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alabaster

Alabaster's Q&A (NOT guest requests!)

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From time to time, we'll have guests who have been touched by scandal at some point in their careers.  Either because they're really hot properties, or because they've been around for long enough.  The Japanese entertainment industry is notoriously sensitive to it, and the peculiar and fickle tastes of Japanese consumers are partly to blame.  But if your talent and personality are big enough to survive minor scandals, that's often a good indicator that you're worth paying attention to.

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Dude, props for Otakon for bringing these scandalized folks over, because it sure is difficult to get to those people as fans, after the fact. 

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The sumo thing seems like an awesome opportunity, scandal or no.

Was it hard to make the arrangements for Yama, compared to other Japanese guests?

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The sumo thing seems like an awesome opportunity, scandal or no.

Was it hard to make the arrangements for Yama, compared to other Japanese guests?

 

In the case of the sumo, we worked with USA SUMO, who brought the show to our Otakon Vegas.  At that show we had 2 sumo -- Byamba and Kelly.  Byamba has a family obligation that makes his participation iffy, so our contact suggested that Yama might be an option.   He's apparently very sociable and may be into anime himself, and USA SUMO works with him already and didn't raise any red flags.

 

Byamba and Kelly are awesome guys, but Yama has probably the most *Japanese* pro sumo credibility, and as I said, I'm not *that* worried about any scandalous associations, because Yama has been putting himself out there with reasonable success, and frankly because very few people in the US follow Japanese sumo to the extent that it would be a factor. 

 

I will, however, gently test the waters to see if he's willing to talk about it.

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I'm not sure if you are planning on having a Q&A or panel with them. If so, I hope we don't get "that guy" who decides they are a professional journalist and insists on probing the guest over the scandal (as has happened in the past).

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Yeah, I remember the Aya Hirano panel from a couple years ago where somebody decided to try to ask her about the scandal stuff she'd been through. Thankfully, the guy was booed out of the room and she didn't have to answer him.

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Yeah, I remember the Aya Hirano panel from a couple years ago where somebody decided to try to ask her about the scandal stuff she'd been through. Thankfully, the guy was booed out of the room and she didn't have to answer him.

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Yeah, agreed. A con panel isn't the format for that.

I'm happy to see sumo here. I missed Vegas, so this is excellent.

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I've always been wondering what class seats do you book for your guests? I can't imagine it being anything less then business & that has to be really expensive in the case of a musical act if you have to shell out for their supporting staff too.

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I've always been wondering what class seats do you book for your guests? I can't imagine it being anything less then business & that has to be really expensive in the case of a musical act if you have to shell out for their supporting staff too.

 

Heh.  Well, despite what people think, Otakon does NOT have an unlimited budget.  Most of it goes toward the facilities and tech setup. We run pretty lean, overall, and try to save money wherever we can.

 

For Japanese guests, the flight is the most significant expense, ranging from about $2k to $7k per seat.  Part of that is due to airline consolidation (there are fewer flights to our area than there were a few years ago), and part is due to timing (we usually fall near a major holiday). Many folks are fine traveling economy class (and few Japanese are my size, so they aren't nearly as cramped as I am when I travel to Japan in economy), and some will take premium economy.

 

It really depends on the guest, and to some extent, what sort of trust we have with their management/label/etc.

 

I can't go into specifics (they vary anyway), but yeah, we typically cover a few of the artist's support staff.  At this point we know what to expect and what is reasonable, and we negotiate in good faith. Very few of the acts we've had have demanded the sort of amenities or staffing that you hear about on big tours in the US.

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I've always been wondering what class seats do you book for your guests? I can't imagine it being anything less then business & that has to be really expensive in the case of a musical act if you have to shell out for their supporting staff too.

 

Heh.  Well, despite what people think, Otakon does NOT have an unlimited budget.  Most of it goes toward the facilities and tech setup. We run pretty lean, overall, and try to save money wherever we can.

 

For Japanese guests, the flight is the most significant expense, ranging from about $2k to $7k per seat.  Part of that is due to airline consolidation (there are fewer flights to our area than there were a few years ago), and part is due to timing (we usually fall near a major holiday). Many folks are fine traveling economy class (and few Japanese are my size, so they aren't nearly as cramped as I am when I travel to Japan in economy), and some will take premium economy.

 

It really depends on the guest, and to some extent, what sort of trust we have with their management/label/etc.

 

I can't go into specifics (they vary anyway), but yeah, we typically cover a few of the artist's support staff.  At this point we know what to expect and what is reasonable, and we negotiate in good faith. Very few of the acts we've had have demanded the sort of amenities or staffing that you hear about on big tours in the US.

 

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Nope. Humidifiers are probably the most common specific request, other than "please have sandwiches or something at rehearsal".

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I was wondering do the guests understand the con is run by volunteers and not paid staff or do some of them assume some of you guys are paid?

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Humidifiers??? IN BALTIMORE? IN AUGUST? How much more humid could you POSSIBLY want it?

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Humidifiers??? IN BALTIMORE? IN AUGUST? How much more humid could you POSSIBLY want it?

 

Since the AC is cranked up to max and AC's are de-humidifiers, it makes sense that many vocal and musical guests would make this request.

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Humidifiers??? IN BALTIMORE? IN AUGUST? How much more humid could you POSSIBLY want it?

 

Since the AC is cranked up to max and AC's are de-humidifiers, it makes sense that many vocal and musical guests would make this request.

 

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In fact, I travel with a portable humidifier.  I have sinus issues, and take meds that dry me out -- follow that up with recirculated air for 13+ hours on a plane, and the typically dry hotel room, and you're likely to do a little damage.  So I bought a $35 portable humidifier that runs off a water bottle -- something like this:

http://smile.amazon.com/SU-1051B-Travel-Size-Personal-Humidifier-Black/dp/B00125L0LA/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1403841803&sr=8-6&keywords=portable+humidifier

 

and I haven't got con crud since.

 

Most people who don't talk or sing for a living have no clue how much moisture you burn up doing that.  So I always have cough drops on hand for the guests, too. :)

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I was wondering do the guests understand the con is run by volunteers and not paid staff or do some of them assume some of you guys are paid?

 

Yes, it's usually quite a surprise, especially on the music side. Frequently they think we have been mistranslated.

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You were supposed to ask African or European?

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What is the air speed volicity of an unladened swallow?

Approximately 24 mph.

DARN IT!  I thought I'd get you with the Monty Python reference!

I wasn't going to fall into a trap of being chucked off the bridge....

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What is the air speed volicity of an unladened swallow?

Approximately 24 mph.

DARN IT!  I thought I'd get you with the Monty Python reference!

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Well, I thought it would be funny.  And I'd like to know- What are your favorite Disney movies?

I like most of them, but Mary Poppins is probably the first one I really remember. If you're talking purely the animated ones, I quite like the current crop of Frozen and Tangled, but Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast were the game changers for me. As for classic era, sleeping beauty.

Do you have any stand-out stories (be they wonderful or horrid) of attendees interacting with guests?

Attendees...well, dispatching my mother to rescue Scott McNeil from a group of fangirls is pretty fun. Never underestimate the power of Mom Voice.

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Well, I thought it would be funny. And I'd like to know- What are your favorite Disney movies?

I like most of them, but Mary Poppins is probably the first one I really remember. If you're talking purely the animated ones, I quite like the current crop of Frozen and Tangled, but Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast were the game changers for me. As for classic era, sleeping beauty.

Do you have any stand-out stories (be they wonderful or horrid) of attendees interacting with guests?

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Do you have, or had any "holy grail" guests that you just wish and pray for the opportunity to bring to Otakon, and have you ever landed one to come to Otakon before?

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Do you have, or had any "holy grail" guests that you just wish and pray for the opportunity to bring to Otakon, and have you ever landed one to come to Otakon before?

 

Sure!

 

Miyazaki.  Go Nagai.  Leiji Matsumoto. Rumiko Takahashi. Megumi Hayashibara. Ohbata. Oshi.  Any of the really big name martial arts movie guys.

 

The one that got away was Satoshi Kon (sadly), but we've had some really close calls on quite a few of the others.

 

Last year I got Watanabe and Kanno, who HAD been on my list, and I got Kappei Yamaguchi, so ...yeah, I really can't complain.

 

There are definitely others.

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Oh man, if you got Go Nagai or Leiji Matsumoto I would freak out like none other.  That's a great list of holy grail guests!

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I was reading into [witness] accounts of the Anime Expo, and how poorly organized things were concerning timeliness, line controls, and even the AC.  It had me thinking of something.  What was the best piece of advice you received from another convention (anime-based or no anime-based), that you believe has made the Otakon better?

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So what are the odds of another industry insider type panel being done again this year?

 

Pretty small, but we tend to avoid too much repetition. Part of what made last year special was the people we had who'd not been together for a very long time.

 

We didn't explicitly plan one this year, AFAIK.

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I was reading into [witness] accounts of the Anime Expo, and how poorly organized things were concerning timeliness, line controls, and even the AC.  It had me thinking of something.  What was the best piece of advice you received from another convention (anime-based or no anime-based), that you believe has made the Otakon better?

 

Wow, that's a tough one.

 

I'd have to say this observation: money changes everything.

 

Cyndi Lauper said this ages ago, but in this context it means a few things. First, having deeper pockets is awesome (but never as awesome as people assume), because it makes certain things available to us that most cons don't have a chance of pulling off, like the full-fledged Arena rock shows.  It not only lets us pay for guest travel, it sends some of us to Japan -- something that was a very hard sell back in the day but which has paid off enormously.  We'd *never* have managed some of our bigger guests without it.

 

But on the flip side, I still feel that choosing to pay some staff is very, very dangerous for a fan convention.  It has a tendency to invite drama and poison the well, because even if we only paid our convention chairman a really mediocre salary, we certainly couldn't do that for everyone, and even for one person that's maybe $70-$100k that we can't use to make cool stuff happen. And then we'd ONLY be paying one person instead of the eighty or so who bust ass year round, or the hundreds who work at con. Doesn't seem quite fair.  And it has caused some schisms at other cons. There's a tendency to protect one's own job and source of income, and a very real fear it might be at the expense of the greater good.

 

But at the same time, at our size, there's a growing concern that many of the top jobs are getting so demanding that they'll be impossible to fill without SOME way of mitigating the time people steal from their own lives.  I do know that if we hadn't contracted out the Show Manager job out years ago, we'd probably have collapsed when the person doing the job retired.   But the economics don't make sense beyond a few professional roles that we contract out for, and money has a way of getting between friendships. So in the end I'm glad we opted to avoid that, but feel it may eventually be necessary to do SOMETHING. I logged over 1500 hours the year I was chair, and that's probably an under-estimate.

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What are your comments on The entertaining fiasco that was DASHcon.

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What are your comments on The entertaining fiasco that was DASHcon.

 

Well, we don't know a lot, really. But what I see from the outside is exactly the sort of thing we (by which I mean many senior staffers from many cons) repeatedly warn against.  I see it, personally, as the sort of boneheaded mistake you make when you don't listen to advice, are convinced that those with experience are lying to you to protect their turf, and believe that consequences don't apply to you.

 

Running cons is HARD. There's a ton of advice -- good, solid advice from people who lived it themselves -- out there for con newbies, but mostly it is ignored or brushed off.  An under-aged con chair who was too young to legally be responsible for anything, poor planning, reliance on "verbal contracts", and a terrible misunderstanding of what is actually required to make big things happen.

 

Tumblr is an echo chamber, like much of the internet. And if you can tune out the negative feedback and bypass the real consequences of your actions, you never have to figure out the hard stuff. The first big mistake is thinking you know everything and have all the answers, when in fact you have no real world experience to balance out your wild ideas.  So it's a shame, but it'll happen again and again.

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Tumblr is an echo chamber, like much of the internet. And if you can tune out the negative feedback and bypass the real consequences of your actions, you never have to figure out the hard stuff. The first big mistake is thinking you know everything and have all the answers, when in fact you have no real world experience to balance out your wild ideas.  So it's a shame, but it'll happen again and again.

 

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That's a bigger question than I have time to answer right now -- will try to get to it later.

 

Short version: yes, there are things that kind of came out of nowhere or happened in defiance of expectations. And yes, I share annoyance at having to waste staff to deal with people being stupid and inconsiderate.  But it's a game of numbers, and the bar gets set higher the more people you have; more people = higher chances of jerks showing up.

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I should also make it clear that MOST cons kinda suck the first year. They just rarely screw up so badly, and there are so many good resources now that there's little excuse for repeating the mistakes about such stuff as hotel contracts, the importance of legal agreements, and being rock solid on finances.  Like most small businesses, conventions are rarely successes right away.  And that's often a tough pill to swallow for people who want everything RIGHT NOW.

 

Always promise no more than what you are POSITIVE you can deliver, but try to deliver more if you can.

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I was reading into [witness] accounts of the Anime Expo, and how poorly organized things were concerning timeliness, line controls, and even the AC.  It had me thinking of something.  What was the best piece of advice you received from another convention (anime-based or no anime-based), that you believe has made the Otakon better?

 

Wow, that's a tough one.

 

I'd have to say this observation: money changes everything.

 

Cyndi Lauper said this ages ago, but in this context it means a few things. First, having deeper pockets is awesome (but never as awesome as people assume), because it makes certain things available to us that most cons don't have a chance of pulling off, like the full-fledged Arena rock shows.  It not only lets us pay for guest travel, it sends some of us to Japan -- something that was a very hard sell back in the day but which has paid off enormously.  We'd *never* have managed some of our bigger guests without it.

 

But on the flip side, I still feel that choosing to pay some staff is very, very dangerous for a fan convention.  It has a tendency to invite drama and poison the well, because even if we only paid our convention chairman a really mediocre salary, we certainly couldn't do that for everyone, and even for one person that's maybe $70-$100k that we can't use to make cool stuff happen. And then we'd ONLY be paying one person instead of the eighty or so who bust ass year round, or the hundreds who work at con. Doesn't seem quite fair.  And it has caused some schisms at other cons. There's a tendency to protect one's own job and source of income, and a very real fear it might be at the expense of the greater good.

 

But at the same time, at our size, there's a growing concern that many of the top jobs are getting so demanding that they'll be impossible to fill without SOME way of mitigating the time people steal from their own lives.  I do know that if we hadn't contracted out the Show Manager job out years ago, we'd probably have collapsed when the person doing the job retired.   But the economics don't make sense beyond a few professional roles that we contract out for, and money has a way of getting between friendships. So in the end I'm glad we opted to avoid that, but feel it may eventually be necessary to do SOMETHING. I logged over 1500 hours the year I was chair, and that's probably an under-estimate.

 

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On that note, what jobs does Otakon contract out? I guess for some things like legal or HR-type stuff it is commonplace, but how about anything specific to the con? What does "show manager" do?

 

 

Basically, we contract out what we must:  legal and accounting services and a technical show manager, primarily. We have to use teamsters & union labor for decorator and setup; we pay the AV contractors and stage techs and other professionals; we pay a licensed, bonded security company for security services.  A few other things here and there. 

 

But all the decisions and all the direction comes from volunteers.

 

The technical show manager oversees all the technical documentation and oversees the work of the decorator, facilities, and AV crew.  At our size, it's simply too demanding and too specific a job to be done by someone in their spare time.  They make sure the million-plus we spend on facilities and setup aren't wasted.

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How do you deal with competition from other cons over certain guests that you're interested in bringing?

 

Better than most con-goers would think. It's assumed, of course, that we viciously snipe each other on guests all the time, but the truth is quite different.

 

First of all, we communicate.  By which I mean we have formal/official lines of communications with many cons, as well as unofficial. Many staffers and friends in common.  And it's kind of a small industry, so news tends to get around.

 

For Otakon and AX, in particular, we occasionally go after the same folks, and we're the big kids on the block when it comes to stuff like that so we tend to be careful around each other.  We have a mostly friendly rivalry going with them for some guests, but we mostly play nice.

 

When we DO chase the same guests as other cons, our contacts typically let us know, or we figure it out on our own.  It's happened a few times with other cons -- notably Sakura Con, Anime Boston, NYCC, and ACEN, especially for musical guests. (There are others of course -- lots of common staff with our local/regional cons!)  It's an intricate web of friendships, so when collisions occur, we either contact our counterparts and work something out, or we back off.

 

My personal belief is that the big fish shouldn't hog everything, and shouldn't snipe the smaller guys when it comes to easier prey.  Especially when it comes to musical guests, we simply have access and resources that others don't, either because of money/venue/audience stuff, or because of personal and professional history. So I specifically chase folks who are new to the US (or at least to the con circuit), or who are getting hot.  Kanon Wakeshima and Angela are good examples there; they've both become pretty big since their Otakon visits. Or we pick acts that simply are too big for most cons to manage.  This helps us keep our edge as a leader on that front, and we deliberately try new things rather than bringing acts that are low risk.  And part of that is so that we don't deprive smaller or newer cons of great opportunities to work with folks like HMKU or JAM Project. 

 

When it comes to other guests, it's a similar approach -- and mostly cons are good about finding common ground.  When we brought Makoto Shinkai a few years ago, we discovered that NYCC had also booked him but they were later in the year. They were no threat to us for publicity, and NYC wasn't likely to lose out by him attending Otakon first.   So we put our heads together as colleagues and planned the announcements so neither of us stole the other's thunder, and everyone was happy. 

 

Of course sometimes I'm not aware of other conflicts, and I know a few voice actors have ditched other offers to come to Otakon instead -- but I found out after the fact, and I really try not to put anyone in that position.  I won't issue an invite to someone I know is booked at another con during our con, but there are an awful lot of cons and many of the smaller ones don't have the experience or ability to reach out.

 

That's the way it SHOULD work, but as someone recently pointed out, we have the luxury (?) of being the one to beat, or at least one of them.  That's what allows us to compete effectively with LA and NYC conventions where the allure of media is much stronger -- it's that trust we've built up by trying to be fair and decent and honest in our dealings, and by delivering a little more than we promise. 

 

For what it's worth, Animazement has a similar approach -- they get FANTASTIC Japanese guests, especially for the location and size of the con. It's on the strength of the personal relationships and key connections that they do that.  And some of our staff help them out, and some of theirs help us out. 

 

So yeah -- we have to assume we're all in this for the right reasons, and that we'll play fair with each other.  And when asked, especially on the Japanese side, we tend to recommend other cons that we have good relationships with, or know key staffers will make sure promises are kept.

When it DOES happen, it kinda sucks, but what can you do?  Most of it really is down to timing and availability anyway.  So you say "Great job on catching that guest, good luck!" and you try your hardest to mean it.  And it's not like we haven't been ridiculously lucky with our guests.

 

Yeah, I've been scooped before and a few of them hurt...and sometimes it's not even other cons who grab a guest first. This year I got scooped by Lady Gaga... 

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I just wanted to say Jim, thanks for taking the time out to reply here.  I know with the convention just a few weeks away you must be swamped, and I really appreciate it.

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I just wanted to say Jim, thanks for taking the time out to reply here.  I know with the convention just a few weeks away you must be swamped, and I really appreciate it.

 

I use this stuff as a brain break and a reality check. And, frankly, as a reminder that what we do matters. 

 

I also type pretty fast and write slightly faster once I get in a groove, so even when I barf out a wall of text, it doesn't actually take me that long to do.  :)

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