A few days ago, Savin Yeatman-Eiffel, founder and CEO of Sav! The World Productions announced a crowdfunding campaign, which goal is the distribution of a Blu-Ray of Oban Star-Racers [1], an anime series he directed and co-produced with Japan.

The news reminded me of my encounter with him five years ago, in February 2017.
At the time, he had just acquired the rights necessary to start the production on said Blu-Ray. At the time, he was kind enough to give me some of his time to talk about his different projects, and the interview was published in French on one of the websites I was writing on at the time.
Since then, that website has gone offline. I thought it’d be worthwhile to translate the interview into English and publish it here, if only for archiving purposes.

Savin Yestman-Eiffel is an interesting character. Not only is he a great-great-great-grandson of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, well known for designing the Eiffel tower, he is also a very ambitious artist.

Oban Star-Racers is the work he is most famous for, an anime TV series that has gained a cult following over time thanks to its broadcast in many different countries and, most and foremost, its quality. But Oban is also a fascinating work in regards to its production. The project started as a short film produced by Savin and Thomas Romain[2]named Molly Star-Racer. After gathering a lot of attention online, especially in Japan, they were contacted by Bandai Visual to turn it into a series. It also sparked a new interest in French-Japanese co-productions, which had been abandoned ever since the fiasco of Lupin VIII. And the French team would never compromise their artistic vision. They would rather turn down offers from producers than make choices they thought would hurt their work.

There is a lot to cover about Oban‘s production and its significance as it opened the door for foreign animators to work in the industry. It is a topic we will undoubtedly cover at a later date.

This interview was an excellent opportunity to get some updates on his projects. From his medieval epic movie The 2 Queens [3] to his adaptation of Saya no Uta [4], and his approach to the creative process, many topics were covered.

Aside from Oban’s Blu-Ray, we have not gotten any news on the progress of the other projects since, which does not mean there hasn’t been any.

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You were able to get the distribution rights of Oban Star Racers for yourself. A Blu-Ray version could help fund other projects.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: If we’re able to sell them and aren’t left with 3000 copies unsold, yes. [laughs]

It’ll certainly be successful!

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: If we’re able to release one which we can also release in English-speaking countries, I think it can sell well as many people have seen the show. We’re remastering the show right now so that we can broadcast it. We have to broadcast them in 16:9 format now, not 4:3. We’d like the Blu-Ray to be a 16:9 version, or maybe a 4:3 limited edition. It depends on the circumstances it’ll be released under.

Will you cut the image in the Blu-Ray version?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: It depends. We’ll see if we find a partner who is ready to distribute it and absolutely want a 16:9 version. But we will definitely make a 4:3 Blu-Ray version, even if it’s a more limited release.

We haven’t made a decision yet. We’re still thinking about it all. Since it’s the 10th anniversary of the show, we’re thinking about the small stuff we could do. It was an excellent opportunity to talk about Oban with Thomas Romain, there’s a common will to make something about it, and we’re considering the possibilities.

I can’t really talk about it for now, but we have a few ideas we are working on.

You were saying you’d make an announcement on Sunday.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Maybe I’ll make a small announcement. It’s still way too early because we’d still need to find funding and everything else. But we have started the creative work, just so we can have some fun with Oban.

Can you tell us more about what you’re planning with Saya no Uta?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Saya no Uta is a project I have been working on for a while. I fell in love with the game the first time I played it. I have this dark, perverted side that fans of Oban don’t necessarily know about. I felt there was a lot of potential around this work.

I’d like it to be closer to a horror film than gore and to be more sensual than pornographic, such as in the game. But I definitely want to keep the same mindset. I was struck by the relationship between this guy who is shut in his own world and falls in love for the first time in his life with this girl. When he comes to the realization, she is not what he expected. He still prefers this relationship to reality to the point of relinquishing his humanity for her. It says a lot about love and what defines us as Humans.

I’m moving away from the game’s writing because I realized that some of the elements don’t translate well into a film to make a proper adaptation. I hope I won’t make the game’s fans angry. But I think I’m staying true to the original spirit and the characters’ psychology. I even try to push it a bit further than in the game, in a different way but which stays truthful to the source.

We’ve been working on it for a while. I’m writing the script, and the goal is to shoot a live-action movie in English. I’ve contacted a director who has shown some interest in the project. Once we have settled with the script and director, I’ll start looking for partners and funding.

Can you tell us who that director is?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’m sorry, I have only just contacted him for now, so it’s too soon to talk about it. [laughs]

What about The 2 Queens, then? Has there been any progress since the pilot?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Regarding The 2 Queens, it’s similar to Oban‘s situation.

We worked on the project for a while, but there wasn’t any feedback from the industry. We weren’t ready yet, so I shelved the project, waiting to be able to go back to it at a later date. The 2 Queens is in a similar stage. We did some good work already and produced a pilot, which honestly is quite lovely. It took me a while to get in touch with Mr. Toshiyuki Inoue, who is undoubtedly the best animator amongst those still active in the industry, got him interested in the project, and built a long-term connection with him. It went really well; it just took a lot of time because he’s hard to get in touch with. He does not have a cell phone, and the studios working with him want to keep him for themselves as he is very requested. People in Japan were surprised we could work with him as he is usually booked years in advance. He gave us about two months of his time to make the pilot. It was an incredible encounter.

Now, making a realistic, historical movie, not targeted towards children, even if there is an epic, even adventurous to some extent, feel to it, that’s hard to finance, especially in France.

So I’ve shelved it for some time, but we will try to find funding on the English-speaking side as they might be more open to such a project.

It’s not a genre film, but it isn’t a typical historical movie either. It has more of an epic feel to it, and it might be better received outside France. We are also thinking about an animated series, and I’m working with Joel Jurion [5] on a Bande Dessinée adaptation.

We are talking with an editor and have started working on the first boards.

I can’t confirm that it will lead to something, but we are working on it, and we’re having fun. We keep developing the project and try to find ways to carry it to completion.

I fully believe in this project. Just as I was in love with Molly at the time, I’m in love with Brunhilda and Fredegund. They’re both so fascinating in different ways. As soon as I had read that story, I read every book I could find on that epoch. If there is a museum covering the topic I take pictures of, I’ve become obsessed with the Middle Ages.

I think it is a topic worth talking about as it’s not well known but such a fundamental period at the same time. It’s the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, from roman culture whose influence can still be felt to the feudality of little chiefs fighting each other. Amidst all of it, you have a queen, Brunhilde, who wants to unify it all with an outlook on the future. On the other hand, we’re in a world where the mindset is short-term; it’s to each their own. Seeing a good queen die is a defeat in some aspects and a victory in others. It’s a fascinating story. I’ve written a lot on the topic for years, and I keep writing about it. I have so many different versions. We’re looking for the ultimate version which will convince everybody, even the doubtful.

Did you discover the story through François Cavanna’s [6] book?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Not at all. I know Cavana has written a book about it, and I skimmed through it, but I didn’t want to take too much inspiration from what he wrote.

What really got me into the topic was the book by Augustin Thierry, a historian from the end of the 18th century, who wrote a vulgarization of Gregory of Tours’ book History of the Franks written in the 6th century. It’s not vulgarization as you would see today. It stays very close to St. Gregory’s version but is written in prose more appropriated to the 18th century. I also read a bit of St. Gregory’s text which barely talks about the two queens, but one can feel the potential of what he doesn’t dare to mention. Obviously, it didn’t go down well at the time, two women taking control over all the power, who put one over everybody. He doesn’t want to showcase it.

A lot is left unspoken, and there is room for imagination, staying truthful to History. I wanted to include aspects I did not understand into both of these chicks. There was what was told to me, there were the events, but I did not understand the logic behind it. That’s why I read many history books, some recent but also older ones, all-encompassing this epoch. But I don’t think any of them helped me understand these women any better. Some people say, “This is not what happened. We think Brunhilda was nice, and Fredegund was bad, but that’s not true!” Everybody shares their own interpretation, but they all work with the same source material, St. Gregory’s text. But you can interpret it in so many ways. You can make that text say anything you want.

I’m interested in telling how these two chicks, in a world of warriors of violent kings, were able to obtrude themselves as queens. And for once that women have grasped power, there’s two of them, and they get into a feud with one another.

It’s fascinating, and I wanted to understand their core motivations. I have dug into it, and I still am digging into these questions to give life to these characters, to make it believable, while I tell the story of the crazy ambitions they are inhabited with.

And why do you want to make it into a feature film? Wouldn’t a TV series be a more appropriate format?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: The idea started as a series because the story is long and there are a lot of events unfolding. When I started the pilot with Mr. Inoue, I understood it would be difficult. The range of emotions I wanted to portray would require great animators, which is challenging to do on a TV series. So I decided on a feature film. The problem is condensing such a long and intricate story into two hours of screen time. It went through different steps of settling to go towards the extreme. But I’m still keeping in mind the idea of a series, maybe in parallel. The Bande Dessinée also takes some of the elements we thought of for the series. I’m developing the project across different supports in a schizophrenic manner. Working on one version gives me ideas for the other ones, and little by little, I’ll reach the ultimate version.

The Bande Dessinée could also spark interest in the movie or the series, couldn’t it?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: The Bande Dessinée project isn’t confirmed yet. I have prepared a few boards with Joel to meet with the editors. I hope we’ll be able to go forward with it. But yeah, that’s the spirit. If we can’t enter by the main entrance, we try to find a side door by getting people interested in the project. Hopefully, it can help us with the movie.

So you’re not looking into releasing everything at once as a mediamix project?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Ideally, I wish I could. If someone comes over to me and tells me, “Here’s 40 million euros to do the movie, the series, and the Bande Dessinée.” I’ll say yes without even thinking twice about it.

Since I have a different approach with each support, I try to tell more or less stuff. If we have the opportunity to make a movie or a series afterward, it can complement the story I have already told from a different angle. Some elements aren’t described in detail in one version but are developed in another so that people interested in that aspect will want to check out the other versions too.

Aren’t the Middle Ages a weak point for Japanese animators? Doesn’t that make the project more difficult?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’m not sure I agree. Sure it’s stylized, but Escaflowne has a Middle Age feel to it.

I have to admit I can’t help thinking about Arion when thinking about The 2 Queens.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Oh yeah, that one also. There are some works I can’t remember the name of, but a lot of anime series unfold in the Japanese Middle Ages. But it’s often mixed with fantasy, so the connection to The 2 Queens isn’t apparent. But if you consider a movie like Run Melos! [7], it’s pretty old, but the generation that worked on it, people like Mr. Inoue, are still active. We need to take the opportunity to work with these talented animators who have less opportunities to show off the realistic style they excel in. That is the intention of channeling this know-how. Mr. Inoue is quite passionate about the project. I think many of his friends may be interested in taking part too.

We just need to find funding, which takes time. But I have already thought of an incredible team.

How did your encounter with Mr. Inoue go?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: It took so much time to get to meet him. Without going too much into details, I started working with an animation studio because I thought they would lead him to me as they knew him well. Production was moving slowly, and I went to Japan to start production on the pilot. At that point, they told me it would not be possible to work with Mr. Inoue. Not only that, but they also did not know who the Chief Animator would be, although we were supposed to start in two weeks.

Can you tell us which studio it was?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’d rather not. [laughs] It’s a respectable studio too, but I ended up telling them that I could not work with them. We got a bit into a fight, and as they showed me an exit opportunity, I decided to take it. I went back to France, and the search for Mr. Inoue went back to square zero. I had lost some time and money on this, which was kind of a big deal to me because we don’t have a lot of funds for R&D.

I kept looking for Mr. Inoue, and I did end up getting in touch with him. How did I do that? Ah, right. Before I went back to France, I was able to get Mr. Inoue’s address since he does not have a phone. I sent him a long letter, in Japanese, written by my wife. I told him I loved his work; I explained the whys and hows and what I was trying to achieve with The 2 Queens. He called me back on the following day. Like what, postal services still work! We met with him, but he was not available at the time. He was working on Giovanni’s Island, I think. But he told me, “I may have a gap in my schedule.” Wait… Was he working on Evangelion, maybe? I believe it was Evangelion. Anyhow, he had some time between the two movies, so he said he may be able to work with me. He also told me that if any of the prominent directors he works with regularly asked for him, he would have to go work for them even though he liked my project. I took the risk, agreed to those terms, and waited.

I didn’t have any updates for some time, and I also needed to find a Character Designer who would work well with Mr. Inoue’s style. It was hard finding a Japanese Character Designer who could work in the desired style because as soon as I had the misfortune of telling them we had Mr. Inoue on board, they were afraid. It was a mistake telling them they’d answer, “What if Mr. Inoue doesn’t like what I draw?” and declined the offer. I was getting desperate, thinking we’d never go through with it. Suddenly, I got a call back from Mr. Inoue in October, and he told me he had a two and a half month gap starting in November where he could work with me.

It was in less than four weeks, and damn I still didn’t have a Character Designer. In a panic, I reached out to Bahi JD [8], an animator I met in Japan and whose style I liked a lot. I told him, “You’re a youngster who has guts, don’t miss out on this.” He was still new to the scene back then, but he has improved and evolved a lot since.

Was it before the production of Space Dandy?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: It was well before. It was at his very start!

I told him I liked the few things I had seen from him; I liked that he had a style that was a cross between Western-style and Japanese style. I thought it’d be great to do something together, so I bought him a plane ticket from Austria to Paris. He stayed at my place in the guest room for a week or so. I had him working every day. It took us 15 days. Every day I was behind his back, bugging him: “More left! More right!” Character Design wasn’t his specialty, and he also had his own style. It was difficult for him, and we only had so little time.

We had to finish the two characters and all the Model Packs. So we worked our asses off. Joel also came to give us a hand and do some drawings, but he’s an illustrator, not an animator, so it was harder for him to do Turnarounds and keep the exact same style. It was easier for Bahi to do that.

We did the Model Pack in a rush, but it looked good and professional. I went to Japan with it, and we started working in a small studio in charge of compositing. They also took part in the production and management a little, but I had built the team alongside Mr. Inoue. Mr. Inoue, in just two months and at a discount, made us a pilot movie. It’s not perfect, but it shows well what we can do in the long run.

Did he draw everything by himself?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Almost. Mr. Honda, a famous animator who worked on Evangelion, gave a hand for one and a half shots. We had a great team. Thomas Romain was in charge of the background art. It was an excellent working experience.

Now we have this pilot. I have looked for funding in Europe. Unfortunately, I did not receive the reactions I was hoping for. The issue is, I’m no one. They don’t talk about me in Télérama [9], and I’m not a famous artist. In the French system, that doesn’t play to your advantage when you try to do things differently, and you’re faced with rejection and disinterest.

It’s made for big names in the field because even if it fails, it doesn’t matter because there still was the opportunity to work with someone famous. I don’t get such offers. But I keep thinking about the project. I have put it back on the shelf so I don’t overexpose it after the lukewarm reactions I’ve got. But we’ll work on it and keep things moving in due time.

Maybe the time isn’t right?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Just as for Oban, it’s all about all the elements being in place at the same time. We need partners that are interested in such a project and there needs to be a demand for such projects at that exact moment. We need development to be at a stage where it reaches the excellence it might not have had the previous times and the element that will convince it is a good project in a simple pitch. We need to get to that point. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to get there. We need to hold on, keep working on it as well as other projects, so we don’t put all our eggs in the same basket, or else you’re throwing yourself off a cliff. But with other projects moving on at the same time, I think we’ll get there eventually.

Would you go for it if you had an opportunity to make it into live-action? Or would you be left dissatisfied?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’d be happy to make it into live-action, but in that case, I’d have another director in charge. The issue with this project is that it’s expensive to do it as an anime, and it’s also costly to shoot it in live-action. It’s pretty costly regarding French standards for an animated feature film but compared to a production like Titeuf, we’re less expensive. We also have the best animators in the world on it.

Once you know the ins and outs of the Japanese production model and how it works from the inside, it allows you to work with Japanese rates, which are frankly low in regards to the quality you get from it. But you still need that money, and it doesn’t grow on trees.

So, in live-action, why not? The writing is already close to live-action and is very realistic. But we’d go from a movie that costs in the millions to a film that costs in the tens of millions. That becomes a new challenge in itself. There aren’t many companies in France that can get involved in such a project. Sure, in the US, but convincing American partners is a whole challenge in itself.

But what if Netflix wants its own Game of Thrones?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’d be great. Then again, my problem is that I don’t have a name for myself or a structure backing me which allows me to get in touch with them under the right conditions. It could be possible if I can get to meet with them face to face, but to get to that point, you already need to have some kind of background.

Sure with Oban, we proved the opposite. We had never produced anything before, we had only done a few short films, and we totally could have failed and not been up to the task artistically. It turned out that we were all hard workers, and we all had some background which allowed the production to turn out successful. But it’s hard to convince large companies as we did. To have companies such as Disney or Bandai investing in such a small company, even if the project is sexy, executives are afraid.

But that’s the plan, kinda. To have a project so exciting, so pretty, so good that a prominent structure is ready to take the risk and back you.

Are there any other projects you are working on?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: So, we talked about The 2 Queens, Saya no Uta, the stuff we’re doing for Oban. That adds up quickly. I have also acquired the rights to an Argentinian stage play written by Claudio Tolcachir, a recent great Argentinian author.

With that play, he won the prizes for best Argentinian play and best direction in 2005.

It’s from a few years ago, but it gets played over occasionally. I had the opportunity to see it at the Festival d’Avignon two years ago. I loved the play, and I want to make it into a live-action movie, something low-budget. Since I have this habit of doing projects which are too ambitious, I was thinking of doing an “Arts et Essai” movie.

If you try to do some big comedy movie with rude humor in France, you’ll find a way. If you’re shooting for a small Arts et Essai, you’ll find a way. But if you try to make a genre film or the kind of movie I like, it’ll be more complicated.

So my goal is to make an Arts et Essai movie that still feels like me. Claudio’s story is nuts. There are some crazy characters, this stepfamily spiraling out of control and destroying itself. There’s some great potential there, so I’m also working on the script for this project. I want it to be a low-budget movie, with only a few backgrounds, a team made up of some young actors. It’d be a fun thing to do.

What is the name of the play?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: La Omisión de la Familia Coleman [The Omission of the Family Coleman]

Do you speak Spanish?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: No, I only know the original title. [laughs]

With this project, just like with the Japanese, I went to meet with Claudio, who is an independent artist. He gets requested a lot, but he conceived his play by himself in his home, which became the stage for it. It was played in his living room in which people would settle in.

They are very personal artists who work on a small scale. Convincing Claudio, or Nitroplus and Gen Urobuchi [10], are easier since I’m a creator too, and we have a lot in common. We can find an agreement on something riskier but which can turn out great. I’m not trying to play in the same field as large structures who buy any best-seller and go for it.

I don’t have the security of finding funds right away. Saya no Uta has a lot of fans, but it’s a niche work. It’s not the mainstream target Gaumont [11] or UGC [12] tries to reach.

To me, it’s more about wanting to work on a compelling story rather than buying a license that will guarantee easy funding. I want a story that shows potential and to play with it.

Do you want to produce them in France?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Regarding The Omission of the Family Coleman, the goal is to cater to France. I’d turn the Argentinian characters into very French characters.

On the other hand, regarding Saya no Uta, I want to make a film in English for an international audience and shoot in an English-speaking country. It can be Canada or the US. It depends on who is financing the movie.

Saya no Uta can take place anywhere. There aren’t any elements that specifically tie it to Japan. The goal is to make it international, not to keep it contained to Japanese audiences.

Did you get the rights to Saya no Uta before Gen Urobuchi became famous?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: It was before Madoka Magica, but he was gathering a lot of attention. I think it was around the time of Psycho Pass. Saya no Uta is a game that is not as mainstream as other works he’s done afterward. I still had to negotiate a lot. It’s hard to deal with Japanese people because they are very close to their licenses and don’t want other people to touch them. And I can’t blame them. It’s normal to worry when you see all the times they got into the wrong hands and got distorted.

The image of the studio is critical to them. Gen Urobuchi and Nitroplus are inextricably linked. He is one of their employees, so they’d instead not do anything rather than take the risk of doing something terrible. It’s a matter of trust, relations, and meeting and talking with each other. I’m on the same page as them, and my previous work proves that. I’d instead not do anything rather than settle for something which doesn’t live up to my expectations.

Regarding your love for the Middle Ages, have you always been interested in it, or is it only related to The 2 Queens?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I get passionate about everything that relates to my projects. But I have always loved the Middle Ages and chivalrous tales.

Such as François Rabelais?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: There is Rabelais, but I’m more interested in other stuff, like epic tales. We often forget there is a ton of literature of chivalrous tales from the 13th to 16th centuries. Aside from the Arthurian legends, there are also tales from other European countries. I didn’t know much about the Middle Ages before working on The 2 Queens. I really learned about it when I started working on it.

When you’re working on such a project, you tell yourself: “Ok, he’s lighting a torch now. But how do you light a torch in the 6th century?” So you look into it. He needs a flint, but it takes time. He also needs to have some sand on him. He can’t just do it anytime. Or let’s say he rides a horse. Sure. Is there a saddle? How is it? Are there any stirrups? How is the bit? The horse, is it large? Small? What colour is it?

You need to get into the depth of it to understand the customs. If they’re drinking, what are they drinking, what are they drinking from? What is the glass made of? Is it made of glass or clay? You keep digging for information, and it can be dangerous in my case. Because I’m an author and a producer simultaneously, you can end up putting too much time into such research and never move on. At some point, you need to raise some money! [laughs]

Sometimes, I get lost in the study for three weeks on something stupid. It feeds the project, and it gets me more passionate about it. I’m starting to get quite knowledgeable on the period, but I still discover new information, and I get too excited when I stumble across a museum with three brooches in small towns.

Did you take classes? Have you met with historians?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: No, but I probably should have. I should do it. I have read tons of books by historians, and I was often mad at some analysis on the two queens, which I found to be psychologically not credible.

I may have some issues with historians and with History in how it’s studied as a subject. I have friends who went to study History in college. If you think you’re gonna hear about the great Men and Women in History, you’re in the wrong place. It’s all about learning the everyday stuff.

Obviously, it’s important too, but I’m fascinated by the great figures throughout History. I think they are strong characters. I’m not ashamed to like Dumas. In Japan, they produce shows about their History all the time, about the History of the samurais. The NHK produces 90-episode shows every year about such topics. In Korea, too, they have massive hits on 80-episode shows.

It’s a shame we’re not looking more into our own History in France when there are so many topics we could tell stories about. The musketeers, Napoleon. Particularly the Middle Ages, these are such exciting times with exceptional, larger-than-life characters. We need to do something about it, damn it! [laughs]

It’d be fun to turn Gargantua and Pantagruel [13] into an anime.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: That’s true; it’d be fun. I like the story, it’s truculent and funny. But I am already in so much trouble with the projects I’m already involved with, I’ll consider it some other time. There is another project I don’t talk about, it’s top-secret, and I have spent a lot of time on it these past few years. I showed it to a handful of people, constantly receiving positive feedback. It’s an expensive project, and I know I cannot make it for now. I want to direct it myself. It’s my life’s goal, my life’s ambition even more so than The 2 Queens. I’m trying to get some projects rolling so I can make a name for myself and build up my reputation to make this project happen before I die. It’s an adaptation, not from Rabelais, but a forgotten classic. It’ll be challenging to make. But it has so much potential. One could imagine what Terry Gilliam, golden age Terry Gilliam that is, could do on Rabelais’s stories.

Have you seen the original German Münchhausen movie?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Obviously. But when I’m told about Münchhausen, Karel Zeman’s movie comes to mind first. It’s great. The German film is good too, but I prefer Terry Gilliam’s. I’m an unconditional fan of The Thief of Bagdad, the 1924 version written by Fairbanks. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made regarding visual intensity. When watching Gilliam’s movies, you can feel a lot of his influences, but it doesn’t take away from his own personality. It’s funny to watch a movie and think how original it is and see what its inspirations are once you learn more about cinema and literature. It’s rare for an idea to be purely original, even if it has been transformed, even if it gets a new shape, a new life. Everything has an origin somewhere.

It’s great to hear such words from a creator. To hear you acknowledge your influences. Sometimes you meet creators who take a lot of inspiration left and right, but they don’t want to admit it. They will pretend every one of their ideas is original.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: It depends on the people. Miyazaki might not talk about it a lot, but they distributed The King and the Mockingbird in Japan. So I think he acknowledges it since the movie’s influence on his works is apparent.

He never talks about where he got his ideas for Nausicaa, though. It’s all from one of Moebius’ [14] Bande Dessinées, Ballade, in which all of Nausicaa‘s world is already there.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: I’ll check it out. I know of Moebius, but I don’t know about this one.

It’s one of the stories from Is Man Good? It’s only 9 pages long. That’s why Moebius always loved Nausicaa; it’s his world in the first place.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Influences are a thing, but there’s also what the author makes of these influences. When you read Nausicaa, it’s one of the greatest manga, if not the greatest, ever made. The movie is impressive, too; I love the movie. But the manga… It’s like Akira. I love the film, it’s one of my favorites, same for Nausicaa, but the manga are so much richer and go even further. They’re awesome.

Since we’re on this topic, do you care about sharing some of the other anime that inspired you?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: The stuff I like? I’m always preaching for Run Melos! to be recognized for its worth and for it to be remembered. It was such a pleasure discovering it, and it has incomparable beauty. Another movie I found not too long ago is Parasite Dolls which is violent but realistic. It’s 90’s OVAs pushed to their extreme. There was money, and most of all, there were animators ready to push the limits of realistic animation further than ever. After that, 3D came along, celluloids disappeared, and that mindset was lost. But the level they reached was breathtaking.

It looks a bit old for today’s standards because people have been accustomed to digital compositing, but what they were able to achieve in terms of movements, costumes, characters, bullet impacts, FX was incredible. Aside from the story, which is good, it’s mostly the visual impact. Stories are essential; I’m a writer myself, but in some instances, like Akira, the story is excellent, but the visuals are on a whole other level. They take me on a whole different level.

After watching Akira for the first time, I cried for thirty minutes. I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t control myself. I had never seen something so beautiful in my life. Everything, from the music to the visuals, in the end, he dies without really dying. I saw it in 1991 in a small theater near Hyde Park in England. I think it was one of the first places to show it in the west. It was a blast.

In my eyes, a show that is still a go-to is Future Boy Conan. It’s such a great show. All of Miyazaki is already there. We have rarely done better in regards to general audiences geared shows. It’s touching, funny, has some impactful moments.

Have you seen them in HD?

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: Not yet. I started watching the show with my son. I have to continue.

In high resolution, they look incredible.

Savin Yeatman-Eiffel: No doubt about it! I had the opportunity to talk about it with Mr. Miyazaki. We were visiting Studio Ghibli with Stan and Thomas. Some of the staff who did compositing on Oban were also working there. We went there late in the evening when the studio was closing for the day. It’s one of the few animation studios which had regular work times, at 7 p.m. everybody has already left.

So we were walking down the halls, and at some point, we reached a large room, and I saw a small guy from the back, grey hair, sitting at a desk and scribbling some drawings. I was thinking to myself that haircut looked familiar. He looked at us, came towards us, and he was like, “Who’s here in the studio? In my studio? At such a time? Who are you? Foreigners?” And we felt like we started on the wrong foot. We kindly told him our situation, that we were some French guys who came to Japan to co-produce an anime, he felt compelled and was nice to us. I know he can be quite hard on his coworkers, but he played the figure of the old sage to us.

We talked for about half an hour or an hour, and he told me a lot of trivia regarding Conan since I told him it was one of the influences I shared with the Japanese studio I was working with. He told me how hard it was, some episodes being done just hours away from broadcasting, some episodes where everything had to be done in under a week.

He also told me some powerful words: “Creativity is like a mop. It gets filled with water, and you need to rinse it up to the last drop before letting it soak again. But you should not be afraid to use all of your ideas on a single project. You have to put everything you have into it and only then move on to another project.”

A great man in the history of cinema and animation, for sure.

Interview by Ludovic Joyet and Dimitri Seraki. February 2017

Notes

[1] Oban Star-Racers, 2006 Sav! The World Productions, Jetix, HAL Film Maker, TV series, 26 episodes, dir. Savin Yeatman-Eiffel. A co-production between France and Japan. The French team was composed of Savin Yeatman-Eiffel, Thomas Romain, Stanislas Brunet, Loic Penon (aka DJ Princesse Connard), and Japanese studio HAL Film Maker (now TYO Animations).

[2] Thomas Romain (1977 – ) Graduated from Gobelins École de l’Image. He directed the pilot to the TV series Code Lyoko alongside Tania Palumbo but left the project to work on Oban Star-Racers. From 2007 to 2018, he works as an employee of Studio Satelight. In 2018 he founded his own animation studio in Tokyo, Studio No Border, a subsidiary of French company Ankama.

[3] The 2 Queens, 2013 Sav! The World Productions, Pilot film, dir. Savin Yeatman-Eiffel. The 2 Queens is a pilot to the feature film project by Savin Yeatman-Eiffel. The pilot movie featured Character Designs by Bahi JD and realistic animation by Toshiyuki Inoue and Takeshi Honda. The pilot was shown on July 7th, 2013, at Paris Japan Expo.

[4] Saya no Uta, 2003 Nitroplus, Video Game, dir. Gen Urobuchi. An erotic Visual Novel featuring Lovecraftian horror elements. The game gained a lot of attention after the success of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, for which Gen Urobuchi wrote the script.

[5] Joel Jurion (1975 – ) French Bande Dessinnée author and illustrator best known for his work on the series AnachronLes Démons de Dunwich and Klaw.

[6] François Cavanna (1923 – 2014) French author, editor, and illustrator. He contributed to the creation of satirical newspapers Charlie Hebdo and Hara-Kiri alongside Georges Bernier (aka Professeur Choron). His series of novels Les Mérovingiens unfolds during the Merovingian dynasty.

[7] Run Melos!, 1992 Visual 80, Movie, dir. Masaaki Ôsumi. An adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel. The production featured many realist animators such as Hiroyuki Okiura, Toshiyuki Inoue, and Mitsuo Iso.

[8] Bahi JD (1991 – ) Austrian animator working in Japan. He was one of the first foreign web-gen animators to get noticed, primarily through his work on Kids on the Slope and Space Dandy.

[9] Télérama, Magazine, Groupe Le Monde. Télérama is a French weekly cultural and television magazine.

[10] Gen Urobuchi (1972 – ) Scenario writer affiliated with Japanese video game company Nitroplus. He is most known for his work on Fate/ZeroPuella Magi Madoka Magica, and Thunderbolt Fantasy.

[11] Gaumont Film Company. The first and oldest film company in the world, founded in 1895. Gaumont is the predominant film distributor and producer in France through its cinema network as well as its subsidiary Gaumont-Pathé.

[12] Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC). The second-largest film distributor and producer in France. They operate 36 theaters in the country.

[13] The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, 1532 – 1564, Novels, François Rabelais. A series of five novels written in the 16th century. They tell the stories of two giants, Gargantua and Pantagruel, in a very comedic and satiric tone.

[14] Jean Henri Gaston Giraud aka Moebius (1938 – 2012) French artist, cartoonist and writer. Esteemed by many artists and filmmakers, he is one of the most influential comic and Science Fiction artists. His illustrations for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unproduced adaptation of Dune as well as his series The Incal are essential pillars to modern Science Fiction.

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