In Posty McPostface I described how performing in a play in front of 2,000 people was the moment that I found my purpose in life.
That’s half true.
That was the moment. The time on the stage and glow of mingling with the audience afterwards. I’d never been that happy or free before.
With 35 years of hindsight I can say that what I discovered that night was an art form I knew I wanted to participate in for all of my life in some capacity. Any capacity. And up until that night I had only Acted in plays before live audiences and that was the extent of my understanding of the art form.
And so I was being accurate when I described that I had found a reason for existing.
But… I also was writing that from the perspective of chronology.
Because if I thought I had found my reason to exist on that night under the lights with the thundering applause ringing in my ears…
It paled in comparison to my first time walking through the hushed doors into the quiet, quiet studio.
This is the story of:
The Happiest Ten Year Old Boy in the History of All Humankind Forever and Ever and Also Any Other Planets That Have Humanoids Because That Counts Too Since None of Them Will Ever Be As Happy As That Little Blonde Kid on That November Afternoon in 1987
It’s… a working title.
I’ll come up with something better later.
I remember it was an afternoon recording session.
Which would make sense since it was episode…
They did episode 001 that morning. Missed it by 3 hours.
I couldn’t sleep the night before.
I remember being tired that day.
And because my folks were working, the woman who ran the children’s theater came to pick me up at school.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. YOU MEAN I GET TO GET OUT OF SCHOOL AND GO DO A RADIO SHOW?!? DURING SCHOOL HOURS?!?
Maybe California doesn’t suck…
Things are starting to look up for lil’ DaveyBoy–
Good god, why would I write something like that?
JFC. I’m sorry everybody.
I don’t know where that came from.
Feeling weirdly giddy reminiscing one of my favorite memories of all time.
I promise I won’t do that again.
I’d like to apologize to any readers I may have made cringe. And I’d also like to apologize to my children and ancestors for bringing shame to their good name by wrecking it with my lack of creativity.
Sorry everyone. I’ll do better.
I remember the mountains and hills passing by as her little red sedan cruised through the freeways. Open highways. No traffic. The sun seemed sunnier that day. The palm trees seemed cool for once. The smog a little less gray. The freeway graffiti a little less profane. In the distance… the skyline of Los Angeles silhouetted against a bright blue sky promising even greater future adventures.
And somewhere behind me, all my classmates are doing math.
At some point it was mentioned I would get paid.
I GET PAID, TOO?!?
Most 10 year olds don’t understand the value of money. But, I always worked and made money. I was a paper boy at 10. Before that, I ran lemonade stands and my friends and I in Texas came up with all sorts of money making schemes. I mentioned at one point that we put on a circus and sold tickets? YEAH WE SOLD TICKETS AND GOT COLD HARD CASH, BRO. MADE $18 LIKE A BOSS. INVESTED IT IN CRYPTOCURRENCY AND LOST EVERYTHING LIKE A BOSS, TOO. (maybe not that last part)
So, wait a minute… you’re telling me I get to go do this thing that I really, really like to do…
AND I get to get out of school…
AND I GET PAID?!?
Could this day get any better?
Well, lil’ DaveyBoy™… it sure as fuck is about to.
Admittedly, I was gonna try and keep the f-bombs outta this part of the story but sometimes I have to cave to a punchline. I hope you’ll forgive me.
We arrived to a largely empty parking lot.
And went in to a largely empty building. This session was not taking place at the Pomona facility. This must’ve been the facility prior. And my first sensory memory is that it was empty and everything was dark. And quiet. Very quiet.
I mentioned this weird isolation phenomena that has accompanied my experience. It continued here as I happened to have been in both buildings while this organization moves. People keep telling me there’s a company here or something but I’ve yet to see evidence of it.
I don’t recall where in the bowels of the building we were but I distinctly remember coming around a corner and being led down a hallway. Up ahead a solid looking door. And to my right before that door, the sound booth crowded with all these big people I didn’t know.
And folks. My mind was completely blown. It was like looking into the cockpit of a spaceship. So many buttons and dials and knobs and meters and little blinking lights. And everybody is working in the hushed tones of people familiar with each other and comfortable in the work they’re doing. Twisting knobs and moving slides like they’ve done it a thousand times and then suddenly the booming sound of an actor’s voice being piped through a speaker. They’re looking through a large glass window and the actor’s are in the room behind the solid door at the end of the hall. I can’t quite see through the window.
I see a familiar face in the sound booth. I remember him from the audition. And that guy too, I think. One of them hands me a script. “You’re playing Craig.”
I look at the script.
“Odyssey USA: Episode 002- Life of the Party”
And then I’m whisked away back down the hall away from that mysterious solid door at the end of the hall– I want to know what is happening in there!
And we walk around a few more corners and we enter a small booth with a sound proof window looking into the recording studio. This must’ve been an isolation booth? Or maybe an audience booth? My chaperone and I sat down in front of the soundproof window. As I start flipping through the pages of the script.
There we were, looking at the recording studio in front of us. We were the back wall. I remember very soft, golden lighting that seemed to make everything glow. It was a room of shadows and then these warm lights illuminating a table that was pushed up against the sound proof glass window that the engineers were in on the wall across from us.
The table had 5 microphone stands emerging from the center like a spider on it’s back. And we could watch and hear what they were doing. There were these old guys. And they were flipping pages and writing things down and telling jokes to each other and then somebody in the booth would say something and everyone would get serious and focus… and then… the voices of these men who had just moments earlier seemed so casual and jovial immediately sprang into character.
I was terrified. I was exhilarated. I was gobsmacked. I was soaking in every little thing everyone was doing. I couldn’t blink. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
And then they stopped and went back to playing with their scripts and chatting and THEN THEY DID IT AGAIN. This seems so low stress. It seems so fun.
I want to be in that room doing the thing those old guys are doing.
Finally, the time had come.
We left the observation room and walked back around. I’m nervous. Clutching the loose-leaf script in my hands. I walk down that hallway toward the solid door.
The soft carpet feels like walking on clouds.
I pass the control room and the 10,000 blinking lights and I get to the solid door. Maybe somebody walked me into the room. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to open the door myself.
And then it happened. The solid door opened.
There’s a sound that solid studio doors make in well-soundproofed studios.
“Whoosh”. It’s a very specific “whoosh”. There is no other “whoosh” like it.
That whoosh… that whoooooooooooooooosh… is my happy place.
Probably my 3 favorite sounds are my kids laughing, a David Gilmour guitar solo, and recording studio door “whoosh”.
I walk into the room. Seated at the table– if memory serves– are these two older men. Their backs are to me. I have to walk around the table to see their faces. If the table was set up like the bottom half of a clock the seats were from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock. There was an old man, kind of portly, with white hair and half rimmed glasses sitting in the 3 o’clock seat.
That would be the seat he would occupy every time I would ever be in the studio with him for the next 7 years.
I sat down. Across from the two old guys. I’m in the 7 o’clock seat. Another kid was at my left in the 9 o’clock seat.
I am so blown away that it’s hard to process it all. DO NOT SCREW UP. DON’T MAKE A MISTAKE.
And then the man at the 3 o’clock seat looked at me and smiled.
“Hi, I’m Hal.”
And the guy next to him in the 5 o’clock seat.
I feel like there was one other…
“I’m Will.” (in the 6 o’clock seat)
But he may have come in later. It’s hard to recall how that episode played out. Will might have come in later in the scenes.
But I remember Hal and Walker.
Hal especially. I was instantly drawn to him.
Oh. I’m sorry. I’m forgetting there’s people reading this who have no idea who these people are.
Hal and Walker and Will are: Hal Smith and Walker Edminston and Will Ryan.
And there’s no point in my even trying to describe who they are to you. You know these guys. You’ve probably seen/heard their work hundreds if not thousands of times in your life. Rather than explain… I’ll let IMDB do it for me.
Respect the body of work and the DECADES of work of these three men.
And please… take your time scrolling all the way thru Hal’s. That is a show business resume that is unparalleled. All of these men were legends in show business. But especially Hal. He was on another level. I could feel it. Everyone threw their respect to him. He was king of the room that much was clear.
And the very first thing he did was make me laugh and take the tension out.
It’s one of my favorite tactics I learned in dealing with people. Make ’em laugh. Be kind. Smile. Treat a scared 10 year old with respect. This old man was treating me like an equal. I was not beneath him. And this was my first time!
It’s a lesson I’ve taken with me my whole life. And it guides my collaborative philosophy. And I learned it across the table from a 70 year old show business legend at the ripe old age of 10 1/2 years old. No one is beneath you.
This man could do things with his voice that I didn’t realize were possible.
And then… he started doing voices I KNEW. And to meet the man who basically performed 92% of every cartoon character ever created was mind blowing.
If you want to understand the kind of juice this man had in the industry, one of his credited roles is as the horse Philippe in the 1991 animated film Beauty & the Beast. That’s right… the horse. And they gave him a shared credit title card before the credits fully roll! This was not a horse that had dialogue. This was horse sounds. And he gets full billing. Go ahead. Check out the end credits on youtube. 1:57 mark. That does not happen in Hollywood unless you are a god. This is a stingy industry that does not like to give out credit. To score that credit for that little work is straight up OG RESPECT. A living legend.
And if that sounds silly, one time, years later at a session in Burbank, Hal picked up a trash can and held it to my ear and I closed my eyes and then performed the horse and I swear to all that is holy there was a fucking horse next to me. This man had unnatural talent.
He could make his eyes wiggle. Like… wiggle. I’ve never seen anyone else do this in my life. This was a man who was a true blue collar entertainer in the most classic sense.
A thing I’ve struggled with over the course of my career is the idea that people not in the industry have of actors. And when I tell people I’m an actor there’s a certain, I dunno, disdain people have for actors. As though we all are a bunch of narcissists desperate for attention. I come from a very different tradition.
I learned about show business from the feet of the blue collar Voice Over crowd. The no-bullshit-seriously-and-dangerously-talented crowd. You have to bring it. There’s no space for nonsense. An hour in studio is EXPENSIVE. Studios and producers want to get the useable takes done fast and efficiently. It’s a side of show business most people will never see. It’s a very insular and small group of people. They don’t put up with ego. They get the job done. And so when I tell people I’m an actor, I mean it in this sense. The blue collar career guy. The folks that need the union pensions and healthcare cuz they aren’t making the big paychecks.
Marlon Brando is once quoted as saying, “Never confuse the size of your paycheck with the size of your talent.”
The crowd I learned from WAS the talented crowd that never got the large paychecks. These are people so talented it makes you cry knowing you’ll never have that ability.
And what I didn’t fully appreciate until much later, was that this particular assemblage of talent that the AIO team had cultivated, was really the heart of this part of the Hollywood Industry. These folks aren’t stars. I mean, yeah, they can be. They have been. They have the skillsets. But, these were the guys who had carved out and invented the voice over niche in Hollywood for 40-50 years. People with loooooong careers. The dependable actors that the studios can rely on. These are the guest stars and day players that showed up in every sitcom for half a century. You don’t know their name but you know their faces and voices.
Nobody is gonna recognize them. They can make their art and get paid and have careers and live relatively normal lives. No ego. No paparazzi. No tantrums. No stomping off set if they don’t get their ways. These are the worker bees of the Acting Industry. Titans. The ones who show up and get it done and do it better than anybody. The guys that Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney trust to get the work done.
I don’t mean those companies trusted those guys, I mean William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and Walt Disney the actual people actually knew and trusted these guys to deliver their content to the world. These are the guys smoking cigarettes in some green room in the back of a recording studio in all the non-glamorous parts of town. The recording studio that has so much expensive equipment that the exterior of the building is nondescript so everyone never notices it. You don’t realize half a dozen of the world’s greatest VO artists are behind that door making your favorite cartoon as you walk down the sidewalk in North Hollywood or Burbank.
I was a sponge.
I soaked up everything. I was smart enough to know who the people were who knew what they were doing. I never had an ego when it came to learning things. Watch the experts and do what they do. Whatever Hal and Walker and Will did… that’s what I do. They mark their scripts like this? I’ll do that, too. They talk into the microphone like this and angle their mouth this way when they make these sounds? That’s what I’ll try to do.
And finally. At some point. The introductions are over and it’s time to record.
And it quickly became clear that something wasn’t quite working. And a couple scenes in– hell maybe it was the first scene– a voice from the control booth comes over the speaker and tells me and the other kid to switch parts.
Knife to the gut.
I’ve done something wrong. I’m not entirely sure. The one thing I didn’t want to do I’ve done. I screwed up! But I don’t know how! I feel sick. I don’t want these cool old guys to be mad at me.
And then we started reading it with me playing this new character called Freddy. Freddy is not the star of the episode, and I’m experiencing for the first time in my career being recast. It hurt. No lie.
I don’t want to be the star of an episode because I think I deserve to be or for ego reasons, I’ve always liked being the star of the episode or show because it gives you more time to have fun Acting. You have more to do. One of the things that sucks about this art form is that you rarely get to do it and most of the time it’s a line here or there or background work or chorus work. I like to be in the middle of story from beginning to end because it’s fun to do the whole arc of the story! And now I’d lost that opportunity. It would mean less face time with these cool guys.
And then when we read it… it made sense. As much as I hated it, the other kid had the better personality for the jokester of Craig. And I’m a better fit as Freddy. And even though I had less to do, I understood the decision the booth had made. And watching the old guys, you just roll with the changes.
And so… I did my best. I rolled with it.
And I hoped it was enough to make everyone happy.
And a new thing I was learning about this process was that I have very limited information on what’s being discussed on the other side of the sound proof window. I’m fascinated by whatever is happening in there, but out here with these old guys… that’s where I want to be!
If I had been granted the powers of god that day, I would have bent time and space and made it so that session never ended.
I would still be sitting in that room across from Hal and Walker and Will flipping pages and cracking jokes and doing another take.
It was the day of my life that this new skillset I had discovered only weeks prior, found the right medium. I had found an artistic home in this work.
I belong here. Doing this. How do I do more of this?
I knew after the end of that recording session, that there was enough in that process to make me happy for life. This is what I want do more than anything on earth. Plays are fun… but this is way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.
And I was hooked. For life.
Ruined actually. It’s not fair to give a 10 year old one of the most amazing professional experience with living legends and expect them to ever be the same again.
And then… it was over. We got to the last page. And this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience came to an end. And I wanted to soak up every moment of it, cuz it’s probably never gonna happen again. I didn’t want to leave. This was bliss.
The long drive home all I could think was, “I hope I get to do something that cool again some day.”