Sakura-Con 2017 and 2018 Photos and Strategies

Last year, I covered Sakura-Con for its 20th anniversary. My partner and I interviewed two voice actors (you can read Vic Mignogna’s interview starting here), attended numerous panels, and took lots of photos. My original plan was to edit and post the photos (and interviews) soon after the Con.

That’s not what happened.

So, in an effort to be more efficient this time around, my partner has suggested some changes. First, I’m including links to our photos before I’ve uploaded them all. You can access photos from Sakura-Con 2017 here. Likewise, you can see photos from Sakura-Con 2018 here.

Once all the photos are uploaded, I’ll make an announcement on this blog, so subscribe if you don’t already!

Once all the posts from Sakura-Con 2018 are up, I’ll start adding the final Sakura-Con 2017 posts, including my interview with Aaron Dismuke and highlights from last year’s Con.

Hope to see you there!

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Interview with Vic Mignogna, Part Three: Music and Final Questions

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Photo by Natalia

 Click here and here for part one and part two of the interview, respectively. 

Since I knew Vic was an accomplished musician, I decided to ask him about his love of music. The answer I got was the longest of the interview, and one of the most fascinating. But perhaps you Full Metal Alchemist fans just want to know what I asked him about that show. That question is near the end of this post. 

G: When did you first become interested in music, and what kind of music is your favorite to listen to?

V: When I was very young, I starting singing. I would sing in church. I didn’t play any instruments, but I sang. My mom played the piano in our church. So I would sing in church a lot, and I would sing in school. When I was seventeen years old, I was attending a boarding school. I was going to a boarding school in South Carolina, 12 hours from my mom, where I lived, and a friend of mine invited me to go with him to Kmart. He said, “Hey, I’m going to Kmart, wanna get a ride with me?” and I [was like], “Sure.”

So I got in his car — I’ll never forget [it]: [a] yellow Camaro. And we got in the car and he put in a cassette tape, actually an eight-track tape, of Barry Manilow. Now the school that I went to — this is an important point — the school that I went to was a very strict Christian school. We were not allowed to listen to music like Barry Manilow or secular rock, pop music. So, it was a bit of a coup that he was doing this secretly, in his car, y’know, so as not to get in trouble. I sat in the passenger seat of his Camaro, driving to Kmart, and I’m listening to this music and I’m like, “I like this guy. He’s unpretentious. There’s an honesty, an emotion to [it]. I like the music. And he kind of sings in the same vocal range that I do. I like it.”

We got to Kmart, he said, “You comin’ in?” I’m like, “No, I’ll sit in the car and listen to the music.” He came out, we went back to the campus, and…Christmas break was a few weeks after that. When I went home for Christmas break, what do you think I did? I went to the music store and I bought every Barry Manilow record I could find, and I took ’em home and I listened [to them] and I fell in love with his music. He plays the piano. I didn’t play the piano. I didn’t play anything. But, I went back to school, after Christmas break, and I started telling my friends [whispers], “I love Barry Manilow. Don’t tell anybody. I like him.” And I told that to one of my friends named Jay.

Jay was a year younger than I was, but Jay played the piano, and Jay liked Barry Manilow, too. And Jay said to me, “Hey, why don’t we write a Barry Manilow song, like a [Barry Manilow] style song, like that?” He’s like, “I’ll write the music, and then I’ll record myself playing it on a cassette. And I’ll give it to you. You listen to it, in your dorm room, and you write the lyrics.” So that’s what we did. And I listened to that cassette ALL the time, while I was working on the lyrics. So I memorized that song exactly the way Jay played it on that cassette. I could hear every note, right?

One day, I was walking across the campus and I was walking by these little practice studios. I don’t know if you’ve seen ’em. A lot of schools have them. It’s basically a closet. A row of closets with a piano. And it’s where musicians would go to practice their instrument. Tuba…piano, guitar, violin, whatever. So I’m walking by one and I go in and sit down at the piano. [Demonstrates with his fingers] Started plinky-plunking around; I didn’t know what I was doing. But little by little…I sounded out…what sounded like.. a chord, of the song that Jay had recorded on the cassette. And then I started moving my fingers around, to what I heard, what I remembered the song sounded like, and before I knew it, I had figured out how to play that song exactly the way Jay played it on the cassette.

From there, I started playing the piano more and more and more and more. I learned theory, I learned chord progressions, and I learned how to transcribe music on manuscript paper. I continued writing, playing, singing, to the point where anything I heard I could play, and then I started writing songs and then I started recording those songs, and like…forty years later — [whispers] thirty-five years later — music has become such a huge part of my life. I’ll sit down at a piano and play anything that I’ve heard, and…love it, and it’s all because [of] Barry Manilow. So imagine my elation at getting to meet him, last year, at a concert that he did, and tell him what a huge impact he had on my life.

At this point, I was told by Sakura-Con staff that I had time for one more question, which was perfect, since I only had one question left. Vic, for his part, apologized for taking so long with his answer.

G: [In response to Vic] That’s okay [laughs]. No worries. All right, so one of my friend’s sisters wanted me to ask you this question. If you were Edward Elric, would you have done anything differently in your quest to find you and your brother’s bodies?

V: …..

…..

….

I probably would have started drinking milk.

G: [Laughs]

V: Probably would have made me stronger, maybe have made me a little taller…

G: Thank you.

V: You’re welcome.

While that was the end of my interview, I have a postscript. Talking about Barry Manilow encouraged one of the other people in the room to ask him, privately, if the rumors are true that he hates gay people. His answer was to all of us, so I’ve included it here. Since I’m working off notes, instead of a recording, the wording captures the spirit, if not the letter, of his reply. This was the only time in the room that he got remotely angry. He denied the allegations, and then zeroed in on why he thinks people have attributed these rumors to him.

V: You know what it is. It’s because I’m a Christian, so I must hate gays. Am I a Christian? Yes. Do I hate gays? No.

After staying to sign autographs and take pictures with anyone who wanted them, our time with Vic Mignogna, great voice actor and greater human being, was over.

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Photo by Natalia

Interview with Vic Mignogna, Part Two: Star Trek, Fans, and Fan Conventions

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Photo by Natalia

In the second part of my interview with Vic, we talk about fans, fan conventions, and his first love — Star TrekYou can find part one of the interview here.

G: Since you’re a big fan of Star Trek, and you’re in a [Star Trek] web series, have you ever gone to their conventions and have you ever met the other people —

V: Oh dude —

G: –who played Kirk?

V: Seriously?

G: (laughs)

V: When I was a little boy, I made my own uniforms and went to Star Trek conventions. There weren’t anime conventions. We’re talking, I mean, I don’t want to scare anybody, we’re talking forty years ago. Forty. Years ago. In fact, I don’t even know if you know this, but comicons [comic cons] began as Star Trek conventions. Star Trek started the whole idea of fan conventions.

I went and I met these actors, and I was like — y’know — I was wide-eyed and so enamored that I was actually shaking hands with Dr. McCoy. I was actually standing in front of Scottie and there’s Sulu and Uhura and.. I couldn’t believe it. Chekov. The only person I never met, he never did a convention that I was able to attend, was Bill Shatner. So imagine my elation when I was asked to be represented by the man who represents William Shatner at the events that he does, like an event manager. Books you into comicons. So he started booking me into events with Bill. And he and I have now done many events together, we’ve had dinner together, we’ve hung out together, we went sightseeing in Dubai together. I can honestly say he’s a friend, and the little boy in me is over the moon that these people that made such a big impression on me and literally determined, in many cases, the — y’know — the trajectory of my life I now know, personally.

Everytime I see Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, she says, “Hey, baby, c’mere. Gimme a hug, gimme a kiss.” She’ll hug me and give me a kiss. And George Takei and Walter both know me — Walter Koenig who played Chekov — both know me on a first-name basis. Bill [Shatner]. I had the privilege of introducing Leonard Nimoy at Phoenix Comicon a few years ago. So it’s really, it’s really a thrill to…to have come full circle, so to speak.

G: What’s the most memorable fan encounter or interaction you’ve had?

V: If you had asked me that ten years ago, I might’ve have one, but I’ve had too many. I’ve had too many significant, moving, impactful fan interactions. I’ve done several Make-A-Wish Foundation [events] with fans. I’ve had the privilege to talk with fans who have gone through horrific loss and tragedy that…shared with me that my work was somehow able to make an impact on them or encouraged them through a difficult time in their lives. Those moments will never be lost on me. I will always be humbled and really really overwhelmed by the fact that something that I’ve done has meant something to people.

I have had several fans come up to me in the course of an autograph session and…lean over the table and look at me and say, “I know how much this is going to mean to you when I say what I’m about to say. You are my William Shatner.” And I just, I just almost tear up. The thought — you know what I mean — that my work could mean anywhere near to somebody what he and Star Trek meant to me when I was young is a blessing beyond what I would ever have imagined.

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Photo by Natalia

G: As was mentioned [by a previous interviewer], it is Sakura-Con’s 20th anniversary. What are some of your favorite things about this convention?

V: Well, I’ve done so many shows that were poorly organized and poorly executed, poorly planned, that I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for shows that are well-executed and well-planned and well-organized. Sakura-Con is definitely one of the best I’ve been to, and considering how big it is, that makes it even more of an accomplishment: that it would be this big, and they still are just so on top of things.

I sat in opening ceremonies this morning, and watched that drum performance, and I’m just sitting there in the front row, looking at the lights, looking at the camerawork on the screen — the image mag on the screen — looking at the fog machines, and thinking, “These people know how to put on a show. This is fantastic.”

So that’s one element of it. The other element of it is the kindness of the fans. It’s just such a wonderful fandom. I mean, fans, wherever I go, are awesome, but I can truly say that my experience at Sakura-Con is, in its entirety, every element of the convention experience is…stellar. It’s as good as it could be.

Next time: The final part of my interview with Vic Mignogna, where we get into his love of music and more!

Cosplay Photos are Finally Up!

We interrupt my interview with Vic Mignogna to bring you a special announcement: the cosplay photos are finally up! Here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/89512300@N03/albums/72157690237523012

I’ll be posting the rest of my photos from Sakura-Con by the end of the month, so check back here periodically or follow my blog to get updates. Most of the photos were taken by Natalia, but a few were taken by me. I’ll be going back and editing the photos (and attributing them properly) in the coming months.

Here’s a few to wet your appetite. Enjoy!

Interview with Vic Mignogna, Part One: Acting, Voice Acting, and Caller ID

Back in April, I had the chance to interview Vic Mignogna (last name pronounced Min-YAH-nah) for Sakura-Con 2017. The interview was a panel-style interview, where each member of the press went in turn. Out of five press groups, I went third. Helping me with the interview was my photographer, Natalia (Nat), who took all the photos you see here, as well as most of the photos during the Con.

Because the interview lasted about 20 minutes, I’ve split the interview into three parts. All questions asked in the first part are presented in their original order, except for the third question, which came in the second part of our interview, but I felt made more sense to include here.

G=Greg, V=Vic, N=Nat

G: We’ll start at the beginning. What first got you interested in voice acting?

V: I never set out to be a voice acting. I just loved acting. And what started me on my love of acting, to be quite honest, was Star Trek. When I was nine, ten, eleven, my parents had just divorced, and my mom and I were living in a little apartment in Monroeville, Pa. I came home one day from school and turned on the television — this little black and white 19 inch television — laid down on the floor in front of it, and here was this TV show, Star Trek. I watched it and I loved it. So the next day I watched the next episode and I became obsessed with it. I loved the stories they told, I loved the characters, I loved the characters relationships to each other, I loved the imagination of it all…and it made me want to do what they were doing.

So I found myself going back to school and auditioning for school plays, and then taking acting classes and going to acting camps: summer camps for acting, drama, theater. That took me into high school and college, continued acting, continued auditioning for things, performing any chance I got. And…that took me into my adult life, auditioning for community theater, and church programs, anything, again, to just…act. Do something I love doing.

And one day somebody said to me, “Hey, you should try auditioning for this place in town here in Houston. They dub Japanese anime and they need actors.” Well, all I heard was, “They need actors.” And I went and auditioned. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I had no idea where it would ever go or what would ever become of it. To me it was another opportunity to act, which was something I fell in love with when I was nine and ten years old. And that’s how I got into the industry, and….I never set out to be a voice actor. I just wanted to act. And voice acting gave me the opportunity to do it.

G: Who were some important mentors for you, and how did they help you with acting or voice acting?

V: Well, I never had any voice acting mentors because I’m kind of the old guy in the industry it seems now. I dunno how that happened. How did that ever happen?! But, y’know, I’ve been doing it for almost twenty years now.

As far as acting is concerned, I’ve always enjoyed the work of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy. The people that were in Star Trek made a big impression on me. I don’t really follow any particular actors except I have such nostalgic affection and feelings for the Star Trek actors. But as far as voice acting is concerned, I didn’t know anybody. I mean, everybody talks about Mel Blanc, who was the voice of Porky Pig and…Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny, and all that. He was amazing. But that’s not anime. You don’t really do voices like that in anime. Anime is a little more grounded in reality, in more real people kind of thing. So, I didn’t really know anybody in the voice acting world when I started doing it, didn’t have any mentors.

G: Who are some voice actors you admire now and why?

V: [Thinks about it] Laura Bailey, Caitlin Glass, Steve Bloom. People that I know personally and that I’ve done a lot of shows with and I have an enormous amount of respect for their abilities.

G: When you’re doing an English dub for an anime, do you take any acting cues from the original Japanese performance, or do you create your performance separate from the original?

V: No absolutely. Absolutely. There are three factors in a voice actor’s performance. The first factor is what the director wants. He’s ultimately responsible for the dub, right? So his ideas and his thoughts on what he wants you to do with the character, how he wants you to perform a certain thing, that’s one of the factors.

Another contributing factor is the actor himself. My ideas about how I want to do something. A good director will hire a good actor and then let the actor do what he does. Not try to control him and puppet him and make him imitate [the director], “Okay, do it just like I do it,” but let the actor do what he does. And hopefully the actor will bring some interesting things and some fresh ideas and some good performances [to the table].

So what the actor brings to the table is one factor, what the director brings to the table is another factor, and thirdly, what you mentioned: the original Japanese. Sometimes, the original Japanese is spot-on. Like, you don’t even have to hear the original Japanese to have the same instinct to do exactly what they did. But then there are other times when what the Japanese guy did does not really work in an English setting. Sometimes a reaction might be bigger or wackier than you think it should be. Sometimes he’ll make some interesting sound and you want to do something equivalent, but not the same thing. Or sometimes he’ll have a line of dialog that may not make any sense in English.

So, sometimes the Japanese actor will have some really good ideas, emotional cues and performance ideas and you’ll hear it and be like, “Oh I love that. That’s what we should do.” But then sometimes you’ll have different ideas and sometimes the director will have different ideas. So those are the three different factors.

G: So switching to kind of a…not as serious question.

V: Okay…

G: Do you ever call up your friends and leave them messages as different characters?

V: [Big laugh] Y’know what, I used to do that until the dawn of caller ID. I literally used to do it for fun until caller ID came up and then your friends knew who was calling, so it kind of defeats the purpose.

I called a friend once and I left him a message and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. I was like the landlord of some building and made up this huge story. I thought it was the funniest thing ever. And he called me back and goes, “Thanks for the message,” and I’m like, “What?” He goes “Caller ID, dude. I knew it was you.” And I’m like [bangs the table with his fist].

G: Which characters did you used to do?

V: Oh it wasn’t even a specific anime character. It was just some weird…some weird, y’know, hic. [does a Southern accent] Texas. Y’know. Kinda guy. I’m calling from so-and-so. Come on down to the office. [normal voice] Whatever. Just making stuff up. Again, it was funny until they knew it was you, and then, like, what’s the point?

N: Y’know you can put star 67 before the number and then it blocks caller ID.

V: I have heard that. Yes. I have heard that. I should do that.

WOMAN’S VOICE (Sakura-Con employee): Don’t encourage him.

N: Sorry.

Next time: My interview with Vic Mignogna continues!

Update on Sakura-Con 2017 Posts

Hello everyone!

Apologies to those of you who are looking for photos of your cosplay on this blog: I have over 1,000 photos to sift through, so please be patient. Here’s my plan with regard to Sakura-Con 2017 posts:

  1. Vic Mignogna interview (multiple parts)
  2. Aaron Dismuke interview (multiple parts)
  3. Cosplay (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 cosplay photos on flickr)
  4. Sakura-Con 2017 highlights (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 photos on flickr)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing out the transcripts from Vic’s and Aaron’s interviews. I have about 10 minutes of audio for the former, and about 20 minutes for the latter. Because SIFF begins next month, there may be a gap in what I post when, but I hope to have at least part one of my interview with Vic up by next month. If all goes well, most of the posts should go up in June, while my final post should be up by July.

Thanks for your patience!

SIFF Interruptus

Normally, I would be covering the Seattle International Film Festival next month. Due to professional and personal reasons, however, I’ve decided not to cover it this year. I’ll still be attending its movies, and I’ll still be working at one of its venues, but I won’t be writing about it here, or (as happened last year) on Twitter. The professional reason is that I’ll be working more hours this year than in the past, and so will have less time to write about my festival experiences. The personal reason is private.

I will, however, be covering Sakura-Con this weekend, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I’ve got a couple of interviews lined up, and I’m excited about the panels and events being offered. I also have a new photographer helping me out with photo-taking this year (and, more importantly, being in charge of lugging my camera around). Hopefully I’ll post my entries before the end of April, and may even write a few posts during the Con itself!

Until next time!

P.S. While I’m not covering the festival, I do wish to draw your attention to SIFF’s new layout for its website. It’s pretty!

https://www.siff.net