Making Mangas and Animes into Hollywood Features -

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Making Mangas and Animes into Hollywood Features

Anime Expo Industry Conference Panel

By Ron Quezon     July 05, 2009

© N/A

Top panelists involved in many of the biggest manga and anime-to-live-action Hollywood feature deals, experts in this field talk about the advantages and pitfalls of this challenging task of maintaining the manga creator’s vision while making a successful movie or TV project that translates into those mediums.


Mr. Long, currently producing Cowboy Bebop at 20th Century Fox, announced near the end of the panel that a feature adaptation is in the works with CoMix Wave based on Kakurenbo and a Kazuo Koike work is being explored as well.


The panel opened up with introductions of Jason Hoffs, Joshua Long, Nobuo Masuda, and Race Owen, and went right into questions from the moderator Northrop Davis.


What are some techniques most effective to preserve the quality of the original work?

Hr. Hoffs started that communication is the key.  You can’t expect everyone to be an Otaku, but the key players, the director, producer, etc, need to be engaged and love the work.  It’s dangerous for the work when a Hollywood company is not interested in assembling all the elements to make it great.


Does the serialized structure of manga make it better suited for television or direct to DVD?

Mr. Long responded that when the studio acquires the property, the expectation is for a feature to be produced.  The natural progression would then be for a TV series, then the DVD series, etc.  Mr. Hoffs mentioned that TV is all about creating intimacy with the characters, and the key is to go after character driven manga.  Mr. Masuda agreed that a lot of series with long story arcs would probably be better suited for a TV series.  Ultimately, Mr. Owen did point out, it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to balance the authenticity of the work and still make it appealing for a wider audience (don’t forget about the advertisers!)


One of the ways to protect the work and still expand the appeal to a wider audience is to bring on a director or actor with clout.  What comments do you have?

The panelists all agreed that communication again the key.  Mr. Long said for one of his features, he flew people to Japan, and got everyone in the same room.  Mr. Owen agreed with Mr. Long that at the point of departure you have to make sure that everyone sets off on the same path.  All creative people share things in common, according to Mr. Masuda.  Unfortunately, manga creators and filmmakers sometimes don’t have a meeting of the minds.  In the end, the both need to come together and have creative meetings.  Mr. Hoffs rounded out that even in a trusting relationship there are genuine conflicts, but these conflicts are actually healthy for the process.


Manga creators sign contracts to turn their manga into Hollywood movies.  When working with screenwriters, do you think it’s good to involve the manga creator?

Mr. Long responded that the screenwriting process is a long, solitary process.  When it is turned in, that’s the time to have collaboration-- do not interrupt the screenwriting process.  The goal is to make communication open, Mr. Hoffs says, and he tries to involve the Japanese side as much as possible.  The danger is in promising over-involvement.  Mr. Owen added that any writing process is collaborative.  The movie making process is re-envisioning of that original work.  Mr. Masuda observed that there are cultural differences between East and West, and those differences may lead to different interpretations.  However, Mr. Long pointed out that American fans today are excited for new [Eastern] values and ideas.


For Mr. Davis, part of its appeal was the lack of black and white characters in manga.  What attracted you to manga?

For Mr. Hoffs, it’s the Don Quixote-like journey in many mangas.  It takes years to clear the chain of the titles and bring things together for project, and you have to be committed to the project.  The reservoir of classic story-like telling is massively exciting.  For Mr. Long, it was Gantz that started it for him five years ago.  Every year, you see the same movies over and over again, Mr. Owen mused. Only one to three movies are truly creative, and those movies end up being copied the next year.  Hollywood is less dominant than it has been in the past, Mr. Hoffs noted.  There are other outlets for creative people.  Although, it would be nice to live in a world where you can find financing on a good level outside the studio system.  If you need US distribution, you need a minimum distribution agreement and a good partner.


In movie theaters in Japan, there are more Japanese created movies and less American blockbusters.  Any comments?

Mr. Long agreed that this is a very viable model.  Hollywood is very good at setting up operations around the world and bringing its expertise over to Japan.


At this point the panel opened up for questions from the audience.  Among the ones asked were the following.

What went wrong with Dragonball Evolution?

Mr. Hoffs theorized that at the core you need to be careful about changing characters.  It really doesn’t make sense to turn Goku into Peter Parker.  However, the responsibility isn’t solely with the filmmaker.  Mr. Masuda emphasized that the film should be about the story, and it’s something that could be just a bad initial selection of the property.  Mr. Owen summarized that subject matter and execution are very important in all filmmaking.


How do you find the middle ground in adapting a story to film?

Mr. Masuda called this the “Creative Alchemy” that everyone seeks.  Mr. Long agreed, and further added that not every story is meant for adaptation into a feature.  In the end, a certain property may not be one that translates well into another media.


How do you not just go after a big name filmmaker or screenwriter [to ensure that an adaptation into a feature is successful]?

Mr. Masuda took the position that there are already so many moving parts in making a feature that sometimes you really need to have fewer moving parts.  Mr. Owen remarked that when making a film you already have so many points where the adaptation may diverge from the original work.  There’s the screenwriter who first adapts the story, then the director interprets the screenplay.  After that, there are many opportunities while filming, or editing for changes.  Finally, the score can radically change the tone of a scene or the feel of the feature.  Bringing in a big name filmmaker or screenwriter alone isn’t enough.


If you want to ensure successful acceptance [of Japanese works into a wider audience] you should look to Monotheism and Joseph Campbell. – [Comments?]

Mr. Hoffs took on this philosophical statement.  He countered that he doesn’t believe that the Campbellian model adheres in this case and it’s more than just the classic heroic origin story.  Time limits did not permit an extensive debate on this question [much to the relief of many in the audience]…


The panel started at 11:30am and concluded at 12:25pm.



Northrop Davis, Professor/Producer/Screenwriter


Jason Hoffs, VIZ Productions-Head of Production

Joshua Long, founder of Instavision and General Television Company, which specializes in literary rights and re-make rights to Japanese comic and animation properties. He is currently producing Blowing My Cover for Paramount Vantage and Cowboy Bebop at 20th Century Fox.

Nobuo Masuda, Bandai Entertainment-Producer

Race Owen, Founder and President of Decipher Pictures


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