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.