The Art of Voice

The late Don LaFontaine was the single most prolific actor in the history of the Screen Actors Guild (based upon signed contracts). You have probably heard his deep baritone voice in such movie trailers as Get Smart, Meet Dave, The Terminator and Shrek. In fact, Don LaFontaine voiced the narration on over 5,000 films.

The late Don LaFontaine was one of my voice-over idols. I have followed much of his work throughout my career.

An article titled "Voice Recognition" written by Chris Warren was published on 1 October 2008. I agree with much of Don LaFontaine's work ideals and have republished excerpts from the article here.

Generally, LaFontaine would receive the script for a trailer via fax, and he'd simple glance at it in order to know the genre and structure of the piece. "I'll glance at it to get the gist of what I'm selling," he said. "Is it a comedy or a horror picture or an action film?" Once he had that information, which guided him regarding the tone of voice to use, he spent no more time reading or studying the script, because he felt as though doing so might take away from the authenticity of the read. "Spontaneity is very, very important," he said. So, too, is veracity. And LaFontaine said that while voicing a trailer script, he absolutely believed that every line he spoke was true. "The way I can justify that is, even the worst movie ever made is someone's favorite movie," he said. "And I'm talking to that person, and it's my job to be as convincing as possible."

Not surprisingly, LaFontaine was asked all the time about how to get started in the business. What he told people was the same thing an established Oscar-winning actor might tell someone struggling to get into movies. "I say, 'Look, here's the simple skinny of the thing: Of the six billion-plus people on this planet, you are the only person who has led your life and you are the only person who has your unique view of the world, so you have to bring that to everything you do," he said. That means you somehow have to bring your own experience of love or pain to what you're reading - something that is hard to do, much harder than focusing on the mechanics of reading out loud.

"So many people are … concentrating on the timbre of their voice. They're concentrating on getting every word pronounced correctly. They're concentrating on all the stuff they shouldn't be concentrating on," LaFontaine said. "What they should be concentrating on is saying what's on the piece of paper and saying it honestly."

- Excerpt from "Voice Recognition" by Chris Warren, The American Way, 1 October 2008.