Archive for the ‘Workshops’ category

Internationally speaking…

August 14, 2009

After four weeks of toiling in my dialects and accents workshop, here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • My British accent isn’t too shabby. I did a credible Claude Rains riff for the final exercise. And in Prototypes class last evening, my Hugh Grant takeoff favorably impressed some of my fellow actors, who didn’t even realize that it was me.
  • Two years of high school German 30 years ago? I got nothing now.
  • Two years of living in Greece 35 years ago? Ditto.
  • Never attempt an Italian accent in front of a bona fide Italian.
  • I can do a pretty effective Southern dialect. But I’d rather not.

Accents are definitely not my strong suit, which is exactly the reason I enrolled in this course. But I now have some tools to work with, and some resources to utilize when the situation demands.

More than anything, I need to listen more.

That’s probably good advice for my life outside of voiceover, too.

In the game

August 9, 2009

Confession time…

I kissed a video game, and I liked it.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Pat Fraley‘s Game World event in San Francisco. Three reasons: (1) I had a blast working with Pat during a previous event; (2) Pat’s guest coach was Darragh O’Farrell of LucasArts, about whose directing I’ve heard excellent reports; and (3) I’ve taken a few classes on interactive game voice acting in recent months, and I’ve yearned for the opportunity to test-drive my new chops.

Yesterday, the big moment rolled around, so off I trekked — jumbo coffee in hand — to the downtown studio where Pat hosts his San Francisco events.

In a word: Cowabunga. (This assumes that you accept “Cowabunga” as a word. Which, since I attended college in Malibu and have played Snoopy onstage, I most certainly do.)

As strange as it sounds from someone who thought he was getting into voiceover to do industrial narration — not to mention to a guy whose video gaming experience dates back to (and more or less ends with) Asteroids and Frogger — I really, really want to voice interactive characters. That burning yen gained fuel under the tutelage of Messrs. Fraley and O’Farrell. (I know. It sounds like an Irish joke waiting for a punch line. You’ll just have to keep waiting.)

Prior to the event, Pat sent out a thick e-file crammed with character sides, from which each student was supposed to select four options. We ended up doing two scripts each, plus participating as examples in a series of excellent technique exercises.

My first audition script was a character from a fantasy game — an avaricious thief. (Yes, a redundancy. Hang with me.) I’ve observed in previous character workshops that I have a knack for evil — or at the very least, duplicitous — roles. This one proved no exception. I felt strong about the acting approach I took, and the specific choices I made with my lines. Best of all, I knew precisely how I wanted to play each scene before I stepped behind the microphone, and when I exited the booth, I was confident that I’d executed my plan. Darragh offered a touch of crisp direction that helped pull it all together. If this were an audition, I’d like my chances.

Round two, as I’d feared, took a slightly harder turn. I’d chosen a character from the same game as my first round selection, but one diametrically opposed to the other in type. I sometimes struggle playing good guys, and I did again here. My first take at my hero was a bit too soft — Pat told me that he sounded “like he eats too much quiche.” In attempting to make the character more vigorously masculine, I cranked in too much force and volume. I knew that was the wrong choice — how often do I have to hear “less is more” before I finally get it? — and Pat promptly reeled me back to a more monochromatic delivery. I should have played the Eastwood card straight out of the box. Oh, well… next time, I’ll remember.

My demonstration exercise taught me how to yell effectively without injuring my voice. I’ll be using that technique a ton, no question. AAAAARRRRRRRGH!

As inevitably happens at a VO workshop, I met some cool new colleagues, enjoyed working alongside some of my favorite fellow actors (Aileen and Brenda, you both rocked, as usual — I’m in awe, seriously), picked up a wealth of handy technical and career-enhancement tips, and benefited from some killer coaching.

By the time 6 p.m. rolled around and Pat sent us on our merry way, my shoes weighed fifty pounds each, but my synapses sizzled with fresh information and my heart soared as though pumped full of helium. I’m itching to spend the next couple of weeks digesting and practicing everything I drank from the Fraley and O’Farrell Fountain of Wisdom. (It’s 100% alcohol-free. Honest.)

Now, I need to go mining for auditions. Need a crafty villain? I’m your huckleberry.

Studied prototypical

August 5, 2009

Given that I’ve been working so much on character acting of late — I’m three-fourths of the way through a class on dialects, and I just wrapped a workshop on acting for animation and video game projects, with another of the latter coming this weekend — I haven’t been working much in my natural voice.

Which is just fine with me.

I’m always intrigued by other people’s perception of my unaltered sound. A while back, one of the directors at a workshop I attended told me that I sound like Seth Rogen. I don’t hear that at all — for one thing, Seth’s speaking voice is a good deal deeper than mine — but since at least one person with good ears hears me that way, I’ve been watching a number of Seth’s movies lately and trying to incorporate cues from his delivery.

In the workshop I took last weekend, the rest of the group was convinced that I’m a vocal ringer for Albert Brooks. That one makes more sense to me — Brooks’s flat, southern California affect is admittedly similar to the one I’ve developed over 30 years as a resident of the Golden State — so again, I’ve been checking out everything from Out of Sight to Finding Nemo to see what I can learn.

My current Thursday evening workshop is built around prototyping — using other actors as models for tonality, rhythm, and character type. The great Thom Pinto assigned me Willem Dafoe as my primary prototype. (Why do I always get the sinister ones?) As anyone who has heard him speak knows, Dafoe has several vocal eccentricities that are uniquely his, and difficult to imitate without his particular instrument. Working at modeling him, however, is helping to ground me in the deeper, more modulated range that appears to be my money voice for straight commercial and narration copy.

For character reads, I’m modeling Paul Giamatti as my primary prototype. Of all the actors I’ve mentioned in this post thus far, Giamatti is the one who sounds the most similar to me in my own ears. Like mine, his voice has both a reedy edge and a darker texture underlying that, creating a sort of indefinable quirkiness in the sound. Giamatti’s voice also reflects an intellectual-intense-yet-insecure quality that resonates with me. I’ve been practicing some of Paul’s short monologues from Sideways, and — for the benefit of contrast — a sampling of his lines as the over-the-top villain in Shoot ‘Em Up. Between the two, I’m fleshing out a couple of strong characters that I’ll be able to draw from again and again.

It’s funny…

…the more I work at becoming someone else, the more I discover of myself.

Making it do what it do

July 30, 2009

If I’ve learned anything in my recent voiceover workouts — and let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I have — it’s about the essential importance of acting over voice quality.

Or, as Sirenetta told our accents and dialects class, “Play the scene, and the voice will follow.”

It’s taking a while — okay, like, a year now — for that message to penetrate my skull. But I think it’s beginning to sink in.

I’m trying to train myself to be less conscious of what my voice sounds like, and focus completely on acting whatever role I happen to be playing in the moment, whether a character, spokesperson, or narrator. When I manage to suppress that sometimes overwhelming compulsion to audit my voice and tinker with the sound, there’s no question but that I get more effective performances. Still, when that microphone and copy stand appear before me, that sneaky self-editing demon creeps in and starts tugging at my ears.

Deep down inside, I know it’s a crisis of confidence. I don’t always fully trust my voice to do what my acting choices require of it. Foolish, I know, because when I let it work, it works just fine.

I need an infusion of the great Ray Charles, who once said of his prodigious talent, “I just make it do what it do, baby.”

When I’m in the booth this evening, and throughout this weekend, I’m going to try to shut the editing demon off, and just make it do what it do.

Blimey!

July 24, 2009

In an effort to expand my vocal repertoire, I’m taking a four-week seminar on accents and dialects.

One might suppose that this aspect of voice acting would come easily to me, given that (a) I’ve lived on three continents, as well as in both Hawaii and the polyglot Bay Area, and (b) I have friends who speak with a variety of accents — Mexican Spanish, Australian, East Indian, and so on — and thus am frequently exposed to different approaches to spoken English.

Well, if that’s what one supposed, one would have another supposition coming.

The focus for the first workshop session was the British accent. In fact, as I discovered — or perhaps already knew, but had never given it much thought — there are a number of British accents: Received Pronunciation, as is familiar to anyone who’s listened to programming from the BBC; Cockney; Estuary, which combines elements of both of the preceding; Manchester; Liverpool; Yorkshire (if you’ve ever seen The Full Monty, it’s that Sheffield one); plus national derivations such as Scottish and Welsh. I’m sure there are several others as well.

Already, the task was tougher than I’d figured.

As instructed, I prepared for the class by watching a couple of films from the Harry Potter series, and attempting to mimic the accent of one of the characters. I chose Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley as my model, both because Grint’s accent is distinctive to my American ear, and because Ron is sufficiently prominent in the films that I had ample material to listen to. And, although young Rupert’s vocal characteristics differ somewhat from my own, his timbre is similar enough that I didn’t have to manufacture a texture or tone to copy his accent.

When I arrived at class and began reviewing the copy for the first exercise, I immediately identified a shortcoming in my preparation. I’d done a fair amount of listen-and-repeat with Ron’s dialogue from two of the Potter films. I had not, however, considered as much as I should have how to apply Rupert/Ron’s speech pattern to words and phrases that didn’t occur in the film scripts. My greatest challenge, then, became trying to think of how to use that accent to pronounce words I’d never heard Ron Weasley pronounce.

My success was, at best, mediocre.

The next two exercises produced better results. Freed from the requirement to copy a specific individual’s accent, I was able to give more attention to the problem of acting effectively while maintaining a (more generic) British dialect. By the time we got to the third batch of copy — sides from a video game featuring English-accented characters — I felt that I was back in my element. The actor in me could take over, and just allow the accent to flow from the character I created and the acting choices associated with that character.

Ultimately, acting with an accent or dialect is not so different from speaking a foreign language. To become facile with the speech, you have to learn to think in that voice. Which is why my foreign language skills stink… and why I’m taking a course on accents and dialects.

Next week, the American South. We’ll see how I do with that… y’all.

Who says I’ve got no class?

June 4, 2009

The incomparable Shirley, the office manager at Voicetrax, called this morning to review my course schedule for the upcoming term.

I managed to score most of the classes that I wanted to take. I’m on the wait list for one course that was rescheduled, but aside from that, I’ll stay pretty busy through early October.

Among the workshops in which I’ll be participating:

  • A pair of classes on character development. Since character work appears to be my unexpected strength, I might as well maximize my growth there.
  • A prototypes workshop. Fun stuff there — using successful VO professionals as models from whom to learn.
  • A class on exploring the vocal instrument. I can always benefit from more self-discovery.
  • Two classes on script analysis, because I need all the help I can get.
  • Another scuffle with my old nemesis, narration. I’ve been focusing my daily reads in this area, so this should be a much improved experience.
  • A weekend workshop on audition strategy. I’m really looking forward to that one. Can you ever really learn too much about how to book gigs?

Looks like a veritable cornucopia of skill- and knowledge-building opportunities. I can hardly wait for July to get started!

Positive direction

May 22, 2009

My four-week workshop on self-directing skills has concluded, and what have I learned?

That my self-directing skills need work.

Not that that’s a shocker.

Actually, I’m proud of the work I did during these four weeks. My script analysis, though still light-years from perfection, is improving. I’m getting better at asking the right questions about the copy in front of me, and coming up with answers that align with the copywriter’s intention (as opposed to what I would prefer to do). At the same time, I’m finding more success at not overthinking my way into performance paralysis.

I’m also finding myself more consistent. I’m having fewer truly wretched first takes, and more frequent final takes that would be strongly competitive in the marketplace. And with less adjustment needed in between.

So that’s progress.

I received an encouraging compliment last evening from another student who’s already a working pro: “You make good choices before you go into the booth.” If that’s evident to anyone besides myself, I must be doing at least a few things well.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say that.

My audiobook workshop, originally scheduled to start next week, has been rescheduled for late June. That means I’m entirely on my own for workouts over the next month. I have a plan for approaching this time period that I’m looking forward to implementing. (One of the things I’ll be working on is my entry for Scott Brick’s audiobook narration contest.) I now have ample tools, gained in my classes since the first of this year, that I’ll spend focused hours sharpening each day.

Besides which, the extra month will give me time to come up with a plausible excuse for forgetting Lisa Baney’s name in front of Scott Brick.

Horatio

May 15, 2009

At last evening’s workshop, one of my fellow actors shared an epiphany she’d experienced in a private coaching session earlier in the day.

“How would you describe yourself?” the coach had asked her.

“Strong,” my colleague replied. “Authoritative. Forceful.”

“But you’re not that way at all,” said the coach. “You’re funny. Friendly. Lively. Engaging. And warm.”

“Then I realized,” continued my actor friend, “that I was describing the persona I put on when I’m at work. That’s how I think of myself. But that’s not the person I really am. Or, at least, it’s not the entire person I am.”

I’ve come to that same realization along my voice acting journey. There are aspects of my existence where I put on, not a false front, but a persona designed to craft a certain perception. Certainly, that persona is a facet of me, but it’s not the complete me — nor even the greater portion of me.

The me that comes out at the microphone is often quite different from the me that I once expected to find there. Like my friend, I anticipated a voice that would project the aura that I often project in my non-acting life. But the microphone reveals facets of my personality that I often conceal — some, in fact, that I didn’t even know were in there.

More often than not, it is those hidden facets that seem the easiest, the most transparent, in the voiceover booth. It’s those voices and colors that shine in my performances, whereas those that I am more accustomed to exposing in daily life require far more nuance to ring true.

As Hamlet once said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

It appears that there are more things within each of us than we’ve dreamt of, as well.

Actor, direct thyself

April 30, 2009

A thought-provoking insight in tonight’s first session of a four-week course in self-directing skills…

Approach every script as though you were going to direct another actor’s performance of it.

That makes so darned much sense I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself.

After all, how many times have I, as a presenter, reiterated the well-observed point that the best way to master a subject is to prepare to teach that subject to someone else? More times than I can count, much less remember.

It simply follows, then, that one way to gain complete ownership of a piece of copy would be to prepare to direct it.

That single sentence is going to provide a launching pad for my next quantum leap.

If it’s free, I’ll take three (hours)

April 24, 2009

More often than not, you get what you pay for.

This is not one of those stories.

The ever-thoughtful folks at Voicetrax are doing a golden favor for their students this month — offering a selection of one-session group lessons on a variety of voiceover subjects, free of charge. When the schedule of free classes was released, there were two appealing options that fit into my schedule. So, with some counsel from Chuck, Voicetrax’s self-described factotum, I decided to choose the option I hadn’t tried before.

Good call, Chuck.

Last night, a dozen of us placed ourselves in the able hands of Brian Sommer, a Voicetrax-trained actor who today boasts a list of commercial, animation, and video game credits as long as my… well… let’s just say mighty doggoned long. Brian’s specialty is characters — notice that I didn’t say “character voices” (see, Brian — I was paying attention!) — so we launched into a pile of juicy character-rich audition scripts and sides from Brian’s magic bag of tricks. (Silly rabbit — tricks are for voice actors!)

I had the chance to experiment with a pair of fun pieces. In the first, an animation script, I played an evil (is there any other kind?) mad scientist. Brian found me guilty of gnawing a little too much scenery in my first take, so I dialed the broad portrayal back just a touch, picked up the pacing, and made sure I made better connection with my virtual listener the second time through.

Take two was vastly improved, though Brian nudged me about my usual nemesis — worrying about the words rather than simply playing the scene. On the third take, I relaxed a little more, and the character really came together. I love it when that happens.

My second shot in the booth presented me with sides from a Western video game. Here, my character was a charmingly roguish, slightly gonzo Mexican bandito of the sort one might have seen in old Clint Eastwood movies. Ironically, just the night before, my daughter and I were watching the NBA playoffs when a Dos Equis beer commercial came on, starring Jonathan Goldsmith as “the most interesting man in the world.” I can do a pretty fair impression of Goldsmith’s faux-Latin accent — “Stay thirsty, my friends” — which KM thought would form the basis of an effective character for me. I’d spent the rest of the evening tinkering with that voice. So, I started the character Brian assigned with a hefty dose of Mr. Interesting, ladled in A Fistful of Dollars, and built him outward from there.

Not surprisingly, then, Brian’s initial comment after my first take was, “That’s a great character for you.” We both liked the work I’d done in the second and third scenes of the three-scene script, so Brian focused his direction on the first scene, where I didn’t quite nail the balance between the character’s smarmy faux friendliness and his underlying villainy. A tweak here and there, and the whole bit gelled nicely.

In one three-hour class, I came away with two nifty additions to my character repertoire, and several useful tidbits about character acting that I’ll be able to apply dozens of ways. And all for just the price of four gallons of gas. (That’s how much petrol my aging minivan burns on the round-trip Sausalito run.)

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how easily character work comes to me. It’s diametrically opposed to the kind of things I thought I’d find in my voiceover wheelhouse. Gotta admit, though — I dig leaping outside myself (or perhaps, discovering hidden facets within myself) and letting fly with the myriad people I can be.

The fact that a high percentage of those people are evil or crazy or both? A good subject for psychoanalysis.

Thanks to my mentors at Voicetrax — and especially to Brian — for the freebie. Given all that I learned, and the fun I had, I’d have gladly paid the usual rate. (But… don’t feel compelled to send me an invoice, Chuck.)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.