I have been working on Cosplay Universe since 2015, so that means it’s been about seven years! I met Lauren St. Laurent while working on a previous film with my filmmaking partner Patrick Meaney: that film was ’Chris Claremont’s X-Men’. We connected with Lauren because she had some incredible X-Men cosplays that we discovered online. So, we reached out to create a shoot with her and her friends to add fun visuals to the film.
While on set we chatted and Lauren told us about how the cosplay community was somewhat frustrated with its image because of the show ‘Heroes of Cosplay’. That started getting our gears turning and we thought it would be an awesome challenge to make a documentary all about the history and evolution of the artform. I particularly was excited as a cinematographer because to me there is nothing more fun than filming people dressed up in amazing costumes.
Patrick and I had previously made documentaries in the world of comics and fandom so this felt like a fun new challenge that was within our wheelhouse.
Right as we finished Chris Claremont’s X-Men, we made She Makes Comics, a documentary about the history of women in the comic book industry. As we were working on that, we heard this story from Wendy Pini, who is this amazing comic book writer of Elf Quest, about how she was a cosplayer in the 70s at San Diego. It sounded like a crazy, wild, freaky, Woodstock-inspired, clothing optional time. Which made Patrick and myself go “What the hell? What is the history and evolution of cosplay?” We thought that would be pretty cool to go into a documentary about the evolution of cosplay telling the history of cosplay in a fun way. That was two of the things that set us off.
(Photo: World Cosplay Summit )
One of the elements that makes our movie really special is that you really get to have an experience not just showing you what World Cosplay Summit is but the camaraderie and friendship that exists there.
It takes place in Japan every year. When we were there, I think thirty different countries competed in teams of two. They have a really cool mission, which is to connect the world through cosplay…exactly the antithesis of Heroes of Cosplay. Everybody has already won…it’s all about the craftsmanship and competing with your own stage performance. What we discovered is so much camaraderie between cosplayers. Not really cutthroat between each other, but rather just do the best that you can and represent your country as best as possible.
For two weeks straight, they have all these events…all the cosplayers there are treated like honored guests. In the film, there’s a moment where they get to go to the mayor of Nagoya dressed in cosplay, almost as like diplomats. Which kind of shows how there in Japan, it’s a celebration of costuming culture and Japanese culture being the catalyst for what has helped spread cosplay.
And the management there is just awesome and all about bringing the world together. I think it creates this beautiful energy. Sorry everyone you gotta buy a ticket to World Cosplay Summit [laughs] but that was for sure the most special filming experience.”
Well, we discovered after making the film and screening it, it’s a really awesome tool for cosplayers to show their friends and family what cosplay really is at its core. In the final scene of the movie, a parent and child watch the movie together. That’s sort of the instructions of the film. To let cosplayers use this film as a tool to explain to those who don’t get why the heck they have this need and love for this culture. So it’s kind of a way for those who don’t get it to finally get it. Because seeing all these different stories and vantage points, you really get to see cosplay from a perspective you’ve never seen before.
I know for myself, I jumped into comic con because Patrick and I were making movies about comic book creators. And I noticed there’s a bit of a divide between the comic book culture and the cosplay culture that exist side by side at conventions. So it would be really cool if this limits that divide…to let comic book people can understand the impetus and psychology of how cosplay is this art form that lets you find who you really are by dressing up as somebody else.
It’s a very powerful way for people to understand their core identity that could be hidden. We hope the film explains that to people…to help people who judge the cosplay culture say ‘oh, I get it.’ It really does change your perception of yourself, and it’s a really beautiful and empowering art form.”
Thank you to all the cosplayers who let us share their stories — YaYa Han, Qi, Extreme Costumes — pretty much everybody in there. What’s interesting is no cosplayer really came to us. We just kept showing up and pointing our cameras at these incredible craftspeople [laughs]. And we just thank them for being vulnerable and letting us share their intimate stories in the film.
Cosplay Universe (2022) is directed by Jonathan McHugh, Jordan Rennert. Stream it for free with ads on Tubi.