Monday, December 14, 2009

Invitational Character Reality Check - 12/09

A two day seminar at Voicetrax SF with Natanya, focusing on characters, character scripts and how your efforts play in the fields of competitiveness. I've taken a couple of other workshops with her, and as always, Nantanya manages to hone in on the one or two things that your performance needs to really soar. She always provides feedback of the highest caliber.

The class started a few weeks ago, actually. We had to send in 5 character scripts in advance, which she went through and evaluated. This was an excellent exercise in itself, as finding good contemporary scripts which both challenge and present you well is an excellent task.

There were three basic "rounds" over the two days. We listened to a couple of everyone's "auditons" and she went through her notes publicly, talking about the good, the bad and the ugly. There were definitely some common themes - pitfalls almost everyone succumbed to. But, I won't go into detail here, as those lessons are probably best learned individually.

After the playback and critiques, we received a couple new scripts from Natanya, got a chance to digest them, and then started diving into the booth. The scripts were very diverse, from contemporary films to television shows and games for very specific viewing audiences. It was an excellent chance to quickly create a character and then gear the presentation for the needs of the script. It also demanded a quick change between the characters, as each person read their second scripts immediately following the first.

The emphasis of the class focused on really taking these performances and making them competitive. The level of the students was quite high - competency was assumed - so it became a matter of specific tweaks. Sometimes it was just finding something different in the performance, other times it was a different choice in the fundamental approach. It was inspiring to see everyone react so quickly to the feedback and hit the mark.

After three rounds of listen/perform, she had us grab a script which had been given to someone else and use that. It was a good opportunity to show off some stuff which hadn't been demonstrated earlier. I think that may have been the most fun round for everybody - Natanya included.

Another superb, high-level character class. Nice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Live! Radio! Theatre!

...with a studio audience, mind you.

OK. Not precisely accurate, in that we weren't actually, you know, broadcasting over the radio. But, hey, the longest journey starts with a single step and that sort of thing.

Voice-buddy Alex put out the call for folks who might be interested in a very short reading on a classic radio play. She's been taking an acting class through the local college, and the assignment had been to "do something." Bless her creativity, she realized she might know some folks who liked to talk and act. Four of us - Wendy, Jess, Marilyn and myself - signed up, worked the script up a bit in a short practice session last weekend and gave the performance to the class.

It was more than pretty cool. The class room had a proper stage and elevated seating for the audience, so it had that proper feel. Alex had brought in her travel microphone, rigged up the laptop to record and had music beds and sound effects under her control. The rest of us jockeyed for position at the single mic, made too-loud rustling sounds with our pages and acted away.

The stylized text of the play - a 1948 classic story - gave it that "Radio Era" feel. You could imagine the actors working through it, the engineer watching the time cues... The audience even laughed where they were supposed to.

Ended too danged early. But, the students - actors themselves - generated a more-than-kind round of applause. We gathered our gear and left quickly (first rule after finishing a gig, eh?). But, as we made our way out, we chatted about how much fun that had been, and more importantly, how cool it would be to do some full radio scripts - for podcast or just for our own fun.

The "live" nature was probably the most fun - it had all the great dynamic of dialogue work, but as acting teacher/director Frank Coppola pointed out in the last class I had with him, when you are onstage, you don't get to go back or start over. If a wrong word comes out, you have to correct and move on - seamlessly is helpful - and work with the other actors to make that happen. Pressure is on, but in an invigorating way.

Gotta figure out how to do this again... Thanks Alex, Jess, Wendy and Marilyn!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ultimate Acting Challenge - 11/09

This one actually took place a couple of weekends back (Saturday eve/Sunday all day), but between the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend and me trying to get my thoughts together, some time has certainly passed.

Fact it, this was also one of the more difficult classes to write about. Mind you, that's a good thing, actually. Just makes it more of a challenge to describe in a meaningful way.

The thing about this class is that the specifics vary significantly with each person in it. It's a bit like that thread in The Matrix about visiting the Oracle. You end up hearing exactly what you needed to hear, and it's different for everyone.

For me, the class created several instances of, for the lack of a better word, consideration. - those times when you have a moment of clarity, you see how things fit, interact and influence one another. Things seem possible. Tenuous threads of confidence seem more tangible.

Those moments didn't necessarily happen during the class. Most have come afterward. Maybe it's just the way I'm wired - that I end up pondering things abstractly before diving back into the technically specific. And voice acting is a doing craft, of course.

Which more or less brings me back to talking about the class. This was my second one with Dean, who had traveled up from LA. It started by a one-on-one meeting with him wherein we told him what we felt we needed to work on. After meeting with everyone in this manner, he talked about some of the common themes we had all mentioned, adding a tremendous amount of perspective to such topics as acting choices, self-directing of auditions, sound quality and more.

Of course, we worked lots of scripts and got stellar feedback. When a student had a specific need, Dean was not hesitant to jump into the booth for private directions. By midday Sunday, everyone was sounding pretty amazing. One of the great things was that the better we sounded, the more excited Dean seemed to get. He really throws himself into the direction and feedback loop, with pretty stellar input.

To wrap things up, he met with everyone individually again, and while I certainly am unable to talk about those interactions, I came away feeling more of a core confidence that's been forged. As always, lots of work to do and things to keep mindful of, but this was really a class that helped to keep the momentum and optimism rolling.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Signal Path Test

Testing... Testing...

Hey.

This setup seems to make noise.
I mean, it's not noisy. I talk in one end, sound comes out the other.
Just like the manuals say it should. One should never dismiss any success as trivial.

It is actually rather clean sounding, as near as I can tell while tweaking some knobs and playing around with the settings at 11:30 at night. Yep, gear-geeking at its best...

This weekend, I'll put it all together where it's supposed to go, rather than on the kitchen table.


Getting Interfacey With It


UA-25EX, originally uploaded by Jim Edgar Voices.

Sweetwater sent candy...

...both in the box, and in the wrapper.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just Delivered


Came back this evening to find that my new best friend has arrived. Just need one more piece o' gear and studio v2.0 will be in place. Can't wait to see how this new mic sounds...

Multimedia message, originally uploaded by Jim Edgar Voices.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chris Lastrella

You're never ready to hear news like this. Last night, one quick pass through email before shutting everything down, and all of a sudden, words and small things don't really matter.

Chris Lastrella was killed with three family members in an auto accident on August 28th. There's a memorial page at lastrellasaylor.com, and a news report of the accident here. The nature of the accident makes you shake your head in frustration. Recalls, floormats (!!?), and stuck accelerators. These things never seem right, but this one seems particularly unfair.

I knew Chris through classes at Voicetrax. It was not easy for him, particularly in the beginning. But, rather than complain or get frustrated, Chris would shake his head a little, give his easy smile and try to get just a little bit better. We'd talk a little before or after classes, and he always struck me as one of the most upbeat people - always ready to listen and laugh, genuinely happy with anyone's success.

In the last two classes I had with Chris, he'd made huge jumps. He was bringing the brightness of his life into the booth and it was really coming through on his reads. A couple of instructors went out of their way to point out how far he'd advanced - identified the momentum he was finding. He seemed to be finding a great balance, and as always honored it with humility and a quick and ready smile.

Here's to you, Chris. I am sorry that we will not get a chance to read together for a while.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Charlie Adler Weekend

Charlie Adler is pretty much a force of nature wrapped around an immovable object being met by an irresistible force. Repetitively. With extreme dispersion of energy. Visible shock waves. That sort of thing.

Exactly how that plays out has a little to do with how close you are to the blast zone.

There were two opportunities this past weekend. The first was Saturday night, with Charlie speaking at the "Inside the Voice Actor's Studio" event that Voicetrax put together. I'd never met or seen Charlie in the flesh, but various folks had mentioned that the language tends to be, um, visceral and the energy at 11. It was.

He told the tale of how he came to be an actor - the tough years and crap jobs, the breakthroughs - and how he came from stage acting to the world of voice acting. All through the night, it kept coming back to the acting. Not surprisingly, as that's the board that keeps hitting most of us over the head anyway. But, Charlie really distilled the importance of that ideal, and managed to inspire us towards it - all while sharing anecdotes with language that would make a sailor blush. It's been a while since I just stared at someone thinking, "did he just say that?...."

But, it wasn't gratuitous. Well, ok....a few things may have been gratuitous. But, it did underscore the energy which he brings to his craft. And it did manage to give strength to the recurring theme of "get over your damned self and ACT!" Which is always a good lesson.

The next day, in a smaller classroom setting (13 students) I also realized that he's a zen master.

I want to be careful in this description, because it's important to understand what I mean by that. He is not the measured ascetic monk sitting in a mountaintop cave, calmly posing koans that may lead to enlightenment after extensive ponderings by the student. No. He is the powerful figure that whacks you over the head with his walking staff when you are least prepared, causing that moment of blankness - that moment wherein conscious thought ceases and all things are possible.

And you make the jump. You get out of your damned way.

With one exception, the other folks in Sunday's Character Class were voice actors I've gotten to know pretty well. We've all heard one another's work in classes, and know where people tend to operate. Comfort zones, maybe. Or, places where we've had successes and have gained confidence. Charlie had us working totally off the scale in the other direction - finding those places where we didn't easily go. He pretty much grabbed us by the belt and hoisted us up and over those walls and we jumped out into...well, nothing. And suddenly, free-falling didn't seem so bad. In fact, it was pretty danged exhilarating.

It seemed like to the very last person, everyone came out of the booth blinking and realizing that the limits they'd put upon themselves were quite artificial, and had Charlie to thank for it. It was a pretty powerful workshop.

So, thanks again, Charlie!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Voicetrax LA Idol Recap

One of the voice acting maxims is that you often give your best read into the front windshield on the way home. Mine came late last night as the I walked the little dog through silent streets. Just at the end, after thinking about the feedback received and the takes I'd done, a breeze came up from the west and I looked up into it and said,

"Consider...a chair"

Which means nothing by itself, and even less if you don't hear me say it. Written voiceover is about as effective as a mime on the radio. But, as I've written before, you know when you do something right - even if you aren't always able to articulate why.

And it was. I cursed and laughed and shook my head. It was real - the operative word for the day - and more importantly, it was the way I would have said it - to you, to my father, to a good friend - in a way that was not slightly safe or stilted. Just honest. And about 10 hours too late. Ahhh, welll... gotta work on that timing.

This morning, I have to think that eleven other people had encountered much the same moment. Maybe on the way home, maybe last night, maybe as they got ready for the recovery activities of today.

The guy who didn't have that thought or moment after the fact was the winner of the 2009 Voicetrax Idol competition -

Chris Abell

Chris has been in a number of my classes over the past couple years - he actually commutes up from the southland - and he always has done extremely well. It's great to give heartfelt congratulations to such a nice guy and deserving winner.

I have to also mention that Don Porto was declared a close second. It had to be a bit of a tough result, as only one person gets the golden ring of auditions. But, for someone who spent the last 3 weeks dealing with a severe vocal strain, it's pretty much off-the-charts amazing.

And although it wasn't quite at the level of raucous hilarity as the dialogues round, there were certainly several near-spit-takes and a general undercurrent of laughter as we all waited our various turns. It was a wonderful day to hang out with great people. The support of everyone in the finals for everyone else in the finals made realize once again what a great group it is. I'm lucky to be a part of this, and am looking forward to the next step on the path.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Forty Eight Hours

I realize that I'm in "countdown" mode right now.

No. That's not accurate. Not that I'm not in countdown mode, mind you. It's just that the verb realize is imprecise. The clock started ticking as soon as Voicetrax sent the email a few weeks back culling the herd and letting a dozen of us know that we were in the finals for the LA Idol competition.

But, I just finished working on some other stuff, stretched and looked at the clock. Right about 1 o'clock. Which means, that in about 48 hours from now, it'll be all over but the shouting. Of course, hopefully there won' be too much shouting...

Maybe off by an hour or so - it's a bit murky how many rounds there will be for this part. Might finish by 2 or 3 pm. It's funny how you can consider something your so focused upon will be past so quickly.

Which more or less tees up the challenge - finding the skills and focus to make the most of those short slivers of time when you can actually do something about it. When it's going right, you feel like 60 seconds is all the time in the world. And my goal in this thing is just to have it feel right. Focus. Breathe. Have a blast. Just like the first round.

I know that there are 11 other people going through much the same thing right now. And the first round was an incredibly fun day of support and camaraderie. It showed what a great bunch of people I'm lucky to be around these days. Everyone realized that if each of us did our best, that would only help one another.

So, here's to a great day for everyone! Bring it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tomato, Tomahto...

Leaving the Studio
Today's Job Done, originally uploaded by Jim Edgar Voices.

Got a nice-way-to-start-your-day phone call this morning. Any day that starts with a "Can you come in to record?" question is by any measure a fine day.

It seems that the folks at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan had decided to re-change some previous changes on pronunciations, and so Antenna Audio needed me to come out for a final short session ASAP. Slid some tasks around on the day's schedule and eased out to their studio early this afternoon.

An excellent exercise in "matching" - tone, cadence, intent. All those things that are always important, but even more so at the intimate level of audiotours. Had Thom Pinto's always-excellent advice ringing in my ears from the weekend class, rolling into the pickups by including the sentence before. Went well, it did.

According to my director, they were actually sending the files over today, so if you are in Taipei, and happen to get a chance to take in the Yongzheng Emperor exhibit, I'd encourage you to get the audiotour as well!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Raising the Retail Bar - Thom Pinto 09/09

Two day workshop with Thom Pinto focusing on retail scripts. For some reason, I had written this class down in my calendar, scheduled the weekend appropriately and showed up to find that I was not actually, you know, in the class... Luckily, another student had scratched in the previous week, and so I quickly worked things out with Chuck and Thom so I could attend. First time I'd done that... and better than not showing up for a class you'd paid for.

That having been dealt with, we all hunkered down to the nuts and bolts of the Retail Script. This class was set up to mimic live auditions and sessions, with some other exercises thrown in to keep us loosened up. Essentially, in the first (evening) class, we received a script and read for Thom, who was playing a producer trying to cast the spot. Had some decent spots in that read, though I was briefly kicking myself for not noticing one of Thom's embedded "traps" in the script. I think what frustrated me was that I thought, "hmmmm, that's weird" and then didn't ask about it. Ya gots to trust that inner voice thing....

The next day was "Session Day." Having miraculously booked the job the night before, we were to be working with the same producer in a mock session. These were longer reads for each student, complete with reworking the copy to fit the time slot, working timing, pickups and those things which happen during an actual recording session. Ended up with a good-feeling read, and felt pretty solid and focused during the session.

Retail scripts may not get a lot of respect - they aren't necessarily "high art" and the bad ones are, well, challenges. But, they do represent a core area of work, and this was an excellent class on the path to refining that area.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weird VO Dream

Probably because I was up past midnight finishing off the v1.0 of my voiceover website, but I had a VO dream last night*. We were pairing up for reads - we being many of the folks who were in the first round of the recent Voicetrax LA Idol competition (none of whom I'll embarrass by including their names) - and being shuttled quickly down a dock into a small studio that appeared to be in an Airstream-shaped building. Very shiny. Very silvery.

Anyway, there were three of us, and the woman had the lead character. I was reacting to her, commenting back and forth with another guy. The script just kind of ended - one of those times that just screamed for an ad-lib button. We tried a couple things that didn't quite work.

Then we hit upon it - we would break into song. Specifically, "Mambo Italiano"**, which seemed to complement the words precisely. We discussed it a bit, actually keeping it secret from the woman we were reading with, so that she would react realistically to our ad-lib.

We also understood that it was a risk. There was an air of competition to the rapid shuttling of groups, and we were trying to make sure that none of the others were close enough to hear our idea. We positioned ourselves at the microphone, got the heads-up from the engineer, saw the cursor start moving on the computer screen and started.

Which of course caused me to wake up. Drat. I had the fully conscious thought that it was going to be a spectacular take. Ahh well...

I'll leave you with it being done right -



*and I'm not going to make a habit of inflicting my dream imagery upon you. It's just that I seldom recall quite so many details... and it is a voiceover dream. and the studio we were in was pretty cool.

** and I know why this song was used - it's been a freakin' earworm for the last week or two, ever since I came across it while checking out a link from voice-pal Annalisa, who has been appearing in "Tony And Tina's Wedding", which is running in SF right now.

Site's Up!

A bit simpler than it will end up, but the initial version of the JimEdgarVoices website is up.

Which, curiously enough is called -

JimEdgarVoices.com

There are a couple of demo files, and a few other bits in there. More to come, but at least something reasonably cogent is now in place. Whew! I should be in bed...

Friday, September 18, 2009

LA Idol - First Round and Results

Last Saturday was the first round of the Voicetrax LA Idol Competition. As I mentioned in a previous post, these focus upon voice work, rather than singing. There are two editions of this - "LA Idol", in which the winner(s) end(s) up with a week of auditions at the major Los Angeles voiceover talent agency, and "SF Idol", where the winner gets representation with a San Francisco talent agency for 6 months.

As threatened, I did a lot of breathing beforehand. And scripts. And got together with fellow voice actors to work dialogues, which was pretty much the name of the game on Saturday.

We did know that going in, of course. What we didn't know was who would be paired with whom, and what scripts were to be used. Folks assembled and the buzzing of excitement could easily be felt. By the time Juliette posted the order and brought out the script for the first round, we'd already busted one another up a few times.

And that, it certainly seems in retrospect was what made the day so darned great. The camaraderie. The sudden realization that these other people with whom I'd shared classes and practices and horrible first takes and glorious successes with over the last couple years had become friends and peers.

To put it another way, everyone in the group was competent. But, our knowledge of one another made it possible for each to enhance the other and bring out the best in each. It's a moment of grace that only too seldom seems to occur in life. Between takes and scripts, we hung out and joked and laughed and kept one another pretty loose.

And loose, and I'm not sure I've observed before, is very good.

Of course, focused is also a desirable attribute as well. I'd brought some notes from various classes (a lot of them seemed to be from Tom Pinto classes...) and had a hand-written set of thoughts, points and reminders which had occurred to me over the previous few days. Probably things that wouldn't make sense to or even help other people, but those specific things that tended to trip me up or remain forgotten when things got hectic.

My wife also sent me a quick loop of the badgers, which for some odd reason of its simplicity and oddness, always cracks me up. It came through on my phone just as we broke into pairings for the first dialog.

The day felt good. Felt fun and loose.

And it seems to have paid off, because it would seem that as of Thursday, my name was among the qualifiers for the finals. Which had me doing the happy dance at my desk. I may have even busted into a badger dance for a few verses...

The 2009 LA Idol Finalists are:

  • Chris Abell
  • Jessica Blue
  • Ralph Boethling
  • Brian Davis
  • Cinthia DeGregory
  • Jim Edgar
  • David Johansson
  • Ken Krauss
  • Kyle Morton
  • Angie Noble
  • Don Porto
  • Nicki Rapp
Which now means that I need to pull together some thoughts, a strategy and some scripts for the finals. And of course, remember to keep breathing, have fun and stay focused.

And maybe bust out a badger dance move now and again...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Invitational Advanced Workshop with Thom Pinto - 08/09

It's pretty easy to run out of superlatives when talking about Mr. Pinto's classes. On the one hand, it seems not too long ago when I was taking the "Colors" class and feeling a bit, uhhh, challenged and awed to be taking a class from Tom. Now, no semester seems complete without some time under his tutelage. He has the capacity to cut right to the core issue that any student may be dealing with and I always appreciate the energy and focus he brings to a class, not to mention the breadth of knowledge of any and all voice actors who have ever recorded anything. He's a true student of the craft and expects as much from his students.

In broad strokes, this was a four week class focusing on specificities. As such, it's one I could take again and have a number of different things stressed, as my needs at that time would be different than now.

But, there were definitely overarching themes: the need to hit the right note from the first syllable of the first word, the need to understand every script both in terms of its meaning and format, the need to be capable of accurate assessment and self-direction. All that stuff that sounds so easy, yet is never simple in the execution.

One nice aspect to this class was that one week was "cyber" style - forcing the students to submit scripts from home, then respond to his feedback with a second version. Very "real" test of the home studio. I will not recount here the number of weird computer issues which cropped up for me on that night, only say that I had to go next door and apologize to the neighbor for my yelling at the last crash. And I'd much rather have that happen on a class than a job...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Countdown to Idol

It's countdown time - the first round of Voicetrax Idol: LA hits on Saturday, September 12th. Deep breathing and working practice scripts shall ensue for the next dozen days...

For those of you not intimately aware - the Voicetrax Idol events are patterned after some large vocal talent contest which they tell me appears now and again on television. In this case, we're dealing with voice work, rather than singing. There are two editions of this - "LA Idol", in which the winner(s) end(s) up with a week of auditions at the major Los Angeles voiceover talent agency, and "SF Idol", where the winner gets representation with a San Francisco talent agency for 6 months.

The format has a couple rounds of competition, and the goal for me this time around is to get past the first one. This will be my third time in the competition. I did the LA a year ago, and it was a great experience, but I felt more like "pack fodder*" and was a little overwhelmed by the level of the other competitors. Most of the folks who showed up I'd never seen before in my classes, they all seemed to know one another and most of them were represented and working. All good, as they say, and I'm pretty happy with what I did. It was just that the folks who moved on seemed to do just a little more.

The SF Idol this spring was a bad patch. I'd love to claim that aliens possessed my brain, or even that the dingos ate my baby, but the fact is I started out of balance and it went downhill from there. Got clipped at the first cutoff.

The question now is whether I learned from the most recent competition. And the classes. And the privates. And all the reads since then.

Which is why I'm counting down the days. And breathing. And relaxing. It's just that funny balance of pushing yourself a certain direction and then getting out of your own way. I love this kind of stuff the way I love bike racing - the anticipation, the feeling of excitement and dread, the focus that comes when you toe the line.

*bike geek term for folks who fill out the pack in a bike race.

In other news, Voicetrax decided that there was so much interest in the Idol series that they filled another SF Idol for the fall. The first round went off a week or so ago, and the first round winners were announced yesterday.

Here's a big congratulations to all the folks who are moving on:
  • Patty Allen
  • Vicki Baum
  • Nigel Ball
  • Annalisa Bastiani
  • Alyson Casas
  • Lynn Douglas
  • Roni Gallimore
  • Dan Greenblatt
  • Maureen O’Donoghue
  • Liz O’Keefe
  • Rob Sandusky
I know a number of the first round winners quite well from classes, and it's hard to root for any one of the talented people listed above over anyone else.

Good luck to all in the next round! Bring it and have fun.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back Up to Speed

Things got a little off track around here for a couple months. As I had some fine fellow open his truck door into me while riding home, I had an excuse for a little while (that actually happened back in the last week of June). Things just seem to have gotten a little hectic in the wake of that.

And I'll be honest with you, when I had the opportunity to go for a bike ride instead of studiously sit and pound out a blog entry...well, the bike ride won. Hey, it's summer!

On the voice front, a couple of nice events as of late - the biggest news is that I booked a nice job with the fine folks out at Antenna Audio - in fact, just wrapped up the second of two sessions this past Friday morning. I'd recorded a couple of "file" reads for them earlier this month. Later that week, got the call that the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan wanted me to narrate an audiotour for a temporary exhibit they were putting together. Fair amount of pronunciations to work through and a good bit of text as well. Very challenging and very, very enjoyable. Great folks to work with.

Also voiced a narration for an in-house video for Accenture on information security risks and solutions. That one came my way directly from a fellow voice actor - one of the really high quality folks I've come to know through classes at Voicetrax.

I got to sit behind the board a couple times this past month as well - once for Sirenetta Leoni, engineering for her Audition Angel class. That was really a fun course - patched in "special guest" directors from L.A. and got to work with a great booth director on the following day. Lots of "real-life" scenarios played out with realistic time and tension pressures. There were a few times when I was glad I was working the sliders rather than the mic.

The other class I just finished engineering for today was the "Gamerology" class - Jacquie Shriver from Sony brought a full class up to speed on the ins and outs of the current video game market. She kept folks busy with a good set of auditions, sides and tasks to work on. I'd taken a class from her before, and it's always good to see her energy and understanding the importance of getting things right, fast!

I even got to get some cheap road miles in as I rode to the gig. Busy, busy... but it's voice work, so it's busy, FUN!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Advanced Invitational Direct Thyself Characters - July/Aug 2009

A new offering, and kind of "under the radar." I think most everyone who was in this class had been in a couple of classes that were, well, definitely registering on the "tough love" scale. In those, and in the wake of SF Idol, we had identified a lack of character-specific courses that "dug deeper" into longer, trickier scripts. Mostly, it was focused on getting us to realize were we really were with our character work.

It was, in short, one of the best classes I've taken from Samantha Paris. There were a couple weeks when I really scared the heck out of myself with what happened in the booth. But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

The format of this six week course was pretty straight forward. Characters, characters, characters... scripts Sam chose for us all, duked out in "audition" format with full debriefing afterwards. We brought iin scripts that had troubled us and scripts we brought in that we felt we could nail. Samantha would then go through those scripts, issue it to another student and let us direct them on the script. She'd let us flail our way through it for a couple takes or so, then isolate the key areas which we weren't hearing. Curiously enough, the key thing we were generally missing was the same thing we generally missed in our own efforts.

She's used this "Director's Chair" exercise in some other classes, but for some reason, it seemed to click for a number of people in the class.

Over the final two weeks, we also got to write for our "secret voiceactor" - a name we'd chosen out of a cup. After listening to their work and learning something of their strengths, we wrote a monolog and a dialog for them, which we directed them in over the final two sessions of the class (monolog one week, dialog the next). There were, to drastically understate it, some incredible pieces of writing, which gave flight to some great character acting.

This class was the highlight of my week while it was going. I miss it a bit now that it's finished.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Audiotour Intensive - 7/09

This was a four week class, given by new instructor Peter Dunne of Antenna Audio. It is a new class for the Voicetrax catalog, geared at more advanced students. It's assumed that you have some background in narration techniques. There's probably no other voiceover discipline which is as immediate and intimate as audio tours found in museums, heritage sites and galleries. You literally are one-on-one with the listener and join them for an extended period of time.

This was a great class - a rare chance to work with one of the sound designers and directors for the Antenna Audio projects. As such, this class was more "session like" than anything else. Time in the booth came in longer chunks, and the feedback was both subtle and specific. Over the four weeks, Peter brought recent scripts from a variety of museum exhibits and tour sites - some basic, others with the complexities of foreign language pronunciations and finally a few that were less common - true character roles and very "challenging" art. He would usually supply these to us a few days before class, let us read through them and choose a few "stops", then suggest or supply others in class based on our vocal qualities.

It seemed as though everyone caught on to his directing and really raised their game through the class sessions. Peter was a pleasure to read for - the specificity of his feedback and interest in the subject matters came through with every student. I enjoy narration in general, but this was really a very challenging and interesting means of speaking. Great information.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Idol Decompression Session

This is a bit more of an actual "Voicetrax Class Report", something I'd begun posting over on the VTX ning.com page (a feed of which is currently visible on the left top of this page.) But, since they keep threatening to turn that into a Facebook Group, it sounded like it might be time to begin embedding them here (and maybe put a copy on the ning.com page - which looks like it may be a copy/paste task as ning.com doesn't appear to support an RSS feed. Of course, the FB Group pages don't support an inbound RSS feed either... but, I digress...)

Tonight was a low-key pizza & beverage get-together and "I love you guys, but..." beat down for those of us who went through the recent Voicetrax Idol SF competiton - modeled after - yep, you guessed it! - another contest which you may have noticed on television recently. Basically, it was a three round performance competition which ended with the winner getting representation with Stars, The Agency for six months.

The third and final round took place a week ago, and the winners were to be announced live (...after the break).

Before we got to that though, we got to share our experiences, failures and lessons learned with one another. Obviously, there was a "carrot" to chase and everyone wanted to win the prize, but this was above all a class - and as such a grand opportunity to learn how we react under different pressures and audition situations.

I don't have too much to share about the later parts of the competition as I got spat out the back with a dozen others in the first round. This actually led to some good lessons and realizations, but I don't really have the time or energy right now to delve into those. Let's just say that it was a good kick in the pants reminder to focus, execute and trust the teachings which have been shared with us. I took my frustration with not advancing and focused it into the prep for my demo.

It was interesting tonight to hear how many other people encountered a lot of the same difficulties. Nerves seemed to be universally shared thread, for example.

We also got to listen to everyone's Round 1 auditons. As Sam mentioned, no one was stellar and the folks who advanced seemed to be the ones who made the least errors.

She may have termed it a little more directly, now that I think about it.

The listening helped to remind us how easy it is to sound the same - hit the same notes and fall into the same types of traps. We did not listen into the second round auditions, but by then the first round jitters seemed to begin leaving those who had made the cut and Sam said that the quality of work definitely improved. By the last round, the reads from the six finalists created significant discussion among the judges at Stars and they gave strong accolades to all who made it that far.

I guess this would be the "after the break" part I mentioned earlier.

There was a final "Selection" to be made, of course, and none other than Mark Middleton nabbed the first place. I've had a lot of classes with Mark, and it's great to see his talents and energy pay off.
Ralph Boethling took second place. He also received word tonight that he had been signed by Stars for representation. Another frequent classmate who just always "brings it."
Louise Theron took third place. I've only bumped into her rather recently in classes, but she has done very nice work.

Congratulations to everyone!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Demo Day

Monday was the first actual, really-truly "Red Letter" day on my calendar. Back in early April, I'd had a private session with Samantha, and she felt that it was time to set a date to record my Commercial Demo. When I wrote down the scheduled session on the calendar, I actually rummaged around and found a nice bold red Sharpie, boxed the day in right and proper and put "DEMO SESSION" in big, block letters. (I even did the same on the month of May, as it fell on Monday, June 1st. Like I was going to forget it or something... I am such a geek.)

It deserved something, and a little graphic energy around the day did seem appropriate. But, thinking about that now, I can't recall ever doing that before.

Of course, the actual session was important, but there was a bit of work beforehand. She had me submit a significant number of scripts a couple weeks before the recording. This meant that I had to go through my files, and received some excellent scripts from fellow voice-actors and teachers, then analyze those things which seemed to best demonstrate my range in commercial copy and decide how each script fit into the scheme of things. As I mentioned earlier, it was a highly iterative process.

But, that work paid off, and we came up with a good number of diverse scripts. All I had to do was be brilliant...

Well... yes and no.

I mean, yes, I had to do them as well as I could.

On the other hand, it wasn't going to take some miraculous act of divine intervention for me to get them right. That sounds abruptly pompous, so let me explain slightly.

In most classes I've taken, scripts get chosen for various reasons. Sometimes, that reason is specifically to cause us to fail. When you have a dozen people at roughly the experience level, and all of them miss the same thing in the copy, I have to assume that we were supposed to miss it, so it could be pointed out clearly, so we would learn and recognize it in the future. Learning by failure.

The Demo Session on the other hand was nothing like that. I had my dozen scripts. We'd pulled out the parts we wanted to use. We had definite attitudes and situations which I was to portray. This was not a time in which anything was going to be a surprise or be designed to trip me up. It was time to show what I've learned.

I'd scheduled a Private Session with N. the Thursday before, where I read through three of the scripts we'd chosen for the Demo. He knew I had the recording session coming up, but hadn't been part of the script selection process. We were working on a couple of other things first. Then, I read through the scripts-for-demo set. After I read the first one, he said, "I know you have a demo session coming up, but if you haven't thought about using that script, you really ought to consider it." Talk about a confidence-builder...

I was also trying not to go through them too many times, as it was important to keep my reads fresh. I spent some time refining what my approach would be - all the good acting choices about what had just happened, who I was talking to, etc. But, I only read through them once or twice more before the session. Enough to know where I was going with them, but not enough to "overwork" anything.

Brought a bunch of other scripts along and warmed up on them beforehand. Right on time, Sam fetched me and we headed over to the main studio. Chuck ran the board and we dove right in.

And it was fun. I lost all sense of time - would've believed it if someone said it took 20 minutes or 5 hours. Even though I had to head into work for the afternoon, I was buzzing and happy all day. Even had trouble falling asleep that night.

Good, good stuff. Which, hopefully, I should be sharing with you soon...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Etes-Vous Prets?

One of those weird, stuck phrases from my youth.
No, I did not attend French School. I rowed.

If you ever spent hours on a long, narrow rowing shell, moving back and forth on a sliding seat, getting to know the back of person in front of you way too well, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You may have even felt that shudder as a precursor to the pain your reptilian brain remembers.

If you didn't, or haven't, or are wondering just what the hell I'm talking about... It's the call that is made before the start of a rowing race. (Or at least it was - it seems like the elite races I've caught at the Olympics or via some late night feed start with a buzzer now. If so, 'tis a shame...)

The complete phrase was "Etes-vous prets?" followed by a pause and then "Partez!". Or at least I think the word was "Partez!" because quite frankly all hell immediately broke loose - coxswains (the smaller person at the back steering and yelling commands) started screaming on the "P-", drowning out whatever followed that, while all of us in the engine room were grunting and stomping and pulling with everything we had in a succession of ritually-drilled movements to get a 65 foot boat moving at top speed in the shortest number of strokes.

(Just to continue this diversion completely, ours was "3/4-1/2-1/2-3/4-full" before moving into 5 screamingly fast full and clean strokes, followed by another 5 with more power, then another 10 lengthening out at a high cadence. Crikey, I can still viscerally remember countless "Minute Pieces" that started from a dead stop and continued until 60 seconds were up. We were always known for our fast starts...)

Which, you may have noticed, has very little to do with voiceover, unless you count the efforts of the aforementioned coxswain.

What it gets at - and this is a thread I've been turning over in my mind for a while now - is the idea of The Start.

It's occurred to me before, this idea of starting. Or, more specifically, the idea of "self-starting."

It goes kind of like this:
Most of my pursuits can be described as having "passive" starts. Again, this may require another step or two from the voice acting genre to explain completely. I wasn't in the drama club in high school - instead I was more sports-oriented (well, on the newspaper too, but let's not introduce too many variables). So, I tend to use a fair number of sports-ish examples to help myself act or follow directions. These tend to be physical examples or the creation a physical memory which then helps me execute a technique.

For example, if I'm working on a narration or more technical read, but don't feel it's quite "expert" enough, I'll rock forward on my feet so that my weight is more forward. There's something about that subtle shift of position which will affect my read and give it the slight bit of force that needs. This is really just a continuing refinement of the first lesson I learned at Voicetrax, which was to physicalize things.

What I started realizing was that even with the physicalizations, and all the other basics in place like correct intentions of place, character, etc., there were times when the reads would get lost. This always came down to the way things started.

In my first narration class, Bob Symons made it clear that the first sentance was the most important. The more classes I've taken, this helpful signpost has been weathered and worn, forged to the diamond-edged truth that I now know - it is really the first syllable of the first word that has the effect.

What I didn't think about, though, was how to approach to that first syllable.
And that brings us back to the title of this post, "Etes-vous prets?"

If you look at a diver, a gymnast, a high jumper, a solo musician, there's always that moment before the act. There's a signal to the judges or orchestra, certainly, but following that there's a pause of some measure and then something clicks, or ticks, or rests just for the right amount before the movement begins. That instant has begun to fascinate me a bit.

Because, I realize now, it's a bit foreign to me.

My "go" moments were induced from outside. The little league pitcher wound up to throw, the football got snapped, the race marshall yelled "Etes-Vous Prets?" or the gun or whistle went off to start the bike race. So, up until voice acting, my training had been reflex and reaction, go at the gun sort of stuff. It took a while until I didn't stomp right out of the gate as soon as the engineer said, "You're Rolling..."

Now that I've been doing more engineering in classes, I can see the same thing in some of the the newer students - they are straining in the blocks and chaffing at the bit. As soon as I begin to say "Stand By" they are off and charging. Good thing we don't charge them with a false start.

I've started to really pay attention to the time between rolling and going, trying to find that small hiccup in the fabric of time when It feels right, that little tick of some internal tumbler falling into place when I'm ready. That moment when everything comes to rest and you can see exactly where you want to go and know how to get there.

When things are about to go well, it feels like there's all the time in the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Luxurious Studio

...and Other Humorous Topics

One parallel project to the great script-for-demo wrangling of May 2009 is the revamping of my recording capabilities. I'd been using the Snowball USB mic on my desktop for practice and playback through a set of pretty basic computer speakers. Everything had been set up in my office and for purposes of class prep and basic playback, it was working acceptably.

Then for a recent class, we were sent scripts to record at home and submit for critique at the class session. Well, with a little more critical listening, it was pretty obvious that the office was not quiet enough. So, I ventured down a hallway which seemed to lend itself well to the task, spacewise. However, with its relatively thin door and wooden floor, it was like recording in a bass drum with cymbals covering the drum heads - tinny and resonant. Declaring it a "live" space would be generous.

As the class deadline had snuck up a bit quickly, I got busy with some deadening blankets taped up and mats on the floor, managing to kill the worst of the echoey bits. However, to reduce the resonance, I'd ended up turning everything 90 degrees from plan, and had to flip the Snowball over to position "3" to reduce background noise. This still seems a little weird to me, as the "3" setting is supposed to be the omnidirectional setting. But, between the new setup, the issues of damping the space and the impending deadline for the class, I didn't have time to run it down before I had to show up at work for the day.

When the files were played in class over the studio monitors, there was a noticeable dip in quality when mine played. But, it supplied an excellent reference for correction. I also got copies of the other files which I could then use for playback comparison over my basic speakers.

Then we went shopping. For some reason, my wife didn't really care for the look of drafting tape and heavy blankets, so we spent some time in the studio setup over at Bananas At Large in San Rafael. Had a good talk with a pretty knowledgeable guy and discussed the use of foam, proximity of the mic, other USB microphone alternatives and a pair of nice sounding USB speakers for playback.

Then we visited Home Depot and played around with various methods of setting up a retracting sound curtains, installing foam surfaces and means of deadening the space. Which means I've got a pile of building materials to install and see what happens. Hopefully, when everything is set up and locked down, we'll have an effective, but unobtrusive recording space.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Scripts, Scripts, Scripts

Scripts, scripts everywhere, and more and more we seek.
Scripts, scripts everywhere and so many seem to creak...


(with fervent apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.)

Coming into the pre-flight period for my demo session. Alternately scared out of my wits and firmly confident that it's about time, which is probably the right combination of fear and ignorance that I need. (Yeah, yeah.... "fear and arrogance." I just like to see you get all worked up.)

Sat down a while back and made a list. Over the months I've crossed stuff off, resorted it a few times, gathered similar livestock in nearby pens and in general tried to make some sense of what I bring to the voiceover table. The recent "Bag O' Tricks" class was pretty helpful in refocusing and refining things again. A follow up private session clicked something into place even more clearly by identifying some areas of tone and delivery that come pretty naturally, but also seem to be a more unique signature of my approach.

Rereading that last paragraph, it makes sense to me, but probably not to anyone else. Don't really mean to be mysterious, but in the larger picture, the specific "what" doesn't really matter to anyone but me. And that too will simply continue to change and develop the longer I continue on this path. Feeling tentative and tenuous ideas become actual voiceover techniques which can be relied upon has been an amazing process.

That's really the only point I was imprecisely trying to make.

And now it's trying to find the scripts which will bring that out. Steady steps which have been pretty practical and highly recursive. I've been working through all the scripts I've had filed, trying to regroup them as demonstrating different strengths to be shown on the voiceover demo. Then going through each different and further sorting the scripts from best to weakest. Trying to pull out those that I want to do but which really aren't showcasing the skills quite well enough.

Each loop through tends to refine my opinions again, which leads to another visit to the files o' scripts, which in itself tends to add one or two, which in turn demands another reshuffling within the group.

And I'm enjoying that process thoroughly. As I've said before, I really like scripts. In a few cases, it's helped me to recognize a different approach could be employed or see that there were some aspects of the writing which I didn't quite appreciate in the short time of initially working on them.

In other cases, much like that old album...cough, cough... I mean CD.... urk... I mean MP3 that you pull out after having not heard it for a while, you just wonder whatever impressed you about it in the first place.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Catalog Daze

This is one of the most fun and aggravating times of the year - new catalog from Voicetrax time. Aggravating because time and funding have finite limits. I mean, you want to dive right in and sign up for everything with a line of dots on it. But, after making swooning wookie noises when you add that little pile of numbers up, you have to prioritize a bit.

You pull this class back because it's probably not going to help you now. That session gets dropped down the list because it's an awful lot like one you just finished, and it's going to start next month (or at least pretty dang soon) anyway. And another gets culled because in a glimmer of confidence, you think you're pretty solid on that area right now. And you want to leave a little "air" in the schedule for a private or two...

But, then you drift into the catalog itself, and you think about working with Sam Pond again, or getting a chance to have a class with Charlie Adler, and you find yourself seriously geeking out over voice acting daydreams (or technically, as I should really be in bed, "night dreams").

Then you turn back a page or two and read the mentions of people you know who are getting work. They're good people who just knock it out of the park when you've heard them. They're people you've had classes with. And you think, "man, I want to be in that section of the catalog - the place where they list the jobs and callbacks and successes..."

And you dream a little more. Realize you've stayed up a bit later than planned. Remember that the other night, you actually had a dream that you were in the booth.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Invitational Direct Thyself - 5/09

Normally after any good class, I'm pretty tired. After an all day "weekend" session, I'm even more wrung out. There's something about a full day of active listening, trying to "pre-guess" the teacher's analysis, recalibrating your impression versus the teacher's, analyzing your own script beforehand, the tiny little step of executing the performance you plan while, then trying to recognize the things that didn't go well while acknowledging that which did...

Last Saturday after this class, I pretty much just crawled on the couch and lay there for an hour and a half. I was seriously worked.

And don't get me wrong - this was probably one of the most beneficial classes I've had. But, it was a pummeler.

Ralph gave a great description in his post, so I won't duplicate that here. I will only add that performing "Undah Da Lights!" with no playback is a seriously good excercise, so I would expect to see Sam adding it here and there.

I'd also like to say,
"Hi, I'm Jim, and I'm addicted to playback."

Listening versus Hearing. Knowing versus Thinking. About a half dozen little corrections to end bad habits and set things up better. This was a high-value class.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scene Study with Frank Coppola - 04/09

This was a four week course (April 2009) specifically focusing on acting techniques. In other words, no booth time at all - and you had to perform "on stage" for the class and Frank. We performed monologues which we were expected to memorize for the first class meeting and then hone over the four weeks, as well as dialogues with another class member for later sessions. Although we were not required to memorize the dialogue, the less reading we could do seemed to benefit everyone's performance.

I liked this course a great deal. I've also taken Frank's "Simply Acting 1" and "S.A.2", and always appreciate the presence he brings to class. There seemed to be no wasted time during the classes - he actually tightened this up from a six week version (and honestly, a six-week version would've been even better - just started feeling like I was firing on more than half cylinders by the fourth night). As I recall him saying in the first course, "you need to go to the things you fear." For most of us who seem drawn to being in a dark, silent room behind the mic, actually memorizing lines and then bringing them to life in real time may not be a place of fear, but it certainly is a place of reasonable uneasiness.

For me, "acting" has historically been something I watched and enjoyed. Now that voiceover has such a hold on my life, this class was very helpful in both recognizing and then refining the techniques of presentation. Good stuff and I'll always take another class with Frank.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Voicetrax Edge: LucasArts - 04/09

Weekend class Saturday evening and all day Sunday. (4/09) This appeared in the spring catalog as "The Voicetrax Edge: Game Company Voice/Dialog Directors"

Game-geeks delight. If you know what these folks are working on, then you probably have an idea of the scripts we worked. As they were all collected at the end of class, you can surmise it was pretty cool.

Evening class sessopm involved working with Sirenetta on the specific needs of LucasArts game animation. They have a style which is different from most of the game companies, reflecting the more "cinematic" aspects of their heritage. (Some of this is covered in the class "Commercial vs. Cartoons vs. Video Games") She passed out a good variety of scripts (for both men and women - an improvement to earlier versions of this course) and we chose 2-3 characters which we felt right for. As the second studio was unoccupied, we set up over there to warm up and then folks headed over to work more specifically with Sirenetta, audition style, to record two characters. After that, we were free to go.

The next day, Will Beckman from LucasArts came in, gave some interesting background on the project - "Knights of the Old Republic." Then, we played back one of the characters from the previous night (Will picked the one so we heard a broad selection of characters) and then commented on needed changes. That person then went into the booth and redid the script under Will's direction. After that round, Will suggested other roles for a second round. All takes were wild lined.

Darragh O'Farrell came in for the afternoon session. He handles more of the directing end of things. We did a round of the characters which Will had chosen, then Darragh assigned "hot off the press" characters for another round. Some of these he hadn't seen. These we did in dialogue fashion, with another student (typically the person that was "on deck").

Excellent class for this genre and company. Very specific with direction and feedback.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Voicetrax Confidential: Voice Actors Tell All!

Good stuff afoot last night (4/17/09) at the Holiday Inn Express!

Micha Berman, Freddi Rogers, Aileen Casas and Monterey Morrissey all shared stories, experiences and opnions gleaned from the path which we're on. I like panels like that because there are always things that you get to hear that worked or failed, and many of the comments served to distill things we hear so often in class. It was also encouraging because I've had classes with two of the people who spoke, where they seem so polished, strong and assured. Then you get to hear their stories and realize that the work that went into it. Just helps to reinvigorate you.

The large group get togethers are also nice because you get to see the Voicetrax "family" in the larger sense. Too often, the VTX world seems to consist of the 10 or 12 people in class. It's a nice reminder of the diversity of talent and personalities which make up the gang. Plus, I got to hang out with Don, Greg and Alex, among others.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Keel Finding

Better than keel-hauling, to be sure.

Had another class Wednesday evening. Session 2 of "Actor's Bag O' Tricks" which N. taught. Whatever mental core dump took place Tuesday night must've been a bit helpful. Just rereading that last post, it's tempting to select edit, then delete because it just sounds like self-indulgent whimpering.

But, in most everything I've ever done, the frustration usually sets in solidly before any gains take place. And that's pretty much where the needle was pointing after class Tuesday. Or, to keep the nautical-theme of the title, things were leanin' pretty hard to port. Wednesday brought things a bit back to center.

And it was fun getting there. Which is good. I spent a little time after work talking with my wife, and she listened extremely patiently to my chattering about wanting to hit the right mark, etc... When I'd exhausted most of my thoughts, she quietly asked, "You still like it, right?"

That pretty much skewered the crux of the issue.

Yeah. I like it. A lot. No. More than that. I have ridiculous amounts of fun doing this, really enjoy the people I have met so far, and look forward to things with a high degree of optimism.

"So," she continued. "Have fun with it."

Which adds to the long tally of reasons why I married her. Spot on, she was.

And so I wandered down to class, and had fun. Did absolutely the ugliest Australian accent I've ever managed and just had to smile and laugh afterwards. Threw it another gear (Russian) and cracked off a decent bit. Had fun with that. Listened, learned, tried to tune my ears some more and finished the evening by cracking off a legal delivery that scared me a little when I listened back to it this morning. (My wife asked me if they had sped it up...) A good evening and quality class.

It's funny to think about how much of this verbal, vocal, vox business has nothing to do with speaking. So much more is about the mental position, attitude and, well, the fun you bring in with you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post-Class Thoughts

"It's Pretty Simple... just do it the way you hear it in your head."

Well, at least that got me to laugh a little bit as I walked the dog. Crisp and clear night sky between the showers. Just-past-full moon looking downward and the sparodic hissing of tires getting someone home reasonably late.

The dog didn't even look up at my observation and resultant chuckle. I didn't really expect her to, as she's 14 or so and quite deaf. So, the words and my chuckle just sort of hung there in the late night air, sounding quite simple following an evening of not quite bringing it.

I mean, it's all pretty simple stuff.

It's just the doing of it that seems to get complicated.

Maybe a part of the complication is the wanting. Wanting to do it well. The wanting gets in the way, makes you focus on articulating the tricky words and clever phrases. Wanting to do it Perfectly.

Doing it Perfectly removes it squarely from anything unique.

And the unique take is really the only thing that a voice actor can bring to the table.

It just felt pretty danged clumsy at the table tonight. Too safe. A bit timid. At one point, I really felt like something was trying to make itself known from within the first script, but didn't pay enough attention - just got back to the rhymes and words as they were written. Committed the cardinal sin of not just going outside and reading it aloud.

I mean, what the hell was up with that?

Which made that take sound like a bad first rehersal - y'know, getting most of the words, but missing the whole intent of the copy. Because the words never hit the air, it never opened up like it wanted to.

We all got to go back and read it again. But, if the first one was strangled, the second read sounded like a tired narration. A second take at the second read began to find some life, but it only stayed on the fairway because a helpful breeze gusted at the right time.

And it kind of felt like it continued that way all night.

There's a phrase in bike racing - "jour sans" - specifically "a day without" where you just have no gas for no reason. You've been training and worrying about all the things, but when it comes to crunch time, you just can't stay with the group.

As I read that, I'm hoping that's an overstatement. Haven't listened to the files yet, but can't really shake the feeling that it was an evening of Not My Best Work.

Didn't feel focused. Didn't feel centered. Never really felt relaxed.

At one point tonight - actually after we'd read the first script - when Sam P. talked about just letting the words drop. Just letting things flow, fall where they may.

Implicit in that was the idea of trust. Trusting that you've put in enough work to have some decent instincts. Trusting in the choice that you make and drilling into it deeper rather than stepping back. Because if you pull away from that trust, you end up trying to be a little safe, a little careful.

Which is not the way you ever hear it in your head.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Big Ol' Voiceover Week So Far

All of the classes which I really wanted to take seem to be a bit front-loaded into this semester at Voicetrax. Advanced Character started in January, the Ultimate Road Show two day class hit last weekend, then the first of two February classes which I'd been pretty excited about started last night.

I'd first heard of Sam Pond through a comment that Instructor/Voice Actor Brian Sommer made. We had just worked a script which was thoroughly hilarious, and Brian said, "That was a Sam Pond script - if you ever have a chance to work with him, DO IT!"

As I took more classes and began to see all manner of scripts, a few would stick out because they were irreverent, clever or really managed to find elegant humor. Most of these turned out to be Pond scripts.

If you are around the SF Bay Area, and have heard one of the Lombardi Sports ads in the last few years, that was probably one of his. He was recently the winner of $1 million in advertising on Clear Channel, and came up with some hilariously sparse bits which were just him, trying to figure out what to do with all the ad time he now sat upon.

If you haven't run across his stuff before, head over to PondRadio.com and hit the "Spots" link.

The first session of class had a high velocity of scripts and takes, and by the midpoint, my cheeks were cramping from so much laughing. By the end of class, my ribs were sore. It's the only time (so far) when I've been in the booth on a dialog, and the class was laughing so hard that I started channelling Tim Conway/Harvey Korman from the Carol Brunett Show, when they both got serious giggles and almost imploded.

Just to make it an All-Voice-All-The-Time experience, on Tuesday, I finished up necessary job-stuff early and told folks I was going to work from home in the afternoon. This let me enjoy a late lunch while watching "View from the Bay", which was doing a segment with Voicetrax founder Samantha Paris. Here's a short camphone capture -



If you wander over to the Vew From The Bay site, they seem to maintain archives of show segments for webcast. (Broadcast date was 2/3/09, you may have to root around to find it today). The funny thing was that the first segment was a promotion of the "Go Red!" Heart Disease Awareness Fashion Show. The doctor who appears in that segment - Joanne Dames - is another Voicetrax student and voice actor.

Which pretty much meant only Monday will be non-voice-overy. What a great week!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Oh, Yeah..

One thing I forgot to mention in "Last Friday's Beatdown Calvalcade of Fun"...

The really impressive thing about Sam and Voicetrax - after we had collectively whiffed on the script the previous week, rather than just figure that we (the class) was lazy or "off" or just not paying attention, she regrouped and asked the more difficult question, "Are we doing anything wrong?"

She spoke with other teachers, pooled their thoughts and resources, formulated an immediate plan and put it into action by the next class meeting.

And, most importantly, effected change.

Thanks, Sam!

Intense Couple O' Days

End of a long couple days. Intense final Sam session midday Friday in which we took a reasonably serious scene and then "raised the stakes" considerably. That hit with a bit o' the old blunt force trauma. Then we performed a monologue which we had written for a character we had created. Most of the scenes started out with relatively high stakes. Then Sam guided us deeper - much deeper - into the scene.

There were tears, both in the booth and the audience, and by the end of class, we were pretty wrung out. Amazing what that does to you.

Hung out with David J., Nicki and Annalisa for a twixt-class meal, restored one another a bit and laughed our way back to sanity.

Then we headed back to Voicetrax, and dove into a class by D., who was up from LA and had the goal of making us "Great" on commercial copy. It was a pretty high-level class and I spent the first night just trying to get my head above water. About half the class are working actors and it was pretty clear that the quality of the work was going to be high. It was pretty danged invigorating to be operating in that kind of atmosphere.

It was also a bit humbling. When things didn't go quite right, the errors tended to stand in high contrast. As I've said before, that's why I'm taking classes, right?

Back at it all day today, with a couple of successes and at least finally feeling like I was bringing the right amount of energy.

As usual, it all came down to acting. Or, "Acting"...

Which, as I mentioned above, kinda wrings you out. Which is where I am right now. Gotta go to bed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Last Friday's Beat Down Calvalcade of Fun

Of course, you first have to know that two Fridays ago, all of us in Sam's Advanced Character class collectively forgot pretty much everything we'd ever learned or been exposed to so far. Maybe it was the last distraction of the Bush years. Might've been nervousness over whether the Inauguration was going to to take place. Perhaps everyone's biorhythm had tanked. We really stunk the place up.

David J. had a comment of actual content last Friday, and pointed out that it had actually been the first non-comedic animated script we had all read on in a long, long time. There's actually a fair amount of reasonableness in this observation. I hate to embrace it too fully, as it might tend to become a crutch or easy rationalization. Behind the mic, y'either do or you don't.

Fact is, I was reading the script - with that specific verb-choice intended - maybe knowing who I was, but with no attention upon what that meant to the scene or the other characters. Bad voiceover, no donut.

While working our way through the script (and I got to read it twice in different roles), it was painfully obvious that nothing was really working, but we didn't seem to be able to correct ourselves. It was probably the only time I've been reading something when I had the distinct and frightening thought, "This is taking an awfully long time..."

It was, in short, the emotional equivilent of calling up a girl back when I was in 7th grade and absolutely and completely running out of things to say, yet having no idea how to end the phone call. It was pretty excruciating.

So, last Friday things started off with a reminder of that. We demo'd a character script from several options - everyone doing pretty dang well, actually - read a short commercial character dialogue and then the punishment began.

"The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves"
Courtesy of Chuck, it was. We were on our feet, going through basic placement exercises and immediate character creations. We laughed our way into character. We said hello a lot. We stopped our stinkin' thinkin'...

Then we had an excellent couple rounds of dialogue scripts. We were given only the words - no direction, no staging, music, scene setting or anything which would give us a hint. We were paired up and sent out to figure it out, then came in and got one take to nail it.

Okey-dokey.

Um, one question. Is my script supposed to make sense?

Bill and I stood outside for a bit, trying to make sense of odd non-sequitors which our characters were saying. We took a stab at it, both of us trying to create all the reasons that our characters chose the words they did.

After everyone had a take, we were given a hint - in the form of the comic strip from which our dialogues had been lifted. Ah-haa! Zippy the Pinhead. No wonder...

Another take with the specifics of the scene thus fixed. Compare the takes. Some folks actually did better with the "rudderless ship" version, as they had worked very hard to do the work. In some cases, adapting to the visuals of the scene required a large shift of tone. Not easy.

Then we did a similar exercise, this time with the scenes from action hero comic books. Again, the specifics of why these folks were saying the things they did were a touch confusing. (I must admit a certain lack of familiarity with the specifics of the various superhero escapades, leagues and alliances.)

Afterwards, as we backed up to go, most folks were exhaling a bit heavier than normal. It was mentally taxing work, but I left the class session pretty dang revved up.

Just gotta remember - always go further, always be specific. Y'know, the basics...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Scripts Are Cool

The rescheduled private with N. went well tonight. A bit too fast, but well. For some reason, I bobbled a couple of openings and wasn't as clean as I could have been on some takes. Do so like to be perfect. Which, of course, doesn't help the issue.

I'd kind of jumped from work right to the lesson, so maybe I was still a bit uncentered. But, it isn't like that won't happen in the future, so it's just got to be something I learn to deal with.

Things would "lock in" after a sentance or two, but I spent too many takes (in my opinion) being just slightly out of focus for the openings. Ah well. If I did it right every time, then I wouldn't need to take classes and lessons, eh? I liked his advice to "be mindfull" of my openings.

Mindful. Present. Aware. Good steps on the path.

N. had forwarded a number of scripts to me a day or so in advance, reflecting some of the recent stuff that had crossed his desk. Maybe it's the latent tech-geek gene, but I really like getting scripts I haven't seen before, that feel "new." It helped that they were a broad variety, and a good number were exceptionally well-written.

But, I enjoyed chewing them over to prepare. Playing with the phrasing, the emphasis and trying to find the little things which weren't so obvious. Scripts are cool. Which may be a reason I'm drawn to this whole thing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snowball Blues

Was doing some non-essential recording yesterday evening and things got all wonky. I've been using a Blue Snowball mic running through the USB hub to Audacity (on a Mac with OSX 10.2.6 - don't ask...)

For some reason, when I went to record, there was a huge amount of staticky, hissy noise. I had trouble getting my voice to even cut through it. I unplugged, restarted, rebooted and tried again - no real change to speak of.

I'm hoping that it had something to do with leaving the mic plugged in for a couple of days. Rather than disconnect it, I'd been leaving it connected to the USB port, which of course keeps the power on for the mic. It almost sounded like some weird static loop, particularly since the vocal level itself was so low.

I dinked around with some OSX system settings and dropped the level down. But, I still need to fix the issue - that really didn't have a definite effect upon it. I've unplugged the mic, and will see if having it disconnected for a day will change anything. Othewise, it's Odd Problem Research Time...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wacky Wednesday

Late Monday I got word that I manged to score a private lesson with N. after someone else had to cancel. Loaded up work-stuff onto Tuesday so I could be there on time. Nothing like a little forced efficiency.

That gave me a nice gap in the morning on Wednesday, where I entertained the dog with some Character homework. Then got a call that my private was cancelled, with a request to engineer that night's class instead. Private pushed back a week. Sudden fluster at work had me there until later than I'd wanted. Show up to engineer and found I was working the board for N., who had been called in to cover the class.

Good class - actually one I have yet to take. A couple students were in the class who I hadn't seen since last summer. Both of them were bringing it and their work had definitely gone up a notch. Nice to see. Good to see them again, catch up a bit.

Only a couple fumbles on the board and two takes I would've mic'd a bit differently. Tested my ears against N's for the evening and as usual learned much. I'm pretty sure he has photographic hearing.

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