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Posted on 8th Nov, 2018 in Production

It's hard to believe that just a year ago I was flung head first into a masterclass on project mismanagement. Despite all the time that's passed, I am still awaiting my reimbursement and I still detest Beijing. However, in order to commemorate surviving this ordeal, I've decided to sit down with the project's director, Sweets, in order to look back at Suit Up! Japan.

This is the first entry in a 2-part series of interviews and offers reflections on the project and what lessons were learned from it. In the next part I'll shed some light on a number of the questions I've received since I first published this series a year ago. If you need to catch up on everything that's happened, so far check out my (unofficial) Production Notes from the beginning.

Me: What would you say was the most challenging part of the project?

Sweets: From my end it had to be the legal paperwork with Japan because not only am I dealing with laws I don’t know about, I’m dealing with laws I don’t know about in a language I can’t read.
Sweets: Getting it translated over and then having it translated over so that it can be legally read as opposed to [literally] read… because words mean different things, legally, depending upon context. Getting that properly done and making sure everything was specific to that, took a long time. Then getting all the paperwork over, and waiting for all the approvals, the stamps, permits and everything to come back over to us… my head hurt.
Me: That was definitely a common theme throughout the whole thing, at least on my side.
Sweets: Oh it was on my side as well, but we can have two people with headaches at the same time.

Me: Were there any particularly memorable moments for you during the project?

Sweets: Honestly when we got there, when we had finally gotten to the actual location, getting to actually get there, getting everything there and realizing that at that moment, holy crap this is happening. We’ve done it. We're at the location. We have everything in place. We have everyone here, all we have to do now is the actual work… and at that point I started to relax and I began to realize how jet-lagged I was.
Sweets: I didn't realize how jet-lagged I was until after dinner when we were doing the second set of shoots. I turned to Marc and said I'm going to just lie down for a minute, just let me know if you need me and then I just conked out for the rest of the night.
Sweets:…but getting that done and helping the girls with their costumes, doing all those things and just realizing that you had made it to this location after thousands of miles flown and so many miles driven and a mile or two up a mountain with luggage…
Sweets: it was, it was great.
Me: "Great."
Sweets: It was great. I mean through all of the issues, getting there and having it done was what was great. The next issue was coming back. After all of the major work was done, getting back and realizing that now I have this pile of work to do for myself for the next month, month and a half, that was killer.

Me: After we got back, the process of actually putting the calendar together had to take place and that kind of took a while. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Sweets: As we were working with more than one photographer, first we had to make decisions on which photos to choose. As there were a few hundred pictures to choose [from] and we are picking 12 total, you know?
Sweets: So choosing which 12, which months those 12 belong with is exciting. Where will these fit? How it will look? Going in and doing minor edits of just levels and things, nothing really to the girls. Just minor things here and there to help the pictures pop more when it has to be printed. Formatting everything, putting the calendar dates correctly, putting the holidays in, getting the correct bindings, finding someone to print the calendars and ship them, getting an ISBN number.

Me: Does this mean that somewhere, there's a copy of this thing in the Library of Congress?

Sweets: Yeah… I'm pretty sure it's on back-order on Amazon if anyone was actually looking for it. Though I am probably going to reissue one for 2019. If I start on it this week, I can have it done by December.
Me: I swear I've heard that one before.
[both laugh]
Sweets: Yeah but this time I don't have to do anything besides change the calendar format.
Me: And the dates… and the holidays… and the moon cycles…
Sweets: Well yeah but— NO MOON CYCLES!
Me: See that was the thing that got us up to like what? 10 revisions? Maybe more? I don't even remember…
Sweets: Yeah, that was a lot of revisions. No more moon cycles. To hell with moon cycles!
Me: What a nightmare.

Fact Check: At the time of publishing, my researchers (basically just me), have not found the SUJ Calendar on Amazon or in the Library of Congress' archives. My records indicate that an unresolved issue with a Shopify store prevented the listing from appearing on Amazon. Sweets claims the listing made it to Amazon but was removed after it was removed from Shopify.

Me: When did we actually go to print? Was it late January? Early February?

Sweets: We actually went to print, beginning of December but we didn't get physical copies until mid-January.
Sweets: Sales started in February. They were slow to start, they were decent, there were trickle sales. It was not getting as much push as I would've liked, I kind of wanted to turn to the models and say Hey! Post any pictures from Japan you have so it'll help push the calendar but I was also in the middle of a huge personal issue at the time so I couldn't focus on the calendar.

Me: How did the sales do?

Sweets: We sold out of all 50 copies. I think there's still 1 or 2 still lying around in storage. I think one is for me and one is for you.
Me: Whaaaaaaa– nah, no. no. I wish I could forget. No.
Sweets: Just so that we will always have it.
Me: But actually the first time I saw a print copy of this thing was like at Otakon I think.
Sweets: We were officially sold out in July. I was actually surprised at the number of people who bought it in the summer.

Fact Check: Records as recent as July 2018 indicate only 40 calendars were sold. 10 are unaccounted for and possibly lost to shrink.

Me: If we sold 50 copies, we would have had to sell them for hundreds of dollars a piece to recoup our costs. Which we definitely did not. Would you call this project a success?

Sweets: Here's the thing, a very first project you're going to expect to be in the red, no matter what. Especially with us having no name at the time. The fact that we sold out of all 50 is a shocking surprise and the fact that we did so means that it is a success in the fact that it gets our name out there and we can do the project and that we can do other work. It's a failure in the fact that financially it's not sustainable. And with that in mind, knowing this going forward, we can plan out other projects that are less fiscally adventurous.
Me: Ambitious. Wildly and almost unhingedly, ambitious.
Sweets: Yes. But from here on in, we can easily do other projects, in cheaper locations, with models as well. As well as the fact that I have been getting emails from a few people who have seen our work and are like Hey I would love to do one of these too. and I'm going Cool! Here's what's up! Here's our plan right now!

Me: On the topic of locations, we really could have gotten away with not shooting on the other side of the planet for this project. Especially considering all the budgetary despair that lead up to it.

Sweets: Maybe, possibly, probably.
Me: No no no, absolutely. We didn't really use any of the actual location background. We just used that one particular space.
Sweets: We used the locational background for a lot of the marketing leading up to and during… uh… as well as during the sales period, until about March. But yeah, I do agree, we can pull back a wee bit on going insane on things. Unless we're also planning on doing a tour of next time. Which by the way, tour of Japan, it seems highly unlikely but I'd like to try that in 2024.
Me: 2024, assuming we're all still alive by then, I would not mind going on tour. But as a vacation, not work.
Sweets: I was thinking we do it as work, we bring along a few people and we do shoots on sites, in various locations.
Me: [uncomfortable laughter] Oh hell no.
Sweets: What's the worst that happens? We end up snowed in Hokkaido?
Me: The worst that happens is everything that just happened.
Sweets: Nah, it'll be better by then. We will have more infrastructure.
Me: I wanna die.
Sweets: As currently our infrastructure is very minimalist.
Me: I was the infrastructure!
Sweets: Exactly.
Me: All of it!

Me: You mentioned earlier that despite all the things that happened, you're looking to do more Suit Up projects. What is the drive behind that?

Sweets: There's a number of drives behind that. One, I really enjoyed doing the project itself. It was challenging. It was difficult. It gave me a headache but there were a lot of challenges that I saw, now that I've been through it once, I can solve them faster and better than I did before. Two, it'll help push more of the overall brand out there so people will see it, people will understand it, people will hear about it. Three, it'll give us more of a presence out there for people. There's plenty of cosplay style sites and things that don't bother pushing out there and on the East Coast there's nothing. The East Coast used to have, I think it was Nerd Goddess over here and I believe that was the East Coast version of Cosplay Deviant essentially, and they went belly up a while ago… or at least I haven't heard a word from them in forever which is weird. Whereas Cosplay Deviant you'll still hear about their newest book, their newest calendar, their newest whatever and it's one of those things that the East Coast doesn't have this. It's a ripe market. The midwest doesn't have this. It's a ripe market. If I can get in to either one of those markets, I can establish a brand, establish a name, establish… more products, get connections, work my way in.
Me: So is there like an end goal in mind once you do all those things?
Sweets: I want this to become not only self-sustaining but profitable.
Sweets: That's what I'm looking for. The end goal is to be able to produce products, entertainment, information, for people to enjoy regardless of whatever creed, nationality, I don't care, and just enjoy things. I'm kinda sick and tired of seeing everyone crap on everyone else, on things that don't apply to what's happening at the time. I could give a rat's butt about someone being snarky to someone else cosplay-wise if they have a decent time. I'm tired of the that's my character mentality in the cosplay community. I want people to realize that if they want to act like divas and professionals, they have to act like actual professionals first. No one wants to work with a diva. You aren't so good that you can't be replaced.

Fact Check: The website Sweets mentioned is actually called "My Geek Goddess" and is still active and publishing.

Sweets: Is there a location you would like to try and shoot at… for the next one? In the United States. IN THE UNITED STATES!

Me: I don't think I will ever be drunk enough to agree to that.
Sweets: Sure you will be.
Me: No.
Just who's supposed to be the interviewer around here?