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FanimeCon Events and Discussionmentarianism => General Convention Discussion => Topic started by: Tony on May 08, 2015, 03:43:48 PM

Title: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 08, 2015, 03:43:48 PM
Hi Everybody!

You probably don't know who I am, but that's not important. I've been to 14 FanimeCons and staffed 12 of them, and now I'm moving on. But before I go, I wanted to share my experiences. Check back here each day for stories of 12 Years in 2 Weeks!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 08, 2015, 03:47:29 PM
What's this? A bonus chapter? The origin story!

Prelude

It all started with a gaming convention and old veteran. He doesn't know this story - no one does - but that's fine.

It was 1995. I was in junior high, hating every second of it, and looking for escape. I found it in anime. I had followed "anime" in the sense that I collected Robotech VHS tapes, but my eyes were opened when a Hollywood Video opened near my house. No longer would I need to scour the shelves of Asian video rental stores in sketchy neighborhoods, nor would I need to save up for an LD player: now I had access to the real stuff, nearly on demand. I don't know how many tapes I copied, but I got very good at plugging in RCA cables blind.

The interesting thing about this time was that anime as a product was becoming mainstream, but no one really knew what it was. So, you'd end up with hardcore titles like La Blue Girl and Adventure Kid on the shelves, next to titles of varying maturity - Tenchi Muyo, Bubblegum Crisis, Ranma 1/2, Ghibli films - and the adults and the people in charge didn't know any better. This was like crack for teenage boys, and I would argue that this was critical to anime's surge in the early 90s. But that's another topic.

With this, my friends and I searched for a community.

--

Back in 1995 there was a gaming convention called Slugathon. It happened over the course of a weekend in the Santa Clara Convention Center. I saw a flyer - likely in some gaming shop - and convinced my best friend to go. We got dropped off early and stayed late, and it changed us profoundly. This was near the beginning of LAN gaming, and we were blown away by the ability to compete against a real, live player in Doom or Hexen or whatever game they had set up. It was amazing.

Supplementing the gaming was an anime room. It was staffed by two individuals I'd later meet in different circumstances: Tracy Brown and Rob Miles. They played fansubs of Street Fighter the movie - wow, a Chun Li shower scene! - and The Wind Ninja Chronicles - woah, so mature! - and we couldn't get enough. We were too in awe to approach Tracy or Rob, but we knew we had to reach out. They turned out to be prominent in the FanimeCon scene down the road. Little did I know that I would meet them again, years later, as peers.

As it happened, there was a flier for FanimeCon '96 laying around at the convention. We went home and begged our parents to go. They agreed. We mailed (!) a check (!!) and a hand-written registration form (!!!) and waited for the best day of our lives to begin.

--

FanimeCon '95 was hosted at Foothill College. If I'm remembering correctly, they had a few video rooms playing the latest stuff, a dealers room in the cafeteria, and a LAN set up for gaming. We got there terribly early, for teenagers - around 9am? - and stayed until it was dark. I remember debating whether to spend $90 on a probably-bootleg Ryo-Ohki. I remember hoping I could meet a girl that was into this stuff.  I remember Brian/Dieter hosting the masquerade. And then, it was over, and I couldn't wait for the next one.

--

Now it's FanimeCon '96. Still at Foothill College, but now getting massive, taking over the campus. It was held over two days and, for me, was a blur of getting up early, saving/starving our way through the day, looking out for a killer buy from a dealer, gaming, and watching shows. Anime was getting serious; Pioneer premiered Hyper Dolls and the Tenchi Muyo movie - in Dolby! The gaming area had Japanese PSX's playing Macross games, and hot gotten hotter and smellier. I seem to remember the dealer's room occupying the gymnasium, and that it rained in the afternoon, so everyone scrambled to get in there. Once more, Dieter hosted the masquerade, and we cheered and jeered each show. Still, not many girls were into this stuff.

My friends had a bit of a rift around this time, so I forgot about FanimeCon for a few years. By then, Power-Up and Howie's High Tech Games sprung up as places to get anime, so I didn't have as much interest in going to cons.

--

Then it's 1999. FanimeCon is in a real convention venue - a hotel - down in San Jose. We're old enough to drive, and we have real spending money, so we make our way down to the Wyndham.

Frankly, it sucked. We had to wait a while in a hot, stuffy room to get our badges. We paid $40, went to the dealers room, and were unimpressed. The gaming seemed non-existent, and we were accustomed to watching videos at home, so the convention's appeal was gone - replaced with teeming multitudes that we did not identify with. There were now pretty cosplaying girls that were into this stuff, but they always had jealous boyfriends hovering nearby, projecting their displeasure. Overall it was a disappointment, and we wanted our money back. We carried that sentiment as an in-joke for a long time; we would often look at each other, disappointed, and say: "Where's my forty dollars?!".

--

Anime was now entering the bubble era. It was easier to find titles at Suncoast, find sites on the net, or even just see stuff on TV. It was in shops and mom-and-pop rental stores. It was no longer underground - just niche. Though it was still a part of my formative years, it was no longer a priority. I had moved on.

And then, I met a girl that was into this stuff.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Barnes on May 08, 2015, 10:31:30 PM
Cool backstory, looking forward to more  8)

2005? You  must mean 1995 XD

You're moving on after this year? Ah, we'll all miss you.

I missed out on 1999. Ouch XD
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 09, 2015, 04:55:17 PM
Haha, good catch! Thanks Barnes.

Yep, I'm done staffing and attending. Enjoy it for me!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 09, 2015, 04:57:39 PM
I didn't know it yet, but I met my wife in 2000. She was into anime and games, and I couldn't believe it. We bonded over RPGs, Ranma, Bubblegum Crisis - but not Sailor Moon, that's just not workable for me - and we generally fell in love.

She had been to AX once and didn't like it. I said I had been to FanimeCon and it was smaller and more fun. I convinced her to spend a weekend at FanimeCon 2002 with me, and we enjoyed it. But I didn't have as much fun as I could have; I thought the show could have been run better. I sent an email to the website saying that I had some sound engineering experience and would like to help - oh, and I make websites, if you need help there. I was asked to join as webmaster soon after. I remember exchanging emails with a guy named Scott while I was on vacation in Thailand. Something about receiving a pseudo-job offer while at a dial-up internet cafe on the beaches of Pattaya has stayed with me.

Enter FanimeCon 2003.

Scott Rux - chair (chairman) of FanimeCon at the time - asked me to come to a meeting so I could learn the ropes. I was supposed to meet him at, say, 3pm, in a meeting room at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I waited outside, staff slowly gathering around.

It was almost 3pm, then it was 3, and then it was a little after 3. Nervous, I slowly opened the meeting room door and peered in, hoping to find Scott. The room went dead and a dozen unfriendly faces shot a look at me from inside. Who was this kid, they seemed to ask.

"Um, sorry, I'm Tony? I'm here to meet Scott?" You know it's bad when you can hear the question mark in your voice.

"Yes, yes!", Scott said, jumping to his feet, "Come in!" He grabbed me by the arm and led me to an open seat. He introduced me as the new webmaster, and that was it. No sizing me up, no trial by fire. I offered to help and it was accepted unequivocally. I was now a member of the Senior Staff. That was really cool of Scott.

My first task was to redesign the site. I had the help of my good friend Chase, and we designed a few mockups. We ended up with a very peachy site whose taste, though debatable, was a step ahead of previous years. I got to know the senior staff by processing site updates for them. This was the year where Aya, head of Guest Relations (GR), pulled in a massive number of heavy-hitting guests; I became her best friend as I constantly updated bios on the website. It became a game to see how fast I could make updates for her.

This was also the first year of Gakufest. Senior staffer Lorrayne and her boyfriend saw the potential for a concert featuring Japanese or Japanese-inspired acts. She was absolutely thrilled to have landed a headliner, BLOOD, and filled out the roster with local acts. I soon learned two things: one, Visual Kei/VK followers are rabid, and two, always assume a VK artist is a man. I learned that last part the awkward way. Remember: before you say a chick is cute, make sure the chick is a chick.

Over the course of the year, I got to know a number of senior staff, but was otherwise an island. I had worked their content and got it onto the website, but no one really knew who I or Chase was. When we got to con, we had an uneasy position: we were technically senior staff with some level of authority, but no one knew or cared about it. I could see things from both the attendee and the staff perspective, and I didn't like it.

We had several run-ins with power-tripping staff that left a bad taste in our mouth. Staffers enforcing line control were yelling, being rude, and condescending. As senior staff, we had some authority to call them out - but we had no leverage, being essentially anonymous.

After a few of these incidents, we decided we were done. We threw our badges to the ground in anger. Then we realized people could impersonate us - as staff - and quickly picked them up. But we were pissed and almost didn't return.

What brought us back? The staff.

Aya - seeing us being yelled at by a staffer, and then missing the cutoff for autographs - very discreetly got us into the autograph room. We were thankful to be considered.

Lorrayne got us into Gakufest. It wasn't my thing, but I love music, and I was happy to support her and the event.

Scott, generously valuing our work, arranged for a hotel room for the weekend. Unfortunately through some crossed wires, I had already paid for a room. The chat, paraphrased and ill-remembered, went like this:

Scott: "Hey, when are you on-site?"
Tony: "I checked in yesterday!"
S: "You did? How?"
T: "I... showed them a credit card and ID... ?"
S: "But the room wasn't reserved until today."
T: "What room? I made my reservation a long time ago."
S: "Wait, you reserved your own room?"
T: "Yeah - why?"
S: "Ah. Crap. So, I got you a hotel room, and now I'm telling you about it."

I think it was put to good use as storage.

It didn't matter; the sentiment was appreciated. And that - the consideration - was what got us back to staff for FanimeCon 2004.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Angelx624 on May 09, 2015, 07:12:10 PM
Sad to see you move on, but reading up on your times with Fanime is great. And yes, the number one rule of Visual Kei: ALWAYS assume it's a dude! XD Cause, 95% of the time, it is. ;D
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: InsaneDavid on May 09, 2015, 07:35:14 PM
Thank you for sharing your stories!  So much of this is very familiar as it matches my early path into anime fandom.  My local Hollywood Video had a similar eclectic mix of anime (awesome) and since the anime shelf had limited space they would always rotate stock and sell the old tapes for $5 a pop - memories.

I can't wait to read what is to come!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kyra_Maverick on May 10, 2015, 01:43:48 AM
I look forward to more stories. I remember your time as Chair fondly and there was definitely an adjustment period after you had left.

It's nice to get nostalgic over titles near 20 years old and remember the impact they had on you as if it was just yesterday.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 10, 2015, 06:02:04 PM
2004.

FanimeCon 2004 was held in the San Jose Convention Center. This is notable because it was arranged before FanimeCon 2004 had ended; this was the first time that the date and place of the convention had been decided early. It has remained on Memorial Day Weekend at the San Jose Convention Center ever since.

Unfortunately FanimeCon did not have sole possession of the SJCC in 2004. We shared the space with a large WWII veteran gathering. It was quite dissonant to be celebrating Japanese culture alongside veterans who had fought, and had lost friends, against it.

We made sure to grab the majority of the venue after that.

PMX launched around this time. It was terrifying. A big new event with deep pockets - held on the same weekend! - was threatening to eat our lunch. We had a huge overlap in their focus on music: they had booked TM Revolution, and we had our bourgeoning Gakufest.

Gakufest was becoming a cornerstone to event programming. We now had both the SJCC and the Civic Auditorium across the street, and the Civic would be the showcase venue for the concert. Behind the scenes, we debated about how the show should be run. Should it be ticketed? How should the venue be set up? Can we get a lineup that will fill the Civic with attendees? We discussed ideas, conjured numbers - very optimistically - and forged ahead to put together a multi-act, multi-hour show.

Planning, however, turned tense. Gakufest's budget was ballooning as performers confirmed. The tech would be expensive. Lorrayne's idea to account for this was to sell tickets, but the idea was rejected. Generally we do not like having a "premium" tier or a-la-carte events, and a ticketing scheme was counter to that philosophy. Yet the event was becoming unaffordable, and tensions were mounting.

About a month before con, things came to a head: Lorrayne had come up as the head of programming and a champion of Gakufest and had done a good job, but she was livid with the rejection of her plans. She quit abruptly and never turned back.

Sometimes passion turns negative, permanently. It's a recurring theme in Fanime.

Senior staff were left to pick up the pieces - trying to figure out who had been invited to perform, organizing the lineup, planning the tech, projecting a budget, and trying to execute it all.

I had been talking to Lorrayne before and after she left and had a good idea of what to do, but I lacked confidence. Instead of volunteering to run things, I volunteered as a second-in-command. A friend of then-video head Camilla stepped in to run the show. I forget the dude's name, but he had some experience and was nice to work with. Dude and I did our best to put things together, but we went into the show without a proper plan. It was a best-effort collaboration, and it was amazing it happened at all. Somehow we made a five-act show happen.

Three of the acts were great: The Beautiful Losers, Duel Jewel, and Camino were straightforward to handle and real professionals.

Nami Tamaki, cute and perky on-stage, was a diva behind the curtain. Her management lectured me more than a few times in the wings of the Civic. She needed the Proper water with a particular Bendy Straw placed correctly on stage. She took food from hungry staffers without thanks. She tossed trash to the ground. I was happy to see her go.

The acts continued. We were running further and further behind schedule. The crowd was getting restless between sets. The bands were eager to play. The stress mounted on me and the dude. He told me, "you and me, we're getting hammered tonight. If you can get me a beer, it would be a miracle." I dashed across the street mid-set to the hotel, grabbed a huge can of beer, and brought it backstage to him. There's no outside food and drink allowed in the Civic, and certainly no alcohol, but he cracked it open in full view of the Union staff that ran the venue. They understood why, and didn't say a word. They were just as flustered.

BLOOD was the end of it. They neglected to tell us that they would be spitting fake blood all over the stage, and the venue staff were pissed. Then things went bad on-stage. During their set, a guitar amp had overheated and cut out. The guitarist kept strumming - so hard that I could hear his pick against the strings from the wings 15 feet away - but to the audience, it appeared that he was faking the performance to a backing track. There was nothing we could do but wait for the amp to recover.

They were furious after their set. The guitarist either threw or kicked a chair at staff. When we confronted them with the bill for the fake blood, they forgot how to speak English. Needless to say, we did not ask them back.

That night, the Dude sent a parting post-mortem email to some of the senior staff. From that, I learned the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. He quit, and I took over as head for the next four years.

--

You may wonder what "Gakufest" is - it doesn't exist nowadays. The reason is simple: after the split, we needed to make sure that we had no liabilities in terms of naming and copyright of the event. Gakufest became MusicFest, and that's how it's been ever since.

I'm not sure what happened to the bands after then. GR head Aya even ended up going on a road trip with Camino after the show, all the way to Texas, where I believe they played A-Kon. But as is common in the music industry, success is short-lived. I think Camino broke up shortly thereafter. TBL dissolved after a few years, I think, but their lead Raj played at FanimeCon 2014. I heard Duel Jewel went on to some success, but like a lot of VK groups, they broke into solo acts and then disappeared. I never checked up on Nami Tamaki or BLOOD.

What happened to PMX? They hit hard for a few years and got some really fantastic performers, but eventually changed their dates and dialed back their guests. I'll explain why soon.

Conventions are hard, and working with Japanese guests is even harder. Making good, sustainable choices is difficult to master. I got my first real taste of this with FanimeCon 2005.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: FanFicGuru on May 11, 2015, 10:47:06 AM
Very cool story! I was an attendee pretty much the whole time you were staffing it haha. Interesting to see it from "behind the curtain".

Looking forward to more!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 11, 2015, 08:38:04 PM
Scott was out.

I don't remember how it happened, but Scott, the chair of FanimeCon, was released from his position. Tomoko took his place. Tomoko was a very early staffer of FanimeCon, if not a founder, and had a spot on the Board of Directors.

Scott and Tomoko are, in my opinion, both geniuses in their own respects. Both are highly strategic thinkers. But where Scott is an analytic thinker, Tomoko dealt in interpersonal relations. The trouble in being a genius of any regard is that you operate on a different level than the people around you, and that disparity always causes friction. In Scott's case, his frustration with staff missing deadlines or doing half-assed work was becoming more and more public, and sentiments turned bitter. It's hard to deal with people when you are two steps ahead of them; they're always two steps behind.

This is conjecture, but it seems that despite Scott's performance - snagging the SJCC in advance, pulling MusicFest together, and so on - there were staff that were upset with him, and so Tomoko took over. I had a crisis of conscience with this. Scott could be rough, but he was my leader - my chair - and I wondered if continuing on would be a betrayal to him. On the other hand, I had grown to be friends with much of the senior staff and really enjoyed contributing. Scott ended up coming back as head of IT, and I was a fan of Tomoko's style, so I continued on. Scott is still running IT single-handedly.

To give you a sense of Tomoko's leadership style, when we set up a general staff mailing list, there was a question of what to name it. Would we give it a codename? Would it be a generic "staff@" list? No, Tomoko's idea for a name was much softer, touchy-feely, "we-love-our-staff".

Definitely an emotional leader. More on that later.

That's how 2005 began.

I was still focused on building the website, taking little time to figure out what to do with MusicFest. I knew what to do on the tech side of things, but guest acquisitions? Not my forte. Aya - still running GR - took lead in sourcing performers. She was already extremely successful at acquiring guests of honor, so it fell naturally to her to rope in musical guests as well. My job, then, was to run the show.

Contacting Japanese guests is a secretive art. You had to know the right people in the right places - friends of friends, nieces of managers, secretary-to-whomever - to get in touch with someone and see if they'd like to come to the U.S. Usually this is a fairly direct contact, after you talked some through the go-between; you would end up talking to a band member directly, or to their manager - not to their label or a stateside 3rd party, like you might do today. Negotiations were usually informal and minimal, too. You could confirm an appearance with a few emails and a few phone calls, and you didn't have to offer anything beyond a flight, a hotel room, and the promise of American fans.

Things were changing. Guests were getting burned by poorly-trained handlers, shady go-betweens, and cheapskate conventions. It was no longer a novelty to appear in the U.S. The question of what having an American presence would be bring was being answered, and the answer was largely, "not much." To counter this, guests were being stricter in their negotiations and less trusting with who they work with. A handful of people across U.S. conventions built and maintained a reputation for handling guests well, and it's why you see megastars appearing at Otakon, ACen, Sakura-Con, and so on even today. But beyond that, you started to need a lot of pull to get Japanese guests to come.

I didn't learn any of this for another year. Instead, Aya came to me with very simple options.

The first option was who to work with. There was AVEX or there was Sony. You could choose one or the other, but to put acts from both companies on the same stage would be a problem. Sony was not happy with Nami Tamaki being mixed in with other acts in 2004. Meanwhile, AVEX was making strides in the U.S. and seemed easier to work with; Camino came from AVEX, and they were great to work with. So, we decided to work with AVEX.

Next was who, from AVEX, to bring over. Labels always have a short list of acts that they want to promote stateside; short of having massive cash, they won't offer their A-list artists. Instead, you get mid- to entry-level acts that have some relevance but are still hungry for exposure. Aya came to me with some choices.

"I have two acts that we can work with," she said, "either a JPop singer-dancer, or a kind of a rock-rap group." The singer had a tie-in with video games, but the rock-rap group had more anime material overall. The singer would also require a stylist and backup dancers and would only do a karaoke-style show - that's where there's no live music, just vocals and backing tracks. The rock-rap group, on the other hand, would be performing live. "Let's go with the rock-rap group," I decided, "because they will actually be making music and the genre, with their tie-ins with anime, should have the wider appeal." Aya said ok, and we went forward.

I had just made my first guest decision. I had chosen ZZ over the singer-dancer chick. I think her name was Koda Kumi - I'm not sure if anyone knows who that is.

To appeal to the JPop crowd, one of the guest voice-actresses ended up performing a song or two. And for taking on ZZ, Avex sent us a brand-new singer, Kumiko Kato, to open up for ZZ. They also asked to include a DJ that had collaborated with ZZ. That was a fun situation.

Aya approached Tomoko about adding more guests to the roster. "They want to include a DJ for their set," Aya explained, "so they can do more of their popular songs, and have him spin live. They're also including Kumiko Kato. They'll pay for her flight, but we'll need to cover hotel. The DJ - we'll have to cover everything, and get him some equipment."

Tomoko sighed. "How much is this going to cost us?" "Maybe another $5,000." Tomoko sighed again, but smiled, and gave it the green light. $5,000, just like that. This was Tomoko: more emotional, less analytical. I think it was the right decision, though.

Tomoko was under a lot of stress at this point. This happens when you're overly emotional about the con: every time something great happens, it's the highest high; when something falls through, it's a terrible low. It's hard to endure. It's something I started doing starting with ZZ, and I've never learned how to detach myself from it, from falling for the talent.

She began looking for a replacement, and eventually, Will volunteered. He may claim he was begged to do it, but I recall him - with a sense of resignation - offering to take chair. And I remember Tomoko's relief.

Anyway.

Sometime between Aya snagging the Japanese performers and the convention beginning, I did manage to do some acquisitions of my own. I contacted and booked Ramen & Rice. I offered room and board, but they only asked for free badges. I was happy to oblige.

The convention rolled around and I had something of a stomach flu throughout it. I knew little about how to handle the guests except to have them do sound checks, have the sound guys set the levels, and figure out how to setup and strike the stage. Lucky for me - and thanks to Aya - that was all I needed to do. The most I did was to fetch bottles of water for Ramen & Rice. Again, I was happy to oblige.

The show itself was a massive surprise to me, especially considering how poorly 2004 had went. Ramen & Rice was the perfect opening act: they warmed up the crowd masterfully. Maria Yamamoto and Kumiko Kato dazzled on the stage. The tech and set changes went flawlessly. Then ZZ went on and knocked the crowd over. Mid-set - with the music blaring - Tomoko came into the Civic, saw me, and gave me a huge hug. I'll never forget how that felt.

Even more surprised were the artists. They had set up a 6' table with promo materials at the entrance of the Civic, hoping to sell a few CDs at the end of the show. They left backstage, rounded the corner to the entrance and were floored. Not only had over a thousand Americans showed up for their show - shouting and cheering and dancing like only Americans can do - there was a very long line of people waiting in line to buy merchandise and meet the acts. They had come to the U.S. with low expectations, and here they were, selling out of merchandise with a crowd of brand-new fans. Foreign fans.

Unfortunately I had missed all of this. While I was striking the stage, all of the performers left. I couldn't even say thank you. I've always regretted that, particularly with Ramen & Rice. They never returned my requests to play again. I hope it was because they had moved on, and it wasn't that they felt un-considered.

That was a long day.  I remember the pain of heading back to my hotel room after the show. I had worn steel-toed boots and was on my feet for over 16 hours; I had probably traveled the length of the Civic twenty or thirty times; I hadn't eaten anything since the night before. I was still feeling sick, but I showered, got into PJs, scarfed down a cheeseburger, and got together with staff to critique and celebrate the event.

That was when I was hooked. I knew I wanted to make more and more fans. I was ready to go all-in for 2006.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: YoureMyHiro on May 12, 2015, 08:03:34 PM
Tony, please keep these up! Ive been attending since 2003 and this is like a walk down memory lane, but only its a review on the other side of the coin! I remember seeing Nami Tamaki and never considering the fact she could be a Diva and I remember being completely blown away by ZZ's performance, their stage presence was out of this world! Great reads!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 12, 2015, 08:39:33 PM
Craige had just got some bad news.

"I just got some bad news," Craige explained over the phone. "I'm not going to go into detail, because it's personal, ok - but it's bad. And you know what, I don't want to deal with any more of your changes."

On the other end of the phone was the agent for a collection of bands forming the core of MusicFest 2006. The agent was asking for changes to the line-up, concessions, and so on - increases to Fanime's costs - and it wasn't the first time it had happened.

"So really," Craige explained, "I’ll go ahead and do this. But if you ask for anything else, that's it. I'm going to kill you - I'm just going to kill you. I'm going to put you in my trunk with a shovel, drive out to the desert, and bury you. That's it. That’s all."

The other end of the phone went silent.

Craige is ex-Military Police and had recently gotten back into physical training. He had been in life threatening situations, and he was in situations where he could threaten lives. He could disappear you, no doubt.

He wouldn’t. But he could.

At-con, I ran into Craige. “Hey, have you seen the agent?” “No,” I replied, “I’ve only interacted with his second-in-command.” “No wonder,” Craige chuffed. “He thinks I’m out to make good on my promise.”

--

At a staff meeting near the end of FanimeCon 2005 planning season, the stress had gotten to Tomoko and she looked for help. Now, my recollection of the event has been refuted, but I recall it very clearly: Will - also on the Board of Directors and long-time head of Registration - approached her and said, somewhat resigned, “I think I’m ready to take over.” She sighed in relief and gave him a hug. Will remembered things differently, but I like my version.

The remarkable thing about Will - chair of FanimeCon 2006 through 2008 - is his silence. He’s not one to chat aimlessly. He never shared visions, nor made grand speeches; if he liked what you were doing, he would mutter, “cool”; if he didn’t like what you were doing, he would frown - or look disappointingly, directly into your soul. In that way he was exceedingly good at getting greatness out of people: he didn’t tell you he wanted, but he made sure you knew what was required - inside. You’d be working from a much deeper place than if he used the carrot or the stick.

His first act as chair was to fire everyone. That’s normal. It is not assumed that staff are returning each year. But he didn’t tell everyone they were fired; instead, in a Disney-esque proclamation, he declared everyone “released” from their positions. The vast majority of people came back, but it was a smart move to get rid of some troublemakers.

It also opened up spaces for new staff, and that’s where Marie - my then-girlfriend, now-wife - came in. The previous head of publications had wrapped up and moved on, Marie wanted to help, and so I suggested her to run the department. “I don’t think I can run a department,” she confessed to Will. “You’ll do fine!” Will exclaimed. He was very good at making terrible things look trivial, and so she took the position. She stayed on staff until we left this year.

--

My drive in 2006 was to build MusicFest into something amazing on its own. With the help and ecstatic support of the new head of live programming - Jason Ebner - we aimed to provide the biggest concert we could muster. As he put it, guests were the big present under the Christmas tree, and he wanted that box to be big.

But there were three problems. One, I had never done guest acquisition directly. Two, MusicFest’s guests had always come from GR and so was funded by GR’s budget; as an independent department, it had no guest acquisition budget. Third, Aya - who had been getting guests for years - quit. I had no experience, no help, and no money. A smarter man would have quit, but I am not a smart man.

Months in, it was time to reach out to guests. Without Aya we had little contact with our usual partners. A new partner came around, offering an anisong group. But a much larger offering, from a longtime staffer named Justin, came up at the same time.

I forget the name of the anisong group; I wasn’t told their name initially. It was later revealed to be something about jamming. Project jamming? JAM Project? Who can remember these names, really.

So Justin comes around with a huge group of independents with stateside representation. They were building a Japanese music platform - one aimed at Americans - and were quickly signing local and independent acts in Japan. Some of the acts were weird and quirky, but some were very serious artists. Some were ex-Sony and had significant tie-ins. But all of them loved the idea of getting exposure in the U.S., and the rep saw a chance to explode into the market with FanimeCon, so they approached us, eager to do as much as they could. Justin was ecstatic. He would bring promo materials to meetings, lay it all out, and say, “Here is your lineup. This is your show. This will change everything. This will be legendary.” Justin was good at marketing.

Their proposition was too good to be true: we had to get hotel rooms, but they would pay for the majority of the other expenses. That meant cheap flights, cheap transportation, no hospitality costs - a major win. They would need a dealer’s table, of course - to sell merchandise and recoup their costs - but the arrangement would be practically free.

You know what they say about things that are too good to be true.

Over time, Justin casually revealed concessions he had made to the rep that ranged from inane to infuriating. Two bands turned into three bands; three bands turned into four bands; four bands turned into six bands. They needed more rooms, assistance with flights, a bigger dealers table. They wanted to hang banners - and that cost us labor fees - they wanted flyers in the registration bags - and that took manpower. Eventually they stopped talking through Justin and contacted me directly. That was a relief - I had more control - but then they started going around me, just like they had done to Justin. Everyone was amenable to helping them out - who doesn’t want to be helpful? - but no one had a handle on the breadth of their requests. By the time they had gotten on Craige’s bad side, our obligations had mushroomed past the size of our budget and I had lost almost all control of the situation

Jason was amazingly supportive. As the bands came in - supplemented by other American acts and some last-minute additions from JRock House - he championed the music cause and rallied for more resources. He pushed for a larger budget and got it, and even figured out how to deal with the now-absurd number of bands.

His plan was simple: have more than one stage. Thus was born Stage One, a venue that would host the bands throughout the convention. The big show would happen in the Civic as usual.

Everything was set. There was just one problem: we didn’t really have any staff to run two rooms. It was mostly me, with a girl named Christin who had helped the previous year, and a girl named Lori who loved Japanese rock and had some stage experience. We were going in foolishly optimistic, and I was bad at delegating. A recipe for success.

The convention began. The stomach flu joined me again.

Thankfully, the reps managed the guest relations part of job. They made sure the bands got to con, got into a hotel room, and were taken care of. Well, sorta - I had heard that they were subsisting on pizza and McDonalds to keep costs low.

I’m not sure what happened because the reps largely kept out of view. I realized why when I ran into Craige, like I mentioned.

I was not prepared to run Stage One and the Civic. A few volunteers from the Tech department offered to run the board - they definitely saved my ass - but it was non-stop activity from waking up until crashing at night. I was so out of touch that I called my parents to ask if they could bring some music equipment from home. My dad didn’t answer my call. My mom did, puzzled, saying, “Well, sure you can borrow the equipment - but I’m at work, so I can’t help until after 5.” I had called my mom at 8 AM on a Friday, thinking it was Saturday afternoon. I had no concept of the outside world; it was just crunch time. I wasn’t eating and wasn’t getting much sleep.

Marie was a trooper in all of this.

She was trying to run the Publications department almost by herself. In preparation of con, we bought an office copier/printer so we could do massive print runs quickly. This would save us a ton of money in printing flyers and newsletters. We called it Fluffy, and it would be Publication’s saviour.

Except that Fluffy was an older, used machine. We had a service contract, but were not using her in a normal way. We were throwing a year’s worth of work at her within the span of four days, and it choked. Marie resorted to doing print jobs in the middle of the night to get the newsletters out for the following morning, recruiting staffers to drive her to - and protect her at - every South Bay Kinko’s she could find. She successfully drained the shops of supplies.

Once her work let up, she came to help me at Stage One. She would bring food, but I would snap at her - I was stressed, tired, and too busy. Kids, don’t try that at home. I had a lot of apologizing to do at the end of that year.

I can’t say I remember how everything went. I was too focused on running the board and coordinating bands to see if any of the efforts were a success.  I missed Akai SKY, Kamijo, and USA Musume. Staff got together to watch and support Lori’s band, wherein she twisted or fractured her leg jumping down from the stage. I do remember being impressed musically by mothercoat, Swinging Popsicle, Goofy Style, and Poplar. UP HOLD was good but too hardcore for me. Miami was weird, in a cool way.

But to be honest, it was a blur. Between that and the pre-con negotiations, I was just trying to get through the weekend.

Next year we’ll do it differently, I thought. No more go-betweens with go-betweens. We’ll work directly with bands and be responsible for it. Lori piped up - it turned out she had become friends with the managers and handlers of ZZ from the previous year. She could tap them to have ZZ come back, since we knew they were popular, and secure more talent from their agency. We could fill out the rest of the lineup with local acts. It was a simple formula that could work.

We had the in. We started strategizing for 2007 immediately.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Steve.Young on May 13, 2015, 04:53:47 PM
This is amazing in every way. I remember it different since I was in different positions but...awesome :D
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Angelx624 on May 13, 2015, 06:03:04 PM
Argh, Kamijo. Unfortunately I wasn't a fan of his back then and I didn't really know about Fanime. Hopefully someday he'll come back so I can finally see him.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 13, 2015, 07:47:31 PM
I'm really surprised people are reading this long-form stuff. It means a lot to me, and says a lot about you - so thank you!

I want to mention that this is primarily from my perspective, and that means a lot of things: it is not 100% un-biased, it is not 100% accurate, and I'm leaving out a lot of friends - and not - and their recollections and viewpoints.

It's really just a narrative, crafted for my own catharsis. I hope it can give some idea of what happens, maybe evoke nostalgia, or at the least, entertain.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 13, 2015, 08:08:26 PM
Planning started early for FanimeCon 2007.

With Lori’s contact, we were in negotiations for ZZ’s return by the end of summer. The agency that the contact was representing was open to bundling more acts. Rumblings were that a big VK band, PENICILLIN, was on the table; their vocalist Hakuei and their guitarist Chisato were interested performing in their respective groups, but might perform together for an additional fee.

Getting a bunch of bands from one source started feeling like the irrational exuberance of 2006, but our contact was level-headed and a straight shooter. He wasn’t extremely communicative, but was solid. We were able to verify his terms as we negotiated, and things were looking solid.

Jason came to me with bad news, however.

“I’m so sorry, dude.” He called me from a meeting I had missed. “We were talking about the numbers and the demand and everything, and I had to make a decision. It will be for the best, I promise you - we will make this work, and it will save money, too.”

“... what’s going on?”

“We’re not going to use the Civic. It’s just too expensive.”

--

The Civic had been our showcase venue for a few years now. The Civic - as well as the convention center - are owned by the city of San Jose, but are administered by a group called Team San Jose. My understanding is that they are contracted with the city for maintaining the venues and booking events. There are only a handful of people running Team San Jose; they sub-contract with local labor for most of the work, like maintenance, security, logistics, stage hands, and so on. And since they are working the with city, the city naturally places restrictions on who can perform that labor. Thus, San Jose’s venues are mandated to be run by local union labor. It keeps revenue local and jobs safe. But it means outside labor can’t be employed - not even volunteer FanimeCon staff can work certain positions. That means higher costs. If we were Apple or Oracle or Microsoft running a convention, it wouldn’t be a problem. With our budget, labor was a huge drag.

The grand plan was to move operations out of the Civic - where there are labor and hour minimums - to a smaller venue inside the SJCC. A smaller venue would attract less attention from the unions and would require less labor anyway. We could save thousands. Since the Civic had only ever been half-full, it made sense. I hesitantly agreed with the plan. At the least, it was a blank slate.

That’s the story of how The J came to be. It only lasted that year, but it laid the groundwork for the dance, which has been held in the J for the last few years.

I spent a few weeks trying to figure out how to set up The J. It would need a stage, speakers, lighting, and sound equipment. There would be a large power requirement. We had to figure out a backstage. It was a mess, but we made do.

Ironically we didn’t save any money; the performance schedule tipped off the union and they mandated minimum staff and hour requirements. I think we ended up spending more than expected.

The J debacle was one of the better things that happened that year.

--

As we began to secure negotiations with our contact, things got weird. If I’m remembering correctly, we exchanged contracts for ZZ, Hakuei, and Chisato to make their appearances under machine and Crack6. We signed our copy, mailed it off with a large check to cover their expenses, and then made announcements ... before our contact signed his copy. He was upset, saying it would ruin things. It did: Hakuei canceled. Collaborations would not be happening. As it turned out, it wasn’t for reasons you would think.

Things got weirder. We discovered through a third party that ZZ would not be exclusive to FanimeCon. The contact had booked them for another con during the same weekend. We’d have them for a single day.

Then things got really weird. The contact stopped responding. Emails were not returned, phone calls went unanswered. We worried that no bands would even show up.

I consulted with Marie and Lori. What should we do? Did the guy die? We had his address - he was night’s drive down to SoCal. Should we go see him?

Let’s do it. Let’s knock on the guy’s door. He’ll either be dead - or we’d force him to wrap up on our terms.

We got the OK from the higher ups to cover food, gas, and a hotel for the night, and we got packing. It was time to see what was up. Lori, one of Lori's friends, Marie, and myself packed into a car and drove through the evening to SoCal. We blasted Japanese rock to get in the spirit and ate all the junk food we could. Lori shared a lot about her childhood, and I learned that she was quite a strong young woman - a fighter.

We drove on. We got there around 3am, surrounded by fog and silence. The contact lived in a complex so we drove around looking for his apartment. We hoped no one would call the cops on us. Approaching his door, we saw his light on. Lori called his cell - once, then twice, then texted him that we were here. No response, so we rang the doorbell.

I was half expecting him to come out with a gun. Instead, he saw Lori and remarked, “Oh, shit. You guys are crazy.”

“Hey! Just wanted to see how our favorite guy is doing!” Lori exclaimed. “We thought you were dead!”

He looked at us, wide eyed, and cautiously said, “Come in.”

His apartment was almost empty. There was alcohol and a rice cooker on the counter, an ashtray - a barren bachelor’s pad. He ushered us to his living room. “Sorry, I’m in the middle of something. I’ll be right out. One second.” He lit a cigarette and went to his room. He didn’t come out for a long time - maybe 30 minutes - and again, I was half expecting him to come out with a gun.

Instead, he came out and we sat and talked for a few hours. He assured us that everything was fine and that he’d get us all the information we needed. He smoked, we asked questions. We felt better. It was daybreak and we were exhausted, so we agreed to get our hotel, rest up a bit, then reconvene later in the morning. We slept hard that morning.

The next day, we went back to his apartment, refreshed and ready to finish things off. With the details done, we could move full steam ahead, and we were excited. Lori rang the doorbell frantically and shouted “GOOD MORNING!” when the contact answered the door. “Dude, quiet! I have company!” he said. “My bad!” We tiptoed to his living room and waited for him. It was odd that he had company over in the few hours we were gone. I understood when he coyly escorted a woman to the front door, then joined us.

He had called Japan and got most of the information we needed. We were ready to go, except for one question.

“What happened with Hakuei? Is he coming?” Lori asked.

“I’m working on it. We’ll talk about it. I’ll hold on to the money for now in case it comes through - so we can move quickly.”

We left and continued planning, feeling confident.

--

Around this time, whoever was running Tech had to take a temporary break from FanimeCon. It was a month or two prior to the event, which is the most critical time for Tech. That’s when all of the rentals need to be planned and ordered. Like a lot of my Fanime career, I got it done, not knowing anything about what I was doing. See, kids? You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

--

We filled out the lineup. Mari Iijima agreed to play. Japanese bands Karma Shenjing and Mechanical Panda came. Lori’s band played, and maybe Akai SKY too, and this weird but cool band from Santa Cruz, God of Shamisen. With ZZ and Crack 6 we had a pretty full weekend.

By this point, we had nearly everything we needed for ZZ and Crack 6. But our contact stopped talking again. He still had our cash for Hakuei, but there was no time to do anything about it. At that point, we just needed him to show up and be a handler - to help us with the show. We called, texted, emailed - nothing. We had a plane ticket arranged for him, so we checked the flight. Nothing.

He never did come to the show. From what I heard, the agency paid him a visit some months later. We never collected our money.

I had picked up a staffer, Val, the previous year and she turned out to be a golden staffer. She helped managed things and brought in a friend from Texas, Charles, to help translate. Charles was likewise amazing, though sadly, he could only help the one year. Without the contact, Mechanical Panda had no handler, so Charles stepped in and showed them a great time. Interesting guy. He had possibly the most Americanized Japanese accent I’ve heard ("Wah tah she wah Charles desu. Doh zoh yo row she koo.") but that dude was fluent as a native, just absolutely perfect. I wondered if the style was intentional. It would be pretty jarring to see a white dude from Texas speaking perfect Japanese in a perfect accent, so maybe he kept the American thing to keep from seeming uncanny. He moved to Japan a year or two later and has been working there since.

Back to the show. The convention came, along with another stomach flu. Little eating, little sleeping. By this time, I had a tactic: meal replacement drinks. I brought a few six-packs of Ensure this time and it helped.

ZZ came and played to a much smaller crowd in a much smaller venue. They were unsettled. The manager called Japan to inform the agency. Between this and our contact failing to appear, they steeled themselves for a disappointing show. Crack 6 got on their flight to the U.S. while ZZ left for the next con at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night. Things weren’t looking great.

Remember how I said guest acquisition wasn’t my forte? I was not very responsive to Mari Iijima. I had to reassure her twice that everything was fine and that she would have a good show. Then the day before her show, she was supposed to get on a plane to San Jose - and I still had not sent her flight and transportation information.

That morning, I called her, apologized profusely, and gave her all the details she needed. She wasn’t happy, but she hesitatingly gave me one more chance. “By the way, I sent you an email earlier this morning,” she explained, “but don’t open it up. Just delete it. Everything’s ok. I’ll be there.” Out of morbid curiosity, I checked - it was a scathing email wherein she canceled her appearance. Out of sheer dumb luck and earnestness, I avoided that catastrophe. When I ran into Rob Miles later that morning - he's a personal friend of Mari's - I explained the situation. "Wow, that's really rough. I'll talk to her, though. I've got your back." I still owe him for that favor.

She actually had a very successful show. A lot of people - some international - came to see her perform. A huge number turned up for her sales and autograph session. Reuben Langdon asked me to see if she would meet him for dinner. “Is he cute?” she joked. I took it literally: “I think so, and he’s very fit.” She gave me a funny look and smiled. “I was just joking. But sure, I have no plans.” As she left, she thanked me, gave me a CD, and we exchanged an awkward hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Not to gloss over things, but the rest of the bands were cool - I just barely remember the performances themselves. Karma Shenjing - a VK group - turned out to be men, of course. Lori’s band played Japanese music, and some Japanese people actually sang along. Mechanical Panda were cute, and rocked. God of Shamisen were amazingly talented - though, they played in fur suits. I still can’t remember if Akai SKY played.

Crack 6, our headliner, was a bit of a sad story. I had hoped to pack the house for them, but we only managed to get things about half full. All of the build-up was for a let-down.

I was sullen, and angry. I went to the bathrooms to be alone and cool off. I cried in frustration, and in anger, started beating the crap out of one of the stalls. All of the time spent listening to their songs; all of the time spent negotiating the deal; all of the time spent setting up the J; all of the time spent driving to and harassing the contact; all of the planning that was supposed to culminate in a grand performance, and in the end, it was - well, it was ok. I was heartbroken.

I composed myself and went to the backstage area. Chisato came offstage for the encore, and I was surprised to find he wasn’t sad or upset at all. He was happy, he was having fun, he was playing to an American crowd. “Do you like our soft rock style?” he asked, in English - I stared back and said, “What?? That’s not soft rock!” He laughed and bounded back onto the stage. (Later, in his blog, he claimed I replied “usotsuke!” - I like that version a little more.)

We tried to make the best of it. As the show was ending, I told the staff that we needed to have fun - we needed to get some food and drinks and hang out. When the band returned to their room, we plied them with cheap pizza and warm bottles of vodka and whiskey. The bassist commented: “This is a lot of liquor for a few people. I think they are trying to kill us.” We spent the night telling dirty and inappropriate jokes, and forgot about our ambitions.

Now here’s an insight. I’ve tried telling this to every band that has come, but it just hasn’t resonated. It’s simple: you aren’t really popular until you’ve got exposure. What this means is that you grow a following at a convention after you play the show, not before. In fact, the best time to get back in front of the crowd - doing autographs, shaking hands, selling merchandise - is right after the show.

I learned this because the next day, we had a good-sized crowd line up for autographs and merchandise. The turnout, though small, was evangelized. The band was happy. I was happy. The agency was feeling better.

The band was still having a fun time. We went to Stage Zero to promote the session. On the way from there to the autograph session, a man dressed only in a blue speedo and angel wings asked Chisato for a hug. I was mortified, but before I could do anything, Chisato gave the guy a hug. We walked away, and Chisato turned to his bandmates, smiling. “Crazy … crazy desu.” He laughed.

That wasn’t the only crazy in the crowd. Did you know that some Japanese have been banned from live shows for their behavior? Did you know that obsessed people will track where bands play, and follow them across an ocean? I hadn’t even thought about that scenario. But then the agency guys noticed a handful of women - not allowed to shows in Japan - here, in the U.S., in the front row for the show, at the front of the line for autographs. We were on edge. I hoped that no one would go crazy or turned violent. Luckily, the opposite happened: the group were so pleased to be able to see their band up-close that they sent gifts to the band and to our staff as well. I ate some of the mochi they gave us and did not die. Maybe those ladies were ok after all.

On the day before their departure, we talked about the deal with the agency. It turned out Hakuei and machine were never really on the table. The money requested had always been for the bands we’d already negotiated for. The contact had been telling half-truths.

Paying was a first for us. FanimeCon has been against paying guests for a number of reasons. For one, there is no utility in it; it doesn’t necessarily fix a problem or enable something to happen. That’s money that could be used for flights, hotels, promotion, and so on. Second is that, historically, appearance fees can make things worse. Cash does strange things to people. It is something that can be weighed and measured. If Con X can pay more than Con Y, what does that tell a guest? It can also turn conventions on their attendees. Want to see that guest? Want a photo? Want their autograph? Pay for it.

The agency, however, explained that it wasn’t an appearance fee, but was to pay for the services of a technician. They had, in fact, brought a technician. That made the situation more palatable. Still, due to the contact’s half-truths, the end result was not what either party had expected. Even though things had worked out, it was still Lose/lose. Sometimes, that’s just how it works.

--

Marie missed almost all of this, dealing with an odyssey of her own.

Back at the Fanime office, Fluffy was serviced and ready for battle. New toner. Plenty of paper. Warmed and ready. We had printed as much as possible ahead of time, but now that con was here, it was time for her true test. And Fluffy failed nearly immediately. She just wasn’t meant to print thousands of pages at a time. She would overheat, require downtime, then would cough back into life, churning a few hundred pages before overheating again.

All of the money that would have been budgeted for Kinko’s jobs was allocated to Fluffy. All of the eggs were in one basket, and that basket dropped. Marie had no options now.

Marie and her staff had to babysit the print runs through the night. It was extremely hard work - because it was so droll - and she sought relief midway through the convention. “Can we please buy a real printer? Please?” she begged. The higher-ups conferred and deliberated. I imagine they finally returned and solemnly set forth a proclamation. “Go to Fry’s. Get two laser printers, and no more. Use them only when needed, for Fluffy cent-per-page ratio is much lower. Now go forth, and print.”

By the time her work was done, con was essentially over. She had spent the weekend in the office, in a stuffy office full of xerox fumes, missing the highs and the lows. But the print jobs were completed, by god. She finally joined the masses in the convention center as things wound down.

--

As usual, we were exhausted. But we still had enough energy to play. This is when the convention gets really fun for us.

Facilities had full control over the convention center and no one was around. We grabbed the mobies - these little electric scooters like you might see at a supermarket - and raced from end to end. Senior staff, still overseeing load-out, were wandering the halls. We’d say hi and give hugs and exchange stories.

Will, his sister Sam, his girlfriend and facilities staff Ashley, myself, Marie, and a few others took over a room with speakers and a projector and watched movies and videos ten feet large. I fell asleep halfway through. Like the hug from Tomoko during ZZ’s first show, that night was something I can still feel, and I remember it fondly. That night, we forgot about our ambitions.

Those are the nights I miss the most. There were still more to occur, but in the coming years, the character of those nights changed. In 2008 the gravity of the situation became real. In 2008 I decided I wanted to chair.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kyra_Maverick on May 13, 2015, 08:54:53 PM
We drove on. We got there around 3am, surrounded by fog and silence. The contact lived in a complex so we drove around looking for his apartment. We hoped no one would call the cops on us. Approaching his door, we saw his light on. Lori called his cell - once, then twice, then texted him that we were here. No response, so we rang the doorbell.

I was half expecting him to come out with a gun. Instead, he saw Lori and remarked, “Oh, shit. You guys are crazy.”

“Hey! Just wanted to see how our favorite guy is doing!” Lori exclaimed. “We thought you were dead!”

He looked at us, wide eyed, and cautiously said, “Come in.”

I can't believe you all actually went in. That is some dedication to the cause because seriously, entering an increasingly reclusive guy's apartment at 3am is near the very top of my "DO NOT DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE" list.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: InsaneDavid on May 13, 2015, 11:24:03 PM
This thread is awesome. Thank you again for sharing these stories!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Barnes on May 13, 2015, 11:25:42 PM
If I only had a story that was half as interesting as what I'm reading so far...then again, I'm too lazy to join staff XD
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: FanFicGuru on May 14, 2015, 05:42:49 AM
Crazy stories Tony!

This should be required reading for people who complain about the invited guests/timeline. Talent acquisition isn't like calling in a pizza for delivery. There are a lot of external factors that impact who comes and for how long.

In any case, thrilling reads! Looking forward to more!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: cutiebunny on May 14, 2015, 07:26:17 AM
^I think most of us are aware that you don't simply invite a Japanese guest with a tweet and their immediate confirmation means they're a confirmed guest.  We understand that it's a difficult task requiring time, money, connections and lots of negotiations between the guest, their management as well as that of the con.  The bulk of the complaints on the other threads have been more concerned with Fanime's inability to announce confirmed guests prior to 2 months before con when other smaller cons happening that same weekend (Animazement) are more than capable in these areas.

That being said, it's been an interesting read.  I think that the date of 2005 as being the year where Japanese guests no longer were impressed with just the invitation and free trip to come to America is interesting.  I had wondered when the transition occurred.  I have a friend who likes to ramble on about the old days and, in an odd attempt to be helpful, tries to give advice based on her early-aughts experiences.  In just my few years of attending cons, I've seen most cons go from being an event run by fans for fans to being very much a business, with priority going to those that can spend $$$.  With certain larger cons now turning to non-corporate identities to bring over guests in return for various concessions, I see it as being only a matter of time before well heeled attendees are being asked to contribute.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Nina Star 9 on May 14, 2015, 02:33:30 PM
Hey Tony! I'm really enjoying all of your stories from behind the scenes. I don't believe we've ever met in person, but I do remember having AIM chats back in the day. I'll be sad to see you moving on, regardless.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 14, 2015, 08:42:42 PM
Hey Tony! I'm really enjoying all of your stories from behind the scenes. I don't believe we've ever met in person, but I do remember having AIM chats back in the day. I'll be sad to see you moving on, regardless.
I remember! I remember.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 14, 2015, 08:50:38 PM
...  The bulk of the complaints on the other threads have been more concerned with Fanime's inability to announce confirmed guests prior to 2 months before con when other smaller cons happening that same weekend (Animazement) are more than capable in these areas.

A quick thought on that: Japanese people are kind of weird, compared to American corporations.

Generally we start with a contract, whereas they start by building a relationship. Eventually they review the contract and agree to it, but it's an afterthought; what's important to them is that they feel they can trust you.

I think that's why you'll see guests announcing their appearance before we do. They're all, FanimeCon is cool, I'm ready to go - post it on the website, I'm done. We're all, I'm glad you're ready to go, hey can you sign thisrealquickwait- and so we aren't done until well after the guest has already made up their mind.

To top it off, typically marketing in an organization is well-ahead of the curve and carefully plans how information will be released. But in this case, that can't happen. By the time the deal is in the pipeline and in marketing's hands, it's already been a long time - and they still have to draft a press release, schedule it, and then release it.

I'm definitely not trying to make excuses here, but I hope it illuminates the weird things you see - guests announcing before us, it taking a while for announcements to go out, and so on. Maybe there's a better way to handle it all. Though, that's not a question I seriously feel like answering anymore. :D
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 14, 2015, 08:51:43 PM
At some point in the 2008 season, I simply felt I would become chair.

I don’t remember debating about whether I should, or could. I didn’t think I could; the feeling didn’t stem from self-confidence. It felt like something that had to be done, and I was obliged to do it.

I remember Will explaining that this was his third and final year. No one had volunteered to take his place. He said the convention would cease to continue without a chair. That resonated with me. I learned, however, that the process required an application. No way I'd do that, I thought. I had been involved in senior staff since my start, had run my own departments, and now I had to submit a form? Wasn’t my offering enough? I didn’t follow up.

The year went on. Will had restructured the convention away from the senior staff model into divisions, and each division had departments. MusicFest was placed under what was later named the Extravaganzas department. Jason Ebner was no longer my champion - he had a lot on his plate with the rest of programming as it were - and in stepped Julia.

Julia was a long-time friend of Will’s and had been in his fraternity. Naturally gregarious, a ball-buster, lover of high heels and just a touch crazy, she was a great fit for the departments she would lead. All of them - the Maid Cafe, Masquerade, Black and White Ball, Ceremonies, and MusicFest - were likewise lead by characters that were a touch crazy themselves. We were all divas in a sense, and she was mama diva.

I partnered up with Julia as her second, but didn’t do much work within that role. The focus was still MusicFest, though I lent a hand here-and-there with the other departments.

--

Through some intermediary - maybe it was Val? - Sony contacted us asking if we’d like to work together. We were looking at an up-and-coming band called An Cafe. It had been a number of years and they wanted to reach out.

Quick aside on Japanese etiquette. In the context of a convention, everything you read about etiquette - how to act, what to expect - is useless. It’s unreliable for this stuff. I’ve done the introductions, I’ve done the bows, I’ve exchanged meishi. Almost every time, my Japanese counterpart looked at me, smiling confusedly, as if to say, “What the hell is this American doing? I wasn’t prepared for these antics.” One of the things you will read is that Japanese people will say almost anything other than the word “No” - they’ll use all kinds of creative turns of phrase to imply the negative, but they won’t ever use strong, declarative words like that.

Sony called me. “An Cafe? No, that’s not gonna happen. That’s impossible.” I’ve heard a lot of Japanese people say “impossible”. I just don’t trust the etiquette books anymore.

“Instead, we can maybe get you a band called UVERworld.” I thought, the band with a tie-in to Bleach? A band where I can readily identify genders? I tried not to betray my excitement. “OK, I guess we can work with that.” We had landed a whale.

A month or two later, they changed their mind. “An Cafe became available again. We will begin planning for them,” Sony explained. Well, that was fine.

My contact this year was with a woman named Ai. She was good at her job, and we had something of a connection: we both knew we were trying to make do with limited resources. It took some level-setting, but we came to an understanding of how things would work.

Planning went exceptionally smooth, until we looked on YouTube. There are videos out there of screaming fans losing their shit for An Cafe and causing massive safety problems. Team San Jose - the ones running the venues - became concerned. We had to spend a few thousand dollars on professional barriers and security. Both turned out to be worth it.

There were only two strange things requested by Sony.

One, they wanted a whole bunch of hotel rooms - way more than needed for the band and entourage - but they were happy to pay for it. We weren’t sure who all these people were, but they turned out to be very interesting.

Two, they wanted to sell merchandise. They asked if FanimeCon would purchase their merchandise wholesale so that we could sell it and make a profit; they would get a little money with little risk, and we had an opportunity to make a whole lot of money. We declined. They ended up partnering with a dealer and sold out of almost everything - before the show even started. Opportunity missed.

--

Con arrived. I was sick again, but I finally understood what was going on. I figured it out while listening to a Radiolab podcast.

All these years, I hadn’t had the stomach flu; I had stress sickness. You see, your body reacts physiologically to an advancing lion the same way it reacts to the convention approaching. Stress hormones shoot up, your pulse increases, appetite drops. In stressful situations, you enter a fight-or-flight mode, and it will wreck you, physically, if you keep it up. I was keeping it up every year. That was what was making me sick.

My solution? Brief but intense physical exercise - I would drop and do 20 pushups whenever I felt panicked - supplemented by warm, cozy, relaxing bathtime. (The Fairmont has wonderful tubs, if you need a recommendation.) It’s a great method for getting the stress out and keeping it down. Incorporate it into your convention routine.

--

I didn’t get off to a good start with An Cafe. Val and I drove separate cars to SFO and met up with Ai, who was driving a huge passenger van. We waited about an hour for them to clear customs, and then the full crowd came out. We realized then why they needed extra hotel rooms: some very important Sony people were visiting to see how FanimeCon and the concert operated. We were being audited.

The majority of the band climbed into Ai’s van; Val’s tiny, yellow racer was filled to the brim with equipment; and a VP at Sony Music Japan got into my car. Ai approached me as we were readied to go.

“Do you mind if I follow you? I’m not familiar with San Jose highways.”

“Sure!” I lied. I wasn’t familiar with San Jose highways either, but I suddenly had an irrational fear of looking stupid in front of a VP, so I took the lead.

Did I mention that I didn’t have directions back to San Jose?

Did I mention that I had only gotten my license a few months earlier?

Driving full speed on 101 South, I one-handedly entered “SJC” into my phone’s GPS. The San Jose airport is close to the convention center, and I figured I would be able to find a familiar street once we got close. I was very wrong. We ended up at the passenger loading area at San Jose, and I had no clue where to go.

We pulled over and Ai called me. She knew I was lost, but she knew to be discreet. “Should I take over the lead? I came in to SJC yesterday, so would you like to follow me?” We tailed her out of there.

Ai got lost, too. We circled around SJC once or twice. Val drove off in a panic. The VP turned to me, asking, “Don’t you know how to get back? The band is very tired from their flight…” We parked briefly on the side of the highway. Ai called. “Where did Val go?” “I’m sure she’ll meet us at the hotel,” I lied. “Go ahead and follow me. I know where to go.” The VP was incredulous at this point.

Thinking quickly, I entered the only location I could think of that was near the convention center: “Peggy Sue’s”. Finally, we were on the right course. We got off the highway, spun around Cesar Chavez Plaza, and got to the hotel. It had taken only 30 minutes longer than expected - which felt like a lifetime - but we were finally there. Now the show could really begin.

The staff and band met up for dinner that night. You would think that dining with the guests would be fun. It isn’t, exactly. It’s certainly always awkward. Think about it: you know a lot about your guests, but they don’t know anything about you. Japanese people tend not to like talking about themselves, so one of the larger conversational topics is dead in the water. There’s a language barrier. They’re jet-lagged. Often they’re starting to fight a cold they caught on the plane. They may have come directly from work, and know they’ll be returning straight back to work. And they’re probably losing money being in America instead of working in Japan. On top of all this, FanimeCon is a dry convention, so we can’t even buy a round of drinks to help loosen everyone up. It’s actually kind of a terrible situation.

Ai was determined to make this work and arranged seating so that staff were interspersed with the guests. I sat across from Teruki. He’s a drummer and I like to drum, so you’d think we’d have something to chat about. But, no, I smiled politely while mentally trying to piece together something in Japanese to say; Teruki practiced drumming on the table. We smiled at each other occasionally, but fiercely avoided eye contact.

They ordered steaks. They always order steaks. American steaks are a thing in Japan. But you have to know how to order a steak. If you tell the waiter that you’d like a steak and say nothing else, they’ll bring back a steak cooked medium to medium-well - juice-less and tough-as-leather. That’s the safest way to cook a steak, just like having sushi cooked to 160F is safe. Both are terrible ideas. What you really want is to order a steak medium-rare at the most. An Cafe got medium-well steaks. Kanon, the bassist, later remarked on his blog that he was tearing into and chewing the steak so much that he felt like a beast.

We split off after an uncomfortable dinner, hoping things would get better over the course of the weekend.

--

I have to mention the ticket debacle. If you went to the An Cafe concert, you probably had to pick up a little pink ticket first. That was my genius idea. I was concerned we’d be facing a venue overflowed with rabid fans and reacted accordingly.

Rather than come up with a sensible plan, my brilliant, engineering mind tried to devise an optimal plan. It was convoluted and irritating. No one could understand it. At one point - after people had lined up overnight - we ran out of tickets and had to get more. A crowd literally circled me, pleading with me to give them tickets. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten tarred and feathered if they had the materials handy.

We didn’t even need the tickets, either; I ended up with a stack of 300 at the end. The union guys chided me for it. The head guy, Kevin, tapped me on the shoulder a few minutes before the doors opened. “Look, if you’re making it so that these kids need to have a ticket to get in - I mean, do you have any tickets on you now?” I pulled out a stack. “Here, give me some” - he took a chunk - “I’ll make sure people get them.” He walked the line twice giving tickets to attendees that didn’t have them. The union guys are old and grizzled, but they’re good people.

So, tickets were a bad idea. At least they were cute souvenirs.

--

The show itself was chaos, but successful.

The band were exhausted from the tour. I gave Ai the five-minute warning - that the band had five minutes until curtains went up - but she refused to get them out. “They’re actually taking a nap,” she said. “They just fell asleep. They’re jet-lagged and very tired. Can’t we give them another 10 minutes?”

“Uh, do you realize what happens if they run late?” Ai shook her head. I explained: “If they run late, that could push back load-out. If we push back load-out, the rental company may not pick up the equipment. If anyone has a delay, union goes into overtime hours. We’re already spending over a thousand dollars an hour. Are you sure?” Ai looked at me, a bit dismayed. “I’ll see if I can wake them up.” We let them sleep. That, my friends, is the kind of reason why MusicFest starts late.

We opened the doors, and good thing we had the professional security barrier: a wave of screaming fans ran - clang! - right into it, and would have toppled over a lesser barrier. When An Cafe got on stage, we had two or three girls pass out. The band played, we secreted them out of the venue, and their merchandise sold out.

As the venue was getting torn down, we went out to dinner with the band and some staff. As an aside, they specifically requested to do three things in the states: they wanted to eat a steak, which they did, and it was terrible; they wanted to go to a big Wal Mart, though we settled for Target, wherein they got lost; and they wanted to go to IHOP. We whiffed three for three, taking them to some pancake house in San Jose. Marie, some MusicFest staff, some random staff, and I piled into a car and met them for breakfast at night.

This was another fun night. We put a long row of tables together, but we didn’t do a lot of sitting - we were all happy, joking, circulating around. Marie, being a sweetheart, shared some of her dinner with me, and in handing me a plate, we exchanged a quick peck. The band ooh’d and aah’d, and we blushed - we’d forgotten that public displays of affection were uncommon in Japan. At the same time, one of the band members - I think it was Yu-Ki - was playing a UFO-catcher game at the front of the restaurant and Fanime staff gathered around. He was good. He caught a stuffed animal and gave it to a member of registration staff, Erin. Erin is a tiny but typically brash individual; she can be a bit of a ball-buster and has a bit of a mouth. Not now. She blushed deeply, held onto the stuffy, and couldn’t form words.
The same night, Rovers found several girls waiting in the stairwells outside An Cafe’s hotel rooms. That was funny and creepy. We had Rovers patrol the floor regularly from then on.

The next night, we had dinner with the Sony people. It went well. We had a bit too much to drink, and that night, some of us found the mobies and went jousting with traffic cones. It was a good night.

Sadly, I forgot about important people. I absentmindedly left Lori and her crew to tear down the venue while we went out and had fun. She confronted me at the end of con and quit. “I thought we were a team. I can’t believe you forgot about us - that you wanted to hang out with the band so much that you forgot about us.” She yelled through tears. “This is all messed up. Fanime… is messed up. It turns you into a bad person. I’m done.”

I watched her walk away in silence. I felt at the time that it was an honest mistake, an oversight in the chaos. But she was prescient. Unofficially, only about a month before the convention, I had been selected as Chair for FanimeCon 2009 - and it was going to change me.

--

A few months prior to FanimeCon 2008, we were in the process of finalizing the contracts. I drove to San Jose to meet Che, a member of the Board of Directors, to get his signature on the documents. He asked if I was still interested in chair. “Well, yes, but I don’t want to fill out a form. I don’t feel like I should have to.” I was waiting for them to come to me.

Che frowned. “I see. I understand that, but to be honest - I don’t really know you. I haven’t worked directly with you. We’re not trying to be disrespectful. We want to get to know you.”

Che is a pretty convincing guy. I submitted an application soon thereafter. After a number of meetings over dinner - discussing plans, people, and priorities - they said I was in.

I spent the weeks leading up to and including the convention in a weird half-secrecy. We didn’t want my becoming chair to distract people from the current year, but rumors had already spread. I didn’t even share the news with Marie until much closer to con.

At closing ceremonies - Lori’s resignation hanging over my head - I was announced as chair. Will and Scott did a “we’re not chair” dance. It was one of the few times I saw Will in a consistently happy state. He, himself, had been released.

Elsewhere in the world, things were crumbling.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 14, 2015, 09:33:30 PM
Bonus 2008 story!

--

Marie was on her cell. “Your driveway. Your driveway?” She repeated it like a chant, as though it would relieve her disbelief.

--

Marie was running publications well the help of Matt and Betty, two legendary staffers that took over publications for 2009. There were more staff, but they were especially memorable. Matt, I am told, once broke the internet in the 90s by sharing an excessive amount of porn.

The biggest project for the publications team in any year is the program guide. Typically over three dozen full-color pages and bound in a glossy cover, the program guide is a feat of art and perseverance. Marie had perfected techniques to getting content for the program guide over the years: mostly, it consisted of her threatening to cry if a department did not send her content in a timely manner. She was good at what she did.

It takes a solid two or three weeks to put together the content and compose the program guide. It takes another month for printers to produce it, and then it is delivered in a day or two. Although composing the program guide is labor-intensive, printing it is not. The majority of the month of lead time is to allow the printer to do test prints, get feedback on the prints, and schedule the job. Printing the 15,000 guides only takes a day or two of actual print time. As a printing company, though, you literally print money, so you want the printers running 24/7. Having a month-long queue of work is good for optimizing that pipeline, and therefore your revenue.

Marie and her team managed to put the guide together and send it to the printers about three weeks before con. That was closer than the printer liked, but we had been regular customers for a few years, so they were ok with it. Besides, they only truly needed three or four days to print and ship the guides. It wasn’t a big deal.

The test prints came out great, so we ordered it be printed, full steam ahead.

Marie ordered the guides to be delivered on the Wednesday before con. This gave us time to organize them and store them in the convention center so that they could be stuffed into bags. Marie called the printers a few days before this to see how it was going. Remember, printing is weird, and there’s this queue thing going on. The way they explained it, our order of 15,000 prints was a small one, and so they would print it on Monday or Tuesday and have it in our hands Wednesday evening.

Wednesday evening came. There were no program guides. Marie called them early Thursday morning. They would be delivered that evening, they said.

Thursday evening came. There were no program guides. Marie called them; they would be delivered Friday morning, they said.

Friday morning came. Don’t worry, Friday evening, they said. Friday evening came. Marie called.

They were closed for the weekend.

Marie cried. Will, in the most unusual act she had experienced from him, hugged her.

We decided to post the guide online so that people would at least be able to see it, use it. We somehow did a small batch of prints to give out to guests and a limited amount of attendees. But that was it. Marie’s biggest project of the year had fallen apart at the last minute, and it wasn’t even her fault.

At least this year she hadn’t spent the entire time in the office. They had set up a publications outpost in the Hilton and could at least enjoy some parts of the convention. They were still burnt out, though - four days of print runs and writing twice-daily newsletters takes a toll.

Monday came. Load-out. Staff dispersed. Marie, myself, and a few other staffers went to Johnny Rocket’s to close out the year. Matt and Betty headed home.

Marie got a call. Matt and Betty were on the other end and had just arrived at home - except that they couldn’t park.

Sometime during the weekend, the printers had actually completed the job, and they had actually delivered the program guides. But they didn’t call to inform us, and they apparently didn’t read the order, either, because they used an old address they had on file.

They delivered 15,000 freshly-printed program guides to Matt and Betty’s driveway.

Matt explained that their crown jewel project had been sitting in their driveway the whole time. “Your driveway. Your driveway? They delivered the program guides to your driveway?!” Marie was in disbelief.

She cried into her milkshake that night. We all gave her a hug.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: bobcat888 on May 14, 2015, 10:04:53 PM
Four questions.

1.) Are you going to this years con?

2.) Why are you leaving?

3.) How old are you?

4.) How much did you get paid for your involvement in the con overall. And be honest.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Steve.Young on May 14, 2015, 10:21:50 PM
I'm actually curious as to why people think we get paid to do this...lol.

It's purely volunteer...some nice perks here and there but no compensation.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 14, 2015, 10:31:04 PM
Oh wow, Tony. I haven't been on the forums in ages, only to come back because I heard you were talking about me, haha! How do you remember all the AnCafe details? lol That particular year was such a blur. Being around Kanon made it difficult to function and think!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Barnes on May 14, 2015, 10:55:19 PM
Oh boy, the 2007 program guide.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 15, 2015, 11:43:49 AM
Four questions.

1.) Are you going to this years con?
Actually, I changed my mind: yes, I will be going. Marie convinced me that I would regret missing it. Lots of my friends are in one place, so it makes a lot of sense to go. Besides, we'll be bringing our daughter - who should love all of the cosplay - and I've always loved seeing everyone take over downtown San Jose.

Quote
2.) Why are you leaving?
I have a reason with many layers to it, but it boils down to three things: 1) I can't help the con effectively, 2) I love the con, despite the downsides, and 3) that means I will probably help the con, despite myself, if I stick around. It's a self-preservation thing.

Quote
3.) How old are you?
I'm 32.

Quote
4.) How much did you get paid for your involvement in the con overall. And be honest.
I'll give you a full audit, as far as I can remember.

Paid?
Nothing.

Perks?
I was given a hotel room most years, and free entrance to the convention.

That was it until I became chair. After that...

--

Chair team had an expense account for food (though alcohol was forbidden). I'm guessing it was around $1,000 a year. We used that to convene the chair team and to have one-on-ones with division heads. If you want to spread juicy gossip, then yes: we occasionally ate sushi with that budget. I don't think we ever went over.

We had a staff morale budget. A few hundred dollars was specifically for chair team to give out a gift to staff - more on that in 2009. The rest were vouchers we could give to staff that would buy you food at the venues.

--

It wouldn't be fair if I didn't disclose losses: generally $1,000-$3,000 a year. The last few years, I usually spent $200-$300 of my own money on drinks for the guests at-con.

Other? I'd like to think that working as web / MusicFest / chair exposed me to a lot of things, and was a significant factor in moving my career to where it is now.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: InsaneDavid on May 15, 2015, 11:58:09 AM
I wanted to chime in again and thank you not only for taking time to share your stories (once more) but also for all your time, effort, and dedication serving as Fanime staff.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: FanFicGuru on May 15, 2015, 12:49:43 PM
Bonus 2008 story!

--

Marie was on her cell. “Your driveway. Your driveway?” She repeated it like a chant, as though it would relieve her disbelief.

--

Marie was running publications well the help of Matt and Betty, two legendary staffers that took over publications for 2009. There were more staff, but they were especially memorable. Matt, I am told, once broke the internet in the 90s by sharing an excessive amount of porn.

The biggest project for the publications team in any year is the program guide. Typically over three dozen full-color pages and bound in a glossy cover, the program guide is a feat of art and perseverance. Marie had perfected techniques to getting content for the program guide over the years: mostly, it consisted of her threatening to cry if a department did not send her content in a timely manner. She was good at what she did.

It takes a solid two or three weeks to put together the content and compose the program guide. It takes another month for printers to produce it, and then it is delivered in a day or two. Although composing the program guide is labor-intensive, printing it is not. The majority of the month of lead time is to allow the printer to do test prints, get feedback on the prints, and schedule the job. Printing the 15,000 guides only takes a day or two of actual print time. As a printing company, though, you literally print money, so you want the printers running 24/7. Having a month-long queue of work is good for optimizing that pipeline, and therefore your revenue.

Marie and her team managed to put the guide together and send it to the printers about three weeks before con. That was closer than the printer liked, but we had been regular customers for a few years, so they were ok with it. Besides, they only truly needed three or four days to print and ship the guides. It wasn’t a big deal.

The test prints came out great, so we ordered it be printed, full steam ahead.

Marie ordered the guides to be delivered on the Wednesday before con. This gave us time to organize them and store them in the convention center so that they could be stuffed into bags. Marie called the printers a few days before this to see how it was going. Remember, printing is weird, and there’s this queue thing going on. The way they explained it, our order of 15,000 prints was a small one, and so they would print it on Monday or Tuesday and have it in our hands Wednesday evening.

Wednesday evening came. There were no program guides. Marie called them early Thursday morning. They would be delivered that evening, they said.

Thursday evening came. There were no program guides. Marie called them; they would be delivered Friday morning, they said.

Friday morning came. Don’t worry, Friday evening, they said. Friday evening came. Marie called.

They were closed for the weekend.

Marie cried. Will, in the most unusual act she had experienced from him, hugged her.

We decided to post the guide online so that people would at least be able to see it, use it. We somehow did a small batch of prints to give out to guests and a limited amount of attendees. But that was it. Marie’s biggest project of the year had fallen apart at the last minute, and it wasn’t even her fault.

At least this year she hadn’t spent the entire time in the office. They had set up a publications outpost in the Hilton and could at least enjoy some parts of the convention. They were still burnt out, though - four days of print runs and writing twice-daily newsletters takes a toll.

Monday came. Load-out. Staff dispersed. Marie, myself, and a few other staffers went to Johnny Rocket’s to close out the year. Matt and Betty headed home.

Marie got a call. Matt and Betty were on the other end and had just arrived at home - except that they couldn’t park.

Sometime during the weekend, the printers had actually completed the job, and they had actually delivered the program guides. But they didn’t call to inform us, and they apparently didn’t read the order, either, because they used an old address they had on file.

They delivered 15,000 freshly-printed program guides to Matt and Betty’s driveway.

Matt explained that their crown jewel project had been sitting in their driveway the whole time. “Your driveway. Your driveway? They delivered the program guides to your driveway?!” Marie was in disbelief.

She cried into her milkshake that night. We all gave her a hug.

I remember this! Man, what crazy stories you have!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: jemz on May 15, 2015, 04:15:03 PM
Ahhhh 2008 was a crazy year! And the tickets. Oh man. I still have it somewhere. >.> I think.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: YoureMyHiro on May 15, 2015, 06:46:29 PM
If these stories were published into a collective print, I would purchase said literature Sir. It's like following a mini-series, like a "behind the...." special or a great bar story you'd share with a friend!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 15, 2015, 08:19:04 PM
A few days after being selected chair, still proud of the appointment and happy with how MusicFest had turned out, my older brother died.

It’s a bit of a lie to say he was my brother. He was my half-brother, but I don’t dishonor him with that distinction. And it’s not accurate to say he died. He succumbed to AIDS. Like cancer, it perverts the body into neglecting itself until it fails. You fade away slowly until there is nothing left.

You might have guessed that my brother was gay. He wasn’t ostentatious about it, but plenty of people don’t require that to make judgement. It was enough to shame him into being discreet about who he was and be defensive about his health. He had claimed he had a stomach flu, and then had caught a parasite traveling in South America. I’m not sure he ever admitted to what he had. Shame and pride do strange things to people.

I still feel an immense amount of guilt for keeping a distance with him, both before he was sick and after. There was a lot of dissonance in my head especially when I became chair. I was celebrating while my brother was dying.

The best place for him to get care was outside of the U.S., in Brazil. My father and sister were only able to visit him once, about seven months before he passed. In essence, whatever induced him to hide his life and his condition brought him, literally, into isolation. If I could do it over, I would have wished he stayed close to family. And I would have told him that I loved him, and that I didn’t care about his condition. Family transcends sexuality.

He was supported until the end by his husband, who sacrificed his time, his savings, and his heart for my brother. If ever there were an argument for “gay” marriage, that is it; their union bound them together in love, matured them, and made the world a better place because of it. Love transcends sexuality.

My brother died in Sao Paulo with his husband by his side. For me, that was the start of the 2009 season.

--

A few weeks into being chair, I was informed that FanimeCon’s parent company, Anime Resource Group, was presented with a large, unforeseen tax bill. It beat the hell out of our finances and created a lot of internal strife. The problem was solved, eventually, but it meant going into 2009 handicapped with 2008’s budget.

--

A few months after being selected chair, right around September 11th '08, the Lehman Brothers bank collapsed. It was one of the first large dominoes to topple in the Great Recession, and it was a firm signal that the economy was getting bad. Things were shaky as early as the Fall of 2007, but this signaled that more dominoes were about to fall, and fall they did.

I had been a freelancer up until this point. That was how I was able to work on Fanime as much as I did. But the contracts started drying up, and I could no longer afford to work that way. I had to get a real job, so my free hours collapsed.

The Board of Directors - or BoD - were skittish. Not only were we hamstrung with the previous year’s budget, but projections showed little chance for growth in attendance. With house prices collapsing and jobs evaporating, it wasn’t clear that anyone would spend precious money and vacation time on Fanime.

--

I made a lot of mistakes this year.

I decided on formulating a three-person chair team: myself, Marie, and the head of Operations, James. But people don’t want a committee; they want a leader. I named them vice-chairs instead of co-chairs. I wanted them to bring their experience to overseeing contrasting divisions. Except, no one really liked that idea. They were familiar with certain people and wanted to work with those people. Besides, again, they all wanted a single leader. That’s really just human nature. My plans fell apart on day one.

Probably the key thing in an organization - or any relationship, really - is communication. I wasn’t good at it. You have to know what to say, when to say it, and who to say it to. I tended to say the wrong things at the wrong times, and not involve the right people. Rookie mistakes.

As a computer guy, I saw things in terms of systems, not people. That was my biggest mistake. Most people commenting on conventions make this mistake, too. It’s easy to architect a system and to improve process, and everyone has their own opinion on what would make things better. But until you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re missing the three most important parts: knowing the people who drive system, figuring out how to build a system around them, and history.

Halfway to con, the numbers weren’t looking good. The financial crisis was impacting us. The BoD asked for about a 15% cut to the budget to stay safe. I did it by killing my baby: MusicFest.

Val had been in Japan for nearly a year and was talking up all of the labels. Pony Canyon and AVEX were making offers for ONE OK ROCK and m.o.v.e respectively, but weren’t being forthcoming on details. Meanwhile, GR had picked up a musical guest, Haruko Momoi, who wanted to perform at MusicFest. As negotiations dragged on, Pony Canyon dropped out, and AVEX asked for a prohibitive fee. Val’s options had dried up.

I had cut about 8%, but BoD requested the full 15%. Val was now starting from scratch. There was a clear path in view: downsize MusicFest this year, leverage Momoi as the headlining act, and save the full 15%. I protested; Val and her head, Julia, would be devastated. I didn’t want to see my old department cut, either. But they insisted we do it for the health of the convention, and I agreed.

Needless to say, Momoi became our headliner and no MusicFest-sourced guests came that year. Val and Julia were devastated, and - rightly - pissed. I’m surprised, and thankful, they ever talked to me again. I’d like to think that we were saving the convention, but with these things, you have to ask - at what cost?

Momoi turned out to be a great catch, however. She was incredibly interactive and went above and beyond what a typical appearance would involve. She showed up at Stage Zero. She hung out at Maid Cafe. She brought attendees onto the stage at the Civic. It was great, but a touch bittersweet, knowing that Val’s efforts had gone unrewarded.

I think this was the first year were had purikura machines. It caused a huge rift in senior staff.

After a late night meeting/recap with the division heads (we called this the “Midnight Meeting” … because it happened at midnight) the group had an idea to go into the exhibit halls, after-hours, to take some pictures. I encouraged them to go. But then I didn’t tell anyone about it. Some other staff, then, saw a large group of people entering restricted hallways in the middle of the night, and freaked out. The heads flashed their All-Access badges, which the staffers interpreted as an insult - as pulling rank. They got into a heated argument, I’m told, wherein they were all pulled into ConOps with Marie to sort out the problem. I walked into the room - thick enough to choke on the tension - and asked what happened. No one spoke a word to me; they just looked at each other, upset and hurt. I started to get angry myself, until Marie - smartly - pulled me aside and explained the details. Things had been settled, she had handled it, everyone just needed to go to bed and cool off.

If I had just told the group no, or had informed staff of what the group was planning to do, everything would have been fine. Again, it’s all about communication.

--

Overall, the convention went ok. Our attendance was fairly flat, but attendees were pretty happy. Despite my mistakes, staff hadn’t fallen apart.

--

My three favorite memories from that year were these intimate little events.

First. At the end of con, a lot of us got together at Denny’s to wrap up and share stories. Will and I broke off and he told me a vast history of FanimeCon and what he and the BoD were trying to do. We talked for a long time. I felt privileged that Will was feeling chatty and that he was sharing the top-secret stuff. It always feels good to be included.

Second. Now, in previous conventions, Will and his team showed their appreciation by giving out special, custom pint glasses to certain staff. I was lucky enough to get them, and I really liked it as a tradition. I stole the idea and made custom glasses, too. They’re a pain in the ass to get to con - some 60 pounds of fragile cargo taking up half of the trunk - but giving them out was a special experience. Everyone was grateful for the things, and I did my best to express my gratitude for the work they had done.

Handing these out was my favorite part of con. An instance that stood out was giving a glass to Jun, who had taken over running the Maid Cafe department. She had just finished up a whirlwind weekend: she had got the maids together, had them work the cafe, performed with them, and - best of all - she got to meet and sing with Momoi, who was something of an idol to her at the time. When Marie, James, and I met up with her, she had crashed in a staff room and was still laying in bed, half-awake. When we presented her with the glass and expressed how proud we were of her efforts, hey eyes welled with tears, and she thanked us. That expression of emotion has stayed with me and kept me going. I was happy to be involved in making her weekend special.

Three. Chair team got called in to ConOps for an emergency at the end of the con. It turned out to be a surprise: some staff had gotten together and gotten us each some unusual gifts! They had purchased panties from one of the hotels and had staff sign them with sharpies. People had fun adding little notes. They were also peace-bonded. I was speechless, and grateful for the gift. Until they made us wear them.

--

Despite the pitfalls, we made it through the year, and managed to make some people happy. In the end, that’s really all you can ask for.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 15, 2015, 08:47:16 PM
Ah, 2009...lots of heartbreak and lessons learned.

Minor correction: I was trying to get ONE OK ROCK from Amuse, AVEX was offering m.o.v.e and TRF (I think..?), and I was also in talks for BREAKERZ. Pony Canyon happened afterwards...which I'm sure you'll get into XD
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 16, 2015, 08:14:09 PM
Agh, you're right! I'll edit that...

It's surprising what you remember, what you don't, and what gets scrambled over the years.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 16, 2015, 08:23:19 PM
2010 was a bit of blur. Mostly, I remember getting married, and I remember being a dick.

Around this time I had joined a startup, and as startups tend to be, it was a hectic environment. You had to be pushy sometimes. That rubbed off onto how I was running Fanime.

Mostly I had a lot of run-ins with the Board of Directors. I didn’t like their view on MusicFest, and I didn’t like their view on the budget. I sent more than a few nasty emails about it.

MusicFest costs a lot of money, and it has a lot of downsides. A lot of the cost is in renting the Civic, renting music equipment, and paying for labor to run everything. Relative to the GR side, you essentially get one guest for the price of two or three Guests of Honor - there are band members and entourage that need to come, whereas a Guest of Honor usually only has a +1.  In the bigger picture, we had some 15,000 people coming to con, but MusicFest, in the Civic, could only entertain 3,000 at the most. And really, typically only about 1,500 would actually come. The return on investment, even at its maximum, is low.

To compare, Guests of Honor tend to come in twos - the guest and a spouse or co-worker - and have no overhead. Even then, they don’t yield a great return on investment; panels like “Who’s line is it Anime” tend to fill the room better than a Japanese guest can.

The sad fact is that if you’re looking at the numbers, Japanese guests don’t make sense.

I understood that, but I was thinking strategically and philosophically. Without Japanese guests, there’s not a lot to talk about. American guests have saturated the market, so it’s not quite as news-worthy when one comes to a convention. Without guests, media don’t have a showcase to talk about. On a higher level, we couldn’t be a Japanese convention if we didn’t have Japanese guests; the event loses some authenticity without them.

This fed into the budget discussions. Having survived the recession and made the cuts requested, I wanted to increase the budget dramatically, particularly for GR and especially for MusicFest. The Board was hesitant. Defiant, I made myself a little crazy analyzing and composing a budget of my own, and then shoved my conclusions in their face. They relented a bit, but I had mostly made myself look like an asshole in the process.

So, there was a lot of tension behind the scenes. But hey, I got married that year. That was a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

--

While I was fretting, the rest of the convention was actually going very nicely.

Black and White Ball had grown into a behemoth. Julia knew people versed in dance, and so the event grew in its offerings and started hosting free dance lessons throughout the weekend. We moved it to the Fairmont - it had a great atmosphere, and was the only place it could fit it - and a few vendors - snacks, photos, flowers - came along. A culture had grown up around it, and that was really cool.

GR was doing really well, too - a lot of guests were returning for more.

MusicFest had landed two acts, a triumph over the previous year: LM.C and FLOW.

--

Con came. It couldn’t go fast enough.

We had dinner with all of the guests on Thursday or Friday of con. As chair, you’re expected to at least show up and give thanks, so we cleared our schedule and sat down to dine with the guests. The guests were enjoying themselves and mostly having a good time. I think FLOW - understanding that we couldn’t buy them drinks - went ahead and bought themselves a few rounds, and were having fun. It was as awkward as ever, of course. But then it got bad.

A few members of the LM.C entourage were openly complaining to Val that they didn’t think she could pull off the concert. Apparently, since landing, these people were grilling her on every detail and didn’t like any of her answers. They had little confidence that the concert would be anything but a disaster, and were saying it to her face. Then they started expressing their doubts to me, complaining to me about Val, in front of her. The rest of the LM.C group were fine, but not these ones. Once again, the Japanese etiquette books failed us. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

The concert came. My memory is jumbled a bit, but here was my recollection of that night. It wasn’t a good one.

MusicFest was counter-programmed to Black and White Ball. Marie and I got dressed for BWB - me in a suit, her in her wedding dress - and we headed out to hit up MusicFest and the ball.

We got to the concert just in time to see LM.C take the stage. “Are you ready to crap?” they seemed to ask the crowd. We would be: we headed backstage to check on the show, and we found a group of of our staff upset and crying. The troublemakers in LM.C’s entourage had been criticizing and degrading the staff all day, and staff finally broke down. They were hurt, and some of them left staff permanently. Chair team were so upset that we even considered canceling the rest of their events. But, we cooled our heads, dried our tears, and Marie and I headed back to the hotels. We needed to explain the situation to the BoD in case things got serious.

I had wanted to go back to the concert to see how FLOW was doing, but Marie asserted - and I agreed - that we needed to get away from the stress and check out the ball. We got to the Fairmont and realized we didn’t know how to dance. We headed back to the hotel, still stressed and upset.

The one redeeming thing of the night happened on the way back from the hotel. Me in my suit, Marie in her dress, we were walking through the lobby of the Marriott and passed by a family that was clearly not there for Fanime. The father, mother, and their daughter - maybe four or five years old - were nicely dressed and had just come out of Arcadia. The little girl looked at Marie, wide-eyed, then looked at me, then looked back at Marie. Her eyes opened even wider, and as a smile spread across her face, she whispered, “it’s a princess!”

--

The only other thing I remember about the show were the protestors. They’re an interesting group. They are literally professional trolls: they get permits with the city well in advance; they cultivate their message and train on it; then, after aggravating the public, they catch the response on video, editing it to look sympathetic, and raise funds for their cause that way.

We thought of half a dozen ways to prevent them from protesting. Most were silly ideas, like surrounding them with cosplayers. Some were more serious, like deploying Rovers, or formally filing a counter-protest, which would trigger police involvement.

Wolfgang had the best idea. Since they were limited to a small strip of sidewalk, just block the sidewalk with a big truck. No one could see or hear them. We coordinated our Logistics process to make sure a truck was always loading and unloading when protesters were present - problem solved.

--

This was the dark ages for me. The stress of 2010 was bad, but I knew one thing that would make the next year much, much better: it would be my last year chairing. Knowing I only had one lap to go, I entered the 2011 season much happier.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kuudere on May 16, 2015, 10:09:44 PM
Wolfgang deserves a huge high-five for that truck idea. I remember seeing it and giggling, "Did they actually hire a truck to block the protesters?? Genius."

Unfortunately, they moved to the corner of the Marriott after that, directly below my room so I could hear them constantly. :(

I love these stories so much. I finally got an answer for the missing guides...poor Marie. I would have been devastated in her position. All that work. But what did you do with them after it was too late to give them out?

I can't wait to hear the story about FLOW coming back. I was lucky to see them both times. I'm glad you put your foot down to support the MusicFest, because it's truly become what Fanime is known for. I think a lot of that is due to your effort (and staff, of course).
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 16, 2015, 10:14:14 PM
Wolfgang deserves a huge high-five for that truck idea. I remember seeing it and giggling, "Did they actually hire a truck to block the protesters?? Genius."
I know, right!

Quote
Unfortunately, they moved to the corner of the Marriott after that, directly below my room so I could hear them constantly. :(
That really sucked. We couldn't do much about that *and* they were even more in people's faces.

Quote
I love these stories so much. I finally got an answer for the missing guides...poor Marie. I would have been devastated in her position. All that work. But what did you do with them after it was too late to give them out?
Thank you! The guides - we mailed out tons of them, but I think we still had boxes left over.

Quote
I can't wait to hear the story about FLOW coming back. I was lucky to see them both times. I'm glad you put your foot down to support the MusicFest, because it's truly become what Fanime is known for. I think a lot of that is due to your effort (and staff, of course).
It's all Val. (And the people above and below that support her, of course.)
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 17, 2015, 08:06:30 PM
I was taking a shower when I set my goals. Showers are good for thinking.

With a little bit of hubris, I told myself that three things would happen in 2011, my final year as chair: we would see downtown San Jose taken over with attendees, we would see each Extravaganza at full capacity, and we would have 20,000 warm bodies at the convention. I never told anyone about what I wanted to see. I didn’t have to. We saw all of that, and more.

--

I was through being contentious with the Board of Directors. I had taken some time to understand their concerns and their vision, and it made a lot of sense. It took my impending final year to see the big picture, but I got it. They had been through years of turmoil trying to keep the event alive and sustainable. I had seen every extra dollar as something to spend, whereas they saw every extra dollar as buffer to get through rougher times. They had been through a few. We more-or-less established the numbers in advance and went ahead - this time, on the same page.

Plus, senioritis set in. It was my last year - I wanted to relax and enjoy the con a bit.

--

“this one is actually a serious question =P”

Every year, without fail, a great guest contacts us a few weeks before con. By that time we are already out of money and we have to pass. Conjuring thousands of dollars on-demand is not easy.

GR and MusicFest were already having a stellar year, anyway. MusicFest had snagged FLOW and Yuya Matsushita - one of the better lineups, appealing to a wider audience than anything I had constructed. GR had landed a fantastic lineup of Japanese guests, including Tohru Furuya - the voice of Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon - and Mamoru Yokota - who has a big part in this year’s story. We had done some budgeting gymnastics to make it all work and were coming in just under budget. We couldn’t afford more guests, and honestly, we had more than we could handle as-is.

About three weeks before con, Ashley contacted me via chat.

Ashley: hi! question for you
me: hey
Ashley: "if yoshiki from x japan came to fanimecon this year, could we make him a GoH?"
me: ~_~
Ashley: this one is actually a serious question =P


This led to one of the most memorable days I’ve had at FanimeCon. You’ll have to wait a bit to hear about Yoshiki, though.

--

Con came. I no longer had the stomach flu, or any stress sickness at all. I was in a good place. Marie and I went to Arcadia on Day 0 after seeing registration open early and had the lobster pot pie. We now try to do that every year. In previous years, though, instead of getting dinner, we got into arguments. It’s not unusual, sadly; I hear about a breakup just about every year. But this year, we weren’t as stressed. We wanted to enjoy things. We ate dinner and watched the cosplayers pass by. It was a good way to start things off.

--

Friday, staff had gone with the bands sightseeing and to pick up sundries. Yuya absentmindedly walked into the street until a staffer pulled him back to the sidewalk. They went with him to get underwear, which he had forgotten to pack. Everyone had a lot of fun.

Like with An Cafe, Sony had sent a few higher-ups with Yuya. They sent along a perky, feisty 20-something girl named Aya to keep an eye on the situation. She was a lot of fun. She and a staff member flirted the entire weekend. She got sassy with me on an occasion or two. She was unsure that the show would be successful, but she wanted it to succeed. Aya was the kind of entourage you wanted hanging around.

FLOW was on cruise control. They had it, and they knew it.

We all met up for a dinner-slash-mixer that night. We barely ate - mostly circulated, conversing and telling jokes. There were laughs and fun. TAKE joined Marie and I, asking about us, inquiring why we were dressed up; we had signed up for the Newlywed Game on Stage Zero and were in suit and dress.

“えええ? You two are married?” “Yes,” Marie explained, “only for about 18 months so far.” TAKE contemplated this for a moment, nodding knowingly. “You need to have lots of sex! So you can have kids! I have three kids. You have to have lots of sex.” We blushed.

It happened to be Yuya’s birthday, so we brought out a cake. He was planning on visiting San Francisco that evening, but when we told him about cake, he enthusiastically canceled his plans. Who wouldn’t cancel plans for cake?

Marie and I left early to make our rounds and go to the Newlywed Game. We didn’t do so well, but that’s ok. Our love doesn’t need to be qualified!

That night, we got bad news about Yoshiki. He was sick. He had been hopping from place to place on account of his foundation, and would be flying into San Jose directly after a previous engagement. Now, there was a chance he wouldn’t even show up.

--

Saturday was the big day: MusicFest and Black & White Ball. In the back of our minds, we were still wondering if Yoshiki would be coming. We had scheduled a panel for him, but were unsure if we would need to cancel it. Calls bounced back and forth as we tried to find out what was going to happen.

A few hours before his panel, we got the call: he was on a plane. Yoshiki was coming, despite being sick.

Yoshiki’s handler came earlier in the convention - she had also brought us Gashicon, so was helping to handle there - and she waited with us for the driver to pull up. Out popped Yoshiki and an assistant. We whisked them away to a meeting room to refresh himself, decompress, and get ready.

He had a great panel, then we had dinner, and then he was gone. Again, you’ll have to wait to hear the full story.

--

As we dined with Yoshiki, it started raining. I hoped everything was ok with the lines for B&W Ball and MusicFest. Actually, I had hoped there was a line for MusicFest at all. Like I said, I wanted to see the events packed.

The rain let up, dinner finished, and we headed to the Civic. There were people outside. I thought there must have been a mistake - maybe seating had been slow, or there was a problem with the show. We avoided the floor and went straight backstage. Yuya had just finished, FLOW was getting started, and staff were frantic. “Look! Look!” everyone told me, “Go to the wings, peek your head out, and look!”

The Civic was finally full.

Aya - from Yuya’s entourage - was weeping. She was brought to tears that halfway across the world there were so many people loving Japanese music. The fans blew her expectations. Mine, too. I can’t remember exactly, but I feel like I gave everyone a hug.

We left for B&W Ball. We weren’t going to dance - we weren’t dressed for it, and we don’t know how, and we had finally made peace with this - but we liked to see the crowd and congratulate the staff on their hard work. We were pleased with how the day went.

--

You might have noticed that I never mentioned visiting Masquerade on Sundays. Two things about that. Getting into Masquerade was always a hassle - it has always been filled to the brim, backstage and front of house. And, though I had some disagreements with Marisa - I can’t even remember why - she always did an excellent job with Masquerade, so I never felt the need to check up. I only worried about masquerade when Marisa worried about masquerade. Otherwise I trusted that she would put on a good show.

There’s a lot of that in Fanime - people doing good jobs and not getting any focus because of it. Really, the squeaky wheels get the grease. It’s easy to take that lack of attention as a lack of gratitude, but often the opposite is true. I only regret not expressing gratitude more often.

--

This was the year of the Tohoku earthquake. The earthquake brought aftershocks, tsunami, Fukushima, death. But it also elicited a beautiful response in support of those affected. It was enormous, both in Japan and worldwide.

Now, when we invite guests to FanimeCon, we always humbly ask that they provide something for our charity auction. Usually they will have something autographed or will make a quick sketch for us. We put these up for auction in the Dealer’s room, then have live bidding - lately on Stage Zero - on the last day of con. Charity auction usually yields two to three thousand dollars each year.

Not this year. Every guest came with multiple items for auction - and items from their colleagues and friends. Rare pieces from major artists were here, at FanimeCon, and they were going on auction.

Chair team didn’t really get a sense of what was going on until it happened. We had heard that artists were bringing in pieces especially because of the earthquake - GoH Yokota even asked to store his items with trusted staff - but we didn’t make special plans to visit the auction. Instead, we happened to be visiting the Dealers Room at the time, doing our rounds. I noticed that the auction was going on and decided to take a look. I was amazed. I rushed back to get Marie to tell her what I saw.

“The auction is going nuts!” I exclaimed.

“What do you mean? Is everything ok?”

“People are losing it. We’re getting more for single items than we get for an entire year. There’s a bidding war going on for a Rei - drawn by Sadamoto himself - right now! Come, look!”

We rushed to the stage. The bids went higher and higher. We were used to items going for $50, maybe $100, and our best pieces we hoped would fetch hundreds. I think Rei went for $6,000. We were blown away.

Total, we raised around $20,000 that year for charity auction. It blew away past records by far.

That wasn’t the end of it. Yokota hadn’t auctioned his pieces yet.

Rumor has it that some so-called whales - collectors with a lot of money - had gotten wind of what was going on with Fanime that year and had flown in to see what was available. Some had gone toe-to-toe in the charity auction, but they had also heard there were one-of-a-kind pieces from Yokota. They held back. The big event was still coming.

In speaking with Yokota about what he wanted to do, he was very independent-minded. He was not happy with how some of the charity organizations had responded to the earthquake and he wanted to do something personally, directly for the people affected. For various reasons, we did not incorporate his events and his items into our charity auction, but we offered him a venue to do his thing, officially outside Fanime.

As FanimeCon technically came to a close, I rather ashamedly left the post-con feedback session to see this Yokota Special Auction. Hey - it was Wolfgang’s turn to fix things, anyway. Chair is a thankless position, isn’t it?

As Yokota prepped and organized the pieces, attendees perused the works. Nineteen items went up for auction, ranging from signatures from voice talent, to sketches from directors, to artwork from illustrators. Each item was fantastic, but one stood out: a shikishi from Nobuhiro Watsuki of Battousai - Kenshin before his scars. As we understood it, this was the only of its kind on Earth.

Yokota’s friend Watanabe got on stage as auctioneer. He’s this flashy guy with amazing hair and liked to just chill with Yokota and the staff. Here’s the thing: Watanabe is, of course, Japanese. He is also a very brave person: he got in front of a big audience, prepared to run an auction - in English.

Nineteen items went up, The bids rolled in. “This one” - Watanabe looked at the item - “starting one thousand. One thousand dollars. Ok, LET’S GO!” A hand would go up. Watanabe pointed. “One thousand!” Another hand went up. “One thousand one hundred!” Another hand went up: “I bid fifteen-hundred.” Watanabe pointed, “Fifteen thousands!” The crowd roared into laughter - no, $1,500 not $15,000! - and Watanabe corrected himself: “No no, fifteen hundreds! Haha, sorry sorry!”

Bidding got intense. Artwork was going for thousands, and even straight autographs fetched hundreds of dollars. But it was clear what everyone was waiting for.

The battousai went up for bid.

FanimeCon staff had heard what was going on and gathered at the rear of the room. We, too, were waiting for this piece. Aya - ex-GR head - had even come around. As a die-hard Kenshin fan, she was prepared to drop a few thousand. Marie, too. She looked at me and asked, “how far are you willing to go?” “$5,000, maybe?” I replied. “Me too. Let’s see what we can do!”

Bidding started. Marie did her best, countering every offer fervently. But then it exceeded our individual bids. It climbed north of $7,000.

The staff cried out to wait, and we huddled. “Hey, do you want to go in - together?” Aya asked. “We could put it all together,” I said, “keep it between us. Maybe more people will join us.” We started roping in other staff. The other bidders looked back at us, half-smiling, ready to compete. The bids went higher. It was up to $9,000 now.

We pooled our money. “We could probably go up to $13,000, all in. We can keep it in Fanime - hand it off to each other, frame it in the office, I don’t know. Is everybody in? Are we going to keep it in Fanime?” We all agreed.

Aya raised her hand. “Thirteen thousand dollars!”

Watanabe pointed at her - “Thirteen thousand dollars!”

We held our breath. The room was silent for an eternity.

But a whale looked back at us, and smiled. He raised his hand. $15,000. That was it. It was out of our reach. It was done. “Sold! Fifteen thousand!” Watanabe exclaimed. We groaned. Aya had to leave, tears in her eyes. Yokota gave her a big bear hug in the hall.

Watanabe and Yokota pulled us aside later and asked why we huddled up, why we asked them to halt the bidding on the battousai so many times. “We wanted to keep it in Fanime,” we explained. “We were asking staff to band together, and we did our best.” They seemed shocked but touched that we had joined together.

That was 2011. I think we all did our best.

--

Before the Board of Directors opened applications for my replacement, they asked us if we wanted to stay on. We had agreed to three years from the start, and despite the half-mocking, half-pleading “three more years!” chant that staff liked to throw at us, we were ready to go on. We politely declined the invitation to stay longer. That the BoD asked meant a lot to me; it was a vote of confidence, one in defiance of all the problems I brought to them. I appreciated that. I knew I would miss it, but sometimes the right time to say goodbye comes along, and this was it.

I left the chair position satisfied. We had about 20,000 people take over downtown San Jose and pack the events full. My little vision came true. I even maintained some room in the budget for the next chair, Wolfgang, to have a war chest. My hope was to leave things better than when I got there, much like my predecessors had done, and I think I did.

On the final day, Scott found me at con, grabbed me by the arm, and led me to Will and Wolf. Together, Scott, Will and I did the we’re-not-chair dance, and Wolf smiled: “Ha ha. Very nice.”

It was his turn.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: GokuMew2 on May 18, 2015, 12:13:16 AM
2010 was the one year I wasn't able to attend FanimeCon since I started going in 2001. Sadness since it would've been my 10th consecutive year, but what can you do... I was half a world away teaching English. ^^; I still remember when you and Marie announced at a staff meeting that you were getting married. =)

Yokota san's auction in 2011 was off the wall. I remember just sitting in the front looking at all the pretties that I can't have. XD And I do remember Aya crying when you guys lost the Battousai sketch. That was a shame, but hey, the winning bid went to a good cause. Didn't we have a page on the website showing photos of what was going to be auctioned? I can't remember if it was up before or after the show, but if it was before, that's probably what alerted the collectors.

Until recently when he was hospitalized (he's out now), Yokota san was still continuing charity work for earthquake victims. It's pretty amazing how dedicated he is. I've visited him once or twice at exhibitions he was participating in, as well as a few karaoke sessions. Hope he starts taking better care of his health.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: cutiebunny on May 18, 2015, 08:39:43 AM
Heh heh.  So I'm called a whale now.

Let me talk about the auction a bit more from a whale perspective. The 'whales', as you refer to us, were already at the con.  We didn't fly out here especially for the charity/Yokota auction.  We did not know about the Yokota auction until Sunday, around the time of the charity auction.  The whales all live in California and we avidly attend West Coast, particularly California, cons.  Back in the early 10s, Fanime had a reputation for being a quality convention.  We all came to your con in 2011 because we all hoped we'd get a sketch from Yoshimatsu and Iida.  Which, we did.  We were all very happy.  This was also the year where Yokota, in an attempt to draw sketches for everyone in line, ended up pulling an all nighter and ended up getting pretty sick.  He also drew more for charity, too.  I guess it worked out well for him as he made out like a bandit at PMX 2012 and SacAnime Winter 2015 with his art-addicts he acquired at Fanime.  Despite his temper and outdated opinions on women, he's a nice guy...a little shady...but a nice guy.  I heard about his stroke and he commented on Twitter that the left side of body is still numb.  I hope he gets better soon.  Anyways...

Walking around the dealer hall prior to the Sunday charity auction, I saw the Yoshimatsu shikishi that would be auctioned - a lovely Slayers sketch of Lina & Naga, and then a Trigun sketch.  At the same time, I ran into another of my 'whale' friends.  In the hierarchy of whales, including those I've met on the East Coast, she and the man who won the Kenshin sketch, are the alphas.  This particular friend doesn't concern herself with autograph sessions nor the rest of the con ; She just buys whatever she wants at the charity auction.  She's super nice IRL and will show up at a con just to show off some of the stuff she owns.  We went to the auction together.  She told me what she was after, and I nodded, and went for the other sketches.  At that time, I bid if I thought the sketch was under what it would sell for at auction in Japan.  I also know better than to tangle with an alpha.  We both were not aware that GAINAX staff had brought a stack of sketches to auction off until the auction.  Thanks to staff starting the sketches earlier than they should have, the Imaishi sketch for practically nothing.  Still one of my favorite "I can't believe I got it for that low" stories.

The Sadamoto sketch fight was a fight between the alphas.  These are *never* pretty.  While there were a few people who jumped in immediately, they all bowed out around 4K.  Nope, after that, both were going after it.  I almost wished I had a bucket of popcorn as it was quite exciting.  The auction for the colored Rei sketch ended at 6K.  I walked away with the Trigun sketch as well as a few of the GAINAX goodies.  My friend, the Slayers and Sadamoto sketches.

I know it sounds like the whales all hate each other because why else would you want your friend to buy it for that much, but it's actually the reverse.  For the most part, we get along quite well and many of us are really good friends with each other.

Fun fact about the GAINAX sketches - To date, this is the only time I've ever been asked to delete the autographs of the artists when posting online.  I had to fill out documents providing GAINAX with my name, DL#, address, etc before paying for them.  Even GoFA asked for less information.  Somewhere in Japan, my information lies in a file cabinet, collecting dust.  Staff said that GAINAX originally wanted the winners to sign documents saying that they would never sell the items, but someone on Fanime staff informed them that that was an impossibility as you can't prevent people from reselling in the US.

The man that outbid you for the Kenshin shikishi is also a friend of mine.  He can be a bit aloof sometimes, but he's also a real nice guy.  The "outbid you with a smile" is his usual method.  If it's something he truly wants, against him, you'll never win.  Even if you had been able to muster 15K, he would have pushed it to 16K.  Or 17K.  He's just that dedicated.  The friend/whale that I mentioned earlier walked away with both Slayers shikishi from the Yokota auction.  Going in to the auction, the whale friend who won the Sadamoto sketch the day before commented that she knew that the other one would be going for the Kenshin.  "Stay away from it" was her advice.  Not being a Kenshin fan and having spent quite a bit the day before, I was more than willing to oblige.  We were quite happy with our winnings at the Yokota auction, but seeing our alpha grinning like a Cheshire cat (despite being 15K poorer) was quite touching.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 18, 2015, 09:28:48 AM
cutiebunny that is super interesting!

The rumor I had heard was along these lines - that there was a small-ish and well-connected group of people who just came as collectors. The way it was framed to me, though, was that these people had connections that informed them of opportunities, and so they simply hopped a plane cross-country at a moment's notice to bid for rare pieces. Maybe that was a bit exaggerated, after all. ;)

And, I hope no offense taken about the "whale" terminology. It's something I picked up from ad agency work. You'd have your normal accounts, and then you'd have your Nikes or your Coca-Colas - the whales, named so because they brought big money, could chase away the smaller "fish", and could crush you easily.

Anyway, it was brilliant to watch, and it's nice that I can connect you with that excitement. Great to hear another side of the story.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: cutiebunny on May 18, 2015, 11:02:41 AM
No worries, I'm not offended at all.  I've been called worse things at charity auctions  ;D

.. that there was a small-ish and well-connected group of people who just came as collectors. The way it was framed to me, though, was that these people had connections that informed them of opportunities, and so they simply hopped a plane cross-country at a moment's notice to bid for rare pieces. Maybe that was a bit exaggerated, after all. ;)

Including those that live around the US, I'd say we roughly number around 30.  Most of us network with each other and many of us have connections to management at various cons.  Most of these were made during the 1990s when conventions like AX were just starting out and it would be the same handful of bidders winning everything at auction.  I'd say no more than 15 of us ever travel beyond our respective coasts for conventions.  We go because there are guests there that we're interested in seeing, though, not because we heard some rumor that something spectacular will show up for auction.  I'd say the only people who either have enough funds and/or are crazy enough to drop everything and buy a last minute ticket are the two highest bidders for the Sadamoto sketch.  And one of them almost did for a con a couple years back.

I'm looking forward to the 2012 chapter.

Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 18, 2015, 10:00:44 PM
The judge asked me to rise. I addressed him.

“Your honor, I feel this would be a burden. I am managing three projects at work, and in three weeks, I am responsible for the hospitality of over a dozen guests from Japan.”

Note: this excuse will not get you out of jury duty.

--

I glided into 2012 thinking it would be a cakewalk. How hard could overseeing GR and MusicFest be, when we had overseen the entire convention?

The chair team split. Marie joined me in running the GR division. James went into semi-retirement, alternately helping HR, serving as an historian, and doing photography at the con.

Wolf was now in charge. He has his critics, but I can sympathize: the job is harder than it looks, and is thankless. For what it’s worth, I was happy under his leadership. But, then, I wasn’t going to take crap from anyone at this point, anyway, so maybe he steered clear of me. Still, no complaints here.

Regrettably, I started acting like an asshole again. Work was stressing me out, and it culminated in me leading three projects in the run-up to con. Two of them failed spectacularly and I quit my job shortly after FanimeCon. But that wasn’t before I was, once more, being a dick toward staff - the finance department, in particular, because they held GR’s purse strings - and toward one of our primary contacts.

Let’s back up a bit. The head of GR, Yang, had done a great job for three years - or was it four? - and was stepping down. He started the job with no training and no steady mentor, but over his time, he had grown into the role in his own way, bringing some really stellar guests along in the process. I asked to take over for him; having done relations with MusicFest, and having overseen the convention, I thought I had a leg up in running Guest Relations. Plus, I inherited Yang’s great team.

Over the summer of 2011 I had got in touch with Aya to see if she’d help mentor us. Amazingly, she did, and she brought a treasure trove with her: all of her notes and materials from her years running GR. We used those as a basis to reimagine GR from the ground up. I like to think it worked ok. A lot of staff seemed confused at first - I didn’t do the best job of communicating the changes - but once we got into a groove at the convention, the staff performed wonderfully. GR has some of the most skilled and hard-working staff, and to have gained their respect meant a lot to me.

That was the good part about running GR. There were plenty of downsides, though.

Again, I was being a jerk to important people. After repeatedly haranguing Finance about how the budget ought to work - without much consideration on how Finance needed the budget to work - they threw up their hands. Essentially they said, here’s your top-line number - don’t exceed it - and good luck: you’re on your own, just like you asked. I think I barely made it under.

I wasn’t kind to one of our contacts, either. It’s no excuse, but the stress and deadlines from work left me aggressive and intolerant. When I didn’t like what he was doing, I sent mean emails. When I saw problems don’t the road, I didn’t warn him. When he needed help at-con, I offered little assistance. In part I was doing this to protect the convention, my staff, and myself - but I really could have been kinder about it.

--

About a month before con, I got a summons to serve for on a Federal petit grand jury in United States District Court, Northern District of California. Let me tell you, I fought it, but I couldn’t get out of it. I was happy to serve - but it was the worst possible timing.

I asked for a postponement, but it was denied. I arrived at the court, and my number was called. I was brought into court, then brought up for jury selection. In the jury box, I explained things that would potentially make me a bad juror, but was retained. When asked if I had hardship, I made a big speech.

(I’m sure this is recorded in an official document somewhere, so please note that this is less factual, more “based on a true story”.)

“Your honor, I feel this would be a burden. I am managing three projects at work, and in three weeks, I am responsible for the hospitality of over a dozen guests from Japan.” The judge looked unconvinced, so I continued. “I am working over 60 hours a week on my projects and am lead on each of them. One of the projects actually involves the court - I have to access court document as part of research - so there’s a chance I could come across this case and see evidence accidentally.” Still nothing. “For my guests from Japan, well, firstly, I’ve already scheduled time off, so I can’t get that back. And it would be very bad if I were not there to greet them at the airport. I have to oversee staff that will be helping these guests, your honor, so I need to be available to support them, as well.”

The judge asked me to clarify when the event was happening. A few days before Memorial day weekend, I replied. “That’s in a few weeks. I’m sure we can wrap up the case by then.” I was out of ammo. I sat down and hope I would be rejected. We were dismissed from the jury box while the lawyers made their selection. Before I could even sit down in the audience - just as I was setting down my bag - they called my number. All I could do was blankly walk back up to the jury box, feeling like I had been wrongly convicted of something. I was juror #1.

The next three weeks were hell. I got up around 7am to work. I’d head to BART by 8am to get to court around 9. I’d be answering emails - for work and for Fanime - 15 minutes at a time whenever the judge would call a recess. I brought my laptop and a 4G adapter so that I could work during lunch. I’d head home at 4, sometimes jumping on conference calls for work, and then be home around 6 to lead development teams in China. After work, around 11pm, I’d finally have time to eat, shower, and sleep. I got very little done.

Aya was likewise unavailable; a family crisis pulled her away.

Marie was a godsend in all of this. She kept me fed and pampered and practically ran GR on a day-to-day basis, making sure the i’s got dotted and the t’s got crossed.

--

It was around that time in early May that Val’s negotiations fell through. She had been negotiating for months with a band. They were good to work with, but needed a lot. We made concessions to them, and they made even bigger ones. But it was at the 11th hour that they explained that they needed video from the concert.

Ever wonder why we don’t sell DVDs of MusicFest or the Masquerade? Well, remember how the Civic is a union house? The union has exclusive rights to do any filming, so you have to 1) pay them to do the filming and 2) pay for the rights to use the footage they take. That costs many thousands of dollars. It may sound exorbitant, but realize you are paying professionals to film something you could later sell for millions. It’s not unreasonable, but we just didn’t have the money.

We apologized profusely, explaining the situation. But they had already made substantial cuts on their end. Without the promotional material the video would have yielded, it just wasn’t worth it. They pulled out. It was sad. Val was really strong through that, and I was proud of her for that.

Still, it would have been great. They had a great gimmick: a trio of young girls fronting a metal band. They recently put out a song about wanting chocolate, or something - or so I hear.

--

My first 24 hours of con was really damn weird. I’ll write about it later. You probably had a weird day, too. That was when the power went out.

I had dropped off Marie on Day -1 because I would be out for jury duty. She and the staff would greet and tend to the guests while I was at court. But Obama was in town and about a half-mile radius was locked down around the Fairmont. That was weird.

The next day, the Japanese guests started coming in. But there were problems on 101, and it took them ages to get to San Jose. Lots of them were on the same fight, but they came at drastically different times. That was weird.

The power went out while I was en route to con. I pulled up to the Hilton, car full of junk, trying to see how long the reg line was. I saw it easily: it was long, and it led into a dark SJCC. The rest of the city was fine, just not that block of the city. That was weird.

With all of the difficulties, the guests couldn’t check in. They had to stash their stuff in various staff rooms. That was weird.

Koyama-san climbed the stairs - the full height of the Hilton - for fun and exercise. That was ... awesome.

The lights finally came on and staff collectively sighed a Thank God. Everyone dispersed to get their guests checked in and to bed. They were great sports, but it was evening by then, and everyone was exhausted. They got into their rooms, unloaded their luggage, and ended their day with a nice, cold shower. The boilers went cold in the outage. I don't think Japanese usually to bathe in cold water. I didn't. That sucked.

Welcome to FanimeCon 2012.

--

The con itself went pretty well for us. We woke up early the next morning for an all-hands meeting. We had barely met, and the staff seemed hesitant about me and Marie; there was a tension, like, “who are these people, who I never saw before, who can’t speak Japanese, and why are they running GR?” As I went over the itinerary and assignments for the day, they seemed to relax. I did, in fact, have a plan.

Over the course of the convention, even the most formal staff eased up around us. We were showing them the reimagined GR, and they understood what we were trying to do. I was happy, and proud, that they trusted us - maybe even respected us - by the end. It was definitely fun to kick back and relax with them and see them unwind, too. Handling and interpreting can be extremely intense work.

The guests worked hard as well. I heard Asamiya and Yokota were both up at all hours trying to finish artwork for their fans. Artists typically have to work over the weekend, too - we set up a small office area with a computer, printer, and scanner to facilitate their work - so it was all the more admirable that they were doing this on top of their jobs.

Little did I know that Marie had been asking them to do work. My 30th birthday was around the corner and she asked for gifts from each of the guests. They politely obliged: Yamaga gifted an autographed, limited edition Wings of Honneamise; Yokota drew - at Marie’s request - a sketch of a boin maid; Asamiya made a sketch as well, and quite clandestinely handed it off to Marie - in full view of me - with an exaggerated wink and nod. Luckily I’m oblivious.

Actually, I’m just lucky. They were great gifts from great people, and I received them because I have a great wife.

--

A lot more things - bad things, in particular - happened that weekend, but they were tempered by past experience; the highs were good, and the lows were bearable. Maybe I was getting better at staffing. Maybe the novelty of the convention was starting to wear off. Probably, I was just getting old.

It was about time. Marie had intended us to take time off after chairing, yet I pulled her back in, thinking we still needed to contribute. By now, though, it was clear that there were talented staff to handle things. We had been succeeded, and we were happy about it. It was a good time to move on.

And so we were done with being in charge of something at FanimeCon.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 19, 2015, 08:26:44 AM
I don't mean to sound hipster about it, but we really did know about this little trio of girls doing metal before they became a huge thing, lol. It would've been nice to have been the venue to give them their U.S. debut :(

They were my focus, but the MusicFest roster that year ultimately ended up being acts that someone else negotiated for. I still get the blame for that even when it was more like, "Since your acquisition fell through, do something with these acts." I think the only thing I ended up contributing that year was the sound check and concert schedule, but I still got ripped into for being incompetent, not knowing anything about music, not doing enough, not listening to what fans want, being lazy, etc etc etc. I just saw months of hard work go down the drain, but no one cared about that; the complaints were relentless. I can shrug it off now, but it was a tough time.

As a side note, in 2012, MusicFest got moved organizationally from Extravaganzas to Guest Relations, and with that comes procedural changes. That always takes getting used to.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kuudere on May 19, 2015, 09:25:34 AM
I don't mean to sound hipster about it, but we really did know about this little trio of girls doing metal before they became a huge thing, lol. It would've been nice to have been the venue to give them their U.S. debut :(

They were my focus, but the MusicFest roster that year ultimately ended up being acts that someone else negotiated for. I still get the blame for that even when it was more like, "Since your acquisition fell through, do something with these acts." I think the only thing I ended up contributing that year was the sound check and concert schedule, but I still got ripped into for being incompetent, not knowing anything about music, not doing enough, not listening to what fans want, being lazy, etc etc etc. I just saw months of hard work go down the drain, but no one cared about that; the complaints were relentless. I can shrug it off now, but it was a tough time.

I'm sorry you had to be the one to shoulder all of the blame. I don't think this makes it any better, but I think we, as fans, were mostly upset that we were given no explanation at all. It seemed like Fanime was just doing whatever staff wanted without reason, and it felt like we were being viewed as children that weren't important enough to hear the adults talk. Knowing this story now, I am much more appreciative of your (and other staff's) efforts. If things had worked out, BABYMETAL would have been amazing. Hopefully something can be worked out that we still might see them one year.

However, I think I should also say that there were people who genuinely enjoyed the MusicFest that happened that year. It really wasn't a failure at all (though I think staff should have been more explicit in the fact that it would only be one person, rather than the band, that would be performing. That would have alleviated much of the unnecessary disappointment due to false expectations).
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 19, 2015, 12:04:34 PM
Well, here's another way to look at it:

When is an explanation needed? Usually when something goes wrong.

As far as MusicFest was concerned that year, nothing was technically "wrong." MusicFest still happened, there were guests performing.

The concern that folks were expressing were "why THOSE guests?" That question implies that something is wrong with the guests who take their time to come to the convention, and that is one question I won't address because it's downright disrespectful to the guests. Regardless of whether I acquire a guest or if someone else from GR acquires a guest, we will always welcome them warmly (unless they're really mean to us or our attendees).

As far as misleading information goes, from what I recall, I retweeted the announcement on MF's Twitter that year that stated specifically "Igaguri Chiba" and not "Sendai Kamotsu." If the linked announcement itself was misleading, then I seriously apologize. However, if memory serves me right, what was officially released around that time from us stated it was only going to be him.

The one thing that I know was not right was the whole Hatsune Miku thing. I was not behind that idea at all, and I made it known that I didn't like it. Attendees have a right to be peeved about that one, and for that, I'm truly sorry.

However, one thing that I hope Tony's stories are showing is that staff aren't doing things willy nilly just because we want to. I'd like to think MusicFest's track record shows that we are listening to what attendees want, and we are working hard to make your requests happen with the resources we have. We don't reply often times because we always get a lot, but the suggestions are always forwarded to us one way or another, and I'm doing everything I can to forge the relationships with labels and companies to make things work.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kuudere on May 19, 2015, 01:39:52 PM
The concern that folks were expressing were "why THOSE guests?"

Actually, the rumors floating around were that Nightmare might make an appearance, since one of its members would be there. No staff supported that rumor, but, at least on the forums, no one was saying "they're absolutely not coming as a band." Mostly, staff were playfully responding that it won't be Yomi, it'd be his brother, which wasn't giving us a real, firm answer because it was done in a joking manner. People got false expectations (through no real fault of the staff - false rumors suck), and responded negatively from them. That, and as you said with the Miku thing, were the only things that really needed explanation to me.

That question implies that something is wrong with the guests who take their time to come to the convention, and that is one question I won't address because it's downright disrespectful to the guests. Regardless of whether I acquire a guest or if someone else from GR acquires a guest, we will always welcome them warmly (unless they're really mean to us or our attendees).

I fully agree that it's disrespectful to complain about specific guests. I cringe when I see it happening. I mean, if you want to complain, fine, but do it in a place where guests and their agents can't see it at least - and be as respectful as possible. Whether you enjoy an act or not, there are people who worked hard to put it together and perform, and tons of people who did enjoy the act.

However, one thing that I hope Tony's stories are showing is that staff aren't doing things willy nilly just because we want to. I'd like to think MusicFest's track record shows that we are listening to what attendees want, and we are working hard to make your requests happen with the resources we have. We don't reply often times because we always get a lot, but the suggestions are always forwarded to us one way or another, and I'm doing everything I can to forge the relationships with labels and companies to make things work.

I love that Tony is taking the time to write these specifically because it does help dissolve that kid/adult relationship that I was talking about. I think that most of us are very happy when transparency like this is given to us, although I know that's not always the fault of staff for not being forthcoming with all these details (some details, like contracts, need to remain quiet until everything is set). And sometimes, giving too much information just ends up pissing people off when that information changes later (like, "we're working on getting Guest X to appear," and that guest ends up falling through).

People don't get to see the individual cogs (staff) forming the machine that is Fanime, so all they see is a machine and they treat it like a machine rather than individual people with lives outside that machine. When we get to see responses from staff like this, it is much easier to sympathize and understand. Don't get me wrong, you'll get haters either way, but I think it's nice to give staff a platform to talk about how much work goes into this.


You don't need to apologize for anything. You've been fantastic for years in a largely thankless job. I apologize that we can't show you how much your work means to us.

Sorry I derailed the thread a bit!
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Xanreo on May 19, 2015, 01:56:18 PM
Pardon the intrusion; I just wanted to stay a listener for these fantastic stories but what was the Hatsune Miku mishap?
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: jemz on May 19, 2015, 02:02:34 PM
Since Tony has been sharing, I wanted to add/chime in about MusicFest that was brought up in a different thread regarding why MusicFest has seating whereas other cons/concerts have open flooring.

1) It costs time and money to take away all the chairs and then put them back the next day for Masquerade. Time (for Union to take those chairs and put them back) and money (to pay Union to do that because the Civic is a union house, meaning all the work is done by the Union and you have to pay them to do that work) that is spent on more fun things like instruments for the band to play on.
 
2) The one time we decided to have an open floorplan in the Civic was for An Cafe in 2008. When the doors opened, everyone rushed in to try to get to the front of the stage. There were people milling about while waiting for MusicFest to start and it made the Civic look about half full. There were some attendees who didn't want to get squished and sat in the upper sections. When An Cafe took the stage, everyone rushed to the front and packed in so tightly that we (staff) were worried for the attendees who were potentially super squished. We ended up rescuing a few people that night and they were able to breathe.

After the concert, the band and their management were super apologetic about not being able to bring more attendees in because to them, the Civic only looked a third full (in full squish mode). The MusicFest staff apologized back and tried to reassure them many, many times over that it is not their fault and that was the most successful MusicFest to date.

As a side note, the Japanese do not have the same fire code regarding crowd capacity as we do here in the United States. I've been to a few concerts in Japan and they like to squish together but not to the point of being unable to breathe. Whereas the crowd for An Cafe was dangerously tight and we had Rovers constantly looking for people who were super squished and making sure they were okay.

When Con was over, Val (along with her staff) and I agreed that having seats would be the better option since it would make it so the Civic looked fuller, people had a place to put their stuff (and not poke other attendees's faces with their peacebonded weapons), and people can breathe without being squished.

Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Abyss1 on May 19, 2015, 03:13:23 PM
About to celebrate my 16th yr at Fanime  :o  went to 11 AX's and I'm still in my early 30's

Some things I'd love to share that I have noticed over the decade that keeps Fanime worth attending.

1.  I've never, nor will I work as staff for the con.
2.  The Real fun happens with the volunteering members...no commitment = positive vibe
3.  I've definitely had arguments with Rovers for trying to hard to abuse their power of badge taking
4.  The Dance Dj's are pretty good most of the time and the Dances are really fun
5.  The AMV's are long but there is always a golden video or two worth watching (they could use a better sound system tho)
6.  Cosplay ball got really bad in 2004-2005, have not attended since
7.  I've had the pleasure of meeting many many guests, I'd recommend doing the meet and great at least once.
8.  Going at it alone is recommended as friends may be lazier than you and will sleep a day away >:(
9.  Get your badge Early as possible...I've only had to buy a badge on a sunday once ...usually get mine on day 0 or day 1.
10.  Buy something that will give you good memories for that year.
11.  Attend as much as you can in what little time you have
12.  Realize that this is probably one of the few places where you can actually let go of your ego and raise self esteem.
13.  As I've gotten older I've saved more for the con and end up spending less than the year before...this year I think I have $4000 to blow...probably will only spend $300 ???

Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 19, 2015, 04:14:31 PM
Mostly, staff were playfully responding that it won't be Yomi, it'd be his brother, which wasn't giving us a real, firm answer because it was done in a joking manner.
Argh. So that's mostly my fault. We were basically told to be extremely careful about what to say - and the stuff we were allowed to say was all about "his brother Chiba". I hadn't even realized we were misleading people.

Quote
People don't get to see the individual cogs (staff) forming the machine that is Fanime, so all they see is a machine and they treat it like a machine rather than individual people with lives outside that machine. When we get to see responses from staff like this, it is much easier to sympathize and understand. Don't get me wrong, you'll get haters either way, but I think it's nice to give staff a platform to talk about how much work goes into this.
That's really nice to hear. Thank you.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 19, 2015, 08:18:31 PM
Not much happened for me and Marie at FanimeCon 2013, with one sad exception.

Chris and Jinni took over Guest Relations, so we had little to do. We helped arrange and tend to Nonaka and Yamaga, but they didn’t really need our help.

Nonaka brought his wife and they were quite comfortable on their own - I believe they live in LA - so he was quite simple to handle. We let them know the itinerary and made ourselves available, because after the first day, they essentially wanted to explore the convention and San Jose on their own. They were a lovely couple.

Yamaga is a long-time veteran so didn’t need help. He is an aloof guy, but witty. He spent the weekend in kimono and seemed to have become obsessed with Twitter. He was tweeting, asking about how to use the restroom in one of these things. (It turns out there is a way to hike up the pants, or something, to make things easy.) We talked about the difference between Japanese and American bacon. Things went fine.

This lack of stress was great, because Marie was eight months pregnant at this time. As she waddled from one venue to the next, she had to stop at ConOps to rest. Every staff member there was terrified that she would give birth.

Overall, it was an easy, quiet year for us. The lack of stress was appreciated.

But the con didn’t turn out well, personally, either.

Just before the convention started, our friend Sara died suddenly in her home. Sara had been in conventions and in FanimeCon’s ConOps for years. She had become something of a mother bear to many of the staff. She was at the front when staff gave us a gift in our first year of chair. She had the shoulder to cry on when, inevitably, something went wrong. She was the one to kick your ass about forgetting to eat breakfast. We whined together, we cheered for the Giants together, we laughed together. She cared for a lot of us, and we cared for her, too. She was a great teacher, co-worker, con-mom, and friend.

If you saw a staff badge with a black slash across - that was for her.

--

A few weeks later, our daughter Ely came into our lives and things changed forever.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: GokuMew2 on May 19, 2015, 08:50:18 PM
^^^ Just a note that when Tony says "Nonaka," he means "Nonaka Tsuyoshi" and not this year's guest "Nonaka Ai."



Since other staffers have been posting, I guess now's a good a time as any for me to chime in as well.

However, one thing that I hope Tony's stories are showing is that staff aren't doing things willy nilly just because we want to. I'd like to think MusicFest's track record shows that we are listening to what attendees want, and we are working hard to make your requests happen with the resources we have. We don't reply often times because we always get a lot, but the suggestions are always forwarded to us one way or another, and I'm doing everything I can to forge the relationships with labels and companies to make things work.

This also applies to non-music guests.

MusicFest costs a lot of money, and it has a lot of downsides. A lot of the cost is in renting the Civic, renting music equipment, and paying for labor to run everything. Relative to the GR side, you essentially get one guest for the price of two or three Guests of Honor - there are band members and entourage that need to come, whereas a Guest of Honor usually only has a +1.  In the bigger picture, we had some 15,000 people coming to con, but MusicFest, in the Civic, could only entertain 3,000 at the most. And really, typically only about 1,500 would actually come. The return on investment, even at its maximum, is low.

To compare, Guests of Honor tend to come in twos - the guest and a spouse or co-worker - and have no overhead. Even then, they don’t yield a great return on investment; panels like “Who’s line is it Anime” tend to fill the room better than a Japanese guest can.

The sad fact is that if you’re looking at the numbers, Japanese guests don't make sense.

I have been browsing the forums for a while now and to be honest, it really, really hurts to see people saying that the reason our guest lineup is disappointing is because the staff are lazy, among other false assertions. You can only do your best with the resources you are given, and you can imagine how discouraging it is when people say that your best is not good enough. The reason why MF always has an awesome act is because they have the resources to pull it off. Unfortunately the budget for booking Japanese guests does not quite enjoy that same leisure for reasons Tony has mentioned.

There's a lot of things that go into booking guests. I'll only talk about Japanese guests since that's who I work with.

Staffers are generally easier to get because they are eager to promote their work overseas and their attendance usually only depends on their availability at the time. We did try for some staff who worked on series that were really hot in the U.S. at the time, but they had prior commitments either with work or other events and couldn't make it. You have to remember that the more in-demand a guest is, the harder they are to get. The reason they don't come to FanimeCon is not because we aren't trying to get them.

Guests such as seiyuu (voice actors) are a looooooot harder to book. Seiyuu who are active (ie. the ones people want to see most) have a very tight schedule and it's hard to get them to open up about a week to come to the U.S. It can also be difficult to convince the agency to send us someone since the agency has nothing to gain by having international exposure. It's not like a seiyuu coming to the U.S. is going to land that seiyuu more jobs in Japan. In fact it, could be the opposite where they have to turn down a job in Japan so that they can adjust their schedule and come to the U.S. One of the reasons why some other cons are able to book big-name seiyuu is because that seiyuu is sponsored by someone like Aniplex or FUNimation. These companies have a lot more leverage when negotiating for guests to bring to overseas events and since the seiyuu is there to promote a series, the Japanese side is happy too. (And yes, I have suggested on more than one occasion over the years that we have these kinds of tie-ins but unfortunately the idea has been met with... opposition...) To make things even more difficult, a seiyuu's availability might not be known until maybe a month or two before con and then there's still paperwork to be done before announcements can be made. What sucks the most is when you're waiting months for a Yes or a No and because you don't want to overbook and go over budget, your hands are tied as far as contacting other potential guests is concerned while you wait for the answer. If in the end the answer is No, you might not have enough time to try to fill the opening. That's the thing with seiyuu agencies... Knock on their door too early and they tell you that they don't know what schedules are like at that time yet. Knock later and they're already booked.

Anyway, this is the main reason why announcements tend to be close to con. We aren't withholding information from our attendees. Case in point, I heard that Nonaka's attendance was first announced at a staff meeting, which gave some people the idea that we purposefully delayed our announcement to the public. The paperwork for her was literally finalized just a few days prior. Tony touched upon it earlier but marketing and web need some time to do their thing and that is why announcements are made when they are made.


I hope these insights give our attendees an idea of how hard it is to pull off a convention, especially where guests are concerned. It's not as simple as shooting an email or throwing money in the face of the people you want to get.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 20, 2015, 09:20:38 AM
Pardon the intrusion; I just wanted to stay a listener for these fantastic stories but what was the Hatsune Miku mishap?

At the very end of MusicFest 2012, there was a video viewing of a Hatsune Miku concert in Japan. Attendees thought that it would actually be a concert at MusicFest, and they were rightfully upset when it wasn't. We were told to announce it a certain way, and I was never really happy with it :-/
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Acid_Android on May 20, 2015, 10:35:08 AM
I love that Tony is taking the time to write these specifically because it does help dissolve that kid/adult relationship that I was talking about. I think that most of us are very happy when transparency like this is given to us, although I know that's not always the fault of staff for not being forthcoming with all these details (some details, like contracts, need to remain quiet until everything is set). And sometimes, giving too much information just ends up pissing people off when that information changes later (like, "we're working on getting Guest X to appear," and that guest ends up falling through).

People don't get to see the individual cogs (staff) forming the machine that is Fanime, so all they see is a machine and they treat it like a machine rather than individual people with lives outside that machine. When we get to see responses from staff like this, it is much easier to sympathize and understand. Don't get me wrong, you'll get haters either way, but I think it's nice to give staff a platform to talk about how much work goes into this.

You don't need to apologize for anything. You've been fantastic for years in a largely thankless job. I apologize that we can't show you how much your work means to us.


Communication is definitely something that we can improve upon, and as always, we are open to suggestions on how to remedy the situation realistically without compromising the trust we've built with our contacts. Discretion is such a huge part of the whole acquisition process that we often forget that staying absolutely silent can be detrimental when fans feel neglected, ignored or belittled.

That's why I apologize, lol. If more than one person feels upset about something I'm involved in, then it really is because I've failed at properly addressing a situation, and I need to fix it.

I truly appreciate the kind words, and I will do my best to work hard for all of you. I still fondly remember my first MusicFest as an attendee (2004! -- Sorry, Tony, I know that was a hard year for you but I had so much fun XD), and spreading that "best night ever!" feeling is something that made me want to be part of FanimeCon...MusicFest in particular. Reading this thread brings that all back. Thank you.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Kuudere on May 20, 2015, 03:23:07 PM
If this is getting too off-topic (sorry, Tony), feel free to move my posts to their own thread.

I hope these insights give our attendees an idea of how hard it is to pull off a convention, especially where guests are concerned. It's not as simple as shooting an email or throwing money in the face of the people you want to get.

I think there are people who really do think it's that simple. I didn't even realize the whole nature of building relationships with contacts until I read about it from a staffer some years ago on these forums - I was under the impression, "of course the guests would want to come see their American fans, how hard could it be to convince them?" Obviously, now I understand that there are many more factors involved than simply inviting.

I am very interested, though, what the possible upsides and downsides would be of partnering with companies to bring guests would be. Would Fanime lose some autonomy by having to cater to the wants/needs of these companies in return for their bringing guests?


Communication is definitely something that we can improve upon, and as always, we are open to suggestions on how to remedy the situation realistically without compromising the trust we've built with our contacts. Discretion is such a huge part of the whole acquisition process that we often forget that staying absolutely silent can be detrimental when fans feel neglected, ignored or belittled.

That's why I apologize, lol. If more than one person feels upset about something I'm involved in, then it really is because I've failed at properly addressing a situation, and I need to fix it.

Honestly, you're in a difficult spot. GR really can't disclose much without risking their relationships. One of the minor things I think that could be improved is more presence in answering questions (which is time-consuming, I know), and giving us the reason why you can't answer certain questions. "Why aren't the guests' names released yet?" can be answered with something like, "I'm sorry, we have several guests that we're currently working with to finalize everything. Because we need to respect their privacy while making arrangements, we can't disclose their names yet. We will let everyone know who the guests are as soon as possible." To me, that's a perfectly reasonable answer that I'd be happy with. Just telling people you have guests that will be announced later doesn't explain why you can't announce them yet, so it's important to give a reason.

Tony answered one of the biggest questions this year just fine, concerning why a guest announced themselves first. A simple, "While we can't officially confirm until all procedures are completed, we know that sometimes guests are excited and announce their appearance before everything is settled. We will officially announce guests as soon as we can." Attendees get their answers, and you're not really saying anything that puts the guest or Fanime in a bad light. This problem, however, was responded to with silence, which caused rumors to develop about how staff were being secretive. Even I was thinking that the news might have been delayed for the advantage of the convention (to get people who weren't coming until MF announced their guest to pay a higher badge price, since the announcement happened after the price increase took place). Tony cleared up that assumption.


----------------------

Now for a little "no-one-asked-my-opinion-but-here-it-is-anyway" to staff as a whole:

I'm sure this isn't possible to do to the extent that Tony has done here (while maintaining the privacy of the guests and remaining in their good graces), but I think little "behind-the-scenes" stories after the con is over can do a lot to show people how it's like to plan and prepare this kind of event. A lot of people will appreciate being treated like they're important enough to hear these facts - and some will probably use it as fuel to criticize, there's no avoiding that. I think Tony does a good job in admitting when/where mistakes were made and acknowledging the chance to grow from them. That's good leadership. Anyone who expects a flawlessly-run event of this size is delusional, but I think we all want the flaws to be acknowledged and hear how staff plans to improve on them for next year. That level of communication is essential for trust between staff and attendees.

For long-term improvements on communication, while the forums are great, I don't think they're ideal. Questions that have already been asked and answered need to be easier to find, so staff isn't stuck answering the same questions over and over, which tires them out and takes away from time that could be spent either working or answering different questions. And I think that this communication really shouldn't fall on one individual, but needs to be a team effort. For example, I saw poor Melody (I think that's her name) being bombarded by people from artist alley because she was one of the few staffers giving out little bits of information on the delay. It shouldn't fall only on her to communicate for a department that large (and if there's any example of where there needed to be more transparency this year, artist alley was definitely it). I know Eric's been pretty diligent over the years in getting people answers for all different departments, but there might need to be a team of Erics somewhere down the road to keep communication with staff a possibility. A team responsible for maintaining a relationship with the attendees and keeping them informed/answered with whatever information they can. This would be considered a "customer service team" in the business world - but I think it could be applied to the convention world as well.

These ideas might not be realistic now, but maybe in the future they could be possible. I hope that my suggestions are helpful in some way.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: cutiebunny on May 20, 2015, 03:38:01 PM
I have been browsing the forums for a while now and to be honest, it really, really hurts to see people saying that the reason our guest lineup is disappointing is because the staff are lazy, among other false assertions.

I suppose you feel the same way I do when I approach conventions who want sponsors and offer the funds to bring over an animator or manga artist only to be ignored and then read something like "We only have a limited budget" when staff complains how they can only do so much.  Or, better yet, to be told that you're being "rude" for asking to offer your own personal funds towards something like this.  Do I think that, with what a con like Fanime spends securing guests, that my donation will make much of a difference?  Not really.  But I know that it would easily cover airfare and hotel for a guest, which would give a convention more funds to dedicate elsewhere.

Most of us, myself included, understand the difficulty in getting guests.  We know it's no quick phone call and they're a confirmed guest.  Nor do most people expect that Fanime is going to bring in Naoko Takeuchi or someone equally, if not more so, well known.  With the exception of MusicFest, Fanime has always been a place for up and coming or people past their prime.  I don't think anyone really expects otherwise, especially not us 'whales'.  We'd actually prefer you drag in someone like Kenichi Sonoda in lieu of a corporately sponsored guest.  I know a lot of people that would be happy with him.  However, I do think it's fair to compare you to SakuraCon as you're both roughly the same size and feature Japanese guests when I wonder why, ever since 2012, guest announcements don't begin until April, at the earliest, while SakuraCon starts four months prior to con.

If the key obstacle between getting more Japanese guests is money, I'd be happy to put my money where my mouth is and donate.  While I love the food in North Carolina to death, I'd rather use my travel expenses towards providing a higher quality experience for everyone if that extra couple grand would make the difference between having a guest and not having one.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 20, 2015, 08:49:41 PM
TIL cutiebunny is kind of a badass.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 20, 2015, 08:56:45 PM
This entry will be a little different - I’m jumping through two years, since they’re so uninteresting.

But don’t worry, I’m not done! There’s more coming tomorrow and Friday - two of my favorite stories.

--

“Are you ready to be a father?” It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question.

I knew that having a baby would be a big change, but I thought I had some preparation. I was used to pulling all-nighters. I had trained physically in a variety of ways, and had conditioned myself to handle various forms of starvation. I had been through crunch-time at a startup, and I had held positions at most every level of FanimeCon. Taking care of a baby should be hard, but doable.

Yeah. Naivete.

It suffices to say that having our daughter changed Marie and I a bit. Physically, we’ve gotten stronger - but we ache. Mentally, we’re wiser - but a little slower. Our priorities, though - those changed the most, and that was the hardest part of becoming parents. We were used to being independent, individual people, but the baby reconfigured our priorities and reinforced those priorities unyieldingly.

Before Ely, our daughter, came along, Fanime was around priority #4, behind Marie, myself, and my career. The priorities would change as demanded, though; the month of May would often see Fanime jump to the top, to the detriment of work, or Marie, or my health.

After Ely came along, you might think that she took the number one spot, but I’m going to digress a bit. The romanticism of parenthood says that you always put your child first. I’ll offer you a different idea: put your spouse and yourself ahead of the kid. The reason is simple: children reinforce priorities unyieldingly, and they are unparalleled at occupying your time. Babies can easily take up 12 focused hours of your day. That means they can starve your other priorities of attention - perhaps costing you your spouse and your health. But this applies to my style of parenting and living, and my baby, so caveat emptor.

After Ely came along, she took up spot #3 behind Marie and my health. After that came career (for room and board) family (because you’ll want and need them) and friends (because you’ll want and need them, too). That leaves Fanime at #7. Like I mentioned, though, high-priority things will starve low-priority things from getting any attention, and that’s exactly what happened. That would matter in a year.

--

Going into FanimeCon 2014, Chris and Jinni’s only task of us was to tend to Yamaga. There wasn’t much to do, there. Remember, he’s been a guest longer than we’ve been staff.

We only did two things: we spent about an hour and a half in Daiso looking for teacups, and then we spent about two hours setting up an A/V system. It turned out that Yamaga brought his own cups and brought no videos to show, though, so it was a wash.

Though it was great to try to help out, and it was fun to bring Ely along, it was clear we just weren’t able to contribute like we had - like what Fanime needs.

--

Marie and I spent the summer thinking of what we wanted to do. We have a lot of friends still staffing, and we wanted to see the convention be a success - especially now that our friend Will was back as chair.

Marie had thought about going into HR. We really enjoyed feeding, talking to, and de-stressing the staff. Marie thought maybe she could help in that way, and with HR in general. There would be little work, pre- or at-con, so it would be a nice and effective way to contribute.

I’m a programmer, so I thought - looking for a nice and effective way to contribute - I would join IT. I’d have maybe an hour a day I could spend coding. I could apply my experience to make technology that would make staff’s work easier and attendee’s experience more enjoyable.

I’ll spare you another day of stories, because there’s really not much to say about 2015. I putzed around for about six months, did some work on one application from March until May, and that was about it. Marie didn’t end up doing anything.

--

I decided that I just didn’t want to go to con at all. I saw that I couldn’t contribute effectively, and to do so would require rearranging priorities in a way I couldn’t choose to do. Going to con, though, could resurface the passion I have for the event and everyone involved with it. I didn’t want to be tempted to volunteer again - not with a young girl to raise, a career to tend to, a wife to love.

With the end in sight, you start thinking about the past. That's why I started posting these stories.

Marie was saddened by my conclusion, though. Actually, a lot of people were. When I started posting these stories, people came out of the woodwork asking what had happened and why I was cutting loose. The more I explained it to Marie and them, the more they suggested that I should come anyway - that I would regret not saying goodbye, at least.

So that’s what I’m planning to do; I’ll be around Friday and Saturday to say hi to my friends and bye to the convention as I know it.

Hopefully my feelings toward the con will change, and I won’t feel compelled to help, nor upset about how things could have been.

Maybe the con will be something I can visit instead as an attendee - something to enjoy with my family.

Maybe some day my daughter, searching for a community of her own, will come across Fanime.

Maybe, then, it will be time for this old veteran to introduce her to a world that will change her life.

Just like me.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: GokuMew2 on May 21, 2015, 02:23:58 AM
2013 was one of my most memorable years so I'm looking forward to the story on that!


I am very interested, though, what the possible upsides and downsides would be of partnering with companies to bring guests would be. Would Fanime lose some autonomy by having to cater to the wants/needs of these companies in return for their bringing guests?

I, personally, have been pushing for sponsorships almost since I began staffing for the con. The con has its reasons (which I largely disagree with) and unfortunately I don't think I can really say more than that.

However, I do think it's fair to compare you to SakuraCon as you're both roughly the same size and feature Japanese guests when I wonder why, ever since 2012, guest announcements don't begin until April, at the earliest, while SakuraCon starts four months prior to con.

If the key obstacle between getting more Japanese guests is money, I'd be happy to put my money where my mouth is and donate.  While I love the food in North Carolina to death, I'd rather use my travel expenses towards providing a higher quality experience for everyone if that extra couple grand would make the difference between having a guest and not having one.

I can't really speak for SakuraCon since I do not have the details of their inner workings, but I believe they often work with companies like Aniplex. As I've mentioned, licensors, and especially Japanese powerhouses like Aniplex, have a lot of leverage when booking guests. They can get things done, and early. Unfortunately FanimeCon is not organized in a manner where I can't go the same route, so I'm stuck playing the waiting game. Think of it this way: SakuraCon goes through the VIP back door; FanimeCon goes through the front door used for the general public.

Regarding budgets, I can only tell you that I am given a certain number of slots and a figure. I basically then go find people who will fit those criteria. Though I have a hand in selecting the people who fit the criteria, I don't really get any say on what those criteria are. I am like you; I don't go to cons for the American guests. I want to see the Japanese guests so I know how you feel, I really do. But at the end of the day, I only can work with the resources I'm given, which is reflected in the number of Japanese guests we have. I don't have much power beyond that.

I don't think FanimeCon will ever accept donations from attendees to get guests, unfortunately, but I do appreciate the gesture.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 21, 2015, 02:53:36 PM
It’s Day Zero for FanimeCon 2015, so I thought I’d share my favorite Day Zero story. It has less to do with Fanime and more to do with the weird situation I was in at that time, but nonetheless, I hope you find it entertaining. Read it in the reg line - if there is one.

One more story tomorrow.

--

Brown v. City of Oakland et al had been going on for about three weeks when, finally, we were given closing statements.

I was a juror on the case, also working crazy hours at a startup and trying to manage the Guest Relations division at FanimeCon. Thankfully Marie was taking over the big stuff in GR. I was burned out from the startup and squeezing in job interviews during lunches and short days. It sucked.

It was the Wednesday before con - lovingly called “Day -1” - when the lawyers for the case wrapped up. The jury went into deliberations and I was hoping beyond hope that it would decide the case that day. I saw quickly that this wouldn’t happen. The jury generally came to a consensus that the situation was very messy - why else would it go to court! - but that it was not clear by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff’s claims were true. So, we agreed to rule in favor of the defendant. But there were questions about how to deliver that verdict, and so we stopped for the day. I was a bit panicked. Tomorrow was Day 0.

That night I dropped off Marie and some luggage at the Hilton. She needed to be there, running GR operations, because there was a good chance I would not be. We had to make a large detour around the Cesar Chavez park because Obama was staying in the Fairmont. This is going to be weird, I thought.

--

I came to court the next day dressed quite formally. I had guests of honor to meet that day and needed to dress the part. As we entered deliberations the next day I imagined our Japanese guests, flying in a plane over the Pacific, leading to my impending doom.

We entered deliberations, picking up where we had left off. We thought the City of Oakland was not guilty. Now what?

The verdict process is actually quite straightforward. The judge explains the laws. As a juror, you only need to fill out a questionnaire, which the judge provides. You decide whether you agree or disagree that certain laws were broken, and that yields the verdict. This process wasn’t quite understood by a few members of the jury; after we agreed that the City of Oakland was not at fault, someone asked how much we were going to penalize them. I’m pretty sure you can’t penalize an innocent party - even if it is the City of Oakland.

I was getting nervous, so started to speak up. I wrote a note to the judge, asking about a shortcut on the questionnaire; he did not allow it. So, we walked through each question, slowly coming to a consensus.

The foreman - the juror somewhat responsible for the jury - wasn’t terribly comfortable with how things were going. She sked if I would take over. “Well, I’m already dressed the part!” I said, and started guiding the rest of the process. After a short time, we filled out our surveys and let the judge know we were ready. We climbed back into the jury box and I stood to address the court and deliver the verdict. Not guilty!

“Sir, you did not sign the verdict…” said the judge. He glared and I turned red. He handed the sheet to the bailiff, the bailiff handed it to me, I quickly signed it, and then gave it back. That was awkward. But the judge banged the gavel and it was done. They offered to host the jury should anyone want to comment about the decision, but I was halfway out the door and sprinting towards BART at that point.

--

On BART I went over the day’s plan in my head. I was free, but I still had to get ready for con. Everything was packed and staged - clothes in suitcase, equipment stacked by the door - but I had to get it all in the car and drive south to San Jose. It would be easy!

--

I walked into my apartment and stepped into cat vomit. Cat vomit was everywhere. We have two cats and one of them was clearly sick. I eventually found him curled up in a corner and thought he was dead. Thankfully, he looked up warily at me, still quite alive, but in bad shape. Getting to con isn’t going to be so easy, I thought to myself.

I called the vet and let them know an emergency was coming their way. Stepping around cat vomit, I packed the cat into a carrier and then into the car. We drove a few miles to the pet hospital. I was told there that he had eaten a hair tie and it had gotten lodged in his butt. That blocked up his digestive track and was making him nauseous. They lubed him up, “broke up” the obstruction, and put him on IV fluids for an hour. The poor guy, our alpha male cat, came back to me in his carrier, curled up and exhausted - and very stinky. I packed him into the car to head home.

--

As I pulled out of the vet’s driveway, I got a call. Remember how I was squeezing in job interviews? The previous week I had gone to two interviews - one through my sister for a small company she was working at, and one through a friend for Pandora internet radio. The interview at my sister’s place went terribly - their questions threw me off and their CTO remarked upon the plain style of my resume. Pandora had gone much better, and I was hoping for a callback. Here it was. On the phone was Chris Martin - not lead singer of Coldplay, but VP of Engineering for Pandora.

“Hey, just wanted to say congratulations - we’d like to offer you a job here at Pandora.” He outlined the compensation and benefits. I would have fewer responsibilities and get paid over 30% more to do it. My head swam.

“That really sounds great!” I replied, “This is weird, but, I’m actually on my way home from the vet because my cat was sick and throwing up-”, I started babbling, “and now I have to get him home and then pack up for that convention - I think I mentioned it to you? - so yeah, I’ll be there this weekend-”, babbling continued, “and then I need to go over it with my wife, you know, so how about I think it over?”

Chris seemed a little confused. “Uh, sure, that’s fine - think it over, and give us a call when you’ve made a decision. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.”

“Great thanks talk to you soon!” I said, running a red light.

--

Finally home. I laid down the cat carrier and opened it up. Alpha cat exited hesitantly, tired and wary. I gave him a pat on the head and went to get carpet cleaner for the patches of vomit throughout the apartment - once I’d cleaned, I could load up and ship out.

As he walked away from me, I saw why he was stinky. His butt was covered in lubricant and crap. All of that blockage that the vet had broken up - it came out while in the car. There was the hair tie that he had eaten, dangling off his rear. Getting to con isn’t going to be so easy, I thought to myself.

Bath time. I lathered him up twice. Usually one would use a cup or bowl to ladle water onto the pet. I held him under the bath faucet. He was too tired to care. I dried him with towels, brushed his fur a bit, then left him to clean himself. Done.

Carpet time. Paper towels and Resolve spray everywhere. Done.

Loading time. Huge suitcase, boxes of supplies, a surround sound system - on to a cart, then into the car. Done.

I took a second to catch my breath. What a weird day, I thought.

--

I got onto 880 south in the afternoon, but traffic was surprisingly good. I was blasting music in the car, singing along - a great de-stresser, like exercise and warm baths. I got a call, this time from a former colleague I hadn’t seen in a year. I let it go to voicemail, then listened: she was asking if I was available for contract work. Could this day get weirder?

I shouldn’t have asked.

It was dusk as I approached the Hilton, car full of crap, my formal attired sweat through and crumpled. Everything was dark. The reg line was peeking out of the SJCC, running into South Almaden boulevard. Getting to con isn’t going to be so easy, I thought to myself.
The car went with the valet and I went into the Hilton with just my suitcase. I could see commotion in convention center from the Hilton lobby and - old chair instincts kicking in - went to go investigate. The air was stale and warm, and the mumblings of upset attendees was developing into a low roar. I ran into Terrence, head of the Ops division, who along with many staff were doing line control. “What the hell happened?” I asked. He barely looked at me. “Power outage. Whole block down. No ETA. Dude - don’t block the walkways, get out of here!” I smiled and waved goodbye to him and the crowd.

I had to somehow get to Marie and the rest of GR staff up in the green room. There was no real option but to climb the height of the hotel with my suitcase. Climb I did.

Up in the green room, Marie was calm but on high-alert. “This has been the weirdest day. I’ll tell you all about it later. How’s everything going, love?”

She furrowed her brow. “Not great,” she said, “but the guests are being fantastic about the power outage and everything. We can’t check them into their rooms, so we’ve been collecting their stuff” - she waved to a pile of luggage in the corner - “and sending them off with their handlers.”

“Are all the staff on-site already?” I asked.

“No,” she explained, “they’ve all been pulling double-duty. We sent a party off to get dinner since there was nothing to do. Koyama-san is climbing the stairwell for exercise. There’s a limo that is over an hour late, so I don’t know where those guests are, or when they’re coming. I’ve got to stay here until they do.”

“Wait. But there’s only one flight. They should have all arrived together, at the same time,” I said. But then I remembered. “That’s right! When I was listening to the radio for traffic reports, I heard there was a major problem on 101 south. They’re probably stuck in traffic.”

“Even though they left at the same time?” Marie was incredulous.

“I guess so. The limo company must be losing it, with how they budget their time. We should probably tip them a little extra.” You do a lot of tipping in GR, and usually aren’t paid back.

It was actually quite calm. The guests were affable. The staff were working hard, but were calm, not yet stressed and exhausted. In the green room, with only dim emergency lighting, it was almost romantic to look over the city, sun set, no electronics or sound or chatter to take away from it all.

--

Then, the lights came back on.

Staff snapped into action. They took the guests in shifts to check in to their rooms, pick up their luggage, and then rest for the night. The missing limo finally arrived and we got them settled, too. The elevators strained under the surge of usage.

The green room emptied as everyone bunked down for the night. Marie and I collected our items, closed up shop, and went to our room. I walked her through the bullet points of my weird day as we got ready for bed. She was a bit dumbstruck.

“Well,” she said, “How about you take a shower and we call it a night?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I answered.

As I got undressed, I went over things. The day was done. Tomorrow would be a new day, full of challenges and accomplishments. A new chapter would be opening up for us, personally, with me getting a new job that would give me more time to enjoy life.

I climbed into the shower and was hit with a cold spray to the face.

The power had been out to the boilers. The boilers were still cold. Only cold showers for me, Marie, and the guests.

Getting to con really wasn’t so easy, I thought, shivering.

That was a Day Zero to remember.
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Jimbly on May 21, 2015, 04:44:24 PM
I've only read up until 2008, but just wanted to drop a note to say I'm finding these super interesting!  I usually don't read this "long-form" kind of stuff, but either this is extra interesting (a bit of "seeing how the sausages are made" combined with having been to the same 12 years of Fanime and knowing some of the staffers), or I'm just really trying to kill time before I can leave work and start getting ready for Fanime.   And, hey, it's almost 5, I think I'll call it a day...
Title: Re: 12 Years in 2 Weeks
Post by: Tony on May 22, 2015, 08:51:43 PM
It has been two weeks!

Here's maybe my favorite story to tell about my time as chair. Mostly because it has star power. It wasn't necessarily my happiest, nor most intriguing, but it was a whirlwind of fun. It is kind of the epitome of the experience of FanimeCon.

I visited today and was floored at how many people said that they were keeping up with these stories. I really should have taken a writing class before all this! But I hope you've had fun and learned a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes. I'm quite touched that anyone would read so much of my story.

Really, though, this all just scratches the surface of the many stories there are to tell. I've filtered out the mundane stuff, the controversial stuff, the personal stuff, and the painful stuff. Some of these things I will have to bury inside myself, but others I will keep, like medicine, close to my heart - to remind me of the good times that were.

And I'm just one of many staff members with stories to tell.

--

Marie and I will be there tomorrow, letting our daughter burn off her toddler energy on the convention floor.

Hopefully we'll see you there.

Thanks for reading.

--

I want you to picture Willy Wonka. No, not Gene Wilder. Not Dahl’s character in the books, either. Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.

Keep this picture in your mind.

On Saturday of FanimeCon 2011, Willy Wonka and his assistant paid us a visit.

You probably know him better as Yoshiki from X Japan.

--

The day before Yoshiki was supposed to arrive, our contact explained that he was sick; there was a chance he couldn’t show up for his events. We wouldn’t be able to know until the next morning. That night, we met to go over our plans and contingencies.

The first question was what to do if he could not come.

We weren’t too worried about that. Attendees would be more than sympathetic about a sick Yoshiki, and our contact would be able to host his panel. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would work.

The second question was what to do if he could, actually, come.

Without a firm schedule, we would have to book him a limo from the airport on short notice. If he wasn’t feeling well, we would likewise have to book him a limo to the airport on even shorter notice. He would do his panel, and hopefully we would be able to treat him to dinner before he left. I think it was Ashley that prepared the Arcadia with the news that we may need to host a large dinner for a VIP on extremely short notice.

The third question was what to do if he could actually stay. The hotels were booked.

Ashley came to the rescue again. The Hilton was remodeling, and although some floors were closed off for construction, the suite in one of those floors was actually finished. It would be a little weird, but he would be able to crash with us.

“If he stays, he’s not just going to want to sleep,” Tomoko chimed in.

Tomoko, previous chair of FanimeCon and board member, was present. Fanime had taken a back-burner in her life, but on special occasions should would appear with her expertise. Being a people person and Japanese, this was exactly the scenario we needed her for.

“If he stays, we’re going to have to throw him a little soiree,” she explained. “That means appetizers, drinks, and um - how do I say this?” She thought for a moment. “He will want a, uh, balance, in the atmosphere. There will need to be… hana. You know - not too masculine.” I looked at her, puzzled. “What I’m saying is,” Tomoko explained, “is it can’t be a bunch of guys hanging out. He’ll want nice, discreet girls around.”

Oh. Got it. Hana.

There was the plan. If he came, it would be limos and dinner. If he stayed, it would be suites, drinks, and girls. Such is the life of a rockstar. We prepared ourselves.

--

Morning came, and no word. Yoshiki was still resting.

Late morning came, and no word. Yoshiki still needed to rest.

Noon. No Yoshiki. We were feeling deflated.

Next thing I know, Yoshiki is on a plane from LA. Oh shit. Kick it into gear.

--

I did not actually see Yoshiki arrive. His limo from SJC pulled up to the Marriott and our contact greeted him. We had previously planned several routes for moving him from place to place discreetly, so I didn’t know he was there until he was already whisked away into a meeting room to freshen up.

Meanwhile, the line for his panel grew and grew. It was wrapping around the room, so we had to keep him staged until the attendees could be seated. Once that happened, chair team waited behind the room. We were to greet Yoshiki and tend to him before and after his panel. Ashley and Sam were with us - I think dressed as Panty & Stocking, if I’m remembering correctly - along with Tomoko. Our contact was warming up the panel room and we could hear the crowd growing louder.

He emerged. From the staging area, out walked his assistant - tall, filming with a camera - and then Yoshiki. He looked like a rock star. Sunglasses, long black coat. His right hand was in a splint - “I was practicing too hard, haha!” he said - but you couldn’t tell he was sick or tired. He was on.

We introduced ourselves. He introduced himself. His assistant introduced himself - though simply as “I’m his assistant and videographer.”

Yoshiki was quite affable. We led him to take a seat. It was still a few minutes until it was time to go in. Those were agonizing minutes; we had nothing to talk about. Yoshiki was politely smiling the whole time, occasionally checking his phone. He was really into Twitter.

Finally, the doors opened. You can see him, just before he entered the panel, here: http://ameblo.jp/saint-mary/image-10912581395-11269105781.html - two-thirds of chair team on the left.

Tomoko went in first - she would be host and translator, if need be - and then off went Yoshiki. The room erupted in applause.

The doors closed behind him. We looked at each other. “Ok, what’s next?” We would need to be back in about an hour to carefully move him to dinner at the Arcadia. Ashley left to confirm the reservations. Chair team meandered over to ProReg to wait for dinner.

Yoshiki had a lot of fun at the panel. We met him outside and he was energized. “Ah, that was fun!” he exclaimed.

“It was fun, and we were so glad to host you! Now, do you feel up to being our guest at dinner?” we asked.

“Of course!” He smiled and laughed. I guess he was feeling better.

We went ahead to make sure things were in place.

--

The staff at the Arcadia were not very happy.

We came early to make arrangements, but the arrangements kept changing. The wait staff were becoming impatient with the changes. Ashley, however, was in full control of the situation, and they quickly snapped out of their funk. “I know their bosses very well,” she explained, “and I can get them into very hot water if they aren’t on their best behavior for us.” She smiled.

Yoshiki arrived, smiling and laughing, his assistant trailing him with a camera. A long table had been set up for us. “Boy, boy,” he said, gesturing to the assistant, “shall we sit in the middle? Haha!” He took a spot in the middle of the table, his assistant to his left, Fanime staff across.

“That was very fun, wasn’t it?” he mused. “Boy, let’s tweet about that!” His assistant put down the camera and picked up Yoshiki’s phone. “Ah, let’s say…” Yoshiki began, pausing to think, his assistant at the ready. He began dictating a tweet. “Can I see it?” Yoshiki asked. The assistant showed him the tweet. “No no, delete that part - yes - ok…” He was revising the tweet through his assistant. Finally, he was happy. “Yes, send it! Haha!” He loved to tweet, he explained, because his fans were wonderfully excited and supportive.

Slowly, more people began to show up. Our contact appeared with her assistants, and they began chatting with him. Fanime staff cycled in and out as well. The waitstaff were placing dishes in front of us, only to have to move them, because guests were moving all around the table. The head waiter was getting noticeably impatient.

Yoshiki was struck with an idea. “Boy, boy!” he said, “Let’s start a flash mob!” His assistant picked up the phone and Yoshiki began dictating. “Ah, what’s the name of the stage here?” Yoshiki asked, “The one in the center of the convention.” “Stage Zero”, we replied. “Yes! Boy, tell my fans to go to Stage Zero, and then to be ready for my next command!” His assistant typed away, showed it to Yoshiki - who then nodded - and hit send. Yoshiki smiled.

I discreetly texted Operations. Marie politely excused herself, stepped out of earshot, and then got on the radio. Both of us were trying to contact ConOps to expect a disturbance at Stage Zero.

Suddenly three models from the Hangry & Angry fashion show appeared, still dressed in their fashions, and flanked Yoshiki. He laughed and welcomed them to dinner. They took pictures together and he laughed more. Ah, I thought - Hana.

“Boy! Tell them to get ready to scream, ‘We are X!’ on my command! Whoever is loudest will win dinner with me, here!” His assistant tweeted. When he did give the command, thankfully nothing crazy actually happened at Stage Zero.

Marie and I looked at each other uncomfortably - why was Yoshiki calling this guy boy? Was this some weird arrangement? Was it a hazing thing for Yoshiki’s assistants? His assistant picked up on our look. “Oh, hey - so, that’s not a pet-name or anything. My name is Boy. It’s actually ‘Boy’. I know, it sounds weird. I’m from Europe.” We relaxed a bit.

Seemingly from nowhere, Tuxedo Mask - our guest of honor Furuya-san - appeared and sat next to Yoshiki. Yoshiki was delighted. He gestured for the head waiter to come over, and asked if Furuya wanted dinner. Furuya couldn’t stay. “Let’s have a snack, then! Duck-fat fries, please! Haha!” The waiter nodded and left, sighing just slightly. Marie and Furuya shared fries as he chatted with Yoshiki. She was tickled to be sharing fries with Tuxedo Kamen.

Outside it had rained a bit. The fountains were clear of their usual cosplayers. There was a line out of the door of the Civic. It was the first MusicFest in a long time that I had not opened. I worried that the line was because seating was going poorly, but I was please to learn later that it was a full house.

Furuya and Yoshiki talked for some time in Japanese, laughing and sharing stories. Boy fetched the attendees that had screamed “We are X!” the loudest, and they took pictures with Yoshiki and joined us for dinner. Ashley, slightly heartbroken, had to leave early and excused herself. The models left and were replaced with new ones. Yoshiki laughed.

It was getting late. The limo for Yoshiki’s ride to the airport had arrived and was waiting. Our contact approached Yoshiki and gently let him know. “That’s fine, we can stay a little longer, right!” We talked and ate and laughed some more. The limo drove off. Tomoko arranged for another car.

Now it was really late. “Yoshiki, I’m sorry,” began the contact, “but you really must leave now if you want to catch your flight...”

“Oh, that’s ok!” Yoshiki replied, “I have my own jet!” Marie and I looked at him, shocked. You have a jet, we asked. “Oh, I don’t own it,” he explained, “it’s just a time-share. Haha!” We laughed. Tomoko chimed in: “If you don’t have any plans, we should let you know that we have accommodations. There is a lovely suite you can use, if you want to stay overnight.”

“Thank you!” he exclaimed, “but no, I really should go, shouldn’t I?”

That was the cue to pay. Tomoko produced her credit card, but Yoshiki beat her to the punch. He leapt up from his chair and gestured to the head waiter. When he approached, Yoshiki reached into his jacket and pulled out his credit card. I only caught a glimpse, but it was unmistakably an Amex black card. “No, thank you for welcoming me to Fanime. Please let me take care of dinner,” he said.

We were aghast. Yoshiki was our guest, but was paying for dinner - an expensive dinner. We protested vigorously. He laughed. “No, no!” he said, “Thank you for having me!”

The waiter returned with the bill and the card. Yoshiki signed for the check. “This FanimeCon was very fun! Thank you!”

We bowed, he bowed, Boy waved. Then Yoshiki was gone.

I like to imagine that he climbed into a glass elevator, assistant in tow, then flew off in the night - waving and laughing into the sky.