By Stephanie Ciccarelli
November 19, 2008
The passing of Don LaFontaine leaves us with a number of questions including how public perception will influence the future of voice over in theatrical trailers.
While we're ready for change, is everyone else?
For over four decades, the same voice delivered the vast majority of theatrical trailers, single-handedly dominating the niche within voice over, and by virtue of that fact, taking up ownership of and residence in the minds of hundreds of millions of people.
Don LaFontaine was a pioneer in this field and was a co-creator of iconic phrases such as "In A World..." and "A One-man Army...".
There is no doubt that Don has left a gigantic imprint on this industry and is recognized as a founding father of voice over, influencing all aspects of the art including excellence in performance, style, and even the very business of working from home as opposed to driving from studio to studio to record.
It is also publicly known that he hoped for women to enter theatrical trailers.
While honouring Don and his legacy is important, he would want us to embrace change as he himself supported the idea of women making strides in this niche and also granted permission for others to take his place upon his death ("Just wait until I die", as he often said when referring to other voice talent working in major theatrical trailers).
Don LaFontaine has us given his blessing and it is time to move on, however, we face significant challenges from external forces.
As creatures of habit, people in general find it difficult to change positions regarding preset opinions and perceptions.
Making a shift requires effort and taking a risk on something new in the unchartered territory of our minds where we lack loyalty and concrete experience.
For instance, if you are loyal to a brand, you stick with that brand even though there may be alternatives to consider, deeply favoring one brand over another such as the Coke VS Pepsi wars.
Just as people are used to drinking a particular beverage, using a certain washing detergent for their clothes or buying a specific make of car, hearing Don LaFontaine's voice (literally his brand), is their standard or touchstone when consuming a theatrical trailer.
"The vast majority of entertainment industry 'traditions' are a combination of happenstance and inertia. Nothing changes unless something stops working, or something else costs less."
In this case, the loss of Don LaFontaine has triggered the former, meaning that there will be a change because something, in this case, someone, stopped doing what they were doing and has ceased to work.
This is a reality.
Changing perception, especially perceptions that took shape decades and generations ago, is an extremely difficult objective to accomplish.
No one knows this better than those who try or are trying to change perception.
For the longest time, we had to explain to those interested in joining our service that Voices.com was not an agency but a marketplace; that we didn't charge commissions but offered memberships with subscriptions. When we launched SurePay, we ran into similar perceptions with people thinking that the SurePay escrow transaction fee was an agency commission fee (which it is not) and needed to communicate even more clearly what an escrow service was and why a transaction fee is necessary.
I'm quite sure many of you have had to adapt and change your perceptions to reflect the new way of doing business to achieve success online, with or without agency representation, and having to learn technical skills to competently compete with your colleagues who work from home.
This brings us back to the original question posed last week:
Will men who are not Don LaFontaine, let alone women outside of this intimate circle, be perceived as suitable replacements?
While at a seminar last night, I took a moment to speak with a marketing expert and ask what her opinion was of how difficult it would be to change the perceptions of people regarding movie trailer voice overs, presenting the facts as we know them and where we as an industry hope to go.
Her answer was that the process of changing perception among the public and moviegoers may take a very long time, longer than we'd expect because Don's voice was so entrenched in this aspect of the craft and is ultimately woven in their psyche and embedded in their emotional responses.
Furthermore when discussing the potential of other men and eventually women voicing theatrical trailers, she suggested that although people may not voice their opinions out loud when leaving a theatre, they will notice the difference and feel slightly uneasy with the change, more so with female voices than with male voices who are able to imitate Don LaFontaine's trademark style.
Even if it takes the public years to move on, I believe that the process needs to start now, and that process involves focus groups and producers making different choices and taking calculated risks, and for others, leaps of faith.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
change, Don LaFontaine, industry, perception, theatrical trailers, voice talent, voices, voices.com