Marge Dean is the head of Ellation Studios, the company bringing us the Crunchyroll original animation, High Guardian Spice. She was responsible for the design or re-design of several studios large and small including Columbia-TriStar TV, Warner Brothers Animation, Technicolor Animation, and Wildbrain Entertainment. She was also the General Manager of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the creators of Robot Chicken. She is also president of Women in Animation, the only organization dedicated to advancing women in the field of animation. ***Honey-chan was thrilled to have the chance to interview such an influential woman.
Interview with Marge Dean - Head of Ellation Studios
You’ve said that “animation is a medium, not a genre,” and that it doesn’t have to be limited to kids. Can you elaborate on that?
We want to get away from the kids market. The U.S. market for animation is either kids or primetime sitcoms and we want to do the other stuff. We have some edgy shows in the pipeline.
How do you decide which stories you’re going to pick for an animation? How did you decide on High Guardian Spice?
I think it is a pretty standard industry development process. We comb books, the internet, artists, storytellers, get pitches from people and agents. We then pick what fits the vision that we have, something that will fit with Crunchyroll. We then spend some time developing it with the artists and writers. We get input from all the stakeholders in the production and then begin drawing.
Will the studio be sticking to particular genres and steering clear of other ones? For example, ecchi versus slice of life?
The thing we really appreciate and value in anime is that it’s cross-genre. You can do anything in anime. We are trying to move animation in the U.S. to that level. When artists ask “what do you want?” we say “you name it.” We want stories that may not fit with more standard U.S. television animation.
What can you tell us about the challenges that women in animation face?
I think the place to start in the conversation is to look at the numbers. Women currently dominate the study of animation. Women make up 65-70% of the student body studying animation, yet we are sitting at about 25% of the creative jobs. We don’t know what it is that keeps women out of there but it seems to be twofold. One is systemic, in that people see animation as a male medium and a male line of work and it’s been a boys club. I think the interest of women in animation has been influenced by things like Toonami and young women discovering and loving anime. They love to draw and find that animation is a path. I think it is a bit of a vicious circle, though. Women don’t see women in the creative leads and so they don’t try to be the creative lead. Women in Animation, the organization, works on both sides by developing female talent and deals with uncovering those unconscious biases that keep women out of the lead creative roles.
What is your overall goal for Ellation Studios? Do you want to be the next Pixar, Disney, or Gainax? Japanese production companies have often released feature films as part of their business models; will Crunchyroll/Ellation Studios be doing the same?
Our primary focus it to get some content on Crunchyroll. We will be emulating the structure of most anime, it will be serial. We are currently producing 12 episode blocks of 22-minute episodes. Who knows? With time, if there is a particular title that hits, we might think about it (a theatrical release). We are still a business trying to navigate a new landscape and since we are trying to do something different. Nobody knows where that will take us just yet.
What do you think of the anime community?
My first real deep dive into the community was at Crunchyroll Expo this year. I just find people really accepting and so passionate. I just love people who are so deeply invested in something.
Is there anything about the industry you’d like to see change?
I think anime is very inclusive but I think we need to get more female voices. I think we need to have more shows created by women. I think anime is awesome in the number of female leads and think I just want to see more of that in U.S. animation.
Honey-chan wants to humbly thank animation trailblazer Marge Dean for her time. We acknowledge she has the experience and passion for animation and wish her nothing but the best of luck in the release of High Guardian Spice and all the upcoming projects she will shepherd through Ellation Studios.
Author: Zeke Changuris
I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.