Friday, October 18, 2013

Character Development

At FaffCon6 I broke tradition and decided to talk about how I develop characters. I've been a character actor for several years on stage and in the vocal booth. Covering everything from Santa to soldiers, cowboys to reindeer!

And I want to give a huge thanks again to the amazing Peter O'Connell, who helped out with the session. The man knows how to run a room.

Who is this Character?

First off, I don't do impersonations. However the voices I hear do INFLUENCE the voices I use.

Let me use an example, right now as of this writing, I'm in a production on-stage playing the roll of Lawrence Garfinkle, aka "Larry the Liquidator" in the show Other People's Money. The book states that Lawrence "Larry" is a third generation guy from the Bronx. Not to be played too heavy on the accent.

Ok. So here's a guy, he's in his 40's, overweight, and pretty well off. He dresses well but is not highly read, his sentence structure is still that of his youth on the streets of the Bronx. "You doing your job good." for example.

He's street smart, and is good at his game. That's the surface.

Lawrence Garfinkle and Kate Sullivan
as played by Monk and Colleen Lovett

Peel The Onion

There's more to him and here is where I go deeper into figuring out this guy. He says in the show that he used to be skinny, well, skinny-er.  I see him as the fat kid in school that was bullied. Little Lawrence Garfinkle was never "Larry" in grade school. He was teased, he was pushed around and then he grew up. And he turned into a bully himself. That kid that once knocked his books out of his hands in the hallway, was just let go from the factory that "Larry the Liquidator" bought and shut down. I can almost see Piggy from Lord of the Flies.

So he's got power and money. When he dates women, he doesn't go for prom queens or cheerleader types. He dates the waitress or the secretary from the office pool. Someone he can control and impress. But it's shallow and he'll never marry them because of his own dim view of his self.

All the bluster of a bully, and all the self loathing of a fat little kid in grade school.

Voices of Inspiration

As I mentioned, I don't do impersonations, BUT I hear and picture people that can add a facet or piece to this character. For Lawrence I picture a couple of people. The late great James Gandolfini for his physicality and ability to be light on his feet. Lawrence is heavy, but after a lifetime of heavy, he's strong enough to hold himself up and move. The other image in my head is Robert DeNiro. DeNiro has one character, he does it well and even makes fun of it in some movies, but it's always the same. I sum it up with the phrase, "You...."

Say it while pointing.  "You... all of you.." It's an attitude. He is commanding the room, looking at each person in the eye and making a promise, not a threat.


Lawrence Garfinkle is from the Bronx. Now I'll admit, I have a slight handicap here as my family is from South Boston. Good old Fackin Southy. A Bronx accent and a South Boston accent are different in many ways, and similar in others. For the longest time I thought that Archie Bunker was from Southy.

The subtleties are in vowels, Southy is Cah, Dawla, Cahfee.  Bronx is Caw. Smawt. Dahlah. Cawfee.

Not over the top, it has to sound natural. But if you say Cah, when you should have said Caw, that audience member from Flatbush is going to catch it and call you on it later. Work on it. Get someone to listen to you and call you on it. It helps that I have a lot of New York friends to call on.


For me, I have to get a character into my bones, into my muscle memory. A troll for example is top heavy and generally needs something to lean on. A police sergeant is chest out, hand on the butt of a nightstick or barton, head up and jaw set.

Lawrence I see in some ways as a boxer. After growing up fat, he took some boxing lessons because he read an add in the back of a comic book, you know the one, some guy kicking sand in his face, so he goes and gets buff. Only Lawrence never changed his eating habits, he still consumes way to many donuts. But he stands balanced, never really resting on his heels and never caught with both hands in his pockets. If he relaxes for a second or two, he may put his left hand in a pocket, but only for a moment. I think Lawrence could throw a few mean punches, and in reality would throw you down a set of stairs and keep hitting you once you passed out. Again, the anger of being bullied as a kid.

Now mind you, NONE of this is in the script. It's all backstory that I create to develop a character. Which brings me to the next point...

Make it Your Own

I don't imitate, I get inspired by others. And I even go so far as to NOT see someone else's version of a character. If I know of a show or movie of the show I'm doing. I DO NOT go see it till afterward. The reward is hearing, "I liked your take on the character." or "You made it your own."

When you imitate you get drawn into someone else's choices. And you run the risk of getting compared to that persons work and character creation. It may happen, I have heard that I remind people of Jackie Gleason or once "A young Nathan Lane." (Comparisons I can live with!) But you don't want to get stuck doing something that a director or person has heard a hundred times before.

Give the character dimension in your own mind, it's all make believe, but don't give it a short shrift, know who this troll/elf/cowboy/office worker/tailgunner is. It works for me.


So I visualize, write down details, create a history, and get physically into a character. When Lawrence Garfinkle walks out on stage, he is the sum of his past and the people I know. He wants to be attractive, but damn, donuts taste so freakin good. Want one?

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Art of Faffing

Faffing : "The excessive use of time for nonsense activities.

Stop faffing around already, and please provide to me my work objectives." ~ Urban dictionary

FaffCon started a couple years ago once Amy Snively (rhymes with Lively!) and some friends realized that it's the conversations in a hallway or after the convention closes that are the real value in attending. Why not create an "un-convention" and create the agenda once people arrive and express what they want to talk about.

My Fourth FaffCon

I’ve been attending FaffCon since FaffCon3. I remember driving to Hershy PA and sitting in this room of strangers wondering if I just stumbled into an Amway meeting or was about to hear about the power of positive thinking.

Well, in some ways, that’s true. FaffCon is a boost to my business every year, it re-enforces the idea, or belief that I’m good at VO work and I can make money and perhaps even eventually do this full time.

Hey, it’s a great goal! I love the work!

So FaffCon6 was in San Antonio Texas this round. I had not been to San Antonio since I left it in the rear view mirror when I left basic training at Lackland AFB back in 1984. I flew via United Airlines, and let me just say, if that seat cushion is meant to be a floatation device... I'm screwed. A two hour flight and my tukus was sorus.

Seeing San Antonio was great though and it was fun to stroll the riverwalk, and dig into some Tex-Mex.

Why go EVERY year?

Why do I go to FaffCon? As I mentioned, it’s my annual trek to refuel, to learn more and add to the knowledge of this work we call Voice Over. People leave their ego at the door and they share, they help, they push. Each person in the room wants to be better and wants you to be better at what you do as well. I mean that part. The people in that room are rooting you on! Ok, they may not give you their client list, but they will guide you in the direction of building your own. 

Faffers have turned into a family for me. People I can call, people I trust and to be honest, people I love. And not in the sappy hallmark card way of saying “I love them” but a real feeling of connection and commitment.

If Amy Snively (rhymes with LIVELY) calls and asks a favor, I’m all in. I'm not just an attendee or even someone who adds to the conversation, I help sponsor this event. Even if I couldn’t make it for whatever reason, I would make sure to toss Amy and crew some extra cash to help out. I would take a bullet for this lady.

FaffCon is so worth it.

Take Sessions - Lead Sessions

First and for most, I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Peter O'Connell for helping out in a session that I gave on character voices. Amy had asked in the opening circle for us to do something different, and the past two FaffCon's I spoke about my adventure of building a home studio. This time I would talk about something that I do, and share my technique for developing a character and voice. I was firkin nervous about that! I asked Peter's help and he was able to dive in and bring the conversation into the room vs me just blabbing on for 50 minutes. Peter knows how to work a room, I owe him big time.

FaffCon is an un-conference where you can have a session with only one person attending. It's about sharing ideas and methods to further the career. I'm sure you're getting the point by now if you've stuck through this diatribe this far.

Connections, Connections, Connections

One of the goals for me this year (and last year) was to amp up my marketing, I can guarantee you that I will be sitting down with Celia Siegel and talking about how to get more people to know who I am. I will be calling Cliff Zellman down in Dallas for some guidance on my Automotive demo as well as my commercial demo. I will be going through all my notes and will endeavor to join a stand up group to keep the pressure on.

It's a lot!

There were quite a few new Faffers at FaffCon6, and it felt good to sit and talk with people about the business and ins and outs. It's great being HELPFUL! I learn, and I share. The "Rising tide lifts all boats" mentality.

Only Once a Year

I know I was happy that FaffCon went from twice a year, to once a year... initially. Seeing these people only once a year is not enough. Which is why I pop into NYC as often as I do to see friends. If you get a chance to attend a FaffCamp or FaffCon, do it. Seriously. Sit by your computer on registration day and make it happen. It's education with a firehose, and will take a few weeks to sift through everything that hits you on a weekend, but it is SO WORTH IT! 

Final Thoughts

I can go into detail with what I learned in various sessions, and I'll share some things in following posts to keep you up to date. But here's the skinny.

As a Voice Actor, you're often alone in a booth, alone in a studio, it can be an isolated lifestyle with only a internet connection to people. The great thing about FaffCon is that it is a safe place to be with fellow talent and you can be open and honest about what roadblocks are in front of you. And then, people actually HELP you get over those hurdles. FOR REAL! IN PERSON! THEY UNDERSTAND!

I don't know how I was so lucky to be guided to FaffCon, but wild horses won't keep me away. I'll see you there.

The struggle with PASSION

I'm interested in so many things. Building things, taking things apart, up-cycling, acting, singing, nice dress shoes...


So I've always struggled with the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I never had an answer to that, and to this day, I really still don't.

First of all, what does "Grow up." mean? In my brain, and I'm willing to bet in yours, I'm still 23 or 24, even though I am now twice that age. I have more responsibilities, own a house (well, the bank does anyway) run my own freelance company and work a day job at a respectable college.

Is that grown up?

Being an actor and a voice talent is where I've ended up, not through any pursuit of passion, it just all fell into place. My technical background of theater brought me to radio, radio brought me into staged readings, then I was on stage in a show then voicing commercials. It all flowed.


I recently saw an interview with Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. And I realized, that my varied background, has allowed me to succeed in what I do TODAY. And today, will help me move into what tomorrow brings.

Passion can grow from success.  For me, curiosity feeds an interest, that interest will feed some research and perhaps even an experiment. The worst that can happen is that I'll fail. But at least I TRIED.

Do What You Love?

I've heard from a couple sources, to "Follow your passion, and the money will follow." or, (and this is my worst problem) "Focus, and become the best at that one thing."

There are not enough hours in the day to do what I want to do! People who say, "I'm bored." I do not understand.


Ok, back to passion. It's a struggle! It's hard for me to define what I'm "Passionate" about. I like good wine. Enjoy a motorcycle ride through the fall colors but I'm not a sports fan. I don't follow any sport or team to get all cranked up about. Pirates win! Pirates lose! Meh, who cares. I do like superhero movies and I'm a big Star Wars fan, but am I willing to get into an argument about Jar-Jar? Nah. Me no think so. Is that passion?

As I get better and better at this voice and acting thing, I can see how I can begin to focus on it more and more. But to have it be my one thing? I can see how if I focused, I could become spectacular at it.

Oy.  Can't do it. Focus on ONE THING? but what about the rest of the cool things?! Where would I be today if I focused on just one thing? Who knows?!

But I'm willing to bet, I wouldn't be as happy. And I really do love a well polished pair of dress shoes, and I'm a big fan of shoe trees. (Don't even start me talking about watches... oooo a Submariner!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What I build in my "SPARE" time.

Ok ok... I DON'T have spare time. But once the brain is in gear, it's hard to stop. So when I do have a moment, I avoid the interewebz and go build something.

My latest creation is a speaker and amp built out of a cello.

It has a 100 watt blueTooth amp so I can run it from my iPhone as soon as I enter my office.

The whole build is here.

It sounds pretty decent actually and looks wicked pissa cool. (to my family from Southy!)

I'm already toying with the idea of creating a short stage piece using it somehow. Perhaps a short story of a cello player and a small napkin in the breeze...


If you want something done, ask someone who's busy.  Wait till you see the next great thing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where ya been!?

You wake up and IT'S AUGUST!

sheesh. So I started the summer theater season at the Mac-Haydn Theater playing the part of Mortimer, the man who always dies, in The Fantasticks.  And told the theater that I was really planning on doing just one show this summer, then going to go sailing, fishing, and work on the house.


The director, John Saunders, mentions to me, "Would be interested in doing another show?"

Fantasticks wraps, our A Cappella group is on a mini tour, and I get this email. Would I consider playing Thenardier in Les Miserables.

Um. YES!

So there ya go, three weeks of rehearsal and a two week run, 8 shows a week...

When the sewers run with blood....

Then right into rehearsals for an indie movie short. Who needs sleep?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Details Details Details...

So the room sounds great. It really does. People walk in, we shut the door and there's a "Wow" factor. It's that cool.


You knew there was going to be a but, right?

The audio I was capturing, didn't sound 100%.  It was time to fine tune, get into the details of it.

The More You Listen

It's true, the more you listen, the more you hear. It was time to bring in a second set of ears and start tweaking some details. This is the hard stuff, you're ears much like your eyes will start to glaze over after a while due to fatigue. I brought in my brother-in-law Fred.

We could insert the usual "Brother-in-Law" jokes here, but I trust Fred and I trust his ears.  He's the Front Of House engineer (FOH) for Infinity Hall in Norfolk CT. (voted one of the best music venues) he takes care of his ears and if something sounds strange, he'll say so.

So I played what I was recording. It didn't sound bad, it just wasn't up to my standards. (me being all snobby...)

Start Testing Gear

The first thing to test, was the microphone.  I used my road kit as a test bed. PreSonus USB into a MacBook Pro laptop using a Mike Joly modded Rode NT1a. Good clean sound. I then swapped out the Rode for my Neumann u87ai.

Different levels, the Rode had a much hotter signal, but overall, once you normalize both of them, they sounded the same. So the microphone was ok. We tested the cable, it checked out too.

Onto the preamp. My suspicion was that the vintage Mullard tube had given up the ghost. But we started with various settings and found in the headphones, that things sounded ok as well. We bypassed the preamp (ART MPA Gold with vintage tubes) and went straight into the Mackie mixer. That sounded fine too.

So what the heck was going on?

A little more tuning on the preamp found the HPF, high pass filter, was turned up more than it should. We basically turned that off and the Neumann sounded brighter. The next thing we noticed is that the Mackie's preamps were up a little, so we turned those off. Clearer.

Still More

But when listening through the Yamaha NS10s monitor speakers, it sounded like a phase issue. I double checked the wiring, ground to ground, hot to hot, no mistakes there. The cables all checked out. I use Hafler amps to power the Yamahas, and I pushed it from stereo to mono on the back of the amp and the sound changed.

It shouldn't have.  We were listening to a mono file, on one channel panned center. Telling the amp to be stereo or mono should have made no difference. A couple more pushes on that button and it cleaned up and sounded right.

DUST! Seriously. The dirty connection was causing a weird phase issue and canceling out some of the audio.


And we also retired my 30 year old AKG K240 headphones. When we compared them to a set of Sony MDR7505's... the AKG sounded like mud.  They had served me well, but time marches on.

At this point, it was wine-O-clock. The recordings sound better. I'm happier. Thanks Fred!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Don't Buy Cheap Tools!

Simon, dial the way back machine to 1982....

Back in High School I worked with a genius, he taught French during the day and ran a company called Sound Dynamics at night. He was a true teacher. Pierre Paquin. He taught me volumes about sound and sound re-enforcement.

One night we took a trip to visit a friend of his in Cambridge MA, because he was selling a Reel to Reel recorder. A Technics. I had no idea how good a deal I was getting and bought it right there with the recommendation from Pierre.

This machine has been following me around the country for over thirty years now. I take good care of it, and it takes good care of me. The best part is how well it takes care of tape!

When I worked for Berkshire Broadcasting, we had some Revox decks that were brutal to tape. If you hit that stop button, it would STOP cold. You could almost hear the tape stretch. Bah.

But back on topic.

I have a method to my madness. I don't buy cheap tools. Cheap tools don't last and they break when you need them most. Can you imagine buying the cheapest saw blade you can find? There it is, whirling along at several thousand RPM and it decides to disintegrate... good plan.

Same goes with my audio gear. Solid gear. Mackie mixers, Pro-Tools, Neumann, MOTU. With good cables and proper connections. When I go into my studio to record, everything should work. No "fiddle with this till it comes on..." type of idea.

Invest in Yourself

This life is too short for half-hearted attempts at things. Go big, or go home. Seriously. If your goal is to be a voice actor, don't get the cheapest tools you can find and expect to have a positive experience. Now don't go out and buy a Neumann U87 and put in your closet recording space without really treating that room properly, you need to invest wisely. But don't buy junk. And when you need a piece of gear 30 years later. That freaking thing fires up and works and gets the job done. Period. Thank you Pierre!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Magic of Marketing

Ok. I have an agent. James Pentaudi of Albany talent is one of the people that represents me and gets me work. Great guy, been with him for years and love working with him.

He books me for an on-camera shoot at an Albany studio doing pharmaceutical training material. I'm to play a patient with an unknown stomach ailment. I get the script a week early, it's a couple of paragraphs so I memorize it before the shoot, bring in a couple of oversized shirts as requested, show up ten minutes early, get my make-up done and I'm ready to rock.

Here's the fun part, the actors roster of who is going to be in for these several days of shooting is a long list of names. First and last. Except me.

I'm Monk. That's all it said. 2:30PM, playing the part of Frank Heller, Monk.  When I walked onto the set, the director yells "MONK!" The producer greets me as well. I handed off to the associate producer one of my Monk mugs, and she makes sure everyone knows that she has her own personnel Monk mug.

I am by no means a big fish in this sea, but name recognition, and friendly greetings and working with the same company a couple times on bigger and bigger jobs.... Nice.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Studio Build 28

I can not believe the last time I updated this project was in October 2012!

I have been able to sneak some work in here and there between theater productions. (ah the limelight!) So I figured I would give an update.

Saturday after Valentines Day, we got some LIGHTING DONE! No kidding, I have been using all sorts of standby lights, work lights and such to light up the space. A friend of mine donated some nice lights and I had a Saturday off with no rehearsals on the schedule, so I got busy!

These are the lights above the mix/edit desk. A nice warm glow, that's easy on the eyes.

Here is the other large image/sound absorption panel to the left of the desk.

Here is the door, when closed. The latch fits in the "Hatch" of the rocket ship. (sorry for the blur, must be too much coffee..)

Behind the mix desk are a couple of "Producer" chairs, nice comfortable chairs to listen to a mix or playback. The Rocket Lamp is created from an old theater light, now rewired as a glowing mood light.

And of course the microphone that started this all, my u87ai sitting next to a flatscreen monitor for script use.

Overall I would have to say the room is done, the lighting was the last major thing to tackle. I have a small display case to build for various props and such, (Rocketeer Helmet, lightsaber, raygun...) plus other cool things to art up the joint.

It's a great sounding space, dead quiet and comfortable to work in. Time slips by. I have to give a universe shout out to Mike Sommer who helped with some of the design, his drawings and guidance were what I needed to jump in and tackle this project. There will be a plaque on the wall thanking him!

All that's left to do is wire in a "Recording In Session" light that Scott Nilson gave me. The switch for that is in, I just have to finish the install outside the door.

Smile soon...