Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with STAR BLAZERS' Amy Howard Wilson Part I

(An actual cel from one of the Yamato films of "Yuki", aka, "Nova" given to Ms. Wilson
by Meri Davis, chair of A-Kon)
I was fourteen that autumn, flipping channels in the basement TV room. Our set was hooked up to cable -- a new concept for the time. Gone was the static and snow of rabbit ears, and suddenly displayed in vibrant detail across the screen was an amazing image: that of a powerful space battleship as it readied to leave Earth's solar system on an as-yet unknown (to me) mission. Without any other fanfare or preparation, I entered the universe of Star Blazers, a timeless story of love, honor, and sacrifice that unfolds across deep space as the crew of the Earth Defense Force flagship Argo attempts to save the human race and our beloved Mother Earth from mysterious would-be alien destroyers. Over the course of the first twenty-six episodes in which the Star Force's Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, Nova, Mark Venture, robot IQ-9, et al battle to reach the planet Iscandar in the distant Magellanic Cloud for a machine capable of removing the deadly radioactivity unleashed by planet bombs fired by the alien Gamilons, I found myself captivated, stirred -- and desperate to know if the crew would succeed in their mission to save our planet and people from extinction.  It was fairly mature territory for an afternoon cartoon to explore (or any medium, for that matter), and I was forever changed as a result. Oh, the misery of Friday afternoons, especially when, upon her approach to Iscandar, the Argo's crew learn they're also traveling to sister world Gamilon and a trap from which no escape seems possible -- with no resolution forthcoming until the following Monday!  I routinely raced home from the bus stop to be sure I was in front of the tube by three in the afternoon.  When the fine folks at WSBK- TV 38 switched broadcast times to 7:30 weekday mornings, I routinely missed the bus.  No more so after the Star Force returned home with the radiation-removing Cosmo DNA device, only to find themselves under attack by the ruthless Prince Zordar and his mighty war machine, the Comet Empire, for the series' next run of twenty-six episodes. The emotion and gravitas of Star Blazers filled my days with thoughts of the world's bigger pictures, and still does.  There are scenes and scores from many of the episodes that conjure tears to this day. I'm listening to one now as I write this.

Star Blazers, adapted from the popular Japanese anime Space Battleship Yamato, remains one of the most powerful influences of my life.  Along with Gerry Anderson's brilliant outer space parable Space:1999 and the original Battlestar Galactica, the three series formed something of a trinity that turned my imagination -- and, soon, my pen -- in the direction of outer space.  I had Star Blazers dreams and wrote original fan fiction as a result, short stories and even novels in the Star Blazers universe, starting with Against the Legions of the Red Sun, a twenty-six chapter novel, my version of a third season, post-Comet Empire.  I eagerly awaited the real third series, which was promised but never delivered to our TV screens.  At my very first con in Boston right before I turned eighteen, I snapped up buttons in the dealer's room and attended a screening of the Arrivaderci Yamato movie in Japanese, up in the Gamilon Headquarters Suite.

I loved Star Blazers.  And I love it still.
(Season One, a beloved permanent addition to my Writing Room)

So imagine my glee when I connected with the brilliant actress Amy Howard Wilson, who provided the voice of Nova, one of the most beloved and heroic icons in all of Science Fiction. Ms. Wilson was kind and gracious enough to share with me her experiences -- and to take me back in time to the studio, on board the very Argo herself.

How did you land the role of "Nova" in Star Blazers?
AHW: In high school, I was bit by the acting bug and went to the American Academy of Arts for two years.  It was a great program.  I learned how to fence, dance, took vocal and voice classes, all that great stuff.  When I graduated, I still didn't have a real good idea of how the business side of everything worked, so I decided rather than to head for auditions off the bat I'd see if I could get work in related aspects of the industry.  I worked as a receptionist for a casting agency, and then as a sales rep for a jingle writer -- he wrote the jingle for 8 O'Clock Coffee.  When Star Blazers came around, I'd taken a clerical job working in the front office of the Weist-Barron School for TV and Commercial Acting.  I was answering phones and taking a voice-over class.  Tom Tweedy, who voiced "Mark Venture", and Eddie Allen, who voiced Gamilon Leader "Desslok", were also taking classes at the school.  A casting director named Kit Carter called the school looking for non-union talent for this new Japanese cartoon.  They didn't even have a working title at the time!  When they asked us if we were interested in auditioning, I shot my hand up. They did two days worth of auditions for the women, and I was the last one to go in. I don't remember much after that apart from a couple of days of anxiously waiting for the phone to ring.  And when it did, I was a very happy girl!  And here we are today.

What was the studio like?
The studio was called Film Sound, and was located between 41st and Lexington in New York City.  It was a tiny, tiny studio.  As I recall, it was only about fifteen by thirty feet.  In the booth, the only things we had room for were a small table and a chair.  The mic was mounted right on the table. There was a huge TV set outside the window so we could watch the time coding, the animation, the cue beats.  It was really, really interesting.  I had never experienced anything like that before.  All that technical stuff was a real learning curve.  We had to watch for the right cue, listen for the beeps in the headphones -- three beeps, and you had to start speaking where the fourth beep would have been.  You had to stay in character.  Our sound engineer, Jim Frederickson -- back then, we didn't have computers and nifty software packages to be able to fix things in post production -- had to rewind the tape every time we screwed up a line.  Jim had a tape of funny sound effects, and after having to rewind the tape thirteen or fourteen times, he'd know we were growing frustrated and would play one of these silly, crazy noises, like a duck quacking or a whistle, to break the tension.  And on the very next take, we'd get it right.  More often than not, each of us would do our section of the script, just our lines, individually.  It was particularly trying, dubbing from English to Japanese, because the two languages didn't always line up -- which made for some funny ad-libbing, depending upon how long the scene ran.  It was the most economical way of doing things.  For a big production house like
(The lovely Amy Howard Wilson, Center, with Kenneth Meseroll, " Derek
Wildstar", L and Eddie Allen,  "Desslok" R)
Disney or Warner Brothers, they can afford to have their entire cast sitting there, animating to the audio track. This was the reverse. There were quite a few rewrites that had to be done on the spot.  You could be speaking, emoting, and the little mouth on the big TV monitor would stop moving while you still had lines to record.  Or you'd finish your lines and the little mouth would still be moving.  Writers would then adjust the dialogue. To have the entire cast sitting around waiting for one of us to have our lines adjusted, they would have gone broke.  It was a very small production.

With far-reaching magic!
We were on the heels of all the big name shows that had been done before, like Speed Racer and Astro Boy.  But this was new, different.  It was a series where rather than being self-contained and episodic, where you could watch the show out of sequence, in the case of Star Blazers you had to watch every episode, which led to the one following it and referred to the one before it.  It was breaking new ground as far as Japanese imported animation.  We didn't know if anybody would be watching.

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

  1. I think we watched the same shows growing up...between star blazers and robotech my afternoons were full...

    on a similar vein, did you ever watch ExoSquad (1993/94)? the art wasn't up to the level of the japanese anime, but the story was definitely good!