Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kotoricon 2012


Con-goers couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day in the beginning of January. At a balmy 60 degrees, attendees of Kotoricon 2012 could be seen picnicking outside and congregating in the spring-like weather until the sun went down. 1,000 people (Over three times the attendance from the previous year!) gathered to celebrate their love of anime.

I couldn't help but get nostalgic of my youth while I listened to excited fans pointing out cosplayers of characters they recognized. Young and old alike were bouncing with joy, chatting with their friends about autographs and pictures they planned on getting, as well as showing off their treasures from the Dealer's Room. I over-heard a woman in the Artist's Alley telling her friend; "I only get to talk to _____ during smaller cons like this. It's a chance for fans to actually spend more personal time with them. If we were at Otakon, it would be impossible."
While Kotoricon may not be the fledgeling it was last year, it manages feel like a huge event without getting over-crowded and uncomfortable.

I spent my day attending the panels of voice actors Johnny Yong Bosch and Stuart Zagnit. I also got to enjoy "Pokeholics Anonymous" by the YouTube comedy troupe Underbelly. Johnny was warm to his fans, and agreed to voice requests of his beloved characters for the audience. After all of the audience's questions were answered, he also told a story about accidentally hitting a homeless woman in the face with a bag of quarters that had me laughing so hard, I cried.

When discussing the unfortunate downfall of Bandai, I asked Johnny how the new age of the Internet piracy has personally effected him.
"It's not what it used to be. It's really hard. My band Eyeshine is still an independent group, so if someone downloads our music from a torrent, it's effecting us, not a record label. It's okay to download one, maybe two of our albums, but as long as our fans buy some of our music, I'd be happy."

Next was the Underbelly Panel, which also had me laughing almost non-stop. Underbelly is an online comedy troupe that has recently enlisted the talents of Stuart Zagnit, the original Professor Oak from Pokemon. Their videos mainly focus on geeky fandom of all kinds, and points out aspects of anime that are painfully true. Fans who asked questions were given random prizes, and they held a Pokemon costume contest judged by Mr. Zagnit and voice actor Jamie McGonnigal. Every panel that I visited was completely full, which was a great change from last year. There's nothing like a crowded room of otaku to make anyone pumped up.

Overall, it was a great convention. I don't have enough space to even describe everything that went on over the two days of Kotoricon, but it was so much fun. I have confidence that every year, the con will continue to grow, and give South Jersey a chance to shine in the world of anime conventions.
For more information about the convention, its guests, or the charities they raised money for, visit their website here.

Click here for a gallery of my Kotoricon 2012 photos!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kotoricon 2012 VIP Variety Show

Kotoricon 2012 started out with a bang as excited fans shuffled to the VIP Variety Show hosted by comedian Uncle Yo and Catherine Maiorino from Underbelly. There was a variety of performers; including standup segments by +2 Comedy, musical/dance performance by Promise, songs by Sneko, dances by IchiP, cover songs from a local band Masquite Honey, a sword fighting demonstration by Daniel and Jillian Coglan, and more.

While the crowd may have been smaller than what these performers were used to at larger conventions, everyone was excited and full of energy. A big screen projected music videos, trailers, and skits that made everyone laugh. (Or just scream at pictures of their favorite things.) People were shouting out encouragement and completely random quotes and Internet Memes that made me smile.
It reminded me of how anime conventions always have an effect on people that makes everyone feel like they're automatically friends with one another. It's okay to let loose, and Kotoricon wasn't an exception. At one point, voice actors Bill Rogers and Michele Knotz spoke to the audience about their experiences at past conventions, and it got a laugh out of everyone in the room. Even at an anime con, Uncle Yo had to make a cracks on New Jersey.

The staff wore their super awesome Ninja themed t-shirts and were always on top of things whenever I asked a question. Two of the girls, in particular, Jen and Katie, said that the experience being a Kotoricon staff member was; "Awesome!" and "I wish I could do this every day for the rest of my life!"

Finally, at the end of the night, Eyeshine performed. Their lead singer, Johnny Yong Bosch, is famous for his roles as Vash the Stampede in Trigun, Ichigo in Bleach, the Black Ranger in Power Rangers, and more. Johnny looked at the sitting crowd, and told us that we'd better stand up. Excited fangirls danced like crazy, and I tried my best to get some good shots of their amazing performance. I have listened to a lot of their music, and I can say with all honesty that they were fantastic live.

I was lucky enough to be allowed to sit in the Guest area close to the stage, directly behind Eyeshine during the entire variety show. It crossed my mind to take a picture, but that would just be incredibly creepy to take a picture of the back of Johnny's head from 4 feet away.
(Almost as creepy as my trying to take advantage of my Backstage Pass. The shots just ended up looking something like this:)

A Kotoricon 2012 moment I already know I will never forget happened while I was standing in the front of the crowd but off to the side, trying to look at my camera screen as people bob around me. I looked down for only a moment, only to look up and see Uncle Yo suddenly appear two feet away from me, dancing like crazy, and a Cat Girl began dancing feverishly with him. I died laughing, only to see Yo disappear into the crowd, never to be seen again...At least until tomorrow.

Stay tuned for more pictures and stories from Kotoricon!

Get Excited!


Yes, there's an app for Kotoricon.

In a few short hours, I'm heading off to the Kotoricon Variety Show, which will include a performance by the rock band Eyeshine, famously know for their lead singer Johnny Yong Bosh, the voice of Vash the Stampede, the Black Ranger, and more. (Hopefully I can sit next to Stuart Zagnit, the voice of Professor Oak from Pokemon!) Stay tuned to TheShannQ for pictures, videos, and a review of the 2012 anime convention as it goes on. Their intro video even quotes my article from last year! :D (Kind of). "A Little Anime Con with a Big Heart".



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New v. Old School. Is Indie Film Dead?

On February 8th, 2011, during the Film Forum at Montclair State University, cinematographer Ken Kelsch and director Abel Ferrara repeatedly compared today's media to the way film making used to be twenty years ago, and the fact that they felt that digitalization has ruined the industry for new up-and-coming film makers.They expressed that studying film in college was a waste of time, and that there is no money in the industry any longer. Making a film for art's sake, in their opinion, is a fantasy in the minds of the young. "You can be an artist when you're young, but eventually you have to grow up," Ken stated.

But even before the creation of the Internet, HD, and online pirating, Abel's first feature-length film in 1979, Driller Killer, was admittedly created with the intention to make a profit rather than spread a message or create for art's sake. Abel spoke of their inspiration to create a horror film came from the success of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974. This low-budget film became a cult classic practically over night, and Mr. Ferrara seemed to want to jump on the band wagon on genres that seemed to have a real niche with American audiences. He repeated this by making the cop-gone-wrong-in-New-York story of Bad Lieutenant in 1992.

These guests left the student audience with a pessimistic message of, "Independent film is dead", by Ken Kelsch. They both also expressed that they felt today's film makers were lazy, and that New York lacked the type of dynamic community of artistic creativity that it once had. While their words of experience may have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Montclair students, a much more optimistic panel spoke on March 1st, 2011. Aaron Sonnenberg, the Content Operations Manager for blip.tv, Steven Beckman of Cinetic FilmBuff, and Ingrid Kopp of Shooting People all spoke about the process of digital distribution.

Each of these guests gave their own insight into making what Ken Kelsch and Abel Ferrara saw as disadvantages actually become huge advantages in getting independent film out to the masses. With the Internet, it's possible to use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word on a film that has been recently finished, or even ask for help in raising funds through KickStarter. YouTube celebrities have even been known to make 6-figure salaries.

Aaron Sonnenberg gave examples of people who have started web series and actual careers from advertisement revenue on Blip.TV. For students interested in creating their own shows, he suggested filming several episodes in advance, including 'behind the scenes' footage, so that content can be uploaded on a regular basis. Instead of creating a series or movie that would be attractive to the masses, it's possible for film makers to make content that is attractive only to specific sub-cultures. Communities both in person and on the Internet have come together to discuss and create films dedicated to topics that they are personally passionate about; not just in New York, but all over the world.

One of the major complaints about today's digital media made by Abel Ferrara is that with the existence of movie torrents on web sites like Pirate's Bay, film makers lose revenue that would normally be made from rentals or DVD sales. A suggestion to counter the problem was made during this Digital Distribution panel. Aaron Sonnenberg said that it's often a good idea to offer a 15-minute sneak preview of a movie on web sites like Hulu or YouTube, free steaming video sites, and offer viewers to buy the remaining rental on websites like Netflix, Itunes, or On Demand. That way, a film that would previously be overlooked is now available to massive audiences all around the country. One would argue that independent film is not dead. It's still alive and kicking, just with a new face.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Matthew O'Neill, Documentary Film Maker

On February 22nd, my Film Forum class was surprised with a visit by producer/director Matthew O'Neill, who was stepping in for casting director Ilene Starger. I don't think anyone knew what to expect at first since many of us didn't have the time to research our new guest ahead of time, but I'm sure I can speak for everyone when I say that we were blown away by his talent for documentary film making, and by the fact that despite his success, he has stayed incredibly down to earth.

Matthew started off as a theater major at Yale University with dreams of acting in or directing a Broadway show. But when the opportunity to work for public access television presented itself, he jumped at the chance. After gaining experience in broadcasting, he met documentary film maker Jon Alpert, and stumbled upon a tragedy that changed not only his career, but our nation.
Matthew and Jon were in New York City on September 11, 2001, only a few blocks away when terrorists crashed planes into the Twin Towers. While the rest of the nation held its breath in complete shock, Matthew and Jon filmed. Being some of the very few people to have professional camera equipment ready at a moment's notice, they immediately got to work on capturing the reactions of the people during the tragedy. The footage ended up being used in a documentary. It began his life of traveling the world, filming documentaries for PBS, Discovery, and HBO. He has been to Iraq, Venezuela, China, Egypt, and so many other countries, putting his own life in danger in order to capture history in the making.

The documentary we were lucky enough to see during our class was China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, which was nominated for an Academy award in 2010. I had to hold back my tears as we watched the raw emotion of parents who had lost their children in an earthquake because the school buildings collapsed due to construction that clearly wasn't regulated or inspected properly. This documentary brought a voice to the oppressed people living in the Totalitarian society where even after attempting a protest, never had justice served to the people responsible for the negligence that killed their children.

Matthew gave all of us advice that transcended not only film making, but for life in general. He urged us to always network and get to know people in our industry, and walk through any open doors we may see, even if they don't seem like they are exactly what we planned for ourselves, because we never know where it may lead. Through his stories of crazy antics in different countries, he urged all of us to always have a back-up plan just in case something goes wrong. If we plan on creating a documentary, try to make it as personal, with as few people on the crew as we possibly can.

And in stark contrast to one of our earlier guests, Ken Kelsh, who can be quoted saying that it's impossible to say anything in film making nowadays, that artistic aspirations are something of youth, and that "independent film is dead", Matthew seemed incredibly optimistic. Even with capturing unscripted reality, it's clear that he is able to put his own touch on the message he wanted to put across to the viewer. He explained his detachment and thought process that goes into filming a disaster, and the editing process afterward. There is a difference between standing in the middle of chaos and turning on a camera and seeking out the story and human emotion. I saw that as an art within itself. Matthew O'Neill a truly inspirational guest.

Robert Axelrod

Shameless plug. Check out my article about Robert Axelrod, who appeared at KotoriCon 2011. If you don't know who he is, he was the voice of Lord Zedd on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Wizardmon from Digimon, and so much more.
I also filmed some footage. A word of caution: He's the cutest little old man you'll ever see. You've been warned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My interview with Jamie Lynn Lano



I've wanted to write a new entry for a while, but I'm just going to be lazy and link to my interview with Jamie Lynn Lano for Geek Girl On The Street.

Thanks to her for agreeing to answer my questions, she's really sweet.