Steve’s Personal Story

Steve’s Personal Story

Hey guys,

Welcome to the Blumvox Studios Blogosphere. I rarely talk about the early part of my journey, but I thought I’d share it with you here in hopes that something you see here may inspire you on your own path.

I’ve always been a bit of a loner. Even as a small child, though I liked people, I would be just as happy playing by myself. Creating imaginary worlds and talking to myself. I was overweight, shy, insecure, bullied often and felt like I was average or worse at pretty much everything. I found joy in art though. I wasn’t particularly good at much of anything, but I loved to create. I didn’t really care what medium. It all felt the same and somehow made me feel better. Music, drawing, sculpting – all of it helped me to escape my own perception of my mediocrity for my appreciative audience of one. Going outside and communing with nature has always been soothing to me too. I’d hunt for interesting bugs, lizards, frogs (and other fauna), plants and rocks, etc., and spend hours marveling at their designs, shapes colors, sounds… I had two dachshunds who were my best friends. I also began collecting fish, reptiles and birds for company. I was convinced that if I tried hard enough, someday I’d be able to communicate with the animals. I dreamed that I could fly, or eventually have superpowers. It was almost an obsession that took some of the harshness out of the rest of my world.

Later at age 12, my first job was working in the comic department of my grandfather’s book store. It was a beautiful place called Cherokee Books in Hollywood California. High ceilings, wood everywhere, rolling ladders that accessed a magnificent library of classic books and movie memorabilia from all over the world. I was mostly tucked away upstairs in a back room, sorting comics from recent purchases. My uncle Burt would buy huge lots of stuff from estate sales and collectors and I was charged with sorting and cataloging the titles. Since I worked alone most of the time, I read a LOT of comics back then. The characters would each have distinct voices in my head as I poured over the panels. I couldn’t voice them out loud yet (because boyhood voice), but every creature, every superhero and every villain would occupy a different vocal space in my brain. Back then, it never occurred to me that anyone could actually make a living creating these characters out loud. I was a huge fan of Looney Tunes, Disney, Hanna Barbera… pretty much anything animated. I’d often do terrible impressions of my favorite cartoon idols, but was too shy to share them with most people.

Later on when I bought my first answering machine – (back when they recorded on tape and sounded like crap), I did a Goofy impression as my outgoing message. Somebody called me by mistake and left a message with laughing in the background. They called back and shortly thereafter, his friends started to call to listen to the message. My friends picked up on it too and not too long after, were giving me character requests. I had to change the message almost on a weekly basis. It was fun, but I thought that was the end of it.

I still had no idea that “voice acting” was a thing or that anyone could even consider that as a career. When my kids were born, I began reading children’s books to them and acting out all the characters. It just seemed to be the right way to read those books. Later I went to their school as a volunteer parent and read for their classes. That’s when my voice training really began, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was already dabbling in Anime for fun on the side, but the kids didn’t really know or understand that – or care. They just knew if I was reading their stories properly and would handily and bluntly school me if I wasn’t.

Now this is the part you may have heard before. Regarding the Anime thing… a few years before the school schooling, I was working as a production assistant/driver/mailroom clerk etc. for a film studio called Empire Entertainment (the company that made Reanimator, Ghoulies, then later – the Puppetmaster films, etc.) My friend (actor) and head mailroom-slavedriver Victor Garcia asked me if I’d like to try working on a crazy “Japanamation” project he was helping to cast. I was probably the only non-actor in the building, but he noticed that I liked to mess around with stupid character voices with the actors who worked there. My friend Tom Fahn and I physically could not greet each other without our bodies slumping, hiking our pants up and transforming into two old Jewish men from New York. Still can’t (except now we’re actually much closer to that age!) Anyway, Victor offered us all an audition one weekend for his project – a show called “The Guyver.” I was terrified, but said yes, because he said they’d feed me a couple of meals whether I got the part or not and pay me a little if I booked it. He knew I had no experience, but I had the deepest voice in the mailroom and he needed somebody who could voice creatures. He had me at the “free food”. I was a below average starving R&B musician at the time, when everybody else was playing glam and heavy metal, so a free meal really meant something to me.

The pacing of the dubbing seemed musical and natural, and I took to it well. They hired me for 26 episodes, I eventually dubbed human characters, and learned how to act over the next couple of decades by just doing it and stealing technique from everyone I could. Not the easiest (or fastest) way to break in, and I screwed up A LOT, but the pressure is minimal when you have no idea why people are paying you to fart and bark into a microphone. I simply did it because I loved it and the community in the voice acting world was unlike anything I’d experienced in any other line of work.

I stayed at the film studio for almost 15 years, eventually becoming an executive with a beautiful office in Hollywood. What began as a fun, creative environment, became a competitive, back-stabbing, typical corporate entertainment hell and I hated going to work every day. I was praying for a way out, but had a decent salary in a steady job and was still able to do a little voice work in my off-time for fun and pocket change.

Then I booked a gig as the voice of 7-11. I thought “this is it!” I heard that once you book a big commercial campaign – you get to buy the house, car, decent clothes… So I quit my job at the studio and declared myself to be a full time voice actor! Unfortunately the commercials only paid a fraction of what I was expecting (only the big network national spots paid the big bucks and this was not that). Then the union went on strike for 8 months and I couldn’t get a decently paying voice job for about a year and a half. I lived on credit cards and every odd job I could scrounge to stay afloat. I went into huge debt and was terrified to pay the bills each month. The thing that made that time ok for me was every moment in the studio recording the stuff that still wouldn’t pay the bills. That and my friends in the Anime community who supported me by continuing to co-create art when everything else went to sh*t.

I remember those days vividly and it’s the reason why I insist that new voice actors really check themselves before getting into this business. You must be passionate about it and know that even if you NEVER make a living at it, it will be one of the most fulfilling art forms you’ll ever experience. That to me is worth every moment you invest and you’ll never be disappointed if you approach it from that perspective. If you’re in it purely for the fortune or fame… I suggest calling the Kardashians. That’s an entirely different business. Thanks for reading this and I hope to see you in my voiceover classes!

Confidence and Self Care

Confidence and Self Care

So early on in our voiceover classes, and literally every time I talk to folks that want to get into Voiceover, I talk about building confidence, looking stupid and embracing it, and taking care of your voice physically, by warming it up and cooling it down. That’s because It’s all related, and the connecting thread is your well-being. I know. Dang it Steve, you’re gonna dig in again, aren’t you? Yeah. Might as well get used to it.

Your health – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – can affect your ability to perform. In life, relationships, work and yes, even in voiceover. Simply put, when you feel good, you’re better able to express yourself.

So when I suggest to my students to let go of the fear and judgment they’ve been carrying around (in many cases it’s not even theirs!) – and going back to that childlike place inside where it was ok to be dorky, I’m simply encouraging them to work on their health.

When you forget joy and forget to play and let fear run your life, it manifests in anxiety, anger and sadness, and sometimes even physical pain or illness. Let’s go back to the sandbox analogy… when you see children playing in a sandbox and one of them is sick… unless the sickness is so bad the kid physically can’t function, that child is gonna play uninhibited with as much joy and energy as he/she/they can muster. Doesn’t matter if there’s a river of snot pouring from their nose, or if they have a cast on their arm, or they’ve got a diaper full of doody – they’re gonna use every bit of that playtime they have before they have to go take a nap, or clean up, or go eat, etc.

Unfortunately many of us lose that enthusiasm for play as we get older and start becoming self-conscious. We focus on what isn’t working or on what others tell us is OK to feel, based on their ideas and often, their fears. When you stop playing, you stop living.

I met a boy with ALS a few years ago. He no longer had any use of his body. He couldn’t speak. His organs were shutting down and he could only communicate with his eyes through a series of yes/no answers on an alphabet chart his father created. Yet even in that state, when his hero, Kari Wahlgren (if you don’t know her – look her up) came to visit, he communicated that he was a huge fan of her work… he was excited to meet her and was bordering on flirty! He remembered, even under the most extreme circumstances – the things that brought him joy and it gave him something positive to concentrate on – when everything else in his life was a struggle for survival. His family told us that it improved the quality of his life and that of everyone around him.

Now that’s an extreme example, but the point is, no matter what you’re going through, looking for the joy, staying playful and finding the funny – only serves to improve the quality of your life and enhances the quality of everything you do and everyone you interact with.

So how do the warm-ups and cool-downs apply? Even when I’m doing something as potentially mundane as a warm-up exercise, I look for the fun. If you’ve tried the warm-ups and cool-downs I’ve suggested in other blogs here, you know that most of them require some pretty ridiculous faces and actions. They’re designed to help you physically loosen the muscles and structures involved in voice work, so you feel better. But they also help you unleash your inner dork so you’re less inhibited by fear! To help you feel less restricted and more able to perform at your best, and most importantly – to ENJOY THE PROCESS. All this, plus, they help you to avoid injury and to recover from stress after. Pretty good stuff for just making weird noises and faces, huh?

When you’re feeling better physically, and emotionally, your mental abilities improve, you’re more creative, your perspective changes and life just seems a little better. I’ll leave spirituality alone for now, because some people aren’t comfortable with that. But trust me, when you seek the positive, you’re already doing that work.

Be happy, be healthy and be a dork!

Love you guys!

Steve

Trust

Trust

trust |trəst|

noun

firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

We’re called upon to trust often in this business. Trust the process, trust that our teachers aren’t full of crap, trust that if we do the work, something will come of it…
Trust that we’ll be remembered when we’re great and not forgotten when we suck.
Trust that they will forget when we suck, but not forget us!

Trust that we’ve got a handle on the fear, so it won’t be in control when we get our shot.

Trust that we GET a shot!

It’s tough to trust anyone these days. So with all of that swirling in our heads as we approach anything creative… whom do you trust? And how do you trust?

Starts with you, boo. In the Teaching Series classes, we’ve discussed taking direction and cold reading (reading something you’ve never seen before out loud). So while it’s pretty clear that you have to trust your director, the choices you make based on that, begin with trusting your own passion for the work, the months or years of study you’ve put in, and that you wouldn’t even BE in front of a director if they didn’t think you were worthy. The hardest part of all of this is remembering that you ARE worthy! Even when you’re by yourself, practicing your cold reading, it requires you to trust your instincts in fleshing out believable characters with no preparation.

Trust takes practice. And people often lose trust when they feel betrayed by others. A natural, and necessary protective human reflex. But what about when we let ourselves down? We have a chance at something and we blow it. We start beating ourselves up and tearing ourselves down. This isn’t a protective reflex, this is an unnecessary, but very common breakdown of our trust in ourselves.  When you make a mistake, or just weren’t ready for the task at hand, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s an opportunity for a breakthrough.  You get back up, dust yourself off, and get your butt back to work. Take the time to learn from the mistake.

DO what you need to do so this mistake doesn’t happen again!  Then get back up with this new wisdom in your pocket. Just the fact that you GOT back up is a huge victory! Celebrate that and you’ll be surprised at your ability to create something new and amazing from that.

Many years ago, I read for the part of Goro for the Mortal Kombat movie. I did a great first audition. Even made it to final callbacks. I had to read live for a panel of casting and studio people in an on-camera type, intimidating room where they sat in elevated chairs looking down at me and running me through the copy. I freaked out inside. Still did a fair audition, but my inner turmoil turned into a big, dramatic huffing and puffing after the read, like I’d just lifted a car over my head. They mentioned that I probably wouldn’t be capable of sustaining the role for a whole film if one little audition made me that tired. I insisted I wasn’t tired, just invested in the role. I thanked them politely, then left devastated, thinking that I just blew the biggest opportunity of my life.

But the next day, I got back up. Busted through the continuous internal beatings, and auditioned for a little anime show. Certainly not the same level as this movie, but made me feel a little better. I probably booked it. Don’t remember. But I kept moving forward. Now, more than 20 years later, I get to voice Sub-Zero in the Mortal Kombat games. The full circle took a while, but apparently, I used some of that fuel from that mistake to build an entire career. I trusted myself enough to get back up and try again.

As I was reading this back just now, I realized I never found out who ended up booking that role, so I looked it up. It was my dear friend, the amazing Frank Welker. Pretty good company to even be in the running with – so early on in my career! They probably had an offer out to him the whole time and were just looking for a backup plan. If Frank had declined the role, I actually may have still been in the running. So all of that anguish… all of that self doubt… may have been completely unfounded anyway.

Believe in yourself first, guys. You’re capable of so much more than you can ever imagine. Fail magnificently, and trust that you can grow from it. So excited to see what you bring to the party!

Karabast! It’s Over!

Karabast! It’s Over!

Star Wars Rebels and the end of an era (and a job!)

So I recently wrapped one my favorite shows ever, Star Wars Rebels. This year marked the 4th and final season of an incredible odyssey, and the opportunity for me to play in a universe I loved as a kid, though I couldn’t possibly have imagined “growing up” to become a member of the crew.

Rebels was a huge part of my life for years. While being out of a job sucks, the thing I miss most is seeing the Rebels crew every week. We all bonded deeply on that show, including everyone on the other side of the glass, which is unusual for animation. We truly became the family you saw on TV, albeit (thankfully) with 80% less chance of dying week-to-week. We still get together as often as we can for dinners and events, but that time in the booth can never be recreated.

I’ve said it many times, but the Lucas family is unlike any other. We geeked out together, they included us in the collaborative process, and we became friends for life. We were all heavily invested in giving the fans something special and creating a show of the highest quality possible. We made something we wanted to watch!

When we were told it was ending, it was painful for all of us. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a show to continue more than this one. That said, it was tempered by the knowledge that Dave Filoni and company could tell the story they wanted/needed to tell and finish it on their terms. Clone Wars didn’t have that luxury the first time around. Rebels felt complete to me and as a fan I found that very satisfying.

So yeah, that’s the thing about this business. You effectively lose your job often, sometimes every week! You can bring your all to a part and then you have to… well, let it go. In my Voiceover Classes I tell my students that being a voice actor requires “emotional elasticity.” Being able to handle the ups and downs of the business, the absence of callbacks, the re-casts, the cancellations, and the completion of shows you know will never be again. We’re not just voices, we’re often fans too, and because of that, we’re deeply connected to the characters we bring to life, and are all too often sad to see them go. But…that’s the gig, and learning how to be emotionally elastic is critically important if you want to get into this business and last.

Rebels was like no other show I’ve ever worked on. We stepped into and lived and breathed in the magnificent Star Wars universe. I mean, come on…STAR WARS!!! This beloved place of future legend. We were given the opportunity to voice characters that will now be considered canon… forever! That was an honor no-one took lightly. Sometimes we’d discuss things as simple as the name of a new fruit – like the Meiloorun – for an hour, because if it was going to be canon we needed to make sure it was right. And we were often witness to (and sometimes participants) in nerd battles on both sides of the glass at recording sessions. That’s not something you get to experience with other projects. Most often those kinds of decisions are made well in advance and they don’t need or even welcome input from the actors. They always allowed time for us to be fans and discuss the stuff we knew would be topics of deep nerd conversation for generations to come.

I guess by now it’s pretty evident how much I love and appreciate Star Wars. And I’m grateful every day that I get to do this work at all. Voiceover is so much more than just standing at the mic grunting, screaming, reading some lines and going home. You have to love it to your core to endure the stuff it takes to make it in this business. You also have to love it so much, that when a show like this ends for the right reasons, you can let it go.

Characters like Zeb remind me of the power of connecting to a character and embuing it with as much of a real life as I can in animated form. And the characters always return the favor. I’ll carry a part of him with me forever.

In fact, the best characters bring out parts of me that I may have been uncomfortable with – or even completely unaware of!
Creating art can be a deeply symbiotic, humbling and in some cases course-correcting relationship if you allow it to be.
To do it most effectively, you need to let walls down, drop pre-conceived notions and to trust yourself enough even when/especially when – things become their most uncomfortable.

Part of why I focus so much of my teaching around the inner game is so that new actors can build a solid foundation of confidence, in themselves and in the qualities that they were born with. Rather than only trying to emulate someone else they admire, I encourage my students to become aware of their own unique talents and abilities. To develop their foundational skillset in addition to what they already possess. There is only one person on the planet like you. And that person is amazing, so please never underestimate your gifts.

With regard to the technical side of voicing someone like Zeb, I’m often asked what I did to physically prepare for those sessions. It always began with warmups. Exaggerated vowel sounds, low note humming, stretching the face and body – and enunciation exercises, etc. It’s so important to do this, I taught an entire class on warmups and cooldowns.

Compared to video games, the outbursts of vocal stress in Rebels were pretty limited. Still, I followed the same protocol I always do for vocal care – sleep, hydration, rest, and Chinese herbal throat drops.

Though occasionally a little painful, Zeb’s outbursts were actually healing for me! It allowed me to blow off a little steam from daily frustration without the consistent, unrelenting throat ripping that the characters in a video game so often demand. I always looked forward to playing Zeb.

Something else I tell my students all the time is to listen to the director. In the case of Star Wars Rebels, the Crew (on both sides of the glass) was so tight and dedicated to the franchise – that we were appreciated (out loud!) by the ones in charge and encouraged to contribute. There was a palpable mutual trust, and that collaborative energy made for a harmonious work environment. That’s not always the case, and as an actor it’s very important to remember that you are only there to help realize someone else’s creation. Sometimes a show has been in the works for years before you ever get a chance to be a part of it, so listening to the Director and following directions is not only expected, its morally the right thing to do. Creators are profoundly connected to the characters, As a voice actor, it’s your job to bring them off the page while respecting the vision of those who put them there.

For me, working with Lucasfilm was a dream come true. I’d never before been given that kind of access to so many of the actual creators. From the story group, writers, animators, editors, engineers, music department, lighting, fx, executives, assistants, interns, PR and everything in between, we were allowed to see how it all fits together from the inside. It’s no easy thing to make a show this good. Lucas let us meet some of the hundreds of people required to do this, and encouraged them to meet us. These shows involve incredibly creative people at all levels, hence why I’m often quoted saying “I’m just a voicemonkey.” I do my best to bring a character like Zeb to life, but I’m only a small bearing in a giant machine that has been busy building long before I walked into that booth.

This show will always be a special part of my life, and I’m honored to be a part of the Star Wars Universe, even if just for a hyper-second in the grand scheme (though I’ve made it annoyingly obvious that I’m available for anything they may do in the future!).

If you haven’t watched Rebels yet, as a fellow fan, I highly recommend it (and would even if I had nothing to do with it)! It’s a beautifully executed piece of important Star Wars connective tissue and for some… a perfect gateway into this wonderful universe. May it continue for generations to come and may the force be with you.

 

Holistic Care of Your Instrument

Holistic Care of Your Instrument

 

So we have this awesome little multimedia newsletter called The Voicemonkey Dispatch that comes out once a month. Each month I get to riff a little on the previous months class topics from my online Teaching Series, which if you don’t know about you can get more info on here.

The following is an excerpt from the VMD Issue May, 2018. I hope you enjoy!

 

Physical care of your Voice

 

In our April classes we talked a lot about how a solid career in voiceover starts from the inside out, and how the health of your body, mind and even spirit integrates and is essential for performance, stamina and longevity.

There’s a reason I talk so much in class about the mechanical structure of your voice machine and how to best maintain it.  This is because it’s a critical component to your success – especially in the beginning of your voiceover career. You have to understand the importance of taking care of the machine. There are some great products that I recommend that can help you maintain the health of your voice. For those of you not in class with me we’ll be putting up a list of product recommendations on the website soon. I talk alot about the importance of diet, exercise, rest, rejuvenation. You might think “blah blah blah” when you hear that, but truly, if you start a healthy regimen now you’ll be very grateful later.

I had a session today that was only a 2 hour booking. I was told that it’d just be a couple of pickups from a previous episode and some lines in my characters’ voices. It was for an interactive children’s book based on a series. Sounds like no big deal, right? Wrong. I get there and the children’s project is 4 episodes, 163 lines, three characters, all talking to each other, VERY s-l-o-w-l-y (so young kids reading along can keep up).  Two of them are extremely vocally stressful, three takes of each line. Had I not kept the machine in good working order, I would have been blown out in the first 15 minutes. 

 

Mental & Emotional Preparedness makes a HUGE difference!

 

Not only did I have to rise to the occasion physically, I had to get through the mental issues of not receiving the script beforehand. I was going to be grossly underpaid because they didn’t tell my agent what I was in for, and I had no recourse in the moment because I signed the contract before I saw the scripts. I’ll be paid about 1/5th of what I should for a project like this.

I had to suck it up, do an on-the-spot mental and emotional reset, remain positive and professional, and deliver a top-quality performance.  So what does that require?  Well anger management, for starters.  Generally we have a fair idea about what we’re stepping into before we take on projects.  There are always variables, but in this case, the sheer quantity of lines and vocal stress required by this job necessitated excellent physical condition.

The deception of the producers intentionally throwing me into this situation felt like betrayal, (I’ve been working with them for two years – they know better). If I hadn’t meditated this morning and had the tools to deal with it mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, I would’ve screamed at them and walked out.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this is the kind of job that can cause permanent physical damage.  I know the person who booked this with my agent didn’t know, nor did the director, so to take my rage out on them in the studio would have been inappropriate and misdirected.

I realized this evening that despite the surprises and massive physical stress, I’m feeling ok tonight.  My mind has been on balancing the mind/body/spirit every day since beginning these classes, and thankfully, I practice what I preach. I also teach what I practice, and if you’re interested in delving into meditation there’s a guided meditation download available on this site here.

Take care of your instrument, folks.  The WHOLE instrument!

 

Many times new voice actors skip over the non-physical aspects of what make great actors great. What makes great actors great? Well for one thing they’ve done a lot of “inner work”, in addition to developing their physical chops. Part of the reason I spend SO much time in my classes teaching inner game stuff (how to handle upset, how to handle “hits” to your confidence, how to handle disappointment etc) is because these kinds of experiences like the one I described above WILL happen in your voiceover career. Be it an audition, a session, or out on the convention circuit. It’s not a matter of IF its a matter of when.

I realize not every voiceover lesson is gonna teach this. I also realize not every voiceover coach WANTS to go that deep. I personally think it’s critical for a long and solid career. Alot of us enter into our voiceover career focusing on the physical side of our craft. All that stuff (mic technique, breathwork etc) IS important, and I teach on that too, but being able to handle mental and emotional curveballs is the difference between getting the gig and KEEPING the gig. In the long-run that’s what I want for you. Longevity as a Voice Actor. I want you to not only know HOW to look after yourself and your voice physically, but how to look after yourself mentally and emotionally as well.

Take care of your instrument.
The WHOLE instrument.
Until next time…
Be well!

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