ICv2 recently spoke with Hollywood veteran Jason Hoffs, Head of Production at Viz Productions, about the new film production arm of Viz Media based here in the States.  In Part Two, Hoffs discusses possibilities for licensing to studios vs. producing in-house and decisions about format and distribution. 


In Part Three, Hoffs talks about markets outside of North America and how that affects film development, and the vast manga library Viz Productions has access to for its film projects.  In Part One, he talks about manga source material for Viz Productions films and how those films could work in both domestic and international markets.


The announcement said you’re planning to have some properties licensed out to studios to make, and others that you might keep in-house.  Do you have any guidelines or particular strategies in terms of what things you might want to keep in-house vs. the things you license out?

Frankly, all of that is still evolving now, and it would be difficult to talk about specific strategies.  One model certainly is that we’re going to be making mostly studio movies-- it’s a version of the basic film-producer model.  It’ll be a little bit different in that we’ll also be working with the parent companies and the creators in Japan and representing their interests in the United States.  Otherwise, we will serve as a production company, which means that we’re going to be taking the existing source material and try to sell it to the studios and mostly have the screenplays paid for and developed by the studios and have the studios finance and distribute the movies.


We think that these titles are going to be strong enough to attract very significant acting, directing and writing talent.  And more and more, the studios have been buying a little bit less on concept and looking more to buy properties that do have talent attachment.  I’ve worked with a lot of directors in my career and many screenwriters and we’ll be looking to use that base and move beyond that as well to attach talent to our properties often before we bring them into the studios. 


Over the last several years, some of the early adopters of Japanese animation and manga have been young filmmakers.  Certainly people like the Wachowskis and many others--Quentin Tarantino, maybe Zack Snyder--a lot of these guys show a manga influence and they love this stuff.  So to some degree, in trying to attach talent to these properties we hope that we’ll be preaching to the choir and an audience that is already familiar with this stuff and hopefully wanting to make movies of our manga.


What I’m also finding at the studio level is that the executives that are 35 and under, or maybe more 32 and under, are very familiar with manga.  The really young executives that are just coming up, and some of the agents too, they’re growing up with manga to some degree with a level of comfort and familiarity that almost equals their experience with American comics and graphic novels.  At the chairman and head of production level, those people still need to be educated somewhat.  If someone’s in their mid-50s, they’re unlikely to be an otaku.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate a great manga property, but where we’re getting lots of incoming calls from are young studio executives.  You have this incredible fan base in their 20s and early 30s. In the next five years some of those people are going to start running Hollywood.  They’re going to be the decision-makers and they’re as passionate about manga as they are about our graphic novels.


Are you planning to work in both film and television?

Right now there’s an emphasis on film, and I come from film.  However, the way that manga is distributed serially in Japan is more similar in format to American episodic television, so particularly some of the shojo titles could be appropriate for exploitation as television series as well. I suspect we'll be pursuing both; the initial focus is a little bit more on movies.


All live action, not animation?

The focus is live action.  I would like to explore animation as well; we’ll see what opportunities develop in the future.


For the films, are you looking solely at things that would go into theatrical release? Is there any thought to doing any direct-to-DVD projects?

There’s been some discussion about doing some direct-to-DVD projects, although right now our focus will be mostly on theatrical features.


How will the product licensing flow?  Obviously there’ll be different licensing streams attached to a feature film than maybe the source material or an anime based on the source material.  Is that all something that’s part of the movie deal, or is some of that being held back and managed by Viz?

We’re figuring that process out. I think it often works on a case-by-case basis.


Click here for Part Three.