Sunday, 15 March 2020

Interview With Voice Actor Roger Craig Smith

Quick Note: This interview focuses on the personal success of Roger Craig Smith, as well as his thoughts on Hollywood, 21st-century living and the highs and lows of his life. For those seeking out more voice-over related Q&A’s, you can check out the sister article to this interview, over The Valkyries website.

When I first get a message off Roger Craig Smith, I’m completely thrown off. You see, Roger is a popular voice actor who is known for bringing life to characters as well-known as Batman, right through to the Mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This is a busy, uniquely talented guy and the idea that he wants to get into the nitty-gritty of voice acting with a UK-based writer is a surprise in itself.

Of course, if you were to speak to the man in the flesh, you’d quickly find out that this gentleman has no interest in labels and is simply seeking to make the most of his life. Indeed, it’s not just voice acting that he focuses on – rather, this is simply how he makes a living. Him taking time out of his day for me, as it turns out, is just another way in which he pays forward his energy to others.

Roger Craig Smith
Photo by Jen Rosenstein
It doesn’t take long for my nerves to show but, honestly, Roger is so laid back that these subside within a few minutes. After all, he can talk about pretty much anything – and that’s exactly what we do. Starting off gently, we get into how he began voice acting.

As it turns out, like most of us, RCS was originally looking to do something completely different. Beginning with a career in screenwriting, he tells the tale of how he side-stepped into comedy because he loves to make people laugh. After a good few years of what he refers to as “mimicry and theatre arts”, it was only after trying out for the Aspen Comedy Festival that the repeated question as to why he isn’t voice acting made him consider it as a career.

Even then, this isn’t something he took lightly. Instead, while pulling some shifts at Dave & Busters, Roger researched the best ways to get into voice acting and invested some quality classes, where his voices and acting chops were honed to a fine point. It was only after this, that he got together with a friend and asked them to help him get his demo reel together, in exchange for $50, which was then sent out – in person – to anyone and everyone who would listen.

“You have to treat it like entrepreneurship. You definitely need a business approach” he tells me, as he highlights how important it is to give yourself a solid foundation before heading straight to clients, “that, and the ability to talk to people on a human level – a skillset that is quickly being lost”. With this, we start talking about the small steps he took to ensure he edged his way into the Hollywood industry. Demonstrating perfectly how luck only lands on your lap when preceded by hard work, Roger tells me about how he worked as a PA in the industry through making sure that he spoke to everyone he came across about his ambition.

Valerie Macon RBTI Premiere 00001Like everyone who wants to achieve as much as possible, dealing with rejection is as commonplace as getting a gig, and Roger’s response to this is as pragmatic as you would expect. “It happens all the time”, referencing the Sonic move “you just have to keep yourself focused on what you want, and be grateful for what you have”.

“We’re all just trying to survive – look at this virus. It’s just trying to survive, and it reminds us of how weak and susceptible we are. There’s no winning, there’s no losing and no finish line.” He’s not actively being bleak, however, and he assures me that he’s aware of how others can view his body of work and takes pride in how these help people to have a touch of escapism. In fact, he makes a point of reminding me (and himself) that the real world is what is going on outside of his job.

“Keep falling forward. You’re gonna slip up and keep falling. You might be crawling. But, all of a sudden, you’ll look back and say to yourself ‘oh man, I’ve been crawling at times and sprinting at others but I’m so far away from where I was’ and I’m still doing that”.

Whether it’s politicians, athletes or actors, it’s generally agreed that these people are, in Roger’s words, “pedestalised”. All of these public figures are portrayed in a way that is sensationalised, whether that be the best or worst of their personalities and it’s quickly brought to my attention that, just because we might not agree with someone, it doesn’t mean that we should stick them on a pedestal and use them as an example of who we should – or should not – be. “You’re just as capable as these people at being imperfect. I hope that when we eventually work our way to the other side of this social media experiment, we all realise that everybody has got stuff – the good and the bad. You have to allow for people to grow and make mistakes – with bad behaviour being punished as is applicable”.

He bemoans those moments where he finds himself comparing his life to others, in which he can often consider his life as ‘less-than’ anybody else. “I’ve had the benefit of growing up without it, whereas kids today are growing up with everything on screens. Their whole existence has been staring at screens and it’s sad – and I hope there’s a pendulum swing back to the other side”.

Naturally, this cynicism does come a place of experience. When Roger was in his late 20’s, he suffered with a severe bout of pneumonia, which left him hospitalised for 6 days. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was not a pleasant experience. And yet, in typical RCS style, he quickly bounces back with “now I know what people mean when they say ‘at least you’ve got your health’!” – a phrase he certainly believes in. And one that we discuss, in-depth, while chatting about the differences between individuals whose viewpoint in life is much more hardy and positive than we’re often able to see, online.

On the other end of the scale, there are also those whose entitlements can bring down the overall mood of a studio. “You see it a lot in Hollywood. Now that the gaming industry is making a LOT more money than it used to, we’re seeing an influx of influencers and on-screen actors coming into the studio. And a lot of these people have no respect for the industry as a whole, which you can see in the way they treat the process”. Referencing a few moments he’s had with past experiences, he is also careful to offer the viewpoint of Troy Baker (his co-worker and friend), who has argued that anyone who is capable, and right for the role, should be able to work in any industry. “I just have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it, because I think it can make the whole process harder when you get the wrong person for the role”.

It seems only natural at this point that question of what makes a voice actor so good at their job comes up – is there a secret formula that will lead the everyday person into the role of voice-over work? “The art and the unique element comes into it, for you as an individual, when you can take something that has been done before and twist it, to turn it into something new. It’s always on the fly and it always comes down to who you’re working with”.

It seems that, if you can speak faster on command, add an accent where required and maybe throw in a couple of idioms and/or speech impediments, you might just be on your way. Whether it’s adding a soft Russian accent to Batman in
Superman: Red Son (available digitally, now) or mixing together a range of accents into what he calls “Italiaspanglanish” for Ezio, there’s a huge array of examples of this, within his body of work.

Of course, this is easier said than done, as many hard-working actors find out along their journey. “That’s why you’ll never have my career, and I’ll never have yours. That’s both the beauty and the hard part of doing what we do. There are so many new people coming into the studios now – but there are still so many recognisable voices that you can hear, as soon as they hit a certain cadence or delivery”. This isn’t an industry of impressions, after all, it’s about flavouring your character with the right tone and inflections. At the same time, all of the technical stuff can be taught along the way.

He does, however, state that he’s also a bit of a homebody, as he’s hyper-aware of keeping his vocal cords relaxed and ready for whatever job is next. “Staying physically healthy is important and getting lots of rest is the only way to keep yourself ready for whatever is coming next, so I try and stay healthy”. Still, he’s keen to point out that he doesn’t do any vocal exercises beyond knowing what his current range is and staying away from work that could possibly harm his potential for the next gig.

This is one of the reasons why Roger stays away from so many conventions. While he always appreciates his fans, which you can see in how he converses with them on a regular basis through his Twitter and Instagram accounts, doing weekend-long work can be damaging. “You’re jet-lagged, you’re talking all day long and hugging people, shouting over background noise and doing impressions of your work, constantly”. Even short stints during talks at his local college, where he offers his time to audio students, can have an impact on the stress caused to the vocal folds, which has a knock-on effect to his work.

There’s no doubt that Roger is opinionated in the best possible way, in that he is continually considering different angles to an argument. As with most intelligent people, he takes everything in the world with a pinch of salt and seeks to escape any bitterness caused by that salt, by getting away as much as possible. At times, this means chasing down as many different pursuits as he’s able to fit into his busy schedule, such as American Sign Language (ASL). At others, it can simply mean going down a mountainside as fast as he can, on his bike. 

One such pursuit that he has become increasingly associated with is his astrophotography, which you can catch on My Shots in the Dark. Initially starting out with an interest from a young age, he decided to take things a little more seriously once he had some money to play around with. “I bought a rudimentary telescope and – out of sheer luck – focused on what I thought was a star, which was low on the horizon. It actually turned out to be Saturn, and I could see the rings” he says, before mimicking the state of wonder he found himself in. “Then I wanted to find out how to take a picture, so I went online and researched as much as I could – and it just went on, from there”.

A shot of RCS by Babek Tafreshi
This is a fantastic summary of a man whose default face reverts to a gentle smile, when discussing the unique aspects of space and how much has been left undiscovered. Roger is definitely a guy who can show dedication and perseverance, in order to get the right shot – something he enjoys sharing with his followers, whether they appreciate it or not. “It’s the perfect hobby for a guy who works during the day and wants to enjoy some downtime at night, where I don’t have to be interrupted”.

Through this, he has also discovered the International Dark-Sky Association, whose work revolves around reducing the impact of light pollution, which can affect wildlife and human health, as well as be a huge source of waste across the world. Knowing that RCS has been approached as a delegate, I quickly ask what we can all do to help reduce our own light pollution, to which the answers are as simple as you might expect:
  • Put a cover over any outdoor lighting, so the light is reflected downwards
  • Try to minimise your usage of outdoor lighting
  • Consider the types of bulbs you’re using (LEDs are fine, just try to avoid blue light emissions)*

Unfortunately, at this point, I’m aware that we’ve been talking for two hours and, as giving as he might be, I definitely don’t want to eat into too much of his time. So, I finish off with a question of what he would send into space. His answer, which catches me completely off-guard, involves shooting a doll of Ezio out, which slowly dissolves due to radiation – but not before taking down the International Space Station. And I really can’t summarise my short time with Roger Craig Smith any better than that.

Stanley MW 08-20-17
If you look, really closely, you might just spot Ezio causing the downfall of science

*More info on this can be found on the IDA website

Sunday, 8 March 2020

It's Been Too Long!

Oh, how I've missed you.

Y'know when life comes up with one thing after another, to the point that you end up losing all focus and just powering on through? That's kinda what's happened with this blog. And it totally sucks that I had to drop my regular updates on here.

What Happened?

Between my freelancing, spending time with my daughter, buying a house, decorating and renovating said house, going through a break-up and moving back out of that house, along with all the other daily goings-on (and training... but more on that, later) I have been so damn busy!

My copywriting kicked off to the point that I was getting a lot of new clients at one point, but I was receiving very little emotional return on my investment. So, I've decided to cut myself a little slack and back away from projects that I'm not 100% passionate about. This leaves me with more time with my little girl, as well as more time to play and actually enjoy life.

Love Yourself

Folks, I cannot stress this enough. If something in your life isn't making you happy, you are well within your rights to walk away. As long as you aren't hurting yourself or anyone else, directly or vicariously, you should do whatever feels right for you.

For me, that meant getting involved with everything I love, again. At the same time, I had to sacrifice a few things. 

I love being a mum, and getting calls during precious time with my daughter wasn't making me happy. So, I laid down my boundaries. Clients who pushed those boundaries were dismissed. Politely, of course.

I love being a writer. But I hate clickbait and marketing jobs, so I've backed away from work that pays too little for too much energy, based on niche areas that I have no interest in. They were not my best work and I felt no pride in completing them, so that was better for everyone. Now, I can write about things I care about, which has brought back my passion for the art - and allows me to submit a much better quality of work.

I love being around people. So I made the effort to join in with different groups. Roch Valley Radio has been great for getting involved in small-town community fun and simply enjoying time together (while playing great music). They play in hospitals around the Pennines but have been able to create a wider listenership because of the passion each host shows. You probably won't catch me on the air, but I'm working away in the background!

I love to learn. So, I took a range of passions and started a night course (I did mention we'd come back to this). I'm getting high-level distinctions in my Access to Nursing and AHP, and I've even been offered places at multiple universities.

What's Next?

I have chosen to continue studying at Edge Hill, doing their Masters in Nursing and Social Work (I received an unconditional offer back in November/December!). I want to help people in seemingly helpless situations. After all, I used to be just another walking statistic, as a homeless teenager. Why not use all my know-how and experience to lift other people out of their current state of being, and into a better life?

This means I get to do a lot more medical writing, which helps to pay the bills. Freeing up time from the aforementioned clients has also allowed me to get back into my gaming. It also means I get to spend free time with my daughter. I might not be making more money, but I sure as hell am making more memories.

Terribly Lucky Girl
One of my favourite things to do with my daughter? Explore. We've been walking my dog (oh yeah, I got a border collie last year and she's amazing), climbing mountains, strolling through the woods and taking pictures. She's now getting old enough for me to consider taking her camping (and hopefully she will actually enjoy the experience), so I'm thinking stargazing around the UK is next for us.

Community, family and fun. I really am a terrible lucky girl.

I worked damn hard for this. Sure, there are a few things I wouldn't mind changing. There are times that I've found myself looking at the process of spermatogenesis and wanting to slam my face into the keyboard, because I've felt like it's just not sinking in. I'm even finding myself having to work from the bottom again, in terms of game-based writing, because I've been out of the loop for so long.

And, yes, I'm aware that those two areas are at completely opposing ends of the writing spectrum. What can I say? I'm still a jack-of-all-trades at heart.

But, at long last, I really, truly feel like I am getting there. In the words of my amazing friend, Rachael "you didn't take a step back - you took a step sideways. You're still moving forward."

She's much wiser than me.

On that note, I'm leaving all my old posts up - even though some of them don't really scream "me" - and I look forward to moving forward with you all.