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INTERVIEW: POKEMON: THE ‘BRIDGED SERIES’ 1KidsEntertainment and Nowacking

One of the most curious things that’s arrived in the anime community with the rise of YouTube are abridgers who take an anime, shorten each episode, rewrite and redub all the footage in order to make it as funny as possible. The granddaddy of them all is LittleKuriboh’s Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged with Team FourStar’s Dragon Ball Z Abridged being perhaps the most prolific abridged series.

But Pokemon The ‘Bridged Series is also there. And it’s great. A twisted version of Ash Ketchum’s quest to be the very best, the series has been going over a period of years, recently starting its second season. I spoke to two members of Elite3 (the YouTube group that make the show), Michael “1Kids Entertainment” Hecht (the voice of Ash and others and the series’ editor and co-writer) and Jessi “Nowacking” Nowack (co-writer and the voice of Misty and others) about the process of making the series and what it’s like being abridgers.

TS: Now Mike, you recently became the main editor on Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged; now obviously, you’ve known and collaborated with LittleKuriboh for a long time, but when did he approach you about doing the editing?

Mike: In late September of this year (2014), Martin and I were in a call together on Skype (and I believe Jessi was present as well), and Martin expressed concern about the low output of episodes that had become the norm for YGOTAS for some time. It seemed to be really bothering him, so I asked, without really expecting him to take me up on it, if it’d help if I did the editing for him. Fortunately, he cheered up and accepted my offer, and a week or two later, I had the lines and started editing furiously. Strictly speaking, Martin didn’t really approach me, but I’m not sure I’d say that I “approached him” either. It was a spur-of-the-moment, friend-trying-to-help-a-friend proposition.

TS: How long does it take to edit an episode of P:TBS, relatively? What software are you using?

Mike: It really depends. I know there have been episodes that took maybe a week to edit together, with very few breaks for anything but the necessities (sleeping, eating, bathroom breaks, etc.) earlier on in the series. As I learned more about editing, the speed of my editing got quicker, but it was severely offset by my rising perfectionism. The type of things I now spend a good chunk of time on while editing Pokemon ‘Bridged are likely noticed by no one (examples: Fixing animation errors, removing film grain, fixing pixelation, fixing coloration), but it results in a product that I’m much happier with, so it’s ultimately worth it.

I’d say nowadays, with real life (college and having a local friend really bites into your free time!) obligations and disruptions included, the editing process for an episode of ‘Bridged can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks if I’m lucky. YGOTAS 63 luckily only took about a week and a half, but I feel behind a bit in school because of it. Needed to make sure I had it done in time for Youmacon, and I luckily succeeded!

The software that I used for all of Pokemon ‘Bridged, until the most recent episode [20, at the time of this interview], are as follows:

  • Sony Vegas 8.0 Pro
  • Photoshop CS4
  • Audacity
  • Soundbooth CS4
  • MS Paint (believe it or not, it came in slightly useful!)

Nowadays, I use a slightly different combination of programs, which I’ve been using for episode 20 of Pokemon ‘Bridged and episode 63 of YGOTAS:

  • Premiere CS6
  • Photoshop CS6
  • Audacity
  • Audition CS6

TS: How far are you guys in planning/breaking down future episodes?

Jessi: We’ll sometimes get random ideas and mark them down in a “Future Stuff” document or something haha Like, we thought about what we wanted to do with Brock while we were on episode two or three. We got the idea for what Tracey would be like fairly early, as well. We’ve planned for up to the movie and a bit past it, some little ideas, some big, overarching plot lines. I like having a direction that we’re going and an end goal, so I try to contribute to Pokemon ‘Bridged the way I write for Dark Swamp; brain storming, writing ahead. I love writing in that style. Hate when there’s no goal in sight and you just sorta write until you’re blue in the face. Good characters can only carry you so far, you gotta use them right. You gotta challenge them and all that.

TS: How did the three of you (Elite3) meet? What was the catalyst to start the series (Pokemon ‘Bridged)?

Mike: As much as I like to erase this particular part of my history, my first abridged project was an awful Pokemon Abridged that I made two episodes of before they were forcibly removed from YouTube by the anti-copyright-infringement bots of that time. Instead, I replaced it with an almost equally awful Death Note Abridged, in which I voiced almost all of the characters for the first 5 episodes. After browsing around YouTube for other amateur voice actors interested in Death Note, I stumbled upon an outdated recording of xJerry64x  [the third member of Elite3] conversing in-character as Light Yagami and L, the main characters of Death Note. Recognizing his voice’s proximity to the dub voice of Light, I asked him to replace me as the lead role in my series, and he accepted.

Fast-forward roughly a year or so later, and I grew tired waiting forever for lines from the large cast of actors I’d amassed, and got inspiration (in the shower, of course, where else) to give a Pokemon Abridged project another go. I wanted as few actors as possible, and I wanted the actors to be the writers (for the purposes of having more control over line delivery). I asked Jerry to be my partner on the project, and he accepted. After making our first episode, which debuted on March 5th 2010, we realized there were too many girls in Pokemon for us to squeeze out of our manly vocal chords. We, again, needed someone who worked well as both a writer and a voice actor. Jessi, who I’d been acquainted/friendly with for a few months by that point (through mutual friends) was the ideal candidate, and she joined the project. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jessi: Mike and I met in a random conversation on Skype that had a jillion other people in it. Mike and Jerry did episode one on their own and then realized “Oh, right. Girls are in this show. Crap.” So they set out to find a female to add to the team. They wanted a girl who not only could voice, but also had writing ability, (as one of the advantages we have as a group is that the writers are also the actors, so we’re all there during scripting sessions and we all know how the lines are to be said.) I was their first choice and had actually planned on doing a Pokemon one-shot of my own down the line, so I definitely had an interest.

The three of us click super easily, which is kinda crazy when you think of it. We’re random people who met on the internet. The likely-hood of that is so small. It’s such a blessing that Mike, Jerry, and my senses of humor and comedic timing are so similar, ’cause you usually can’t tell who writes a specific joke in the series. That’s the way it should be. You can’t have three people with very different senses of humor writing one show, otherwise it would be a mess. It’s one of the biggest reasons the show is still going.

TS: Given that all three of you write each episode of Pokemon ‘Bridged, how do you break down who does what scene?

Mike: All three of us write all of the scenes. Sometimes one person will be more dominant in the creation of a particular bit of dialogue, or a scene, or an episode, but not without going through the filters of the other members and bouncing ideas back and forth. For instance, Jerry came up with the basic idea for episode 6, which was our first real introduction to his main character, Brock. Jessi was really inspired for the 2nd episode of our Orange Islands special and provided us with several solid ideas/dialogue bits that we eventually built the rest of the episode around. I might be remembering incorrectly but I seem to remember writing a lot of the characters voiced by TeamFourStar in episode 19. But in all of those examples, the other members assisted and polished any raw ideas, or otherwise got rid of bad ideas that came along with them.

My point is that it’s a group thing. We don’t split up the work ahead of time. We get in a call and we watch the episodes and we write together. It’s really fun.

Jessi: We’re all online, watching the episode, and writing scenes at the same time. We’ll usually watch through the episode that we’re working on two or three times so we can familiarize ourselves with the footage and plot, then watch specific scenes and work on just that scene until we’ve written it.

Sometimes, we’ll go off individually and write scenes on our own, if we have a good idea and want to pitch it to the others. For instance, when we knew we were gonna do the Orange Islands, I watched some episodes on my own and found the Rudy episode. Totally fell in love with it, writing-wise, and went to Mike and Jerry and said, “Guys, I’m gonna write an episode on my own and if you like it, maybe we can do it, okay?” And they were totally down for it. I love that I have writing partners who are confident enough in my abilities that they’d be cool with that. I showed them the script, they loved it, we tweaked a couple little parts, and boom. Script done. I’ve also done that for a part in a season 2 episode I had an idea for and wanted to pitch it to them. I voiced all the characters myself and edited it all together and everything.

TS: You’ve done flash forwards to later arcs, but by and large, you’ve been sticking to the Kanto era of the show. Is this simply because the early seasons are the ones that most people tend to remember?

Mike: The simple answer is that we started with Kanto because it’s the first season and therefore is the starting point by default. The fact that it holds the most nostalgia for people and has a pretty different feel than the monotony of the remainder of the show is just a big side-bonus. We occasionally stray from Kanto if we have good reason (the Advanced episode was due to a stroke of inspiration when finding out Misty comes back in Advanced for two arcs, and the Orange Islands specials were voted on during a fundraiser we ran in 2013), but ultimately, the plot of Pokemon, however thin and barely present, is mostly intact & properly ordered in Pokemon ‘Bridged.

Jessi: We didn’t wanna just abandon Kanto to skip ahead, but we also had ideas for future characters. With episode 15 and the Orange Island three-part special, we were able to have some fun with future characters, but then go back to Kanto once the episode was done. Kanto has Misty and Brock both there and we’ve got a good thing going with the trio’s interactions, so if there’s a time where we feel confident about moving onto another season, maybe we’ll head there for an episode or so.

TS: It’s finished now, but what did you guys think of Twitch Plays Pokemon?[NOTE: This interview was conducted before the Twitch Plays Pokemon anniversary run and before the release of Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.] Did you keep up with it until the end? Have you or would you ever consider streaming any of the Pokemon games on your own Twitch channel?

Mike: We were all huge fans of Twitch Plays Pokemon, though I think that obsession was more pronounced in myself than in Jessi or Jerry. I lost interest shortly after technical errors resulted in the protagonist of the Emerald playthrough losing the name of “/”, which I felt was the last straw in a series of unfortunate missed opportunities that had plagued the Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon ever since they introduced the Democracy feature. Unfortunately, the streamer in control of TPP didn’t understand the idea of “beating a dead horse” and continued to supply games and mess with a formula that wasn’t broken to begin with, and it resulted with a fizzling out of popularity that could easily have ended on a high note at the end of Crystal or Red version.

We actually have streamed a Pokemon game, and the recording of it can be viewed here. Those three videos are a recording of a 2-day live stream Jessi and I ran to raise money for the Kitten Rescue in LA. We raised over $1000, which isn’t too shabby, I think, for some nerds playing a Pokemon game.

Additionally, we’ve created two Twitch Plays Pokemon animations on our second channel, which can be viewed here.
Jessi: Elite3 actually put out a couple episodes of Twitchémon, a series centering around the universe of TPP. The first episode had Red setting off on his Twitch journey and the second showed his struggle with The Ledge. Mike followed TPP super closely and I got to hear all the lure and stuff second-hand from him. I watched it a bit, myself, because he piqued my interest.

TS: Where did the inspiration for your various voices in the series (Pokemon ‘Bridged) come from?

Mike: Well, each character’s voice has its own origin story (my Helix, all of my answers here have been long-winded…)

For Ash, the voice started out as a really poor attempt to sound like the 4Kids dub voice. As I’m not Veronica Taylor, nor am I a girl, this was a spectacular mess. This luckily evolved into the Ash voice I use today, as his character developed along with the voice.

Misty was simply Jessi pulling out the best voice in her range that matched the mannerisms of Misty from the dub, even if the voice wasn’t a match. Misty’s character quickly diverged from the dub, just like Ash, and with it, so did the mannerisms/overtone of the voice.

Brock was also Jerry attempting the dub voice. As we quickly developed probably our most dynamic/funny character in him, the voice was allowed to settle to the slightly deeper place where it is now.

Other voices are usually attempts at matching the dub (Team Rocket, AJ, Damian, Prof. Oak, etc.) or mocking the dub (Barbara, the Samurai, the Eevee brothers, etc.) or otherwise a silly voice we thought fit our ideas for the character (Joy, Arnold’s Mom, Pikachu, Koga, etc.)

Jessi: Most of the characters in Pokémon ‘Bridged are caricatures of their canon selves and the voices usually just come with it. Barbara is the one that immediately comes to mind because when we were watching the original episode, Melody (her actual name) has this dub voice that over-pronounced all her “b” sounds. I can’t explain it in a way that will do it justice, but there was something about the way she said “bulbasaur” where Mike was poking fun at it and started over pronouncing every “b” sound she made. That eventually turned into her ‘Bridged voice. I nominated to change her name to Barbara so it had more “b’s.”

TS: A lot of episodes have guest artwork or original animation inserted into them. What’s the impetus behind that?

Mike: Usually it means we have a really good idea that fits in the ‘Bridged universe that can’t happen using existing footage. It happens a lot more than you’d think.

Jessi: People have made some super cool fan art for the show and we’ve met so many talented, wonderful people through it. If we have a part in an episode where we think it’d benefit us to have something drawn, we’ll sometimes pull from people we know have talent or think might like to help out with the series and go “Hey, would you wanna do this thing?” We’ve gotten to work with super sweet people and it’s been awesome.

TS: There’s a really potent vein of dark, surreal humor to this series, far more than any other Abridged series out there. Are there particular reasons or influences behind that?

Mike: We’re just really terrible people who get a kick out of killing off a village of nudist colonists or coupling Ash with his potential half-sister. And what good would a Pokemon parody be if it didn’t acknowledge the absurdity of the word “Breeding” when it’s used in the anime instead of the word “Grooming”?

It’s been Pokemon ‘Bridged‘s policy for a long time to be as “original” as possible, which is very difficult given that we’re making a derivative of someone else’s work. In shades of gray, I suppose, though, we’ve succeeded a bit. Let’s do something different. It won’t appeal to everyone, but we can cultivate our own audience without relying on the predefined audience of other abridged series or the fandom of Pokemon.

Jessi: We like to really divert from the source material and do our own thing. If people wanna watch the original series, they’ll go watch the original series. We’re here to bring something new to the table and tell a different story. Plus, the concept of the Pokemon universe is pretty dark, when you think about it. Children going off on their own at 10 years old? What about school? What are the parents like who do this to their children? Sounds like a cruel world.

TS: Abridgers have really become a big presence at anime cons in recent years. Why do you think that is? Do you think the field is growing? How closely knit is the current community of Abridgers?

Mike: This is a very easy question: The reason why abridgers have been more present at anime cons is because more and more people want to see them, for better or worse. After all, that should be the main reason a convention invites any guest to their event or approves of a proposed panel. The point of conventions is to attract and entertain attendees. If 90% of anime congoers wanted to see Justin Bieber, I’m sure he’d be a high-profile guest at anime cons too. I’m so glad I don’t live in that alternate universe.

As for the community, there really isn’t one, nor has there ever been. Abridging is like a collection of school districts; you have various different circles where most of the people in those circles tend to know most of the people in their own circle, but for the most part, there really isn’t much of a connection between those friend circles. We’re all just a bunch of people with the same hobby. We’re barely any different from people whose hobby consists of constructing miniature ships inside of glass bottles, except our hobby involves the internet, so it comes with an illusion of conformity or communication.

Having said that, the people within my the friend group I currently belong in are fairly close to each other. It’s always a pleasure to spend any time with TeamFourStar, LittleKuriboh, PurpleEyes, Faulerro, Xthedarkone, Kirbopher, and tons of others. It’s a privilege to get to work with them on our own projects and occasionally in theirs. I like to think that even if we suddenly all stopped making videos (don’t panic, this is 100% hypothetical and completely unlikely) that we’d remain in touch just as much as we do now. The friendships have transcended the common interests.

Jessi: With the growth of content creators, people who frequent the internet are starting to become fans of the work and wanting to meet them or see them do panels. Anime cons are usually the place for that, since abridgers rarely do “meet ups.” We’ve only done one meet-up outside of a con and it was during NYCC haha I have no idea if the number of abridgers is actually growing because I actually don’t watch many abridged series. The abridgers I chill with have become, like, some of the best friends I’ve had and my life would be totally different if I hadn’t gotten into it. Definitely less exciting.

TS: Any advice for wannabe abridgers or voice actors out there?

Mike: The basics? Don’t do anything halfheartedly. Always accept that you have room to improve. Be extremely open to criticism. Don’t do it for attention. Observe what others do and pick apart what works and doesn’t. Be patient; improvement is a gradual process. Don’t get caught up in subscriber/view counts. Enable comments, but don’t read them… criticism is better elsewhere. Don’t try to force friendships or networking. Do not use Windows Movie Maker under any circumstances. Do not use a pitch changer in lieu of voice acting range. Remember that voice acting is more about acting than it is about the voice.

And most importantly: Have fun. That’s the main reason anyone should be doing this.

Jessi: The successful content creators will most likely tell you that making something that’s truly your own is an adventure and will take some time. Stick to it. Voice actors and content creators: it’s a painful truth, but I’m gonna tell you that you will be mediocre when you start and that might discourage you. Don’t. Keep going. Everyone sucks at first. I was terrible. A terrible writer, a terrible voice actress. I kept going. You will get better, it just takes time to develop skills.

As long as you aren’t doing a series or pursuing voice over to get attention, you will be successful. You will be. You just will be. Many people set out to make the next best thing or be the next best thing because they want other people to think they’re cool. They are never successful. It’s never good enough for them. Once they get attention, they just want more. They’ll never be happy. But you can be happy, as long as you’re doing it for fun and you’re having a good time, you’ll succeed. It’s totally fine to like getting attention, but it can’t be one of the main reasons you do everything in life.

As for making your actual series, content dudes: write a script, develop characters, make it an entertaining thing that people would actually want to watch. Your first goal in entertainment is being…entertaining! Who would’ve guessed?

Voice actors: you cannot take anything personally. If someone gives you direction, if you don’t get a role, whatever it is. This world is a business above anything else. It’s a job. The director’s goal is not to hurt your feelings. Sometimes you’re just not the right fit for a character or a job. Or you could be a good fit, but they just go with someone who is a better fit. It happens. Have fun. Have fun in everything you do. It’s about having fun and playing with personalities and characters and it’s the greatest job in the world. Best of luck!

 

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Categories: Anime, Interviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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One Comment on “INTERVIEW: POKEMON: THE ‘BRIDGED SERIES’ 1KidsEntertainment and Nowacking”

  1. 05/04/2015 at 7:40 PM #

    Reblogged this on HuntikFan1017-Lucasville OH-Anime-Gaming-More.

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