Tales Of The Industry Less Fanboying Is More
by Justin Sevakis,
Welcome to “Tales of the Industry,” a column where we will share stories from real working professionals in the anime business. Some weeks will have anonymous tales contributed by current and former members of the industry, with details changed/removed to protect their jobs. Other weeks, they will be stories from the author's personal history. They're the things that the pros wish they could tell you.
Are you a current or former member of the anime business or convention staff? Do you have a story you've been dying to tell, but just can't tell it the normal way? Get in touch with Justin Sevakis through any social media you like. His Twitter account is @WorldOfCrap, if you aren't acquainted.
My arrival at Central Park Media had come at a good time: the company had just bought its first Final Cut Pro workstation, but nobody yet really knew how to use the software. My first few weeks were spent making quick-and-dirty "web trailers" for streaming on the company's website, but soon I was making real trailers and extras that were actually being put on DVDs. Stephanie, the VP in charge of production, was pretty happy: up until this point, editing things like trailers required booking time at a professional editing suite, which cost a lot of money. She was able to cut costs substantially, and also end up with some nice new DVD extras. John O'Donnell, the charismatic and manic head of the company, took particular delight in involving me in his pet projects. He frequently asked me for feedback and to gauge fan opinion on things. I was his "Golden Boy."
I took great personal pride in my new job. Not only was I the only person in my film program that was actually REALLY working in the entertainment industry, but it was my dream job of working with anime. Never mind that a good 40-50% of it was stomach-churning torture porn (having to work on a title my second week called "Magic Woman M" made me think about quitting briefly), I was getting to work on shows like Harlock Saga and Nightwalker -- not exactly classics, but shows I was proud to put my name on.
Which was all well and good, but the truth of the matter was, I was very, very, very unpopular. Part of this had to due with the office culture. CPM at the time had very few anime fans working there. The production team had very recently been left in the hands of a bunch of young guys who had a good sense of humor but zero knowledge about anime or Japanese culture. The sales team was largely a bunch of alpha-males who didn't care at all about the material they were selling. Business Affairs, who handled licensing and other such things, were mostly quiet Japanese ex-pats. The only other otaku at the office were the interns working for the web department (who basically kept to themselves) and one guy who at the time was basically just selling odds and ends on eBay.
In that sort of environment, where most were peacefully oblivious to the outside world of the anime fans they were serving, having an extremely young, loud, and overly enthusiastic kid come in, one who could rattle off minutiae of the anime world for hours, point out that everything you were doing was wrong, and then cozy up to the boss was pretty damned annoying. Even more annoying was the fact that I couldn't be safely ignored: very occasionally I would come up with an interesting or salient point that simply had to be taken seriously. I actually did know my stuff.
I did not make this easy on myself, and my passion for my work burned so brightly that I wound up being downright antagonistic. My work involved a lot of down time -- capturing video off of tape, waiting for video to render, exporting finished video back to tape -- and that left me with hours each week to wander around, poke my head where it didn't belong, and basically get up in everybody else's business. I did not know how to pick my battles. Sometimes my poking my head in saved the day, like when the narration at the end of Night on the Galactic Railroad was originally dubbed with a woman's voice -- the dub director unaware that it was a famous poem by Kenji Miyazawa. I raised a stink, and the lines were re-recorded with a man's voice. But more often, I was in the way.
After a few months of what was later described to me as "giving me just enough rope to hang myself," Stephanie ended up hiring me on a more permanent basis. My glorified intern status (I was officially "Anime Wunderkind") was upgraded to a generic "video post-production" job title.
I was way too immature to be counted on in any real capacity, however. I was also still part-time. Explaining that they needed someone who could be there all day, Stephanie placed an ad for a full-time video editor. I was asked to come up with a test for the applicants, and I was happy to oblige. What resulted was what I proudly called the Alchemy test: you had 45 minutes and a copy of "Pure Love," a remarkably crappy (but non-rapey) hentai anime that looked like it was drawn in Windows Paint. Applicants were to slam together a quick trailer in that time -- basically, making a glorified music video. If you could turn that crap into gold, you got the job.
Final Cut Pro was VERY new technology. Not that many people knew how to use it. After 5 or 6 applicants basically just sat there and stared at the screen (including one woman that claimed to be an instructor), we finally found a winner in Tim, a smart guy ten years my senior with a cutting sense of humor. He was literally the only one who managed to successfully do anything with that footage. I still wonder if some of the other applicants saw the footage and simply sat out the 45 minutes, thinking, "no, I don't actually want this job."
Tim and my working relationship is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that it's a testament to his forgiving nature that we are still friends. After he was hired and proved to be a capable professional, I was drafted away to work at getting John's new initiative Big Apple Anime Fest off the ground. It was a months long psychological beat-down that I probably deserved. After the show was over, I was allowed to return to my old job, but now with Tim as my boss.
That first year of Big Apple Anime Fest was not just an awful experience, but it was also something I had no interest in. This was my second chance, and I was elated to get back to working on video. I returned to the Production side of the office with a renewed fervor. To be honest I resented having to serve under the guy I had a say in hiring, but was too exhausted to protest. Not everybody was happy about my return, though, as I soon found out.
One afternoon, I took a short break to go grab a muffin at the office building snack bar. When I got back to my desk, Tim immediately said, "John wants you in his office."
"Any idea what's up?" I asked, cautious but not really worried.
Huh. I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to the other side, and knocked on John's office door. "Come in," I heard him bark. I opened the door, and saw him sitting at his conference table, along with Stephanie. "Hey Justin, have a seat." John chirped. Things seemed friendly.
"Do you know why we called you in here?" John asked. I admitted that I had no idea. John often called me in when he wanted the fan opinion on something, so this wasn't really that big of a deal. Still, something in the air was heavy. It didn't SEEM like I was in trouble, but my suspicions were up. John slid a piece of paper over to me.
I read it. It was a printed out email, with the sender's name and email address blacked out.
I wondered if I should tell you this, because I know you're close to him. But I feel you should know that Justin is well known in the pirate community, and has connections to the "fansub" world. He also talks a lot with the Business Affairs people. Could we have another Sandler? This guy might be someone we don't want around.
I asked who "Sandler" was. "He was this guy that we hired for a short time," John recalled. "We had to fire him because he was stealing screener tapes of new shows from Business Affairs and giving them to his friends at an anime club." The licensing guys were often sent blurry VHS tapes of new shows by licensors. These tapes usually had the word "SAMPLE" branded onto the screen, and were lower quality than you could get from the taped-off-TV video rental sections at Japanese supermarkets.
Someone was trying to get me fired. And I had no idea who. My heart sank. It was the first time I really, truly realized that I was actively disliked, enough that someone would go out of their way to try and get me out. The reason CPM had so few otaku working there was not because they didn't see the value in having them around, but because they'd been burned by them. The fans they'd hired prioritized their own aesthetics and their own nerd cred above their own jobs, and the results had been disastrous. Just being a fan made me at least a LITTLE suspicious. And being actively disliked on top of that made me a target.
"Oh. Well, no, I'd never do that. And anyway, I don't think I even still know anybody that would want them," I said, matter-of-factly. I had nothing to hide. It was true that I came from the world of VHS fansubbing, but I had no interest in keeping that up -- not when I had a job working on the real thing. And besides, all of my connections were back in Michigan. I kept none of this a secret.
John smiled wide. I don't know what he saw in me, but he trusted that I was smarter than that. He hadn't believed the email, but he had to make sure. Changing the subject, he pointed at the walls of his office. They were covered in posters of polar bears and eagles, each one framed and mounted all the way up to the ceiling. He loved polar bears, but the highest places on each wall were reserved for eagles. The one image he was pointing to, which resided directly above his desk, featured a particularly stately bird perched atop a snowy mountain peak. "You see that picture there?"
"The reason I have that there is as a reminder: It's lonely at the top. You work your ass off, you achieve more than everybody else, you get the glory. But people will always resent you for that. They'll say, 'you didn't earn that. That's my glory.' People will do their best to drag you down, to bring you back down to their level. You have to fly higher. You might ultimately be alone. But you'll be at the top."
I looked over to Stephanie, who sat there, deadpan. I looked back at John, and at the email. John had noticed the insanely long hours I had been working, the way I prioritized my job over my school work, and the passion I had. Every nit I picked, every annoying question I raised, had been in the service of making better products, and of doing right by the customers. Maybe I had been going about it wrong, but John understood.
I thought for a minute. And then I asked, "Can I have this?" pointing to the email. John nodded, and I left.
When I got back to my desk, I told Tim what had transpired. He looked at me gravely, and said, "wow, people are really gunning for you, huh?"
As he looked up, he saw that I was pinning the email to the wall. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I don't know who sent this, but I want them to see that it didn't work."
"Justin, what are you doing? Take it down," Tim insisted. I grudgingly obliged.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the expressing party and do not necessarily reflect those of Anime News Network, it's staff, or it's owners. While Anime News Network will never knowingly publish a false or inaccurate story, please remember that there are two (or more) sides to every story.
If you are a current or former anime industry professional and have a story to share (we can keep everyone anonymous), get in touch with Justin Sevakis via social media.
Logo design by Brady Hartel
discuss this in the forum (64 posts) |