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Trailer Guy talk

09.09.2008

When Don LaFontaine’s voice changed at thirteen years of age, history began to change with it.  Mid-sentence, telling his mother he’d help with the dishes, the Voice of God was born.  And sadly, on September 1st, 2008, the world lost a legend.  While his face may not be recognizable to everyone, aside from some really inventive commercials, his voice is one that everyone who goes to a movie theatre has heard.  His work as  a voice actor for trailers is legendary.  It includes forty years in the business, grabbing your attention as you waited for the feature film to begin.  The list of trailers he brought to life include BATMAN RETURNS, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, SHREK and probably my personal favorite, FRIDAY THE 13th way back in 1980.  And of course, there were many, many more.  He was the gentleman that spoke those unforgettable words, “in a world where…”, it was his way to set the stage quickly for the audience viewing whatever trailer it happened to be.

This was a different kind of story for JoBlo.com, but it was a chance to talk shop with a man named Paul Wintner.  First off, his collection of movie memorabilia is outstanding.  It ranges from original props to original, signed posters to a life-size Chewbacca with a couple of (also life-size) Stormtroopers.  But we weren’t just looking to speak with someone who has a collection that any fan boy would probably sell his entire family for, but he also happens to manage the careers of several voice actors.  The talent he represents includes a couple of gentlemen who you have heard recently with the trailers for IRON MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.  But aside from the business of voice, what Paul really wanted to talk about was the man Don LaFontaine really was, and the reason why he is a legend.

He spoke fondly of  Don, but most of all he wanted to let people know that he was more than just a voice over actor with a powerful sound.  He was also a class act that was more than willing to help others out.  Whether it was a friend, a charity, or even some of his competitors, LaFontaine was always willing to help lend a hand.  And with his passing, it was nice to have a moment to talk about the man and the magic he brought to the silver screen.  It was also kind of cool to hang out at his office surrounded by some of the most amazing movie history I have ever seen… and this is only a portion of what Paul has acquired throughout his movie loving years.

I asked Paul about the business of voice work.  Not surprisingly, it is a competitive road to travel.  There are very few men and woman whose words are heard in a darkened cinema telling the audience what is coming soon to a theatre near you.  And for a man to last as long as Don did really is miraculous.  But it takes more than just a man with a golden voice to move mountains… and Mr. LaFontaine knew exactly what that was.  Thanks to Mr. Wintner and Wintner Artists Management for a very informative hour of movies and magic.  You can check out his website at www.wintnerartist.com and not only see the talent he represents, but a whole bunch of other fun stuff including movie reviews… he even has a slight resemblance to our very own JoBlo himself.  Check it out!

Paul Wintner

You always hear how difficult it is to get into voiceover, how hard is it to get into from your perspective?

It depends on what kind of voiceover you want to get into.  You have to know what you want to do whether it’s animation, trailer, promo, commercial, DJ, there is so much you can do in voiceover.  But the truth of the matter, as any voiceover work talent will tell you, it’s probably harder than on-camera acting.  Because you don’t have the physical aspects to sell what you’re doing.  It’s all in your voice.  And if you’ve ever listened to yourself, even on an answering machine or tried listening to yourself, closing your eyes while you talk and announcing things a certain way, it takes a lot of skill.  And a lot of what we get, what is most frustrating are the calls from people with deep voices or women with sexy voices that say, ‘I’ve been told my whole life I should do voiceover… I’ve got a great voice.’  Well, we don’t take people based on their voice, we take them based on how they read and how they sound.  It is very different.  I tell people, just because you have a good voice, it’s like having a good guitar, but if you don’t know how to play it, it’s going to sound like crap.  It’s the same thing.  Or you could have a guitar that’s not so good, a voice that doesn’t necessarily sound deep or like a voice of God or a sexy voice.  But if you know how to tweak the guitar and you know how to play with it, even if it isn’t a high end guitar, it’s going to sound good, you know what I mean.  So it’s really an instrument and you’ve gotta know how to play it.  And that’s where the skill comes in.  And I think a lot of people don’t understand that, they think that it is an easy job to do and its really not, its very difficult.

Well how did you get involved in managing these artists?

I came from A and R, from doing A and R, I always loved pushing bands and always had an ear for music.  It’s probably my second favorite thing, music.  And I was introduced to a gentleman, you know, fifteen years ago, that was a voiceover talent and at the time he was probably in his seventies.  He had done everything in voiceover except for trailers.  A friend of mine was his neighbor and he asked my friend if he knew anybody that can get on the phone and sell him, because the agents are too busy to sell him on the level that he thinks it would require to book trailer work.  So my friend says, I got this guy that loves selling, he was a telemarketer when he was thirteen-years-old and he sells music, I should talk to him about it.  So long story short, they set up a meeting and I just started working for him.  I got a list of all these producers that hire voices for trailers, and this guy, he was known as the “Other Don”, coincidentally, and a very close friend of Don LaFontaine, that just passed sadly.  And he [Don Morrow] said that before he retires he wants to know that he did it all, so he wanted to do trailers, the only thing in voiceovers he never did.  But it’s the hardest thing in voiceover to crack because there is such a closed group of people doing it.  So he gave me a list, I started calling producers and editors that hire talent.  I annoyed the hell out of them until they listened to this Don’s CD.  And it was when he booked the TITANIC campaign in ‘96, that was the first big campaign I booked him in and from then on it was all history.  So after that I started taking on other voices to cover a different range of sound and just kind of grew my business from there, and built my rapport from being on the phones.

And as for voiceover work, when we were talking on the phone, people seem to have a misconception as to there being only one voice for all the trailers.

They do, and I don’t want to take away from Don because he’ll always be the King of Trailers.  But I think the average person that goes to the theatre, they  hear the deep voice and they think it’s one guy doing it all. One guy cannot do it all.  If one guy did it all, the guy would lose his voice and probably have a heart attack.  It’s too much work.  But there’s probably right now, I’d say there’s about twelve guys that do most of the trailers.  A total of twelve of them.  If you listen to them on my site or any agent’s voiceover site, you’ll see that there’s a very big difference in their voices.  One guy is doing the comedy, one guy is doing the romance, one guy is doing action, one’s doing independent film… some talents can do all the genres, but normally they use different voices.  But Don was King for many reasons.  But not necessarily as the guy doing every trailer.

How did you meet Don LaFontaine?

Well Don Morrow was very good friends with Don LaFontaine.  And Don Morrow was my first client.  As a matter of fact, Don LaFontaine said it many times, if not for Don Morrow, he wouldn’t be where he is today.  Because, the story goes, Don Morrow was a voiceover talent and at the time Don LaFontaine was a producer.  Don LaFontaine use to hire Don Morrow to do voiceover.  And Don Morrow used to always say, you should go into voiceover because you have a great voice.  You know, Don LaFontaine was producer/writer.  And one day Don Morrow couldn’t show up to a session, and Don LaFontaine put his own voice on it and the studios kind of went, ‘Wow!  That sounds great.’ And Don LaFontaine from that day became a working trailer voice.  And what makes him the King of Trailers is that he is probably the only guy to have longevity, to have such a long career in trailers.

Forty years right?

Yeah, something like that.  Most guys, if they could be the top trailer guy for ten years, they’re lucky.  And he was also a great guy.  It never really went to his head.  It’s very important in our business that it doesn’t. 

What was it about him specifically that gave him the longevity and with that kind of fame?  I had read that he was also called The God of Voiceover.

He was known as The Voice of God… I think they called him Thunder Throat.  Again, he had an amazing sound.  It can cut through anything.  Any explosion, any chaos in a trailer, it cut through.  He had the skill, he had the talent.  If he was doing ten sessions a day, and one of his spots was “24” for Fox, he was able to then shift, right then and there, and go from an action into, you know, a “Simpsons” promo.  He had the ability to go to an action, and then to a comedy, and then to a, you know, ‘…don’t miss the all new season finale!’ so he covered three types of reads just like that.  And that is very hard for talents to make that shift.  But I think what gave him the career for so long, is that really, he was the best at what he did.  You can’t mess with the best.

Now with technology, it seems that there is more that can be done with voiceover work in regards to how many jobs talent can take on.  I had read that he was able to do numerous jobs per day.

What happened was, Don LaFontaine was… he did a lot for the voiceover community because he brought attention to trailers and voiceover.  He did a lot of interviews, he was out in the public eye a lot.  He did a lot of ABC shows…

Geico commercial…

Yeah.  He did a lot of Blockbuster [commercials], you know, where the guy asks someone what this movie is like and he pops up from the counter and reads the back of the movie, I don’t know if you remember that… in his trailer voice.  He brought awareness to trailers.  He got people interested in, not just the trailer, but the voice behind the trailer because he was out there a lot.  You know, he was telling the world who he is.  Letting them know who they’re listening to.  But I think at his peak, he did thirty or something trailers [a day], which is still sensational.  But what happened is, years ago he would get in a limo and go from job to job.  He had a driver, he had a great friend Clint that used to drive him around.  And he became known as the trailer guy that goes around in a limo and does job to job, and my God… you know, everyone talked about it.  But what happened over the years, that whole way of working got killed because talent started building their own studios at home.  You could literally take a bathroom or a closet and turn it into a soundproof room.  And studios, because they are on such a timeframe and they have to get stuff out so fast for their clients, they basically started ISDN’ing from home.  So you wouldn’t even have to be there anymore, you could phone patch to ISDN or the talents would FTP it, they’d upload their reads to a site and that way you’d book even more jobs.  You didn’t have the travel time anymore.  So now the top talents work out of their home and they’ll do anywhere from five to thirty sessions now out of their home because they can get more done without the travel time.

 

Now you talk about Don, obviously an amazing talent and a great loss,  but you also say he was a great man.  What was it about him that made him special?

Yeah, and I think this is what people need to know, more than anything.  He was a great talent and he worked a ton, we all know that.  He had a voice and an instrument that he mastered, he could do anything with it.  That’s obvious.  But even though I didn’t represent him, and essentially one could say he was a competitor of mine, you never looked at him as a competitor because first of all there, is no competition when it came to Don.  If you wanted Don on your movie, you weren’t going to try and sell anyone else, you’re hiring Don, you know what I mean?  But he didn’t only welcome his competition, he helped his competition.  He was confidant with who he was, where he’s going.  He didn’t feel threatened by anyone.  And because of that, whenever you met him, and because of the person he was, he was always pleasant, he was always sweet.  All of my talents, my busiest talents on my roster, he was a mentor to all of them.  They were all friends with him.  They are all grieving.  They are all just shocked and horribly stunned by the fact that he’s no longer with us.  But to me what made him the King of Trailers, was aside from the fact that he’s done some of my favorite movies when I was growing up, the movies that made me want to get into this business, was just the person he was.  He gave charity, he helped out people.  When you met him in public you never got that sense that he wanted to kick your butt because you’re a competitor.  He made you feel warm.  He made you feel welcome.  And he gave advice to all my talent.

That is unusual.

Yeah, it’s unusual.  And that’s why I say there is just no competition because of the person he was.  There probably won’t be another guy like that.

Who now is the one person you think, while maybe not equaling his talent, but is one to look out for?

The two busiest talents today are definitely Ashton Smith and Scott Rummell.  They’re both my talents… you know, Don LaFontaine used to kid and tell Ashton I fired my limo driver because of you, I didn’t need him anymore.  But they’re the two busiest guys yet I don’t think any of them will ever hold the throne, the crown that LaFontaine held.  But if I had to put my finger on who are the busiest guys today, it’s definitely those two as far as trailer, promo and commercial.  You know Ashton, I could name ten movies he did this summer and I could name ten movies that Rummell will be doing for Christmas and that he did this summer as well.

I saw a few posts about Don, and it really is funny how people are reacting as if nobody else does this job at all…

I know, it’d be impossible for one guy to do it.  Your voice would not be able to handle it.  Because when you’re doing even one movie, like Ashton did IRON MAN and Scott Rummell did Batman [THE DARK KNIGHT] right… when you’re doing IRON MAN let’s say,  the studio has revision changes on the script everyday.  What you hear on T.V. you know, ‘On May 22nd, one man will change his identity to fight crime…’ they wrote those couple lines thousands of times to decide on going with that to air.  And every time they change a word, a line or whatever, our talents come in and get paid to read it.  So one movie keeps you pretty busy.  If you’re doing five movies a month, you’re already working a ton.  Now that doesn’t include the promos for television shows, the DVD stuff you’re doing… ‘own it on DVD!’.  It is just impossible for one guy to do it.  Luckily there is enough room for a couple more people to do it.

And nowadays you have so much more advertising thanks to home video and such…

You’ve got paper… you know, when you do a campaign, it starts off with EPKs, it starts off with the early presentation stuff.  This is about a year and a half to a year before the teaser even hits the theatre.  So we’re working on… let’s say you start working on IRON MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT or INDIANA JONES, you’re doing those before a year before it even hits the theatre.  Because you’re doing the EPKs, the early presentation stages, then you work on the teaser then you go on the international trailer and then you go on to trailer one, trailer two, trailer three… then you start working on the television spots.  Then there is the big sixty second T.V. spot that’s going to air on some big season finale.  Then you’ve got your radio, reviews and then it breaks.  It pauses.  And then it comes back for the home entertainment campaign which is the DVD, Blu-Ray, and then Pay Per View.  It’s ridiculous.

Is there ever a case of it going to DVD and the studio or whoever trying a completely new campaign and the talent not being used?

Definitely.  A lot of times they share campaigns with other voices, other trailer guys.  Especially if the movie didn’t do as well in theatres, they tend to use a different voice thinking that maybe it was the marketing.  Maybe we’ve got to try something different.  If the movie performed, they are going to stick with the same guy.  If it didn’t, they are trying something different.

Do you have a particular favorite Don LaFontaine moment?  As I mentioned, mine is the terrific trailer for FRIDAY THE 13th.   What is yours?  Send questions and comments to [email protected]

 

Source: JoBlo.com

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