On Saturday (Jan 23rd), I attended my first voiceover seminar through the yearly San Francisco Sketchfest that is held for 2 weeks every year in January. As a bit of an aside, I have been to this festival almost every year since I moved to San Jose 5 years ago. I would heartily recommend attending it if you are anywhere nearby, doubly so if you are an actor or comedian. From a practicality standpoint, the hours of the events are evenings and weekends, with prices that fit nearly every budget and schedule.
Although I wanted to go to several events this year (the other most important to me would have been the cast of Futurama), I had a choice to make. I could only go to one event because of budgetary and time constraints.
I chose Rob Paulsen's Voiceover Seminar. Why this over others, you may ask?
I chose his seminar because after listening to his Talkin Toons podcast (my review of which can be found here), I felt I had a sense of the man and his methods, since he has spoken at times about his teaching methods.
I admired him for his growth as an artist, and his willingness to try new methods in both his craft and business. He was, and is a very busy working voice actor, in the field that I would like branch out to (animation and video games). The portfolio of his work is astounding, well chosen and well rounded. His voice is on my side of the spectrum (we're both tenors in voice range).
I also like that a little bit of Mr. Paulsen bleeds through what he does in much of his voice work. He exudes a gentle snarkiness that makes you comfortable. At the same time you get the sense he chooses to use his considerable vocal and mental elasticity for good, not evil. Kinda like a badass jedi that when you see his lightsaber work, you're glad he's on your side. I have a feeling that like a fine tuned comedian, one doesn't want to get on the wrong side of an argument with him. It would be like trying to use a knife against an a-bomb.
Another reason I chose Mr. Paulsen is I wanted something more personal. I thought one celebrity instead of several in one venue would mean potentially less people trying to vie for his time. I wanted, if possible get his input on A) whether what I was doing was viable and B) to see if my own working methods, how I craft characters were similar to his, and if not, possibly modify what I was doing.
There is a danger of course, to meeting those one adulates. More so, this was my first seminar, so it had the potential for ongoing miscarriage if I happened to observe Rob striding in with his posse petulantly demanding the double-mint cherry froyo instead of the mint froyo and snapping his fingers at everyone to fix his celebrity woes quick-quick. I would have to try to slink off with my twitching eye and try not to retch while my working class psyche would be wrestling in inner turmoil whether jail time would be worth my forthcoming outburst.
My concerns were luckily and brilliantly allayed. Mr. Paulsen was nothing but kind, humorous, communicative and gracious to his audience. He answered everyone's questions with candor and attentiveness, and readily talked with people personally and in small crowds back and forth. My sense (and the sense of others in attendance I spoke with later) spoke of how genuine and pleasant he was.
His demeanor gave the sense that he was speaking to you like an old friend. He did this to everyone he met, gave this sense of genuine encouragement, concern and reality. He wasn't there to sell anything. His genuineness is a powerful trait. More so, since at times we looked and acted a bit like the crowd from the Mos Eisley Cantina. But kindly, he spoke with a common adulation to his audience and fans.
In the end, he was a bit like Springsteen in the 1970's - he practically had to be dragged away from his admirers by his driver to catch his flight. It was as if he liked us as much as we liked him.
That my friends, is beyond cool. I say this - even though Mr. Paulsen rocks the cool black cowboy boots he wears, that couture cannot come close to match the sense of kind belonging he exuded to us. People will be back to see him, for sure. People might come for the voice, but they'll show back up for the person.
I got around 15 minutes of his time between breaks, but I wasn't the only one. He took the time to talk to everyone that wanted his attention. I had the feeling he would have stayed later if he could. Even so, he was there early to talk to his fans, and he stayed an hour later after his seminar speaking with people. This was after he spoke for over 4 continuous hours. People (myself included) wouldn't leave the man alone.
As for his seminar, while it was entertaining (just through the sheer force of his personality and humorous demeanor), it was also very informative. About half of it was his personal story, his experiences, peppered with some light Q&A, while the other half (actually more than half considering he stayed so long afterwards) was heavy Q&A, where he answered everything people threw his way.
This included (but not limited to)
- his own personal approach to preparing for a role,
- vocal care,
- how a session works,
- how the paradigm has changed and his views on it,
- how he has learned from others,
- how to generate original characters through pitch, vocal location, cadence and accents and physicality,
- a lot more.
- He gave thorough examples on the nuts and bolts of his techniques.
Personally, I knew most of what he spoke of. His Talkin' Toons has most of the content of his seminar. Then again you'd have to listen to the whole podcast (which I recommend BTW) to get this high octane version in just half a day.
That wasn't the true value for me, although the value would have been wonderful for those not familiar his podcasts. The true value was being able to engage with him both as an audience member and for him to give us a bit of light mentoring when he spoke directly to us on breaks or Q&A.
When I heard how he works in voiceover, I smiled knowingly and was nodding readily. He affirmed that what I do ( the mocking and emulation of people, doing voices and accents when I'm alone spontaneously, the constant play I somehow can't stop doing since I was a kid) was the right thing to do. I wasn't crazy after all! Ok, maybe I am crazy. However, there is a niche for people like me. And it's not necessarily in the local asylum. Some people even get paid for it!
The other value I found in attending this seminar was the people in the audience. Seeing 75 or 100 people so stoked, so intense on this aspect of voice over was validating in itself. Hearing their intelligent and heartfelt questions, and talking to some of them (in between our merciless after event peppering of Mr. Paulsen) was enlightening. People from all walks of life - actors, comedians, engineers (this is Silicon Valley, after all), all were there because they have these delightful little demons forcing these characters and voices out of them, and god help us, it's ok! We were all at different skill levels, ages, genders and backgrounds. And that was what was so spectacular for me. The diversity of our experiences bound by the commonality of our humanity.
I thank Mr. Paulsen for being such a gentle guide of my first voiceover seminar. I will now go on to other seminars and more education, much more readily since this was such a rich and dynamic experience. And even if I have less than stellar teachers and coaches in the future, at least I'll know one of them, my first, was wonderful. And that will be the fuel to keep me seeking other's of Mr. Paulsen's caliber going forward.
As I keep moving through the span of my life (more and more with the velocity of a hurtling star, it seems), I have been thinking about where I am, what I have to do, and why I need to do it. Although dwelling on such things can lead to being maudlin, it still helps once in a while to take stock of one's advantages and disadvantages.
One trait that can be seen as a disadvantage is being older (i.e. over 30, in my case 17 years past that). Being older, especially in a society that worships youth, can frankly be intimidating. Younger people seem faster, brighter, and don't have the dings, dents and flabby/saggy skin that an older person does.
A younger person to an older person is a creature full of life, hope, and beauty. Seeing a young person gives me pause. On the one hand, I'm a bit jealous, seeing their lives all before them, their great potential. On the other hand, I really hope they break the mold succeed. I really hope that they don't fall into the pitfalls of the previous generations quite as much. I hope they remain helpful and hopeful, and not succumb to greed and jadedness. That they make the world better for their sons and daughters.
So where does it leave the older gently used (or not so gently used) folks left in the wake of the youthful horde? How can us crotchety folks possibly hope to compete?
Take heart, there is hope! I will tell you why!
Older people have experience in life.
One of the things about being older is we've seen and heard things younger people may not have yet. We know the spirit of the times from a generation or two ago. We can do imitations of older characters and roles more easily because actually saw them. And some people may not know of these characters, and if they do know, what was once hack is now classic VO gold, baby.
Older people know how precious time is.
That old saying "Youth is wasted on the young" does hold some truth to it. Many people that are younger don't quite understand the fragility and preciousness of life. They may not have seen loved one's die yet, and if they do, it's usually older people, not your friends and siblings, and usually not in the number that people who watch the years pass by.
This can spur an older person with much more focus. An older person may know how to better manage their time, because they're had to wrestle with balancing work, love and homelife. In the end an older person understands more about their mortality. This is morbid, but a truism.
Older people understand true gifts of work and friendship.
As we move about this planet through our lives, many of us gain the wisdom to know that some things come very rarely, or only once. Someone with less time on the planet may not understand that. An older person can thus be more daring because when they see an opportunity, they may be more prone to grab for it. I had a bit of this issue when I was younger. I didn't understand personal or professional opportunities like I do now.
I understand increasingly that life, both on a personal and professional level is about forming and building relationships. It's about establishing bonds of trust and friendship that will carry you (and the people you live or work with) for a sustained time, and to the next level.
Older people have been young; they understand.
Being older, we can play younger. They was a time that we were younger. and we remember how a younger person feels, a bundle of raw emotions, energy, pride and insecurities about their place in the world. A young person brazenly tries to plow through with unbridled ambition in their attempts to shape rule the next world.
We've also been around long enough to see how people our age have or are becoming, including ourselves. We've watched our parents succumb to age and frailty. We've known all these things. These true human experiences shapes us, adds nuance to us. If we are aware, we can add value to people younger than us by being mentors. And if we pay attention, younger people can pull us out, lend us their enthusiasm to our work.
I do want to note that this is a truism, but not absolute. Some people who are young have seen and lived through experiences by the time they are 20 that most people haven't seen. Some people it is true are "old souls" wandering around in their tight skinned shells until their bodies catch up with them. Most of us are in-between.
But in the final analysis, I still feel that for some people (me included), coming into a career choice later in life can provide some advantages over attempting it beforehand. So listen on all you young whippersnappers.
All you older folks, just give a bit of a wise smile at the younger peeps, like you know something (even if you don't).
As I continue down my humble journey of voiceover and narration, I'm discovering that I sometimes to use some voices over again. But to me, they seem to be like actors in my head with their own personalities. For instance, I noticed in one of my first book narrations, "Forneus Corson", the "actor" that played "Artie, Steve's agent" is now a tough owner of the Blue Aster, a high class entertainment venue in 1940's NYC. They are very different characters, but the same voices filtered through their circumstance.
I have other voices that walk on different books too. Some that only had supporting roles are the leads, and vice versa. Perhaps it is part of my illustration background, but I can see these people. I increasingly know how tall they are, the color of their eyes, their age, how they are wearing their hair for the parts I play.
I know that the "actor" who played Artie isn't handsome, but he's an actor who's done hundreds of character parts, and is well respected amongst his peers. Other characters may have been action heroes, but are now coming into their own as versatile actors now that they are ensconced in middle age. Some of the women may have been classically trained in theater, others are just human eye candy. The little boy I may play is an acting prodigy. He comes from a home though that is cold and unloving.
Voiceover keeps giving back to me in other ways too. I actually want to illustrate these characters, and goodness knows, if I ever get the time, to set chapters to music and sound effects. Someday I think, when I get pockets of time, I'll do this, even if for myself.
I have a tendency to fall in love with the characters I act, be they ones I create, or ones that have been created for me by the authors. I love them all, I feel for them. The heroes, villains and all those in between.
As my experience and confidence has grown, I really believe that what I have been doing all these previous years has led to this. The art, the non-art, just living has forged me into something that can give and do these characters that the authors have entrusted me justice. If a character cries in a book, I cry too, genuinely. Because living on this planet, if one pays attention has known great amounts of love, joy and loss. When I channel these emotions into the characters I play, some slice of me goes into them, and I can feel them, and I become a part of them, and they me.
Over time, I look forward to working with these "actors" in my mind. Be it in reprisals in sequels, or in new roles. I really look at them in my mind's eye, and want to see what they can do. Yes, the character that sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood, he's played a secret agent, but can he play a half-drunk investigative reporter? Can he play a timid man from Iowa? Can the woman I voiced, who was the sweet love interest in one book, can she also play a stern ice goddess from the frozen north? Yes, she can speak in standard north american accent, but she also now has to speak with a thick Russian one. The list goes on and on. I'm really excited for them.
I'm not just their voice, I'm also a gushing fan.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll have to indulge in my happy realm of latent schizophrenia. I hope you'll continue to listen in.