99% of the people I’ve ever worked with were total professionals – great people. I earned a bit of a reputation in the industry as “One Take Danny” – meaning I could give the client whatever they wanted in just a couple of takes. If they hired me, it was unlikely I would cost them more than an hour of studio time – sometimes even much less. I loved the feeling of getting a “day’s work” done in such a short amount of time – it was very gratifying. I think that has bred a need in me to see the immediate outcome of a project – it’s very hard for me to just put my head down and work on something for an indefinite period without seeing a clear result. It’s why I have an easier time writing short stories than novels, and why I have such an easy time blogging – I post it, it’s done, people read it and comment.

Anyway, sometimes I would get a client who didn’t know what they wanted – those were always difficult. I’d have to do fifty million takes.

Client: That was great, Danny. Now, listen, we loved the way you did that – we really did – but can you give us a little more…I dunno. Something. You know?

No, I didn’t know. But dammit, I tried. You might not think a lot of fretting went on about my inflection in the word “waffle”, but you’d be wrong. In some cases, you’d be very wrong. I remember doing a voice over for a Batman action figure once. For those who might not know, a voice over is where you walk into a recording studio and read a script. If it’s for TV, they’ll usually have everything filmed and want you to match it to the picture. Back in the day, the clients, director, and writers were all right there in the room with you. These days they do it all via internet – the client can be in Micronesia, it doesn’t even matter. Anyway, this Batman commercial was cool – I loved the comics, and knew every nuance of the characters. All through the session, though, I could tell this guy – I think he was a writer – was getting agitated. Sensing he wasn’t quite satisfied, I asked if there was anything specific he had in mind.

Writer: Yeah. Can you make a noise?

Me: What kind of noise?

Writer: You know, like the kind of noise the Penguin makes?

I imitated the Penguin.

Writer: No, not like that. Like a quack.

Me: A quack?

Writer: Yes.

Me: Like a duck?

Writer: No, like a penguin. Penguins quack, right?

I thought I knew what he was talking about – the cigar chomping, umbrella wielding Batman villain did make birdlike sounds sometimes. I gave him what I thought was a dead on impersonation of it.

Writer: No, no. I need you to grunt.

Me: Grunt?

Writer: Yeah. Grunt like the Penguin.

Like I said, I was pretty familiar with the character – and he didn’t grunt, as far as I knew. I did some more takes, and grunted as requested – which, in my opinion, sounded nothing like the Penguin. The writer was growing more frustrated.

Writer: No, that’s not it. That’s not right.

Me: Okay…

Writer: Just GRUNT! You don’t know how to grunt?

Me: Yeah…you mean quack or grunt?

Writer: Just grunt!

I did some more takes, which sounded like I was passing the unabridged Webster’s Dictionary. I was sounding less and less like the Penguin and more like a guy who hadn’t eaten fiber in ten years.

Me: Was that…better?

Writer: No! That sounds nothing like the Penguin.

No shit, dude.

Writer: Okay. Can you quack and grunt at the same time?

I was starting to seriously question this guy’s grasp on the characters in the DC universe – much less reality – but I gave it my best shot. I prayed to everloving Christ that I got it. He listened back to my takes, and hope crept into my heart.

Writer: No. No. That’s not it.

Me: Well, what do you want?

Writer: I want you to sound like THE PENGUIN!

Me: …okay. Well, you’ll have to explain what you want, then. Because I have no idea.

The guy put his hands over his face for a minute before he spoke again.

Writer: Okay. You know the Penguin?

Me: Yes. From Batman.

Writer: Yes. The umbrella guy.

Me: Right.

Writer: He GRUNTS! Do the Penguin.

I did dozens more takes – I imitated the Penguin, I grunted, I quacked, I even squeaked. By the end, nearly an hour had passed. My voice was raw from grunting and his co-workers were looking at him kind of funny.

He opened his mouth to speak and the lady sitting next to him stopped him. Her voice spoke in my headphones.

Girl Writer: Danny, that’s fine. I think we have what we need.

I walked out of there on watery knees, but the writer – the guy who seemed to want to hear the Penguin taking a dump –  was red faced and sweaty. He looked tired, pissed, and frustrated. I could relate.

 

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