“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” The Path of a Voiceover Jedi, Pt. 0
I’ve always had a major affinity for Star Wars. A New Hope came out the summer I was born, and I grew up right in the middle of the movie and toy frenzy. Needless to say, it was one of the biggest influences on my childhood.
Fast forward to today, and I feel its influence in nearly every facet of my life. This became even more apparent in the last year with the release of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but it really hit home on December 27, 2016, when Carrie Fisher, the self-rescuing Princess Leia Organa, my very first crush, became one with the Force. I lay in bed for hours, sobbing as if I lost a family member or dear confidant.
It’s still difficult to think about it, a day later, and I doubt it it will get any easier for a while. I decided in the quiet time between lying down and falling asleep that I would find a way to create in a way that was completely me, yet the way that Carrie Fisher created, unapologetically and fearless.
So here is a new column that mash up two of my dearest loves in the world: Star Wars and voiceover.
I’ll start with a Star Wars quote, give it some context, and relate it to a voiceover truism or some words of guidance. My hope is that it will be helpful in voiceover and life, and we’ll see where it goes from there. So without further ado, here’s a look at what you’ll expect from this little project. One thing you’ll expect is SPOILERS for all released Star Wars movies (although I’ll try to keep Rogue One off the table for a while).
“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Let’s start with what is probably the most famous quote in all of Star Wars lore.
When Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing fighter sinks into the mire of Dagobah, Yoda directs him to use the telekinetic powers of the Force to lift it up to terra firma. Luke has had some modicum of success to move stones with control and precision, but has doubts about the same ability due to the size of the object. When he says that he’s going to try, it’s Luke giving himself permission to fail, or at the very least, to give a half-assed effort.
Yoda admonishes Luke to, essentially, forget any crap he’s learned (“you must unlearn what you have learned”) about how life, the universe, and everything works, and embrace the effort with confidence. That’s what being a Jedi is all about, after all. Dropping your mental baggage in favor of the moment and focusing on the task at hand.
Luke fails, because he’s not mature enough to understand that dimensions in 3D dimensions and mass are insignificant next to the power of the Force. He just can’t relinquish the thought that he’s lifting something that’s “too big,” and the ship sinks even further into the muck.
Yoda seeks to inspire and re-educate Luke a bit, and Luke, in his fixed mindset, rejects a rather poetic explanation Yoda gives him, and starts stomping off like the petulant teenager he is. Yoda then schools him by using the Force to pull the ship out of the bog, and rest it gently on more solid ground, to the astonishment of Luke.
L: “I don’t believe it!” | Y: “That…is why you fail.”
And that’s the crux of the lesson. Belief in oneself and committing fully to the task at hand in the moment.
In voiceover, it can be applied to so many things.
First, and foremost, it’s the simplest, yet most difficult piece of advice and direction we get in the booth. Being in the moment. Not sounding like we’re reading the copy. The advise is simple, yet, the practice of it comes off, all too often, as a half-measure of resolve.
This is mostly due to a selfish need to be the star in the movie of our own life, where all the things revolve around us and nothing in the world is more important than what we believe and think. There are so many things that we could talk about in regards to putting ourselves above all else. Most of those would start tribal flame wars the likes of which we only see in political discussions. But the root of the issue is belief and self.
As actors, we have to commit to the character, the copy, the scene, our partner, whatever! Notice that belief and self is nowhere in there. The truth is, when you give your full measure of resolve to your job in the booth, It’s noticeable. Now bear with me, here.
You can find that after a take, you’ve lost time. Like total out-of-body-astral-projection type losing time. I find myself doing that when I have done an especially good take. To me, it’s an indication that I set my ego aside and put the task at the forefront of my attention. It means that in that moment, I wasn’t Brad performing copy. I became a person imparting a message.
There’s also something to be said about acting choices. While there are almost ethereal aspects of the psychology of which I just talked about, there’s a more practical look at Yoda’s words while you’re in the booth. It is, to simply make a strong choice and be fully committed to it. If you do, you’ll find yourself not worrying about going to the grocery store or the burgeoning pile of dishes in the sink, or whatever selfish, more-important-than-what-I’m-focusing-on-in-the-moment you find yourself thinking about instead of your job. Come on! This stuff is soul-filling, not soul-sucking! Get with the program!
I said there were many ways that “do…or do not. There is no try” applies to voiceover. And there are. More than I’ll actually cover with today’s words. The reality is, you can interpret Yoda’s words to many different narratives, much in the way people like to toss out scripture and inspirational quotes when it fits their mindset. I’d like to think that, by giving real context juxtaposed with the intent of the scene in which the quote exists, it’s better than just throwing out random quotes that kinda apply to real life.
Yoda was also trying to ease Luke into the fact that fear leads to the dark side of the Force. That quick and easy paths, half-ass commitments, and needing to be hand-held through a situation does more harm than good. And that’s another situation in voiceover in general that’s frustrating.
So many of us in the industry have had the pleasure of having our brains picked by an energetic newcomer.
*pauses for industry-wide eyeroll*
Annnnnnd therein lies something interesting. All of us that got where we are today, did it with help.
But wait! I am not about to criticize my fellow professional voice actors for not helping the younglings just getting in. Far from it. This segment is for the n00bs.
Please learn to use Google. Please use the search function in Facebook groups. In short, be as committed to your own success as you would have others be.
Love, Brad (with care from the entire industry)
OK. Don’t think for one second that I’m disrespecting anyone at any level here. What I am suggesting is that, if you’re truly hungry to be a professional in this industry, you have to be willing to find out things on your own. Submitted for your approval, with apologies to Rod Serling.
Fact: Just ten years ago, it was tough to find information about our industry on the internet. It was tough to find info about our industry if you lived places not named New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. So many of us leaned on each other big time for information and education.
Fact: Today, it is really easy to find out information about voiceover. If you don’t believe me, try Googling it. I bet if you searched for your home town for ‘voiceover *insert your city here*,’ I would be inclined to bet that names of coaches come up.
Fact: Many of us are really busy performing! So, for the love of Pete, do not offer us a coffee date (or even dinner) so you can “pick our brains,” especially if there is no qualitative questions headed our way.
Example: You want to do audiobooks, but you did no research about them at all before reaching out to awesome people like Scott Brick, Johnny Heller, Jeffrey Kafer, or Christa Lewis. Now you’re seated across from them at a loud Starbucks having bought them a tall Pike Place that cost you a buck-fifty and it cost them five bucks in gas (or fifteen in an Uber) and two-plus hours outside of the booth (because traffic), and your first question to them is for their contacts at publishing houses.
The point is, in ten years or so, the internet went from being a wasteland devoid of information about voiceover, to a wasteland flush with opinions and information about voiceover.
The truth is, I don’t envy you new folks. In the days of no information, we didn’t have to filter through all the BS and “coaches” ready to take your money. That, my friends, is a challenge all your own.
So, we get it. It’s hard out there for a n00b (with apologies to Three Six Mafia). I wasn’t trying to say you should walk on pins and needles when reaching out to people. I’m just trying to say that you should exhaust every option you can to find information before potentially wasting someone’s time (yours included).
Remember the example at Starbucks? It’s not *just* that you’re wasting the time of awesome people that are some of the most giving human beings I’ve ever met, but you’re wasting *your own* time by not being prepared to ask some truly next-level questions when you have quality 3D time with them.
My Dad taught me that the definition of luck is ‘where preparation meets opportunity.’ It’s true. Be prepared when it comes time to reach out to someone whose work you admire. They will perk right up when you ask them questions that have thought and research behind them. That’s when we all know that the person asking the question is fully committed.
And now we’ve come full circle. You aren’t trying. You’re doing. Yoda would be satisfied.
It reminds me of another pop culture wise man, Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (yes, the one from the 80s that was actually about karate, not kung-fu). Here’s the part I am reminded of:
Miyagi-san is telling Daniel that he must fully commit to a choice whether to pursue training or not. If he only half-commits, *SQUISH* just like grape.
Kinda like he’s saying: “Do…or do not. There is no try.”
I bet we revisit this quote. There’s definitely more to be discussed. ’Til next time. Peace and humptiness forever.