It was an era of endless tests, developed at the end of our country’s worst crisis since the Civil War, and a depression of such penetrating scope, many thought we as a people would never recover, let alone survive. As Americans, we found ourselves unprotected from elements far beyond anything even Mother Nature may have deemed to be possible. Man’s inhumanity to man was about to reach an apex far beyond reason. Japan, Germany, and Italy; No troika of evildoers known to man would carry forth the devastating carnage, promulgating a world suffering of such immeasurable magnitude.
Though it all began many years before, our official date was: December 7th, 1941. Not a single human being, friend or foe, would be exempt from some form of life-changing correspondence.
Yes, it was World War II. But it was an epic of never before reached Godless sanctity. It was:
Under the auspices of Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group, Susan Beth Smith of Matilda Production Services, LLC contacted Kalmenson & Kalmenson, seeking our voice casting services on their project: “Beyond All Boundaries,” a documentary produced by executive producer Tom Hanks.
They were moving right along towards the completion of this World War II documentary, being created for the World War II Museum in New Orleans, LA.
It was the beginning of what Cathy and I would describe as a whirlwind of joy and excitement.
Occasionally, thank God, a project comes along, managing to cancel out any negative feelings one might have cultivated, questioning his or her reasoning for existing in the world of a subjective art form. This one came in a package containing all the merits you pray your life pursuits might someday uncover. Bringing with it a chance for our work to be recognized, understood, and perhaps even praised.
Mr. Tom Hanks is far more than merely a celebrity name. Unfortunately, we never got to meet the man. That’s not to say we didn’t feel his tremendously positive influence during our voice casting. Tom Hanks, as well as the entire production team, believed in what they were working on; the story of World War II, and a generation of Americans who sacrificed in order for future generations to prosper and to live in a country striving to practice what their Constitution preached.
Chris Ellis painstakingly scribed the real life utterances of men who faced up to inconceivable fear. Each of our actors dug deeply from within themselves to truthfully and simply state what few before them ever experienced. Nary a syllable or a word missed the darkness of each minute being desperately lived by boys, not yet men, but soon to be our fathers and grandfathers.
Quite often during the voice casting process, the depth and scope of the project is not recognized. This one was different from the very first moment we began. Our conference call with the production team, headed by Doug Yellin, kicked off a prideful spirit, which endured as we steadily moved towards completion.
On Friday morning, November 6th, Cathy and I boarded a plane to New Orleans to be part of the production team celebration of Tom Hank’s “Beyond All Boundaries.” We didn’t figure it was going to be a life-changing experience.
New Orleans is a piece of work; all of us Angelinos fit like a hand in a glove. Once you get past the environment, which is probably as dominant as any place in the world, you’re ready for the happiest food experience ever. Any stay in New Orleans for more than a couple of hours will guarantee weight gain.
We stayed at a hotel a mere two blocks from the New Orleans World War II Museum. It helped to ease the burden of an 8:00 AM call time for a private showing of “Beyond All Boundaries.” That would make it 6:00 AM in Los Angeles. Our hotel wake up call came through right on time at 4:00 AM Los Angeles time. Oddly enough, neither of us was anything but all stoked up for the event. All this having been said, neither Cathy or I ever expected what we were about to experience.
The museum is a magnificent adaptation of a World War II setting. The photos on the walls of the most prominent Hollywood stars of the era, is in itself a stand-alone event. The duplication of the Stage Door Canteen and stage is authentic. And certainly the fighter planes hanging from the ceiling is what every kid would love to see. But, you know what? I’ve seen all of that stuff before. As a veteran, I’ve actually experienced many of the weapons first hand (no, not during the second World War).
What we got was almost overpowering. There, assembled in the same staging area, at 8:00 AM New Orleans time, was a family being introduced to each other for the first time. We were not a dysfunctional family. We were a creative group of people, at the top of our game, hand-picked because of our professional record of impeccability. Everyone belonged, each freely displaying an egoless degree of entitlement. Everybody was talking warmly with everybody else. We exchanged congratulations, one to another, all of us gaining in natural vitality, moment by moment. Royalty was everywhere, yet aristocracy was nonexistent. I’m sure I have never been photographed as many times in as short a period of time.
I believe it was Phil Hettema who called us to order, signaling show time. We entered the brand spanking new theater together as a group of colleagues and friends reaping our personal continuum of excitement. I swear to you, my feet never touched the ground.
Deep red upholstery covered the two hundred and fifty perfectly positioned seats, arranged in a concave grandstand configuration, allowing for an ideal site line from anywhere in the house. The technical amenities of the theater are far too numerous to offer in this narrative. Let me just say, it was sheer genius. The site, the sound, and the fourth dimension supported the marvelously scripted documentation chronicling what was hoped to be the war to end all wars.
The theater darkened as we sat back in anticipation. What caused the death of sixty-five million human beings was about to be more vividly exposed than most could have ever imagined.
No better voice could have narrated the story, “Beyond All Boundaries,” than Mr. Tom Hanks.
I sat there alone within myself. By that I mean, without pause I found myself deeply involved; in fact more deeply involved than I had bargained for.
Each of the familiar voices we had cast were now much more than the actors in a movie. I was listening to an ensemble of truth. I was being taken on a trip to a time period in our country when every family had been touched by the world wide human suffering, and merciless degradation touching and penetrating the thickest of skins. The dimension of sound became increasingly more real, emanating from every corner of the theater. Men marched across the stage; the audience murmured with the unanimous belief that the figures were part of a live action segment, when in actuality it was one of many ingenious effects. Scene after scene, we were engaged in World War II. I felt the chill of winter as the Battle of the Bulge was reenacted. Tanks rolled at us, the sounds of men screaming for help, the snow falling on us in the theater, commands being shouted. And then total silence followed by an instant move from Europe to Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Flame throwers and burning bodies, then suicide planes diving into our ships. And back again to a German prison camp and our men freeing the remaining tortured souls. Swiftly to our people back on the home front, working day and night, all helping to support our men on the front lines. And then blaring at us was the end of the war; the end and a beginning. Never before had the world experienced the likes of such a monumental demeaning of the human spirit, and simultaneously the universal exaltation of the human spirit rising up to a very new God-given stratosphere. And then it was quiet for a moment. The World War II soldiers and sailors marched across our screen, followed by an equal number of men and women who took their places in front of the older generation. The older generation saluted the new who returned the salutation. It was the greatest generation passing on the guard assignment to the next. Without warning it was over. The theater was dark for a moment or two. We gathered our emotions and wiped away the tears as we all applauded the work we had shared in creating!
Man, were we charged up! Outside the theater it was congratulations time once again. But this time it was just a little different. I found myself thanking people for their work on the film. People would come up and interrupt a conversation to say, “Thank you Cathy and Harvey for your work on the film.” “Rewarding” would be the all time understatement. “Euphorically stimulated” would be putting it more aptly. But our day in the sun was still very young. The accolades and the celebration were about to move (would you believe) to new heights. It was time for brunch.
After a short stroll, no more than a block away from the theater we entered a two-story building and moved upstairs to a private room, which had been reserved by the Hettema Group. Phil Hettema was there to greet each of us individually, and to graciously request we enjoy our celebrity worthwhile repast.
So there we were, about one hundred and twenty folks genuinely enjoying each other. After about forty minutes or so, Phil Hettema came to our side of the room. He asked for our attention, and preceded to compliment every one of us for the work and creativity we brought to the production. Each of us was mentioned by our first and last name. Cathy and I were extremely taken by his overly generous evaluation of our importance to the project.
Early on Monday morning, November 9th, we answered our 4:00 AM wake-up call and were on our way back to Los Angeles.
All who toil in a world of subjective art must be allowed at least one day; a day in the sun.