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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Greed and The Sony Toho DVD Set


Last July, Ian Friedman posted on his blog an interview with Sony's Michael Schlesinger in which he announced that a Toho box set containing Mothra, H-Man and Battle In Outer Space would be released in 2009.

This was immediately picked up by Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters author and "living kaiju encyclopedia" August Ragone on his blog. As you can see from reading his blog, August was very enthusiastic over this set.

On several message boards, August posted information and suggestions which would prove to be useful to Sony in producing the final product such as coordinating running times, rearranged scenes, music changes, etc.

Schlesinger indicated that it was his intention to include several Japanese movie historians from all sectors of kaiju fandom. August expressed it this way on March 2 at the Classic Horror Film Board: "Commentaries are expensive to produce (and you have to walk the fine line of being informative while keeping it interesting and lively); but with that being said, I'd like to take a crack at it. Or at the very least, I would be happy to write extensive liner notes."

At that point, nothing was announced but several fans indicated their willingness to chip in on making this project a memorable one to Schesinger. I also offered materials on Tokyo Tower. He indicated that nothing was finalized but would look into incorporating submissions, etc. into the set.

But storm clouds soon started to make their appearance.

On March 12, at the CHFB forum, Stuart Galbraith posted, "Good news - these DVDs will indeed feature audio commentaries! More info to follow over the next few days, I'm sure, as it becomes official."

This prompted a terse response from Schlesinger, "Stuart, where did you learn this? I've not heard any word yet on extras." No public response was made by Galbraith. (Oh-oh!)

No news on the Toho set was forthcoming after this exchange at the CHFB except for this from Schlesinger on April 11: "Expect an announcement soon." (Hmmm.)

Then, over at the Monster Zero message board, this was posted by Ryan Clark on May 2: "I'm not sure if this was known at all yet, but Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski have recorded commentaries for Mothra and BIOS. Apparently other extras could be possible, but highly unlikely." This was apparently mentioned at a Godzilla event in Topeka, Kansas that week that they appeared at.

This message was responded to May 3 by Keith Aiken: "That was being kept hush-hush until everything was recorded, which just happened last week."

As I knew August was seeking a commentary spot on this set, I asked him if he knew of this and if it was true. He replied that he checked with Schlesinger and he was told that "someone" handling the set at Sony made the decision to have Ryfle and Godziszewski do the commentaries and that he (Schlesinger) "didn't know anything" about it. [Both had done several of the commentaries on the recent Classic Media Godzilla sets.]

I then sent Schlesinger my own query on this and he confirmed to me that he was not aware of the decision (he found out from "a second-hand source") until it was a "done deal." He reiterated that it was his intent to involve everyone. He expressed his frustration with Sony's Home Video department and said he had some tense discussions over their decisions.

I responded to him in this way, in part:

Unfortunately, fans can be pretty hard-headed and once wronged they don't easily forget. The experience with Classic Media left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths and it also caused the parting of several people who were close associates of many years. That's what happens when business intrudes in one's passions.

The thing is, this is not the first time that a situation such as this reared its ugly head and it involves the same clique and it involved the same sneaky, secretive deals. This was the same tactic employed in the Classic Media episode. Things were kept hidden until everything was "in the can."


The excuse then was, "August was too busy writing his book." August would have made time to participate, but he wasn't even given the chance to turn it down. As if that excuse had any kind of merit.

To give background to Schlesinger as to why there may be a problem, I also recounted that during the Classic Media episode that I received several messages from people who were angry over some of the people selected for commentaries (for varying reasons) over others and that they would boycott those releases. (This was mentioned on a message board back then, and someone connected with the Godzilla DVD project blew it out-of-proportion and claimed to Classic Media that a boycott was being organized at G-FEST, which wasn't true. These persons went so far as to spread more rumors that ultimately led to the sabotage of Robert Conte's session at G-FEST by Classic Media. It was claimed that Conte was going to use his session to badmouth Classic Media. A prominent kaiju historian ended up permanently banned from G-FEST for his role in the sabotage. All Classic Media had to do was to just ask Conte or J. D. Lees, but they didn't and relied on the rumors instead.) I didn't boycott the Classic Media releases as I bought several of them and stated such on numerous occasions (much to the annoyance of some who did boycott them).

I ended the message with the expressed hope that an accomodation could be made. (Perhaps August could still be tapped to do the liner notes.) To date, I have not received a response.

Besides August, there are several others who should be given a shot at doing a commentary such as Peter H. Brothers, Mike Bogue, J.D. Lees and others. I would not be interested to do one as I really don't feel I have the voice for it (but that's just me) and the others have far more knowledge than I do. As I've said, August Ragone is practically a "living encyclopedia" on Japanese science-fiction. His inclusion should've been a no-brainer! Plus, he authored the most-successful book on Japanese science-fiction to hit the bookstores!

Before things get out of hand in this, I am not advocating any boycott or anything else of the kind on this set. I am just reporting on what transpired here as may fans posted on the Internet in many message boards that they'd like to see August do a commentary in this set. They deserve to know why he isn't.

Why would something like this need to be kept "hush-hush"? We're not talking "national security" issues here. There could only be one reason: greed. As I pointed out to Schlesinger, "actions have consequences." Some people feel the need to "own" or "control" fandom and exclude those who may not be part of the "in-crowd." Very high-schoolish. I guess in the Era of Obama's "spread the wealth", "spreading the wealth" doesn't seem to apply to Godzilla fandom.

Contrast that to the way things are handled by G-FAN and G-FEST. When the Godzilla 2006 plaque dedication ceremony was being organized, Steve Ryfle, Guy Tucker and others, not normally associated with either G-FAN or G-FEST, were invited to participate. Richard Pusateri, who did a Classic Media Godzilla commentary, was asked to do a tribute to Akira Ifukube at the ceremony. August Ragone, who had not been involved in G-FAN or G-FEST since the near-debacle of G-FEST 2000, was welcomed to G-FEST XV last year and was one of the interviewers of Haruo Nakajima and gave his own presentation on Eiji Tsuburaya. He also penned an excellent tribute to Jerry Ito for G-FAN. It is always a better policy to be inclusive, not exclusionary. Everyone benefits.

How will this all eventually play out re: the Sony Toho set? That's anyone's guess. The patterns at play here should tell you something so it won't take much for a good, educated guess.

UPDATE: I received an email with this link to a message board (It Came From Planet X) thread on the subject.

UPDATE (5/11/09): The Rodan's Roost message board picked up on the story.

20 comments:

Godzilla2000master said...

Yep, picked up by me. I got to say - I am loving this blog. I found Normand's and August;s blogs and they both rock. This one rocks too. Hope to enjoy more articles from you in the future Mr. Armand...

ArmandV said...

Welcome aboard! As I said elsewhere, nobody else has the balls to state what's going on except for August. I guess some people want to be sycophants instead.

Thanks for stopping by.

Ryan Clark said...

I agree. It's a shame the fandom just can't come together and get along for the one thing we all love. Despite who's involved with these products (this Sony set or the Classic Media DVDs), these are important, must-have products. If someone doesn't like a contributor to the DVD, don't watch their contribution or listen to their commentary. But you can't just ignore the product completely, the fandom loses out then.

ArmandV said...

Notice that none of the principals involved have come clean on this?

Stuart Galbraith IV said...

Your speculative post, while an undeniably amusing read, makes a number of faulty assumptions about a) Mike Schlesinger's role and authority at Sony; b) Sony's moral obligations "to the fans"; c) the entitlement of "living kaiju encyclopedias" and other people in fandom to participate on their product; and d) the realities of the home video industry.

August posting "information and suggestions" on his blog and the CHFB, and the "willingness" of "several fans...to chip in" is all well and good - it sounds nice and folksy - but it's disconnected from the how big entertainment conglomerates like Sony actually prep titles for home video release. I should know: I worked with Warner Home Video while I was employed there as an archivist, was later employed at MGM's Technical Services division (the department primarily concerned with creating new video transfers), and I continue to work as an independent audio commentator, essayist, and VAM (value-added material) producer for 20th Century-Fox and others, most recently on Optimum's UK DVD release of "Rashomon."

The real-world reality is this: If August - or anywhere else, including JD Lees, Peter Brothers, yourself, etc. - wanted "to take a crack at" writing liner notes or an audio commentary, NO ONE was preventing them (or anyone) from pitching a formal proposal with the powers-that-be at Sony's home video department. And, as far as I know, Steve and Ed were the only people who did. Your suggestion that "things were kept hidden until everything was 'in the can'" ignores another reality of the business - large home video labels almost never officially announce special features until everything >is< "in the can."

I don't know when Mike transitioned from VP of Repertory Sales (a role chiefly concerned with theatrical screenings from the classics library and not home video per se I'd assume, like John Kirk's role until recently at MGM) to "Exclusive Consultant," but for whatever reason decisions about VAM for this set weren't his make, however much he may have instigated putting the title into production.

Maybe you, August, and others wrongly assumed that all decisions about the set were Mike's and Mike's alone, but that's your fault, hardly Steve and Ed's. Maybe your feelings (and August's, and others') were hurt because Sony's people weren't cruising the CHFB and related blogs for inspiration, and because Sony didn't invite you to their party. If you want to work at the hardware store down the street, you've got to get off your butt and ask them for the job. Hanging around your front porch with your pals saying, "Gee, I'd really like to work at that hardware store" isn't going to cut it, nor does it do any good to blame the assertive neighbor who gave his resume to the manager and actually asked for the job.

Finally, I'd argue that the credibility of your article is strained well past the breaking point by your argument that "Some people feel the need to 'own' or 'control' fandom." That's laughable considering the people whose position you represent and their past actions.

I'm not involved with the Sony DVDs other than having provided Steve and Ed with a few meager scraps of information, and haven't seen the final product. But from what I've been hearing they've pulled together an amazingly diverse selection of archival interviews, new interviews with original film participants, and have always welcomed the contributions of many people, whom they've been quick to acknowledge. Me - I'm really looking forward to this set!

ArmandV said...

Stu, I guess you've been chosen to be the mouthpiece (either on your own or by others). That's okay with me, but let me state for the record that I have no beef with you personally. Why you feel the need to inject yourself into this would be an interesting story in itself (I know you and August have issues, but that is between you and him).

You wrote:

"Your speculative post, while an undeniably amusing read, makes a number of faulty assumptions about a) Mike Schlesinger's role and authority at Sony; b) Sony's moral obligations "to the fans"; c) the entitlement of "living kaiju encyclopedias" and other people in fandom to participate on their product; and d) the realities of the home video industry."

I can only go by what's transpired now, what we were told by Mike Schlesinger and in the past during the Classic Media affair.

Unknown to you, I've had several exchanges with Mike Schlesinger on this as had August Ragone over the past several months, so you are not privy to what he or I may know (or not know) and what we were told (on participating).

Thank you for astutely noticing that I said not one word about "Sony's moral obligations."

Some of your comments are nit-picky and not on the basic point. So I will ignore them accordingly (esp. the part about August and fans "chipping in" with suggestions, etc.).

End of Part One.

ArmandV said...

Part two (due to word count limits):

You wrote:

"The real-world reality is this: If August - or anywhere else, including JD Lees, Peter Brothers, yourself, etc. - wanted "to take a crack at" writing liner notes or an audio commentary, NO ONE was preventing them (or anyone) from pitching a formal proposal with the powers-that-be at Sony's home video department. And, as far as I know, Steve and Ed were the only people who did. Your suggestion that "things were kept hidden until everything was 'in the can'" ignores another reality of the business - large home video labels almost never officially announce special features until everything >is< "in the can.""

Today, we're teaching poodles to fly. Yippee!

It is more than a "suggestion" that things were kept hidden until the commentaries were safely "in the can." This happened during the Classic Media affair when things were kept from August Ragone until after everything was completed and when he finally was informed about it, the lame excuse was given that he was "too busy with his book" was presented. He was purposely kept in the dark. On the current Sony project, Keith Aiken came right out and said it was "kept hush-hush" until the commentaries were done. Again, this is the same pattern as before. We're not talking national security issues here. You don't know what other people have offered and to what extent. You are assuming that nobody but Steve or Ed did. Apparently you must not have read my post. Either that or you're impervious to logic and informed opinions.

Next, Part 3

ArmandV said...

Part 3:

You wrote:

"Maybe you, August, and others wrongly assumed that all decisions about the set were Mike's and Mike's alone, but that's your fault, hardly Steve and Ed's. Maybe your feelings (and August's, and others') were hurt because Sony's people weren't cruising the CHFB and related blogs for inspiration, and because Sony didn't invite you to their party. If you want to work at the hardware store down the street, you've got to get off your butt and ask them for the job. Hanging around your front porch with your pals saying, "Gee, I'd really like to work at that hardware store" isn't going to cut it, nor does it do any good to blame the assertive neighbor who gave his resume to the manager and actually asked for the job."

Again, you are assuming that August's or anyone else's sole contact was via the CHFB (or other forums) or just through Mike. You don't know what conversations or correspondences were exchanged in the preceeding months or with whom at Sony. If people solely corresponded with Mike, it was probably only because he was the public point man on this, which would be understandable.

You wrote:

"Finally, I'd argue that the credibility of your article is strained well past the breaking point by your argument that "Some people feel the need to 'own' or 'control' fandom." That's laughable considering the people whose position you represent and their past actions."

August formerly associated with these people who want to "own or control fandom." He knows how they think and what they've said publicly and privately. What people do I represent and what "past actions" are you referring to? I am only speaking for myself when I post my opinions on this. August is perfectly capable to speak for himself and has done so. As far as I know, August has never tried to screw anyone out of a project nor has he tried to smear people with vicious rumors or false charges, unlike his former associates. If I see that he (or anyone else) does so, I would raise holy hell about that too. August has always been a straight-shooter with me. I may not always like some of his views, but he's always been straight. People who smile at one in person and then stab one in the back I don't abide by.

As for me, I'm very judgmental. People who aren't judgmental either lack standards or the stones to express and stand behind them.

Thanks for the discussion.

Anonymous said...

What would be great if there was this huge round table discussion like they did on the Seven Samurai DVD, were everyone could have a voice. But I do agree with Stuart of a few points. You have to contact the source and make your presence known. Not just rely on your reputation and figure they will offer you a job on it. That goes for everyone...

ArmandV said...

You (whoever you are) are assuming (like Stu did) that people did not make their presence known. They did.

One thing I forgot to reiterate in my reply to Stu, Mike Schlesinger was also kept in the dark about the decisions that were made. He had to find out from a "second-hand source" himself. (This was well-covered in my initial post.)

ArmandV said...

Ah, "Anonymous" sent a duplicate response with his "secret identity."

Hi, Loren!

Loren said...

Why it was Anonymous is beyond me. I guess I hit the wrong button because I don't hide for any reason. I like these blogs because they are interesting to hear. Because I do not claim anything here, it is nice that you put out this info for people to voice their opinions.


Again, I think it would be great to hear a round table discussion on these films with everyone involved. That will never happen because from what I have seen, there is this side and that side of this so called fandom. I don't get involved too much in this because I try to be friends with everyone.


I have known Augie for over 30 years now, probably longer than most people can claim. It is true we butt heads a lot. Were like brothers with different opinions but I do respect his knowledge on the subject matter. What is behind your push for him to be on the dvd commentary or the back story if there is one remains to be heard. Some people have all the luck with these things and are in the right place or know the right persons.


You might disagree, but at this point 2009, You and J.D head G-Fest and Ed.G. and Steve R. are fortunate to be a large part of the Classic Media Commentaries.I guess everyone cannot have everything, so why bother with it? It just may or may not be in the cards here. I know Augie has done linear notes on other Japanese DVD projects because I own some of them.

So I think the word GREED is the wrong term here. Being lucky is more like the right term. How lucky we all are that we enjoy this great weird Japanese sub-culture devoted to rubber monsters and fantastic films. My wish and I don't want to sound like this is a '' We are the world '' speech'' but I wish that everyone can just get a long and be friends. To enjoy and be happy for anyone or everyone that can contribute, no matter how large or small. Another words, who cares what other people are doing as long as we can all enjoy it. Loren.

August Ragone said...

Armand,
I will only make one comment on this topic, just to set the record straight, concerning myself on the matter at hand.*



After I expressed interest in contributing, Michael Schlesinger told me that while he wasn't in charge of the producing the extras, he wanted to include "everyone." I agreed.

He said that I should wait, and he would let me know whom to speak to once the decisions on special features were made, if any at all.



So, that's what I did, and I went about my other business. How everything played out from there, I can't comment on.

But, there was no entitlement involved on my part, otherwise I would have pressed the issue—or went behind Michael's back. He told me to wait, and I respected his request, and took it at face value.

With that being said, not being involved with this DVD (or any other) release is hardly going to kill me. In the words of my people, Que Sera, Sera.There's more to life than Godzilla. :)



Regards,
August

*While the e-mail exchanges between Michael and I are private, if he has not objections, I would be happy to turn them over for the public inspection (just to verify my aforementioned comments).

ArmandV said...

No problem. It is better to air things out. I thought the subject was dead since nobody has posted for about a week.

It is not "luck" if someone goes around someone's back, if that's the case here. What's behind my "push"? Simple. I don't like seeing people get railroaded. As I said in my blog, fans were posting here and there that they'd like to see August do a commentary on this and deserve to know why not.

I don't think we can be out singing "Kumbayah" (however that's spelled) any time soon, I'm afraid. But who knows?

P.S. By the way, I deleted your duplicate post.

ArmandV said...

My last comment was in reply to Loren, in case anyone wonders.

Loren said...

Now I totally agree with that. Air it out no crybaby Sh&t if someone gets to do a dvd or not. Everyone benefits. Thats what sucks about getting older bro, EGOS...!

Hopefully Augie will get a chance at a commentary track. There are plenty of other projects that will be available in the future. I have heard his voice for 30 years, I don't think I can stand it on D. digital though... Lol.. ( Just kidding Aug)

ArmandV said...

You will note that I raised the issue not for myself. Yes, I offered materials on Tokyo Tower (perfect for "Mothra"). But I didn't pursue it (like bugging Mike every other day or going over his head) as others. It was a matter of "If you want it, I have it. It's yours." That was my attitude.

I've had my "five minutes of fame" 26 and 30 years ago (and in-between). This definitely won't kill me either (as August aptly put it).

Yup, everyone's got egos. Some get too inflated and needs to be popped on occasion. But when I see a railroad job going on, I'll speak out.

Richard Pusateri said...

Okay, I’ll come clean!
I have written essays on both MOTHRA and THE H-MAN (G-FAN and Cult Movies), having watched both Japanese and American versions more time than is healthy and read everything I could find on them.
I have chatted with Mike Schlesinger for many, many years about MOTHRA and THE H-MAN long before this box was ever announced. We had many conversations over the years about Columbia’s archive of MOTHRA elements and paper promotional material. I think Mike got fan-fatigue from my continual commenting on THE H-MAN.
When he told me about the box set (long before word of it ever hit the Internet) I told him I was interested in contributing information, especially about THE H-MAN. He always replied sure, he was going to get everyone involved. Eventually I came to think everyone was not really going to be involved. I never thought I had any right or entitlement to be involved.
Later, after the news of the box hit the ‘Net, when I bumped into Mike, he automatically gave me updates on the project, and the usual, he wanted everyone to be involved.
I became aware that there were other plans I was not privy to; people told me things off the record, you know “word on the street,” so I knew there were things I didn’t know, and it was impossible to know what those things were. But, I didn’t think I had any right or entitlement to access to the inner workings of Sony.
After a while I understood that Mike was being polite and I was going to have nothing to do with the project. Mike never asked me to be involved and never said specifically that I would be involved. He just kept saying he wanted everyone to be involved.
I understand that there is a limit to the number of people who can get involved in any project and there is a limit to the amount of input a corporation can take from unsolicited contributors. I guess I am somewhat saddened that no one asked me to be involved in any way in the project, but I certainly do not think there was any conspiracy to blackball me.
This is in no way a complaint about Mike S. or anyone else for that matter. It just the way things go… in Hollywood, baby.

ArmandV said...

Nobody said they were "entitled" to anything. The "issue" of "entitlement" was raised by Stu Galbraith. So let's put that sucker to rest.

You know how to settle this? (Well, Steve and Ed could step down. LOL!) We can set up a G-Pardy game (as in Jeopardy) at G-FEST or wherever (since JD has the equipment, he can moderate it and come up with the questions) between Steve Ryfle and August Ragone and the winner does the commentary. Simple, eh?

I hope the comment count doesn't exceed the Nakajima birthday greetings' count. That would be a real sad commentary.

ArmandV said...

A comment was rejected as the author was anonymous.

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