DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #30: Why I’m Not Myself…no, I mean why I do research for my VO roles and auditions. What did you think I meant?

A green apple. Surrounded by water. Is it *possible* to have a more fitting symbolic image for the preparation a voice actor must undergo for their auditions and roles? I think not.

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Daniel Day-Lewis, one of my favorite movie actors, is…a bit unusual. He’s unusual in that the degree to which he will prepare for a role is almost unrivaled. He will actually try to live the role if he can. When he was done training for his role in the movie, “The Boxer,” his trainer said that Day-Lewis probably could have gone pro if he wanted. His extreme efforts, and the efforts of actors who use similarly extreme methods, were parodied through Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the hilarious movie, “Tropic Thunder,” and rather ironically, Downey was nominated for an Oscar…for his portrayal of an actor who cared for nothing more than winning Oscars. Thankfully, as voice actors, we don’t quite have to do things like live in a replica 1692 village and build our own house without electricity or running water to prepare for our roles (something that Day-Lewis actually did for his role in “The Crucible”), but if you think for one moment that we can do this without preparation…think again. 

Granted, we don’t have all that much time. You’ve likely heard many experienced VO talent recommend improv classes for beginners, and that’s precisely why. We gotta make creative decisions with lightning-fast speed, not only because we’re not given much time to prepare, but also because in today’s “I need it yesterday” world, we’re not even given that much time to actually do our job, quite frankly. Still, this job is competitive, so if you’re smart, you’ll do a tiny bit of preparing to give yourself a slight edge. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve got:

1) LOOK UP words you’re not sure how to pronounce! Nothing says, “I’m lazy and doing this quickly” quite like mispronounced words. Heck, you can write, “How do you pronounce (insert word here)” into Google nowadays! If it’s a company name, scour YouTube for it. If you can get in touch with the client, ask them how to pronounce odd words! Otherwise you’ll end up sounding like that guy in the “Mr. Dumass” commercial (search YouTube for it when you’re done with this, it’s one of my favorites).

2) Determine the age group! Be as specific as you can possibly be. I remember when I was 6, I got very offended when somebody said I was 5. I mean, I was polite and said, “No, I’m 6,” but on the inside I was thinking, “No, I’m 6, and I will thank you not to lump me in with the other 5-year-old morons, thank you very much!” I once did an infomercial in which I spoke in my regular voice, but when the client called me back and said, “Great delivery, but this is a children’s toy, think 6 years old”…then I had to up the pitch and the enthusiasm little bit! It might have annoyed an older audience, but hey, this product wasn’t for them anyway.

3) If the thing you’re auditioning for has a length–30 seconds, a minute, whatever–make damn sure that your audition is that length as well. A mistake I made early on was that I didn’t pay too much attention to time in the interest of giving a relaxed performance where I wasn’t pressured. Looking back, I think that was a mistake. Why, pray tell, would the client choose your 50-second audition for a 30-second spot when they’ve got a gajillion other voice actors who actually took all those little details into account? Furthermore, while this isn’t exactly super-common, some clients are so rushed that they may just ask to use your audition as the final product. Like I said, we live in a “we need it yesterday” world!

4) …..Okay…….please don’t yell at me for stating a “no, duh” fact….but…..keep hydrated and eat green apples. I know, I know, a ton of my readers and listeners just said out loud, “Thank you, Colonel Obvious!” I don’t mention this in the context of vocal health, though, I actually mention this in the context of speed. If you sound too dehydrated, it may necessitate another take, and things like mouth noises and clicks…I mean…yeah, they can be edited out, but that takes more time than just making sure your mouth is click-free beforehand. For that reason, I consider green apples to be the symbol of preparation for a voice actor.

5) Think of something that generally evokes the emotion you’re trying to convey. I know many people advise thinking of the specifics of your target audience rather than going for a general feeling, and I’m not opposed to that. At all. However, I think that, before you get into specifics, it’s best to think of something that has the general, overall emotional feel that you’re going for. ‘Cause if you just go straight into specifics, then–in my humble opinion, of course–you’ll just end up carrying your every-day baggage into the recording session. If the spot you’re auditioning for calls for a humorous tone, and you’re in a bad mood, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the specific choices of your target audience down. You won’t sound funny, you’ll just sound like someone who’s in a bad mood and trying to be funny (who has their target audience figured out). So if it’s a funny spot, think of something funny before you start making specific choices. For me, that would be Ernie Anderson’s blooper reel.

As always, I never give advice, only opinions, but I hope my opinions might prove a little helpful to somebody out there. Anyway, now that that’s over with, search YouTube for “Mr. Dumass!”

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #26: Why I’m Not Adventurous…no, I mean why I stick to my specialties in VO. What did you think I meant?

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The guy featured in the opening clip is an enormously talented (as in he makes seven figures) VO talent by the name of Ben Patrick Johnson. He most certainly does have a great voice, and his talent is enough to justify the money he makes (and, by all accounts, he’s a really nice guy). Here’s the thing, though…this particular audioblog entry is about why I’m not really intimidated by him, nor am I worried about him–because we’re not competing for the same jobs.

The five words that are probably some of the most harmful words to people entering the VO business (or, at the very least, those who are thinkin’ about it) are, “You have a great voice.” I’ve said it many times, and people who have been doing it for much longer than I have said it even more times: it takes much more than a great voice to succeed in this business. So I was inspired to write this audioblog entry when someone was nice enough to give me that “great voice” compliment some time ago after visiting my website and looking at some of the projects I’ve done. My response? “Well, I’m glad you think so, but honestly, I only have a good voice–at best–for the things they use my voice for.”

What do I mean by that? I mean that I only get hired for jobs where my voice and acting ability can add something to a particular VO project–be it credibility, youth, reassurance, excitement, sincerity, what have you. Knowing what your vocal specialty is in this business is a necessity if you intend to compete. For me, that’s the “young, hip, cool” sound. Whenever I get an audition that requests a “deep, gritty, movie trailer voice”…than I won’t even audition for it. ‘Cause that just ain’t my voice (or, to use the metaphor recently employed by my online VO buddy Derek Chappell, it ain’t my make and model). Unless, of course, the client is intentionally looking for a humorously fakey-sounding parody of the typical movie trailer voice style perfected by the late Don LaFontaine, Hal Douglas, and Ben Patrick Johnson…but they usually aren’t.

Weird thing, though…in many ways, this goes against what I was taught in high school and in college, where I was educated in acting. There, they emphasized versatility above all else. They emphasized the ability to adapt to any character whatsoever…anything from a neurotic teenager to a grizzly old man. They wanted you to get inside the character’s head, no matter who the character was. Whether or not you’d realistically be cast in this role in a real-life situation was irrelevant.

As well-intentioned as that may have been (hey, education is about allowing someone to flex their creative muscles and think outside the box), there’s a bit of a disconnect between the art of acting and the business of acting. In the art of acting, we’re supposed to be as versatile an actor as possible so that we can take on as many roles as possible. In the business of acting, though, the most successful actors are the ones who can market themselves effectively by telling all potential clients, “Hey–here’s how you can use me.” Casting nowadays–not just in VO, but in all forms of acting–is typecasting. “Typecasting” used to be an evil word that meant the end of an actor’s career, but now it’s simply a wise business practice.

Discouraged that you can’t do whatever you want in VO? Don’t be. The good thing about this is that I don’t have to worry about the deep-voiced movie trailer guys. Why? Because, as enormously talented as these guys are, their voices sound nothing like mine, and are so far separated from mine that I don’t have to wonder if I’m losing jobs to them. I’m not. The jobs that they’re getting are jobs that I never had any chance of getting, because my specialty is different than theirs. Similarly, they’re not getting jobs that demand voices of the “young, hip, cool” variety. VO is competitive, sure, but you’re never competing against everyone.

VO is a tough job, but there’s one universal benefit–it requires a lot of introspection about what your talents are. Remember, you are enough! Don LaFontaine once said, “The best voice actors I know are the voice actors who understand their relationship with words.” So really, I know that few people talk this way, but if you really want to compliment a voice actor, the best thing you can possibly say is not, “You have a great voice”…but rather, “You really know how to use your voice.”

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #21: Why I’m Upset…no, I mean why I’m upset that the art of dubbing isn’t as well-known as I think it should be. What did you think I meant?

Okay, be honest…when you hear the word “dub,” it’s either this or those old kung-fu movies that you think about, right?

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Ask any voice actor what inspired them to become a voice actor, and the stories are usually pretty similar. They were told they had a great voice, they began in radio, they listened to cartoons…stuff like that. I consider myself a tad different in that regard. Technically cartoons and video games inspired me to get in, which is why I’m not enormously different. What makes me a tad different is that the cartoon and video game performances that inspired me the most…were not the original performances of the source material. They were dubs.

Shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and “Pokemon” may not have quite the same name power as “Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” or “Rugrats,” but quite frankly, they influenced me way more than any North American cartoon ever did. Even when I grew up, bought the DVDs, and was able to switch over to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, the original Japanese casts didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the performances of the English actors who dubbed them. To me, the English dub casts will always be the casts that matter. Which is a pity, really, because while their appreciation has grown tremendously over the years, dub actors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Don’t get no respect”…comparatively speaking, anyway.

In discussing last week’s audioblog entry, it became apparent to me that there is only so much “mainstream” respect and awareness for what we do. Voice actors are relatively obscure in the grand scheme of things. However, even within our industry, there are obscure parts, such as dubbing. The reason I’m using Godzilla as my featured image is because, in all likelihood, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “dub.” They imagine the original Japanese actors talking for extended periods of time, only for atrociously lip-synced dialogue to ruin whatever mood was originally set up.

Well, in this entry, I’m gonna show some lovin’ for the dubbin.’ I don’t think it’s nearly respected as it should be. That’s partially because, up until (relatively) recently, the English dub actors were not allowed to be credited to specific roles, and instead the credits would simply say “Featuring the English Voices of…” and then list all of the actors in a seemingly random order. However, there’s also a lack of awareness of the process and art behind dubbing. It has come a long way since it originally started! Some of the stuff here will be “old news” to voice actors who have done ADR or dubbing before, but like I said, in the interest of spreading awareness of the job of the voice actors who inspired me most, I’m gonna talk about the three “Methods” of dubbing (and the third one, I bet, will surprise even the veterans).

METHOD 1: The “Three Beeps” Method

This is, hands-down, the most common method. This is used not only in anime, but also in dubbing for foreign films and ADR. First, the actor is played a preview of what they will be dubbing. Following this, the engineer will set up three beeps at a set rhythm to be played to the actor through their headphones. Based on the rhythm of these three beeps, the actor tries to imagine in their head where the fourth beep should be, and is supposed to start saying their line on this imaginary fourth beep, taking care to match the lip movements of whatever it is they’re trying to dub. This used to be a pretty long process in the days of laying everything to film, when so many analog machines had to be timed to be in sync with everything, but ever since things went digital, this process is much faster. Here’s an example of the talented Johnny Yong Bosch dubbing the main character of an anime called “Eureka Seven”:

METHOD 2: The “Rhythmo-Band” Method

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While the Three Beeps Method has gotten faster, it’s still not nearly as fast as the Rhythmo-Band Method. This is a rare method of dubbing. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to France and Quebec. And…that sucks, quite frankly, because this method is so much more effective and useful for the actor. Rather than cue the actor with beeps, the engineer takes a blank strip of film and writes out the revised dialogue by hand onto the film strip. This film strip, the “rhythmo-band,” is then projected onto a separate TV screen beneath the main TV screen that shows the visuals that the dubbing actor will dub. Towards the left end of the rhythmo-band screen, a static red line is projected. As the visuals of the main screen move along, so does the rhythmo-band. Because the engineer took the time to precisely calculate how long everything should be pronounced, and adjusted the size and length of their handwriting accordingly, the rhythmo-band’s text scrolls from right to left in sync with the picture, and the dubbing actor simply reads the rhythmo-band’s moving text as it intersects with the static red line.

In doing so, the rhythmo-band displays to the actor the exact speed and timing at which they’re supposed to say their lines. An example of this is shown below, using behind-the-scenes footage of the French dub of “Pokemon” (fast-forward to the 3:29 mark):

YOU REALLY DON’T WANNA READ, DO YOU? WELL, LISTEN, THEN!:

Okay, actually, before I move on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I will thank all of my older readers and listens–and Herman Cain–to STOP mispronouncing the damn show’s name! It’s “POE-kay-MON,” not “POE-kee-MON.” It annoyed me when I was 11, and it annoys me now! Do you people not have ears? It’s in the theme song! Listen!

“POE-kay-MON!”

See, I’m not making this stuff up! So please, STOP it!

…Anyways. The reason the Rythmo-Band Method is awesome is because the guess work present in the “Three Beeps Method” is eliminated for the actor…

…But not for the engineer. The reason this method didn’t take off much beyond France or Quebec, is because it takes an exhausting amount of time to prepare for the engineer. Especially in the old days when they had to watch the film over, and over, and over, and over again so that they could calculate the proper length and size of their handwriting so that it would be in sync with the picture. Thankfully, they no longer write out the revised dialogue by hand, and have since developed software programs designed to mimic the rhythmo-band’s function and work in sync with audio editing programs like Pro Tools (one of which can be found here). I’ve heard rumors on the internets that a select few studios in LA use this method now. I’m all for this method replacing the Three Beeps Method, if only because I’m an actor and it makes the actor’s life much easier.

Well, that is, until we get to the third method…

METHOD 3: Revise The On-Screen Visuals

Since dubbing began, the idea has been that, since the on-screen visuals can’t be revised, dubbing actors had to do the best they could to sync their words to the mouth movements of the characters they were dubbing. Dubbing studios couldn’t go back to animation studios and ask them to draw alternative drawings to match the lip movements of the English actors, or ask film companies to shoot alternative scenes in which the actors on screen matched the lip movements of the dubbing actor. That would be absurd and impractical…

…And it…still is. But we’ve gotten a step closer to making it doable. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this video in my blog, but click this blue text to watch this video–fair warning, this is one of the creepiest things you will ever see.

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What you just saw (assuming you clicked the link–you DID, right?) is the result of a computer program developed by New York University called “Video Rewrite,” that uses CGI to rework the mouth formations of people on screen to match the mouth formations of the words spoken by the dubbing actor. They used Video Rewrite to dub an old video of JFK, making President Kennedy’s mouth look like he was speaking the words of the dubbing actor. The idea behind this is that, when mass-produced, needing to match lip movements in dubs will be a thing of the past, and the dubbing actors will finally be able to deliver their lines however they please, without regard for how the original actor did. This technology, though, is a long way off.

So for now, it’s mostly the Three Beeps Method and the Rhythmo-Band Method. Take some time to watch a foreign movie dubbed, or an anime dubbed (anything by Hayao Miyazaki will be good since Disney is in charge of dubbing his movies). For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the technology and artistic acting ability of dubs have evolved over the years, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

PS: From now on, I’m going to be doing something with my audioblog entries that I haven’t been doing before. Very often when I post my audioblog entries in social media forums, some GREAT discussions will come out of them. That’s good, for the most part…problem is, often some great material will come out after the fact. For example, in last week’s audioblog entry, I talked about how VO has zero presence in colleges except for Yale. Turns out…I was a tad misinformed. A few colleges do indeed offer it. They’re still few and far between, and I maintain that it needs to have a stronger presence, but more colleges were brought to my attention, and more elements of the issue were discussed. So, from now on, when I see a great discussion arise, I’ll post links to those discussion threads. Entry #20 has already been retrofitted that way, and I’m workin’ on the others. By all means, join in on the discussion! It’s not like you’re…actually, hold on a second…

*three beeps*

It’s not like you have to wait for your time to speak!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #16: Why I Caved In…no, I mean why I caved in to the growing realization that we as talent only have so much control over our business. What did you think I meant?

Classic image that the game opens on.

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Ever get the feeling that you’re losing power in your industry? I thought about this in light of an incident revolving around one of my favorite video games growing up…”Silent Hill 2,” released in 2001. Sure, it’s a game, but I remember it–and highly recommend it–mostly because of its compelling story. James Sunderland receives a mysterious letter from his wife, Mary, who supposedly died three years prior, telling him that she is waiting for him at their “special place” in the quiet Maine town of Silent Hill. When he arrives, he encounters a woman that he has never met named Maria…who, very unnervingly, resembles his dead wife in appearance and seems to be aware of some of their most private memories.  While a tad depressing, it has one of the most complex stories and some of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen. I’m not alone either, as many fans believe that game to be a masterpiece. So much so that, when video game company Konami announced that they would be re-doing all of the voice acting for the HD re-release in 2012, a long and bitter war of words erupted on the internet.

Since I’m a voice actor myself, I don’t want to intensify this war by taking sides or mis-quoting the specifics of a situation that, by the public admission of all parties involved, got to be very messy. However, to be absurdly short and basic, Konami claimed that they could not re-use the audio of the old voice cast due to legal issues. This resulted in a massive four-way battle of words between the original cast, Konami, the fans, and the new cast. It got worse when Konami released a “preview clip” of the new voice acting on YouTube, which only served to make fans of the old cast even more angry. Personally, I think it was more overzealous anger over the behind-the-scenes situation than it was disapproval of the new cast, but that’s besides the point. Angry fingers of blame were being pointed everywhere, to the point where somebody (we’re not sure who) gave in. The old cast ended up signing waivers giving Konami permission to re-use their audio for the 2012 HD re-release. However, the new voice acting had already been recorded, which prompted Konami to include both of the casts. When you begin the game, you are now prompted to choose between “Original Voices” and “New Voices.”

Like I said, I’m not about to take sides, especially since I’ve now heard the performances of both casts, and…quite frankly, think they’re both good! To me, one of cool things about going to see a play with different casts is that you get to see the different artistic choices that the different casts make, so it was interesting to see that concept applied to a video game. Sure, you’ll probably like some choices more than others, but in the case of Silent Hill 2, I can confidently say that both casts made artistic decisions in their acting that–while different–were all valid and completely enjoyable. People like me experienced the ultimate win-win situation being able to select either cast, and we are VERY grateful to Konami for their efforts. I can either hear the good ol’ performances I grew up with, or hear a refreshing new spin on an old classic!

Grateful as I am, though, the question I ask is…did Konami really have to do that?

Some fans saw the inclusion of both casts as a necessity. They saw it as, “this is what we want, so do it!”…and when Konami complied, the fans felt that Konami had done what was necessary. I see it quite differently…from my point of view, Konami was under no obligation to use both casts, and they all but bent over backwards to coordinate everything so that all groups would be satisfied. Despite that, when it was announced that both casts would be available for people to listen to, the expressions of “gratitude” among the fans were relatively minimal. That’s not to say that they were non-existent, but the most common expression heard among the fans was, “okay good, they did their job.” To be honest, I was a little put off by that.

The question that this event raised throughout the voice acting industry was this: to what extent is it a company’s job to do what they feel is right, and to what extent is it a company’s job to please their customers? The internet proved to be a powerful tool for fans influencing a company in this case, rather than the other way around. I’d have to imagine that if this situation had happened before the internet, and most certainly before social media, that Konami would have just re-recorded the dialogue and not even offered an explanation as to why, because they wouldn’t deem a public explanation necessary. However, when Konami and the original cast started to speak online about the situation, where their thoughts and opinions were immediately accessible, fans took notice, and the demanding began in large numbers. Large enough that Konami caved in and gave them what they wanted.

The implications for this are interesting. Granted, this is a unique situation in which the fans had an original cast to compare the new one to…but what if this incident has set a precedent for a business model in which the fans, not the artistic directors and game companies, are in control? What if this means that when companies put out “preview clips” of the voice acting on the internet, and the fans respond negatively, they re-cast the entire production?

I’m not sure I like that prospect. On the one hand, it’s a pretty basic fact that production companies want to please their customers, but on the other hand, I don’t like the idea of their creativity and their business decisions being under the mercy of people who are not doing what the companies do day-in and day-out. Many–not all–but many of the angry fans who complained were people who have never directed voice actors, never cast anything, never made business decisions on a grand scale like Konami has…and yet these are the people who more or less decided the outcome of this ordeal.

To me, this has sent a very powerful message about who’s really in charge nowadays: the consumers. The customers. The fans. I have devoted myself to my business, I do devote myself to my business, and I always will devote myself to my business. However, if there is anything that “Silent Hill 2gate” has taught me–well, okay, not taught, but reminded me–it’s that we only have so much control over our business. That’s not an excuse not to try, but it’s important (in my opinion of course) to be mindful of the fact that there will always be factors beyond our control, and that those factors are growing in power.

P.S.: I didn’t realize until today that this would be published on April 1st, so, for clarification’s sake, NO, this is NOT an April Fool’s joke–this did legitimately happen.

P.S.S.: For fun’s sake, here’s a video showing the intro of the game as it was heard with the original cast, and a video of how it was heard with the new cast. Please note, only the beginning and end of each video feature voices.

ORIGINAL CAST (2001, clip features actors Monica Hogan and Guy Cihi):

NEW CAST (2012, clip features actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGtpJc538sU

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #13: Why I’m A Moron…no, I mean why it wasn’t the smartest idea of me to pursue acting considering there are other options. What did you think I meant?

MY NAME IS DAVID PROWSE!!!

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I’m the son of two lawyers. My dad was the son of yet another lawyer, and my mother’s grandfather was a judge. I come from a long line of lawyers, judges, and smart people. Smart, in this case, because they chose stable careers with solid paychecks. I, on the other hand, am a moron. I’m a moron because, out of nowhere in a family of people who chose stable careers, I chose one of the most unreliable, unpredictable, and financially risky occupations in the world: an actor. And yes, all voice-over jobs are acting jobs as far as I’m concerned. It’s show biz, and it’s a business that doesn’t know much in the way of job security. Rather than making this story about me, though, I offer up two other people as perfect examples of the unpredictability of show biz. If you’ll permit me, let’s start by talking about a man by the name of David Prowse.

What can be said about this guy? Well, he was an Olympic champion in weightlifting, and the guy who trained Christopher Reeve to get into “Superman” shape. He also played one of the most famous characters in the history of cinema. Under most circumstances, I’d find some way to drop subtle hints as to which character it is, but to hell with it, the picture at the top of this blog entry kinda gives it away. Yeah, he played Darth Vader. “BUT NO–“….I can…hypothetically hear some of my hypothetical readers and listeners saying. “–JAMES EARL JONES PLAYED HIM!” Jones provided the voice, certainly, but he wasn’t the guy in the suit. Prowse, who was cast largely because most people had to break their necks in order to look up and make eye contact with him, actually said all of Darth Vader’s lines on set, but every single word he uttered ended up on the cutting room floor. George Lucas never intended to use Prowse’s on-set performance, but there were many people that he did not inform about that. “Many people,” in this case, included Prowse himself. You wanna know where he was when he found out that he was overdubbed?

In a movie theater, premiere night.

…Not quite what Prowse was hoping for. But hey, maybe he was treated better in the sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back”? Not really. He was forbidden from doing any of the lightsaber fight scenes because, when they filmed the lightsaber fight in the first movie, Prowse kept accidentally breaking the wooden lightsaber props that they were using to fight. So for all the fight scenes in the sequel, he was replaced by professional swordsman, Bob Anderson. It doesn’t end there, though. You wanna know where he was when he found out about the legendary “I am your father,” line?

In a movie theater, premiere night.

Lucas hardly told anyone about that line because he was determined to make sure that secret didn’t leak before the movie was released. Instead, Prowse was handed a fake script in which that iconic line was replaced with the line, “Obi-Wan killed your father.” A rather ingenious change considering that the rest of the script still works even with that change, but Prowse wasn’t as amused. So much so that, come “Return of the Jedi,” having been reduced to nothing but a guy who dressed up in a heavy suit and stood in front of a camera for hours on end, his heart (understandably) just wasn’t in it anymore. Rumor has it that he didn’t even say Darth Vader’s actual lines, and just kept making lewd jokes during his scenes, knowing that he would be overdubbed. That would be enough pain for one actor, but…you wanna know where he was when he found out that there was a scene where Darth Vader was unmasked?

In a movie theater, premiere night.

That’s not him when Darth Vader is unmasked at the end of the movie. That was actor Sebastian Shaw. Prowse has said that he regards “Return of the Jedi” as the worst filming experience he has ever had.

Jones, for his part, was not credited as the voice of Darth Vader until the third movie, when George Lucas insisted. Jones didn’t want to be credited, because he didn’t think he had done anything worth being credited for. Ya know, aside from the whole “providing the voice of one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history” thing, his efforts really were pretty negligible. At least that’s how he viewed it. He felt he was “special effects,” not a performance, because that’s the stance he took in a separate incident years prior. On that note, let’s talk about Mercedes McCambridge.

You know what she did, even if you don’t know it. You know that creepy voice that the little girl had in the movie, “The Exorcist,” when she was possessed by the demon? That was McCambridge, who overdubbed child actress Linda Blair. She swallowed raw eggs, smoked cigarettes non-stop, and drank excessive amounts of booze every day in order to capture the demonic voice and unpredictably savage nature of her character. A fake bed was also set up for her, and she was tied in restraints, so that she would feel like Linda Blair’s character, who was strapped to a bed for most of the movie. For her efforts–and utterly chilling performance–she was rewarded by being told after the fact that she was only “special effects.” She was not credited, and Linda Blair was nominated for an Oscar. Oh and by the way, you wanna know where McCambridge was when she found out she wasn’t credited?

Yup. In a movie theater. Premiere night.

SAG quickly came to her rescue and demanded that she be credited, and she was…but not as the voice of the demon. Not even to this day. Her name just appears on the credits.

This tremendously unreliable business is the business that anybody who wants to become a voice actor is voluntarily entering. It’s a tough one. One that doesn’t care if you invest tons of money. One that doesn’t care if you spend hours trying to find a way to improve your career. One that, to a degree, doesn’t really care if you’re talented or not. Even if you are immensely talented, you will probably find yourself struggling financially. If you are voluntarily deciding to go down this path, then…yeah, you’re a moron.

A moron like me.

I can’t not be an actor. I don’t find passion in anything else. I do my best to make a career out of acting, but it ain’t easy, and it never will be. I act because I love it, and don’t mind the (MANY) obstacles in the way of making money out of it.

For that matter, I don’t mean to sound depressing, or be a downer in writing this. VO, and acting, is a very fun thing! It’s just that the fun parts of this career are well-documented and well-known. The less exciting parts are kept on the down-low. Just know that this is what you’re getting into if you decide to pursue it. Only pursue it if you can stand the many challenges and don’t care. My response to all my challenges has been, and always will be, “Hmm…well, I guess I’ll have to step up my game a bit, now won’t I?” Hopefully, that’s you too. I’m proud to be a moron in that regard–this career may not be the smartest career to pursue, but it’s one that I have an unmitigated passion for. So, it is with a very sincere smile on my face that I say, from one moron to all the other morons out there, know that I’m rooting for your success, and congratulate you for following your passion! 😀

PS: For those interested, here are two short videos, both of which act as “before and after” videos of sorts to show how Darth Vader and the demon sounded before and after the dubbing process. For the sake of coherence, the first one is about Vader, and the second is about the demon.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #10: Why I Look Down…no, I mean why I look down upon some “wrong” things that I see some people doing in show biz. What did you think I meant?

A healthy dosage of Quack and Snake Oil.

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VO is a tough job. A rewarding one in many ways, certainly, but it’s still a very tough job. Fortunately, as voice-over artists we are blessed to be in a community that has some of the most giving, informed, expressive, and honest people in any profession. If you were to ask me to list the pros and cons of VO, one of the items in the “pro” list would be the community of people that are within it. It’s a business that is rather unregulated, though…which occasionally leads to people doing some things that I would consider questionable. So with that in mind, I ask, at what point is something…”wrong”?

What “wrong” things am I referring to? Well, here we come to the main dilemma I had in writing this blog entry. Publicly calling people out is generally not a nice thing to do–even if you only refer to them vaguely. So I’m not going to publicly call people out, but to give some general examples of things that I would consider “wrong”…

-Selling info that could be easily learned by just reading VO forums.

-Telling people that VO is an easy industry, when in fact it’s a very difficult one.

-Selling services that you are incapable of providing.

The list goes on to 11,389 items, but I’ll stop there. These are examples of things that I’d consider “wrong.”

I keep putting “wrong” in quotation marks for a reason, though (and if you’re listening to this, I’m doin’ the whole, ‘ya know…quotation mark gesture, like the thing that Dr. Evil did–never mind, you get the point). I can’t write the word “wrong” without quotation marks here. That’s because, even though I would consider these things to be “wrong,” they’re often not breaking any rules, violating any laws, or going against any official codes of conduct. I’m tempted to say that nobody could sued for these things either, but then again we live in the country where you can sue McDonald’s for not warning you that your coffee’s hot. Very often as professionals, the only standard we’re held up to is an invisible and unspoken code of conduct that not everyone necessarily agrees with. So how “wrong” is it when somebody does things like these?

That’s not a rhetorical question by the way, that’s an actual question. One of my earlier mentors in acting back when I was a freshman in college told me something that I will be haunted by for the rest of my life. When I asked, “So really, what does it take to succeed in the business of acting?”, they responded, without a second of hesitation, “Sell your soul and do away with the illusion of integrity.” I was blown away that they said that so blatantly, but it made me think…is integrity real, or an illusion meant to keep people under control while those without integrity break all of the “rules” of show biz so that they can have success? Our integrity may make us proud of ourselves…but is it also holding us back?

I’ve often heard the phrase, “you can’t put a price on integrity”…to which I’ve always replied, “I dunno, offer me ten million and I’ll at least hear you out.” I’m only half-joking, though. Given how rough this business is, I believe that anybody can be bought if the price is high enough. Unless that price is astronomically high, though, I’m going to hold on to my integrity, and not just for personal reasons, but for business reasons as well.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I don’t mean to hold myself up as Mr. High and Mighty, or turn this into an arrogant proclamation of, “People are dishonest, but look how wonderful I am!” However, I’m gonna bring up a personal example seeing as it’s what most immediately occurs to me. Recently, I was approached by another voice actor who requested my help as a consultant with their home studio, and they offered to pay me. I told them that, while I was flattered by the request, I couldn’t accept that. I explained that I have zero experience in consulting for home studios, and there are other people who are way more qualified than me who would give this voice actor much more bang for their buck. That was partially because…well, it was the truth, and I would feel uncomfortable taking money for a service that I could not properly provide. It was also for business reasons, though; when I couldn’t properly help this voice actor, the word would get out, and I would quickly be labeled as a fraud. Not to mention that I would become the laughing stock of actual home studio consultants who would, in some cases, go out of their way to advise people from doing any sort of business with me.

So as far as I’m concerned…remember your integrity. You’ll feel pride in yourself, and your business will not be bombarded with accusations of deceit. You truly cannot put a price on integrity…

…unless it’s ten million dollars.

PS: I almost didn’t write this blog entry because it’s not my intention to turn this entry into a name-bashing event where I’m calling specific people out. I just wanted to talk about integrity in general. So no, I will not publicly or privately reveal the names of people I feel did these “wrong” things, and I will not pull a Dan Brown and say their name in this blog entry through hidden codes………………..offer me ten million dollars and I will hear you out, sure, but I still won’t reveal specifics.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #9: Why I Submitted…no, I mean why I submitted to trends rather than trying to change the course of established trends. What did you think I meant?

The Sennheiser 416: a popular voice-over mic and, more significantly, a symbol of Ernie Anderson’s legacy.

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The microphone you see near the top of this blog entry is the Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone. It’s extremely popular in the L.A. area, and many VO talent praise it for its “up close and personal” sound that can cut through the toughest of music and sound effects mixes. However, this mic was not at all designed with VO in mind. So how did it get so popular in the VO world? It got popular, and became one of the most used mics in the VO industry…all because a man named Ernie Anderson was difficult to work with.

I suspect many people who have been doing VO for are while are familiar with this story, but for the benefit of those who aren’t—and because I love talkin’ about it—it bears repeating. You see, one of my biggest influences in the technical world of voiceovers was the late Mike Sommer, who tragically died late last year. I learned so much from him, but one of my favorite stories that he was able to impart to me was the “origin story” (for lack of a better term) of the Sennheiser 416.

Again, for the benefit of those who don’t know, a shotgun mic is a thin, longer mic that is designed to zoom in on a single source of sound. In doing so, it cuts through a lot of background noise so that whoever the mic is pointed towards can be heard accurately and clearly. It was designed primarily for film, TV, and on-site news reporting where someone needed to be heard above other background noise (for the record, shotgun mics don’t eliminate background noise, they only mitigate it, but often that’s all people who were using the mic were asking for). As such, it was not primarily designed with VO in mind.

To be fair, the only mic made so far that was constructed and actively advertised as being a “VO mic” is Harlan Hogan’s MXL VO:1-A mic, as most other mics that voice actors use were made with musicians and vocalists in mind (including the legendary Neumann U87). However, those are very sensitive condenser microphones that need to be in very carefully treated recording environments, because they will pick up EV-ER-Y-THING. Going into a booth and recording voice-overs behind a sensitive mic had long been considered the standard for the voice-over industry…

…Until one day…

Back in the late 70’s, the 80’s, and the early 90’s, when the industry was much smaller, the king of the industry was a voice actor by the name of Ernie Anderson. Anderson had a deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice that he put to use for pretty much everything ABC did. In fact, on one appearance on the Dave Letterman show, when introducing himself he said, “I am the voice-over for ABC.” I have been casually told by people who knew Ernie that he was a nice guy, with a very wry sense of humor.

He was, however, also known for not being the easiest man to work with. He swore constantly, he rarely had anything nice to say about the copy he was given to read (or the writers who wrote it), and if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t attempt to hide it.

No, seriously. Here’s a few outtakes of his. I’ve transcribed them for those who prefer to read, but Ernie’s actual audio samples have been inserted (and censored) into my audio narration of this blog entry.

ERNIE: “Soooo, if any of you or your friends—AWW, JESUS!”

ERNIE: “JESUS CHRIST!”

ERNIE: “I’m ****** leaving here!”

ERNIE: “Roll the ****** thing and shut her up. Just say ‘we’re rolling, quiet on the set.'”

ERNIE: “It ain’t gonna mean one more ****** video, Jesus God…there is a way to do this ****. And this isn’t it.”

ERNIE: “Aww, ****! Call Vince! I’m part of the ****** show, I don’t want to have to repeat—(producer interjects)—no [you may not have said anything], but you gave me that god-**** look.”

ERNIE: “Jesus, this is terrible ****** writing.”

ERNIE: “See…I’m gonna tell you how you can save this piece of ****.”

ERNIE: “Where do they find these ****** writers?”

ERNIE: “WHOEVER is responsible for producing this thing has no idea what the **** they’re doing!”

ERNIE: “Let me just also say that not only did I think it was not funny, I didn’t think it was well-done.”

ERNIE: “And, you’ll meet our special gue–**** it, *****, ****!”

ERNIE: “And you’ll meet our special gue–AWW, ****!”

ERNIE: “I’m not gonna do that whole ****** thing again—(producer tells him to “chill out”)—I’m chilled out, you should see me when I’m really ******.”

ERNIE: “WHERE ARE YOU, *******!? ****, ****!”

See? Told ya.

So one day, Ernie decided that he was fed up with being in a stuffy booth, and said that if he was going to be constantly doing so much voice-over work, he wanted to be comfortable and sit in the bigger, more comfortable mixing room. If I made that request today, the clients and engineers would tell me, “too bad,” as they would for almost every other voice actor. Ernie was the king back in the day though, so rather than tellin’ him, “too bad,” they immediately began looking for ways to make him more comfortable.

Enter the Sennheiser 416.

The problem with having Ernie work in the mixing room was that it was not as acoustically conditioned as the booth was. Furthermore, there were a ton of noisy, analog editing machines (remember that this was long before everything went digital). An engineer who was working with Ernie walked over to a nearby TV set and grabbed a 416. He set it up in the mixing room, figuring that a shotgun mic would help cut through the background noise of the editing machines. Some acoustic foam was slapped on the walls of the mixing room, and they tested Ernie out on it. They thought he sounded good, he thought he sounded good…and he was comfortable. From that point on, Ernie carried a 416 to all of his gigs, and never worked in a booth again unless it was an absolute necessity.

In being difficult to work with and demanding certain working conditions, Ernie would perhaps unknowingly affect an entire industry. All of a sudden, EVERY studio had a 416 on hand specifically with voice-overs in mind. Especially for deeper-voiced male voice actors who did promos, like Ernie did. It’s so popular in Los Angeles, where he worked, that the mic was eventually given the nickname, “The LA Mic.”

Before I go any further, I’d like to be clear that I’m not endorsing any particular microphone for anybody’s voice-over needs (you go to George Whittam for that).  In fact, many people don’t have nice things to say about the 416, and the general consensus is that it sounds horrid on female voices. In fact, popular character voice actor Corey Burton wrote an entire article—which I’ll link to here—describing in great detail why he absolutely LOATHES this mic.

Rather, I want to talk about something else that absolutely amazes me to this day—that there was a guy whose influence was so powerful that an entire industry essentially adapted to his requirements…and all because he was uncomfortable and difficult to work with! How many among us can ever say that we have that kind of influence? Ernie may have set trends, but most of us have to follow trends.

So that got me wondering…to what extent is it our job to set trends as voice actors, and to what extend is it our job to follow trends as voice actors? On the one hand, we have to be able to do what’s popular as a way of being marketable, but on the other hand, we have to inject our own unique personalities into VO as a way of establishing our own unique brand. Several of my fellow voice actors have said, “The VO industry has enough voices, they don’t want another voice, they want you.”

I go back and forth about that. Yes, clients nowadays don’t want anything too generic. Leaving one’s mark on the VO world makes their VO projects not only memorable, but in many ways profitable.  It’s also certainly nice to think that someone wants you, and when you get to the top of show biz, your very name can be your brand. In other words, rather than making your brand, “the tough, rugged, macho voice,” when you’re at the top, you have the power to brand yourself by simply stating your name—i.e., “My name’s Harrison Ford.” Ford can simply book jobs because he’s his own brand!

How many of us will reach that level, though? In the end, we have to provide a service to clients and give them what they want. They’re only so interested in someone who’s obsessed with their voice and putting their mark on another product, clients want someone who will accurately communicate their message, whether it be a promo, a commercial, or a character. Hence the reason that “voice acting” is considered “acting,” not talking in front of a microphone. If a client calls me back and tells me to deliver a piece of copy differently, it would be unbelievably rude of me to tell them how to do their job and say…well, actually, let’s drop another quote of Ernie’s.

ERNIE: “(In response to a producer): **** you. I’m not even gonna talk to you.”

ERNIE: “I won’t walk out the door if I don’t think it’s right.”

I could never get away with that. So, who knows what different life experiences will affect my opinion. For right now, though, here’s what it is: clients want voice actors who can deliver what they want. Injecting your own personality in small doses is a great idea to keep it from being too generic, but make your personality the absolute center of the project, and you’ll be treading too far from popular trends. The very same trends that clients hire us to follow.

Maybe some of us will reach the level one day where our name is our brand. In the mean time, whenever I see a 416, in my mind, I can hear Ernie Anderson’s deep, warm, kind but authoritative voice, saying…

ERNIE: “I am sitting here ******* dying!”

PS: For those interested, I’ve attached a separate audio clip at the bottom of this article that contains a string of Ernie’s outtakes, totaling ten minutes. They’re absolutely hilarious, and just like the samples used in this blog entry, all instances of swearing have been beeped out in the interest of considering those with sensitive tastes. Still, be careful how loud your speakers are when you listen to this.

ERNIE’S (BEEP)ING HILARIOUS OUTTAKES:

Ernie Anderson: Not only was he a legendary voice actor, but if the outtake at 7:39 is anything to go by, then if he had a horse, he’d buy it oats and **** it.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #6: Why I Aim From The Hip….no, I mean why I–sometimes–have a bad habit of not marking up my copy or thinking about it before I read it. What did you think I meant?

John Wayne

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Y’know…those old Western movies are so cool. The ones where two dudes have a showdown on an old, dusty road, and then out of nowhere the good guy draws his gun and, aiming from his hip, takes out the bad guy in one shot. It’s so damned impressive…and there’s a reason it’s so damned impressive–because in real life, that almost never works.

In real life, both of the dudes in the showdown would take care to aim carefully so that they could hit their target–their life is on the line, after all! If one of them missed, then in all likelihood they’d run away screaming like a little girl while the other one kept shooting until they got a successful hit (and quite frankly, I really wish they had made a Western movie where one of John Wayne’s characters did just that, if only for my amusement).

All of this to say, if you want to hit your target, you have to aim very precisely and carefully. Carelessly aiming from the hip seriously downgrades your accuracy. And if you miss your shot, you’re just wasting your time and your ammo. Now, in the interest of honesty, I’ve never held a gun in my life except for this one time when I was 12 years old and shot clay pigeons with my Dad. I’ve also held guns before in video games, but I’m pretty sure those don’t count. However, I’ve watched enough episodes of COPS to know that no actual police officer aims from the hip.They raise their gun to eye level and are as careful and as calculating as they can be given how dangerous their situation is.

…Oh, what!? Don’t judge me, COPS is a good show!

In any event, here’s why I bring this up. I’m not switching the focus of my blog from VO to guns, weaponry, and 2nd amendment rights. Rather, it’s a metaphor for how best to approach VO–aim carefully! Think about the copy ahead of time. Think about where it will be used, who the target audience is, what words to emphasize, where to take your pitch during your reads, how fast to deliver certain lines, what tone to use…thinking about all of these things ahead of time will always, always, always lead to much better reads! Will it guarantee you the best conceivable read in the world? Absolutely not. It will, however, guarantee you the best conceivable read that *you* can give with your current skill level.

Because let’s be honest, for all the talk of how we should aim carefully, sometimes…we don’t. Not everyone will admit this, of course. That’s to be expected. There will inevitably be one or two voice actors who read this and proclaim otherwise. “Absolutely not! I put every ounce of energy and thought I have into every single piece of copy that I read, taking lots of careful time to get the details right!”

…With all due respect, pardon me if I don’t believe you for one second.

Nobody is immune to habits. In anything we do on a day-to-day basis, we inevitably fall into certain habits. Even if we don’t intend to. In the rush of a busy VO day, it’s very tempting to not mark up the copy, or not think about it before we send out an audition. Which is not to say that we don’t put effort into it, but rather, we don’t put that much thought into it. We’ll take a quick glance at the overall feel of the copy and go, “Okay, I’ll go with my warm friendly voice,” or, “Okay, I’ll go with my intense promo voice.” I think there’s some benefit to this very quick style of thinking in that it helps our cold reading skills, but the benefits of aiming from the hip are outweighed by the benefits of aiming carefully from the eyes. It sure beats turning out a quick audition, only to go back to it later and think, “Ugh…no, no, no, that wasn’t my best take!”

Let me end this blog entry with a quote by a guy named Shigeru Miyamoto. You may not know him, but you know of his work–he made all the Mario games, the Zelda games, the Metroid Prime games, the Donkey Kong games…even if you don’t play video games, all those iconic video game names that you’ve inevitably heard tossed around were his idea. He had a reputation for committing to a release date for his games, only to push it back again, and again, and again, all because he felt the final result wasn’t ready. When his producers asked him why, he always responded, “Because a delayed game will be good eventually, but a bad game is bad forever.” Same thing with VO. A take that you took slightly longer to think about, or an audition that you took slightly longer to edit, will be as good as it can be eventually, but a bad take or a bad audition…is bad forever.

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #4: Why I Pretend To Be Someone Else…no, I mean why I got into acting. What did you think I meant?

Autism Awareness Ribbon

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“I’m so jealous, Dave, you just get paid for talking”….

These were the words spoken by a great friend of mine outside the voice acting industry. Immediately when he said that, I punched him in the face.

Okay, no. I just thought that would be a funny way to begin this entry. 😀

Nothing of the sort happened. I was just hanging out with him recently, but told him that I had to leave a little early because I had to record a spot for a client in a few hours. He responded with the quote you see above (or rather, heard a few seconds ago, if you’re listening).

I certainly wasn’t offended, of course. I’m sure to someone outside the voice-over industry, that’s probably exactly what it looks like. Many people come into the VO business under the misconception that it’s this easy career where all you have to do is read in front of a microphone. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. Our job is, more often than not, to make the words given to us sound natural, and it’s not the easiest thing to sound natural with words that are not our own. You need to be able to act. You don’t necessarily have to have acting experience per say, but you do need to have acting talent. Because every job we get, no matter what it is, is still an acting job.

If the idea of acting is intimidating to you, then I suggest you try it out. Sure, show biz is difficult, and Hollywood may not be very accessible, but acting, in and of itself, is very accessible. Try it by taking acting classes, or doing Community Theater or improv classes, and find out what you like about acting.  If you try it and you don’t like it at all, that should be your first red flag. However, if you do find that you like something about it, figure out what it is, hone in on it, and let that be your passion for why you act.

And yeah, you guessed it, this blog entry is going to be about what my passion for acting is.

Something that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am autistic. I have something called Asperger Syndrome, which is a disorder on the “Autism Spectrum.” To give this disorder an (absurdly) short summary, it means that I have difficulty in the area of social interaction. Thankfully, I had a very mild case of it to begin with when I was first diagnosed at the age of four. The signs were pretty clear, though. I didn’t really interact much with the other kids, got really quiet in large group settings, I usually couldn’t complete a conversation without imitating a Disney character, and despite being unable to carry out a full conversation, I memorized the entirety of “Phantom of the Opera.” When I was three years old. I suppose one could say I had a hard time understanding people.

Thankfully, because of consistent, effective occupational therapy, I have grown up into  a functional adult. As Asperger’s is a life-long disorder, though, I’ll never truly be “rid of it,” and even to this day I’m given reminders of that. I still struggle with it in that I still hate interacting with large groups, and after about a half hour of being in one I just sort of “shut down” and stop talking. I’ll often drive to big events separately from my friends so that I can leave early. And every once in a rare while, you’ll hear me breaking the conversation entirely to bring up a funny YouTube video that saw the other day–even if it’s not at all related to the conversation at hand.

Speaking of which, have you guys seen this?

Anyways, joking aside, it has always been hard for me to be “normal.” And voice-over often calls for us to play the “normal, everyday guy that you’d go out and have a beer with.” That’s…not really who I am. In trying to figure out the mindset of someone like that, though, I feel I can get closer to that mindset and understand it more. For that reason, I’ve booked many jobs playing that kind of guy. With every character I play, I have to figure out why they think the way they do, and that helps me understand them. Which is why I credit my acting experience in addition to my occupational therapy to helping me mitigate my autism: I love acting because it helped me to understand people, and it continues to do so.

Someone once told me that you have to be borderline-insane to actually want to be an actor, because of how difficult the job is. It certainly is difficult, but it’s one that I have an uncontrolled passion for. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. So find out what gives you your passion to act, hone in on it, and all of your shortcomings in this career will, in hindsight, look trivial against the successes you have had.

PS: Also, have you guys seen this?