July 13-17, 2010.)
The new indie film In a World is distinctive for being the first comedy set against the voiceover industry. I took a bunch of voice acting classes back when I was considering breaking into the voiceover industry, so the subject of In a World is of great interest to me. In a World is the feature-length directorial debut of actress Lake Bell, one of the stars of the most hilarious 11-minute show on cable, Childrens Hospital, as well as an occasional director of Childrens Hospital episodes. Bell stars in In a World as a vocal coach who attempts to break into the male-dominated movie trailer side of the industry and ends up competing with her announcer father for the lucrative gig of reading copy for an ad campaign for The Amazon Games, a much-hyped tentpole franchise based on a popular series of YA page-turners with similarities to a certain Suzanne Collins YA franchise.
In a World opens with footage of the late Don LaFontaine--the copywriter-turned-legendary voiceover artist who's credited with coming up with the ubiquitous '80s and '90s trailer phrase "In a world where..."--cold killing it as a trailer narrator. In a post-LaFontaine world where everyone's still in awe of DLF's baritone and incredible work ethic, only two or three voiceover artists have carried on LaFontaine's raspy, imposing and frequently parodied style--most notably Ashton Smith, whose baritone was all over the TV spots for the first three Bourne movies (Smith once said, "When you die, the voice you hear in heaven is not Don's. It's God trying to sound like Don.").
But as Bell, a self-described trailer fanatic, noted when she and actor/voiceover artist Fred Melamed, who plays her dad in In a World, both plugged the film on Fresh Air last week, trailer houses are increasingly veering away from voiceovers and letting the footage speak for itself. While that's great for trailer houses that want their product to look more sophisticated and stylish and sound not as dated as the '80s and '90s "In a world..." days of advertising, I'm a little concerned about that because it adds some difficulty to my task of tracking down more recent trailer audio clips I could use for AFOS, in which announcers like Smith portentously utter the taglines and titles of recent movies or TV shows.
Audacity and recording a back-announcement for every single track that's in rotation on AFOS. These intros I cull from trailers or TV spots are, to me, an entertaining way to let the listeners know what they'll be hearing next, as well as a way to keep them from asking me what they're hearing. (Only rarely will I receive a message from a really dumb and lazy listener who doesn't bother to either pay attention to the intro or read the track info on the radio station widget, so he'll ask me to identify the already-ID'd track that was streamed at yadda-yadda-yadda in the afternoon. Yo, Einstein, it's impossible for me to go back and check because I don't exactly keep a running tab on when shit was streamed during the day. I wish these dumb shits were more like Kevin Greene, who's much more helpful when asking me about a track he was having some trouble IDing.)
In 2005, I experimented with attaching the vintage radio spots for Black Caesar and Foxy Brown to the themes from those movies, and I liked how the old ads sounded as intros (any old ad or trailer that features the late Adolph Caesar's voice is always fun to listen to). Then shortly thereafter, Warner Bros.' home video division dropped the Batman Begins soundtrack album, and I was looking for an effective and ominous way to announce "This next track is from the Batman Begins score" without having to say those words. I found it in the form of an audio clip of the Batman Begins TV spot that consisted solely of the bat swarm graphics from the film's opening titles. I thought that was an even niftier intro than the blaxploitation radio ads, so from then on, I tacked on trailer or promo clips to almost every single track during the block that's now known as "AFOS Prime." (On AFOS, LaFontaine's voice can be heard during clips of trailers or TV spots that were produced for Purple Rain, The Untouchables, The Living Daylights, Mo' Better Blues, A Rage in Harlem, Passenger 57, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Hoodlum, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie and Midnight Run.)
As In a World gets audiences to better appreciate the art of trailer voiceovers and the talents who partake in such a faceless profession, here's a guide to some of the distinctive non-LaFontaine voices that turn up during the movie or TV trailer clips that function as intros to the tunes during "AFOS Prime," "Beat Box," "The Whitest Block Ever" and "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round."
Who's he?: A New York stage actor whose classy baritone was all over trailers and ads for blaxploitation flicks, Caesar earned acclaim late in his career for some of his acting work both on stage and screen before dying from a heart attack in 1986.
Most memorable on-screen role: A role he reprised from the stage: the self-hating light-skinned black sergeant in A Soldier's Story who, in the above pic, is preparing to whup the ass of some future double Oscar winner.
Most memorable voiceover work: The trailers and TV/radio spots for the original Dawn of the Dead ("When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth").
When can you hear him on AFOS?: The radio spots for Trouble Man, Foxy Brown and Claudine and the trailers for Three Tough Guys and Superfly.
Who's he?: The narrator of the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys opening titles ("A strength surpassed only by the power of his heart"), the still-busy Chalk gets deluged with dozens of requests from people to record greetings for their voicemail.
Most memorable on-screen role: He appeared as himself, along with other announcers like LaFontaine and Mark Elliot (a.k.a. the Disney ad guy), in the 1997 comedy short Five Men and a Limo, which was produced for the Hollywood Reporter's Key Art Awards and follows along these voice talents on a limo ride to the ceremony.
Most memorable voiceover work: Various fake trailers and ads during In Living Color.
When can you hear him on AFOS?: The TV spots for School Daze and The Fugitive and the trailers for Deep Cover, Spirited Away and Do the Right Thing.
Who's he?: Whenever a comedian jokes about the tweedy-voiced announcer during a tweedy trailer for some lousy middlebrow Oscar bait movie, Douglas' voice, which I remember from the Lethal Weapon series trailers, is what they're joking about (everyone says Pablo Francisco does a great LaFontaine impression, but he sounds more like Douglas in Lethal Weapon mode). The now-retired Douglas is like LaFontaine's equally authoritative but more sensitive and touchy-feely older brother, which is why he was often hired by the WB and ABC Family to lend his gravitas and comforting pipes to promos for shows like Gilmore Girls and ABCFam's Beautiful People.
Most memorable on-screen role: Despite his tendency towards drippy previews and promos, Douglas shares with LaFontaine and Chalk an admirable willingness to poke fun at himself, like during his appearance in the clever anti-trailer for Comedian, the 2002 documentary about both Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up act and a detestable younger stand-up named Orny Adams (for a while, it looked like Adams dropped off the face of the earth, but now he plays Jay Tarses' old Teen Wolf role of Coach Finstock on MTV's Teen Wolf reboot). The Comedian trailer (posted on YouTube by none other than Melamed himself) is remarkable for not featuring any footage from the doc or Seinfeld himself, and yet the hilarity of the trailer still makes you want to watch the doc.
When can you hear him on AFOS?: A vintage Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan TV spot and the trailers for Desperado and Corpse Bride.
Who's she?: Her voice turns up in various radio station sweepers or ad campaigns for musicians on tour, from Sara Bareilles to Van Halen. It's been ages since I had Melanie read copy for me, but she's often great at it. My favorite of the AFOS sweepers Melanie recorded are a sweeper where I had her say, "Your cubicle suddenly sounded 10 times cooler" (to the accompaniment of Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Jazz" break, which I tacked on to her recording), and a sweeper for AFOS' now-defunct, '80s-centric "Soda and Pie" block, in which I had her quote Working Girl.
When can you hear her on AFOS?: The old AFOS sweepers during the "AFOS Vault" block.
Who's he?: Boris Badenov. Burgermeister Meisterburger. Tony Curtis' substitute voice while in drag during Some Like It Hot. Toshiro Mifune's substitute voice in Grand Prix and Midway. The voice that accompanied both countless old Disneyland attractions and the most depressing ending in a G-rated movie ever (Beneath the Planet of the Apes).
When can you hear him on AFOS?: The Sweet Smell of Success trailer. I think Frees is also the narrator during the Get Carter trailer (I'm not 100 percent certain about that).
Who's he?: As an announcer, this African Canadian, fluent-in-French actor and Peyton Place cast member was best known for scaring millions of white people away from the water during the Jaws trailers and ads (he's one of the interviewees in The Shark Is Still Working, a 2006 documentary about the making of Jaws that also marked Rodrigues' final public appearance before his death in 2007). But because the release of the original Jaws was way before my time, I know Rodrigues best from the She's Having a Baby trailer ("I stopped taking the pill") and the Alien³ trailer, where he declared that "the bitch is back." I like how he could sound ominous one moment and then be tongue-in-cheek seconds later--or be both at the same time, like in the She's Having a Baby and Alien³ previews.
Most memorable on-screen role: On the original Star Trek, Rodrigues guest-starred as a Starfleet commodore whose voice must have frightened Dr. McCoy away from the Enterprise swimming pool.
When can you hear him on AFOS?: The Taxi Driver trailer.