Steve Alpert spent 15 years in Studio Ghibli and worked on films like Princess Mononoke and Spiritually gone distributed outside of Japan. He describes the experience in his new book Share a house with the infinite man.
“I don’t necessarily see it as a business memory,” says Alpert in episode 422 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast. “For me, it’s more about what it’s like to be a foreigner living in Japan than to be the person responsible for explaining Japan to people who don’t understand Japan – such as business people in big Hollywood studios.”
Alpert describes Studio Ghibli as a community that is committed to artistic excellence and in which the brilliant animation director Hayao Miyazaki had total creative control. This atmosphere created an impressive array of international hits, but also nervous nerves, as Miyazaki had a habit of waiting until the last minute to write endings for his films.
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Alpert was the only native speaker of the company to act as a spontaneous press representative. In particular, he remembers a call from an intrusive New York Times Reporter who asked for an interview with Miyazaki. “Miyazaki would not be in the country and it would not have been possible to conduct the interview,” said Alpert. “But he said, ‘Look, just tell me when I can do the interview and I’ll come down.’ And he had said something about it: “I saw the film with the aliens and the boy riding the tiger” and none of it was in the film. “
Alpert also traveled a lot, negotiated contracts with fantasy authors such as Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula K. Le Guin, and worked with Neil Gaiman on the English-language version of Princess Mononoke.
“When we made the English dubbed version of Princess Mononoke Miramax commissioned Neil Gaiman to write the script, ”says Alpert. “He and I were against the Miramax people in a lot of ways because they really wanted to change the film, and Neil more respected the wishes of the original filmmakers.”
Listen to the full interview with Steve Alpert in episode 422 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (over). Check out some highlights from the following discussion.
Steve Alpert continues The moving castle::
“Part of my job at Ghibli was to get the right to make films at all. So I went to Bristol, where Diana Wynne Jones lived during her lifetime, to finalize the final negotiations. Fortunately, she knew Hayao Miyazaki’s work, so it was a little easier. People who write novels generally hesitate to share their works with filmmakers because they are unsure of how to treat them. … She finally took me through Bristol, which is incredibly interesting, especially in the area where she lived. In the end, we didn’t talk much about the work itself. I think she just wanted to be reassured that Mr. Miyazaki would really do what he was. “
Steve Alpert about dubbing:
“When we started using Pixar people for the dubs, the level just went up significantly. These people are just incredibly talented. One thing is that you get the talent. The second is money. I hate to say it, but it takes money to do these lines over and over again until you get them perfect. … Many of the actors surprise you in many ways. We had a voice on Patrick Stewart in one of the films and he would make a line that was just amazing, just perfect. And then he would want to do it again. He said, “No, I can do better.” And many of the people who voted for us were like that. They would say, “Wow, that’s perfect,” and they would say, “Let’s do two more just in case.”
Steve Alpert in the media:
“The problem was that a lot of people know that Hayao Miyazaki is famous, but they don’t really know what he is famous for. Especially with the so-called “caravans” – advertising caravans to promote the film – people came in who heard the name but had no idea what he was doing, and the questions they asked him, I would say, offensive. … Many of the interviews are pretty much the same. They even ask, “Can you tell us something about your film?” You know what I mean? “Can you tell us something about your film?” So you haven’t seen it and have no questions? Do you say that Many interviews run like this. “
Steve Alpert about Hayao Miyazaki:
“All the [Disney] Animators had pirated versions of Ghibli’s art books on their desks and small totoros on their desks, and they were very willing to talk about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. I asked one of the directors, “Everyone says Miyazaki was one of the greatest animation directors of all time. What exactly makes it so great? And the guy explained to me: “When you animate a scene, the characters can go from right to left, left to right, up and down, up and down. But if they’re supposed to go back into space, it’s really difficult. You have to be really brave to go this way in hand-drawn animations. And Miyazaki is fearless. He is absolutely fearless and one of the few animators who can do it. ‘”
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