***Dear Friends and Readers,
I wanna say “thank you” for sticking with me this long.
It’s weird to let go of something I’ve held onto for so long and give it to total strangers who I can’t see. Terrifying actually.
And I’m realizing that there’s been this tightness in my chest for the last 10 days or so that’s been aching and causing me some discomfort. At first my hypochondria immediately assumes this is some cancer or heart attack or alien hatching from within… but it’s becoming clear to me that it’s Anxiety about these final half dozen posts of this volume. The last two in particular were not fun to write or publish.
And I don’t think this feeling is going to go away until I finish this section.
Also… autumn and winter are coming. Which have been historically problematic…
Which means I’m going to try to bump this section out as fast as a I can to rip the damn bandaid off.
I’m going to sprint to the finish line here and what that will mean for the audience is that the quality may slightly suffer. Perhaps more mistakes or confusing narrative hiccups. If things like that occur or it’s difficult to follow lemme know in the notes so I can go back on later passes and clean up.
Also you may have noticed that the last couple posts have dinged your email inbox more than once. This is also a consequence of trying to just gut through this as fast as I can so I can breathe again. I’ve realized that there were formatting errors between the laptop version of this and the phone version of it.
FWIW, I write this on a laptop and the negative space I’m utilizing is best viewed that way in this draft. (Next draft will be more phone specific) And so in my rush to finish these I’ve needed to make some changes and that means posts resends to all of you multiple times and I hope you will forgive the sloppy intrusion in your inboxes as I wrestle with execution down the stretch here.
Also… I would like to express from the core of my soul how indebted I am to you all. You have been such a beautiful audience during this effort. I can not imagine trying to write this to a hostile crowd. The love and kindness has been the crutch I’ve leaned on when I want to delete the whole thing.
Let’s do this.***
During the Summer of Hell an Ultimatum is given to me about what to do with the rest of my life now that I’m a High School
That material is for the next post.
But a piece of the Ultimatum is I manage to negotiate to have my parents finally help me make my first Voiceover Demo Tape.
The main reason I had agreed to test out of high school was in the hopes that my parents would finally stop stonewalling me about finishing high school before I could start my career.
Well… I FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL just like a Strong Willed Child™ would do.
And now they legitimately can not argue for that point anymore.
But their Ultimatum is also designed to not really move things in the direction I wanna go. More on that later.
And I don’t have money, and because I’m so heavily medicated I’m not allowed to drive… so I’m going to need my parents to pony up the cash and to have one of them take me to the studio to make the Demo.
My parents who probably love me, relented.
I did graduate high school after all.
If you are trying to get into the Voiceover Industry you will need a Demo Reel. When you’re booking gigs you usually take the best parts of your work and cut them together so an agent or casting director can see your range and skill set and what kind of character work you’re trying to book.
When you’re new to the industry you have to stage all of these scenes and pieces of work and create them from scratch because you have no body of work.
Now I have a body of work that is extensive, but it’s mostly me playing one character. And the kind of work I’m likely to book will require us to construct completely new material which means booking a studio session and hiring a professional to make the reel.
I had been begging my parents to do this for awhile.
And we just happened to be recording at the Marc Grau Studios where I’m a regular in the Lounge of Legends™ and Marc Grau is himself a Legend in the world of Voice Over and specifically Voice Over Demo reels.
Marc has probably made 10,000 Voice Over Demos in his life time. He’s worked with literally every major talent ever. He has his fingerprints on everyone’s careers for decades.
Marc is a seasoned professional who is unflappable. Seen it all.
^ really want to emphasize this point.
The very first person we talked to about doing a Voice Over Demo was to ask Corey Burton what he recommended. When in doubt, ask the best in the world.
And Corey recommended that we work with Marc and have him produce the reel.
This is huge.
We need look no further than the people and places we already know.
And while I haven’t yet worked with Marc in studio, it’s his studio the AIO team books out and so Marc is always hovering and ensuring that we aren’t burning his life’s work to the ground. So I know him and am comfortable with him.
But there’s a caveat to Corey’s suggestion…
If we’re gonna hire Marc Grau and make Dave Griffin’s first Voice Over Demo Reel…
Corey wants to direct it.
What. Did. You. Just. Say?
Am I high?
Or did Corey Burton just offer to direct my first voice over demo?
How much do you charge Corey?
You seem expensive.
Corey is slightly offended that we would think he would charge us.
Have I had a massive head wound or am I dreaming or did
JUST OFFER TO DIRECT
MY VOICE OVER DEMO
This is the story of:
My Favorite Day on Planet Earth
(Still holds up 29 years later)
Corey Burton is a wonderful human and always treated me with tremendous kindness and respect. He and I bonded as much as an adult and a teen kid can in these hyper compressed studio sessions. He was the one person more than anybody else really encouraging me that I could make it in this industry.
I also think… and this is pure speculation here… pure speculation...
Corey started his career when he was the same age I was in this story– 17.
And I think he could tell that my family was not really supportive of the whole show business thing and so he was always very forthcoming in his comments to me. Where most people wouldn’t really compliment or pat on the head or help me to understand what level of skill I had, Corey talked about it with me like it was normal, because for him it IS normal to hang out with the world’s best voice over talent because HE IS the World’s Best Voice Over Talent. There’s nothing sexy or mysterious about this. The Lounge of Legends REGULARLY has the World’s Greatest Talent in it on any given day of the week.
Corey could tell my career would need a leg up if I was ever gonna have a chance.
I seem to recall him saying “I wouldn’t miss it for the world” and meaning it when he told us he would not be charging for his services.
In the midst of the Year from Hell this was a lifeline that gave me hope that all was not lost.
And Corey being Corey… he decides to really kick it up a notch.
If this is the moment of Dave’s debut in the industry, howabout we record the demo in the morning, have lunch, and then Corey will have his agent line up some back to back to back gigs so Corey can take me around and show me other studios and session types (looping/ADR, cartoon, etc) and introduce me to people.
Am I hallucinating this?
I can’t overstate this situation. Anything I write will undersell the magnitude of what’s about to happen.
My debut voice over demo reel is going to be personally engineered and produced by Marc Grau– a Legend in the industry– and it will be personally directed by Corey Burton who is also a Legend in the industry.
I will have one of the world’s best producers and one of the world’s greatest actors/performers working the sound booth on my DEBUT DEMO REEL.
This. is. not. an. accident.
I have earned this.
Despite nobody ever giving me one iota of data that I was good at this, now I know it. There’s no way Corey directs a voice over demo for anyone let alone a kid unless there’s merit to it. And keep in mind, Corey at that time was one of the busiest artists in the industry… for him to take a half day to help me for free means he’s blocking out time he could be making money.
For a 17 year old kid.
My one worry was that the WrongMedication™ was so heavy on me that it was killing my emotional range.
I couldn’t feel anything.
I was numb.
The day arrives and I am laser focused. I do not want to waste anyone’s time.
We arrive to the Marc Grau studios– me, my sibling(s), and my Religious Parent™.
We assemble in the main studio where I’ve been recording with the AIO team for the last few years. But now the studio is reserved for my session. This is another one of those moments where I’m completely in an element that is comfortable for me. I know this studio. I know Marc. I know Corey. I am confident and comfortable my only slight worry is the WrongMedication™ messing with my emotions and voice– the dry mouth and swallowing issues played havoc on my speech at times… not a good thing when you’re trying to make a living talking.
The goal was a basic commercial voice over demo.
An old-school standard voice over demo reel is 1-2 minutes in length and typically has 6-7 different pieces or snippets of different projects. And there’s different types of VO demo reel from commercial to theatrical to character work for cartoons to narration to industrials…
We need a half dozen different pieces of content to show off the range of this 17 year old kid.
Marc comes in and sets down a box filled with scraps of paper with dialogue that he’d squirreled away for decades. Old scripts. All these half and quarter sheet pages with 2-4 lines on them.
And for the first 30 minutes of the session, the 3 of us our working our way through this box of dialogue trying to find pieces that will fit the kind of content I’m looking for.
There was an MTV stinger. There was something about blue jeans. Soda. A change up piece to show a downtempo kinda heavy piece about why kids shouldn’t do drugs… etc.
We finally come up with 7 different 10-15 second faux commercial snippets to show some range.
Marc feels strong about our choices.
Corey feels strong about our choices.
And I trust these two guys.
So the box is put away and now it’s time to focus on the task at hand.
This is still the BeforeTimes where we were using the Reel-to-Reel Machine of Dwindling Time3000.
Marc grabs a fresh reel of recording tape and puts in the machine and runs the tape through the gears and dials and affixes it to the blank reel that will wind up the tape as it’s recorded.
I take my 6 or 7 scraps of dialogue into the performance booth that I have performed in dozens of times before.
And it’s at this point that I want to draw the Reader’s attention to a point I made way back in the first volume of content. Early on I mention how one of my fears had been messing up in studio, and that I learned if I wasn’t the one ruining takes… then I wasn’t the one ruining takes.
This meant that I had learned how to usually kill the performance the first time.
I mention this again in the posts about Earl Boen– a stone cold killer of scenes.
I learned at the feet of this crowd of artists who come in and MURDER performances the first time.
Now, while AIO had been recording in Marc’s studio, Marc himself wasn’t usually in the booth for those sessions. AIO brings their own crew. So Marc isn’t that familiar with my skill set.
I’m not thinking anything of this. I’m just concentrating on what order we want to do the 6 or 7 pieces for flow of recording. There’s nothing here that seems too challenging where I’m worried the WrongMedication™ may stumble me. But because I am worried that the meds could come into play… a thing I’m already plotting is how can I finish this as fast as possible before I suddenly get woozy, or my throat closes up, or the dry mouth from hell kicks in…
Through the soundproof glass I see Marc look at the tape deck to make sure it’s whirring properly… and then he looks at Corey… and the two exchange a brief word or two and then Corey presses the intercom button and everybody settles in to familiar rhythms.
“Alright David… whenever you’re ready.”
If the reel is meant to be 2 minutes… I was in that studio for less than 5 minutes.
Most of the pieces I did in the first take.
Corey made a note a couple times. Marc did once or twice.
And that was it.
Huh. That wasn’t as bad as I had been worried about. That was really easy!
And I’m enjoying this moment of total suffocating silence that I hardly ever get to enjoy by myself and here I have the whole performance booth all to myself but then… before I can enjoy it…
Right as I’m starting to feel really good for the first time in 9 months I see through the glass Corey say something to Marc.
Marc looks at the tape deck and then I see his hands fly up and grab his head like there’s a mistake or problem of some kind. And now the two of them are talking to each other with concerned looks on their face– something’s wrong.
But they’re not coming onto the intercom. WTF IS HAPPENING?!?
I grab my pages and bolt out of the performance booth and haul ass down the hallway to the sound booth and fling the door open in a panic–
Whoooooooooooosh… God I love that sound.
Marc actually seems bothered by something. And Corey is sheepishly nodding at whatever Marc is upset about.
“David I’m so sorry… I thought we were gonna be here for hours! I was trying to save tape.”
So? I don’t get it.
“I was saying to Marc what a shame it was we didn’t just record the whole session,” Corey said.
I’m still not understanding the problem.
“But we got the recordings right?”
And it’s at this moment in God’s Perfect Comedic Timing™ that Marc says the sentence that will ring in my head every day for the next 30 years as I use WIC checks and food stamps and struggle in back breaking poverty.
“If I had known that you were gonna knock all those pieces out back-to-back like that with very few re-directs and mostly in one take…. I would have recorded the whole session and sent the whole session to every casting director in the Industry and you would never go hungry a day in your life.“
And he said those words in front of my Religious Parent™.
Two Industry Legends were geeking out about what I had just done in that studio.
This is the moment I had waited for since that very first time I ever did a play with Joni Eareckson Tada. Hoping that someone would tell me finally whether or not I am good at this. With witnesses present.
And here is Marc Grau blown away and feeling terrible that he missed catching the lightning in the bottle. How frustratingly rare those moments are.
And we all agreed there’s no point in going in and doing it again to try to stage it. It was one of those in-the-moment kind of things that can’t be repeated– I mean… yeah I could do it again, but it would be too self aware and feel forced.
The moment was genuinely lost. And we had dynamite content already.
And from Marc and Corey’s perspective, the tragedy was that it meant my Demo Reel would be just a typical, professional Demo Reel.
BUT IF MARC HAD NOT PRESSED STOP… IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A LEGENDARY DEMO REEL.
The kinda reel that gets passed around to Grizzled Industry Veterans™ who have heard it all before and are unfazed but recognize when lightning strikes. “Carl! Wait’ll you hear this Demo Soandso just sent me. Listen to this kid knock this session out.”
I’ve waited my whole life for this kind of confirmation of my skillset.
I’m not just a good actor… I’m NextLevelGood™.
I just blew away two of the best in the Industry.
And my Religious Parent™ is sitting right here listening to it all.
See Parent? Don’t you see how good I am at this? I’m not delusional. This isn’t my mental illness
“If people could see how well a 17 year old kid takes direction and the poise… my god. I didn’t know. I- I was trying to save tape.”
^ more or less my memory of his words. Sure I butchered 90% of that.
Maybe finally my Religious Parent™ will stop being so obtuse about this– even the professionals know I’m good. Surely that’s got to make this parent happy, right? To know your kid is a phenom and will be able to make a living for himself. Wasn’t that what the worry about going to college and getting a real job… these guys just told you your kid is gonna make it in this industry. Isn’t this a good thing?
Corey and I cruising through the Hollywood Hills going to this session. That one.
The one session I remember most clearly was a looping session. An old Tales from the Crypt Episode with John Stamos was going to air on Fox and they needed Corey to be John Stamos and dub over the swear words.
And I get to sit here and watch my mentor Corey Burton be John Stamos. Corey is truly gifted so far beyond anything I can possibly do he’s just so fascinating to observe and learn from. And he’s completely humble. There’s not an ounce of ego in the guy. Corey is not show bizness. Corey is an artist.
There are a lot of really great and wonderful people in this Industry. People of moral character, kindness, compassion…
It’s easy to look at those who cause harm, especially when we’ve been fans of people for decades and then find out they’re monsters.
As a result people want to write off this industry as a bunch of godless evil morally corrupt assholes who want to hurt kids. And while those people exist… and they exist IN EVERY INDUSTRY… I was privileged to know a group of truly wonderful artists who were generous and loving and happy to see me get to the next level. I was like a nephew to these guys.
My favorite moment of that day is when we were headed back up the 101 towards Universal City. Corey had been living at the Universal Hilton because his home had been damaged in the Northridge Quake earlier that year.
And as we’re cruising up the freeway in his very normal Honda Civic (or whatever it was) he tells me about meeting Hal for the first time at his first gig.
And how one of the ways he could tell I had a future at this and must be somebody worthwhile was because of how he watched Hal treat me.
Hal and Corey had known each for over 20 years at that point and the story goes that at Corey’s very first gig Hal had been so impressed with him that he said loud enough for everyone in the studio to hear, “We’re going to be seeing a lot of you around here.”
Corey was 17 years old when Hal told him that.
And this was Corey’s way of paying it forward.
It was his turn to give a young talent a lift just Hal had given his career a boost by basically anointing Corey as the next big thing. This is a serious tradition. These halls are hallowed and hard to get into. And when you see someone who has “it”, that’s a rare thing to find. And for the true blue Artists, they see it as part of their sacred and solemn duty to help pass the torch.
Welcome to the family, kid.
You made it.
You earned it.
You’ll never go hungry.
By this point, I had chattered this poor man’ head off for the entire day. I wanted to know it all. What kinds of vocal warmups did Corey do on his way to the gigs? How did he get started? Who did he study with? Both of us lamenting how hard it was to quit smoking…. All of it.
Just push the needle as deep into my veins as you possibly can.
We arrive at the hotel and Corey is now treating the whole family to dinner.
Which my Religious Parent™ pushes back on. After all he’s done for David surely we can treat him to dinner.
No, no, no, no. This is important. This entire day is Corey’s gift to all of us. He’s trying to tell my Religious Parent™ that “this kid is worth it” and then the final bombshell drops.
Today is Corey Burton’s 39th Birthday.
This is Corey’s gift to himself.
He arranged the entire day without telling anybody it was his birthday because this was his birthday gift to himself.
To help give this kid an Industry leg up.
Religious Parent™ is shocked and insisting to buy Corey dinner and Corey is having none of it.
Hal helped him… he’s helping me.
Keep in mind we both had lost Hal just 7 months earlier and still grieving it– I still have not been able to cry about Hal due to WrongMedication™, btw.
But this matters to this man to try to help my career. You can sense his personal pride in wanting to really do something special and kind for me.
This was the greatest day of my life.
The day I knew. Beyond a shadow of doubt.
The day my Religious Parent™ could no longer deny it.
I’m radiating a happiness that is bursting through the WrongMedication™. Happiest I’ve been in years.
And on the long car ride home replaying every precious moment….
This was such a breath of joy after a year of literal hell.
The Greatest Day of My Life.
At some point my babble about how awesome my day was gets interrupted.
ReligiousDobsonReadingParent™ suddenly asks:
“What do you think Corey’s intentions are with you?”*
“Seems odd a grown man would want to hang out with a 17 year old kid.”*
What. the. fuck.
This is the takeaway of watching your son astonish two Grizzled Industry Veterans who literally told you how. good. I. was. and you learned that the greatest voice over artist of all time just dedicated his birthday to help your son’s career as a treat to himself and his connection to Hal Smith who was like a grandfather to me AND Corey? And all you can think is some crazy right-wing paranoia about Hollywood?
Then it hits me… wait… is that why the AIO people are giving Corey shit about smoking and me? Like does everyone think this guy is… grooming me?
And the calculus makes sense to Fricking Evangelicals™.
Corey is probably not a Christian (most of the veteran actors weren’t).
And a core trait of Fricking Evangelicals™ that makes them fuckers is their deep distrust of anyone who is not an evangelical.
And the idea of some Hollyweirdo taking an interest in your innocent kid…
This was how the Greatest Day of My Life
that Almost Saved the Worst Year of My Life
came to an end.
Sometimes others smash your mirror to pieces, too.
*This is a fictional account of the actual words spoken. This was the subtext.