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Katuscon 2014 – Voice Actors Panel

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A staple for every con and an interesting panel for VAs to showcase their knowledge about the anime industry from a creator standpoint. Also a good chance for stories and behind the scenes antics. The panels from left to right was Bill Rogers, Greg Houser, Richard Epcar, Ellyn Stern, Chris Ayres and Greg Ayres. They went through their usual self intros before they got into the Q&A. Greg noted that he will be playing Asahina Satoru from From the New World, a release from MVM. Ellen talks about suitcase troubles.

(Due to recording difficulties, I was not able to transcribe the entire panel. I’m sure Bill Rogers spoke, but since his and Greg Houser’s mics were kind of low, I had difficulty understanding and deciphering between the two.)

    Ellen: Hi, I’m Ellen Stern and it’s so good to be here because it was very, very questionable as to would we be able to be here. Actually, there was a post saying ‘Ellen and Richard Epcar are not going to be here, they have cancelled.’ No, we didn’t cancel. But our flights were cancelled. And my suitcase got cancelled. *fans groaned* Actually two weeks ago, we were suppose to go to Setsucon in Pennsylvania, but we couldn’t get a plane out there. Our daughter drove us to the airport 8 times. It was an all day event. Finally, we got there and went to get my luggage, but they didn’t know where it was. The luggage went to Pennsylvania a few weeks ago and it took a few days to get it back. Here I am again!
    Greg A: They should just get someone to drive your luggage to you this weekend.
    Ellen: They just called me last night to tell me that my luggage arrived in Phoenix(?).

Ellen goes into what she has done and worked on over the years, and Richard quips that she is currently directing, ‘Lost Luggage’. *fans laugh*

    Ellen: The most recent thing that I’m directing is Star Wars in the Navajo language. This is the first time that anyone has dubbed a major motion picture into a Native American language. This is just so amazing. I spent weeks with the Navajo Indians on the reservations, teaching them how to use the mics properly, how to act.

Greg prompted us for some Q’s so they could supply the A’s.

    Q: Richard, you play alot of monsters in many series, how do you find the voice for each monster?
    Richard: Alot of times you just go in and you look at the character. For me, when I see something, something will come to mind. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but hopefully it’s something that match with what I’m seeing.

    Q: Chris, when you were doing Frieza in Kai, did you ever listen to the original Frieza?
    Chris: I’ve seen alot of the original. Pauline Newstone is a friend of mine. They [ADR Director] wanted something similar but in a new direction. It was alot of fun. We got to play alot. The idea of her [Pauline] screaming… *laughs* Her voice was never the same anymore.
    Richard: It’s interesting that you brought that up, because the last guy who did George Jetson has gotten so old, that they had to speed the tape up so he would sound the same…the way he sound when he was younger.

    Q: How exactly do you become a voice actor?
    Richard: You go to medical school. *audience laughs*
    Greg H: Get a couple of master degress in Information Technology. That’s actually not a joke. I actually started off doing engineering. One of the reasons I got cast was because I had the technical knowledge. I don’t know any two people that started out the same way.
    Ellen: How many of you want to voice actors? *many raise hands* How many of you want to be writers? *many raise hands* To be a voice actor, my suggestion, you have to take acting classes. You have to be able to create a certain character, you have to have a sense of improvisation, the ability to cold read, you have to have the ability to sustain your voice. If you have a really long line, you can’t go, ‘And then the light suddenly….’ *trails off* It’s not going to work if your voice drops off at the end. You have to learn breath control. You have to learn how to give emotional depth to a voice. Using only your voice because you can’t go *makes faces*. Nobody can see it. You have to take acting classes. You have to take voice classes. I’m not talking about singing. I’m talking about using different muscles that you have to break up. I haven’t taken a acting class in awhile but all through my life, I always check in with my coach. Every once in awhile, I would take a voice class. Richard and I before, before auditions, we would warm up. It’s very, very funny you’ll hear us go through our vocal exercises. I go through what I call my ‘waterfall’ where I go ‘Ahhhhhh’. *demonstrates high to low sound* Because that opens up the top part of the voice.
    Richard: *interjects* And I want to kill her. *audience laughs*
    Ellen: *unabashed* You just go through all these vocal warmups. You are your only instrument. You got to make your instrument ready. If you go to the booth and you do not give a top-notch read-how many would you say in this room, 40 or 50 wanted to be voice actors? If you multiply that by how many conventions are out there, not just here but throughout the world, this is competition. This is all you have to compete with.
    Chris: You compete against people like Richard or yourself. Your friends as well!
    Greg: It’s like 3000 people trying to get a job in one restaurant. There are only so many jobs.
    Chris: If you want to be a voice actor, you need to act. It’s like saying you want to be in a Western set in the 20s. She told you to get acting lessons. I always tell people, the operative word in ‘voice acting’ is not ‘voice’. Everybody has a voice. Not everybody is an actor. You can be! Take classes, learn, study.
    Ellen: If you think of your favorite voice actors, 90% of the time, the most interesting voices will be from actors. Not people who are ‘voice actors’. People who are actors first.
    Greg A: There are people like Johnny Yong Bosch and Richard Ian Cox who just sound like themselves but are belivable. You don’t hear Johnny’s crazy voices, you just hear Johnny acting. I do alot of weird wacky voices but most of all do just regular voices. We just have to act.
    Chris: I teach acting class, not voice acting class. One of the things I tell my acting students to do is to read out loud for 10 min. a night. Pick up a newspaper, a magazine, a play, whatever. Get used to what you see, go through your mind, come out the way you want it to.
    Greg A: And not just in monotone. Get used to reading out loud and read it as if it was a commercial. Those little things help when you need to get into the booth and just go. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re recording until we get there. We don’t know anything about the character.
    Ellen: How many of you girls want to be a voice actor? As hard it is for a man, it is much harder for a woman. If you think of all your shows, it’s basically two females per show. And a gazillion men. That’s the way it is. So you have to better than the worse man. And the worse voice actor, you have to be a thousand times better.
    Richard: Everyone is unique. I do voice work but I also direct. There is thing that really separates people. When people come into read, 49 of them will read it exactly the same. Its the one person that comes in and reads it differently or something sticks out, that makes you say, ‘I didn’t think of it like that, that’s interesting.’
    Greg A: Luci Christian saids that she would read a line, she would think of the obvious read and tries to think of something that is not the obvious read. Her work is very interesting sounding.
    Chris: It’s called using your second choice.
    Greg H: I get all the specs and copies [characters]. Some people say use your first judgement. I would look at all of them and study the ones I’m not. The voices that I am come out naturally. It’s the stuff I’m not that I focus on and gives me a difficult read. During an audition, they only give you one shot. Sometimes they give you two. The first time I go in, I give them what they want. The second time, I give them something the way I think it should be. The third time, I give something that may be uncomfortable for me, but stretches me personally. In voice acting, you’re not just competing against people, you’re competing against yourelf. It’s called ‘getting in your head’. I studied improv three years in New York. I still spend 4 days out of the week doing vocal training. Even when you’re doing this constantly, you need to be training.

    Q: Where do you go to audition?
    Greg A: In Texas, we work for the distributers. At Funimation, we work for Funimation and go to work at Funimation Studios. Filmworks work the same way. They have their own studio. Digital media, but it’s still a recording studio operated by the distributers. Now, it’s really different in California.
    Ellen: LA has many studios. Now the thing is that everyone is building their home studio. Before we needed to go to the agent’s office to do auditions, now we have at home what we call the Mbox.
    Greg H: I actually have a whole audio kit that I travel with.
    Ellen: There are now so many ways to be recording.
    Richard: There are four different kinds of voiceover. There is animation, promo, trailer, commercial. Remotely, you can do everything but animation. You can get a copy and you can do your audition, send it in. You can do that all over the world. For animation, you have to either be in Los Angeles, California, Texas, Canada. Or you can build your own recording studio. I only heard of one person that is stupid enough to do that. I’m going to acknowledge who that person is.
    Chris: It’s just harder to do ADR for anime because you have to work with the director, engineer and it’s harder to do that over video. Honestly, you’re from New York. I would take a look at agents. Call them and tell them you’re interested in voice actors and see what are the steps you would need. They would start to help you book auditions. Locally, you have radio spots, local ads, all kinds of stuff that can come your way, not necessarily anime.
    Greg A: Two of my friends that do television voice over got their start at their local television program. And through mic classes where you learn how to work with the microphone and whatnot, they got an internship with a television company and do bumpers. They got that through college so as long as there is a radio station or television station, there are opportunities.
    Chris: I listen to demos. I am really reluctant to pick people based just on demos. I had people who spent months and weeks on a demo, but cannot deliver the same quality on the demo.
    Ellen: When I was directing Star Wars, I was not in New Mexico when the auditions happened. There were alot of clips that I had to listen to. I had to listen to all of those. Than I separated them into categories of which voice is right for which [character]. And I passed certain voices. When I got to New Mexico, I never heard some of these voices before. I had to say, ‘You know, I think the better role besides doing Han Solo, a perfect role for you is one of the storm troopers.’ It was hard but I had to based on the audition tapes. Like we’re saying, once you get into the studio, you find out that you want to do [the voice], but you can’t. If you try to do this without the college curriculum, without the college support, financially, you couldn’t do it. You have a product that you want to produce, you are the future. You are the future of anime for voice. So go to college and produce your product. And then distribute.
    Bill: Concerning demos, be wary of studios that say, ‘Give me a $1000 and I’ll produce your demos in two weeks.’ If you have no prior acting experience, don’t do this because you’ll just produce a demo that isn’t good at all. You produced a demo that early in the game, you send it out and people are going to hear it. ‘What’s that crap?’ Two years later after taking an extensive acting course, you go back to record a demo and send that to a producer or director, they’ll go ‘Oh no, it’s this guy again.’ They’re going to throw your demo right back out. Be ready to put your best foot forward.
    Greg A: While we have encouraged everyone to take classes on acting and getting as much acting experience, note that none of us learned to act from our favorite samurai or favorite saturday morning cartoon. We’re just learning from people who are actors. Richard Horvitz [Zim, Invader Zim] has a great acting workshop. But you shouldn’t take Richard’s class thinking you’re going to meet Jhnoen or you’re going to be the next Invader Zim. You take his class to get his take on acting. You take a workshop to learn their approach to acting. No one can buy you in or give you a backdoor into the industry. If you’re buying a workshop or class, know what you’re buying. Don’t have any false expectations or don’t let anyone sell you a yellow brick road because it’s not real. All those classes may each bring something unique to the table, it’s a chance to learn about someone’s approach to acting. But not a surefire way to get you in.
    Ellen: People are not looking for another Richard Epcar. Be your own voice. You may have a huge voice range, but there is one voice that you will use alot which I call the ‘money voice’. I get alot of the mother characters. I do a lady’s voice, I do girl voices, but the one I get asked to do the most, is my mother voice. Know your ‘money voice’. Know the voice that you have.
    Chris: I like working with actors that I can give direction to. I like actors who do what I tell them to do.
    Richard: There was this audition one time that said they’re looking for a ‘Richard Epcar voice’. *Greg laughs* My agent calls me and told me that they should pick me. So I auditioned, but I didn’t get the part. *audience laughs* So they’re telling me that someone out there sounds more more Richard Epcar then me?!?
    Ellen: There is a lot of typecasting based on the sound of your normal voice. That is why I say, that is your ‘money voice’. So when look around, where do you fit? What is your voice range? Listen to the other characters that sound within your voice range. That’s where you’re mostly going to be put and once you get into the booth, you can dazzle them with all your funny voices. ‘You can do that guy, you can do this guy.’ which happens, but first you get into the door by using your own voice.

    Q: Between voice acting or theater, which is easier for you?
    Chris: I choose theater since I can’t see anything beyond the lights.
    Greg A: It depends on the person. The hardest acting I ever had was voice over for me. I love it so much so anytime it gets tough, I keep going. It really focuses on the emotion of the voice. My philosophy is ‘whats harder for you, that is what you need to be doing.’
    Richard: There are people who are wonderful voice actors who is shy when standing in front of a stage or in front of a camera. I read that a lot of celebrities are wonderful on camera, but when they come into the booth, they’ll suck. It’ll be like pulling teeth to get every line out of those guys because they’re putting filmacting into a microphone. It’s a different technique, a different style. It’s like saying, ‘I’m a good dancer in movie, but can you do ballet?’ It’s a different style. You have to decide which one you’re good at. Personally, I love to do it all. I love to perform in front of a camera, on a stage, voice work. To me, voice work is almost more creative. You can be any character you can imagine vocally, when you’re in that booth. When you’re on stage or in front of a camera, particularly in front of a camera, you’re pretty much cast as you appear. There is stuff that you can do wit stage makeup, but when you’re front of the mic, you can be any character that you can imagine. For me, that is a blast. I really enjoy doing that.
    Greg H: Stuff we talk about onstage, doing improv, it’s talking about taking all that together and using that to relate to a character and tell a story. I get very physical in the booth. Do not touch the mic though, they’ll hurt you! I come out of the booth after recording for 20 min. and I’ll be breaking out. Because all of that gets poured into the character. Mike McFarland seen me one time physically shaking, it all comes out in the voice.
    Ellen: Whether it is voice acting, theater acting, for me it is all different arms of the instrument. The instrument is you. I enjoy them all. This is one of the things you have to do as an actor. You have to keep your instrument tuned. When you get a play, film, tv, voice spot, you have to be prepared so that you can be the very, very best that you are. And they’re just the different parts of the instrument that you use for each of the mediums. That’s exhilarating that you have that gift. For voice acting, your improv skills have to be deadon. You have to be able to trade, be spontaneous and not be intimidated.
    Greg A: I like voice over more than theater. I like theater, but onstage, if I have to cry, I have to cry. In a booth, I have to sound like I am crying. That is a very big difference. As Ellen said, your voice is your instrument. You can tune your voice to sound as if you’re crying without ever shedding a tear. One of my go-to sounds is disgusting, but I make a vomit sound better than anyone I know. I don’t have to vomit. I figured out all of the sounds that you make when you vomit. It’s that simple. I do strain myself, but I can throw up in front of a microphone. There was a scene where a character was just throwing up a river in the background and Chris was like, ‘Do you want to make the vomit sound?’ *audience laughs* ‘Yeah, I do.’
    Ellen: I do that, I go through the whole thing. If I cry, I actually cry. I just go through it.
    Chris: I will not let my eyes water because, I need to keep reading the script. It is bad if my eyes are not able to read.
    Ellen: You can cry, without actually ‘crying’ [tears].
    Richard: There are moments when you’re in the booth and you don’t need to look for those emotions, they just come. And when they come, it actually is quite nice when this is what you can go through.

    Q: Resources for acting?
    Greg A: One of my fav resources is a book that comes with a cd called Accents by Robert Blumenfeld. It is the most fantastic accent reference if you ever have to do accent work. Not only can you listen for a specific accent, you can listen for regional versions of that accent. The book and cd goes together perfectly, it tells you how to round out certain sounds. Fantastic reference.
    Chris: Find a teacher or methodology that works for you and look up practitioners of that.
    Ellen: My coach is Larry Moss and he coaches the academy award actors. He has a book out, ‘Intent to Live’. He is incredible, I have been with him for about 12 years. If you need to audition for a character with an accent, youtube has a plethora of information. Indian accent, Bangladesh…you can be very specific, there are tons of people [to listen to]. Also, I did a film where I had to do an Italian accent. I wanted it to be very, very light. I remembered Meryl Streep in the film with Clint Eastwood, ‘Bridges of Madison County’. I went and listened to her and other things. I listened to different sources. One time, Richard had to do a Polish accent. I found a Polish restaurant, we went there, we had them say the lines and then taught Richard. We recorded it, that was before the internet.
    Richard: It was movie where I played a Polish officer. It was the funniest thing. My entire part was in Polish-why they cast me, I have no idea.
    Ellen: I remember the line… *speaks the line in Polish*
    Richard I did the whole thing and then this woman comes up and saids to me, ‘You’re not Polish.’ I didn’t say yes, I just hung back there. She said, ‘You’re from Czechoslovakia.’ *audience laughs* If you think I’m from Czechoslovakia, I did something right.
    Ellen: London accents vary depending on where you’re from so you’re never going to find exactly the one you’re looking for. So find the accent and commit. That’s really your best. Someone else will have a slightly different flavor.
    Richard: I’m actually quite proud because I did a commercial in England. *audience applauds* I don’t have a book to recommend, but sometimes you do so much that you forget.
    Greg H: There is a series of books called ‘Acting with an Accent’. I love anything by Del Close, Keith Johnson.

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