Voiceover and life are not on a collision course; as lived by me, they are one and the same.
This Internet Journal is all about sharing what I’ve been experiencing and teaching for the past thirty plus years, as a completely submerged person in the professional world of voiceover. Frankly, it’s a lot of stuff. Some of my thoughts and observations will be subjective. For certain voiceover is, and will remain a subjective art form. (I’ve never had anyone disagree with calling it that.)
If you seek to grab a miracle by the mere reading of my scribed assertions, I’ll do my best not to get in your way. Read on friend.
What I intend offering you will be the practical and the academic knowledge I’ve gained during my fortuitous exposure and formal training with many of the masters. Of these teachers, three men stand out as my most prominent mentors.
William Shakespeare, Constantine Stanislavski, and Charles Kalmenson. No bloodline exists between Shakespeare, Stanislavski, and Harvey Kalmenson. Charles Kalmenson was my dad.
(I’m not aware if anyone has ever dedicated a blog to his or her father, so if I happen to be the first…so be it. And naming it in honor of my dad will guarantee the highest degree of integrity this guy could possibly muster!)
My journal, its content, and who da harv has become, and attempts to share with you, was mostly instigated by my father’s constant teachings. His credo was integrity, excellence and going all out to be the best professional he could be. But his biggest asset without compromise was the practice of being a socially acceptable human being. “Remember, when you enter another man’s home, you’re entering another man’s home,” he would say to the very young man who stayed close, you might even say glued, to his side.
Note: (I hate the word blog. To me it sounds disfigured) I might refer to a person I didn’t care for as a blog.)
And so my Internet Journal begins. “Observations and tips, all wrapped up in one.”
It was my plan not to be a namedropper in this journal. My plan isn’t going to work out (bragging) the fact is… I’ve probably worked with more notables than most (end of bragging, for now). So I guess I’ll drop a few names right away.
The tens of thousands of actors I have directed during the course of the last thirty years, have given and provided me with an insurmountable wealth of practical information, without which I would never have been able to attain my own personal dreams.
“One attribute that is an absolute must for every voiceover talent on this planet is: In voiceover the actor must be able to read well!”
Wow, you must be thinking. What a simplistic and pedestrian thing for da harv to pass on as an important tip. You’d be surprised. As casting directors we bring actors in to try them out, and those who show a lack of reading skills are never called back to audition. Our computer database contains signature files on every actor who has auditioned with us during the course of the last seventeen years. Just about every attribute the actor puts on display is so noted. For sure you wouldn’t want us to make a note saying you have trouble with scripts which run over ten seconds. Or you can’t maintain or hold a direction for an entire script.
I can remember asking Gary Owens how he became such a marvelous reader. His first response was in the so-called pedestrian category. “Practice,” Gary responded. I wasn’t satisfied with his answer, so I delved deeper. When I asked Gary at what age he discovered he was a great reader, he told me he was so young he couldn’t really say. He said each and every day he would read the newspapers out loud to his mother, father and anyone else within earshot. Just think…Gary began practicing his craft and hasn’t ever stopped.
“You know da harv,” Gary said in his own unbelievable style, “you must always keep the chops tuned and ready”!
I think everyone would agree with Gary Owens. His work ethic is what was responsible for his star on Hollywood Blvd.
An actor like any other professional must practice his or her craft constantly! Agreeing and doing, or applying ones self are two different things. Those who don’t work at their trade never really have a chance to score in the big leagues. Successful voiceover actors must be technically proficient if they ever have hopes of becoming creatively outstanding.
The audition is your work, and the actual job is merely a fun occasion you’re being paid to enjoy. If you aren’t an outstanding reader, your chances of winning a job from an audition are slim at best.
The skilled reader isn’t caught up with making apologies for dropping words. His allotted time in the recording booth during the audition is devoted to creativity, and not to going back over and over until a clean read is attained.
He traveled the world, mostly making people laugh. But few out there realized what an extremely bright guy Buddy was. He had the ability to be in the present and to see to it you were there with him. He was a professional joy to work with and learn from.
Because Buddy had a God given, totally character sound, many people over looked the fact; there was a serious actor behind the delivery. Whether he was telling a comedic story, or portraying an odd and funny little man in a film, he managed to convey a here and now delivery. He was in the present. Buddy delivered with a one-on-one approach. Even when he was not in sight, when he spoke you felt he was looking you right between the eyes.
When he delivered a scripted line, his delivery was lifted from the page. The actor on the receiving side always felt Buddy was talking to him one on one. His key to success was telling the other guy the truth, like it or not, drama or comedy.
If you’re a storyteller, it’s a good idea to know whom the story is being related to. If you send… you must have a receiver. Good senders and receivers have a great deal in common; both are accomplished listeners.
And speaking of unbelievable listeners…
I doubt if anyone in our business had more written about his voice over performances or his attitude during sessions than Mr. Orson Welles. The out takes of his outrageous tirades are known from sea to shinning sea.
I’m not going to attest to how much of what people say about Orson is factual. Most people judge him by a couple of short sound bytes.
My personal and professional contact with the man was an accident that happened. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The scheduled director either became ill, or was fired. It was a last minute thing. Harvey Kalmenson (not yet known as da harv) became the designated hitter. You can imagine (or maybe you can’t) what ran through my mind when I found out I was to direct a man who was considered by most industry people as the greatest voice of all time.
One of the older engineers warned how Orson was going to chew me up and spit me out. That never happened.
Lets start at the end of the session. All went well. It was then, and remains to this day one of the high points of my career as a director. Everything you’ve ever heard about the Orson Welles deportment during a recording session did not apply to my day with the great one. I introduced myself to the man. We didn’t shake hands. He nodded, without saying a word. It was this huge icon filling the studio doorway, a man in black. Orson, by then had a great deal of trouble physically moving from one point to another. I effortlessly cleared the way for him to enter the control area. I had prepared a large swivel stool for him, both in the control area and in the booth where he would be recording.
Don’t get the idea we became buddies. The trained stage manager in me had taken over. He was there to act and my job was to facilitate. I wasn’t the least bit nervous. While I didn’t have a great deal of time to prepare, it was of no consequence. Everything I did and said pertained to the actor and doing whatever possible in order for him to function in a totally creative environment. It was merely a couple of hours as part of one single day in my life, which would manage to resonate and change me as a professional director.
The radio commercial we were to record had to do with a dessert menu for a very well known restaurant. Orson’s assignment was to read thirty seconds of desserts one after another. The music bed was classical, with violins as the dominant instrumentation.
I handed out the scripts and he said “Thank you.” It was the first live Orson Welles utterance. Inwardly I thought I might have a seizure. To this day, I have never heard a sound come from a human being, which could fill a room the way his did. His next statement came as his eyes looked up. “Hmmm, larger type face. Nice,” he said to me.
Orson studied the script for a moment, then looked up, and asked to no one in particular, “What’s the bed like?” I answered his question, short, sweet, and to a meaningful point. I gave the name of the musical piece, and a description of the orchestration, and asked if he would prefer to listen to the music before or after he did his first run-through. I caught sight of his slight grin at one corner of his mouth. He looked up and very pleasantly asked me for my thoughts. The engineer and producer were about to faint. I explained how I had reviewed the music and was happy to find the piece they had chosen didn’t have a bridge. This would be a snap to put behind or under anything Orson chose to do. We decided he would do a recorded read through, and then listen back for places where he might like to hesitate.
What happened next has become the backbone for every commercial I have ever directed, without exception. It was when Orson took a moment to re-examine the script. My face showed a degree of curiosity. “I’m looking for the definitive word,” he said. “It appears there are none,” he said and went back to the script. “What about an anticipatory sound,” I asked? “You mean you would like a fat man to salivate.” I nodded my head. Orson Welles read and breathed and read and hummed as each of those desserts were set up and became definitive. All I had to do was step back and admire my work. Sure there were some additional suggestions about when the music should come up and in. But the day had come to an end. All the man did was help to change my life. His breathing, his hesitation, and his ability to find a definitive word were a tribute to his unequaled talent.
As a director and as an educator I have used the Orson Welles gift every day of my working life.
Next on our agenda… “The social graces as used in voiceover.”
Cathy Kalmenson says
More of a review than a comment: This is a treasury of gold for those seeking their fortunes in learning the ways of accessing, and sharing "your truth" in voice over, and in life.
Phil Leavitt says
I couldn't agree with your father more and I strive to reach those goals everyday. It's always a pleasure to be directed by you, and now to read you as well. I look forward to the next installment.
Tom Jourden says
Wow! I had to stop what I was doing, because I immediately became captivated with the Orson Wells story. Thanks for sharing. We learn so much from others and you offer a wealth of life experiences.
Michael Berger says
Damn…Cool stuff Harv! Instantly popping the mind to a deeper plane of thought on the art of voice-over…inspired! Thanks for sharing!!!
DC Douglas says
Wow! Pace yourself! There's so much wonderful stuff in there. That alone is a month's worth of "blog gold"!
Seriously, a truly wonderful post (let alone your first). I can't wait for more!
(Random sidenotes: Buddy Hackett and I used to have the same agent – Dick Heckenkamp at Film Artists about 20 years ago. I've met Gary Owens once at an audition and he was the sweetest man with a never-ending supply of stories… And Orson Wells… Well, I drank a lot of that wine before it was my time… fake ID.)
Judy Nazemetz says
Inspirational and educational. I will make this my daily reading, Harv. Hope you can turn these stories into a book we can all read aloud…or listen to.
Heidi Schooler says
Yeah Harvey! Sooo happy that you have started this blog! So proud of you! Finally your wealth of information will be shared with the world! We are so lucky!!! Loved your stories- and have always thought Buddy Hackett was a hoot!- Also, what a great Orson Wells story! Definitely psyched for more!
Abigail Revasch says
harvey, thank you so much for letting me know about this blog. it is such a treat to get a glimpse in to all of the knowledge and history that you have to share. on another note, your father sounds like a wonderful man. i just lost my dear father two years ago and i know how much i looked up to him. it is such a treat to have spent your life among so many incredible professionals, and another gift entirely to have had the close companionship of a great father. kudos to you on both!
Sean C. Cooper says
Harv, good luck with this..love the Orson Wells story..what I love about VO is, it requires such specificity; Something I strive for in every audition, Film, TV, stage, whatever. See ya soon 🙂
Saige Spinney says
Wow! Lots of great stuff!!! And it's free!! Right now I am reading the Sunday paper outloud to my husband…he wants to strangle me, but I am having a blast! Thanks!
Jason J. Lewis says
Thanks so much Harv for offering your wisdom and experience to all of us wanting to grow as artists. It is invaluable and so generous of you. God Bless!
Kevin Bruehl says
Mr. Kalmenson, thank ou very much for this post. It is truly great advice to ay aspiring voice over actors, including myself. I've learned most importantly that voice over is about truth; a trait that Mr. Wells knew all too well. I really enjoy his voice over work, especially his one for Transformers and his War of the Worlds radio program. I look forward to more advice on your website here.
Bill Smitrovich says
Harv. You're DA MAN. Keep the memories and nuggets of wisdom alive. Look forward to reading more, with laughter and enlightenment.
Chris(topher) Haskell says
Thank you. I identify so much with both letter & spirit of your words re: Truth and your Dad. My Dad left me with guiding words spoken at his Harvard freshman Class Day circa 1934 which reach from Cambridge to Malibu guiding me to this day on stage, camera &/or microphone: "You cannot fool your fellow man; he will respect you for what you are."