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|Title:||Interview with AmeCon chairman|
|Published:||Mon, 9 Aug 2004|
AmeCon 2004 is set to become one of the biggest UK anime conventions to date. With 1,000 people registered to attend, along with special guests and industry panels from the likes of ADV and MVM, AmeCon will no doubt become a massive landmark in UK fandom's short but volatile history.
With this in mind, I recently put a few questions to Will Blewitt, chairman of AmeCon. Thankfully, he responded with a large set of detailed answers; touching on a range of important subjects, from convention bootleggers to AmeCon's future plans.
So pull up a seat and get comfortable, this is where the interview begins.
Paul: What made you decide to set-up AmeCon?
Will: Well, there were several factors. Firstly the UK Calendar has established Conventions in Spring and Autumn, but a large gap in the Summer - the point at which a large portion of anime fandom has the most free time. Over the past few years the average age of anime fans in the UK has lowered, and Convention scheduling needs to reflect that. Also running in the Summer gives freedom to take advantage of University Conference facilities that aren't available during the academic year, opening a few new doors with respect to location.
Secondly, I was appointed to the position of LANMA Events Secretary a year past May. The duties of the post mainly revolved around finding events to take the LANMA membership, but LANMA only gains new members at the start of the academic year, by which time (in 2003) both Aya 2003 and Minami 10 (2004!) were full to bursting. There was no Convention to take the members to, so we decided to bring a Convention to them - things sort of snowballed from there. Just thinking about it brings on a migraine.
Paul: Were you always planning to make AmeCon the biggest UK anime convention or has it been a more gradual process?
Will: Not so much a gradual process as a jolt from second into fifth – without the benefit of clutch-control. Aya decided they weren't running in '04.
By the time they announced this, I had been sending 'sorry, we're full' messages to people for the better part of six weeks (a short space of time, certainly, but a long time to be telling people 'no room at the inn' for an event that wasn't scheduled to take place for another six month). Our committee met, discussed a recent offer we had received from the University of 'relocation' to a more suitable venue. The vote was passed unanimously - none of us wanted to tell 600 anime fans that they couldn't attend a Convention until Minami '05 (note: Minami '04 hadn't happened at this point).
So it wasn't our intention when we started, if that's what you mean, but it was a responsibility the Committee was prepared to adopt.
Paul: How has the UK anime industry responded to AmeCon?
Will: Very positively - MVM and ADV have been of great help in organising showings and getting us 'noticed'. We've also got a couple of premieres lined up that haven't been announced yet, but I don't think I'm allowed to talk about those until the day itself. ADV especially have taken note of the fact that UK Cons are expanding, and are providing a more, for lack of a better term, American level of help to us as Con Organisers.
I'd like to take the chance to thank Hugh David, personally, for his endeavours on our behalf.
Paul: Cosplay is always a particular stand out at anime conventions. Are you a fan of these crazy costumes and do you particularly remember any extreme/funny cases?
Will: You're talking to the wrong man about Cosplay, I'm afraid. I respect the effort that goes into making them, and I understand completely the desire of cosplayers to show off their endeavours to fellow fans – that was why I appointed a noted, self-confessed Cosplay freak to the position of Cosplay Events Co-ordinator - one of the tricks of being Chairman, I've found, is admitting up-front that there are things outside your scope, and finding the best people to handle them. I like to think I've done a decent job on that score, and I know that my fellow Committee members have worked their hearts out to make this a very big splash in the UK anime scene.
As regards funny stories, there are a few. The first time I encountered a 'crossplayer' was both amusing and horrific at the same time – some things are sacred, and I feel that Steel Angel Kurumi is one of them. Of course, there are the perennial assaults on the sanity of the Aya Chairman, Doctor Duncan Law-Green - there's video footage of the latest one - but those are his anecdotes, not mine ^_~
Paul: Was there much persuading needed to get Monica Rial involved?
Will: Almost none. Monica is one of those people that give their all for the fans both on and off screen - just take a look at the number of Convention appearances she makes each year. Factor in that VAs aren't paid for attending Cons, and that many of them have to turn down theatre work because premieres clash with Con season, and you'll note exactly how much time and effort she devotes to the fans. I PM'd her on a favourite forum of mine (shameless plug: www.dubreview.com), asking her if she'd be interested, and she got back to me within a day to accept.
On a related note, the subject of Guests is one of some notoriety within the UK Convention circuit. I think, however, with Aya's ground-breaking inclusion of Fred Gallagher in '03, and the first appearance of a US VA in the UK at Ame this year, that trend might be changing - for the better, I hope.
Paul: With all the recent talk of bootleggers/pirates being ejected from American conventions, how are you planning to deal with these situations at AmeCon (if they arise)?
Will: Well, each gopher in the Dealers' Room will be armed with an Uzi 9mm and a machete... No, but seriously, most (if not all) of the UK Dealers are very well-behaved with respect to pirate goods. All of the dealers at AmeCon 2004 have signed an agreement not to stock goods of dubious (or unscrupulous) origins. We also have AnimeDigital's Joe Curzon giving a talk on Piracy - remember that a significant proportion of our membership haven't been to a Convention before, and while we're doing everything we can at our end to make sure they aren't ripped off, it doesn't hurt for them to have a heads up on what to look out for – to that end, we're including a copy of Mr Curzon's internationally famous Piracy FAQ in our conpacks for people to peruse at their leisure.
Also, with our strong industry links, it simply doesn't do to permit the sale of such goods. So in answer to your question, Dealers are agreeing not to bring them, we're going to keep a look out in case they do, we're telling the FANS what to look out for, and if any bootleg/pirate merchandise is found it shall be removed forthwith and the dealer reprimanded. I don't think there's much more we can do.
Paul: The industry panels are always interesting and provide some good gossip material. Can we expect any big announcements with regards to new UK releases, similar to the panels held at US conventions?
Will: We are in a different boat to the US, as I'm sure you're aware. DVDs published in the UK have to be submitted many months in advance to the BBFC, which publishes its reviewed material on its website. This makes it difficult for companies to do here as they do in the US. Difficult, but not impossible. There are a few surprises to be announced at AmeCon, certainly, and I for one am looking forward to them immensely.
It's also worth noting that we're moving towards a more American model in this regard, too. We're giving the individual companies short panels, to make their announcements. Our 'Big' Industry Panel is more of a Q&A for the industry reps on how they see anime now, and how they see it five years from now. The 'State of the Industry' Panel is just that.
Paul: What are you most looking forward to at AmeCon?
Will: The gopher party at the end. No, but seriously, I'm looking forward to a lot of things. The Monica Panel should be fun, same with the Industry Panel. I'll be sitting on the Piracy Panel, and I'm definitely looking forward to the Charity Auction and the Fandub Panel. There's a lot going on - possibly too much, truth be told, to take it all in. But that's the idea, isn't it - if everyone else is busy and enjoying themselves, then I'll feel the Committee have done what we set out to do. If I happen to enjoy myself at the same time, then I'll be doubly chuffed.
Paul: What is your opinion of the UK anime community? Do you think it's growing? And where do you think there is room for improvement?
Will: The UK Anime Community is growing, certainly. Whether or not that's a good thing is the subject of much debate - I'm of the school of thought that believes 'the more, the merrier' (so long as the 'more' don't insist on telling me I'm missing out by not watching the latest Dragonball series). Honestly, though - fandom needs to grow if it's ever to be acknowledged as the Market Force it has the potential to be. We can quote figures all day - the fabled 15K from '97 is often remarked upon - but, brutally, we need more anime fans going into their local Virgin Megastore and HMV and buying titles. And if they don't have the title, tell them to order it in.
There's always room for improvement - I mean, I've gotten into the habit of waiting until a show is released over here before I buy it. Supporting the local industry and all that. But that's just me - I can certainly understand people importing the US disks of a show that isn't coming out here for another year or more - but when the show's only a
couple of months behind (Pretear, for example), I don't see the need to expedite the procedure further - we've waited long enough for the DVDs, another month or two won't make any difference.
I think a lot of us are adjusting to the fact that we now have a 'proper' anime industry in the UK, and it's a bit of a shock to the system when you realise that the years we've spent ordering DVDs from Japan and America have not been wasted - the figures have been clocked, noted by those in 'the Industry', and they've finally acknowledged that there's a market here in the UK. I think there's never been a better time to be an anime fan in the Britain, personally, but that's just my opinion :)
Paul: How has it been having a hand in setting up an anime convention? Was there ever a point when you perhaps regretted getting yourself involved?
Will: To answer your second question first, every day, as the Convention draws nearer. Oh yes, you regret getting embroiled in this fantastically fan-based Industry - but once it's got you, you wouldn't change it for the world. There's a difference between regretting the specifics of something, and wishing you weren't involved in it. It's certainly a labour of love - but heck, it's FUN. Yes, there're the hours upon hours of data entry, and answering inane emails asking questions you've answered a hundred times before, and making sure everything's ship-shape and Bristol-fashion, but it's FUN. And I'd challenge any Committee member of any Convention to disagree with me - if there wasn't a part of us that loved doing this, we wouldn't do it.
TO answer the first part, it's altered my viewpoints radically. The fans really DO make the Conventions happen - there are some brilliant, amazing people out there, each bringing elements of the Convention to fruition. I don't mean the Committee - oh, we work our butts off, we organise and we facilitate and we debate and we discuss and we negotiate, but none of this would happen if it weren't for the handful of fans who send quiet emails asking "Do you need somebody to run the Karaoke?" and "How are you for badge designs?" and "Do you have any posters that I could put up in my local comic store?". This really is a 'Fandustry', and it shows.
Paul: What are your plans for next year? Do you think there will be an AmeCon 2005?
Will: Well now you're putting me on the spot. Well, I suppose here is as good a time to announce it as any.
There will be no AmeCon in 2005. There WILL be an AmeCon in 2006. More details will follow in a Press Release, but I can give you a few exclusive bits of info now:
AmeCon is remaining in the Midlands, but is moving from Leicester to Birmingham. The next AmeCon Event will run in the latter half of August 2006 and our current intention is to make the event open to ALL age groups (parental supervision depending). And we WILL be taking registrations or deposits on registrations for 2006 at 2004.
Paul: I'd just like to say thanks to Will for taking the time to answer my long winded questions and to wish the best of luck to all of the dedicated people behind AmeCon. I'm sure it will be a fantastic event and something for UK fans to look back on for years to come.
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