Harry Shearer And The Simpsons: Recasting A Voiceover Legend

Twitter is all aflutter today over the news that Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Waylon Smithers and Principal Skinner (among many other) has decided to part ways with The Simpsons after what can only be called one of the more glorious runs of voiceover and voice acting in history (with the possible exception of his The Simpsons contemporaries). This has not been the prettiest of breakups. The show’s executive producer, James L. Brooks, has noted that these characters will not be killed off or eliminated in any way. This is a pretty high-profile kerfuffle and there is rampant speculation that the person (or people) who will take over these roles will not be quite as good. Having been deep in this kind of work, on both sides of the mic, for about 20 years myself, I can tell you that it’s both true and not true at the same time. It’s true because Shearer is masterful. He is a technician who not only delivers the lines, but gets the right amount of gravitas and nuance to breathe substantial life and purity into the characters he has helped create over the years. It’s also true in that it’s hard to replace such beloved characters and having a level of “imitation” can sound, well, a little off — that’s also to do with the nuance thing. It’s not true because there are plenty of very talented voice actors who could likely mimic what’s been done with these characters. To wit, I worked with a guy in radio who could pretty much nail about 10 of The Simpsons...

So You Want To Do VO?

Here’s one I stumbled upon from a report in LA in 2008. Some of the tops in the biz. Note the wrap-up, specifically the “luck” part. Yeah, that’s part of it. May have been a slow news day, but inspiring to see for those of us in the...

Here’s To The Dons

The voiceover community is interesting — and it has layers. If you’re looking at it from a Hollywood perspective, you could likely break it down into the following: constantly working actors, extras, characters and, of course, the A-list. A “constantly acting” voice talent would be someone like Bruce Davison who was in the highly entertaining “That Guy…Who Was In That Thing.” An extra would be just that. An extra, who shows up every so often. The characters? Probably someone like Steve Buscemi — who I think of as an A-lister, but you get my point. The A-list? Pretty easy. Your Streeps, Roberts’, Cruises, Nicholsons and the like. Then, there is beyond the A-list in voice work. That spot is reserved for a very select few including The Dons: Don Pardo and Don LaFontaine. Pardo passed away this week at age 96. A hell of a run and best known as the voice of Saturday Night Live. LaFontaine, sadly, died a bit earlier in his life back in 2008 at the age of 68 and had “The Movie Trailer Guy” as a moniker for ages. For most male voice artists or actors, we all aspired (and aspire) to be at that level. That “one take wonder” who could literally transform something seemingly mundane into work that was epic and powerful. And the impact each of these men had was incalculable. But Pardo’s legacy came with something even bigger for the stars who graced Studio 8H in NYC. RIP Don Pardo. A voice that meant so much. http://t.co/X4q9TeHVbO — Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) August 19, 2014 On Sept 13th 2008 I heard...

Sometimes, You’re Just Not The Right Person For The Gig (And That’s OK)

A few months ago, I was approached for what looked to be a nifty little gig for people to learn English. The client and I discussed the project, went through the process of determining timeline, expectations, etc. We were then ready to get going on the project. This was a quick turn, which is perfectly fine and part of the gig in voiceover. That’s the beauty of all of this at times, the ability to knock it out quickly. We did the first pass via phone patch — and I was being coached the entire way. I felt good about it and it seemed that the client was pleased as well. I sent over the first pass, expecting to get a little more coaching to get the rest of it done. But there was a problem. This voiceover was really specific and, though I was being coached on the phone, and told it sounded great, it wasn’t what they were looking for after we had gone through the process. I felt a little deflated. I was being coached and thought everything was OK. I felt great about the reads. The client felt the same way. We had done all of this work, only to be told “no” by the next level up. Times like this are rare, but they do happen. The natural inclination is to try to save the gig. And, if we had some more time, we probably could have gone that route. But we just didn’t have that luxury. Despite the pain, it was a good reminder about the pre-process in voiceover — the moments to ensure...

Your Role As Voice Talent: Be Responsive

Think about the last time a company or person was responsive to you. It felt pretty nice that they stayed on top of whatever the issue was, right? There is a fine line between good service and being responsive. Good service can be responsive. But being responsive, at times, may be more important, especially when something needs immediate attention. So where does a voice talent fit in to all of this? I think it’s safe to say that most voice talent prides themselves on good service. Rare is the instance when I’ve heard that voice talent has been boorish or tough to work with. But, in one case, I actually benefitted from a talent who wasn’t responsive. It was a frantic call. The voice talent they hired just seemed to up and disappear. No responses to email. No returned phone calls. They needed some changes and they couldn’t find him. Turns out the voice talent was on holiday and didn’t indicate that in email or voicemail. Nor did the voice talent tell the client that they were heading out of town. I was on the short list, and the client was in a real pickle. And stressed. We all have boundaries when it comes to work. But in this line of work, you never know when the next opportunity can pop up. In this instance, we had to literally start over, since it obviously made no sense to try to infill my voice. And did I mention that they were stressed? We got the lines voiced. And, just as we were hanging up, I said, “I will be here in...

Voice Talent Can Give Feedback Too, Ya Know?

As voice talent, we sometimes get feedback during and after sessions. Sometimes, it’s crickets. But you booked the gig, right? So why should it matter? I’ve found that the more long-lasting relationships in voiceover can start with feedback — from both directions. As a general rule, in my experience, voice talent just does the gig and moves on. They don’t think much of it. Which could explain the misplaced idea that voices, by and large, are a commodity. But those who seek and give feedback are set up to build longer relationships with clients. And that’s something that voice talent should be looking to do — build relationships so that there is a steady roster. But why are talent so averse to giving feedback? I’m not exactly sure. I could guess that maybe it’s because they fear losing the client or future gigs. Or, they might think, “I’m just a cog, I don’t need to worry about it.” To me, this feels like the wrong way to approach building a relationship. Case in point. Today, I had my second session with a client that I absolutely adore. They make the sessions fun. They ask for opinions from everyone on the team (talent included) on what they think will be best. I really feel like a valued member of the team — not just the guy who talks into the microphone. Added bonus? The client shared that the creative is working really well. As voice talent, you should feel really good about that. I know I do. If it’s working, be proud. So back to the topic at hand. On...