In this interview from VOICE 2010, John Garry talks about understanding your capabilities – finding your guy – and gives some great advice. It was a privilege to have this conversation with John after a busy session at the conference, a great inspiration. Belief. People. Action. Thanks, John.
Download Podcast: Conversation with John Garry (right click “…save target as…”)
Transcript of conversation with John Garry
Andy: OK. Well, we’re here at VOICE 2010 in Los Angeles, and this evening we’ve just had a session talking about diversity in voice over, and with me now is John Garry, who’s a promo voice artist in Los Angeles. That’s right, isn’t it?
John: More like worldwide. I’m available to the world.
Andy: But you’re based in Los Angeles.
John: Yeah. I live in a city just outside of Los Angeles, called Calabasas, which is kind of a nice little community. Yeah… This is the place where we make movies.
Andy: OK. Is this where you are originally from?
John: No. I’m an east coast guy. I was born in Brooklyn, and raised in Connecticut, and so I spent most of my life there before I came here.
Andy: So that’s where you grew up, and I understand when you were about ten years old you got interested in the idea of voice acting.
John: When I was ten years old, you know, I stood in front of the television set and said, “I’m going to come out of that box, one of these days… when I get to be a big kid”. And then, obviously, when I would go to a movie theatre, when the lights would go down, the great Jackson Beck would come up – trailers weren’t really trailers, then, they were more like vignettes. They were much more long form. They were almost five minutes, or something like that, but… Back then, it was something about that happening. When the lights would go down I wasn’t just jumping around the seat, I was actually watching what was going on.
Andy: And were you mimicking them, or…?
John: Oh yeah! Without question. Sure! I knew then that was what I was going to be.
Andy: So, I guess at that time you were in school, and so on. After school, did you somehow manage to get into entertainment? Or were there other steps?
John: No. I just did the normal… I did rock and roll bands, stuff like that when you are a kid. Stuff like that. No… I had sort of a cosmic experience when I was a young kid, about twelve and a half, where I won a contest on a radio station. The disc jockey at the radio station happened to know my family and knew my dad – stuff like that. One day, actually, he hired me. And many years later, when he moved to Los Angeles, when I came to Los Angeles, he befriended me again, and took me around and tried to get me work, or get me hired at radio stations. Didn’t have any success doing that. He didn’t have any success doing that. And tragically he lost his life on a highway, out here. And just after that some things began to change. I guess he did a little pitch for me on the other side, and helped out. He’s always up there looking out for me.
Andy: It’s a people industry, isn’t it?
John: It… We talked about it tonight. This is not a giving industry. You got to come in, and you’ve got to be a thief. You got to take it. You got to want it. You got to want it. It’s just like anything that has to do with Hollywood, you’ve got to be mercenary.
Andy: So your first steps were through radio…
John: Yeah. Fifteen years of radio. Not always successful radio. Not always well liked radio…
Andy: What sort of audience were you playing to?
John: You know, some of it was dance music, some of it was Top 40, some of it was… there was a lot of different channels that I got into. But always was thrown out!
Andy: And so how did that bridge into voice acting?
John: Well, you know, the very first time I ever went into a radio station… it was a gentleman that was walking out… Back then they had commercials on tape – you will have had a little five inch spool of tape, and he had like a short stack of these. His name was John Miller, and he was leaving New London Connecticut, he was going to New York, because he was going to have a career doing commercials. And he had a pretty good career. But as he was walking out the door, he dropped one. I picked it up and I was handing it to him, and he goes, “This is where you want to be”. He was saying that my voice would be… this is what you would want your voice to be on, one of these commercials. And he was right. He was very prophetic in that. He was right. It was where I wanted to be, and as I got more and more into radio, I found that I was more inclined to the commercial side of it, the promotional side of it, rather than the on-air side of it. I had more of a gravitas toward that. It helped – it did. It perpetuated my career in radio. It kept me going. It gave me more exposure to trying things. You know: copying; stealing. As I said tonight, if you’re not stealing, you’re not getting it. There’s no real genesis to this, other than, I mean, you come in believing that you know it all, and then you find out you’ve got to… you’re going to have to steal some of it.
Andy: So your heart is the engine that drives you down the road, and you’re really saying you need to know what road you’re going down?
John: Yeah. Without question. You’ve got to… You can’t, to me, to the guys that I learned this from, there can’t be any sort of misconception in your mind of the avenue you are on. You’ve got to make it very small, get it in your brain, and stay on it.
John: No matter what the bumps and the humps, and the sink holes or potholes, or whatever, you’ve just got to keep… you’ve got to barrel through it and get through it.
Andy: How do you know… for example, somebody might have – like myself – a lot of experience with narrative copy, OK I don’t have a voice for promo – the wrong tone, and so on – I just don’t have the voice for it, and so I wouldn’t even consider trying to do it, but how did you know that was the road that you were going to go down?
John: You know, it took… before I got signed by a real big agency, a small time agent who was a great agent, wonderful guy. He was an agent for one of my boyhood heroes, Orson Wells, Mel Blanc, guys like Garry Owens… most of the radio jocks that were here became television guys… but when I was coming out of that, and I got signed, I had a workshop. And in that workshop, one of the gentlemen who is one of the exhibitors here, Dave Sebastian Williams, from EverythingVO, he used to run these workshops in his house. In his house! Part of the process of paying for the workshop was you would pay him money, he would give you the workshop twelve weeks, and he would give you a cup with you name on it – so you could get coffee during the workshop. You’d have your own cup. But right after I told the story about how I was working for the Los Angeles Lakers, as the voice of the Lakers, and a gentleman from ICM heard me and then they – after the workshop, which was 95 – called looking for me. Sat down in his living room – his dining room, actually – and he had always told us these wonderful stories about guys that had been discovered, and things like that – whatever – but he always said one thing, he said, “You got to find out what your guy is”. Who is your guy? Who is the guy that you’re about? You’re a commercial guy. Are you a promo/trailer guy? Are you an animation guy? You got to find out who your guy is. If you don’t know who your guy is, then when the moment happens, you’re going to get lost. You’re going to wonder around. You’re going to be meandering when you really need to be focusing.
Andy: Is there… For somebody who is finding a problem in finding their guy, how should… what sort of process should they…?
John: You got to have somebody like Dave help you find him.
Andy: So it’s not something you can do on your own?
John: Well, sometimes you can, and you know those are lightening bolts for those guys. But sometimes you’re going to have to have somebody help you make that decision. If you are lucky enough to get an agent that believes in you, which is what you really, really need. You need believers. They’re going to make that choice for you. They’re going to say, “Look. The animation thing… it’s not going to happen”. I’m not an animation guy. I wish to God… I had some animation stuff. I don’t get a lot of it. They still try me out for it, and I thank them. I always thank them, “Please, thank you. I wish I didn’t suck at this so bad, though”. But it’s true! I mean – hey! You’ve got to know where you’ll get your hits at. I’m not really big on commercials. I’d love to be bigger on commercials. Just not my guy.
Andy: Diversity isn’t everything…
John: It’s a great thing. Do I do narration? I’ve really worked really hard on my narration, and I’ve worked hard on it because, you know, Discovery Channel and all those guys are always auditioning me. I think I’m more of a place holder for them. I think they like some things about me, and there are a lot of things they don’t like about me. So they use my voice as a place holder, then they get another guy to come in and say, “Sound like that… pace wise… but do you”. I get that. I have to work harder at narration. I enjoy it, but again: it’s not my guy. My guy works in very small bites. Right. That’s what I work my best at. Promo. Trailer. That’s where I’m at.
Andy: Do the job, take a rest… Do the job, take a rest…
John: That’s it! And you know I… You got to know that. I mean: you’ve got to know that. I knew a guy that did the same thing. We had the same agent. He did animation, trailers, promos, and he was always unhappy. He was always unhappy. It was very conflicting for him. And then one day I saw him and he was the happiest guy ever, and I was like, “What happened?”, and he goes, “I started reading books”. He became the pre-eminent book narrator of the business. He became… Frank Muller… he became the greatest book guy. He found his guy. I mean, you know… you can wonder around the woods until you find the path, and when you find it, dude! You better get on it – like I said – and stay on it. And he did, man, he became that guy. You know.
John: Exactly. Exactly. He had some tragic, critical accidents, and stuff like that – almost killed him, things like that – but still kept reading. He came back. He came out of a coma, and all that stuff, it’s one of those great stories. When you ask me about finding the guy, you never know. You just… you say you’re not a promo guy, but until you really start reading it, and reading it…
Andy: It’s true. I’ve never tried.
John: Exactly. So you just don’t know.
Andy: I’ve built on my preconceptions…
John: Exactly. Your notion is “It ain’t there”. You just don’t know. You go back to mother England, you may do something for the BBC, and they’ll go, “That’s our guy! Where you been?” There it is.
Andy: Who knows?
John: Exactly, man. You just don’t know. You got to find it, though. And you got to get on it when you find it. I tell you, man, the dude… we never, we weren’t great friends, but I did have a great respect for the man. You know DLF was… is the reason why the rest of us have a career. If it wasn’t for la Fontaine and the modern trailer…
Andy: He made it sexy…
John: … wouldn’t be the modern day trailer. I mean, please, you know. So, all things being what they are, it’s unfortunate that he’s no longer with us. Then you’ve got to honour the fact that because of him the business, it grew. The dude was the fertilizer, and out of his fertilizer this whole thing just blew up. People want the trailers these days, I mean, my kids love the trailers. Which is kind of funny, because for the longest time I don’t think they really associated Daddy except for being the voice that came out of the television set, or they see on the screen in the movie theatre, and now they’re like, “My Dad does trailers, man!”. We can definitely learn a lot from what Don gave us to work with. From now until… who knows where this is going to go. You know? Will it be holographic 3D… I don’t know… 3D trailer – 3D trailers are coming, I guess we’ll get there sooner or later.
Andy: Just a final question, actually your last comment triggered it. It’s a question I asked Penny in a recent podcast I did with her. I have a four year old son, called William, and I try and do what I can to encourage him to be creative and find… and to be interested in different things. So, do you do… do you have any dreams for your son? Do you have any – of course you do – but do you have… do you encourage him to be interested in what you are doing? In the creative sense…
John: Well, here’s the weird thing. You’ve got to understand. See that kid over there? That’s my son. I was very, very young when he was born. We didn’t have much of a relationship, but the odd thing is you grow, and one day somebody walks up on you, and they’ve got your voice. He’s got my voice. It’s uncanny. He’s got my voice. Now, is it going to get him anywhere? I don’t know. And to be honest with you I’ve never – what I told all you guys tonight was exactly what I told him. He’ll tell you. I told him, “Having that voice guarantees you nothing”. And having it is probably the worst possible thing that could happen to you because I’ve got it! So, you’re not going to get me to give you anything. You’re going to have to take this from me… and I’m going to be dead when you do it. So…
Andy: That’s called patricide.
John: I’m sorry. Look, I’ve been in love with this my whole life.
Andy: I can see that.
John: I love the movies. I just do. I love the movies. I love television. I love making this thing happen. There’s nothing else. So do I want him to do that? Do I want him to sacrifice his relationships, his – potentially – fatherhood or whatever. No, I’d rather him be a better person, dad, than I am. But… this was for me. This was for me. Is that for him? I can’t say. You and William? You guys are going to have to work that out. I mean, I hope William has a long and wonderfully eventful and character-filled life. I hope he can do whatever he wants to do.
Andy: I don’t have an end goal for him. My dream is just that he has the desire to be creative in some way. In some way.
John: I think he is very well. I think he is very blessed, and well on the road to it, because he’s got you for a dad. I mean you’re out here.
Andy: Thank you.
John: …trying to bring… and bring that back. You are bringing that back to his world. You are out here experiencing this so that one day he’ll have the chance to go, “My Dad, he’s a risk taker… He flew all the way to Los Angeles, and he’s learning about… all over the world, he’s in Turkey. He’s doing all this stuff. He’s creating radio, television, podcasting… he’s interviewing people, learning about things. I’m getting the benefit of it”. Who knows, he may take the reigns away from you. He may take it from you…
Andy: What ever he does…
Andy: If he’s happy, that’s all that matters.
John: The thing of it is he has the opportunity, and in a planet of over six and a half billion people, very few of us have this opportunity. You’ve got to remember, this is a small group. The last thing I tried to share with them about the audition process. You know, when you get up to the upper echelons, it’s a very small pool. Shallow water. They know exactly what they want, and that’s what they do. And that’s why during the summer you only usually hear Ash, or you hear Scott Rummell, because that’s what the Hollywood guys want, they say, “I want Ash. I want Scott Rummell. I’ve got a blockbuster. I want my money”. Bumph. That’s it. But do they read me? Oh yeah. I mean, I read every movie that comes out. I’ll get a read on it. One thing… these kids that talking about how you dealing with your agents, my trailer agent, they get lists for me. They get lists of films. I’ll send them a list… and I know exactly what I want…
Andy: So you solicit the auditions?
John: No, I send it to them. They solicit the auditions. That’s what they do.
Andy: No, but you tell them which ones to…
John: Exactly, I’ve got the greatest group… and they get, do their own thing, and do what they want to do, but by and large, I say… OK. I’ll look for fifteen or twenty, or maybe a half dozen of them. Doesn’t make a difference. I’ll tell them, I’ll say, “This is what I want to read on… These I want to read on! I want eyes on this stuff”. And they go get it.
Andy: So, you started with the dream at ten. You found the guy.
Andy: Followed the road, and now you’re in the position where you are able to influence where that road is going. That’s fantastic.
John: Yeah. I have a great team. I have an amazing team. I have three different agencies. They are all wonderful. And that’s a lot of people. So, when you get people that believe in you like that, anything can happen. And it does.
Andy: Belief. People. Action.
John: Exactly, man.
Andy: Well, I can see it’s made you a very happy guy, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.
John: You too, man.
Andy: Thanks very much.
John: God bless everybody. God bless. Thank you.
Andy: Thank you.
About John Garry
John Garry is one of the most successful movie trailer and promo voices working today. Though you may not recognize his name, you likely know his voice and his work. Aside from being the network voice of ABC and exceptionally talented, he is insightful and sees working in voice over in a completely different light that takes courage and stamina to accomplish.
Article: Network VO… this is not a “Game.”
Article: VOICE 2010 Diversity Panel Coverage
William Boyns – William’s personal website
This interview was recorded in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency during VOICE 2010. For this reason there is an amount of background noise which I trust does not detract from this interesting conversation. It is the animated chatter of those who just participated in a lively discussion about “Diversity”. Thanks for listening – enjoy! Andy