Sunday, February 9, 2014

Interview with Audio-book producer/narrator Jack Nolan

What in your background moved you to learn audio book creation?  Can you share the point when you finally said to yourself, “hey, I can do this!”?

Well, I've been a working actor out here in Hollyweird for two decades now. Ninety percent of what I do is humble background, but I've had my share of voiceover and bit parts too. I scored the lead in my high school play, and that was the last time I've ever felt stage-fright, which I think is the main thing that shoos people away from acting. I love that people will actually pay me to play "let's pretend."

And people routinely ask about my voice. Usually it's "where are you from?" People think I'm British, unless they're British, in which case they think I'm Scandinavian. They give me funny looks when I say, "I'm from Burbank." I just have this love for the spoken word, the unique timbre, rhythm, and emphasis of interesting speakers, so it follows that my own voice became a hodge-podge of voices I admire.

Cinema these days is a runaway train of fast-cuts and shouting. I adore it when an actor can just freeze the movie in its tracks with a great monologue: Weaving's V, Pleasance's Loomis, Douglas's Gecko, Foster's Starling...!

What book in all the world would you love most to narrate?  Why?

I'm doing it! I now have enough work that I need to turn away about a third of what I'm offered, so I can be a little choosy (sadly, sometimes I hafta relinquish a great project because there's just not enough time.) Alongside the Bhagavad Gita primer, I've recorded a new translation of Prometheus Bound, and now that same poet/translator's entrusting me with his version of the Iliad! Let me have all that "hard, highbrow stuff" that many recorders shy away from! Gimme Faust, Khayyam, Three Kingdoms; it's a joy to pronounce such wonderful words.

If I could pick just one? Bradbury. What a prose style! But then, he read his own work magnificently.

'Course I'm also ambitious to do animation. Love Paul Frees, June Foray, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong.

What three tips would you give young narrators (what did you wish you knew before you went into this art-form?)?

I have no idea who said this, but I found this burned into the back of the set of Studio 60:

TV makes you famous,

Film makes you rich,

Stage makes you good.

I'm glad I paid attention in Spanish class, but I wish I'd taken an introductory class in French and German. You'd be surprised how often those three come up.

Love what you do, do it because you love it, until people start paying you for it.

Do you undertake a lot of “pre-recording” work prior to sitting down at the microphone?  What kinds of prep do you do?

I read the first few chapters to get a feel for the tone. If there are character voices, I might ask the author his preference, in a sense "auditioning" the voices I do. But... and this is embarrassing. A friend I trust said she likes my first take best, because it has more energy and vitality. So what you're hearing is pretty much a cold-read, except for editing out flubs. Once an author made me laugh so hard I had to redo a chapter.

Part of my private fun -- I enjoy mimicking celebrities. So novelists have unknowingly had all-star casts in their work. I put Brian Blessed in Prometheus Bound. I've done dialogue scenes between Woody Allen and Keanu Reeves, Walter Koenig and Rod Serling, Kevin Conroy and Bela Lugosi. One novelist had a German romantic lead, and he found Peter Lorre perfect; Lorre would never have scored a romantic lead! Another novelist had a straight-laced lawyer who gives big speeches about justice, and the voice he unknowingly picked was Heath Ledger's "Joker."

How do you care for your voice and still do a lot of recording?

Y'know, my voice hasn't really been that big a problem. I record a chapter, then do the post so my voice gets a break. Now that I'm used to it, I've not had too much trouble. If you start hearing yourself lose your resonance, just stop. It's not worth it to do damage.

How does your “real life” help or hinder your work as a narrator?

Eh, just time. Sometimes my cat meows at my door when I'm trying to record.

If you could set yourself up a “perfect” studio, no matter the cost, what equipment, software, etc. would you use?

Boy, are you asking the wrong person there! I custom-built my PC from off-the-shelf components years ago, so I have some nerd-cred. But audiophile stuff? I'm running bare bones just now, a Yeti Blue with a pillow behind to get rid of bounce-back. I had to have someone at ACX explain what compression was and why I needed it (great guy by the way,) so what do I know?

What I'd really like is to get three other artists in a studio, (including at least one female. I'm a baritone-bass, my female voices are awful!) then post in music and sound effects. Make it like an old radio show!

How hard is it to please the authors in this business?  Any tips for the authors who might be reading this or other young narrators who could use the information?

That totally depends upon the authors. Like most things, there's ninety-plus percent of really fine, decent people who just want someone who understands they've put a lot of hard work into this, and is willing to rise to the occasion. There's that last under-ten percent of psychos, and when I see that, I just stop answering their e-mails. It helps that I won't do porn; wouldn't look good on the resume.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction work?  What are the joys and irritants about each kind of book?

I like to alternate. They're both fascinating and fun, but in different ways. It's like going for pizza one night, and Chinese the next. Non-fiction can be limiting vocally, but my voice might give out if I did too many novels.

What insights have you gained about this industry that you’d like to share? 

Like everything else in show-biz, do it because you love it. Financially, you're doing great if you can pay your bills.

The many faces of Jack!  

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