pushed the director's name as a selling point. However, it didn't appear that any of the international producers giving feedback knew of Kiyotaka Oshiyama. They were puzzled by the fact that the story seemed dark but the artwork gave the impression of a family-friendly story. Nagano explained that this was Oshiyama's style as an auteur, but the producers were still bothered by the disparity between the teaser footage and the pitch, and said that the pitch should have been up-front about the target audience and tone of the film.

Yoshida pitched a 12 episode 3DCG magical girl series aimed at 6-10 year old children called Midnight Crazy Trail. It is based on a short anime film by the same name which Picona Creative Studio made for Anime Tamago 2018. The outline for the script for the first three episodes are already done, so the direction of the story is already clear. The budget was US$3.7 million.

The international producers asked questions about the story, which Yoshida explained claimed to be a creative and original new idea because it was about a witch who didn't want to have magical powers. They asked, "Was there anything inherent to the power that interfered with her ability to fit in?" When Yoshida explained that she thought her powers killed her mother, the producers that this would make the conflict more about guilt than about fitting in with non-magic people. They also suggested that the scope of the story was better suited for a film.

Watanabe from Nippon Animation sought US$1.5 million for a 5-15 minute pilot film production for a film called The sob of nature. This is in preparation for a full film project, which would cost $3 million. Watanabe jokingly compared the production cost to Ready Player One, saying that the investment is not that big. As selling points, Watanabe emphasized the skill of the concept artist Akima, as well as the pedigree of Nippon Animation as a studio.

The film's story follows a boy named Haru who has his mind transferred to another child and lost his memory about it. It is inspired by George Orwell and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the target audience is science fiction movie fans aged between 16 and 30. The international producers said that this sounded rather vague, and that a script would be essential for getting a pilot greenlit. It was also hard to feel a science fiction vibe from the character designs shown.

Finally, Masuda from POP-iD gave her pitch for an animated project called Inumen-Z. Masuda was the only producer not representing an animation company. The intent behind the project was to promote a mascot character named Inumen-Z, a dog that "rides a motorcycle and rides in races, not for speed but to help friends." Masuda showed off character goods, theme songs, and footage of people wearing the mascot costume, including herself wearing the costume at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show 2019.

Among all the pitches, Masuda's was the vaguest. There was very little material for animation beyond rough sketches, and Masuda admitted herself that their company will need to first seek out an animation studio to take on the project. Although the international producers told her that she would need to refine the pitch and do more market research before thinking about making an animation, they did note that they were impressed with Masuda's presenting skills.

Overall, it was interesting to watch Japanese anime producers make pitches for an international audience. Every producer tried to include some jokes to keep the mood light-hearted while making their pitches comprehensive. Although this session was mainly for practice rather than a serious attempt at soliciting funds from the audience, it will be interesting to see if any of these projects ever come to fruition.

Source: VIPO pitching session

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