What better way to discover Los Angeles than to visit its studios. Heading first to Burbank, we had a great visit with the amazing Marc Graue, making certain to get photographed in that doorway framing so many of the stars that have passed through over the years. This is also the first of the Person Behind the Voice conversation which you can listen to, read, or watch… more video to come! Enjoy.
In conversation with Marc Graue
For the first time, the Person Behind the Voice comes to you in glorious technicolor!!!
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Transcript of conversation with Marc Graue
Andy: Okay… Well, here we are today at the legendary Marc Graue Studios. I’m very honoured to be with you sir.
Marc: I’m honoured that you came up here, it’s wonderful. All the way up the five.
Andy: In Burbank, California.
Marc: It’s true
Andy: We should let people know where it is
Marc: Well, yeah it is in Burbank, California that’s right. We’re in Burbank, California.
Andy: Okay, well that’s what the nice lady on the TomTom told us, and we believed her. So here we are, not in some alien… third dimension or fourth dimension.
Marc: It is a voice-over studio so it’s close.
Andy: It’s close. Well, we just had a very nice chat, Marc, and what I wanted to ask you just to kick off here was: this is the legendary Marc Graue Studio, was there ever a time when you weren’t legendary? And what was life like as a kid? How did you get into this crazy business?
Marc: Well I have an ex-wife and children who wouldn’t think it’s legendary at all. No, actually it’s very interesting; I was born into this basically. My dad used to anchor news at Channel 5 here in town, KTLA. So I grew up with Daws Butler and Stan Freberg doing a puppet show – live – which was very interesting. They, at that point, didn’t have actual lighting systems. This was back… Well, my dad started there in 1948, I’m not that old. But as a kid growing up we’d go in, sit and watch this, and the lighting systems that they had at that point were simply huge pieces of plywood with floodlights patched all to it. So it must have been 300 degrees back there. I have fond memories of sitting there with my mother, watching this wonderful series, this live puppet show and Stan Freberg goes, “Hey Beany… Oh f***!” like this and the puppet had literally melted on his hand, and so I thought it was wonderful because that was the day I learned puppetry and bad words. It didn’t well with my mother at all, she said, “You’re not going back there!” But we used to mimic voices; there was a drive-in, an AMW drive-in, where we’d sit with my brother and mimic people eating and kind of do voices with that. It’s funny, kind of a circuitous route; I ended up being the staff announcer at Channel 5 for about four years, which was interesting, which was kind of a strange thing after my dad being there. So it was… you know.
Andy: So was that your first job?
Marc: No, actually my first job… I went to college and got an Associate of Arts and broadcasting and thought, “Well, every radio station in the country will want me… and of course they didn’t.” So I worked all over Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, San Francisco, San Diego – went to San Diego State as well, got a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications, still nothing. But always, my first love was always production. And so when I kind of lied my way into a music studio up here, it was actually Cherokee Recording – large, large, this was in the heyday of Roy Thomas Baker who was the one who produced The Cars, Journey… I mean it was a magnificent studio. I really was kind of in over my head, however, they had a media studio and so I was in charge of that, so my first big gig was Van Halen – and not musically but actually to produce commercials for – and I talked Warner Brothers into coming in, and when they came in they brought their own engineer, and they had all the girls that looked like they were dead: black fingernail polish, black lipstick, black hair, black everything. So the guy was looking to patch an effect and I go, “You know, if you do this…” and he turns around in front of this room full of people and goes, “You know, I’d appreciate it if you shut your f***ing mouth and stay out of this.” And it was kind of a right side of the brain wanted to knock him off the chair, left side just kind sat there and turned four shades of red. So thankfully I went for the colour portion and listened to spot afterwards – and this was high price talent, I mean it was a big deal and I was very nervous the fact that I’d had Warner Brothers Records in, and listened to this spot and went, “It’s okay but I think I can probably do something…” So I actually went in and voiced, not vocally but production again, so I actually went in and voiced it because I could pay someone to do it and tacked that on the end of stuff when I sent it to Warner Brothers Records. They called up and said, “What the hell is this?” and I was like, “I apologise, I didn’t mean anything…” They were like, “No, no, no, we liked it”. It was like, “Really? They liked me!” That was the first foray into that, and so I had Warner Brothers Records for about nineteen years until AOL bought them out. And that was kind of what started…
Andy: So you started working with another studio and at that stage you set up your own studio?
Marc: Yeah, what happened in that case was they ended up closing that out, because they could make more money as a music studio doing sweetening and that kind of stuff, so I actually bought Studio 5 from them. I had not a penny to my name; I was living in a guest house behind a Yugoslavian landlord in East Hollywood who would come out and go, “Marc, I don’t care… what are you doing in my house, you can’t shut my yard! Marc!” So it was kind of an interesting thing because literally half the guest house was a studio, which I had bought from Cherokee and stuck it in there, and things just kind of progressed. It was a very interesting… you know, kind of place obviously having all of this stuff and trying to keep things going. Moved from there into a commercial building in Hollywood, this has been goodness probably thirty… five… thirty-five years ago and just gradually expanded there. We started with about 600 square feet and doubled in size, tripled in size, quadrupled in size and then it got to the point where there was a lot of interesting individuals in the neighbourhood. Let’s just say it was, “Whoa… that’s not a woman! Okay!” So yeah it was rather interesting…
Marc: So yes, you didn’t want to laugh because, terrible things could probably happen to you… But the neighbourhood was pretty rough, I remember having Julie Andrews come to a session. She’s walking in, very prim and proper and across the street you’ve got, “Say bitch!” I mean it was like, “Oh, my life!” It was mortifying. Thankfully she was very classy and just acted like nothing had happened whatsoever, but I was like… you know… And so anyway things got a little rough there so actually looked around and moved out here about twenty eight years ago into this building. It was very interesting this was a company called Stereovision. And this was a company that did all of the really cheesy-looking Gorilla 3D movies back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so when you walked in there was a very old man that was like, “Let me show you… and the dust would fly all over the place… And he had like little rocket ships on strings and things, it was kind of interesting. But basically built the place up and just kind of started out with that. We had done a lot of audiobooks to begin with, I’ve literally racked up… we’ve probably done close to 8000 titles. They started out with Dove Audio, which was very instrumental, because we were kind of the studio they did a lot of stuff and then literally within a week after opening here they said, “Well we’ve built our own studio” and it was like, “Argh… I’ll be okay” So it’s been that kind of progressive change with stuff and now… it’s, I think, the ‘legendary’ portion simply comes from the fact that we’ve been… we’re sitting upright, that’s all that is, it’s like, “Hey, look! He’s still alive”
Andy: So, talking with you, you’ve obviously got thousands of characters locked up inside you just screaming to get out, some of them…
Marc: Why are you looking at me like that?
Andy: I feel safe, I’m over here… I’ve got an arm rests between me. But that’s not all of your work… Did you start off with the sort of more character side of stuff, or the narrative stuff, or did you just grab whatever came along? How did you create them?
Marc: Well the funny thing is I’ve always done voice work – I was, again, I was a disc jockey in radio. The door would fly open and the general manager would go, “I can’t believe you just said about the Chevy dealers now apologise on the air”, and I was like, “Okay” and I would do the character stuff on the air and stuff but this was way before the Mark and Brians, and Howard Sterns and stuff. So it didn’t necessarily go over really well, especially in a market like Wyoming… imagine that. And so, the character stuff… actually what I do… I started the studio first as the bread and butter portion knowing that that was the business aspect of stuff. The first… I’d done a lot of voice work, but the first actual audition I had was at Hannah Barbara, this was when Gordon Hunt was back there, in fact I think his assistant was Kris Zimmerman and it was daunting, I had no idea how it worked. So I had written this entire script thinking that you needed to do a Robin Williams changing sort of, “Now we’ll have to find the great Noah of stuff”, “You may call me great! Great, yes!” “Oh one great is enough”, “Okay then” you know, they were like, “Make him stop!” It was like, “No I swear I’m not on crack, you know… just caffeine!” So, that portion of it is kind of where that started. Most of the stuff I was initially doing was the character stuff, yeah. You know, cartoons and video games and all that kind of stuff and then that branched out – you know with the deeper pipes it was doing a lot of that, you know, “Tonight on CNN” you know and all of that kind of Anderson Cooper stuff and all that. It’s gone into the narration portion as well; it’s kind of across the board. It’s an interesting, in that case I’ve been very fortunate, I don’t think anybody’s actually figured out what I do, which is probably why I still get to work.
Andy: Yeah, so just by being creative and pushing on doors, and seizing the opportunity.
Marc: Well yeah, absolutely! It’s very much you adapting to what the situation is, it’s not the other way around. A client will not adapt to you. You’re there to serve them basically, so if they say they want a gay, Jamaican coffee cup that better be one of your characters. That’s what you need to do. You can’t go, “That’s not one of the characters I’ve developed.” It’s very much improv. I always tell people it’s like that’s the best possible class you can take, is an improv class. If you’ve ever called the boss and lied to him about why you’re late to work, that’s improv… and if he believed it, it’s good improv. And that really is the key.
Well, the key to it demo-wise, when people do that, it’s like if you do animation and you want to do cartoon characters, be realistic with yourself. You don’t need to do everything, you know. And it’s much better – don’t fall into quantity versus quality. I love people that go, “Well I’ve got 741 voices on my demo” and it’s like, “And it sounds like you’re doing every one of them!” You know, so just do three, four. Just do what you do. It’s like you’ve found that slice and do that but just a notch better than the next person that’s all it is. And don’t take it too seriously, you have to understand we’re sitting in a room and talking, and yes there is absolutely the business aspect of this – and people miss that sometimes – but on the other hand realise that we are getting paid to sit in a room and talk, which is like, “How cool is that?”
Andy: We were joking a little bit earlier about how some people…
Marc: No, no we weren’t.
Andy: No, OK… We were being very serious earlier about how people take their training too seriously. Training, or some sort of input, whether that’s input from the world around you or input from a class, some sort of input is important, but taking it too…
Marc: Well I think you can learn technical aspects of things and that’s wonderful but the bottom line is, if you’re in a session, whether it be… whether you’re recording your demo or whether you’re actually getting a call-back or you’re auditioning for something, or you’ve booked the job, you don’t have the luxury, you’re not sitting in there going, “Now, I remember that when I hit this phrase I’m supposed to use my diaphragm, and now like this, and then on this part I’m going to do this.” No! It’s basically you just do it and fly with it. That, and then really the biggest thing of all to be successful doing this is your ability to interpret whatever the director says. And sometimes you’re gonna be kind of going, “This makes no sense to me whatsoever.” and other times you will be going, “This makes no sense to me whatsoever.” No, no, you’ll have directors that are very good and will make perfect sense, and those are the good directors that kind of bring you over to the dark side, and then they set it up and you just fly with it. And there’s others that… their style can be very, you know kind of aggressive, which I don’t think that’s conducive to getting a good performance because you kind of freeze a little bit. So again, it’s doing what you do, bring to it what you do. Don’t stop in a session and go, “Oh, oh no I don’t know…” It’s like have that visual image of what it is…
Andy: I’ve never driven a Buick so I can’t do a voice-over for one.
Marc: Yes exactly! It’s like, do what you do. It’s like, if you have a younger voice that’s that kind of young, hip thing you’re going to be doing a Toyota Prius spot not a Lexus, Infiniti, or a Mercedes Benz. It’s skewing to what you do kind of a thing. It’s also that visualisation. It’s like, “Is it elegant?”, “Are you walking down in a tuxedo, or a woman in an evening gown, at museum with a glass of Champagne?” Or is it more ‘No, I’m wearing a pair of cut-offs in the backyard with a beer.” You know it’s kind of… are you BSing with the boys, and back talking about how crazy your girlfriend is because she took your car down to this car mechanic that’s an idiot? You know so that’s a little more blue-collar, average kind of stuff. If I see another piece of copy that’s, “We want an average person, we don’t want an actor, we want a real person. But NO acting! We want real”
Andy: “I’ve never been real so how can I do that?”
Marc: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
Andy: So you obviously enjoy the creativity of the characterisations and so on. And also you’re doing the narrative reads. I guess some corporate, straight, narrative reads. Is that exciting for you? Or is that just something you go, “Ugh! I got to do it.”
Marc: “Right, are we there yet?”
Andy: Is there a character building in that as well do you think?
Marc: Well certainly. It’s the same – I don’t really do much corporate stuff now. Years ago I got involved with – I had to get a top secret security clearance and all this stuff, we were doing training films for the army, navy and marines and it was one of those, you know, “This is an S925AB, in your civilian life you probably called it, ‘a paintbrush'”. You know, it was like that, “Wait, wait, wait, I’m trying to write one down.” and it’s kind of you know, fall asleep time. The narrative stuff now, like the Alaska State Troopers, and Fisherman of the Sea, and a bunch of those kinds of things – it’s a narrative style but again depending on what it is, like they’ll say, “We want more drama on this” or they’re pulling up on a terrible, very graphic automobile accident or they’re actually chasing the suspect. I mean a lot of that will come across but – it’s the same thing as doing promos, you don’t inject that much stuff, that’s what the visual is doing, and then otherwise what happens is that it comes across as very swarmy. So, if you’re doing a promo read and it’s talking about, “Jill Smith discovered that she had cancer” You know you’re not gonna do, “Jill Smith discovered that she had… cancer.” You know, it’s like they won’t let you do that. It’s like, “We understand that but it’s more that you are there to inform not really take a side.” and that’s usually what they will tell you, so you need to kind of pull back a little bit.
Andy: It’s still understanding the right kind of styles…
Marc: Well sure, exactly, it’s the same thing as movie trailers. Everybody assumes that if you do movie trailers you have to be hung like Mr. Moose and have a voice that knocks the walls down. It’s like, “No!” There’s guys Rino Romano is phenomenal, Rino’s a great guy and he does very, very, you know what George DelHoyo, the higher register stuff.
Andy: That’s an interesting conversation I had with John Garry last year. And he was saying to me… at the time I hadn’t done any promos, and I said I didn’t think I could and he said, “Why not? You haven’t tried.”
Andy: So there’s finding a right style for your voice.
Marc: And that’s the key it’s like Ashton Smith, Ashton has kind of replaced Don, with Ashton we always laugh, it’s a 10 second promo and 8 seconds is, “Tonight, on NBCeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and just kind of rolls out there. Well, in that case you’re never gonna hear Ashton go, “Hey, what’s for dinnerrrrrrrrr? Kraft Macaroni and Cheeeeeeeeeeeese” No, but he’s making bazillions doing trailers, he’s phenomenal. He’s got that wonderful voice that cuts through and that’s that niche, that’s… he’s found what works, that’s what he does.
Andy: Okay, that’s very cool. Well, this is – your studios here are amazing… all the different actors that come through here, the different productions… the range of productions that you do here. And I was just wondering if I could introduce one new character and see if…
Andy: … If you can bring a voice for it. I have a little bear that’s been with me for 30 years, this is Russell.
Marc: I think he needs to get out more.
Andy: Yeah, well he gets out quite a bit.
Marc: Shut up Russell they’re talking to me. “It’s alright!” No okay.
Andy: He hasn’t had a voice for 30 years.
Marc: Okay, is he an older bear? Is he a sweet bear?
Andy: I think he’s a sweet bear. He’s travelled quite a bit, he’s quite curious about what he sees around him.
Marc: Is he a smart bear?
Andy: Well what do you think? Look at the light coming out of his eyes there, he’s a smart bear.
Marc: I’m scared.
Andy: I’m scared as well….
Marc: I love this, “Do you want to see my bear?” Wait a second, how many times has he used this? I have little furry animals in my van…
Andy: No this is the first!
Marc: Well I suppose the obvious choice is “He’s very sweet and he’s quite, this kind of…” you know that kind of a thing but I think… let’s see. If he’s smart he could be a little more intelligent, like scientific kind of?
Marc: So that’s a possibility I guess. Hmm… Let’s see, I guess, “What kind of voice…” I guess he could be “very much that kind of feel like that…” guy if he wants to go British we can make him more like this and even more like this” or we can get him… and drop the accent entirely and just go, “I’m so happy to be here today”… as I’m losing my voice, because you can tell I’ve been speaking all day, I actually had a video game this morning so I apologise but he’s very, very cute.
Andy: He is indeed. Well thanks very much Marc!
Marc: “We should make him talk like this. Hey I’m just curious, could you touch me under my arm? Yeah that’s it. Like that”. Sorry about that.
Andy: Okay. Well thanks very much.
Marc: Thanks! It was a pleasure.
Andy: You’re a great guy.
Marc: I’m so glad you guys came over; it’s wonderful to have you here. “Welcome to America, you poor man, now get your contractor’s license, listen to what your mother said”
Andy: I will do! I will do. Thanks Marc!
Marc: My pleasure
Andy: Take care
About Marc Graue
Marc Graue is the owner of the legendary Marc Graue Voice Over Studios, a Burbank California landmark for more than 25 years. His client list reads like a who’s who of the voice over business including the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, HBO, Disney, Warner Bros., Dreamworks, Showtime, MTV, Discovery Channel, ABC, CBS, NBC, HGTV, Activision, Electronic Arts, THQ and many more can be found in the studios daily. As a producer, Marc’s voice over demo clients include: EG Daily (Rugrats / Babe), Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons), John Dimaggio (Futurama / Kim Possible), Randy Thomas (Academy Awards / Entertainment Tonight), Brian Baumgartner (The Office) and 100s more!
As a voice over artist Marc has been represented by William-Morris in Beverly Hills for the last 12 years and can be heard on Avatar-The Last Air Bender, Veggie Tales, Code Name: Kids Next Door, Warcraft, Spiderman 3 the Video Game, Ratchett & Clank, GUN, Gothic 3 and on countless trailers and promos.
Thanks to Connie Mustang for her assistance with this interview
Camera: Mehmet Onur
This episode of “The Person Behind the Voice” was kindly transcribed by British voice artist Beau Bridgland.
Beau is an up and coming young, English voice artist, based near Cambridge in the UK with a desire to work in the USA. For several years whilst studying for his Mathematics degree, he studied voice-over independently and made contacts. But he really stepped up his voice career with his first US visit (and first ever flight) to the VOICE 2012 convention where he was able to meet face-to-face with many of his voice acting heroes. He has since received coaching from the likes of Crispin Freeman and Bill Holmes – the Voice-Over Doctor – and his is a talent to be listened out for and followed.