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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