INTERVIEW: Ann Yamamoto, one-woman localization company, wants to bring ‘Skip Beat!’ to the US


Last year, Intervention kicked off panels designed to help our attendees learn how to break into the Western anime industry, and Doctor Who‘s Terry Molloy delivered a three-part voice acting master class. This year, we will be welcoming anime voice actor Todd Haberkorn to Rockville to help fans and aspiring voice actors learn more about what it’s like to be a part of the anime industry.

Meanwhile, a one-woman localization team wants to bring a popular shoujo anime to the West, and she’s showing us all how it’s done! Ann Yamamoto’s studio, Pied Piper Inc., localized the Time of EVE movie with the help of Kickstarter and fans like you, and now she’s looking to do it again — this time with the shoujo anime series Skip Beat! With the help of fan favorites Mela Lee and Cristina Vee, Yamamoto is aiming to bring a full dual-language DVD release to the States. We chatted her about her plans and what it takes to make a project like this happen.


InterventionCon: What made you decide to start Pied Piper, Inc.?

Ann Yamamoto: I established Pied Piper, Inc. in 2011 to handle the overseas projects that I used to do in-house at Directions, Inc., the production company behind Time of EVE. In the beginning, my main focus was getting Time of EVE on the iTunes Store and selling the Time of EVE ONA to overseas fans via our own website and Righstuf.


IC: Tell us a bit about the Time of EVE Kickstarter. What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

AY: When we put the Time of EVE ONA on Righstuf, we were astounded to find that fans bought several hundred copies in a short period of time. That was the first indication to us that overseas fans were serious about supporting Time of EVE.

Tom Nagae, the head producer at Directions, Inc., is a maverick producer. Instead of selling the overseas distribution rights for Time of EVE: The Movie, he held onto those rights for Directions, Inc. Since we had the rights, we decided to try putting Time of EVE: The Movie on Kickstarter. To my knowledge, our project was the first anime localization on Kickstarter.

I figured that the fans who had purchased the ONA version from Righstuf would be willing to support the Kickstarter, so I created a budget based on roughly $55 from 300 fans. I managed to squeeze all of the Blu-ray localization expenses within that $18,000 budget.

My biggest challenge was getting so much funding so quickly! Throughout the campaign, I was playing catchup with the stretch goals. I was able to license the Official Fan Book and soundtrack, and also get access to merchandise manufactured for the Japan market. For me, the greatest achievement of the Time of EVE Kickstarter is the additional materials we were able to bring to overseas fans.

However, the entire project got huge and very complicated. I was dealing with limited edition coffee cups damaged by overseas shipping; publishing two books for the first time; producing a dub; negotiating soundtrack rights with Sony Music Entertainment; adding subtitles in 10 languages; etc etc.

Thankfully, the backers were extraordinarily patient. Over the course of 2 years, I pushed through each challenge, one by one, until all of the rewards were delivered. It was truly a marathon.


IC: You’ve talked a lot about Skip Beat! in terms of quality and broad appeal, but how about your own experiences with it? What first drew you to the show, and what do you love most about it as a fan?

AY: A friend had recommended Skip Beat! a while ago, and the story and characters really stuck with me. I love how Kyoko is rebuilding herself after a life-shattering experience. She is learning how to become her own person. There’s romance in the story, but mainly it is a story with a strong heroine. There is no magic, sci-fi or supernatural elements. She’s reaching deep within herself to overcome huge obstacles in her life. Whenever I get stuck, I play the opening song “Dream Star” and Kyoko’s courage gets me going again!


IC: You’ve got an amazing team assembled for this release. Can you tell us a bit about who you’ve got on board so far?

AY: The Time of EVE Kickstarter taught me that the partners I work with can make or break the project.

And, this project absolutely would not be happening without voice actress Mela Lee, who is co-producing the dub with Cristina Vee, James Charles Miller and Alexander Burke. Before I met Mela, I had two choices for producing the dub. I could go with a super low-budget studio with zero experience producing dubs for anime, which would be feasible for a crowdfunding budget but less than ideal for fans. Or else I could go with one of the “brand name” anime dubbing studios – but the price would be so astronomical as to make crowdfunding impossible.

Mela and her team know the quality we need to deliver for anime fans, and they are willing to take this on as a passion project. Thus, we can pull off a fantastic dub within a manageable budget. To me, that speaks volumes about the power of Skip Beat!

Another critical member of the team is Justin Sevakis, who is on board to handle the authoring. There are lots of ways to cut corners, but with Justin, I always know that we are making choices to get the best possible audio and video quality.


IC: Lately, smaller groups like Pied Piper and Sekai Project have been using the crowdfunding model to license titles that in previous years might have been inaccessible to anyone but big companies. How do you think crowdfunding will affect the nature of the anime industry in the West going forward?

AY: I think crowdfunding is a powerful tool for mobilizing fans around titles with a narrow but passionate fanbase. I think crowdfunding has and will continue to diversify the anime choices for overseas fans.

And, at the same time, crowdfunding offers a fantastic experience for fans, because you get the satisfaction of being directly involved in created a product that you love. I’m most interested to see Funimation try out crowdfunding.


IC: You originally started out on Indiegogo, but have moved over to Kickstarter. What was behind your decision to change tactics on this fundraiser?

AY: Anime fans are very loyal to Kickstarter. I’d seen the success of SkullGirls on Indiegogo, but I discovered that there are many anime fans that simply won’t back a project unless it is on Kickstarter. As a creator, I really liked the IndieGoGo platform – there are a lot of functions that are third-party add-ons with Kickstarter, and Indiegogo has a film team that gives fantastic support for projects. But, the Indiegogo platform still needs work to build up trust with anime fans.


IC: What changes have you made to the campaign and your methods for the relaunch?

AY: First, thanks to the Indiegogo campaign, we’d already kindled the fire with core fans. We had a tight community of 200 people who backed the campaign on Indiegogo, and they were bringing their friends onboard to the Kickstarter from the moment of the relaunch. So, we were able to shoot straight up to $60K within 3 days.

Then, I redid the campaign page to focus more on the Skip Beat! story and what is special about the project, and put less emphasis on the team executing the project.

And, I’ve continually been reaching out to people who are committed to shoujo manga and anime, and who love high-quality anime in general. I was at Anime Japan in Tokyo over the weekend, and was so delighted that people in the industry are genuinely rooting for this campaign. Veterans in distribution understand how shoujo is perceived as being a tough sell, and the industry is watching this campaign closely to see if fans rally to the cause. In the industry, everyone recognizes that Skip Beat! is a quality title and wants it to have the high-quality release it deserves. I am plugging away at getting this message in front of the people who care about anime.
IC: Do you have any advice for someone who might want to try crowdfunding an official release themselves?

AY: The first hurdle is to have access to the property. From my experience, Japanese rights holders aren’t interested in licensing properties to untested distributors. You have to first present the projects you’ve already executed. I was extremely lucky because  I got to build my portfolio with Time of EVE. I hope to continue building a solid track record so both fans and rights holders trust me.


IC: With Skip Beat! you’d have two pretty impressive releases under your belt. What do you see yourself doing after that’s been released?

AY: Directions, Inc. has a few new projects in the pipelines, and I’m really excited to bring those titles to international fans.


IC: Obviously donating to the campaign is the best way to help, but what else can people do if they’re short on funds and still want to support you?

AY: Please talk about the campaign, share the information, and also talk to me! You can find me on twitter and FB @piedinc and via email at skipbeat@piedinc.com

Thank you!!!


Be sure to visit the project’s official Kickstarter page to find out more and support the release!


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