• Christopher Campbell

Mouths of the South

According to the cast of FX's Archer, voiceover work just might be the laziest, most lucrative dream job in all of entertainment

The world is seeing Atlanta more and more onscreen lately, and we’re also hearing its voices. Georgia is home to an increasing number of voice talents, those who perform the characters we love in animation and video games, as well as the artists who speak to us through commercials and on mobile devices.

Despite Atlanta housing the headquarters for Turner’s Cartoon Network and the Adult Swim brand, however, most of their major productions are based elsewhere. FX’s Archer is perhaps the most watched animated series being made in the area, and it’s a show that has been particularly good to two local voice actors. Amber Nash, who plays the part of Pam Poovey on the hit series, hails from Gwinnett County. She went to Georgia State University, majored in psychology, and initially became a social worker. But she was also doing improv theater at Dad’s Garage and fell in love with acting. Fortunately, Dad’s became the perfect launching ground for a new career.

“From [Dad’s Garage], I met the guys from 70/30 Productions,” Nash says of her introduction to the eventual creators of Archer, who were, at the time, already gaining notice for Adult Swim’s Sealab 2021. “They were just five guys working out of a creepy house in East Atlanta. They knew us all at Dad’s because we were just a scrappy little company, too.”

Lucky Yates, who voices the Archer character Doctor Krieger, also got his start through Dad’s. He moved to Atlanta in the early ’90s after college, got into radio voiceover at the now-defunct station 96 Rock, and later found local fame hosting a live talk show. From that, he landed acting work on the Atlanta-produced Food Network show, Good Eats.

Yates met Archer creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson while hosting a burlesque show at the Laughing Skull in 2006. “They came and saw me emcee and thought my voice was great,” Yates says. Not that the meeting was random fortune, exactly, as Yates had friends working at 70/30. “People tell me I have a cool voice. I don't know. To me, I sound like me.”

Both Nash and Yates first voiced characters for Reed and Thompson’s Adult Swim superhero series, Frisky Dingo. “They had me audition for a teenage girl voice, which I was completely wrong for,” Nash says of her first shot with the company. But the show changed course, and she was called back in to try out for Val, a part she landed as a regular for the show’s two-season run. “Honestly, the reason I worked for them so often was because they could just call me and I’d be there in 10 minutes, and it was just easy and fun,” Nash adds. “I played many characters because they just used whoever to play whatever. I played a prostitute who was just insane looking; she was such a mess. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that in real life.”

With young companies, as with young talent, starting out is about who you know, and Nash wasn’t the only one who benefited from being so familiar and available. “They just had people come in who they were friends with,” she remembers. “Mr. Ford, a character on Frisky Dingo, was literally the guy who lived across the street from them who would mow their grass.”

After Frisky Dingo, Reed and Thompson went on to found Floyd County Productions, whereupon they decided to bring along Nash and Yates for their next project, Archer. “I didn’t even have to audition for it,” Nash admits. “I thought it was going to be another little thing. I didn’t know it was going to blow up into what it has become. I got so lucky working with those guys.”

Of his late casting, Yates notes that Krieger didn’t talk for a few episodes. “The machine was already going when they contacted me,” he says. While Archer took a few seasons to hit it big, Yates’s character was also slow to gain popularity. “Krieger really started as this side character. Then, Adam just enjoyed writing him so much that he grew and grew over the years. I got into the opening credits in Season 5.”

Even today, the part isn’t so big that it requires a lot of time. “I recorded yesterday, and it took me, I don't know, 15 minutes,” Yates says. “If I'm in the booth over half an hour, I'm there a long time. But that's me. Krieger isn't Archer.”


"I'm working, over the course of the year, not even an eight-hour day.”


Nash confesses, “I feel bad about how little work I have to do on the show, because the animators do so much work. It's very labor intensive. But the actors don't do a lot, and we get all the attention and glory. It takes about eight months of the year to make the whole season and, for us, we go in once a month for like 30-45 minutes. I'm working, over the course of the year, not even an eight-hour day.”

For some local voice talent, “going in” doesn’t even factor. September Day, who specializes in commercial voiceover and live announcing (she was the voice of MTV’s Video Music Awards in 2007), records in a home studio that’s, essentially, a walk-in closet. Not only is it conveniently located, but it allows for the utmost anonymity. “When I was pregnant, that was the best,” says Day, “because I'd go into the booth and I'd have yoga pants on and a fleece and my nine-month belly, and I'm doing something for a lingerie shop. They’d say, 'Okay, pretend you're a leather-clad dominatrix.’”

A Georgia native as well, Day was a veterinary technician until a bite incident at work led her to make a change. She admits that she was naive about trying a profession she knew nothing about, but she’d been told that she had a good voice and decided to use it to her advantage. “There was no rulebook at the time,” she says. “Nobody was really teaching classes on voiceover.”

Day found her groove by learning on her own, and soon discovered she had a penchant for mimicry. “For three solid years, everyone wanted you to sound like Tina Fey,” she says. “Then it was Kristen Wiig, then it was Jennifer Lawrence. Whatever hot new person has the cool movie out, that's who we’re asked to parrot.”

Day now shares her studio, dubbed The Neighborhood, with husband Bob Carter, a veteran voice actor with A-list credits in animation and video games. Most famously, he appears as Balrog and Baraka in the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises, respectively. Carter, who also grew up in metro Atlanta, got his start in broadcasting at Georgia State’s Album 88, and then went to work professionally at the station 99x.

After leaving 99x for another radio gig in Texas, he found his way into Funimation Studios and began doing voices for anime series such as Dragon Ball Z. “Because I have a deep voice, I would always get typecast as a villain or a monster,” Carter says. “When they needed an intimidating voice, they knew who to call.”


"If Gilbert Gottfried can be a successful voice talent, then you can."


Through his work with Funimation, he soon managed to find additional roles in video games. And with more and more experience under his belt, he later found himself competing successfully against L.A. talent. When Carter finally returned to Atlanta in 2009, he was well enough established to continue his career in the comfort of his home state, where tax breaks helped out as well. “Everybody realizes the movie industry is here, but they don’t realize those tax credits help more video games explode. And the video game industry is even more profitable than the movie industry.”

Carter is affiliated with the Georgia Game Developers Association, through which he lobbies for the local video game industry. Thanks to new tax credits for post production, not only are game companies being wooed to Atlanta, but existing post studios such as Wabi Sabi Sound are now benefitting too. That’s where Carter performed a role for the new video game Destiny 2, made by Washington-based Bungie Studios. “I didn’t have to fly to New York, I didn’t have to fly to Dallas, I didn’t have to fly to L.A. I recorded just off of Freedom Parkway.”

Leveraging their collective experience and success into a venue that fosters up-and-coming talent, Carter and Day now teach workshops on all facets of the voice talent industry, from acting to business practices. “Our teaching style is not to keep people hanging out as students for six months to a year before they try auditioning,” Carter says. “Whenever we have real auditions, I will have my students go after those auditions. I don't promise that they book, but I promise that I’ll submit them. I have been very fortunate in having my students book.”

Carter and Day stress their practice of teaching “personal responsibility” to their students. “You've got to realize it's a business,” Carter says. “It's not just theater. You're a business owner; you have to treat it like a business; you have to go after it.”

“I don’t do the whole ‘follow your dream’ bullshit,” Days adds. “That’s irritating as hell when coaches post that kind of crap. Yeah, it’s great to be a voice talent, but don’t you want to know how to make money? Isn’t that our responsibility to teach people how to recoup the money they put into us?”

“The most successful voice talent is not always the best voice talent,” Carter notes. “It's the one who has the most successful business practices and perseverance. We always say, ‘If Gilbert Gottfried can be a successful voice talent, then you can.’”

Garrett Kiesel is a former student of Carter and Day’s who is now finding success in the industry. His first major client, AT&T, was signed thanks to Carter’s help during the audition process. “My time with Bob has been so amazing,” he says. “He gives great constructive criticism. He’s very particular when judging you, in a way that’s going to build you up, not discourage.”

Kiesel grew up in Colorado. He was the sort of kid who was always imitating cartoon characters for a laugh. He came to Atlanta because it was gaining a reputation for being the L.A. of the East June / July 2018 29 Coast. As a talent not at all interested in onscreen work, he is able to do most jobs from a distance in his home studio. “I can record anytime, then send it off,” he says.

One of the ways a new talent like Kiesel finds work is with Voice123, a payto- play casting website where clients post gigs and actors upload demos and share audition tapes. That’s how September Day booked the VMAs more than a decade ago. But most voice professionals also eventually hire agents in multiple cities, in addition to landing gigs via referral. “Most people work on referrals,” says Carter. “That's the best way to get business. I was recently referred to a company that just came into the Atlanta area. I booked it. The best part is that I was able to give them demos of my students who are now my colleagues. And when they heard those demos, they realized there are some very talented professionals here and they immediately gave them auditions. It wasn't just about me booking the job, it was about sharing.”

Many companies that come to Georgia are not aware of all the talent here for vocal and onscreen roles. “There's so much happening in Atlanta [and it’s] blowing up, but you still have to have an agent who's not in Atlanta to book,” Nash says of the state’s casting conundrum. “It's still, unfortunately, the belief that there's no way good talent could be a local Atlanta person. They've got to be from L.A. or New York. Hopefully, one day that will change, but that's still the way it is right now. You've got to play the game.”

Of course, you also have to do the work. “I am a firm believer in bettering myself and bettering my skills, and just being the absolute best I can be,” says Kiesel of his continued training, which now includes improv classes. “If you're wanting to become a voice actor, having those acting skills [is key]. It is acting; acting is part of the name. Acting classes are of the utmost importance.”

“I have found that it helps in most areas of life,” Carter says of improv. Like Nash and Yates, he was involved with Dad’s Garage early on. He continued with troupes while living in Dallas, and now instructs on the art of improv in his workshops. “It’s important to say, ‘Yes, and…,’ to accept what someone gives you, and then contribute. It’s constructive, it’s creative, and on top of that, it stimulates the mind and imagination. I recommend it for everything.”

Despite their background in improv, though, neither Nash nor Yates has been tasked with much creative input on Archer. “The scripts are so well written there’s just not a need for it,” Nash acknowledges. However, she does believe the characters evolved as Reed became more familiar with the performers behind their voices. “All of the actors started to infect the characters. As Adam got to know us, he started writing things from our actual personalities into the characters. I like to think I kind of helped in the transformation of Pam into who she is today.”

She realized just recently how much her character has changed from the start. “I went back and read the pilot episode about a year ago, and I was really surprised to find that when Pam is first introduced, it says, ‘Pam, the mousy director of HR’—which, nobody would ever describe Pam as ‘mousy’ today.”

Sometimes the influence is even sneakier. “There is one thing Krieger does, this ‘Yup, yup, yup.’ That was a thing that I did and had no idea I was doing it,” Yates confesses. “It’s in the script as this ‘Yup, yup, yup,’ and when I’m in the booth, I ask the guys, ‘Hey, what do you want me to do with this?’ And they said, ‘Do it like you do it. You do this thing when you agree with people.’ ‘I do?’ I had no clue.”

For Samm Severin, another fresh talent native to Georgia, being a writer in addition to being an actor can lead to more satisfying projects. “When you're writing for a character, you're kind of carving out their voice. Then when you go to speak their voice, it already kind of exists in your head. When you're reading a character that someone else wrote, you have to get to that process independently.”

Primarily a standup comedian, Severin was recently recruited for her first voice acting gig by Straight to Tell, an Atlanta-based creative studio. “They had heard my voice in some comedy video I did,” she explains. “I grew up thinking cartoons are the greatest thing ever, but I didn’t even think of that as an option until Straight to Tell reached out.”

Now that she’s had a taste of the business, she hopes to do kids’ voices for cartoons. Her dream job: working on SpongeBob Squarepants. “That's the most fun, because kids do so much with their voices. They're not bound by the same social laws as adults, so they exercise a lot of freedom in their range and volume.”

She loves acting onscreen as well, 30 Oz Magazine - film. tv. entertainment. but there’s something special about “living someone’s story with your sound,” she says. Plus, you can probably do it longer. “It’s cool that you can act in voice work, because you can get old—and that’s great. No one sees what you look like, so that pressure’s not there.”

“Voiceover is the best gig going,” Yates agrees. “You don't have to learn any lines. You don't have to look any sort of way, just as long as your throat works.”

For Severin, another plus to voice work is just witnessing how it’s all done. “Mostly what I’ve liked is getting to meet those types of people who do that sort of work, making cartoon worlds.” She’s not sure what’s in store for her, exactly, but she’s optimistic. “Just seeing people doing it, knowing people are getting a lot of work in this field, is helpful.”

But she’s also concerned about the scene becoming too competitive. Perhaps Kiesel could put her mind at ease. He says, “I haven't met a whole lot of people as of yet, but I know the voiceover industry is very supportive. Everyone has got everyone's back.”

“Voiceover is a global business, so there's an opportunity for you no matter where you are,” Carter says. “We have tons of commercial companies that are here. Now that the movie and video game industries are really prospering, there's an opportunity for everyone. It's very important to have an abundance mentality, rather than a scarcity mentality. Together, everyone achieves more.”

Meanwhile, revolutionary creators that appeared on the scene early, like Reed and Thompson, aren’t planning on leaving. Instead, they’re growing. “When Archer hit, they had the big question: Do we pick up and move to L.A., or should we stay here?” Yates says. “But I’ve got to tell you, that tax break is everything. FX gets a big tax break, so they pay a bunch of local artists. Atlanta has a really great street art-scene. Half of those guys work at Floyd County drawing Archer.”

“Every time I go to Floyd County, it's bigger and there are more people working there,” Nash confirms. “That's not going anywhere. The infrastructure is here for that. They're cooking on a lot of projects, too, trying to figure out what their next big thing is. So, hopefully there'll be a lot more opportunity in the future for animation in Atlanta.”

There was a time when Nash planned on leaving the area for a bigger market, she admits. “But I just always kept working here. I was like, ‘Well, if I don't have to leave to get work, let me just ride it out.’ Luckily for me, more opportunities started happening.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Day says of the importance of staying nearby. “The market is global. We are so blessed to have an industry where it doesn't matter where the hell we are. As long as you've got an internet connection, you can work.”

When the time comes for Archer to end, Nash says she’ll stick around, creating content of her own and for Dad’s Garage, if nothing else. She maintains that she isn’t just a voice actor. “I want to do more on-camera work. That's been my focus in recent years, because I've been lucky enough to have this really good job that pays my bills with Archer. So, I can spend time developing the other side of my career.”

Yates has a similar outlook on the future of his career, which he says could include more cartoons or, perhaps, another of his passions: puppetry. “I am pretty picky about what I want to do,” he says, “only because I'm not struggling. I struggled for so long and was so terrified for so long. And I'm probably the lowestpaid man on television, but for me it's great. I'm just taking this time to let my art flow and work with things I've never really worked with before… I landed on a hit show in my mid 40s. I'm very glad it hit when it did.”

Atlanta’s younger voice talent would be well advised to take that statement to heart as they embark on their own career paths. “This kind of thing doesn't happen overnight,” Kiesel acknowledges. “When you go for an audition, you're not going to be told whether you're right or not, you just have to wait and see. Patience has been a little rough for me. I kind of have to think about it in the grand scheme of things, and keep pushing and keep persevering and work as hard as I possibly can to achieve my dream.”

Severin also recognizes there’s still plenty of time ahead for her, but confesses she may only have another five to seven years of standup left in her. “I'd like to have some good writing habits built that I can go to when I'm ready to back away. I'm open to whatever at this point. I'm young enough that it wouldn't make sense for me not to be.”

According to Carter, “whatever” might end up being a lot. “I'm working to bring more business to Atlanta,” he says. “That's my personal goal. If we can bring those huge projects here, then that's more opportunity not just for our students, but for the extremely talented actors and professionals here. I know a lot of talented people. If I can put money in their pockets, that's even better.”

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