Archive for the ‘Narration’ category

Demon editor

February 15, 2009

This afternoon, I was reviewing some detailed written feedback from my recent narration course (thanks a ton, Chuck!) when I had a bit of an epiphany.

I need to be more accepting of my gifts.

I’ve always been plagued by a tendency to be overly critical of my own work. (I’m sure there are reasons for this, and I can guess at some of them. But I’ll spare you the boring psychohistory.) It has affected my career as a writer, even though I’m an excellent writer. It affects me as a speaker, even though I’m as effective a speaker as anyone I could name.

A therapist might call it “paralysis by analysis.” (In fact, a therapist has.) I have a difficult time turning my internal “edit” function off.

When I step into the voiceover booth, this tendency affects me in a couple of ways.

One, I get focused on processing what I’m saying instead of immersing myself in the actual performance. Sirenetta described this disconnect brilliantly during my most recent private lesson. She could almost hear the synaptic delay caused by the spinning of my mental gears as I read my copy.

Two, I hear myself with negative ears. This results in my wrestling with my mistakes — genuine or merely prospective — rather than enhancing and maximizing the many things I do very well. (This gift also makes me the world’s greatest copy editor. That, however, isn’t helping me here.)

Today’s epiphanic revelation is that once I’ve gained some temporal distance between my work and the moment in which the work occurs, I’m generally pleased with the work itself. I’m amazed, for example, when I go back now and read reviews I wrote for DVD Verdict a few years ago, how impressive my writing was during that period. It never seemed so to me at the time.

What I need to do is eliminate the delay, and allow myself to appreciate my talents in the moment.

I suspect that when I stop editing myself on the fly, I’ll like the results much better.

I just need to go there.

Rainy days and Wednesdays

February 11, 2009

If I have to trek 40 miles through the rain, Sausalito isn’t a bad place to wind up.

Before my private coaching session this afternoon, I sat in my car atop the hill behind the Sausalito Public Library and looked out over Richardson Bay. The sky was glowering gray, the air clean and clear, and the view magnificent.

My narration work felt more comfortable today. (Blue merging into green helped.) Despite my recent struggles, my directors seem to believe that narration will develop into a good niche for me. Whether that’s true or not remains to be proven. At any rate, I’m enjoying it more now that I have something of a handle on working into the appropriate tone.

I had one narrative read that sounded reasonably tasty the first time through. By the time Sirenetta coached me through a couple of takes, I was actually pleased with the final result. Two factors helped: (1) it was copy from a medical documentary, so I called upon my dozen years in the healthcare industry to find the comfort zone; and (2) it was a cold open, allowing me to lean into more of a promo voice, which lands more centrally in my wheelhouse than straight narration.

I continue to find myself challenged in my commercial reads, balancing conversationality with my demon perfectionism. Once I get over my “terror of error,” as I like to refer to it, I’ll be in good shape. I didn’t feel I was fighting my copy quite so tenaciously today, so that’s a positive sign.

Still a road to travel.

I’m back, and I’m blue

February 9, 2009

Saturday’s second two-thirds of my “Colors of Your Voice” class rocked. We explored…

  • Cool, centered blue.
  • Joyful, childlike yellow.
  • Seductive violet, whereby I channel my inner Barry White (oddly enough, white is not a color in the Thom Pinto vocal spectrum).
  • Stark, forceful gray (or grey, if fancy is how you roll).
  • Ominous, emotionless black.
  • Silver, a formal crispness used to upscale certain of the other colors.

My revelation of the weekend was that blue affords my most natural shading for narrative reads. For many voice actors, green — off-the-cuff and spontaneous — is the appropriate narrative coloration. For me, though, “thinking blue” gives me that extra level of understatement and subtlety that I need to dial in for narration. If only I’d known that before my January narration class, I’ve have avoided a truckload of frustration.

Next time I’m faced with a narrative read, I’ll slam that sucker out of the park. Thank you, blue!

This weekend reminded me once again why the class/workshop environment at Voicetrax is such a kick. It was fun to reconnect with some of my fellow students from previous classes — including two of my favorites, whom I’ll now forever nickname Ms. Yellow and Mr. Black — and hear how their skills have progressed since last we worked together. I made some new friends whom I’ll look forward to seeing in other classes — or, better still for all of us, at auditions — in the future. Most invaluably, I benefited from hearing other actors’ reads (and yes, their struggles also) and the counsel they received.

That’s blue personified.

For the remainder of this month, I have a couple of private lessons lined up, the first of which is my third session with Sirenetta this Wednesday. In March, my class schedule cranks into full-bore mode through June.

I’m so ready.

“Less is more”

February 3, 2009

That’s the mantra that was drummed into my skull over the past four Thursday evenings in my Voicetrax narration workshop.

The problem, of course, is that I am by nature a “more is more” kind of guy.

I’m working on that, though, at least in terms of my narrative reads. I spent a couple of hours this morning focusing on documentary copy, and as I play back the recordings, I feel good about the work I did. I’m hearing more conversational flow, more consistency, and best of all, less internal struggling to maintain the appropriate pacing and inflection. My narrative acting is improving daily. And I’m happy about that.

Before class last Thursday, I had an excellent private lesson with Sirenetta. What I appreciate most about working with her is that she really challenges me, and I need that.

We worked through four scripts, the first two of which were industrial narrations — one in a more straightforward style, the other with a lighter tone that was closer to character work. I tried to apply everything I’d been learning in narration class, perhaps even going a bit too far in measuring my tone and pacing. Sirenetta had to keep pulling me back in a warmer, freer direction.

Man, this is hard work sometimes.

The third script was a commercial spot that I felt was right in my wheelhouse, with a character in whose skin I felt right at home — a neurotic dad. The description called for a Greg Kinnear type, so I tried to hear Little Miss Sunshine in my head as we worked the copy. I felt good about my read from the start, but it really opened up when Sirenetta suggested an alternative approach that brought more life to the piece.

That’s something I need to work on, because being literal-minded me, I too often go for the obvious interpretation. I have to practice thinking, “What would be a completely outside-the-box way of viewing this scenario?” And then, have the guts to go in that direction. That’s the added zing that will make my reads stand out from the masses.

The fourth script was a comic read that Sirenetta thought would be fun for me. In fact, it proved difficult for me to get my mind around. The description called for a character tone that I don’t feel that I do very well. Chuck, listening in the office, thought my take captured the essence, though.

I was feeling a bit frustrated at the end of the evening class. The center point of the evening was to rerecord the first piece of narration copy we had performed on the first night, and compare the quality of the two reads. In listening to my playbacks, I could hear how much progress I’d made in my narrative acting since week one, but I was also disappointed that I could still sense an undercurrent of lacking confidence and control. I muttered to myself, “I feel as if I understand this narration stuff less now than when I started.”

Clearly, narration is a genre that will continue to daunt me until I find my own circuitous pathway into it. I’m certain that time will come. When I spoke with Chuck on the phone Friday — I was booking my next private coaching session with Sirenetta — he assured me that I’m farther along the road than I think I am. That was comforting to hear.

“Less is more,” kid.

Call me sometime, when you have no class

January 23, 2009

At some point during last evening’s narration class, I figured out why voiceover classes are cool.

Not the voiceover part, of course. I already know why that’s cool.

The class part.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m something of a lone wolf. Simply understood from a psychological perspective — I grew up as an adopted only child in an emotionally distant family that relocated annually. No wonder I’m insular.

No wonder, also, that voice work would appeal to this element in me. In the booth, it’s me, and that mic.

All of this being true, one might suppose that learning in a class setting wouldn’t resonate with me. I’m not outgoing, not gregarious, uneasy meeting new people, awkward at small talk.

But I do enjoy my voiceover classes. And now I understand why.

I feed off the energy that’s ignited by the enthusiasm and passion of my fellow actors.

I also benefit from the direction and guidance given to the other students. Often, I hear advice that I can apply to my own reads. I can hear and evaluate that advice with clinical detachment, because it isn’t aimed at me. Sometimes, that’s an easier way to learn. Not always, but sometimes.

Then too, there’s the spice of variety. In an audition situation, I’ll hear my own work and no one else’s. I have no idea what interpretive ideas, what creative spark, other actors will bring to the same copy. Therefore, I only get my own take on the work. But in a class, I can compare and contrast a dozen different reads.

Sometimes, I’ll think, “Man, I wish I’d thought to do that.” Or, “I wish I could replicate that tone, or that emotional quality, or that energy.” I pick up tools to play with in my personal practice time — tools that I’d never discover if I read the same copy myself a dozen different ways. Because someone else’s way might never have occurred to me. Next time, it will.

Sometimes, I learn what not to do. And that’s helpful too.

I learn almost as much from the other people in my classes as I do from the director.

And I think that’s cool.

There but for Throat Coat go I

January 16, 2009

Question: Can a voice actor create quality work in a three-hour VO workshop with a vocal apparatus thrashed by a nasty rhinovirus?

Answer: Thanks to the fine folks at Traditional Medicinals, he can.

Last night’s narration class was a struggle. A cold that had been edging up on me since Monday exploded into full bloom, despite my pounding zinc tablets for three days straight. Still, the show must go on, as they say (you know, that anonymous “they” who author all of those pithy maxims), so I loaded up my two-quart Thermos hot pot with Throat Coat herbal tea and tried to keep sufficient distance from my classmates so as not to infect them.

And what do you know? I delivered some pretty good reads. I wasn’t as enthused with the work as my director was, but you know me — I’m always hypercritical of my own stuff. I had to admit that I was surprised that my voice and my interpretation sounded as well as they did, given my compromised condition.

Key revelation of the evening: My best narration voice resides in the lower reaches of my vocal range. That’s not entirely a new thought, but its truth was certainly borne out in my reads. I just have to remind myself to go for the deeper choice every time. That doesn’t mean trying to manufacture a basso profundo that I don’t possess, but rather making sure to open all the resonators and target a lower pitch.

Key non-revelation of the evening: When I step in front of the mic, I too often forget what I intended to do. I had to be reminded after my first take on the night’s second exercise about the very discovery that had made all of the difference in the previous read. That absentmindedness plagues me in more aspects of my daily activity than I care to count. I’m becoming a better note-maker, though.

Key self-congratulation of the evening: Speaking of notes, writing “HEY! SLOW THE HECK DOWN!” in huge letters in the margin of my copy helped my pacing immensely. Even when I forgot what I was supposed to be doing with pitch, my rate was under control and spot-on. So, in next Thursday’s class, “HEY! GO LOWER!” will be the watchword for the night.

With any luck, this doggoned cold will be history by then.

Narration sensation

January 12, 2009

Thursday evening was my first session in a four-week course on narration. It’s the beginning of what will be a busy semester for me at Voicetrax.

Although I’ve mostly taken acting and character classes to this point, and seem to have an affinity for that sort of thing, narration is more like what I thought I’d be studying when I decided to focus on VO. I realize now what a tremendous help the acting work has been. I think it will help the narration work to come along more quickly and easily.

We have a “two-headed” instructor for this course. Chuck Kourouklis, who has been my director/coach in several other classes, is working with us for the first two weeks; Bob Symon, with whom I’ve not yet had the opportunity to study, will direct weeks three and four. I always enjoy working with Chuck, who’s a likable guy but also clear and direct with his critique. He’s the voice on the audio tour at the Alamo, so I’m confident that he knows this aspect of the business.

Our opening exercise was a one-page excerpt from a documentary about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I had a couple of advantages in approaching the material. One, I took a course in San Francisco history at SFSU back in the day, so I could easily access mental images from the earthquake. Two, I’ve recently been teaching a class at church on the Biblical book of Lamentations — it struck me immediately how closely Jeremiah’s narrative about the destruction of Jerusalem paralleled the earthquake documentary copy in emotional tone.

I felt as though I gave the piece a solid read right out of the box. Chuck thought it was pretty decent, too. He seems to think I’ll get my arms around this narration thing with relative simplicity. Yeah, we’ll see.

As is usually the case at Voicetrax, we’re a rather diverse group in this class. Two of the other students were in my first-level acting class last semester. Among our fellows are a stand-up comic, a speech therapist, an audio engineer, and a club DJ.

Another student in the class was the voice of Lucy in the Peanuts animated specials when she was young; she’s coming back into VO after pursuing other things for most of her adult life. Sometime, we’ll have to compare notes from my You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown days.

Over the weekend, I watched a few episodes of Planet Earth, which is narrated by Sigourney Weaver. (In the American version, anyway. The original BBC run is voiced by David Attenborough.) I’ll never be as good a narrator as Ms. Weaver is… but I might as well aim for the stars.