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Steven Foster and Le Chevalier D'Eon

by Christopher Macdonald,

ANN: Let's start with you. You started directing for ADV around 2001, I believe?

Steven Foster: Yeah, I'm an old timer now. We only had one booth back then, and I was the second director they hired, and radio/tv spots are what I'd basically done. I had a couple of scripts on each coast, but obviously I have two kids so I couldn't move. A friend of mine was one of the production managers here and she said, “There's this little company, and maybe you should check it out”, so I came in, and didn't know a lot about the genre then and became a fan. I just didn't know yet that anime was a lot more sophisticated than I thought it was – you think about cartoons, and you think you have this idea of what they are and then you see anime and you're like “Wow, there's a lot more to this stuff”.

So how did you get into your position, you did commercial work and radio work?

SF: That's how I was able to produce and direct. They were looking for someone who could write scripts, and direct and produce. When you do TV and radio, you know you've got a budget so you know how to work within budget parameters and you work with actors so you know how to get performances out of people. To make a long story short, I did the script thing. I do remember the first script I produced was awful, it was horrible, because you have to take the original translation and make it fit the action. It was probably just the most talky show – about Excel Saga level talky.

What show was it?

SF: It was called “Galaxy Fraulein Yuna” and my god, there's like eighty girls in it and they're all talking. So it's kind of good that they gave me that one to start with, because then everything after that was easy.

How has this changed both the way you personally do things and the way things are done?

SF: That's a good question. Technology's really helped. There have been ways that we've made the production process efficient, like we don't do paper scripts anymore. We used to do paper scripts and we'd have to rewrite a lot, actors would rewrite lines. I would say this is clandestine knowledge, but we've said it on DVD extras. We realized it would be so much easier if we just had a screen in there for them to write or for us to write and they could see it. So we do dual screens and that's really helped. Hiring good engineers that know how to do stuff. You get better at your job the more you go at it, and that's kind of cool. And genre-wise, it's just exploded. We had one booth when I started here and now we have six rooms where we record and we've got three mix rooms. I remember when I first started and you'd tell people what you did and they'd be like “what?”. I went into Best Buy in the section was no bigger than your shoulders and now there's a whole row and it's just amazing, it's really kind of cool. I like how the fans have kind of an elitist attitude about it sometimes; you're like, “I found this first”, like any band. It's like when I first heard The Secret Machines at a clothing store one day and I was like “this is a cool band” and then you pride yourself with it, you're the only one who knows about them. So I think that's how it's changed.

You mentioned earlier that you've got a reputation for starting with a particular show.

SF: Orphen. Was it Orphen or something else?

No, I think it was the OVA by Makoto Shinkai?

SF: Oh, Voices [of a Distant Star]. And that pisses me off, the “Fosterization” of things? Like Colorful, we made some changes to make the jokes more accessible. There were a couple others, like [Steel Angel] Kurumi to make it a little more accessible. I got slammed for that one – a lot of people said I changed the script so much and I didn't, and I was so angry because the only thing I didn't read was like literally reading text messages. I didn't change it as much as I think I got the rap for. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's like Gilgamesh, it was really easy to be faithful to it. Place Promised [in Our Early Days] stayed so faithful to the original script and we were really anal about it. I think it was actually because I kept getting screwed by some people saying I changed so much that I started going into the studio with the translation and would adapt from the translation instead of having a scriptwriter do it, because the scriptwriter takes liberties and it's elective judgment and doesn't work. I remember there was someone saying about Pani Poni Dash! though, we changed the script so much and we didn't – it was more like you would say things one way – “you look really cool in that blue shirt” versus “wow, that blue shirt looks awesome on you”.

So that's what you're doing with translations?

SF: Yeah, it's a game of Rumor, one step removed. I never used to know about fansubs. When I first heard of them, I said “I'd like to see some of these.” I was really impressed. The dedication it takes to do that, hats off to you. I thought some of the language was just beautiful. I thought that the fansubs were great, I really liked the translations. Then I started doing some investigative work, I'd take our translations and look at it with a fansub and go “well they're actually tracking pretty closely” in most of the stuff I saw. I think that people on the internet usually are the ones that bitch the loudest which is good in both ways. I don't really go in chat rooms that much but friends will tell me about what they're saying. There are some people who will say “don't pick on Foster for this because blah blah blah”. Some stuff you change culturally but in Pani Poni Dash! there are so many in-jokes and you just go “well, it's for a certain market”. And then other stuff is a little bit more mainstream, like Chevalier [D'Eon]. It's set in the French Revolution and pretty much you're either going to get it or you don't.

Has that experience changed the way you look at some aspects of localization?

SF: I do. I think a lot of people are under the impression that this is my whim, that this is just me doing it just to do it, but it was always a group discussion – “take this and do what you can” or “this is going to be so esoteric, you may need to do something with it”. Especially with some of the internal, really fan-centric people here, it's been like “well this one is like the Holy Grail”. There are some shows you just can't fuck with. I'm never going to do an adaptation of Evangelion; that would be insane. But for a show like Ghost Stories... it was a little show that we had licensed. It was a business decision, it was “it's a little show from a studio, kinda didn't do very well, what if we just give it to Steven and say "knock yourself out, just go crazy". And we hired a brilliant cast, and we made it up as we went along and it was so wonderful; it was great that we got Best Dub of the Year from Anime Insider, which I thought was really… well, you go to bed happy. And then there are shows like Gilgamesh that are not an easy sell, where it's really slow, like it's lost on Quaaludes. But people fell in love with Gilgamesh and went nuts for it, and that one was another one of those direct translations, where we didn't change anything at all. But the Ghost Stories thing was fun, it was a wild experiment. If they ever find another show where they say “go wild with it”, then sure, we'll go ahead. But because I'm a writer, I can respect being faithful to the original source. I mean, I would want someone to be a good steward of my work. But the Ghost Stories studio was like “yeah, do whatever you want to it, we don't care” which is kind of funny.

Do you have a favorite project that you've worked on?

SF: Everyone says “they're all like my children” but some of them are like children you've hated. [laughs] I don't know, you do approach each show as its own separate entity and I think with new directors they get really obsessively possessive about it. My only advice to them is it's not your work. It's not yours, you're just a steward of it. It's a book you're adapting to film, it's a play you're adapting to television. So I think when you divorce yourself from it like that, you feel a little better about it. Gilgamesh was a big favorite because I was just so proud of the cast and they did so much. I mean they wore black to the studio sessions and were very into it and wanted to have all these questions answered. I really enjoyed working on Ghost Stories because of the cast. I'm an actor's director, I really am. It's a family thing. And it kinda sucks, too, because you become this little family and it ends after a short while. But the new show I'm excited about is Chevalier [D'Eon]; it's just amazing. I remember when I saw it, I was like “oh my god, it's just so artistic and beautiful”. And it's a great mix of CG and regular cel animation which I was kind of surprised at, because it's usually like “here's the CG part of our show!”. So I guess I don't have a real favorite, but for now it's Chevalier, it's sexy, it's fun.

Well that's not such a bad thing.

SF: I'm not a big historical fiction fan, you know. People enjoy it, but I'm not that well-read on historical fiction. I like my fiction to be fictional. But I guess a good example would be A Prairie Home Companion, the Robert Altman film, it was great because you could almost call that historical fiction because they took a real setting and kind of fucked it up and made it interesting. Whoever decided to take a show and base it on a crossdressing French spy, my hat's off to them. They've got some big balls to do that. I think that's just amazing. And the possession angle's really neat because basically, I don't know if you know the plot but it starts with a murder - his sister was also a spy - and there wasn't a sister in real life but that's where the historical fiction part of it comes in. But she is murdered and she possesses his body to avenge her own death. They didn't just stop there, they took Queen Marie of France and gave her this skull that she consults with and she carries the skull around in public but then when she gets back to her bedroom, she puts the skull in Norman Bates’ blonde wig and a dress and talks to it, and the skull talks back. That's just so fucked up, it's awesome. The neat thing is like, even the Scripture references are right and they deal with the subtext of feminism. There's the Marquise de Pompadour, she has a speech in there about how times are changing and women need to be respected and things like that and I just love the multilayered of that. I just get really intrigued with the storytelling and the cast fucking rocks.

Have you gone back and looked into the original history of it?

SF: Yes, because the translator gave these amazing notes. Janice [Williams], our title's media coordinator, is really like a historical consultant and she spent days at the library researching all this, and she gave us dossiers on who these people were, here's what the real story was. Like Louis XV and the Duke of Orléans, even things like the Dauphin Auguste who's the heir to the throne, you know he's only eight in the show, and she gave us this dossier like “FYI he was a really shitty king later”. You know, things like that. And that's kind of fun. Did you know about the London Stock Exchange thing?

This dude was such a successful spy and crossdresser that there was a bet on the London Stock Exchange on whether he was a guy or a girl. And after he died, they lifted up the dress to find out if he was! But things like that are just fascinating. And granted, the show is not campy in the least and I love the whole darkness angle of it, the whole possession thing and how you don't know who to trust, because everyone plays it very close to the chest. Lia, the girl who's murdered and possesses her brother's body, sometimes she doesn't look all that innocent to me so I'm wondering, she could be the biggest bitch on the planet for all we know. But maybe her motives are noble.

I love the cast. David Matranga plays the lead, he plays Chevalier D'Eon and he's in Saiyuki which was huge and the fans just love him. And then Taylor Hannah, who had to get her website closed because when she was in Gilgamesh she kept getting too many emails in a day. [laughs] She said, “it was crazy, they were all over me” and I was like “yeah, the fans are passionate about this stuff”. David and Taylor play brother and sister. We're actually having a photo shoot with them tomorrow at a French hotel here in town. And then the heavy hitters – Alice Fulks from Gilgamesh, Shelley Black, who's been in everything, some really good trained stage actors, and a couple of newbies thrown in. Brittney Karbowski plays Anna who is D'Eon's betrothed. I mean even her, I don't know if I trust her motives. There's a scene where D'Eon goes into the confessional and is like “I know I have all these high principles but I'm kind of pissed off and I want to start killing some people” and then two seconds later Anna comes in and is like “forgive me Father, for I have sinned, I'm really jealous of his dead sister” – it's like, what! And that's what I love about it, I love a mystery that you don't know, can you trust any of these people? Probably not!

What do you want the end result of this project to be?

SF: That's a really good question. I would like it to be – I should mention that I don't like this stuff, doing interviews, I just hate it [laughs], I loathe it. It's a necessary evil I think, and everyone always wants to talk about it. A lot of directors are like “oh it's all about the directors”, but I'm like “no one gives a shit about the director, the director should be this person that's not seen and not heard”. And I think that would be my biggest hope, that the story and the performances of the actors really suck you in and you don't see that I worked really hard to get the performances out of them that serve the show, that we wrote the dub so faithful to the original translation. That the sound guy, Matt Wittmeyer, who did this amazing 5.1 mix, that you don't realize that “oh when they're talking on the left side of the room, they're on the left side of the room”. You know, the special effects of the zombies and the gargoyles, when they're possessed. I'd like it so you're just so sucked in by the performances that you're like “Steven who?” That to me is the best thing, when no one sees the guy behind the curtain pulling the strings.

Nobody cares about the Best Director award. Show the actors, they're prettier. There's a reason I'm on this side of the glass. I couldn't be in that booth, I hate being – you know when they're doing Guy #1 or an elevator operator, it's efficient budget-wise and my engineer, he does good lines. He does great character voices, never ask him to do his real voice, he sucks at that. [laughs] And we all chuckle at that. I was over at Marketing and everyone will do it. That way I can devote more of the money to the real performances. But to sit in a booth and do what they do and put up with what they have to put up with, I'm just so thankful I'm on this side of the glass. [laughs] Hate to be in there, being bossed around by some idiot who may not know what he's doing.

Is there anything special you're trying to do with Chevalier that you may not normally do with other shows?

SF: Well we're glamming it up with a lot of extras. We're taking a lot of time with it. It's on a fast track. I don't think we've ever dubbed a show while it's still being aired or created in Japan. I don't even think the last episode is done yet. We've never had that and that's kind of weird because you're kind of taking a journey that you're asking the actor and the viewer to take and we're right along with them going “I don't know how this is going to end!” which is kind of cool. But we're doing things with the actors. We've got some surprises on the later DVD that's we're going to do, to show you some different behind-the-scenes stuff that you've never seen before. I think that for the most part it's something that we've researched, because we were able to; it's historical fiction, so you're able to really grab onto something. But yeah, from the packaging to the menus, it's a labor of love. We're just really pouring over it.

The studio this is coming from is Production I.G Are you familiar with their work?

SF: Their work's amazing, it's gorgeous. It's our first time doing something with them, I want to say, if I'm remembering correctly. They all blur together. It's like you asking me what my favorite show is, they all blur together because it's the one you're working on now that you become obsessed with.

This is the first time you've carried a major title of theirs.

SF: Yeah, you would know more than I do. [laughs] It's like there are some people that know all the other shows that are going on in this building.

I'm not an encyclopedia, actually I'm very bad at that. I have a horrible memory.

SF: Me too! [laughs] I think it's either my age or my drinking, I have no idea what it is but I don't remember anything.

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