Voice Acting Mastery

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This weekend I took a class on becoming a voice actor, with teacher and voice actor, Crispin Freeman. It was a pretty incredible experience. The two classes I took that day were Improv for Voice Actors, and Audition Analysis. It was a little trippy trying to put myself out there and surrender to a character. It was not something I could do easily. One of the interesting aspects of the class was that we used masks and played archtypes through what’s called Comedia Del’Arte. Once you put on the mask, you become that archtype and play that character from where their power center is focused. Sometimes the character leads with their head, or their knees. Some like Capitano lead with their chest, or others like female archtypes might lead with their hips. It was a fascinating experience.

The second class, Audition Analysis was also enjoyable. Where Improv worked on our right side of our brain, Audition Analysis worked on our more analytical skills. I learned quite a bit about the structure of playing a character, and especially learning how to play with a scene partner. There was one particular thing that fascinated me when working with a scene partner, and its so true to the relationships we have with people in real life. You as your character wants something out of your scene partner. It’s a pie in the sky desire. Where, for example, if your scene partner was bossy, you would want them to see that they are too obnoxious and want them to apologize for being as bossy as they are. Of course, the scene partner isn’t going to give you that response, but justify their reasons for being the way they are, as well as wanting you as a character to change the way you are to suit their needs. When both characters do get what they want out of their scene partner, then it becomes a love story between those characters, regardless if they are lovers, or friends (or even foes). It was an amazing and enlightening thing to learn from the class.

Now, do I consider myself an aspiring voice actor? After taking the class, I would say….No. I cannot act to save my life, and I don’t think I have the patience to learn how to be a better actor. BUT…I found the information I took from the class incredibly useful and helpful to my own animation studies. As an animator, I learned so much about character from an actors point of view. It made me contemplate things, not just in my personal life, but how I see myself as an artist and as a filmmaker. I can not thank Crispin enough for passing on his incredible wisdom about life and how it can apply to anyones craft. So what I am saying is, if you’re not a voice actor, but an aspiring filmmaker and artist, this is the class for you. You wouldn’t think so initially since the majority of students are there to learn to become voice actors. But it was an enlightening and engaging experience, and I can’t thank Crispin enough for what he showed us in those intensive eight hours.

Before entering the class, I listened to Crispin’s incredible podcast, Voice Acting Mastery, which helped prepare me for the class. Episodes 66 and 67 were especially inspiring, as the first dealt with…following your inspiration! And the second is about the secret to becoming a voice actor. I’ll let Crispin tell you what that that secret step is, but check out his website at http://www.voiceactingmastery.com and also check out his next classes. He offers classes in LA as well as Online classes, and for those students who have gone through his workshops, he offers Private Coaching as well. I highly recommend you check out this incredible and enlightening website.

Sons Of The Desert (1933) Dir. William A. Seiter

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I had the privilege this month of seeing for the first time what is now my favorite Laurel and Hardy film: SONS OF THE DESERT! What a great film it is too. The premise is fairly simple as the boys belong to a sorority called “Sons of the Desert”, where they want to go to the major convention in Chicago, but are held up by their wives who want to take a trip to the mountains. Through the faking of illness and a fake doctors request that the boys take a cruise to Hawaii, their plan works and the boys head out to Chicago. There’s just one little hitch: the ship to Hawaii sinks.

That’s just one of the twists, but it hardly gives away all the great gags set up through the film. One of the finer moments of the film is a cameo appearance by legendary comedian Charlie Chase, who is terrific as a practical joker “Son’s” member. Rounding out at about 60 minutes…man, it’s difficult to write reviews of films you love but don’t want to spoil for everyone. This is pretty much the definitive Laurel and Hardy film, next to March of the Wooden Soldiers. Just go see it. Find it on Netflix if you can. It’s awesome.

One of the things I wanted to mention is that this film spawned the real “Sons of the Desert” club, which is in fact the official worldwide Laurel and Hardy club. I’m a member of the Hollywood Party tent which meets every two months at the Hollywood Heritage museum across from the Hollywood Bowl. One of our members is the founding member of Sons of the Desert, Chuck McCann, who in his 80’s, still performs for us and insists that we, “get more members into our tent!” He means our Hollywood Party tent, which is about a year old. It’s a great joy to be a part of this club. If you’re ever interested in joining our tent, check out the (Hollywood Party Website. Our club runs films from the legendary Hal Roach Studios, so you’ll get to see stuff such as the Our Gang Comedies, Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, just to name a few. Feel free to check it out if you have a love for classic comedy teams.

Some Villains Deserve Better

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I was watching the film EPIC last week, a moderately decent animated feature with a few notable flaws. One of them being having a villain without much in the way of redeemable qualities, who is the yang to the forest peoples Ying. His job in the film is to bring decay to the forest. In a sense he is a bringer of death. The plot goes that he gets bored with his job and wants to bring ruin and death to everything in the forest, making himself ruler of a dead, decaying world. This is not dissimilar to the film RISE OF THE GUARDIANS which came out last year, where the villain Pitch Black (aka the Boogeyman) wants to bring nightmares to children all over the world because he is outcast and bored with his job.

I’d like to address a problem with both these characters that I think is an issue with the whole “good”/ “evil” aspect of storytelling, which I think is becoming more of an extinct concept. For one thing, as I mentioned, there is the ying/yang concept. The light cannot exist without the dark. These “villains” have their job of bringing contrast to the universe. I say “job” quite distinctly because that’s what they’re here to do. In GUARDIANS, Pitch’s job is to bring Nightmares to children, with the effect of bringing more appreciation to the joys of life, such as the sweet dreams brought to children through Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. It’s a bit of a thankless job, but if the bad guy has been doing it for thousands of years, you’d think they’d be above petty concerns such as the insecurities of being loved by the outside world. The same goes for Mandrake, the villain in EPIC who is a bringer of death. What makes things difficult is that the so called Good Guys are not accepting of these characters, and show no appreciation for the work that the darker characters do, because the “bad” guy’s job is important.

The darker element is not something that is meant to be destroyed. It’s something that is meant to bring an appreciation for the better things in life. So it aggravates me when I watch movies like RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, where the GUARDIANS wind up banishing Pitch Black into another dimension where he can’t do any more harm. Well, to be quite honest, I feel sorry for Pitch. I understand how he feels because he is in essence neglected by the heroes of the film. Why was he not asked to join the Guardians? He’s important part as to why the heroes are who they are, and if only they had shown him some respect in return, maybe he wouldn’t be so inclined to ruin everything for everyone else. The same goes for Mandrake who is also deemed a villain because he’s also a guy nobody invites to parties or gets any kudos for his job. Heck, even Hades in HERCULES does not get much appreciation for his work, and never understands his place in the universe.

They shouldn’t be made evil because they do a job that nobody wants. Someday I’d like to see a film where the darker element actually gets a little respect for the job they do, even if it’s to bring contrast to the light of the hero. It’s a misunderstanding between worlds.

When it comes to villains in most animated features, it’s difficult sometimes because there is very little in the way of making them sincere characters. They’re just evil, and it’s usually out of boredom because the heroes never show any appreciation for them. So it’s not surprising they would lash out. It’s one thing when the hero finds some understanding in their life, but to proclaim that the contrasting force is bad when it was actually there to help them, the hero never thanks the villain for helping them, and the villain is usually banished or killed. Villains are much more interesting when we get a peek inside their pain.

What I mean by contrast is that a villain often times is a symbol for the hero when the hero is out of alignment with their inner being. It’s through this conflict and struggle that the hero sees their own reflection through the villain, who is secretly helping them find their true calling and the heroes connection to their highest self. So when the hero gets the message, but then has the villain killed or banished, there is no appreciation for what the villain has helped the hero achieve. Because even if the villain dies, it will come back as something else, in a different form. Because the villain is a reflection. If the darker element is not understood, it will come back in another form until the hero does get the message. Maybe one day there will be an animated hero who will actively show mercy and thank the villain for what they helped them accomplish. A great example of this is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, where the Witch of the Waste transforms Sophie into an old woman, but when the witch gets punished and aged severely, Sophie changes her outlook towards the witch and treats her with kindness. She feels sorry for her and helps her. There is a mutual understanding there.

I think it’s time for a change in the way we see villains portrayed in movies, especially with the hero much more actively understanding that the villain is not something to be merely destroyed, but is someone, or something to be understood. After all, a villain is finding their way just as much as the hero. With that in mind, maybe the hero could cut the villain a little slack in the end.

MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY (2013) Dir. Dan Scanlon

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Last Friday I went on a renting binge to play catch up on the animated features I had missed in 2013. To my biggest surprise, Monster’s University, while not a hugely spectacular film…I actually walked away feeling some enjoyment from the latest Pixar canon. That’s really saying something because Pixars features over the past 8 years have failed to thrill me in any way. The last great Pixar film in my mind was THE INCREDIBLES, which is where I really feel that the studio peaked in terms of outstanding and sophisticated storytelling.

There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about the plot of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, which borrows from several different college films in the 80’s. Here, the attention is focused on Mike Wazowski, who is made the main character this time. I really liked Mike’s journey through the film. While he never achieves his dream of becoming a scarer, what he does find is a talent for being a coach. In the film he’s pretty much an over achiever, studying every aspect of what it means to be a scarer. The film does address such things as following your excitement and finding your calling.

Sully’s journey through the film is also interesting, as here we find out he was actually an under achiever in school, sliding by on the reputation of his father. Sully as it turns out knows very little about scaring, as his ego brazenly takes over because of the reputation his father holds over the scarers at Monsters Inc. It’s not until he teams up with Mike, and their fraternity OozmaKappa competes that Mike and Sully manage to form a friendship, playing to each other’s strengths to become a winning team.

I also enjoyed the amusing OozmaKappa fraternity, with their tagline, “We are OK.” It’s your typical underdog sports movie, where the most unlikely team has to face tremendous odds to win the day. Surprisingly, most of the competition stuff didn’t stick with me as much as the business with Mike and Sully, although the library sequence where the competitors have to get passed a giant monster librarian was pretty amusing.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is an enjoyable film. It’s on the small scale for Pixar films, but as far as making more original films goes, Pixar could use a “Dumbo” sized film…something that’s more emotional and intimate. Not everything has to be on a grand scale, although there are quite a few sophisticated crowd shots that must of been a chore to animate. But anyway, it’s recommended viewing. Definitely check it out.

Merry Christmas!

Just want to wish all of you out there a very Merry Christmas and a Happy new year. Thanks so much for reading my blog, as it’s going into two years already! Next year is going to be an incredible year for sure! Hopefully this blog will still be going. I’m sorry I haven’t written more reviews as things have just been so busy lately. But I’ll see about changing that soon. Anyway, enjoy what’s to come and have a happy holiday!

More THIS IS INFAMOUS Articles

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Hey everyone!  Just wanted to supply a link to some of my This Is Infamous articles over at http://www.thisisinfamous.com.

I recently commented on Disney’s purchase of INDIANA JONES:

I also talk about WHAT IS OUR POINT OF ATTRACTION WHEN IT COMES TO MOVIES?

And more recently, I did a CLASSICS NEVER DIE: HOLIDAY EDITION!