ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.01 - APRIL 2000
Frank Welker: Master of Many Voices
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In some cases, the script may have dialogue that's not consistent with the character. Does the actor have the leeway in pointing that out?
"I guess it's when you become comfortable with the character, and the director and the writers all trust each other," Welker says. "You bring it up and sometimes you're overruled, but most of the time, they listen to you because you're doing it day in and out.
"Another thing too, is sometimes the way words fall. The actor can say them easier in his own way. That's always the constant battle, even in live-action, when the actor says his character wouldn't say it that way. Sometimes we get overruled; sometimes they accept what we say.
"I've seen directors and writers [argue], where the writer doesn't want to change anything and the director wants to direct things his way. It can be tough. I don't think it's the happiest situation," Welker says.
Welker doing his stand-up act at the Ice House in Pasadena, California. Photo by John Findlater. Courtesy of Frank Welker.
Work, Work, Work, Work
The mid-1980s saw an explosion of new, made-for-syndication cartoons. This brought more employment to artists, and to actors as well.
"The syndicated cartoon market has given a lot more opportunity for work because there's so much more product," Welker says. "Instead of doing your normal 13 shows, you have 65 episodes. Knowing you have job insurance for that long is great. And, you really get to know the character. You have so much more time to work with your character, story and the ensemble cast and director."
During the syndication boom, some production studios began hiring Canadian voice actors instead of Americans.
"Some of the production studios found that they could do their shows for less by making financial arrangements with the Canadians, by using the 'point system," Welker says. "If they used enough Canadian components to do the show, they would get a substantial break whether that included actors, production facilities, recordings and so on. It tended to benefit the studios to go up there."
In addition to competition both foreign and domestic, another challenge for actors is being considered too prolific.
"If you do work a lot," Welker says, "they [studios or networks] have a tendency to say, 'We want new voices. And we don't want to even see Welker or somebody because he does too much.' Which really isn't too fair.
"In fact, they say, 'Well, once you've been doing this for so long, don't you just get the jobs?' Well, once in awhile you do but usually we go out and audition and go head-to-head with each other, which is great. I like that, as long as I'm allowed to audition for everything that I think would be fun and that I'd be good at. But a lot of times you don't get a chance to read certain things because you're already typecast in other roles."
"For Foofur, the network [NBC] didn't really want to hear the same old people," he says. "But the studio was real good. They said, 'Hey, you should hear everybody.' They convinced them to listen to a blind test."
In blind-testing, producers and network executives listen to tapes of the audition without knowing who the actor is. Each tape is numbered. That way, the role is selected based solely on the performance. Then the actor is identified from the number on the tape.
The execs heard Welker's tape and awarded him the part without knowing it was him. Welker jokes that he was "lucky to get a good number."
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