A few weeks ago, I was reviewing Lake Bell’s In A World(click here to read) and I noted that most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs, but that it doesn’t happen the other way around. I wrote:
“Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t.”
Well, I was wrong.
Weeks later, I discovered the 2010 movie Hello Lonesome. If you’re a Netflix user, the DVD is easy to find.
In it, real-life voice-over artist Harry Chase plays a… real-life voice-over artist. He’s Bill Soap, a cantankerous, lonely man, longing to make amends with his estranged daughter after his wife suddenly left him. His most regular contact with the outside world is an opera-loving delivery guy.
That’s not the synopsis of the entire movie, though. Bill is just one of the six characters who populate this picture, and there are three different and equally touching story lines.
Self-financed with a $50,000 budget and completed in only 15 days, the movie was written, produced, shot and directed by Adam Reid. Adam got his start writing and producing promos for Comedy Central including South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He is currently the Executive Creative Director of the production company Bodega Studios in New York City.
The New York Times called Hello Lonesome a…
“smart, poignant trilogy of interwoven vignettes” that “manages the considerable feat of creating six fully human characters who are quirky enough to transcend the stereotypes found in a typical indie film.”
On the movie website, Adam Reid writes:
“As a promo producer I have worked with a lot of voice over artists. I think a lot of us wish we could have that kind of life. From the outside, it’s a lazy persons paradise: Wake up, crawl to a sound proof booth in your basement, read out loud into a microphone and get paid handsomely for it.
Bill Soap is the center of our three-ring circus. We cast real life voiceover Harry Chase and shot on location at his home. (It’s worth noting that Harry happens to be a wonderful husband and father, unlike his character, but does occasionally report to work in his underwear.)
Each story in Hello Lonesome is a parable. I wanted all of the characters to be very real and believable, and at the same time, this is a movie about how the smallest communication can change your life. In Bill’s case, that’s quite literal. He’s isolated himself and is now trapped in his own voice over booth.”
WHO IS HARRY CHASE
Adam Reid, Harry Chase and Julia Reisen
Chase has over 30 years experience in the business, and you’ll probably recognize him as the voice of Captain Morgan’s Rum. His work includes feature film trailers as well as spots for Quiznos, Sony Vaio, Disney on Broadway, CNN, CBS, Lifetime, Sci-Fi and National Geographic.
Harry’s voice can also be heard in video games such as “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.” Harry won a “Best Voice Over” Golden Trailer Award for his work on the movie trailer for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” starring Brad Pitt.
THUMBS UP OR DOWN
Just like In A World is not a documentary about voice-overs, Hello Lonesome tells stories that revolve around relationships. It’s an intimate movie about loss, loneliness and human connection.
It does take us inside Harry Chase’s sound booth. We watch him at work during several ISDN sessions, and it’s clear that he is in his element. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that his studio plays an important part in one of the plot lines.
Once he is outside of the voice actor’s comfort zone, Chase proves to be a natural. At no point did I get the feeling that he was acting (which is the highest compliment I can pay a colleague). In fact, he sounded more himself and less of a movie trailer man when he wasn’t using his shotgun mic, but was teaching the delivery man how to fire a rifle.
“Shot simply, acted without fuss, Hello Lonesome is alternately funny, wistful, tragic and suspenseful. Reid does a lot with a little – and has crafted a small beauty of a film with his first try.”
I couldn’t have said it any better than that.
Hello Lonesome won the Best Ensemble Jury Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as a number of other awards. It is now available on iTunes and you can get the DVD through Netflix. Click here if you want to buy this brilliant movie.
That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.
It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.
If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.
This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.
The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.
If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:
You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.
If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:
Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?
You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?
To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.
This comedy is about US.
We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.
After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.
Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!
We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:
“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”
I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion.
In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.
Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.
1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.
A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues.
Seeing, not hearing, is believing.
This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.
That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.
2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.
Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.
When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.
3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.
Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.
In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.
At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.
4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?
It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.
The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.
It’s an old theme in a new setting:
Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!
Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:
Minimize risks. Maximize profits.
5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?
The short answer is NO.
I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.
Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.
The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups.
Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.
Thus, the cliché continues.
One last thing.
6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.
If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.
Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.
So be it.
In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.
Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior.
In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on.
Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that.
When I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.
An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.
People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.
What was my first clue?
Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair.
When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black.
Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.
Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.
Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age?
THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN
We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.
When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)
Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.
As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier.
I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle.
The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something, and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly.
On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to?
Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl.
I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles?
Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old, and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.
Fifty is so much more than a number.
It’s a verdict.
I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter, and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.
Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism?
One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them.
Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.
Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?
While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.
Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!
Vida Ghaffari is a second generation Iranian-American, and her career has certainly taken off since she left the nest.
Actress, red carpet reporter, voice-over talent… Vida is as vivacious as she is versatile.
Vida comes from a famous and influential Iranian family of actors, directors, writers. That’s quite something to live up to.I had to ask her:
Is it a blessing or a curse?
VG I think before the revolution (the Iranian revolution of 1979, PS), it would have been a blessing as the Ghaffaris were well-known for their contributions to the fine and dramatic arts and were active in the media and the performing arts.
Sometimes, it’s a curse as a lot of other (Iranian) people expect me to do anything: paint, direct, be a scholar, rocket scientist, politician… the list is endless.
PS In what way has this rich family background influenced your career choices?
VG Well, my dad is in the sciences, but I always had an interest in the arts as my mom was an illustrator in the old country before she married my dad. My grandmother was a suffragist and she has been such a source of inspiration in my life. She was also a poet, so the house was full of art and impromptu poetry recitals.
I’m pretty sure that most Iranian families quote full verses of renowned poets such as Hafez, Saadi, Khayyam, and Rumi at the dinner table, but for me it was a constant. My mom also was a child actress. She performed in a play for the Shah and Ambassador Grady, the former US ambassador to Iran at the time, and many other prominent political figures of that era.
Unfortunately at the time in Iran, the performing arts weren’t highly regarded as a path for young women to pursue, so my mom was forced to quit acting at her father’s insistence at the tender age of 9. I’m sure she would have been very successful. So fast forward to years later, and my dad being the very practical mathematician and scientist, he wanted me to get a job at the World Bank, because he had friends there who got great salaries, benefits, and job security.
I suppressed my artistic side and studied Economics at the University of Maryland and minored in theater and journalism. Even though these weren’t my majors, I was very involved with theater at Maryland and wrote for the school paper. I even DJ’ed my own radio show on WMUC, the campus radio station. It was a tough pill for me to swallow as in high school, I was invited to enroll into a couple of great performing arts magnet schools, but chose to go to regular high school at my dad’s insistence.
After college, I had some stints on Capitol Hill, where I was awarded journalism and research grants from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the National Journalism Center.
PS Immigrants and/or political refugees usually have two choices when coming to a new country: assimilate or hold on to their own identity. It’s a choice between blending in or standing out.
You were born in the U.S. and you sound like an all-American girl. However, you seem to have embraced your heritage with open arms. How do you reconcile both worlds?
VG My parents have lived here in the US for many years (my dad was invited here in 1948 and my mom came here in the 1960’s), so I think they have assimilated very well and truly love this great nation. I was born and raised in the DC area and I have a sense of pride, being raised in such a historically significant and political town.
I’m often told that I have the warmth of an Iranian and the integrity of an American, whatever that means. I guess I’m a paradox of sorts in that I can seamlessly incorporate the two. I love baklava and apple pie!
I also feel very grateful and privileged to be born here in the land of the free, but I truly have a profound respect for my heritage. The pony express was created in ancient Persia and there have been countless contributions made to mathematics, the sciences as well as poetry and literature.
The renowned poet Saadi’s poem used to grace the entrance to the “Hall of Nations” of the United Nations building in New York, with a call for breaking all barriers:
“Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”
The first Declaration of Human Rights was created by Cyrus the Great. Also, Iranian-Americans have become so successful in this country, not only as businesspeople, but as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. It’s so inspiring to see how they’re making so many contributions to this society in such a short time. I know this is true of most Iranian immigrant communities internationally as well.
I’m very proud of the struggle of the brave Iranian youth in search of the freedom they so rightly deserve and have covered many protests in LA as a journalist.
PS I’ve heard that casting agencies sometimes list you as “ethnically ambiguous”. What does that even mean?
VG Ethnically ambiguous means that one is ethnic, but not categorizable as what nationality he/she actually is. There are more and more casting notices looking for “ethnically ambiguous” actors, so for me and many of my friends and colleagues, it’s a good thing as there are more roles and opportunities out there for us.
PS Actors from Middle Eastern countries are often typecast as terrorists or as the stereotypical submissive women. In other words: as caricatures. Do you think that’s fair?
VG Not at all. After all, the renowned poet Ferdowsi referred to them as lionesses. I think Middle Eastern women are very strong and silently brave, considering the sexist culture(s) they live in.
As for me, I can’t even get seen for any Middle Eastern roles as many casting directors don’t think I look ethnic enough. There’s such a strong stereotype of what a Middle Eastern person should look like. I usually go in for Caucasian roles. I even used to be a translator back home in DC and I worked for Persian TV here, so my Farsi is pretty good if the role calls for it.
PS At some point everyone in the entertainment industry faces a tough choice: Should I specialize and make it easy for the public to put me in a box, or should I diversify and risk being accused of a lack of focus. What’s your answer?
VG As a character actress, I have a little bit more room in terms of the variety of the roles I play. I feel very blessed and lucky about that. As an artist, I like widening my range.
PS You’re a big proponent of networking. Why is it so important to make the rounds and make sure you stay in the picture?
VG Because we’re in a business of referrals and contacts. It’s very important to network and put yourself out there. But I also love meeting new people, especially other folks in the arts. I guess I’m a people person! I do have to add that what I spent the most time on is my craft first and foremost. I’m either in a class, workshop, acting workout group, staged reading, et cetera.
PS At what point does networking become a nuisance?
VG It doesn’t really become a nuisance, but it can be very time-consuming… meeting like-minded people, staying in touch with them, planning meetings with them. It’s very hard to schedule things properly also when one takes into consideration this crazy LA traffic!
PS It must be nice to have a Rolodex full of contacts, but then what? What tips do you have for maintaining these relationships?
VG Staying in touch via email is great. Let folks in the industry know what you’re up to by updating on Facebook and Twitter, but not so much that you’re doing status updates 24/7!
I also give back to my friends as much as possible if they need a referral, advice, or I inform them of a project they’d be right for. I even give free voice-over lessons to some actors from time to time who really want to study voice-over, but can’t afford it. I think it’s so important to be a part of the community and give back, especially in an artistic one.
PS You’ve also mentioned that you think it’s important to have a mentor. What does a mentor mean to you? Who’s your mentor and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him/her?
VG A mentor for me has been like a total career guide. I was lucky enough to meet mine by chance. I enrolled in instructor Doug Rye’s excellent voice-over class at LA Valley College and soon he became my mentor.
There’s also, Ivy Bethune, a legendary character actress, whom I consider to be a dear friend and she’s like a mentor to me. I aspire to be like her one day! She’s one of the sweetest, most generous, talented and humble artists I’ve ever met.
I met her in my voice-over workout group and I’ve learned more from watching her read her copy in the booth for a 30 second ad that I have in many years of classes, workshops, et cetera. I also was on the planning committee for the Ivy Bethune Tri-union diversity awards that were named in her honor.
Speaking of volunteer work, I contribute to various causes such as voicing many charity events as well as the NOH8 campaign (a silent protest photo project against California Proposition 8, PS). I even acted in their PSA.
PS You’re not only an actor, reporter, presenter… you’re also a voice-over professional. You’re obviously comfortable in front of the camera and an audience.
Voice-over talents usually hide in dark studios and talk to an audience that’s not there. Yet, you say it’s your passion. What do you like about it? Is it easier or harder to do than the on-camera stuff?
VGVoice-over is a lot of fun. I love that I can play a wider range of characters from sultry leading ladies to sassy bosses to pushy soccer moms. You name it. And don’t even get me started on dialects!
Voice-over actors tend not to get typecast like on-camera actors as they’re not being seen, just heard. Voice-over is a different medium, so I can’t really compare it to on-camera work, but I have fun doing both.
PS Pretend for a moment that I am a budding actor/voice-over talent. What mistakes have you –Vida- made that I could learn from, and what are those lessons?
VG I’ve made more mistakes on-camera than in voice over, probably because I’ve done it longer. I would have probably invested more time and money in my career early on. I would also reach out to more people in the industry more often and try to maintain contact with them.
As I mentioned earlier, I think the most important thing to do as an artist is to continually work on your craft on a daily basis, be it on the stage, in a booth, or even in your living room. I think it’s also to find a community of like-minded people you can collaborate with.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor would be great thing to do, especially in a career path like this one that is constantly changing and evolving.
PS If I could offer you a dream job today, what would it be and why?
VG I think being a correspondent for “the Daily Show” would be the perfect fit as I have a strong background in journalism, news, comedy, acting, and sometimes I hear the correspondents do voice-overs. Besides John Hodgman, I think I’d be the only correspondent with a journalism background and I think with my unique point-of-view
I could add a lot to the show. Did you hear that Jon Stewart? 🙂
The two women were sitting opposite each other in the ski lodge. Their kids were out on the slopes and so they had all morning to catch up.
I usually don’t mind other people’s business, but these two were very hard to ignore. Their voices were as loud as the bling they were wearing. Even though they were dressed in the latest ski apparel, I don’t think either of them had any intention of ever going down a snowy hill.
This morning they seemed to be discussing their favorite topic: family illness.
“My father just went in for a double bypass,” said the one closest to me, as she was digging deep into a
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Are you salivating while watching your favorite Food Network show?
Do you get nightmares after renting that horror flick?
What happens when you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, Soldier of Fortune or a game like Manhunt?
No matter the context, our brain is constantly processing events from the outside world, turning them into physical, emotional and (sometimes) rational responses. In a split second, it has to answer these three questions:
1. What do I see, hear, feel, smell or taste?
2. What does it mean?
3. How do I respond?
If our behavior of choice results in positive feedback (e.g. the release of endorphins, causing a “high”), we’re more likely to choose that type of response in the future. The more we do it, the more we want it, and the better we get at it. It’s classic conditioning.
PLAYING GAMES ALTERS BRAINS
In 2012, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine published the results of an experiment with 28 young men between 18 to 29.
One group played a shooting video game for 10 hours over the course of one week. The second week they didn’t play at all. The control group did not play any video games during these two weeks.
Both groups had fMRI analysis at the start, after the first week, and after the second week. Yang Wang, is assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Science. He said in a news release:
“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home. These brain regions are important for controlling emotions and aggressive behavior. (…) These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.”
In the same year, researchers for Ohio State University discovered that:
“People who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played. Meanwhile, those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations over that period.”
VIOLENT GAMES ALTER BEHAVIOR
Brad Bushman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Communication and Psychology and co-author of the study. He comments:
“Playing video games could be compared to smoking cigarettes. A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.”
Recently, a research team at Brock University in Canada found that teenagers who play violent video games over a number of years become more aggressive towards other people. They said their results were “concerning” and argued that violent games could “reinforce the notion that aggression is an effective and appropriate way to deal with conflict and anger.”
“It is clear that there is a long-term association between violent video games and aggression,” said Lead researcher Professor Teena Willoughby. “This is an important and concerning finding, particularly in light of the hours that youth spend playing these games.”
THE SOCIAL ASPECT OF GAMING
Not all studies on video game violence and aggression come to the same conclusion, though. David Ewoldson is professor of Communication at the same Ohio State University that published Brad Bushman’s study. His take on the matter:
“Clearly, research has established there are links between playing violent video games and aggression, but that’s an incomplete picture. Most of the studies finding links between violent games and aggression were done with people playing alone. The social aspect of today’s video games can change things quite a bit.”
He concluded that violent video games don’t always make players more aggressive. It all depends on your playing style. Players who cooperated in playing the video game later showed more cooperation than those who competed against each other. (source)
In January of 2012, the Swedish Media Council published a comprehensive review of the research done between 2000 and 2012 into violent video games and aggression. The Council concluded:
“There is an extensive amount of research that demonstrates a statistical relationship between VCG (violent computer games) and aggression. Much of this measured aggression related only to mental processes and not to violent behavior. In addition, there was no evidence for VCG to cause aggressive behavior.”
“That a person reacts in a given manner in a laboratory environment does not mean that they would react similarly in an everyday environment.”
THE GAME BOYS
Some estimate the video game industry to be worth $100 billion worldwide. Whether or not there is a proven causal relationship between violent games and violent behavior, Vice President Joe Biden wanted to meet with video game industry representatives. He did, and they talked for two hours. The topic: gun violence prevention.
According to Biden, the issue at stake wasn’t just gun control. It was about “civility in society,” and the coarsening of our culture.”
After the meeting, Biden suggested ways to address violence in video games, movies and on television when he sent President Barack Obama a package of recommendations for curbing gun violence. This was in response to the Newtown school massacre that killed 20 kids and 6 adults.
According to Reuters, a senior administration official said that President Obama would be asking for $10 million for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.
OUR OWN RESPONSE
Of course Biden wasn’t the only one discussing gun violence and control. As was the case after the movie theater massacre in Aurora (12 dead, 58 wounded), Facebook exploded.
People sticking to their guns clashed with those who didn’t know what to make of the ongoing infatuation with firearms. After heated exchanges, long-time colleagues were unfriended and new friends were found. That’s freedom of speech in action.
Here’s what bothered me most.
The voice-over community discussed putting armed guards in schools, weapons at Walmart, strengthening background checks and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Those issues are important, but they are symptoms of a much deeper problem in the United States. People hardly talked about the culture of violence in this country, and the role video games play in that culture.
To me, that would have been interesting, because a number of voice-over actors are making a decent living voicing violent games; games in which aggression is magnified, glorified and rewarded. Games that according to people like professor Bushman, make the players more aggressive.
Why in all these years, didn’t anyone in our community have the guts to stand up and say:
“This stuff is sick. This stuff is wrong. I don’t want to play any part in it!”
I think I know why.
Things get uncomfortable when they hit close to home. The discussion is no longer about theoretical situations. It touches our lives and our livelihood. Someone’s got to voice these things, right? It might as well be you. A paycheck is a paycheck, and if you’re lucky, you get to go to Comi-Cons and talk about your character and meet the fans. You’re almost a… celebrity!
Secondly, we’ve grown up with the perverted idea that violence makes enticing entertainment. In a twisted way, inflicting imaginary pain causes pleasure. Boys and girls who are bullied at school get to handle mega rounds of ammo and can blast their evil opponents to smithereens. That’s even therapeutic, yes?!
Shoot-them-up video games are said to improve visual skills and eye-hand coördination. But what happens when the player snaps and gets his hands on the real thing?
FEEDING A NEW GENERATION
Right now, America is talking about the things we feed our kids (and ourselves) and the impact these things have on the health of the nation. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to realize that there is a link between the obesity crisis and our diet.
The fact that our youngsters have become a generation of video game playing couch potatoes who get very little exercise doesn’t help either. Eventually, junk builds up in the system like a powerful poison, and one day it will present its ugly face.
But what else do we feed our kids? Think about their mental health for a moment. Do we teach our kids how to build meaningful relationships, how to communicate effectively and how to resolve conflicts peacefully?
Do we teach them to loathe cruelty, to engage in dialogue, to be emphatic and become kinder, more understanding and respectful citizens?
Show me one popular video game that teaches those values.
I have yet to find it.
What we are exposed to on a regular basis becomes the norm. It starts to live inside of us. For better or for worse.
IS FAKE VIOLENCE OKAY?
There used to be a time when researchers could say: All that violence on TV and in the movies… people know it’s not real. Watching TV or a movie is passive. It really doesn’t affect us that much. That was before the era of hyper interactive, highly addictive video games.
As Dr. Bushman noted, most people learn best and much faster when they are actively involved. In Psychology Today he asked the question:
“Suppose you wanted to learn how to fly an airplane. What would be the best method to use: read a book, watch a TV program, or use a video game flight simulator?”
Bushman also observed that “players of violent video games are more likely to identify with a violent character. If the game is a first person shooter, players have the same visual perspective as the killer (…) In a violent TV program, viewers might or might not identify with a violent character. People are more likely to behave aggressively themselves when they identify with a violent character.”
“Violent games directly reward violent behavior, such as by awarding points or by allowing players to advance to the next game level. In some games, players are rewarded through verbal praise, such as hearing the words “Nice shot!” after killing an enemy. It is well-known that rewarding behavior increases its frequency. (Would you go to work tomorrow if your boss said you would no longer be paid?) In TV programs, reward is not directly tied to the viewer’s behavior.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The Swedish Media Council I mentioned earlier, makes decisions about age limits for films to be shown in movie theaters. They do not only base their considerations on how much violence the film contains. Assessment is made using a formulation from the UN’s child convention, about whether the film may harm the child’s well-being. The Council states:
“The same reasoning should be applied to computer games: a one-sided focus on the violence in the game leads to other issues regarding content being forgotten. (…)If we adults stop focusing all our energy on the incidence of violence in computer games, we can instead begin asking ourselves questions that the research will never be able to answer: what values, norms and ideologies do we want to pass on to our children?“
I don’t think it’s necessarily either/or. Why not have a discussion about norms and values, as well as a dialogue about video game violence? One has to do with the other.
As a dad of a ten-year old, I often wonder and worry about the world I will leave behind for my daughter and her children. Is it going to be a safer, sweeter and saner place, or will we have armed guards on every street corner and in every school?
Is that the “Land of the Free” we so proudly sing of, or is it the “Land of the Fearful”?
How will we teach tolerance and respect and help our children understand and appreciate differences between people, faiths and cultures?
Some scholars say that games are an innocent way for kids to get ready for the real world. Games allow us to playfully engage in imaginary scenarios that -subconsciously- prepare us for things to come.
If that’s the case, what’s a game like Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt teaching our teens? How is it enriching their lives? With so much exciting, innovative technology at our fingertips, is that really the best we can do for our children? Don’t they deserve better?
As a professional, I think it’s time for voice actors to come together, take a stand and speak out against these ultra violent games that are getting more lifelike by the day.
The fundamental question is this: How do we wish to use our talent? Are we going to use it to produce gratuitous violence or to teach people to get along better? Are we going to search for a solution, or are we going to stay part of the problem?
Or, do we simply stick our heads in the sand and claim there is no problem?
We’re simply involved in the production of harmless entertainment.
2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this:
Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!
When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.
Donations to Sonic Surgery
Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.
Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career.
As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.
When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.
SPREADING THE NEWS
As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.
A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well.
When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.
Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.
On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments.
In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”
I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees.
One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.
After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change.
It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.
It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment.
I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you:
I’m not done yet!
In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013.
Sh*t happens. Accept it. One of life’s great lessons is how we can turn our sh*t into manure. Here’s a hint: it requires getting your hands dirty.
There are many metaphors for our existence on this planet.
Depending on your perspective, life’s a stage, a bowl of cherries or a box of chocolates. One of my favorite images is that of a garden.
Going through life, it’s up to us to treat the soil and select the seeds we plant. We must make sure that there’s plenty of sunlight, shade and water. With patience, persistence, some pruning and some weeding, we eventually reap what we have sown. Some of the fruits of our labor will be bitter. Others will be sweet. You get the idea.
Comparing a budding voice over talent to a gardener, Tilley teaches the reader how to stock the greenhouse, cultivate the soil, get saplings to bloom, how to create fabulous flower arrangements and sell them on the international market at a profit.
This is the first voice-over book that is not stuffed with pictures of people talking into microphones. Instead, it looks like a Burpee or Wildflower Farm catalogue and it reads like a popular, practical self-help book, with sentences such as:
“Phew! How ya feeling? That was a lot of research. Does your brain hurt a little?”
“Yet another list. Geez, are you for real? Yup, sure thing buttercup.”
Don’t let the language fool you! Tilley is the Mike McGrath of voiceovers, and he generously shares what he has learned over the course of many years in the business.
In addition to 26 chapters, $25 will also get you a 38-page workbook packed with breathing exercises, tongue-twisters, character creation worksheets, model cover letters and sheets to help you organize and optimize your finances. On top of that, the author included 25 sound files on breathing, warm-ups and vocal flexibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
American-born Tilley lives in Germany and has worked as a full-time VO artist since 2007. Unlike many voice talents, he did not start his career in radio. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College and a minor in Dance at Cornell University. After graduation he moved to New York City. Tilley describes what happened next:
“I broke out into the NYC dance scene performing in multiple award-winning dance companies and in the movie “Center Stage” filmed at the Lincoln Center. What an experience! In 1999 I was offered a 6 month contract to go to Germany with a production of “42nd Street”. Little did I know I was off to face an amazing adventure.
I lucked out and worked for 8 years straight in the German musical theatre scene in productions of “CATS”, “Dance of the Vampires”, another production of “42nd Street”, and “Mamma Mia!”. I also had the great opportunity to choreograph fashion and hair shows for L’Oreal, Wella, and Intercoiffure in Berlin, Rome, and Paris.”
After performing onstage for over 20 years, he transitioned into a voice-over career. It turned out to be a wise choice. Now he’s one of the top American voices German companies like Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Porsche turn to for business presentations and commercials. Tilley’s secret to success is based on four pillars:
Patience, Commitment, Courage and Taking Action.
Despite its motivational style and optimistic tone, Voice Over Garden is not a “How to break into the VO business in two weeks” kind of book. Starting with the Disclaimer on page 2, Tilley levels with his audience and warns them about unrealistic expectations. He knows that seeds don’t turn into strong trees overnight, and writes:
“(…) let go of the notion that you can learn absolutely everything in a VO weekend workshop.”
“If you can’t be handed a page of text, get behind the mic and record it perfectly in 1 or 2 takes, you aren’t ready to contact people for work, especially agents. You first need training.”
Voice Over Garden was put together as a training manual that was sent to Tilley’s students, chapter by chapter. It gave them something to read and to research between coaching sessions so that they would be better prepared for their next lesson. That explains why Tilley takes his time to cover the basics. As a fellow voice coach, I think that’s an excellent choice. A solid career requires a solid foundation.
Some of the more experienced voice talents will find that they are familiar with this material. Just bear in mind that reading Jonathan’s book is like learning how to dance. You start by taking simple steps. In this case it’s about learning how to breathe properly, enunciate clearly and work the microphone like a pro. Only then you’ll learn how to break down copy, create characters and get ready to record a demo.
By the way, not all the information offered is limited to the book itself. You’ll find links to helpful YouTube videos, recommended products, websites and blogs (yes, even this blog!). Each chapter ends with a few homework assignments, and that’s where the workbook comes in handy.
As expected, Tilley digs deeper and deeper with each chapter. He is at his best when he gets personal as he recalls the mistakes he made and what he learned from them (such as in “My First Demo, or How I Learned To Stop Picking My Nose”). Thanks to these stories, told with a disarming and refreshing sense of humor, it feels like Tilley is talking directly to the reader, very much like he does in his videos.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
I’m especially pleased that Tilley devotes a lot of his book to the business of being in business. It’s the Achilles’ heel of many aspiring and experienced voice actors (and other freelancers). Many of them have no clue what their services are really worth, and they don’t know how much money needs to come in, just to break even.
Unfortunately, this is also the part of the book where Tilley starts to sound like a cheap pitchman. Listen to this:
“I have created a system for you to become ridiculously rich. I have used this system myself and have become ridiculously rich from it. I have coached this system of VO business to my students and they too have become ridiculously rich from it.”
Thankfully, he redeems himself soon after that by saying:
“I do not define my Worth by what is sitting in the bank. I define my Worth by my “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling”. That’s what makes me feel ridiculously rich and remember, that is priceless.”
Of course Tilley realizes that this “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling” does not necessarily pay the bills. That’s why part of Voice Over Garden is a mini-course in money management. To my knowledge, no other voice-over book currently on the market, covers this area as well as Jonathan’s book.
He reveals how he has organized his business, what kind of bookkeeping software he uses, why he hired a personal assistant and is outsourcing work to a company in India. Tilley clearly demonstrates that it takes much more than a pleasant-sounding voice, a microphone and a laptop, to thrive as an international voice talent.
In spite of the fact that Voice Over Garden fills an important gap in the voice-over literature, it has its flaws. You may not agree with me, but the constant comparison between gardening and a voice-over career became a bit old after a while. At some point I wanted to shout:
“Okay, Jonathan… I get it. My soil needs fertilizer and I should water my plants. Can we move on, now?”
There are too many stock images of flower beds, gardening tools, green grass and mulch, and they take up way too much space. At times I felt the author was writing an illustrated VO for kids book, with lines like:
“You are about to do something remarkable and truly astounding. Yes, you are about to record your demo!”
And there were other times where I felt I was back in Kindergarten. Take this excerpt from an otherwise excellent chapter on script annotation:
I’m also not on board with Jonathan’s suggestions when it comes to gear. Rather than presenting us with a few options, he recommends using the Neumann TLM 103 microphone, Pro Tools and an MBox Mini. In the resource section, Tilley lists a YouTube video called “A candid word with Joan Baker and Neumann,” posted by Sennheiser. Neumann is owned by Sennheiser and Baker is a paid Neumann endorser.
There are many other microphones (such as the affordable CAD E100S) that are very suitable for voice-over work. I agree with home studio expert Dan Lenard that Pro Tools is terrific if you’re running a recording studio, but it’s overkill for most voice-over talent. Personally, I prefer the sleek simplicity of Twisted Waveaudio recording software.
I also disagree with Tilley when it comes to recording demos. He writes:
“Second biggest mistake in recording a demo: Never record or produce it yourself.”
Of course a professional demo should be of high quality. However, I have heard way too many overproduced demos that do not reflect the quality of what the voice talent can produce in his or her home studio. Most of my clients want to hear what I am able to deliver, and not what some audio engineer is able to fix or sweeten.
Then there’s the price of Voice Over Garden: 25 dollars. Truth be told: Tilley offers a lot of bang for your buck, but he is selling an eBook as a PDF and in EPUB and MOBI format for various eReaders. In that market, $25 is a lot of money for a virtual publication. He’s also publishing the book himself and not through a company like Smashwords that would allow him to tap into a distribution network such as Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore. That’s a shame because I do believe it deserves to be on those virtual shelves.
Voice Over Garden is the one book I wish I would have had when I started in the business. It’s intelligently written, comprehensive, eye-opening and loaded with practical tips. The basic weakness of many publications in this category is that one cannot learn how to cook by reading a book (or a blog for that matter).
Reading Voice Over Garden won’t make you a successful international voice over star. No book can do that. It’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference. As a companion to one on one coaching sessions, it is quite brilliant.
It’s so easy not to be grateful for the things we take for granted.
Every night we go to bed, knowing that when we wake up, our world will still be the same because we are in charge. We own the place. We shape it the way we command it to be. Chaos has been tamed into perfect order. Life has become reassuringly predictable.
Our fridges are filled with fresh food. Clean water will come out of our faucets. Outlets provide us with a constant flow of energy. On cold days, central heating keeps us warm, and the roof over our head protects us against the dark forces of nature.
Until nature decides to teach us a cruel lesson.
Hurricane Sandy was such a lesson.
Why people have to learn their life lessons the hard way, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it is because we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, as opposed to the things that go exactly as we imagined. Some things, however, we either can’t imagine, or we refuse to accept the possibility that they could happen…. to us.
What I have learned is this: disasters do not discriminate.
Flash floods and hurricane winds will wash away the residences of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the liberal and the conservative, the Democrat and the Republican.
Nature doesn’t care about our possessions, our monuments, our accomplishments, our basic needs or even our friends and family. Things that we believed to be certain for many years to come, are washed away in a matter of seconds. Cherished landmarks we built with pride, are crushed and erased in the middle of a stormy, moonlit night.
People panic as they are overpowered by a raging enemy beyond their control. Tall trees that have stood strong for decades, are uprooted in the blink of an eye, and plant themselves on roof tops, vehicles, power lines and on the kind man in his sixties who went outside for two fatal minutes, just to let his dogs out.
As you look at the images my neighborhood woke up to on Tuesday morning, Sandy was well on her way to torture new towns and destroy the dreams of other people.
Today, I count myself very lucky.
All I lost was power. I had to live without electricity for a couple of days. I could not go on-line. Emails were left unanswered. Facebook was forgotten. Two nights without TV.
Meanwhile, the radio told me about beaches being washed away, neighborhoods being flooded, houses that were burning, people who were displaced and snowstorms making life practically impossible.
This is my neighborhood, but my car is not under that tree you see. My home is undamaged. My life is not in shatters. My loved ones are safe, and hard-working men from out of State cleared the roads and repaired the power lines.
I am grateful.
I am grateful for the friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, praying for my well-being. I am grateful for the first responders who risked their lives in the eye of the storm, the men and women who worked through the night coordinating the response to the crisis, and I am grateful for the many volunteers in the shelters.
I made new friends sitting on the floor at Barnes & Noble, as we recharged the batteries of our electronic devices, because the hurricane had left us powerless. We shared the stories of the storm and the stories of our life.
In a way it is ironic. When we have everything our heart desires, we think we don’t need one another. Adversity, on the other hand, brings people together and turns strangers into friends.
What would you do if you knew that your time on earth was about to come to an end?
Would you go back to work and pretend nothing happened?
Would you go on a cruise around the world?
Would you visit as many friends and family members as possible?
Or would you stay inside, close the blinds and curl up with a pint of your favorite ice cream?
Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race,” was 19 when he almost lost his life. On one of his first TV shoots under water, he got trapped in an upturned interior cabin of a sunken cruise liner and couldn’t find his way out. With very little air left in his tank, he panicked, realizing that his next breath could be his last.
After what seemed an eternity, the support crew on the surface sent a rescue diver to find him. In the nick of time, Phil was pulled to the surface and he survived. The next day, he went back to repeat the dive that nearly killed him.
That was not all.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
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