Mar 23rd, 2009
The executive producer, Raj, and I leave the air-conditioned CEO’s office and go get in a rickshaw for the quick trip to the production bungalow. On the way there I ask him, “So what is this show exactly?”
“I don’t know,” says Raj. The CEO hadn’t known either.
We arrive at the small production bungalow and I sit for an hour talking with a director and some Indian voice actors. Raj eventually comes back and gestures to a door saying, “Hey Nathan, can you come sit in here?”
I walk in to the small room. It’s a recording booth. There’s a chair, a microphone, a video monitor, and a small leaf-shaped window into the engineering booth. Apparently this is go time, Shipley.
Raj hands me a script. “Okay, you read this part here. The part for ‘Sonic.’”
“Okay. Um. What is this? What does Sonic look like?”
Raj moves to the door and shrugs, “I don’t know. You’ll see it on this screen here.”
I look at the top of script he has handed me. Its a script for an episode of the cartoon version of Sonic the Hedgehog.
It suddenly strikes me that I’m trying out to be the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in India. Yeah. The voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in India.
Likely sensing that I have no idea what I’m doing, he explains further, “You just read what it says in the script and make it so it matches the character’s mouth, okay? We’ll play it for you on that screen. I don’t have a copy of the script here, so you just do it, okay?”
“Okay.” I pause. “What do you want the voice to sound like?”
“Just make it sound like the one that’s already on there. Your are the little blue guy.”
Sure, fuck it. ‘Like the one that’s on there.’ I am the ‘little blue guy.’ No problem. Just like every other time when I audition to be the voice of a cartoon character for foreign television, I think to myself. What the hell am I doing? I have had no preparation, I don’t know how to do this, and I have little clue what Sonic the Hedgehog’s voice should sound like. I’ve done some reads for voice over stuff before, but this is beyond the norm.
Laughing to myself, I put on my improvised Sonic the Hedgehog voice and start reading with fervor. No sense being embarrassed, I guess. I end up making what I think is this psuedo cool-guy voice with a little bit of California surfer mixed in. Match the lips. Don’t move the paper while they’re recording. Try making the voice a little thinner. Can you read this part for the evil guy, also? Standard stuff.
So how did I get here?
Craigslist, of course: the jump-off point for various awesome ventures on this trip.
Upon updating my trip finance spreadsheet the previous week, I realized I should deal with the fact that my cash situation was getting precariously low. I started sending some emails and looking for work online. For the hell of it, I checked the jobs section on Craigslist Mumbai. This is what I found:
American accent? Check. Freshers welcome? Check. Willing to work as a professional dubber? …Sure? I sent an email explaining that I had a neutral Midwestern accent, was in Mumbai, and was available for dubbing work. I got a reply with a phone number for Chandan.
I called Chandan. Chandan explained that he is an Indian guy from Boston and works for a television station. Could I come to his office on Monday at 1:00 to discuss things further?
I asked some Indian friends about the station he said he worked for. Apparently it’s a big station which is part of an even bigger Indian financial conglomerate. Monday rolled around and I left with plenty of time to allow for the molasses traffic and inevitable difficulties finding the office, which were both present.
Upon arrival at the office, I told the guard I had an appointment with Chandan. He took me up to a big open room full of 100 people on computers. Someone explained that Chandan was in a different part of the building, which we went to.
I had to actually go through an elevator and three more different guards to get to Chandan’s office.
Upon finally entering, I immediately wished I had some better clothes to wear, even though I was wearing the nicest clothes I have. “Nicest” means baggy khaki outdoors pants that convert to shorts (with various stains), an untucked white button-down shirt, and my battered pair of grey Chucks. Chandan was wearing a suit and tie. He’s a big, imposing man.
I sat down opposite him at his huge desk in the large, spartan office. He quickly got down to brass tacks and I quickly realize that this isn’t just some producer I’m meeting with. This guy is a heavy. He’s talking about the media empire and future plans for expansion with new channels in other countries. He hands me his card.
Ohhhhh boy. He doesn’t just “work for a televison station.” This guy is the CEO of the entire media and entertainment division of a corporate empire with almost a million employees. …And I’m wearing pants that convert to shorts.
It was like Costanza going to see Mr. Steinbrenner. Calzone, sir? That’s eggplant in there.
“So I assume you have experience doing this?” he asks.
“Well, I worked at a TV production company for 4 years. I’ve done some voice over reads. Couple of acting classes in college. You know.”
“Sure, sure. So what are your salary expectations?”
“I, uh, am not really familiar with the market here, sir.”
It went on for a while. He talked big. It was impressive. He got lots of important phone calls and visits while I was in his office. He seemed to like me, though. Eventually he called executive producer Raj to come pick me up.
After my session reading Sonic at the production bungalow, both Raj and the director told me I did good work. They’d get back to me in a week or so. I haven’t heard anything yet, but this is India.