By Kyle Reitan
You’ve heard his voice dozens of times during movie trailers, commercials and most recently, live on the Oscars. Don LaFontaine, reputably known as the voice-over master, has been using his instrument, his voice, for well over 43 years.
LaFontaine started his career as a recording engineer in the Army during the late ’50s and early ’60s. “Then I went to New York and was a recording engineer [at National Recording Studios],” he said. While holding his astonishing position at the studios, LaFontaine “hit it off” with Floyd Peterson, who was producing radio spots for movies.
“I was busy working on about six radio campaigns one night and one of the announcers didn’t show up for a picture called Gun Fighters of Casa Grande,” LaFontaine said. “Having written the script I knew how I wanted it read. So I went in and did it as a scratch narration so I could present it to metro the following day and they would know that when I get a real announcer in it, that’s how the spot would basically sound and they bought it. Little by little, I just kept doing more and more.”
When it comes time to recording, this voice-over actor can wake up in his Los Angeles home and simply do what he does best. The home studio is LaFontaine’s workplace – equipped with a manly tube microphone, mixer and ISDN lines, “which are dedicated digital phone lines to various studios,” he says. On average, he records 30 to 40 spots a day, which is equivalent to between six and 10 sessions.
“I do it all,” LaFontaine said. “I work on everything from horror films to slasher films, to action films, to romances, to comedies, to cartoons. I cover the whole gamut.”
Some major television networks that you may have heard him on include FOX, CBS, NBC, TBS and the Cartoon Network. On FOX, he introduces John Walsh in the beginning of the series America’s Most Wanted. Of the over weeding number of 5,000 movie trailers produced, some include the Rocky and Terminator movies, Dodgeball, Dreamgirls, Reno 911 and The Simpsons Movie. LaFontaine has been well-known as a Geico representative during the popular commercial. He says the car insurance company called him because they were searching for a C or D level celebrity with humor.
LaFontaine said, “The voice is a muscle. If you use it a lot, it’s going to be very strong. I just don’t abuse it. I don’t go places where I have to scream over loud crowds.”
For aspiring voice-over talents, LaFontaine urges one to visit voiceoverresourceguide.com, which lists agencies, schools, production agencies and more. “Find your own voice,” he said. “There’s nobody in the world who is quite like you. So don’t go off and try and mimic anybody, try to find your own style.” The way you do that is to “read, read, read,” he added. “Read everything. Advertisements, cereal boxes, favorite song lyrics [not rap] and poetry.”
Cedering Fox is one of the few female voice-over artists that you will hear in commercials and promos. With more than 20 years in the profession, Fox began her acting career at a young age.
“I was at a party and I met the vice chairman of Sachi and Sachi advertising in New York,” she said. The company had Fox come in to do some demos, so beforehand she found a voice coach. “[My coach] was really a doll,” Fox commented. “She said, ‘Oh, my God. If I had your voice and my experience, I’d be very, very rich.’ I went in and did some demos and they took the voices off some tracks of Sachi and Sachi for commercials and put my voices in. The head of casting at Dreamworks heard them and she said, ‘You’re really good at this. You’re a natural.'” Later on, the head of casting, Lesley Feldmen, sent Fox a half dozen agents willing to work with her.
Similar to LaFontaine’s career, this female actor has a home studio and occasionally works at studios while in New York. Fox has introduced ABC’s What About Brian in December 2006, The View, NBC Nightly News, Dateline, NYPD Blue, The Practice, Days of Our Lives, Victoria’s Secret and Weekend Today on NBC. Most recently, she introduced this years People’s Choice Awards. The only type of recordings Fox hasn’t produced yet are movie trailers because “they’re so reluctant to hire women,” she says. As expressed in Secrets of Voice-Over Success, written by Joan Baker, Cedering says of this reluctance, “I think it’s insane. Only in America basically, are men the dominant voice of promo and trailers. When you go to the United Kingdom, it’s 55 percent women. My claim to fame is that I’m the first woman to do everything that the men do at the network level.”
She added, “I love words and I love language and I like using words to get people’s attention about something.”