Interview with Matt Greenfield - SMASH 2010

The following is the final in a set of interviews conducted last August with the special guests of the Sydney Anime and Manga Show 2010. With Tiffany Grant, Yūko Miyamura and Matt Greenfield in attendance for Brisbane and Melbourne Supanova 2011, we felt that you might enjoy these interviews. So to finish off, we have Matt Greenfield! We'll start with the obvious, you co-founded ADV and you've just done about everything. Scripting, producing, every kind of anime we could name, anything we should know that might raise people's eyebrows...?
Matt Greenfield: Various adult softcel titles? If you're going to be embarrassed about doing something, you shouldn't do it. It's animation, it's what you do. Considering that you've done everything, would you rather be voice acting, script-writing...?
Matt Greenfield: Right now I'm producing original series, one of my own projects. I've actually worked on a couple of original series over the years and for various reasons a lot of them didn't go through, but my primary love is telling stories whether it's writing or directing. All it comes down to for me is, I love this medium, I love the entire sci-fi/fantasty genre, and I do anything I can do to be involved, which is why ADV and subsequent companies did everything. We've distributed Farscape, Sailor Moon, Andromeda from Gene Roddenbury, giant monster movies like Gamera and Destroy All Monsters, pretty much everything I've loved as a kid, I'm trying to make sure that kind of thing is available on an ongoing basis. Anything I can do to keep the various genres going, that's what I'll do. To move on to Evangelion--we've heard the commentaries about it, most of us have been sucked into it at one point. Did you enjoy your time doing Evangelion?
Matt Greenfield: Evangelion is a strange thing. When we originally picked it up it wasn't well-known. It was still on its way to becoming what EVA is. It's now been fifteen years. When I originally worked on it, EVA was a big challenge and it was more a matter of panic at the time, like, 'Good grief, this show is so complex in terms of what has to be written'. A lot of what I did back then was blacked out of my memory retrospectively. I really didn't look at it again until we started licensing it to other countries, Germany would come around saying 'What does this mean? What does this mean?' and we had to go back and look at it. For the Director's Cut, we had to record new dialogue, and for the Platinum Edition we had to go back and re-master everything, and finally we had the materials we needed to do the job we wanted the first time.

Retrospectively, I'm much more pleased with the work I did after we re-did it for the Platinum Edition. I definitely understand where Anno-san is coming from with wanting to re-do it yet again. [laughs] This is a business and there is a time factor and ultimately, the point comes where you have to say 'Okay, I can't keep going back and forward between Japan and here trying to get everything down, we have to get it out of the door, it still has to go through mix,' and there were all sorts of crazy things happening on Evangelion, things that had never happened on any show before. Have they happened since?
Matt Greenfield: Not some of them. We had a strange problem with Evangelion when the masters wouldn't lock, and it turned out there was some weird digital spike. This was back when the primary format was something called D2. No one had ever seen that on a D2 before. I have never seen it on a D2 since. But Evangelion Volume 1 had a digital spike, when you try to synchronise the audio it would just keep going out of sync. We were like 'Really? Really?' 'Can we do it again?'
Matt Greenfield: The dialogue was still there, it's not as bad as.... I know when they did End of Evangelion they lost all sync and had to rebuild it completely from scratch. The dialogue was there but they had to move all the dialogue into place in pieces from where it originally was. There's all kinds of weird things going on with Evangelion. You know the thing with the original bridge crew right? The original bridge crew ended up marrying the three children. Which is just very bizarre in retrospect. [laughs] You sit back and go 'wait a second...'
Matt Greenfield: It was just very very odd. It must have been a lot of fun though.
Matt Greenfield: Yeah. In retrospect, Evangelion is one of those shows I wish I could have done two years later than I actually did it. It was only the second continuing TV series we had ever done and we were doing it concurrently with Blue Seed which had started about three months before. We were learning the whole long-format process when before we were doing OAVs and one-shots. But it's an interesting creature because it has its own life that continues to go on. You got roped in as a voice actor at that point, when you were working on the script at the same time. Have you ever considered spiking the script just to have a bit of fun with the voice actors?
Matt Greenfield: We've done that! We call it 'leaving a bomb'. You have one actor leave a line that's completely not what the cue is. The way we do our production is different from a lot of companies which only lead in with 'beep beep beep, record your line'. We build an ensemble. Every character that records is heard by the next person in line. When you are doing a scene the first person is hearing the raw Japanese and by the time it's finished you're hearing almost all English except for the parts you're recording yourself. People get into the natural flow of the dialogue. But what happens is that they'll hear the cue in the rehearsal, we'll start the first take and at that point the engineer will put in another line that is completely wrong and suddenly we get this cue that's like '...?' 'Wait a second!?'
Matt Greenfield: We do that a lot. But with things like that we do not usually let them go outside the building, it's just to let off steam. It's such an intense business. People always think, 'How do you do that?' because for an actor, you are literally putting yourself into a scene that's on a monitor. It's just an actor, an engineer and a director in a room together, and yet the actor has to be in that world and periodically you just get so far into it that it can leave you in a very weird place unless you have some way of getting out. Or vice versa, sometimes we use it to get people into the mood for a scene. It all plays both ways. I think that is one of the advantages I had over a lot of ADR directors over the years. I have a drama background, I've been working in theatre since I was twelve. I appreciate it from how an actor appreciates it. I've had the training; I understand the method and all that so I can approach it for every actor differently. I think a lot of the earlier ADR done prior to what I'd call the big changeover in the mid-90s is that most dubbing was very mechanical. Now, I'm really pleased to see there are so many ADR directors out there who really do get into a show, and understand the complexities in the storyline as opposed to 'Okay, the mouth moves and we gotta get it talking right there'. We have a lot of people who really think about what the lines mean. And it's more to get a feel for the actual show?
Matt Greenfield: We try all kinds of different things. The process has changed so much. We started with paper scripts and now we have a double monitor set up with the video and the script running underneath electronically. The advantage of that is, first of all, we're changing the lines constantly to fit and rather than having to scribble on paper now we can go 'try this, try this, try this.' And this lets the actor say 'Well how about if you try this?' We get a lot more interaction there. The other thing is, in addition to having the finished line, the raw translation runs underneath. If the actor is trying to figure out what the line means they can look to see what the translation is. Just for a bit of fun, if you were offered Hyuuga's role tomorrow, would you take it?
Matt Greenfield: I am actually offered every time, but the thing is--well, Hyuuga's become this strange part where every time it's done, someone for a different company has done him. I feel bad for the character 'cos he's a great little character. My original reason for doing Hyuuga was very simple; in the early days we did not have our own studio. If an actor didn't show, we got billed for that time whether or not the actor showed. So I would always cast myself as a secondary character knowing that if an actor got sick or couldn't show, I could step into the booth and we wouldn't lose the time. I got into that habit and then once we had our own studios up and running, it wasn't necessary any more, which is why you stopped seeing Brian Greenveldt appear in the credits so prominently, he's not necessary any more. I would still do stuff, but less of the character driven stuff and more, 'I'm not going to ask an actor to do that'. In EVA, besides doing Hyuuga I'm also the Evangelions which is just horrendous on the throat, and I'm not going to ask an actor whose voice is their living to sit there and tear up their voice. So you'll make the sacrifice so they can keep on going?
Matt Greenfield: Plus it's fun [laughs]. I grew up on a steady diet of animation and monster movies and being able to do monster sounds on film? My life is great! You mentioned the fact that you were very into the anime scene of the late 80s...?
Matt Greenfield: Before that, I've been into anime since the early 1960s. I got in when anime fandom started in the US, I can't say I was the very first wave but I was into it by the early 1980s, watching it in the raw Japanese. Once the VCR become available and thanks to the wonderful coincidence that America and Japan happen to be on the same system. Which you're so lucky for...
Matt Greenfield: I was fortunate to be able to do that. I met some contacts early on and started really getting into the raw Japanese animation. I started a club in Houston, which became the largest club in Houston, and that became a talent trap. Because of that I met other people who were trying to start up. It all just flowed naturally, so that we said, 'Oh, so we've got this opportunity, you want to try doing this?' At this time I had a good-paying job. I looked at myself in the mirror and said 'I'm going to take a huge salary cut to do this, but if I don't do this, I'm going to spend the rest of my life thinking 'What if?'' So I said what the heck, if it doesn't work, two or three years, it's a lark. Put it on a resume and it looks good?
Matt Greenfield: I really thought when I started the company that if we were doing really, really well within seven or eight years we might be releasing a title a month, that was my goal. We hit that within the second year. By the third year we were doing three to four titles a month. We were in the right place at the right time with people who really loved what they were doing, we caught a wave and rolled with it. And you haven't stopped since.
Matt Greenfield: Yeah and we've had to change surfboards a few times. If you think about how long the anime phenomenon has been going in the US--I'd say the commercial anime phenomenon began around 1992... I think in '91 Akira was licensed and Bubblegum Crisis. MADOX-01 and Gunbuster were the first tiles licensed and they were licensed beginning '91 or he end of '90, I'm trying to remember exactly when, it's been a while. Then we had the first big anime convention that was specifically an anime convention, AnimeCon, in '91, and the following year it morphed into Anime Expo. It all really started building at that point. Are there interesting moments you've had while you're doing voice acting? Most of the time you'd get roped in because someone didn't show up, or you wouldn't ask them to start roaring for five minutes on a mike. Have there been any odd moments you'd like to share?
Matt Greenfield: I think the most interesting for me, well I'm a huge, huge kaiju fan, just huge and I think one of the greatest moments of my life was when we were doing the dub for Gamera and I'm the first guy who gets eaten by the Gyaos. It was like, "I have been eaten... by a Gyaos... in a Gamera moment." That's an amazing moment, growing up loving this giant flying turtle and to be doing the English version of a brilliant movie. It's just like, "I made it!" That was amazing, totally amazing. And working with Mari Ijima on the English dub of Macross. Sitting there with someone whose work I had watched as a fan (I had watched Macross when it originally came out in Japan) and then working on the English dub and talking with her about that character and trying to develop that character into what she saw for the English version was just an amazing experience.

So many of the people I have gotten to work with in this industry are so incredibly talented. You sit there and you pinch yourself, like "Am I really doing this? Is this work someone is paying me to do?" It's a strange thing because you never expect yourself to go down these turns and then one day it's like, "Oh, look at that."

As for crazy things, most of the really silly stuff tends to happen to other actors, not so much me. I did pass out almost in the booth once, in Battle Angel, that was probably the most extreme. When we did that show we were under a very tight gun. Amanda Winn Lee had been very sick and she came out of the flu long enough to do the part of Gally and I played Grewcica. We had this huge battle sequence, and we both basically did the sequences in one or two takes. And at the end of this huge one big long sequence, I remember going 'Woaah, woaah, that's a lot.' Amanda actually did pass out during that sequence. Must have been pretty tough.
Matt Greenfield: When you think about that, one of the things that have really changed about this business is that the software we use has gotten better and better and better. In the early days, there were some processes to squeeze dialogue with names like WordFit and so on and they obviously didn't work very well. So you really had to be very careful on how you time something because you really, couldn't tweak it too much. Today, you can do so much more, you can really manipulate the time length of the dialogue to an extent that you never could back then. So back then we were doing something very intricate with a lot of fighting and everything and it was all run on. Rather than subject the engineer to 'You're going to have to cut this into billions of tiny bits and rebuild it' we were trying to do it all in one or two takes. So the amount of cutting back and alteration would be minimal.
Matt Greenfield: It was just faster, primarily, to ask the actors to do it. Nowadays we don't have to. But on a show like Battle Angel where it is just one big action sequence it's just insane. To move on to writing and the like, the first question is--did you actually teach Tiffany Grant to script-write? She turned her hand to it if I recall correctly.
Matt Greenfield: Yeah, and she's extremely good at it, she's one of the best scriptwriters I've ever worked with. She actually did the first half of Tears for Tiara for me. I can't say I taught her other than the fact that she saw what I did and that she sees how I work and how other directors work. But she has what I think is the most important part for a scriptwriter, which is that she comes in understanding the process not just as an actor, but also technically, what is and isn't possible. I get a lot of scripts from people who are very good writers and you can tell that this is someone who has not actually tried to say the line out loud, the same way it has to be played by the character. It's actually very funny when you watch us writing because we're typing and then 'BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH', because how much volume you got alters the pacing of the line and you'll do an impression of how you think the character's going to say it. I'm sure it's something you can ask Tiffany about, but if you've seen Azumanga Daioh, her character of Kaorin, that's her impression of Jessica Boone. That was the voice she was using when she was writing Angelic Layer. [laughs] And that was a voice she never actually thought about using, and then when she auditioned for Azumanga Daioh she pulled that out and it worked! As far as teaching her, she saw the format, she was already a good writer and she actually did subtitle scripts in the early days, which is basically taking the translation and cleaning it up. She's always had a good gift for it so I can't say I taught her how, other than you know, when she comes in and goes 'What do you think about this?' The biggest thing is we tend to throw things back and forth, especially things like puns, 'What do you think of this? What do you think of that?' And that's just the extension of what we do in the studio, which is throwing things at it and trying to make sure that this is the best we can do. In regards to the philosophy of ADR, taking the raw translation and changing to something that people will actually understand... you've probably heard about sub versus dub, some people don't like Japanese voices, some don't like English voices....
Matt Greenfield: So the drama. So the drama! But you've probably heard about this big push towards this elitist arguing... I would like to hear what you personally think makes a good script.
Matt Greenfield: You have to understand, when I started the company, the first couple of years we did the business we only did subs. Initially I was very much partial to the subs, simply because I hadn't heard any dubs I was really happy with. Finally, we decided, 'Look, we really have to do these things in English because that will expand the market tremendously.' We went around, we talk to all the companies in the business and I came away realising that the reason the dubs aren't as good as they could be is because these people don't take this things seriously. The actors don't come in treating it as a serious dramatic job, they come in thinking 'I'm going to do My Little Pony.' The directors are, 'Okay, it's a paying gig.' It was not considered very prestigious, it was something people did on the side. And although there's some very good ADR work out there, no one really said, 'Oh wow that's amazing!' There was a company back in the early 60s called Teacher that did some brilliant, brilliant dub work, but you never hear people talk about 'Wow, those Teacher dubs are amazing!' Nobody ever really notices it because if it's done well, people don't notice--you only talk about the bad stuff because that's what you see. If you want to see a really good dub done in the 60s, the original Godzilla Versus Mothra--AKA Godzilla Versus The Thing in the states--it's a brilliant dub. It's absolutely brilliant.

But anyway, what I was saying was, we went and looked around and after talking to a bunch of these people and really getting the impression that these people aren't taking this seriously, we knew we were going to have to do this ourselves. Just to prove a point. So we found a facility in Houston that had the technical requirements and we actually ran ads in the paper. We told everyone we knew who was in theatre, tell all your friends we're going to have all these auditions and then we brought everyone in. We actually did the first show ensemble, with everyone there, and oh lordy, [laughs] that was fun. It went a little overtime.

But the thing is, we learned it, and every show we did, we learned a little more, and because we were using a group of actors in Houston, there was no stigma with doing voice work. If you do voice work in LA, half the time you do it under a false name because of union restrictions and so on. For the people we were working with, this was a great challenge they had never done before, they all really got into it. I mean, Tiffany was in the first show we ever did, she was actually the very first actor we ever cast. She and Rob Mungel were the first two and they are both still with us. Marcy Rae, who was in Blue Drop, was one of that group and she's still with us. Very, very good actors who really understand what this is all about. And I think, because of that, there's a love across the board. Most of the people we've had working with us have really seen this as a challenge and trying to do it as well as possible. And a good dub, I'll be honest, is better than a good subtitle. Because a subtitle by its definition splits your attention. Because you have to be reading the text.
Matt Greenfield: That and the fact is that you really can't get everything into place to fit correctly because Japanese grammar and English grammar are backwards to each other. You're hitting the wrong emotions at the wrong place so you get miscues in terms of what individual part of the line means. So when you're doing the ADR, you try to put things where they actually fit so quite often you reverse into place one of the lines, or part of the lines, in order to make the wiggling eyebrows or whatever hit with the proper emphasis. A really well-done dub, I think, is better than a really well done subtitle. A well-done subtitle is better than a mediocre dub, it's one of these relative things. And there's a lot of subtlety that cannot be carried through in subtitles, accents being the most important one, because the Japanese use accents to a tremendous level in order to denote the kind of character. You really can't do that with subtitles unless you want to have 'Everyone with a Kanto accent speaks in italics'. [laughs]

It doesn't work! A perfect example is Tears for Tiara. The story's actually set in an alternate version of Europe and the main characters are the Gaels, which are the Irish. So, it was very necessary for the Gaels to have Irish brouges, even though technically at that point in time... They didn't really have accents?
Matt Greenfield: The thing is, the time is really mystical as to when exactly this is all supposed to be taking place. Most of it takes place in Albion, which is the British Isles. the Gaels have gone over there so we said 'Okay, anyone who is native to Albion will have a British accent, anyone who is from the Gaels will have an Irish accent' and then the other main group of characters are the Empire... We never specifically said it's Rome, we toyed with the idea of giving them all Italian accents, we said 'No, that's a bit much'. What it came down to is that, in every movie, the Romans always have British accents, but we'll let the players voice normal voices because the Romans really are mutts, and it's kind of like, wherever that particular individual came from that accent would come from, if there was an accent. So it really gives you a whole different feeling when a character talks and immediately from their accent you know where that character's coming from. And where they're going, almost.
Matt Greenfield: Right. And that's something a dub does that a subtitle can't. And it's a very subtle thing. We did the same thing on Blue Drop. In Blue Drop, there's an alien race and members of the alien race are pretending to be human. In Japanese, there's a pitch shift when they go back to being Arume. Rather than a pitch shift, we did an accent shift. We had them speak with a standard American accent as the Japanese, and when they go to Arume, they would sort of develop this faux-Britishy kind of thing. For example, when Monica Rial, who plays one of the main characters, walks into a room, she picks up a communicator and when she starts speaking, her voice drops a half-octave and suddenly she's got a little bit of an accent. It immediately says something is going on, a lot more than just why is her voice simply dropping. Like I said, I don't want to put you as taking a position, you see a lot of people just go 'Oh he said all this', but we don't actually hear it from the people who actually do the dubs and see how you guys work.
Matt Greenfield: I'm not one of those people who say a dub is always necessary, because my personal feeling is that a bad dub is worse than a good sub. If you don't have the resources or you don't think the product is going to be successful enough to justify the cost of dubbing it, then you put it out subtitled and see what happens and hopefully, as in the case for Blue Drop and Tears for Tiara, you come back and do English dubs for them. The response to them has been very very good. One of the things that was really great about doing those shows is, a lot of our actors have worked with the other studio to the north but a lot of the others haven't for various reasons because their jobs conflict or whatever. There were a lot of people who came back in on those two shows who hadn't been working for a while, it was a big happy reunion. Again for a bit of fun, if Kaworu popped down from wherever he comes from and said 'I'll change any one thing about the fandom or the industry', what would you ask for?
Matt Greenfield: The biggest thing I would ask for is a better understanding of what makes anime happen. I'm afraid there's so many people out there who think anime is this magic thing that comes out of the box, that it appears out of the aether, and that there's no labour involved or anything. I think a lot of people tend to forget the fact that this is something people do to make a living and that all the creators depend on the product to be successful in terms of sales for them to be able to keep doing it. We're really seeing a tremendous creative drain on anime right now. A lot of people who would've been going to anime going are to video games instead, because anime doesn't make very much money. Supporting anime doesn't just mean liking anime, you actually have to support it. By picking up something?
Matt Greenfield: By picking up something. You don't have to buy everything, no one expects you to buy everything, but there is a lot of people who don't pick up anything. I'm watching the industry slowly erode away in terms of what was being produced a couple of years ago versus what is being produced now, and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If there was one thing I'd ask, that would be it. Because that way it keeps going. I've been doing this too long to go back and find something else to do! Thanks for your time.

We would like to take time to thank the Sydney Anime and Manga Show for arranging this interview, Matt Greenfield for participating in the interview and Georgia Blair for transcribing and editing.

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