On September 20, 2020, before filming began and before casting had even been decided, co-showrunner, director, and writer for Netflixs’ live action adaption of One Piece spent almost an hour as a special guest on an almost 6 hour One Piece live-stream on YouTubers’ RogersBase show. He shared his story of what his first meeting with Eiichiro Oda was like and what made the One Piece creator give him the okay to go ahead with the project. He also explained some challenges with making One Piece into live action.
Matt Owens began with stating that he has sent his writers to certain YouTube channels, such as Ohara and GrandLineReview, to “fully understand how they should look at this character, this is how they should think about different things around One Piece.”
Owens then goes on to explain that he is a fan first, and that his first interview with Jump was no joke.
“One Piece is my favorite series of all time and I need to do this job because I need to try my best to protect what it is. That has been my north star from the very beginning and I’m really glad to have an opportunity say that to you all, to the One Piece community, because I am one of you. And it’s really, really important.
I’ve met him a couple of times and the very first time I went over to meet him, he was very nice. But he was also very much like: ‘This is my Everything. And this is not the first meeting I’ve had of someone wanting to come in to adapt this property. Someone that comes in and thinks that they can turn it into something grand.‘ And I told him I understand.”
In his first trip to the Jump offices, the three hour meeting was about strategy and what Owens and his team were thinking about with the story. He also needed to sell to Oda that he knew and loved the story. Oda understood all of this but he was still quite understandably wary. As is standard practice for business meetings in Japan, they went out to dinner after the meeting and sat across from each other.
According to Owens, Oda apologized to him saying, “Look I’m sorry if some of the things that I said came across as harsh or anything but I just, I want people who want to adapt this to understand how much it means to me and how much this is articulately crafted. Everything is for a reason.”
In response to Oda, Owens explained his personal history with One Piece.
“When I was in my early 20s, I went through a really, really bad depression. And I was trying to find a series that I could watch that would occupy all of my time. So I didn’t have to do anything or think about anything. And I had read One Piece when anime was really big for me in high school and stuff but it didn’t click for me at the time or, we all know the horrendous 4Kids adaptation, so I had never really gotten into it. Until I finally made the decision. I was like, ‘you know what, this is the time to watch all of the One Piece.’ And I think the anime was into Punk Hazard at this time. So I did. In like a few short months I caught all the way up to the beginning of Punk Hazard.”
He finished off his personal history with, “You know, one of the great things about One Piece is, it’s really a story about how everyone has tragedy, pain, sadness in their life. But it’s not what defines you. What defines you is how you use that to motivate your future. And that no one has to do it alone. No one in this world has to be alone. When you find those people around you, who motivate you and lift you up and help you, that’s the greatest power in this world. And that is the story that I want to put out into the world. So I know that One Piece means a lot to you, Oda. It means a lot to me. Because I honestly believe that One Piece saved my life.”
And with that, Eichiro Oda looked Matt Owens in the eyes. And then he held out his hand across the table and said, “I have 100% faith in you now.”
After getting to know the creator of One Piece better, Owens discovered that Oda is very funny, but that it also takes awhile to put his walls down. Which is understandable. “When you have people coming in wanting to take your baby and do something potentially different with it, I get it.”
But once his guard is down, he is, according to Owens, very funny. And getting to hear Oda talk about story is “some of the most inspired I’ve ever been as a storyteller, because not only do I read and watch and consume everything that he’s done, but getting the opportunity to hear him talk about things and why they mean what they do and how all of the pieces come together. And I don’t mean that in like a ‘I know the answer to the end of the series’ because I straight up told him I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know anything.”
There were two aspects of translating One Piece to live action that proved challenging. One was comedy.
“One Piece is very funny and it’s very important to have comedy there. But some of the comedy in the series is very Eastern. Some of it is, no disrespect, sometimes a little childish. So how do you keep humor a part of the series? That’s one of the big challenges. There is humor. This will be funny. One of the big things, when we were starting out, is I said, ‘if you tried, which is impossible to ask, try to boil One Piece down into three important elements. I think if it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you go ‘holy shi**’. If it makes one of those moments in every single episode, and then we will have done our job.’ So that’s just something we tried to keep in mind every step.”
Matt Owens explains how it is understandable to be skeptical of him.
“Because we as anime fans, we haven’t had a whole lot of good reasons to trust anybody. We don’t have a lot, but that’s why I thank you for the ability to talk to you guys because I can understand being a fan of all of this stuff also. I can see a news article and some guy you never met claims that he loves this story and blah blah blah. You don’t know him. So you’re not going to necessarily believe, because we’ve been conditioned not to. Look at all the terrible sh** we’ve had to put up with debasing the properties that we love. So I just really want to put the communities mind at ease that at the very least, there is someone in this who loves it and knows it as much as you guys do. And I am fighting for this to be what I think it should be, and what I think it can be.
This is just as much to make money as it is to wanting to bring new people in. How many times have we all talked to people, and they’re like: ‘what? How many chapters is this? That’s an f—ing lot. I don’t want to read all of this.’ This gives people an opportunity to jump in and see it, and see what they’ve been missing. And hopefully jump on the train with all the rest of us.”
The second challenge was One Piece as a whole.
“One Piece, in its’ beginning it is a serialized manga from 1997. Audiences, for a live action television series in 2020, work a little differently. The East Blue arc is fairly episodic. And so one of the things we’ve had to try and do is: what exists in the canon. That’s always what we come back to. We know a hell of a lot more about this story now than we did when it started. So what are some things in the world already that we can use to try and make the story feel a little bit less episodic in the beginning? Not betraying anything, but just trying to give it a little bit more connective tissue. Because once you get to the Grand Line, it’s on. You get to introduce Clockwork. You get it. There is a clear shot through every arc. Because we all know the story. We know, if someone were to ask, ‘well what’s the point of the East Blue?’ It’s Luffy building his crew. It’s gathering his people and getting to the place where the One Piece is fabled to reside.”
From the very beginning, Oda was heavily involved. Matt Owens may have been chosen by the studio, but he still needed approval from Oda himself before anything else could start. Owens had to go and pitch him on what he loves about One Piece and here is what he hopes to accomplish with it. After that, Oda and his team read all of their outlines and scripts and gave them notes. Oda and his team were very involved in the notes process.
The degree in what changes were allowed to have creative liberties within the scripts, the story, and the characters was always a conversation between each teams. They always went back to the source material.
“Something I also told Oda is my job is not to come in here and go, ‘oh cool One Piece! This is popular. It’s about pirates. Got it. I’m gonna do my own thing’. That’s not my viewpoint with it. And, again, because Netflix knows how valuable this property is, because of what it is. It is successful because of what it is in its existence already. So any changes are just about trying to make it palatable to a wider audience and a live action version of it. No changes come because it’s like, ‘oh I don’t like Luffy and the Arlong fight. I’m gonna have Luffy fight someone else…’ There’s nothing like that.”
He adds on that they’re “picking and choosing the right time to do the Luffy stretching so that it looks as cool as can be.”
This is a world of brutality and violence just as much as the show is about hope and family.Matt Owens
To hear the full talk with Matt Owens, skip to 54:34. He stays on the live-stream until around 1:52:18:
What do you think about the things Matt Owens has said? Do you think they accomplished what they set out to do, based on the things talked about in the live-stream? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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