And thanks for reading! So those of you who pay attention will note that I did not post a blog last week. Sorry. Anyway, as I was beating myself up about that this week and wondering what I might write about, I thought it might be fun to talk a bit about how I got started as a VO artist and actor (and now podcast producer). So, here we are: My origin story!
Look, ma – no warning paragraph!
Yep, I deleted it this week since I’m talking specifically about me and not “in general”. For some of you, that may be the best part of what I post, so I’ll put it back next week.
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Yep, I am a Star War fan, but I am also a Star Trek fan…so shoot me. We won’t go back TOO far though. I could tell you all about where and how I grew up but it’s not that interesting (well, it kind of IS interesting) and this is about the origins of my VO/Acting career, not the origins of…me. For this blog, we only need to go back to about 2015 or so.
Car rides and Audio Books…
This whole thing started because I enjoyed car trips and listening to Audio Books. And the two went together very well. Nothing like getting engrossed in a great story narrated by someone to take your mind off the boring strip of highway and make the trip seem shorter. I was also an avid reader and thought to myself “I could do that; how hard can it be?”. Famous last words.
It took about a year…
Not to become a narrator, that took longer, just to find out how to go about becoming a narrator! I Googled and searched and couldn’t seem to come up with anything until my then sister in law showed up one day with her Audio Book Narrator study book and pointed me in the right direction! I was sure that soon I would be narrating to my heart’s content and raking in all the big bucks. HA!
I signed up for training…
I won’t mention where I started my studies, but I did enroll in a remote voice over class, studied equipment and software along the way, bought my first setup, hung moving blankets from the ceiling and started auditioning for titles on ACX. Much to my surprise, I actually booked several titles and began producing audio books! I had arrived!
Here’s the thing…
First, I won’t point you at any of those audio books, because they were not very well done. My setup was not awesome, and I didn’t really understand audio engineering very well. On top of that I discovered: This is not as easy as I thought. Narrating audio books is time consuming, tedious, hard work. It takes (for a new narrator) between 4 and 8 hours of work to complete each finished hour of audio. And even after all that time I still was not very good at the audio engineering part of the job. So, since I was also still working full time and traveling for work, I decided I just didn’t have the time to devote to narrating and I quit and sold all my stuff.
A couple years later I was in a minor motorcycle accident that resulted in the death of my wife. Suddenly I was alone with a lot of time on my hands and didn’t really want to be around people. SO – I started getting set up again but quickly realized, once again, that my full-time job interfered. But I didn’t quit this time. Instead, I used what time I had to do some training (mostly on the engineering side) to prepare for my eventual retirement from my full-time job.
And then…worldwide tragedy!
Yep – COVID. Early in 2020 my full-time job with travel became a full-time work from home job with NO travel. 2020 was my last year of full-time work before retirement. While I still had to work, I found that without a commute (saving at least an hour a day in the car) I had the time I needed to start working as a narrator again. I bought a professional audio booth, started equipping it and once again began auditioning for, and booking, work. This time, I didn’t limit my auditions to audio books and instead started looking at short form narration for commercials etc. I like the short form much better, BTW.
Then one day…
As I was perusing online casting sites, I came across a listing for background actors in my local(ish) area. I thought: “Well, wouldn’t THAT be a hoot!” and submitted myself…with no real expectation of booking it. Six weeks later I in fact DID hear back from the casting company and they wanted to book me! I eagerly (and anxiously) accepted, and my on-screen acting career was born!
That’s me in the lower left corner of the screen. I managed to get bumped up to “featured background” because apparently, I look like an attorney – or I just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time when they needed to fill up the table. Anyway, it’s my one “in focus” scene in that show. For those of you who don’t know, a background actor is one of the people moving around in the, well, background of a scene to fill out the scene and make it look realistic. Mostly they are out of focus so you can’t really identify them.
I fell in LOVE!
I was exceptionally fortunate to have my first time on a professional set be on a well-funded production (Dopesick was a Hulu/Disney production) with A-list actors. If you watched Dopesick (and if not, you should) there are some big names – but no I didn’t get to meet Michael Keaton. Anyway, I was completely smitten with being involved behind the scenes with a major production and decided on the spot that I needed to become a principal (as opposed to background) actor. I was 60 years old, had a 40+ year career behind me and FINALLY found my passion!
Back to training…
Yeah, acting is hard work too…and definitely requires a skillset I didn’t quite have yet. Not suggesting I “have” it now, but I am a lot closer today than I was in January 2021 on the set of Dopesick. So, I enrolled in acting classes (and am still enrolled – it’s not really something you graduate from) and after doing a couple more background gigs (We Own this City, Rustin) started auditioning for speaking roles. I’ve had the good fortune to audition for some pretty big roles but didn’t book any of them. Believe it or not, I auditioned for a Scorsese film (MAN, was that anxiety inducing!) and roles on Tulsa King with Sylvester Stallone. I mention these roles I DIDN’T get because for me it is a win just to get the audition.
I DO book work though!
I’ve managed to work as an actor more than I thought I would. As you can see by the pictures I’ve worked on some pretty fun productions. That one in the salmon colored (I refuse to call it pink!) outfit with the wig was just last weekend. If you are interested, you can see some of the stuff I’ve done (the stuff I am able to share anyway) here. I’m also very excited to report that a short narrative film I was co-lead in will be featured next weekend in the Maryland International Film Festival…my first trip to a festival!
And next on the agenda…
Anyone who has been around this industry for any length of time knows that, because of the on-again/off-again nature of this work, if you want to stay busy you diversify. And I am no exception. My latest endeavor is as a producer for a true crime podcast that I can’t talk about much except to say I have become well versed in reading court and police documents, locating and contacting people who were involved in one way or another (some of whom didn’t want to be found), corresponding with the perpetrator who is on death row and even speaking to his accomplice who has since been released. Our hope is to take the podcast forward and eventually produce a documentary film, and perhaps even a narrative film about the event. Very exciting stuff, I’ll give you details when I can.
And I am still auditioning!
I’ve managed to sign with two theatrical/commercial agents and one strictly VO agent, I still peruse the online casting sites and submit for as many jobs as I can. I average between 3-10 acting auditions and 10-20 VO auditions a week. I’m up very early (between 4-5 most days) and of course start my day with Wordle (got it in 3 today!), reviewing/responding to emails, looking for roles to submit for and of course everything that goes along with producing a true crime podcast. I am in an acting class for three hours every Tuesday and even still find time to golf on occasion. Truth is, I say I am retired, but I suppose I really am not.
That’s my story and I hope you enjoyed reading about how I got started and what I am up to now. I’d love to hear your story so either shoot me an email or pop it into the comments below!
Debby Leach says
So proud of you.
We see you in commercials from time to time.
Gary Mason says
Thank you…It is SO much fun!
You should watch Season 4 of “The Food That Built America”…well, you should watch the whole series because it is awesome…But I will be in Episode 10 of Season 4.
David Mason says
I’ve always been proud of your achievements Big brother but I’m far more thrilled to see you doing something that you love to do outside of our family it is the most important thing in life to me to enjoy what you do for a living and you will get a greater feeling of accomplishment from that than any missile guidance system could ever give you
Gary Mason says
Well, thank you little brother! I’d say in regards to happiness and passion at work you have definitely outshined me for a very long time!
Michael Apollo Lira says
What a ride. You have lived some. And what a story thus far. Some of that was quite personal – nothing but respect for opening up about some of that.
You live quite the full time retired live, and I carry so much excitement and admiration for what you’re doing!
I LOVED Dopesick. And I loved Tulsa King! How cool is it that you got to audition?!
I’m excited for what’s next for you! I’ll be cheering for you.
Also, will you be attending VO Atlanta this coming week by chance?
Gary Mason says
It has been a ride, that’s for sure. I definitely have some stories from when on active duty in the navy…I’ve seen and done some things people wouldn’t believe if I told them. I count myself very fortunate to have been able to live the life I’ve lived…tragedies and all.
I actually work harder (and longer) now than I did when I had a “full time” job. I figure if I ever have to just stop, it’ll be time to say goodbye.
Dopesick was such a great show, and I feel honored to have been able to help bring it to TV even in such a small way. For the Scorsese film I didn’t make it past the Casting Director (I was TERRIBLE), but for Tulsa King the CD sent my tape to the producer/director to watch…a HUGE win for me even though I didn’t get any of them (I auditioned for three different roles). So THAT means Taylor Sheridan and possibly Sylvester himself watched my tape. That blows me away. They’ve heard my name (and I don’t have any misconceptions about them remembering me or anything). Still…pretty cool.
Sadly won’t be able to make it next week. One of these years though!
Don Freeman says
You are a pretty good writer also Gary and tell a good story. You have an interesting voice and face so I can see you doing this kind of work. Talking is actually work. As I’ve gotten older my voice has gotten whacky. I’ve got allergies and reflux and often my voice doesn’t work well or long. Even calling in to a radio show to comment reminds me of how much trouble it is to talk these days. Very glad to see you enjoying yourself and finding something fun and interesting to do at this stage of life.
Gary Mason says
Thanks Don! Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised, for sure. When I first started writing this about two years ago it was a struggle to get to my self-imposed 100 word target and I didn’t enjoy doing it. I began because I read that to improve SEO I needed to refresh content regularly. Now I struggle to STAY within my self-imposed 1500 word limit and my only struggle is coming up with topics to write about…and on top of that I find myself enjoying doing the writing. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me!
Yes, talking IS work, and talking in a specific way to bring a story to life is even harder. Still, it is also enjoyable…so I keep doing it!
This is honestly the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done!