Emily S. Whitten: John DiMaggio’s I Know That Voice
At Dragon Con a few weeks ago, I was delighted to catch up with voice actor John DiMaggio (a.k.a. Bender from Futurama) once again. John was at the con for several voice actor and Futurama panels, and also to continue spreading the word about his new voice actor documentary, I Know That Voice, which I interviewed him and the other producers about during San Diego Comic-Con. John was actually selling limited collector’s edition/advance copies of the documentary at the con, so not only did I check in with him on further documentary news, but I also snagged a copy of the film! Read on for our short I Know That Voice follow-up interview, and my review of the documentary!
What has the reception to the I Know That Voice documentary been at Dragon Con, and have you sold some of the advance copies?
It’s been really wonderful. People know about it; people are excited about it. I’ve been able to sell some copies; I wish I could sell more, but there are only a certain amount that we are going to sell that’ll be collectors’ items. But we’re working on a distribution deal right now, with a company called Go Digital, and another company called In Demand. This is all in negotiation; but In Demand wants to release it for a month on cable stations, to expose it, and they’ll plug it. And then we’re going to release it digitally on all the VoD (Video on Demand) platforms, like iTunes, Amazon, Hulu – everything. So that will be in December of this year. We’re getting it out there! People are going to be able to see it!
Will we be seeing any extras on the DVD?
Right now, our special con edition of the film is just that – it’s just the film, with no chapters, and no special anything to it; but yes, there are absolutely going to be extras on the final DVD. It will have all sorts of bonus features. It will have chapters; it will have extra interviews with some of the people that we interviewed – I mean, we had over 150 interviews, so we couldn’t, naturally, fit all of that into the documentary. So we’ve got extra stuff – extra clips from a whole bunch of people that we’ve interviewed. Also, we have our Comic-Con panel at San Diego, where we talked about it – which was great. So we have that on video for everybody. When I get back to Los Angeles after Dragon Con, we’re going to do a commentary reel; so Tommy Reid and Larry Shapiro, the producer and director, and I, are going to do that. There might be some outtakes, I’m not sure. Lots of stuff!
That sounds great! Any other details you’d like to share?
Well – the reason I got these special con editions done was because I personally felt that we were dangling this in front of everybody for so long; and the thing is that we only had a tenth or a twentieth of the movie done when we originally did the trailer, and that was awhile ago. We announced it, and people were like, “Okay! Well where is it?” and we were like, “Well…we’re making it. Sorry!” So now we have it, and I wanted to get it to the people that really want it; the fans. I wanted to do it. I really felt the need to let everybody know that it’s done. And here it is!
And of course we’re still going to honor our pre-order, on our VIP list on the website. I have enough copies for them; but we’re also going to have the final DVD done within the next month and a half; so if they want to wait, they can get the first dibs on that. If they want, I have these con copies, and I can get them to them. If they are on the preorder list, they can let us know. When I get back to L.A., what we’ll probably do is send out a newsletter or set up a PayPal site or something like that, and we’ll post that on the site and on the Facebook page. But we want everybody to know. And it’s funny, because Larry was saying to me, “John, they’re going to want special features! They’re going to want all this stuff.” And yeah, they are going to want it. But what they want is the film, mostly.
Well, and I’m going to buy the final copy, too.
See that’s the thing; people will keep buying it. If they like it, they’re going to buy the final one. And either is okay. I just needed proof that this thing was done, for the fans, and for me, too. But everything is all a go for the final product to come out soon; and it’s really exciting. I’m just hoping that the fans respond; and I think that they have here, and that they will continue to. When people know about it and hear about it, they’re thrilled; and that’s all I can ask.
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Review – I Know That Voice
Voice actors are a fascinating contradiction in the entertainment industry. They are simultaneously loved by millions and recognized by few. Whereas passing an on-screen actor on the street is cause enough for most people to snap pictures or call a friend to share who they just spotted, those same people could be standing next to one of their favorite “voices” at a grocery store and never realize it. They could have a whole conversation with voice actor John DiMaggio and not know that they were talking to one of the lead actors of their favorite animated show – unless, of course, DiMaggio suddenly told them to “Bite my shiny metal ass!” in the voice of Bender from Futurama. Then they might fall over in happy shock.
Despite the anonymity of the industry, the men and women who give voice to thousands of animated characters are some of the most talented, versatile, and hard-working members of the entertainment industry. This is what executive producer DiMaggio, producer and director Larry Shapiro, and producer Tommy Reid wanted to showcase in their upcoming documentary, I Know That Voice. DiMaggio says, “I wanted to honor these people. I wanted to show that my peers are…an incredibly talented bunch… I wanted to show them as champions of the industry.”
To do this, the documentary’s producers interviewed over 150 voice actors, casting and voice directors, creators, producers, voice teachers, and other luminaries about their experiences in the animation industry. These interviews are used in the film to explore every aspect of the voice acting profession, including its history; starting out in the business; taking on “legacy voices” first created by other voice actors; developing new characters; and the traits that delineate voice acting from on-screen acting, such as possessing the skills of musicality, physicality, and versatility. The documentary also explores the experience of celebrity for a group of extraordinarily talented people primarily known for voices that may not even sound like their own.
It’s not often that I watch a documentary with a constant smile and a frequent sense of wonder and delight – but that is what happened while watching I Know That Voice, which runs the gamut from serious discussions to whimsical humor. In large part, this is due to the main focus of the film, the actors themselves. As a whole, the titans of this industry come across as uniformly intelligent and clever, well-spoken, hard-working, dedicated, talented, wickedly funny, and warm and humble people. In discussing their work, they show a great respect for the industry and their peers, reverence for inspirations such as Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, and appreciation for the part they get to play in bringing animated characters to life for their fans.
This attitude is mirrored by the creators and directors who are also featured, and who clearly appreciate the talent inherent in successful voice actors. Emmy-winning voice director Ginny McSwain asks in her interview, “Does anybody realize how brilliant these actors are? Because they have to get every cryptic expression that you would do on camera, on a mic. They’re storytellers. That’s their gift.” Another director opines that these people are “the best method actors” in Hollywood; and I wouldn’t disagree.
Amongst those best-of-the-best featured in this film are legends like June Foray, Stan Freberg, and Mel Blanc (via archival footage and an interview with his son, Noel Blanc). Then there are beloved voices that I first encountered during my childhood and adolescence, like Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Maurice LaMarche, Nancy Cartwright, Jim Cummings, and Billy West. And voices I’ve become better acquainted with as an adult, like Grey DeLisle, John DiMaggio, and Nolan North. If those names don’t ring a bell, I could instead say: Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha; Tosh the Goofy Gopher; Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and a ton of other Looney Tunes characters; Yakko Warner, Pinky, and Raphael; Wakko Warner, Roger Rabbit, and Ironhide; The Brain, Calculon, and Kif Kroker; Bart Simpson, Ralph Wiggum, and Chuckie Finster; Darkwing Duck, Monterey Jack, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too; Ren, Stimpy, Doug Funnie, Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and Dr. Zoidberg; Azula, Vicky, and Catwoman; Bender Bending Rodriguez, Marcus Fenix, and Jake the Dog; and Superboy, The Kraang, and Deadpool.
If that seems like a dizzying list of characters, it’s only a tiny fraction of what each of those actors has voiced; and only a small selection of the large and talented group featured in this documentary. And seeing these amazing people break down how to do the difficult voice of Porky Pig, or what elements went into creating the beloved voice of Dr. Zoidberg, is a real treat; as is getting to see the faces behind the voices we know and love. We also get to see glimpses of the industry through the eyes of the working actor in the studio, which is fascinating to witness.
I Know That Voice is highly entertaining, as well as educational. For those who are fans of the industry, the documentary offers the rare opportunity to see all of your favorite voice actors discuss their craft in a comprehensive manner and do some of their most popular voices. For those unfamiliar with this aspect of the entertainment industry, this is an excellent introduction – and if you’re not a fan of these people at the beginning of the documentary, you will be by the end. For they are indeed champions of the industry, and it’s a joy to see a documentary like this celebrating them and exploring their craft.
Until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold