VORG Web Article 10-01-2010

From The Mouth of a Voiceless Actor

By Riley Chambers

I can remember when I was a kid, sitting there on the living room floor watching Saturday morning cartoons. Not only amazed at the visual wonderment of the moving and speaking art coming to life on my screen, but just totally enthralled that there was an actual person speaking for them. That there was actually someone who is acting with only their voice bringing these characters to life. I became fascinated with all forms of voice over. There were two gentlemen in the voice over field who quickly became heroes of mine. They are Mel “The Man of a Thousand Voices” Blanc and Daws Butler. Though there might have been others in the field at the time, no one was as good these two pioneers of the voice over industry. These two greats were responsible for the voices of most of the most notable cartoon characters of all time. A few (out of many) that Blanc did was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam. A few (out of many as well) that Butler was known for was Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound.

So throughout my childhood I loved cartoons so much. I watched them every chance I could. It didn’t matter which ones I watched. Of course I had my favorites, the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, the Tex Avery toons, Terrytoons, Hanna-Barbera. I could go on forever. I would do my best to mimic all of my favorite characters. I had a couple good ones if I must say so myself. I became more and more fascinated with the artists who were behind the characters. I would go to the library and look for books about the voice over artists and try to find out as much information as I could. Information was a little harder to come by before the internet. But even if I couldn’t find out anything about them, I would still watch in awe hoping that one day my voice could be heard on television or radio.

Unfortunately, around the age of fifteen, I came to the conclusion that being just a regular guy from a small suburb of Dallas, Texas wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to be. Well that and the lack of confidence I had in myself. So I just kept all those crazy dreams of being a voice over artist to myself and went on with my life. I still watched cartoons and listened to commercials with a critic’s ear. But that was it. The dream of being behind a microphone in a dark recording booth was kept on the backburner for so long, it soon became forgotten.

One thing I used to do and still do to this day is to try and get a laugh out of someone at every chance I get. I truly believe that if you can make someone smile and laugh, you’ve really accomplished something very special. Over the years people would say to me “You’re Silly” or “You’re Funny, You should be an actor or something”. I usually just brushed it off with a “yea, ok” response. Secretly thinking to myself “I Wish”. So one day I took a look around the net checking for local schools that offered voice over classes. I found one that was very creditable. I discussed it with my very supportive wife and signed up for the class. The class was very awesome. I was learning very good techniques and receiving extremely positive comments from the instructor. The description of the class was that you would walk away with a professionally recorded and directed demo, improved voice techniques, and how to get into the voice over field. The main thing I got was the first. I got a demo.

After searching and searching for possible voice over jobs, I came to the conclusion, if you don’t have representation; you aren’t going to get very far. And if that’s not enough, you can’t get work without representation. Unless you’re already established. I had sent out my demo to what had to be two hundred different people. The one or two responses out of the hundreds I sent out were shoot downs. So I decided I need to just get my foot in the door. I had found out about a production company that was in town shooting a film. They were looking for background. Ok, it’s not a speaking role but it’s something. I sent in my info and I got chosen. While I was in line for wardrobe, casting pulled me out for a different role. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot in just the few days that I was on set. So fast forward a little and I get a call for another production. It’s still background but like I said, it’s something. That starts the chain in a series of events. While there, I find out they’re shooting the sequel simultaneously and they wanted me in that as well. And while on the set of that I get a call from the casting agent of a television series that is being shot and they wanted to use me in a recurring background role. And the same for the next season of that. Then finally to my very first onscreen credit, a reenactment for a medical documentary.

Though none of the on screen work I did had absolutely anything to do with voice over, I was hoping that it would be the foot in the door that I needed to get into it. But alas, it wasn’t. But I will be the first to admit. It was very fun to do and a great thing to experience. But my heart was still in voice over. Every chance I would get I would practice reading out loud. Whether it was the newspaper, a thought I had at the time, or the television screen in the elevator at work, I would practice. So that maybe one day when the time comes I will be ready.

But there has been a growing trend happening over the last few years or so. When a new animated movie or television show comes out, the producers try and get a big name for the title or main characters. Blatantly knocking down the actual voice over artist down a level. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasoning behind the studios wanting a big name on their picture. They (the studios) want to sell every ticket possible. The story doesn’t even have to be good, but as long as Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks (to name a couple) has top billing everything is great.

Over the past three or four years I’ve had the privilege of being able to speak with some of my new voice over inspirations. I can tell just by their expressions on their faces they feel the same as I do when it comes to the “Hollywood” actor invading the voice over booth. The way I see it is that they (the Hollywood actor/actress) are taking money out of the pockets of the people whose true passion is to do voice over. The artist who does it as a full time job, not just another job in between on screen gigs.

I personally would rather go see the next animated movie with the top billing saying “Starring Tom Kane”, “Starring James Arnold Taylor” or “Starring Michael Bell” (to name a few) rather than seeing a crap movie with a crap story line with the top billing saying “Starring Tom Hanks”, “Starring Brad Pitt”, or “Starring John Travolta”. But that’s just me though. So I say to you “Big Time Hollywood Actor”, stay the hell out of the voice over artists’ pocket.

To connect with the author: RileyChambers@kpmg.com