Remembering 9/11

 

 

 

Reel Focus blog commemorates the many women and men who died on September 11, 2001, including those who died in the line of duty fighting to protect national freedom. 

 

NEVER FORGET 

 

Photo credits 

Image of American Flag courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

Image of 9/11 memorial in New York courtesy of 9/11 memorial digital assets

Image of 9/11 memorial in Woodstock, Georgia.

 


 

 

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Georgia Film Academy – Educating Georgia’s Aspiring Film Professionals

Student in the Georgia Film Academy
Image courtesy of Georgia Film Academy

Georgia is home to the third largest film industry and has most recently been named number one for feature films, even surpassing Hollywood in feature filmmaking — the long-standing leader in the industry.  This is exciting news for Georgia and as a result of this boom, Georgia’s film industry is growing much faster than many expected.  It is growing so fast that jobs outpace the local qualified people who can fill them.  In order to fill this gap, Georgia Film Academy (GFA) was created to train locals in film so that Georgia can utilize its own homegrown talent to fill some of these positions.  

Image of Jeff Stepakoff, Director of Georgia Film AcademyThis great initiative is led by, Executive Director, Jeff Stepakoff.  He is a writer-producer with over 28 years of experience in the industry.  His most notable work includes The Wonder Years, Sisters, Major Dad, Beauty & the Beast, Simon & Simon, and Dawson’s Creek.   He and his team are committed to getting “jobs for Georgians” in the film industry.  Jeff and his team have developed a comprehensive program that trains students for work on one of Georgia’s many film sets.  This training includes in lighting and electric, grip and rigging, and set construction and painting.  Education and training then culminates in an internship with a film production company filming in Georgia.

The Georgia Film Academy works in conjunction with the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.  Partner schools that offer GFA classes are as follows:

 

  • Atlanta Metropolitan State College
  • Clayton State University (offering continuing education courses)
  • Columbus State University
  • Dalton State College
  • Georgia College
  • Georgia Piedmont Technical College
  • Georgia State University
  • Gwinnett Technical College
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Savannah Technical College
  • Southern Crescent Technical College
  • University of West Georgia

These schools work to get students workforce ready for areas of high need in as little time as possible so that graduates can take advantage of working on the set of many of Georgia’s film projects.  

The Georgia Film Academy launched in 2016 and since it launched has supplied student interns to several Georgia productions such as “The Walking Dead,” “Spiderman,” “MacGuyver,”  “Finding Steve McQueen,” “Stranger Things,” and “Day Time Divas.”

As Georgia’s film industry continues to grow, Georgia Film Academy will inevitably grow with it.  To find out more about how you can train to become part of Georgia’s growing film industry, visit www.georgiafilmacademy.org to learn more about the program.  

 

Image of a student in the Georgia Film Academy

 

 


 

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In Memoriam – Remembering Stunt Actress Joi Harris

Remembering stunt woman Joi Harris killed on the set of Deadpool
Image courtesy of Legacy.com

On August 14, 2017, on the set of one of Hollywood’s most anticipated sequels, Deadpool 2, stunt driver Joi Harris was killed in a low-speed freak accident while performing a motorcycle stunt.  Joi had been a motorcyclist for many years but this would have been her debut in film as a stunt driver.  She was a rookie in film but she was no rookie to performing stunts with her bike.  One of her favorites sayings was “I get back out there and go just as hard as before like nothing ever happened (referring to recovering from motorcycle crashes).”  

Unfortunately, this woman with such a promising new career in film died after sustaining injuries from her sixth take on a stunt on the set of Deadpool 2.  Her motorcycle tire hit the curb and propelled her off of the bike into a glass window of a building.  Joi was not wearing a helmet.  British Columbia law enforcement will be conducting an investigation into her death to find out more about what went wrong. 

 

Joi leaves behind a great legacy.  This Brooklyn, New York native was coined as “the first licensed African American Female Road Racer.”  Reel Focus salutes this pioneer and leave you with her very special words about never giving up:

“There is always something to learn when on track and pushing limits…Everything takes time. Face your fears, you never know what you can be missing out on.”

 

In Loving Memory of Joi Harris

 


 

 

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2017 Atlanta Underground Film Festival

 

 

 

This weekend will mark the 14th annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival.  The festival will be held the new Synchronicity Theatre in Midtown.  

Atlanta Underground Film Festival (AUFF) touts itself as more than just a traditional film festival. It was founded in 2004 to provide indie filmmakers an outlet to express their creative talent at the grassroots level.  AUFF features artists who think outside of the box to create films that thrive outside of mainstream competitions.  This film festival provides a platform for the astounding work of local indie filmmakers to be heard.  Filmmakers are “from every corner of the earth, with a good mix of local, national, and international films,” says a spokesperson for the festival.  

The festival will take place Friday through Sunday and will include over six dozen films.  Highly anticipated films include: 

Tempest Storm 

 

Devil’s Whisper 

 

Back for Good

 

Nowhere Michigan 

 

Whitney Can I Be Me

 

 

A few award categories will include the following:

 

Best Feature 

Best Documentary Feature 

Best Comedy Documentary Feature 

Best Comedy Feature 

Best Director 

Best Drama Feature 

Best Horror Feature 

 

For more details about this festival, visit www.auff.org.

 


 

 

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The Afterthought – Wonder Woman Film Review

Wonder Woman (2017) Image by Clay Enos
Photo Credit – Clay Enos

 

The Afterthought – Reel Focus blogger’s initial reaction to a new television show, new film release or television show season premiere.

 

The 2017 summer movie season has seen its fair share of disappointments where the box office is concerned. Fate of the Furious broke records during opening weekend, but after that, the ratings plummeted and set the tone for what seemed to be a season of massive flops. King Arthur, Baywatch, and The Mummy all – one after the other all crashed and burned at the box office.

Then came along advertisements for the one movie I and a host of other moviegoers had been looking forward to:  Wonder Woman.  I’m sure after the domino effect of movie flops this season, moviegoers were a bit apprehensive about this one.  But after its release on June 2nd, it still continues to break box office even over a month later after its release.

This action adventure directed by Patty Jenkins is a phenomenon that has left a lot of studio executives marveling and scratching their heads at the same time. Why has Wonder Woman succeeded when these other films this season have not? Why did this film work both critically and among the fans when Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad left moviegoers with a sour taste in their mouths?

As a writer, I believe that one reason this film worked so well is because the script was well-written and easy to follow, not to mention the quality acting and directing. With all of these things working in sync, I pose a better question “How could it have not succeeded?”

My Synopsis of the Film

My overall opinion of Wonder Woman is that it surpassed any and all expectations I had. The script had me entangled in its web from beginning to end thanks to Jenkins direction and Gadot and Pine’s chemistry. It is undeniable from the jump that DC is trying desperately to make up for the debacle of  Batman v Superman and the critical failure of Suicide Squad by taking a serious look at their movie roster and the improvements needed to compete with the juggernaut that is Marvel.

 

The Afterthought – My Take on the Film

Hiring a female director with an excellent track record was a smart move. Patty Jenkins, an award – winning director from the film (Monster) and television (The Killing) was chosen to bring the story of the Amazonian superhero to the big screen. Deborah Snyder, one of the producers of Wonder Woman said it would not have felt right to have a man direct the long- awaited film about the Amazon superhero and that along with Jenkins’ passion for the project placed her as the front-runner.

 

Finding the right person to embody the heroine was also of vital importance. Gal Gadot who is best known for her role as Gisele in The Fast and Furious franchise plays the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman with the perfect mix of vulnerability and badassness that has earned her well – deserved accolades from critics and the fan base. Casting Chris Pine as her love interest, Steve Trevor was a coup as well since he’s proven himself to be a credible movie star in films like Hell or High Water and the Star Trek franchise.

 

Wonder Woman has been on Jenkins radar for years. She first pitched her idea of an origin story to the studio back in 2010 but was rebuffed in favor of another female director. When that director and the studio clashed due to “creative differences,” Jenkins was called back in, and the rest is history.

 

The movie has now been out well over a month and has grossed $700 million worldwide and still going strong. News broke that it has held box office momentum better than any superhero film in the last 15 years.  Justice League featuring Gadot alongside Superman, Batman, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman will be coming out later this year, and I am sure the studio is hoping that the audiences who rushed out to see WW in her solo film will support this ensemble piece. After all, she was the one thing about Batman vs. Superman that worked and the only superhero (besides Spidey) that people seemingly care about right now.

WW2 is scheduled to make its debut in December 2019. Rumors have been swirling about the plot line for WW 2 and whether or not a particular character will be resurrected from the dead. All that is pretty much concrete, for now, is Gadot is committed, the setting could be during the 1980’s, and it will be dealing with the Cold War era. Jenkins is still negotiating her deal, but it is highly likely she will be returning as well.

The film is going to do well regardless of what decade it’s set in because Jenkins and Gadot have the recipe that reignited interest in the D C films: girl power on the screen and behind the scenes plus charismatic leads and an excellent story will bring the masses to the theater.

IMDb Film Synopsis

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

Film Director(s)

Patty Jenkins

Film Writer(s)

Allan Heinberg

Zack Snyder

Allan Heinberg

Jason Fuchs

William Moulton Marston

Main Actors/Actresses

Gal Gadot

Chris Pine

Connie Nielsen

Image (top) courtesy of Imdb – Photo by Clay Enos – © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

 


 

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This Seat’s Reserved – Behind the Scenes of GPB’s New Show ‘A Seat at the Table’

Logo for GPB's new series "A Seat at the Table"
Image Courtesy of GPB

 

What is it like to be a black woman in America?  How do black women feel about how people perceive their hair; about raising children; about marriage and relationships; and about black men?

“I am not my hair,” are the words spoken so fiercely by the neo-soul singer, India Arie in defense of black women being more than just a hairdo.  Likewise the three co-hosts of this show – Monica Kaufman, Denene Millner, and Christine White – are much more complex than their hair, skin, clothes, and finely manicured nails.  They represent a diverse mix of African American women from various generations, professions, and perspectives.  These three women have teamed up to give a voice to issues affecting not just the African American community but more specifically African American women in GPB’s new show “A Seat at the Table” premiering Sunday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m.

Last Tuesday afternoon, GPB invited a small group of media professionals out to get a sneak peak of the show.  The meeting started with a luncheon that allowed attendees to network with each other and to get to know the show producers better.  

Media professionals meet to discuss GPB's new series "A Seat at the Table."
Local media professionals eating lunch, networking and sharing ideas.

 

Bert Huffman, VP for External Affairs and Chief Development Officer, along with the producers of the show – Keocia Howard and Tiffany Brown Rideaux – entertained questions from the audience about how they chose the co-hosts and how they chose the topics for the show.  They also hinted at some ways to grow and expand the show series beyond public television and into a commercial platform, while maintaining GPB’s commitment to educate, entertain, and inform audiences.

 

Employees of GPB explain the premise for "A Seat at the Table."
Bert Huffman (left), Keocia Howard and Tiffany Brown Rideaux explain the show’s premise.

 

The ladies of ASATT took a break from filming an episode on the topic of “do black men support black women like black women support them” to share with the audience more about the show.  Although these three women are from three different age groups and professional backgrounds, their synergy was as genuine off-screen as it is on-screen.  Audience members asked a variety of questions and the hosts took turns responding to them.  One point that each host emphasized is that this show would allow people to see them express their real feelings about real things that affect them individually as black women in America.  This show “gives voice to what hasn’t been spoken of in public,” says Christine.  Thanks to GPB’s unconventional platform, no topic that these ladies tackle will be too taboo or controversial, and they will reflect an African American woman’s perspective – a perspective that often overlooked or undermined in mainstream media platforms.

 

Monica Kaufman, Denene Millner, and Christine White discuss their new show "A Seat at the Table."
Christine (left), Monica (middle), and Denene (right) speak to the audience about the show.

 

After the question and answer period, the ladies returned to what they do best: entertaining.  The audience was invited to the studio to see firsthand what it is like to watch a live taping.  

 

Inside of GPB studio for a live taping of "A Seat at the Table."
Inside GPB studio for a live taping of “A Seat at the Table.”

 

A seat at the table premieres June Sunday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m on GPB.   To view episodes on the web, visit gpb.org/asatt.


Monica Kaufman Pearson is the first minority woman to anchor the daily evening news in Atlanta, Georgia and currently hosts a three-hour weekly music and talk show on Sunday on KISS 104.1 FM and also does Closeups Interviews for WSBTV.com

Denene Millner is a New York Times best-selling author who has penned 27 books which include Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man co-written with Steve Harvey and Around the Way Girl memoir with Taraji P. Henson; and she is a former columnist for Parenting magazine.

Christine White is a speaker, author, investor and business advisor who currently serves as the Managing Attorney at White Legal Strategy Group, LLC and is the co-founder and President of Influencer Coalition.

 

 

 


 

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Getting Better Acquainted With Actress and Director Extraordinaire, Tangi Miller

 

Image of Diva Diaries Director, Tangi Miller

ATLANTA – Written by Yolanda Lewis

Like most in Hollywood, Tangi Miller is hard at work carving out a very successful career for herself. This multi-faceted businesswoman is a business triple hyphenate with her hand in the acting, directing, and producing pools.

Reel Focus recently got a chance to speak with Tangi about her entertainment pursuits and her thoughts on Atlanta’s booming film and television scene.

Tangi’s fascinating story began with her love for the arts in high school. She dabbled in acting a little but switched gears in college to pursue a communications and marketing degree at the University of Alabama. The acting bug bit her again when she pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Irvine. This renewed interest in her first love -acting – landed Tangi her big break on Felicity as Elena, WB’s Emmy-Winning popular hit show that aired on television in the late 1990s.

Other film and television projects that Tangi has worked on include Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion, Half and Half, Cold Case, The District, Leprechaun: Back 2 The Hood, Love & Other 4 Letter Words, and The MC Hammer Story – a track record which spans over twenty years.  Tangi also appeared in the video “Yesterday” with gospel duo Mary Mary.

Tangi’s most recent directorial project, Diva Diaries – a film in which she produces and co-stars as Sophia – is  about five women who are taking charge in the business world, balancing it all with relationships and fighting wars whether it be in the bedroom or the boardroom.

When asked about the inclusivity in film trending now, Tangi responded with a positive outlook. She is especially excited with all the diversity in film and television right now and hopes that the mediums continue to reflect this. Tangi stated that “Film and TV should reflect who we are, it seems we are getting closer. I believe things are getting better, which means we are going in the right direction.”

Not only is film and TV becoming diverse but film production locations are also expanding outside of Hollywood. Atlanta, where Tangi has recently been involved in some film projects, is becoming an international interchange for entertainment. Tangi says, “The beautiful thing about working in Atlanta is that I can work every day and then have Sunday dinner with my family, which helps me stay true to my southern upbringing.”

Tangi is a busy, hardworking business woman, so it is hard to take a break and enjoy the fruits of her labor. However, when she has downtime, she likes to binge watch The Escape Channel because she is into murder mystery real life stories. She claims that she is not normally into that sort of thing, but it has been addictive as of late.

Regarding potential future film projects, Tangi mentioned that she would love to adapt The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman for the screen. She says the reason this book is a favorite is “because I like to work on relationships and I would take the books insightful analogy and actionable wisdom and wrap it around three or four couples in a movie.”

One insider tip that Tangi shared with Reel Focus is how she chooses gigs. She states, “That in order for her to feel passionate about a project, she has to fall in love with the story first. If that foundation isn’t there, it does not fuel my energy or desire to tell it.” Her advice for those looking to get in the industry is to study the craft and take it seriously, especially if they want to be taken seriously in return.

Finally, when asked what she would be doing if she hadn’t pursued acting, Tangi eagerly said that she would have pursued teaching at the college level. She loves to share her experiences as an artist, filmmaker, and businesswoman and plans to do the lecture circuit in the future. She is also an advocate for supporting women and families as well as building educational programs targeting young women from low-income backgrounds. Tangi lives by the words of Maya Angelou in that “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and style,” and from the look of things she is doing just that.

 

 

 


 

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Michael Lucker Tells Screenwriters How to Add A Little Crash! Boom! Bang! to Their Screenplays

 

Reel Focus Interviews Author of Crash! Boom! Bang!, Michael Lucker
Image courtesy of Mike Lucker

 

Nowadays, it seems that everyone wants to get into screenwriting. However, most find that screenwriting isn’t like any other form of writing. Looking at a sample screenplay can be quite intimidating considering screenplays don’t look like stage play scripts nor do they read like a novel. Screenwriting is a very concise form of writing that is very visual in nature and is written in such a way actors can act out the script, not simply read it. It’s also is a marketable form of writing in which most screenwriters understand that they are not writing for mere aesthetic pleasure but for the expressed purpose of making themselves or their superiors money.

Most people who want to get into screenwriting don’t always have the privilege of moving to Hollywood or even attending college all over again to acquire the skill to do so. In most cases, those that want to learn the art and craft of screenwriting often turn no further than the local bookstore to find a book that can give them insight on the subject. However, one of the biggest complaints that most readers have is that these screenwriters who write these books are not accomplished or known in Hollywood themselves. So, it begs the question – just how reliable is the information?

Unlike most of these published authors on the market, Michael Lucker is no stranger to Hollywood. He’s worked on numerous projects including Vampire in Brooklyn, Home On the Range, Good Intentions, Mulan II and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Therefore, he can back up his advice by many years of experience and success.

Michael Lucker is no stranger to Reel Focus, either. A few years ago, he provided us with insight into screenwriting and offered a little advice specific to Georgians wanting to break into the market. This month he is back to share with readers information about his new book – Crash! Boom! Bang! How to Write Action Movies – releasing in June and will briefly discuss how he is helping to build Atlanta’s screenwriting community, one class at a time.

Welcome back, Mike! It’s always a pleasure to showcase you and your work on Reel Focus. Screenwriting is becoming a very popular form of writing because it’s the style of writing associated with Hollywood. For most, screenwriting equals big bucks, but before the big bucks start rolling in, screenwriters must have the right type of skill to entice producers to produce a film. Mike before we delve into how awesome your new book is, share with our readers one of the biggest myths that aspiring screenwriters believe.

That’s easy.  They feel it’s too hard… to write a script, to break into the business, to get a movie made.  Look at how many channels are on your TV, I say.  Cable, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon!  How many movies are playing in theaters around the world?  Someone has to write them.  Why can’t that be you?  Those writers had to learn to write movies and series.  Why can’t you do it?

Now onto the meaty stuff. Tell us more about your book and what makes it much more different than most screenwriting books currently on the market.

“Crash! Boom! Bang!” is the sum of my experience working in Hollywood as a screenwriter and in Atlanta as a screenwriting professor.  It’s full of all the nuts and bolts one needs to know to not only write great action movies, but all kinds of movies.  What sets it apart, I think, are the stories.  I open up about the wins and losses I’ve had in the screenwriting business in order to help others.  While it’s forced me a bit out of my comfort zone, I’ve found that the real and often funny tales from the trenches are what make writing for film and TV feel accessible.  My students leave my classes with not only the know-how to write great screenplays, but the belief they can succeed doing it.  Hopefully the book will do the same for people all over the world. 

You have had a substantial amount of success and consistency and have made it past the “one script wonder” stage of screenwriting. How well do you think you will perform as a book writer?

The jury is still out on that.  And I’m sure I have a lot to learn in the book business.  But I was fortunate to land my book deal with the largest publisher of independent film and screenwriting books in the world, Michael Wiese Productions (www.mwp.com).  And they know what they’re doing.  They have a whole team of talented editors, designers and distributors that believed in what I was doing and gave wing to my words.  However, I do know that the lessons in the book are proven, not only from what I’ve learned from working with Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, Eddie Murphy and others, but from what I’ve seen work in classrooms with students young and old. 

Mike, it’s great to see that you have not only been successful in your own right, but you also are very much involved in teaching aspiring writers within the local Georgia film community. Tell us more about your contributions to Georgia’s film community and how budding and experienced writers can get assistance from you in the screenwriting process.

I love teaching.  The last few years I have been lecturing in the creative writing program at Emory University which has been a wonderful experience.  I now also teach in the Communications, Media & Journalism department at the University of North Georgia and lecture in the new MFA program in creative writing at Reinhardt University.  The talent coming up is extraordinary and it’s gratifying for me to equip the next generation of screenwriters with the tools they need to tell their stories in the industry exploding in our backyard.  For those who are not in college, I offer weekend workshops on screenwriting at my Screenwriter School (www.screenwriterschool.com), where in one fast and furious weekend, I walk participants through everything they need to know to turn a great idea into a sold screenplay.  The last several years I have also had the pleasure of serving as the chief advisor to the Atlanta Film Festival’s annual screenwriting competition.  Now more than ever really, there are a multitude of ways screenwriters can study the craft in Georgia. 

Is there anything we can expect from you in the theaters anytime soon? 

Well, the past year I have been knee-deep in adaptations.  I was hired to script an incredible autobiography called PRIVILEGES OF WAR, about an American green beret who led the largest rescue in the history of the special forces, which is set to go into production in Vietnam this Fall.  Currently, I’m finishing adapting the harrowing true story, QUICKSAND, about a beautiful young schoolteacher who marries the man of her dreams, only to find he isn’t anything he claimed to be.  And later this month, I’m flying to Uganda to meet with the President who led the rebellion to overthrow the evil dictator Idi Amein and lead his country to freedom in SOWING THE MUSTARD SEED.  With any luck, one or more of these will be coming soon to a theater near you.

 

Screenwriter Mike Lucker
Image courtesy of Mike Lucker

 

 

Crash! Boom! Bang! How to Write Action Movies

Available now on Kindle; Paperback available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Putting the Intrigue into Movie Trailers with Voice Actor Al Chalk

Voice Over Artist, Al Chalk
Image courtesy of Al Chalk

 

Just what is it that motivates you to see a film?

Of course, the story line is probably a major factor driving you to want to see a movie. Special effects can also play a role. Even a top-billing actor or actress lineup can influence your decision. But did you ever consider how powerful the voice of a voice actor can be in enticing you to see a film? Have you ever noticed this subtle but suggestive voice in movie advertisement?

One such voice is that of voice actor Al Chalk. Although you can’t see him, his voice is famous for getting you off of the couch and into the movie theater to see some of America’s top-rated films. Next time you are watching a movie advertisement on television or at the theater, try to envision how enjoyable the film trailer would be without the voice of a voice artist like Al Chalk. I can almost bet that the movie would lose its appeal. That is why such voice actors are integral in the movie marketing experience.

This week, Reel Focus gives you a glimpse into the world of voice acting with Al Chalk.

Thank you, Al, for joining us. Although your work is mostly heard not seen, it is certainly important in the world of film. You are part of the reason most of us find a movie intriguing enough to go and watch it. Let’s start from the beginning. Not just from the outset of your career; let’s go back to your childhood. As a youth, did you ever think that you would grow up to be an influential voice in Hollywood?

Hi Melisha, thanks for having me on your blog. I was raised and brought up in St. Albans, Queens, New York. And I remember my mom and dad bought their first house on 188 St. and 104th Ave., right in the heart of St. Albans. I must have been about 8 or 9 years-old. My dad loved to frequent pawn shops to get the good deals on various things. He happened to pick up a two-track reel to reel tape recording machine. Unbeknownst to me, my dad brought it home, thinking he was going to use it to have fun entertaining the family, he kind of thought of himself as an amateur singer and songwriter in his own right, even though he worked for the city as a New York bus driver. He showed it to me, and I think that kind of turned on the switch for me, once I started monkeying around with it, you know.  It was pretty easy to operate. It was our high-tech, back in the day.

My father kept the recorder in the basement, and one Saturday afternoon, I went down stairs, picked it up and started recording little voices of characters. At that point, I was the only child. I had a sister, and she happened to pass away from Lupus about a year or two before.  So, I was a bit lonely. It kind of helped me pass the time and heal the wound of my sister’s passing as well. As well as, jump starting me into the wonderful world of broadcasting.

I had always loved the disc-jockeys of that time. Murray the K was one of them, in New York City at WNEW.  He had a rock-n-roll show. Some other jocks I admired were Jocko and Cousin Brucie at WMCA. I mean, these are legendary radio personalities. Symphony Sid probably made the biggest impact on me because he had this huge voice that just kind of rattled the woofers on my parents high-fi set, back in the day. I was really “smitten,” (that’s the only word I can use). I mean I literally had my first “Bromance” with this radio personality because he was big and bold and solid. I believed [from the sound of his voice] that this guy had to have smoked at least two or three packs of cigarettes per day.  He did [smoke that much] which I later found out later on in life once I had the to meet him and thank him for being my first mentor.

I really didn’t look at disc jokeying as being an introduction into voiceover or being an announcer. I knew I didn’t want to be a disc-jockey especially when I found out early on, they didn’t make a lot of money, but had they did have a huge amount of visibility and notoriety especially back in the 60’s.

Every day when I came home from school, I’d take this machine and record, the little character voices in my head. I wasn’t going for the Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, or some of the more popular voices. I wanted to develop my own little cast of characters, and I was pretty good at doing that. And in that regard, that kind of got me started. I’d run home from school, didn’t do my homework, drop my bags at the door and run straight downstairs to the basement. Along with the characters voices, I learned how to make sound effects, it became addictive, and that was the beginning.

For those of us who can’t recall where we may have heard you before, name a few favorite films for which you have narrated.

Thee probably literally into the hundredths if not thousands. But some of the top ones are reads I did for most of the “Madea” films franchise created by Tyler Perry. I started working 20 some odd years ago for Kenan Wayans and the producers of “In Living Color”, which led to what I believe got me involved with a lot of Kenan’s films — at least the early ones — including all of the Scary Movie” franchise.  I have even worked on some of their recent films.

Some of the major blockbusters I’ve worked on is a trailer for George Lucas’ film, “Star Wars VII –The Force Awakens.” I did “Avatar”, the James Cameron film and “The Abyss”, another Cameron film. I did some early stuff for “Titanic”, and “There’s Something About Mary”. Wow, I could go on and on, but there are just too many.

And keep in mind, these are major films not just at the box office, but they were also popular hits with the public and still to this day, generate quite a bit of revenue in the home theater market and on-demand market.

There seems to be more to you than just voice acting. Your “office” or studio has a lot of complicated equipment in it. I guess it is safe to say that what you do is one part skill, one part art. Tell our audiences what is involved in being a voice actor and how much is creativity and how much of it is technical skill.

Well, just to get specific about that, I think it’s pretty much 50/50. Fifty percent skill and 50 percent art.  I could even break the art down to 25 percent art and 25 percent improvisation. I’m rather good at improvisation. I use to do a lot of improv with theater groups coming up in New York. I did a one-man show, many, many, years ago down at the Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan and that was basically improv generated or fueled with different characters from my neighborhood, relatives, personalities, and people that I grew up with. It was kind of autobiographical and I’d be on stage for about 1½ hour.  I would do a lot of improvs, not necessarily comedic improv, but just stuff — you know — little vignettes as a solo artist, soliloquies, and narration of my one-man show.

Again, that help me kind of get into the world of character voices in animation and CD Rom. I did a lot of characters for “Hercules the Legendary Journeys,” produced by Sam Rami’s company, Renaissance Pictures.  He’s a wonderful man, wonderful director.  I also did a couple of mythical characters on the show. I had the opportunity to work with the great Anthony Quinn, which again, I get jazzed and goose pimples just thinking about it. He was a gracious and wonderful actor.  Of course, I can’t forget the original, “Zorba The Greek.” He, too, was a lot of fun and just had a million stories about not only Hollywood but about his many wives, his children and his love for the arts.

That’s kind of my spin on creativity versus artistry in the studio.  I call it, “The Golden Days,” when Don and I and Hal Douglas and those guys were working quite a bit as professionals. I’d get the chance, Don, not so much and Hal, definitely not so much, but, they would allow me to do characters for some of the promos. I did a very cartoonish character for “Space Jam”, the movie, which starred and featured the great Michael Jordan and that was a lot of fun. But generally, these days,voice acting is reserved more for the gamers or the game ads, as well as animation.  I did a lot of that stuff back in the 80’s. I did the original “Spiderman” series that was animated and I did “Ghostbusters” animated series right after the movie came out.  I also did the  “Cosby Kids” and did some stuff for “Fat Albert” — some of the other adjunct voices — not necessarily the main character.

Do you see yourself teaching this art to future generations? Also, for members of Women in Film and Television Atlanta who want to become voice actors, what advice can you provide?

Yes, I am already involved quite a bit with a lot of today’s’ youth and kids who aspire to take the baton. Not that I’m going anywhere, I’m not retiring anytime soon; I’m still actively working quite a bit. But I love kids and kids’ kind of love me because, they know that secretly I’m one of them.

I’d love to mentor students young and old alike, whether male or female or of a different nationality. I’m involved in a few programs within the Los Angeles Unified School Districts, that allow me to go into some of the Public Schools, Kindergarten, Middle Schools and High Schools. I talk to the kids, and sometimes I read to them. I’ve been a part of the Reading is Fundamental program for a long time and a couple of other programs through the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artist, (SAG-AFTRA) that, allow professional actors like myself to go into the schools and hospitals and other places.

I’ve done this so much over the years that I have been given the moniker “Uncle Al the Kiddies Pal”, which I love and has always stayed with me. It started way back in the Bronx when I was doing something for a friend of mine who is a school teacher, and she invited me to come to the school to talk and entertain the kids one afternoon. It was show and tell. I would have the kids sit around me, on the floor in the assembly and I would just take them away for about an hour. Then they would all have to go back to their class and be board to hell (lol). But, it was a whole lot of fun.

I was teaching privately for a while but, I don’t anymore because I don’t have the time. I also have a solo career as a musician, songwriter, and producer. I’m an Afro-Cuban percussionist who recently released my first album, “United States of Us.” I’m currently working on my second album of world fusion music.

Between that and the voiceover work, I’m also a writer of literature, which takes me away from the teaching aspects, the songwriting, and literary writing. But anytime I may have the opportunity, even on just a temporary basis to teach and mentor I’ll take it. As a matter of fact, I was recently talking with a young man about 14 or 15 years-old, who wanted to know how to get started in the voiceover industry.

I told him one of the most important things among others, of course, is having your own home studio. It doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. The average person, especially if they are not working or have a lot of money to get a startup studio, can spend a modest budget from anywhere from $200.00 to $500.00. Get yourself a decent microphone, get some kind of DAW, that’s a (Digital Audio Workstation), that you can work in, whether that’s Ableton, Pro Tools, or Logic Pro, because that’s going to literally be your virtual studio on wheels that you can take anywhere, on your device, whether it be a laptop, tablet or even your phone. I have done session via my telephone through source direct — oh yeah!

I have a more sophisticated system at my home, with a fire wire box you can record stuff via Mp3, Waive files, AIFF, and those files could be mailed to various clients. An agent is also an important factor.  Also, create a demo reel or have someone put one together for you, so you can take it to the agent and get work.

For future generations, I would love to see a lot more kids aspire to get into acting, get into the arts period, not only in this country, but the world. Whether it be music or dance or crafting something with your hands, sculpting something, painting — there are so many aspects of the arts.  We are going to have blocks of great young artist that come up in the next 10, 20, 30, 40 a hundred years from now and now is the time for them to get started. I like them when they are young, and I think it’s a good time, you know, because everything is magical and special.

For women in film in Atlanta, specifically, being a black man and African American actor, I would love to see a whole lot more of us, in the game and that would include women as well. And, people of other nationalities and ethnicities because, it’s not just the boomy voices that work in this business. There are all kinds of jobs and all kinds of specificities connected to the wonderful world of voiceover.

There is so much to do.  You can do character voices as I mentioned before — or be a newscaster, radio personality, do improv shows, blog shows, podcast, on-air promos, trailer work, teasers, sizzle reels or commercial work. I do a lot of commercials for a huge number of clients, J.C. Penny, and probably every major auto manufacture in the world. I have done national or international spots for GM, Honda, Mercedes, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, and Cadillac. You name the vehicle, I’ve done it.

There are a lot more women coming to the forefront in the voiceover business. However, there are still not as many in trailer work and on-air promos but more probably do on-air promos than trailer work. It’s as if Hollywood is still fearful of using women in these roles but I think if they want a specialist, someone that can tap the heartstrings and titillate, especially someone who can resonate with men and women, then I think it’s a good thing for Hollywood to start to use more women.

I remember many years ago when they were talking about using a woman for “The Bridges of Madison County” — the Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep film — but they chose not to. The producers said, “nah, nah, nah, nah, it’s not going to go over well.  The audience is just use to the big voices and the romantic voices and the basso profondo voices.” This is true for some films, but I think there could have been a separate campaign just for the ladies out there. And like I said, as a man, I appreciate it. I’m not one of those naysayers when it comes to the ladies; I’d especially love to hear more ladies of color out there, especially African Americans.  Sometimes in Hollywood we (African Americans) are thought of as second class performers when it comes to voiceover. The stereotype is that we can’t do or match the quality of reads of mainstream society.  But I’ve never understood this because we all speak the King’s or the Queen’s English. 

Melisha, it’s been wonderful being part of this blog and Women In Film and Television Atlanta and Reel Focus and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to speak to your readers this afternoon.

You have a good life, groove responsibly and again the name of my album is “United States of Us”, in case you’re interested and I have a website. It’s not strictly voiceover, but it gives you a cross section of what I’m doing musically, and there is a page dedicated to my voiceover and on-air career and history, and there is some archival stuff in there, as well as some new stuff. Go and check it out at www.chalktalkmusic.com. If any of your audience would like to reach out to me, they can reach me via email chalktalkmusic@hotmail.com, and I’ll be more than glad to return a response. Thanks for the opportunity, thank you for the good energy and the synergy and bless you and have a great life, all of you.

 

Check out more voice over trailers and teasers from Al Chalk here:  http://www.chalktalkmusic.com/chalktalkmusicvoice-over

Voice Over Artis, Al Chalk
Image courtesy of Al Chalk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie poster images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.

 


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