UPDATE February 28, 2013: Our randomly selected winner of the audio book was Divis – congratulations! Thank you to everyone for stopping by and commenting! VS
It’s my pleasure to have actor and audio book narrator Michael Riffle as my guest today. Michael and I recently collaborated on the audio book of my 2013 SFR Galaxy Award winning Science Fiction novel WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM. Listening as Michael portrayed Sectors Special Forces Captain Nick Jameson, hero of the book, and brought all the characters and events to life was an amazing experience for me as the author. So much fun – on the days he had a new chapter uploaded, believe me I dashed home from the day job to listen!
Now that the audio book has been released, I thought it would be fun to interview Michael on some of the creative aspects of the whole process (and let you get to know him a little better too!). We’re also giving away one download copy of the audio book to a randomly selected commenter.
Welcome to the blog! Would you share some of your background with us? When did you know you wanted to act? What kind of training do you have?
I first found a love for acting when I was in 8th grade at Lake Ridge Academy in North Ridgeville, OH. I took an improvisation class with Matt Vanek, and that lead to doing the fall play and the spring musical every year until college. I went to the University of Rochester in upstate New York where I majored in Computer Science and minored in Theater, but spent a good deal more time in the theater than in the computer lab. I worked with a lot of talented directors and actors, and took voice and acting classes. After graduating in 2007 I moved back to Ohio for a couple years to regroup and did some community theater shows and a webseries called The Road to Sundance: On a Shoestring Budget. Wanting more of a challenge I headed to Boston where I got involved with one of the local casting agencies. After some commercial success I moved out here to LA, and after a workshop with David Lawrence on voice-over I bought myself a studio mic and got myself setup with a recording space, and that brings us up to today.
What are some of your favorite roles? My favorite role was Killer Joe Cooper in the Tracy Letts play Killer Joe, because it was a really intricate and challenging role.
What drew you to voicing audio books? I went on a road trip down to Florida with my family while I was in college. I spent the bulk of the trip keeping them entertained by reading aloud from the latest Harry Potter book. I think that was my first real interest in the idea of voicing books.
Did you have a favorite scene in the book? A scene that was especially challenging?
I think the most challenging scene was (SPOILERS!) in chapter seven when [Character X] didn’t survive. I have a really close relationship with my mother, and when the Character thought Nick was her son at the end I visualized my mother saying that and I actually had to stop recording for a few minutes because I got choked up. The dangers of making the work too personal, I guess!
VS: I remember when you were doing the recording you’d tweeted that Chapter made you a bit sad. I’m touched that the scene had such an effect.
What’s involved with narrating an audio book? How many hours of recording go into each finished hour?
When I first started I had this mindset that it would take me about an hour to read every forty-five minutes worth of text, and another hour to edit, and boy was I wrong. I’ve learned that I can only read for about two hours in a day before my voice starts to change in quality, and that between the initial recording, pickups, and editing, one hour of finished book ends up being six or seven hours of work.
VS: Wow! I couldn’t begin to tell you how many hours I put into writing the book but at least I never had to worry about my voice. Can you explain for our readers what a “pickup” is in this case? I know you said at one point there were 22 pickups to do in Chapter 7…
Sure, a pickup is when I have to record a section of text again for whatever reason. Sometimes I read the words wrong, other times I dislike how I read it.
As an actor, how do you prepare to “read” the book?
My process is usually to start by reading the whole book and making sure I understand each main characters arc. In my experience that’s the best way to know how to pace each scene. Then I do some vocal warmups, pour myself something like seven beverages of varying temperature, and start reading. I always try to let my mind relax when I’m reading aloud (like I do when I read for pleasure) because I find it easier to talk about what’s happening if I’m seeing it in my mind’s eye.
I really enjoyed the way you brought each of the characters to life – not only Nick the hero but also wide variety of people he was trying to save from the wrecked ship. What goes on in your mind as you create each unique voice?
I think the biggest influence on what I try to do with my voice comes from your description of the characters. Not just how their voice is described, but how they hold themselves, what sort of personality do they have, how they are feeling during the whole process. I try to equate each character to someone I know, or a character I’ve seen in a movie or television, something to ground it in reality. I might be a little selfish by giving my own voice to Nick. It’s hard to NOT want to be the modest, able-bodied hero who gets the girl.
VS: I had a number of auditions submitted for the book and I have to say I knew you were Nick from the first word you said! It was amazing to “hear” my character and I was in no doubt who I HAD to have narrate the book LOL.
I came up with some unusual words and names, given that this is a science fiction novel. Was there anything or anyone you wished you could rename? (I promise it won’t hurt my feelings LOL)
Hahaha, I was so worried about mispronouncing things. I said D’nvannae wrong so many times when I started this. I think if I could change anything I’d change Mellure, and only because I had a terrible habit of adding a Y to it for no good reason. My mouth always wanted to say Meh-lyoor.
VS: And even though we did some advance discussion about pronunciation, we never discussed the name of the alien pirate race, Shemdylann. You say it differently than I heard it in my head when I wrote the book but the first time I heard how you said it, I knew you had it right, not me!
MR: Haha, and I changed my mind about it halfway through the chapter and had to go back and rerecord a big section.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
My mom said to me (on more occasions than she should probably have had to) “You only truly fail if you don’t try.” It’s a lesson I have a hard time learning, but it’s damn good advice.
A few quickfire questions:
Can’t live without: Technology – I’m a nerd to the bone.
Listening to on repeat: Thousandfold by Eluveitie
Best vacation: Green Mountains of New Hampshire with my girlfriend Mary
Would love to work with: Nathan Fillion VS sez: Wouldn’t we all 🙂
Show I can’t miss: I’ve got Netflix, HuluPlus, and Crackle. I binge watch whole seasons of anything.
Best dinner I ever ate: Went outside of my price range to Cube on La Brea. Good lord. Delicious.
Nick drinks interstellar brandy and ice planet vodka (not in the same glass) – what’s your favorite drink?
I learned this one at the Irish Village in Brighton, Mass.
1 part Powers Irish Whiskey, 1 lemon wedge with cloves, 1 barspoon full of raw sugar, splash of Sandeman port
muddle in glass
add 4 parts boiling water
You have yourself a Hot Whiskey (or Hot Toddy) – Cures all ills, improves ailing throats, and is basically magical.
What kind of film projects or audio books will you be working on in the near future?
Lately I’ve been working on honing my improvisation skill at the UCB Theater in LA. A film I starred in called “Fallen Prodigy” took home a prize at the Valjean film festival, so I’ll be helping to promote that. As for audiobooks, there’s nothing on my plate right now, but I’ve been giving my full attention to WRECK so I’ll be auditioning for more now that it’s winding down.
VS: And I know Michael just started working on another SF book, not mine sadly but I’m happy for him!
Where can the Readers find you online? My personal website is a work in progress, but people can find me on twitter @Rifflock, or on imdb at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4446582/
Michael has agreed to do a followup post with me, if there are questions, so please feel free to leave us your questions or comments below – which we’d love – and we’ll post the answers. Leaving a question or comment will also enter you in the random drawing for one download copy of the audio book. I’ll choose the winner on February 27, 2013 and announce the name here and on Facebook and twitter.
Michael said: I’d love to do a followup if people are interested in knowing more. I really enjoyed working on this project with you, and I’m sad it’s almost over, but hopefully we’ll work together again soon!
VS sez: I really enjoyed our collaboration on this audio book (I’ll be doing a sequel so I’m going to hope our schedules mesh to record that one at some point) and thanks for doing the interview today!
Buy Link for the book for the kindle, in paperback or as an audio book download: Amazon