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- A Child’s Creativity
- Dealing with Rejection
- eLearning logistics – how to create files in seconds
- Character Voiceover Tip: Build a library
- Character Voiceover Tips: Learning an Accent
Exceeded expectations. Lighting speed delivery.
"Jay was amazing to work with. Exceeded expectations. Lighting speed delivery. Easy to work with and a great communicator.
A couple of unique things about Jay. First, his demo reel shows a great selection of voice options to chose from... but none of them were exactly what we were looking for. However, when we told him what we wanted he was able to take our abstract ideas (about being educational, sincere, conversation etc) and transform those directions into EXACTLY what we had in mind.
So if you're thinking about hiring him... tell him what you want... give him a sample to read... I'm sure he can deliver what you want. We're very VERY impressed. Will use Jay's services many more times in the future. Secondly, he delivered our project within a day and made adjustments within the hour. Highly highly recommend."
- John Sweeney - Academy of Mine
"We are now big fans and I'll tell my colleagues about you as well!"
On receiving my read as Arnold Schwarzenegger Barbara had this to say:
"THIS IS GREAT!! Love it already, you are very talented, glad we found you! We are now big fans and I'll tell my colleagues about you as well!
-Barbara Schroeder, Answers Productions
It was once in a lifetime…
Video at the bottom for those in a rush 🙂
So the time has come that I can finally share what I got up to in San Francisco at the end of August, this was a once in a lifetime trip and so much went on that this is a bit of a long one but if you’re interested stick with it to the end as I think there’s a lesson in here for all of us…
It all started with replying to a tweet so never underestimate the opportunities hidden away in social media! I got invited to a filmed casting in London and it probably took no more than 30 minutes. I left honestly thinking that of all the hundreds that apply there was no way they’d pick some “normal” guy doing silly voices.
Over the coming weeks it would turn out that I was wrong and that what I was in store for was absolutely in the most genuine sense going to be a once in a lifetime thing. The news trickled in slowly that the director was interested in my story but nothing was definite and that was probably the case for a couple of weeks until finally it was confirmed, they wanted me and I’d be flying out to San Francisco in a few weeks.
Everything was taken care of for me, flights, transfers, a layover in LA and hotels all booked and organised, all I had to do was turn up.
Day 1: Travel
Not a lot to mention here other than this production company knew how to do things in style! I felt like I was a movie star, I was booked in First Class with Air New Zealand and I can honestly say it was the nicest travelling experience I’ve ever had! I arrived in LA around 21:00 with a limo waiting to take me to the hotel for a couple of hours sleep before more limo’s and a short flight with Virgin America (also First Class) up to San Francisco.
That afternoon I had my first meeting with one of the casting agents out in the states, she came to the hotel and we went over some basics such as call times for the next day and a rough schedule. I was staying on Fisherman’s Wharf which is the tourist spot in San Francisco so after the meeting I went for a walk, grabbed a bike and cycled the 4 miles to the Golden Gate Bridge and back (well, got to get rid of jet lag somehow!) Bit of room service and an early night’s sleep ready for fun in the morning!
Day 2: Filming
So I was picked up in the morning and driven out to Treasure Island along with a guy from Germany who was also being filmed. 12 people were being filmed and I was in the last batch of 6, each of us had our own story to tell. Bernhard (from Germany) was a highly qualified Urologist with dreams of owning and cooking in a restaurant.
Once on Treasure Island we were kitted out by wardrobe and makeup and mic’d up by the sound guys then waited in the car until it was our turn for filming. Suffice it to say I was quite nervous, I’d never been on camera before and although I’ve done a lot of stage work there was something more intimidating about being filmed.
Soon it was my turn, I walked over to a car park by the bay and saw a small crew of around 6 people, this was the secondary unit I was told, the main crew were doing more filming in the city. Filming started nice and simply with me just being asked about driving, what I thought of driving, what it meant to me, what I drove at home those sorts of things. Unbeknownst me, almost silently someone was pulling up in a car behind me. I was told to turn around and was faced with a brand new, prototype, 2015 Ford Mustang!
I have to say first and foremost, it was gorgeous! The Mustang has always been a guilty pleasure of mine and I’d actually rented an older one for my LA trip earlier this year but this one was something else! Out of the car came a guy from Ford who literally knew everything there was to know about the car. I was asked what I thought of it, how it compared to previous models, how it made me feel etc. Then I was given the pleasure of getting in, starting the engine and giving it a good old rev, man that sounded nice!
Some more interviewing in the car and then it was off to location number 2!
This was a much bigger affair as we were now with the main unit, we got taken to a motorhome where hair and makeup were re-touched and again some more waiting for our turn to be filmed. Here in the motorhome I also go to meet another of the “6”. It was a great guy called Lonnie Council, a comedian from Los Angeles who had dreams of hitting the big time with his comedic material. Lonnie and I hit it off immediately and it kicked off 3 days of some of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had, though none of which are probably suitable for public consumption!
When it was my turn I was taken over the road into what could be described as a huge warehouse, it was entirely dark apart from some light emanating from a side room and one little corner which was set up with flood lights and the film crew. At this point the nerves really kicked in but I sucked it up because ultimately this was crazy fun! I very briefly got to meet the director before sitting down in a chair, facing the camera with just a plain back drop behind me. The camera was set up in such a way that even though I was staring into a camera I could see the directors’ face, very clever stuff!
We then started the interview which covered my dreams as a voiceover, why I’d pursued it, what I wanted out of it, what the difficulties were and what it meant to me. I won’t lie that I got choked up saying it all, I wear my heart on my sleeve most of the time and have no issues getting passionate in front of people when it’s about my dream. They, of course, also had me do some voices just for good measure!
Once the interview was done, that was it for the day! Back to the hotel for some chill out time, I shot out into the wharf to grab some food but then it was back to the hotel to relax before another packed day of filming tomorrow…
Day 3: Things get awesome!
So day 3 started a little later than the others so I treated myself to a true American delicacy for breakfast, iHOP! I have to admit, it was pretty damn good! Feeling stuffed I walked back to my hotel to the awaiting car and headed off to filming.
This time everything was very different, I arrived at a large car park with what I would guess to be around 60 crew working, it was an absolute hive of activity! I could see around 4 of the Mustangs laid out and mine being worked on furiously. I was ushered into the motorhome for hair and makeup and then sent out to sit in the car while everything was setup. Now things were really turning into a pressure cooker, sitting in the car I was watching around 8 guys work on getting lights fixed to the hood of the car, the lighting guy was sat in the passenger seat next to me configuring up the interior lighting (I later found out he is one of the best known lighting guys in Hollywood, working on all the films and TV we know and love). I got a real feeling here of just what it takes to film things to a high standard, everything was under such time pressure and we had to get these shots before lunch, everyone was an utter professional diligently doing their job with little old me sat in the middle of it all! I definitely felt the pressure of making sure I delivered the goods so as to not do a disservice to all the amazing people that were working so hard to get it done.
I was told that plan was for me to drive around whilst being interviewed, I’d have to follow a “pace car” in front of me and just do exactly what he did. When everything was ready a cameraman jumped into the passenger seat, the director (Alex Gibney) jumped in the back and a sound man was situated in the boot (yes the boot!).
I have to admit I was REALLY feeling the pressure here, as I say I didn’t want to let people down, but we were all set and rolled out onto the roads of San Francisco.
So the drive was just like the previous day, I was interviewed by the director about my dreams again, what they meant to me, what kicked off the start of my journey etc. They even had me create a voice for the car right there on the spot (FYI, I created a cowboy character, it’s a Mustang after all!).
This was when things took a turn for the truly amazing / bizarre / mind-blowing / life changing.
The director said “I’d imagine getting the right contacts must be a difficult part of making it in voiceover, so what if I told you that we’ve arranged for you to meet with Tippett Studios in Burkley and audition for their latest project…….this afternoon”
I was utterly gobsmacked, you can see that in the video but I did not know what to say or do. So many thoughts rushed into my head all at once, was I ready, would I nail it, what could this lead to, what an amazing opportunity this was. Worst of all I’m still driving at this point so trying to do my best not to plough into the car in front of me!
For those who don’t know, Tippett Studios are an Academy Award and BAFTA award winning effects studio responsible for bringing some of the most iconic characters and creatures of the 21st century to life having worked on films such as Star Wars, The Matrix, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers and plenty more!
The next few hours flew by in an utter haze of adrenalin and nerves, we finished up driving and headed straight over to the studios. With very little time to prepare, before I knew it I was at the studios and being called in for filming. Bear in mind that if this wasn’t pressure filled enough all of this is being filmed. All I knew was that there was a few characters that they were going to have me read for, a fairy, a gnome, a zombie, a penguin and an alien, that was it.
When “Action” was called I walked into a room that can be best described as a small theatre, it was essentially a screening room with a few rows of seats and a projection screen at one end. Sat in the middle of the room was Corey Rosen from Tippet Studios. I walked up, said my hellos and sat down, we had a quick chat about my dreams, what I’d done so far and the project they were currently working on and before I knew it, we were off! Corey handed me a few pages of dialogue for the characters and set me up on the mic.
Up on the screen they played short animations of the characters in a loop and I had to create the voices and characterisations for them right there and then in a directed session with Corey. I can only describe this as the most intense experience of my life, everything happening so quickly, being somewhere so prestigious, having a camera 6 inches from my face and having to try and deliver the best acting performance I can on the spot.
Even writing about it now is giving me goose bumps, it was single-handedly the most terrifying yet rewarding thing I have ever done. If you ever needed a test to find out if you can take the pressure of performing this was it (see the last section for the life lessons available from this!)
Thankfully I think I did myself justice, every direction Corey gave I could respond to, every accent he asked for was in my VO toolbox and once I blew off the nerves we were just having good old fashioned fun!
It felt like it was over almost as soon as it started but after we finished up with all the characters it was back to the waiting area to calm down before eating a classic American hotdog and heading back in for a “post surprise” interview.
After it all I was totally exhausted, all the adrenalin had worn off and I was just drained. I went back to the hotel and crashed. The next day would be an early start and even more surreal experiences were in store!
Day 4: Ok this is just silly now
So an early pick up from the hotel to head off to the final day of filming and what an experience it was going to be. I’d just about recovered from the previous day and an amazing day of driving was ahead of me! We were driven to downtown San Francisco in amongst all the skyscrapers to find closed off roads, motorhomes everywhere and Mustangs lined up down the street waiting for us. There were around 10 police officers receiving a briefing from the film crew, a Porsche being unloaded from a truck with a huge crane arm camera mounted on it and a full chef service cooking us custom omelettes…..on the sidewalk!
It transpired that today we would be driving our Mustang’s, on closed San Franciscan streets, with a police escort!
This was one of the most fun mornings I have ever had, the group of the 6 of us were all finally together for the first time and it gave me a great chance to find out about the amazing journeys each of us had been on and to talk to other people with dreams and passions as real and as intense as my own.
Driving on closed streets, in a prototype car, being followed by camera’s, with the public taking pictures and with a police escort is not an experience I am either likely to do ever again or forget very quickly.
Once we were all filmed on our runs through the streets it was all over, we headed off for a lunch and the filming was finished. We all headed back to our hotels to relax and take stock of the last few days before heading out on the town that night for a celebration; cast and crew together.
I then got treated to a locals night out in San Francisco as some of the crew were local so knew all the best bars and places to go. I found myself at the entrance to my hotel at 02:30am smoking a cigar with our group and reflecting on what had been the craziest few days of my life.
So how on earth do I sum all of this up and find the meaning of it all?
This trip taught me many, many things, the first of which is that when people follow their passions they are truly alive. Every person I met on either the cast or crew had a passion and a dream and you could see it in the way they acted, everyone was happy, everyone was having fun, everyone was alive.
It taught me that no matter what people’s religions, sexuality, political affiliation or place of birth what unites us all is our humanity and our desire to make the most of the time we have on this planet. Our group was so wonderfully diverse, we were black and white, we were straight and gay, we were male and female, we were Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Atheist, we were from Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia but above all we were all human and our singular common desire of following our dreams transcended any petty differences we so often put up as barriers to others. I consider all of those people my family now, we shared something truly and utterly unique and no-one else on the planet can understand that other than them. I love them all! So to Jamie, Liz, Elizabeth, Marie, Bernhard, Bassel, Lonnie, Jennifer and Ray, thank you and I miss you!
Finally this trip taught me one thing above all else and I found myself saying this spontaneously during filming…
“Whatever you want to be, you already are. All you need to do, is do”
So what does that actually mean? Well it means that no matter what you want to do with your life you already have within yourself, you already have the desire and passion to make it so and you have all the tools you need (even if that tool is just being able to learn the skills you don’t have). It taught me that when you truly follow your passion and give yourself over to it, fully, with everything you have, you cannot be stopped. If I can fly to the other side of the planet, have an audition dropped on me at a moment’s notice and be filmed throughout the whole thing then I have no reason to fear anything any more.
Follow your dreams folks!
Goodbye Mr. Williams
Two weeks have passed now since Robin Williams left us and with an 11hr flight ahead of me I finally feel like I’ve got the time necessary to write a blog post to do him justice.
I was heartbroken when I heard of Robins passing, I hoped that it was just a horrible hoax but as the news appeared on more and more reputable news outlets it sunk in.
Robin Williams was dead.
My first thought when I heard the news was one of utter confusion and surprise, how could a man responsible for brining so much happiness and love to the world have had so much darkness in his life that he chose to end it. I’ll address this side of the story later and I do believe it’s important to address and not ignore but first I’d like to talk a little about what Robin meant to me. Much has come to light since Robins death about his seemingly never ending generosity and compassion, his unrelenting drive to brighten the lives of everyone he met so you all know that already. What I’d like to share is just how Robin had a profound impact on my life, with never even meeting me.
I distinctly remember as a child running around my house talking to myself in a myriad of different characters, sometimes they’d just be talking, sometimes they’d be talking to each other and sometimes they’d just be in my head. When I first saw Aladdin and Robin Williams performance as the Genie I felt an immediate kinship. Hearing the speed with which he jumped from character to character and the depth each character had (even if we only saw it for a few seconds) was like hearing someone else perform the voices in my head. I immediately felt that there was another person on the planet who’s brain worked like mine and of course a person who made me laugh and laugh until I was in tears.
That performance was the genesis of my passion for voiceover, I’d watched the Simpsons of course and thoroughly enjoyed that but Robin’s performance as the Genie spoke to me and showed what may be possible with the crazy voices in my head. It was the start of my life long obsession with creating crazy characters in as many different voices as I could muster. Of course Robin was famed for the plethora of different accents he used, again being the inspiration for me to learn and perfect as many accents as I could.
I think this is why his death hit me so hard, Robin was like my father figure in the world of work. Without him here I feel like the light I was following through the mist of life has been extinguished and now I’m alone to try and follow the path without a lead. It would be easy to be daunted by that prospect and to flounder but Robin blazed such a trail that even without his light at the front the flames are left behind for others to follow. I now feel an even greater sense of responsibility to achieve my dreams in honour of the path he set me upon.
Now we turn to the more difficult topic, mental health but should it be a difficult topic? It is, but why is it? I suspect it’s because no-one ever talks about it despite the fact that at some point in nearly all of our lives we’ve experienced a mental health issue be it big or small. I was having great difficulty deciding how much of life to share in this blog post but in the end I’ve decided to be as open and honest as I can to perhaps just slightly, in my own way nudge the conversation about mental health in the right direction. It’s also important to be honest because it helps explain why Robin was a key figure in my life…
When I was at school during my teenage years I was bullied relentlessly, I was beaten up, had my hair set on fire and was chased on nights out by the same kids that tortured me during the day and around the age of 14 I was suicidal and I mean that in truest sense of the word. What is difficult for people who haven’t experienced depression to understand is that it’s not simply “being blue”, there is no “snapping out of it”. The best way I can describe it is like living under a thick cloud, everything feels “less”, sound is muffled, vision is blurred and the cloud surrounds you 24/7 in every direction you look. Logic does not exist inside this cloud, reason does not exist inside this cloud, all that exists is an overriding sense of despair and loneliness that penetrates you right down to your bones…. it is not “being sad”.
It was during this time that “little” things like Robins performance in Aladdin got me through, they provide a powerful piercing light that could penetrate the cloud and warm my heart. That is why I felt so close to Robin, his performances and his comedy had been with me during my darkest days and had provided some much needed relief.
I believe there is a reason though that depression seems to haunt those of us who may class ourselves as “creatives” and it’s a heightened sensitivity to emotion. I don’t see how it’s possible for a person to fully commit themselves to becoming another character without being completely and totally in tune with their emotional states and how to manipulate them, this leaves them raw, exposed, perhaps often jumping into a character to shield themselves. For someone like Robin I think it’s important to remember before we criticise his decision to take his own life that all of the characters we saw on the outside resided inside his mind and undoubtedly there were darker characters in there that we never saw.
Creative people can have the most persuasive of demons.
So to Robin I say thank you, thank you for leaving me a path to follow, thank you for sharing your gift with the world. You may not have been able to overcome the fight with your own demons but I shall be eternally grateful to you for helping me win the fight with mine.
When it’s time to quit…
So the last few weeks have been pretty hard for me as it’s been one of those periods where I’ve had more no’s than yes’s, it happens to us all and they can be the most testing times of a Voice actors career. We all put so much into our auditions and our marketing efforts and a little piece of us goes in to everything we do because if there’s one thing you can say about voice actors it’s that the professional ones are extremely passionate about what they do.
In these times it’s very easy to have thoughts like “Oh, what’s the point”, “I’m no good at this”, “I’m doing everything right, why aren’t I booking” and although it might not feel like it, these are the most important parts of your career. They represent “corners”, a time when you can’t see what’s ahead and could just stop, turn around and go back the way you came, they are your test, a test of how much you want the career at the end of the road you put yourself upon and a test of your knowledge, skill, patience and staying power.
One voice actor I greatly admire is Maurice LaMarche and he was recently kind enough to share a poem penned by his Father on Facebook, within it there is a line which really spoke out to me…
“Success is failure turned inside out”
I love that phrase because to me it’s saying you need to fail before you can succeed and in my experience that’s absolutely true because not long after I’d received all those No’s I launched my new website and within days I had two LA agents contact me to see if I was interested in representation, I was booked for 4 separate corporate videos on the same day and to top it all I got an audition for possibly the biggest video game franchise in existence. Now, just imagine if I hadn’t carried on round that corner……
Here’s the poem in full, enjoy!
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you are trudging seems all uphill;
When the funds are low, and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit –
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns;
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won, had he struck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow;
You may well succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the Victor’s cup!
And he learned too late, when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
And you never can tell how close you are
You may be near, when it seems afar.
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit,
It is when things seem worst you must not quit.
Don’t bother finding your niche…
So my first blog post in a while, in fact since before the fabled L.A. trip (though if you missed it I did write a two part article for the VO Herald on said trip – Jay Britton Voice Over Herald)
Also welcome to my new website! It’s been a few months in the planning but I’m really happy with how it came out and must give enormous thanks to my designer – Kathy Osborne Design
Ok on with the blog!
So my title is slightly misleading (but nothing like scandal to drive traffic, just ask TMZ!) but I do think there is an important distinction to be made between finding your niche and learning your niche.
Voiceover is performing and with performing there is always a certain amount of ego (there has to be to take the inevitable rejection) and with ego there can also easily become delusion. When I was a kid I loved football, I loved to play football and aspired to be the next great Arsenal goalkeeper, the issue was, I was useless. Seriously, there isn’t a bone in my body that is attuned to sporting prowess and you know what, I don’t play sport.
Regardless of my initial thoughts to the lofty heights of football fame through many losses, coach feedback and self actualisation (putting my psychology A-Level to good use there!) I came to realise that I simply didn’t possess the talent required. Now I could have blindly ploughed on, insistent that I was the best footballer ever to have lived or I could have turned my attention to other activities I was more naturally suited to.
The analogy I’m rather ham-fistedly trying to draw here is that it’s not up to you to find your voiceover niche, nor is it up to you to decide what your niche is, that job falls fairly and squarely in the lap of the potential customers.
In my head I have a voice that is suited for every single type of job and I should book every one of them, I sound like Morgan Freeman and Joe Pasquale and I do every accent on the planet flawlessly. The issue is that pretty quickly my bookings will show that’s not the case. The way to find your niche, in my opinion is to look at what you get booked for.
In theory you should be auditioning for everything that comes your way, regardless of the genre and breakdown so if you’re booking more corporate jobs than you are commercial what do you think your niche most likely is? If you’re booking the “guy next door” sound and not the Gandalf “You shall not pass!!!” sound, what do you think your niche most likely is?
It’s important not to let your own preferences cloud what the industry is telling you’re good at and will be booked for. Personally I love character voices, animation and video games but I can’t deny that a significant proportion of the work I get booked for is “guy next door” corporate videos and “clean, British sound” e-learning. That’s the industry showing me what my sound is preferred for and so that should become my niche, does that mean I’m going to stop auditioning for character voices, no of course not but it does mean I might tweak my branding slightly or go after corporate rather than animation companies. To be clear, this isn’t quite clean cut and if you’re not booking for certain job types that you really should be, the issue may well not be your niche but a need for some more training so this isn’t necessarily always the reason you don’t book!
Yes, it can be disappointing to find out you’re the IVR king when what you really want to do is video games but that’s the reality of the business, the other reality being that this is in a constant state of flux! The biggest example of this is the now absent sound of “Announcers”, every other booking these days says “not announcery” and that’s because the social tastes and culture change. This means that while my “guy next door” sound might be dynamite for corporate work at the moment, in 6 months or 6 years that might be the touch of death to any corporate video and be all the rage in radio promo’s so it’s also important to not see your niche as a single fixed point of reference but more what the industry wants from you at any given moment in time.
When ambition meets waiting…
The last few weeks since I got back from LA have been both the best and worst weeks of my voiceover journey and finally tonight I managed to get to the bottom of my recently soaring stress levels – frustration!
Let’s face it, if there’s one thing I’ve got it’s ambition. I know I won’t be satisfied until I’m doing commercials for Nike, video games for 2K and cartoons for Warner Bros. but at times that can make things really difficult. Ambition is a great thing to have as it drives you forward, gives the thick skin to deal with rejection and keeps you going when times are tough but at other times it can be a mighty anchor weighing you down.
In real terms I am still at the very beginning of my voiceover journey, yes I’m a working voice actor, yes I’ve had some big projects and clients but there’s still so much more to do. Since January I’ve been marching towards a major gear change in my Voiceover efforts and the trip to LA was all part of that, as was my new demo with Nancy Wolfson but invariably with any business (because that’s what VO is first and foremost) there will be times where you just can’t do anything but wait!
At the moment I’m chomping at the bit to get on the phone to agents, to contact production houses, to send out newsletters but I’m not quite there yet and when ambition meets waiting, stress is the result! A good example is my new website that is currently in the works (and the final piece before letting myself off the leash), we’ve been through a few design iterations and I’d just hit the “go” button with the designer when it suddenly became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to use the design I wanted (for reasons I won’t bore you with).
I was devastated, not only because I loved what we’d come up with but because it meant another delay and more waiting to get going. Now I could easily have just thought “to hell with it” and gone ahead with the site anyway, or decided to start putting my name out there but that wouldn’t have been my business brain making the decision it would have been my impatient one.
I guess that’s the point of this post really, something you’ll need to have to make it in any sphere is patience. Patience to pay your dues while you wait for your goals to come to you, patience to stand fast when all you really want to do is run head long in to something and patience to build your experience to the point where the goals of your ambition are within your reach.
So, what to do while you’re waiting to take your mind of it………write a blog post of course!