“Where Will You Be?”

I’ve been avoiding making any comments online about the Sandy Hook school tragedy because I figured there was not much more that I could add to the discussion.  Everyone is shocked.  Everyone is sad.  Everyone is asking ‘why’…so I left it alone and kept my thoughts to myself.
But then late Sunday night, I sat down in front of my computer and started banging out words…and somehow a poem was created.  It’s one of those that just sort of wrote itself – and I thought I’d share it for today’s post.  This was inspired by the events that unfolded not only in Connecticut, but also in China, where a man wielding a knife wounded 22 school children that same day.
Hopefully, each of you who reads the poem will take away a little something different from it.

Where Will You Be?

When dusk falls,
where will you be?
Each morning
on my own,
I barely stand.
For, if alone
as I am
always, every day,
so I shall remain –
waiting, watching, crying.
Faith faltering,
the sad miracle of hope
leaves me
a barren soul
like a bloated belly.

Do you hear me?   Can you see?

Like a bloated belly
a barren soul
leaves me
the sad miracle of hope:
faith faltering,
waiting, watching, crying.
So I shall remain
always, every day,
as I am
For, if alone
I barely stand
on my own
each morning…
where will you be
when dusk falls?

– © 2012 Matt Forrest Esenwine

Of businessmen and fishermen…

If you’re a writer, chances are you have a pretty good idea of who your characters are before you start writing.  Of course, they often change as you develop them, and sometimes they can surprise you.  Learning about your characters can be fun, inspiring, and satisfying,

If you’re a writer, that is.

If, on the other hand, you are a voiceover artist, characters who change and surprise you are not always a good thing.

Character evolution vs. script evolution

It’s expected that certain characters will grow and develop over the course of a story, a book, or a script.  It’s what makes them likeable, unlikeable, heroes, antiheroes, human or inhuman.  However, characters who change with each revision of a script are something else entirely.

I recently auditioned for the role of a businessman for an audiobook.  He was a middle-aged, money-crunching fellow, not particularly fond of his wife, but unwilling to leave her because of the financial toll a divorce would take.  He was one of several characters who, over the course of the book, went through various emotional changes and emerged as different people than they were initially.

That was all well and good.  Little did I know how much development this character was going to go through.

“Who am I, again?”

When I was told I got the part, the producer was thrilled that I really captured the personality of this fellow, especially on one audition take.  He said there were just a few lines he’d like me to redo, and that he’d be in touch with the complete script.

When I received the script, the producer had quite a few revision suggestions for me; more than I had expected, knowing how much he had liked what I had already done, but I didn’t think much of it.  Revisions are part of the business.  I read my lines and sent them back to him within a couple of days.

This time, the producer seemed surprised at how quickly I turned the audio around (how fast I got his audio back to him, for you non-industry types).  He told me he hadn’t anticipated me doing all the lines yet, as they were still editing the final version of the script.


If it’s an audiobook, what kind of ‘script editing’ needs to be done?

But besides the fact that I went and read my lines that he sent – lines that I apparently wasn’t supposed to read yet – I was told that the character didn’t seem gruff enough,  As a commercial fisherman, he should have a bruskness about him I wasn’t capturing.

Okay…hang on.  Last I knew, he was a businessman.

So I redid all my lines again with a little more roughness to my voice, and emailed the audio.  You know how they say third time’s the charm?  Well, the producer emailed me back and said he just didn’t feel like I was right for the role.  He agreed to pay me for the work I did, but after I received the payment, we parted ways.

Know what you want

I went from being the perfect voice to the worst voice, and there was nothing I could do about it.  If it seems like I’m bitter or upset, I’m honestly not; these sorts of things come with the territory of doing narration and voice-acting.  Sometimes you get picked, sometimes you don’t, sometimes things just don’t work out.  It is what it is.

But in this case, the character went from being an unloving businessman to a gruff fisherman…not via character development, but by a script that was never nailed down.  If you are a voice-seeker – a director, producer, rights-holder – please, on behalf of voice actors everywhere, know your characters before you start looking for people to bring them to life.  Don’t hire someone to voice a schoolgirl and then turn them away because they’re not sultry.  Don’t get upset when the guy voicing a car mechanic can’t sound like Morgan Freeman.

It’s like asking Cousin Eddie to do Shakespeare.

This goes for straight narrations, too.  If you’re not sure if you want a young woman or a middle-aged man or a senior citizen to voice a particular project, poor saps like me have no idea if we’re a suitable match.  What it boils down to is,  if you don’t know what you’re looking for, we don’t know, either.  The audiobook producers could have saved themselves and yours truly a lot of work and time by knowing what they wanted in the first place.

I never learned how that audiobook came out.  I hope they found someone who could do the fisherman character justice.

For all I know, they could still be revising the script.

If the voiceover industry was like dog breeding…

Now there’s a contender for oddest blog post title of the year, wouldn’t you say?  Trust me, you don’t need to be a voice artist OR a dog-lover to hopefully glean a little something out of this…

As some of you might now, if you follow me on Facebook, my family and I welcomed a new member of the family to our home this past weekend.  Rosie, a 6-month-old Great Pyrenees-Boxer, walked into the house and within hours was acting like she had lived here all of her short life.  She’s a sweetheart, too; very friendly, very loving, very playful, very…big.  Forty-five pounds already, and we’ve still got 6 more months to go before she’s a grown-up!

We love her.

But we almost didn’t find out about her.  My wife, who is the most ‘dog person-y’ person you could ever meet, is actually allergic to them, so we had considered buying a purebred MH900027334 (poodle)Standard Poodle.  Standard Poodles don’t shed, are hypo-allergenic, are great with children, and – despite the frou-frou connotations they carry – can almost look manly when their fur isn’t trimmed to look like they just walked through a styrofoam ball factory.

The fastest way to lose a customer

The reason I’m telling you this is because of the attitude we received from the Standard Poodle breeder.  Now, we are conscientious, loving people who have had cats and dogs our entire lives, and who care for them as if they’re family – because they ARE family.  We’re also the types of folks who consistently bring home strays or shelter-pets; however, we felt that due to my wife’s allergy, we could justify spending the hundreds of dollars it might require to purchase a purebred.

Imagine, then, our surprise when my wife emailed the breeder to get more information – and was basically told in a reply email that the breeder was too busy to talk, that she had all the information on her website (which we had already viewed), and suggested we ‘Friend’ her on Facebook – which my wife had already done.  But, of course, a person that busy probably doesn’t have time to sweat little details like that.

Wow, great way to entice customers, huh?

So this got me thinking how preposterous it would be, if people in other industries treated their potential customers and clients the way this woman does.  The following are actual  excerpts from the breeder’s email (slightly edited for punctuation and grammar – she might make thousands of dollars with every litter of pups, but she ain’t no Rhodes scholar) along with my imagined version of a voiceover artist saying the same thing.  Really, though, anyone saying these things in any industry is preposterous; perhaps you’ll see a parallel within your own industry.

It began when my wife askedif we can speak with the breeder to learn a bit more about her & her dogs:
Breeder:  “Right now, time to just chat on the phone is not usually possible… My life and the work of taking good care of my poodles and their pups limits any telephone time severely.”
Voice artist:   “Right now, time to just chat on the phone is not usually possible… My life and work of reading scripts limits time to engage in human contact severely.”
Breeder:  “I love email, which I can fit into an over-scheduled, hectic life.”
Voice artist:   “I love email, which helps me avoid having to speak directly to people who want to give me money.  Because, you know, my life is over-scheduled and hectic, unlike the boring, humdrum existence you lead.”
Breeder: “I would suggest you check out our website and read all the text pages.  Also go over our Face Book page (Ed. note: yes, she spelled it as TWO SEPARATE WORDS) and check out all the pictures, albums and posts from puppy owners.”
Voice artist:  “Here’s what you do:  stop bugging me and go visit my website.  And don’t just visit the home page – read all the text pages and listen to all the demos, like a good little customer.  That way you don’t keep asking me questions I’ve already answered on my website.  I mean, GAWD – the whole reason I set up the website in the first place was so I wouldn’t have to interact with you.”
Breeder:  “I will have some open days in early December if you would like to visit.  We do have to go by appointments.  Because of the work load here, I can see just one family per day at 1pm.
Voice artist:  “Let’s see…it’s mid-November now, so how about we deal with each other a month from now?  Your Christmas Sale commercial script can wait, right?  Of course, it’ll have to – did I mention how agonizingly busy I am??  Why don’t we plan to meet December 27th at 1:35pm.  That’s not a suggestion.”
Breeder:  “In lieu of an application, I love to see an email telling me all about you, your family, your home and most importantly, who will be at home and available to raise a new baby??   Poodles just do not develop well left home all alone…they need to be raised by someone’s side, much like you would do with a human child.”
Voice artist:  “You want to sign a contract?  Hold on, there, Sparky – what makes you think I even want to voice your script?  In addition to the homework I’ve already assigned (visiting my website, reading all the text and listening to all the demos, viewing my Face Book page), I’d like you to write an essay explaining why you think you deserve the privilege of working with me.  Tell me about yourself, your company, and most importantly, what your commercial is about.  I don’t voice commercials for just anyone you know, so I really need to know if you’re worth my time.”

When my wife very politely emailed the breeder back to say she wanted to speak with her directly because of her concern about the quality of care the dogs were receiving at the breeder’s, to get a sense of the personality of the breeder, and to be sure the place was not just a “puppy mill”…she never received a reply.  We figure there are three possible reasons.  Either:  a) my wife insulted the breeder by insinuating that it was a puppy mill (which she was not); b) she insulted the breeder because the breeder IS a puppy mill; or c) the breeder is just so damn busy, remember?

Lessons learned

Can you imagine telling a prospective customer or client these things?  I understand it’s a farm and they’re busy and all of that.  But we’re all busy.  If we don’t take care to pay attention to what we say to others and how we say it – customers or not – our smug, negative attitudes will cost us.  And I don’t just mean monetarily.

Remember, whether you’re selling dogs, doing voiceowork, or waiting tables…a little friendliness and consideration can go a long way.  Haughtiness and impatience can go a long way, too – but in the wrong direction.

Rosie, courtesy Lonestar Pyrs & Paws-North

My wife and I know not all dog breeders are like this woman; there are some fine, wonderful places raising and selling purebred dogs.  It definitely pays to do your homework, though.  (Although it shouldn’t be assigned by the other person)  Thanks to this breeder’s arrogance, we did some more searching and found out about a terrific organization called Lone Star Pyrs & Paws Rescue, a non-profit rescue group dedicated to Great Pyrenees dogs.  Our Rosie, the only one in the litter without her breed’s trademark long fur, was the runt of the litter and the last to be adopted.

We’re glad she waited for us.

We’re tremendously grateful to the group for getting us in touch with our new family member.  We’re also so grateful to the poodle breeder for turning us away, I’m thinking of thanking her personally.

By email, of course.