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Bob Bergen talks about his cartoon voices and favorite books

Bob Bergen talks about meeting childhood hero Mel Blanc...

READERSVOICE.COM: What do you remember about the time you saw Mel Blanc do voice over work?

BOB BERGEN: Being very nervous!!! My Mom allowed me to skip school that day to watch Mel Blanc record. He sat in the middle of this huge sound studio in front of a mic. In one hand he had a cigarette and in the other he had oxygen. And he kept going from one to the other in-between lines. I heard later that his Dr. told him that was dangerous because the cigarette could blow up the oxygen tank. So he gave up the oxygen.

I was fascinated watching him record. His face took on the expressions of each character as he did them. This was a lesson I teach my students today: if you physically play the character the voice will follow.

I also got to hear Mel do his characters for the first time in real time. Most of his voices are sped up electronically. Daffy is Sylvester sped up. Tweety is very sped, etc. With the exception of old radio shows I had on tape I never got to hear Mel do these voices in real time. At the end of the session Mel gave me an autograph, which can be seen on my website. http://bobbergen.com

RV: Can you describe the technical process of doing voice overs?

BB: The only time you have production to watch would be for a dubbed cartoon like Anime, or if you need to sweeten an already produced cartoon before it airs or is released.

Voices for the most part are recorded first. A typical 1/2 hour episode takes 4 hours to record and you may not see it on the air for a year or so. For an animated feature it can take literally years.

You do your lines usually without the other actors portraying the characters you are interacting with. You might do a page of dialogue one day, then not work again for a few weeks or months. Or you might work for a few weeks at a time every day. It varies depending on how involved your character is in the film.

It might be 1-4 years from the first session to the release of the film.

RV: Why did you go to numerous voice over workshops, constantly, rather than just learning how to do it the once?

BB: Because I wanted a well rounded education. It’s like college. You don’t study one course with one professor and call yourself a Dr. or Lawyer. You need many years with a variety of instructors. A big mistake I see actors make is they take one class then make a demo thinking they are ready. Those who listen to your demo will give you one shot. So if you aren’t ready they probably won’t give you a second chance when you are. So if you want to do voice-over work you need to start out by being a well trained actor.

I recommend that you don’t spend money in VO classes til you are well trained in acting and improv. A VO class isn’t an acting class. It takes the acting technique you already have and teaches you how to use your skills for VO.

RV: Can you describe what working at Universal studios was like and what you did in a typical day as a tour guide? Would you say that everyone working there was an aspiring actor and what were they like?

BB: Many were actors, but many were interested in other aspects of the business. Tim Thompson is a musician, famous for being the music director for The Nanny. Tony Sepulveda is a casting director. Katie Garretson is a television director who often directs Frazier. So many of us have gone on to pursue show biz.

Being a guide was fun. I was there for 5 years. The tour at that time was 21/2 hours long, now it’s more like 40 minutes. It was divided between the tram which takes people through the lot, to the Special Effects Stage which took people onto a sound stage that demonstrated how special effects were done in movies and TV.

The job was fun. It was a great gig to have while trying to break into the biz. On a busy day I’d do about 4 tours. After 5 years as a guide I still have the script permanently embedded in my brain. Course my knowledge of Universal stops at 1987!!