It is hard to denigrate the kind of creativity that comes up with a zombie stampede and gives a huge wink to Zombieland by showing a load of twinkies being eaten by the good guys in the latest episode of Z Nation on SyFy. Not to mention the other nod to The Walking Dead, the comic verse not the television show as they have not covered that issue yet, by having an episode that features a creepy cannibalistic “family.” It should be mentioned that in all fairness, the cannibal angle was covered the The Walking Dead video game.
When I decided to leave the USAF, I tried to get a few samples of advertisements from my time with the Armed Forces Radio Network guys that I worked with in Holland. Unfortunately, all my old contacts were gone and I sat there cursing the fact that I had not taken up the offer of a “demo” tape when it was offered. Thinking that I would never need one, I told my friends at AFRN, “Thanks, but I’ll never use it guys.” The offer was left open so that I could change my mind. But the transient nature of the Armed Forces meant that the folks who’d offered had now transferred to bases new and I only knew one person moderately well.
When I called him, he hesitantly agreed to put together a demo tape within the current time parameters specified by the industry. “No problem.” He assured me, “We’ve got hours of adverts that you did for us.” He then rang off with promises to be back in touch as soon as he’d done the tape. The only problem was, it was against Air Force regulations to do demo tapes. All adverts done for the AFRN were USAF property and not to be used for personal gain. Everyone who worked at AFN though had a demo tape. The rules were cheerfully ignored by the troops who worked there.
Unfortunately the lad I was counting on chickened out and refused to do the tape. Whether it was because it was “illegal” or he could not match the parameters of the technical side of the tape, I’ll never know. He never got back in touch with me and when I rang, he was never in.
After ringing around, I find a studio that will do a proper master tape (reel to reel) that can then be transferred to a DAT tape which was the required format at the time. Great; now I just have to script a demo. My then wife suggests that I do my cartoon voices. I am amazed that she thought of it. I had been doing the Warner’s characters for years; Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, et al. I had never thought of using those for a demo tape.
I write the script, rehearse it (a lot) and head to the studio for the master taping. The two guys who run the (now defunct) studio are into pot in a big way and the spliff-smoke invades every nook and cranny of the studio. The only place it does not drift into is the sound-proof booth where I sit safe from the intoxicating fumes. We start taping and after a few suggestions by the guys on how to spruce up the demo, we are done.
I then have my master DAT and reel to reel so I now need to find someone who will do a mass reproduction of the master. I find a cockney transfer from London in Ipswich. He is short, round and has a pony tail that reaches the top of his bum. His name is Pat. He agrees to reproduce my tapes for a decent price. I drop the masters off and pick them up the next day.
I am now the proud owner of about 30 demo tapes. I send them to everyone who I think might be interested. Pat told me about a company just up the road in Norwich that, at that time, did all the radio advertisements for all the Midland’s and East Anglia. I send them a demo.
In the meantime my next door neighbour’s mother (who works for the Ipswich Evening Star newspaper) asks if she can interview me about me getting out of the USAF and my demo tape. During the photo shoot and interview I tell about how I went to school with the then President Bill Clinton’s first cousin. I also mentioned that my brother had met him several times and President Clinton personally asked my brother to head up the Democratic committee at the university he attended.
Not surprisingly that was the key feature of the interview in the next day’s issue. A picture of yours truly graced the front page and my “story” was on page three with a double spread layout. Not too shabby I thought. I still have a copy (or two) of that issue, sadly it is in my ex-wife’s attic and I will probably never see it again. I was very excited and pleased, I’d been in the paper before, but never on my own and definitely hadn’t had my picture featured on page one.
I sat back and waited for the phone to ring. It did, just once. It was the company from Norwich asking if I would like to come up and do another demo tape for them. We worked out a mutually advantageous time and that was that. I arrived on the appointed day and from the moment I spoke to the receptionist; I knew things were not going to go well.
I gave my name and who I was supposed to see. She consulted her list and responded that I was not on it; at least I was not on it to see the “big guy” who’d called me. I was to see another producer. Okay, I thought, no problem. He’ll know what to do.
I met the chap (nice guy but as dull as dishwater) and as I went into the recording booth and he went into the sound booth I still had the feeling that something was not right. “Okay,” he said. “Just pick up one of the scripts in front of you there and we’ll start.”
I glanced down and there were three scripts in front of me: one was a travelogue piece about Malaysia; another was an advertisement for used cars and the third was a sort of “training film” narration. Okay, no problem. As we tested sound levels and I adjusted the microphone; I asked, “What voice do you want?”
“Uh, what voice do you want? Bugs, Elmer, Daffy Duck which one?”
He stood looking at me blankly. He turned and looked at the engineer in the booth with him and they had a quick conference. Looking back at me he said, “I don’t know what you’re on about.”
I was dumbfounded. “Have you heard my demo tape?”
“No. I was just assigned your taping this morning. We going to see how well you can take direction and how “warm” you sound on tape.”
I looked back at him and said the obvious, “So you don’t know what I do then.”
The answer was no and we went on to tape the three scripts three different ways: once in a mid-Atlantic accent; once in an English accent and once in my “native” accent; we finished and I thanked them for their time and left. I only spoke to them once more when after six weeks of silence I rang and talked to the “Big Guy” again. They didn’t have anything for me at the moment and they would be in touch.
I then got a call from a small recording company in Ipswich. The company did in-flight entertainment for British Airways. As the school holidays were coming up in a few months time, they thought I’d be perfect to work with the then well-known children’s television presenter Andi Peters. I’d go to London and meet Andi and we’d rehearse the script. I volunteered to help write the script for no extra pay, I just wanted a writing credit. They agreed and while the contracts were being worked up there was only one other thing to sort out.
All the Warner’s cartoon characters are copyrighted, even their voices. So the company had to present their proposal to the Warner Bros. Legal department for approval. After a week of negotiations, the answer was a resounding no. Even though Warner’s loved my impressions of their stellar cartoon characters, the lack of script control and the fact that they were using an actor already to redo voices made it a no-go.
The company head was despondent and despite an offer by me and the script writer they’d hired to come up with original characters for the show, he dropped the entire idea. I was gutted. Once again I’d gotten within reach of the brass ring; I could see the damned thing in front of me, only to have it yanked tantalizingly out of reach…again.
Strike three and you’re out!
I’ve got to thank Christopher over at True Mister Six with his suggestion that I revisit my “acting” days again. After thinking long and hard, I realised that I’d not written about the above events yet. Thanks mate!
I also need to thank everyone else who gave suggestions and responded in such a positive (and at times amusing) way. Thank guys, I hope you enjoy this “special” 5-0-0 blog-post.
- Mel Blanc: What’s up Doc? (ocaoimh.ie)
- A Fabulous Collection of ACME Products: As used by Bugs, Daffy and Wile E. Coyote (dangerousminds.net)
- Jonesing for Chuck (trho.wordpress.com)