Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to break into voice overs without holding up a sign

With all this hoopla about homeless Obama impersonator, Ted Williams going from a street corner to a voice over career, let me tell you the story of how another VO artist broke into the biz.

Mark Elliott. You may not know the name but you sure as hell have heard the golden voice. He’s done thousands of trailers, God knows how many promos for CBS, and for many years was the exclusive voice of Disney. (He probably had to say “experience the magic” 7,000,000 times.)

In the mid ‘70s Mark was a disc jockey – a very successful one mind you – on top rated LA station, KHJ. But how many times can play “The Night Chicago Died” without wanting to kill yourself? Mark thought voice over work was the way out.

He started taking classes, knocking on doors. Nothing. No one was interested. And remember, this guy has pipes! If not the voice of God than the guy who fills in for Him on the weekends. At the time his girlfriend was a beautician and one of her customers was a dude who owned a company that made movie trailers. She told him about Mark and he said Mark could call him. It’s amazing how gracious people can be when someone is holding a sharp pair of scissors to their head.

Mark did phone the guy and predictably was told there was nothing for him. He already had announcers he used on a regular basis. But Mark asked if he could check back from time to time and the guy said sure.

Mark called him every single week. Finally, after a full year, the guy said he might have something for him but no promises. He had a director who had no clue what he wanted. He already went through three voice over guys who just threw up their hands and ran. If Mark wanted, he could work with this nut, but there was no guarantee his trailer would be used and if not, he wouldn’t get paid. This would all be work on spec. Hours and hours of it.  Mark said he’ll take it.

Now remember, Mark was a top disc jockey. I’m sure many other jocks in his position would be insulted. How dare they be asked to work for free? They’d be saying, “Do you know who I am, even though I don’t use my real name?” But Mark was willing to do the work.

For the next two weeks, when he got off the air, he drove to the studio and worked ten hours a day voicing a gazillion variations of this trailer. Finally, the director was happy and Mark’s trailer ran.

The movie was STAR WARS. The crazy director was George Lucas.

Almost immediately, Mark’s voice over career took off. A few weeks later he did the trailer for THE GOODBYE GIRL. More offers came pouring in. And the rest, as they say, is all profit.

I know everyone loves the Ted Williams story. I do, too. It’s that one-in-a-million fairy tale and allows us all to still believe that miracles can happen, even to us. But I prefer the story of the schmoe who worked his ass off and made it because of his passion and sacrifice. Even if it means no one will ever do a movie-of-the-week about him.

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