by Ellie Weingardt
The way things were - And how they've changed
On the occasion of SCREEN'S 18th anniversary, actress Ellie Weingardt reminisced on how the talent business has changed since she started as a voice actress. Technology is changing so rapidly who I knows what's around the corner. When I started as a voice actress, demo tapes were on reel-to-reels; then came cassettes, then digital audiotapes and now CDs. The last three voiceover spots I recorded were phone-patched to other states. Back then, so as not to miss a business call, you signed up for a 24-hour live answering service. Now, I have a pager, a cellular phone, an answering service and my agent, Gina, at C.E.D., who also fields calls for me. The way we advertised, too, has changed. I once subscribed to "Talent Phone," which played my demo tape over the phone for interested talent buyers. One enterprising voice talent in town has his own phone line exclusively playing his demo, which I think is a brilliant idea. There is talk of another such phone service in the near future. I, for one, will be a subscriber when that happens. Along with advertising, pictures and resumes, are now supplemented by post cards, greeting cards, faxes, and other promotional mailings. The all important J-card became an art form, entertaining and informative. We went from single head shots to picture-in-picture, three-quarters to full and back to head shots. Both glossy and matte are now acceptable. Composite pictures in color are a new innovation and graphic companies are providing New Media. Video demos went from 3/4-inch to half-inch and became more sophisticated in their presentation. Cable TV and infomercials opened up a whole new access to advertisers, while radio stayed as strong as ever. Suddenly, the movie industry grew up around us. Film classes became popular, hosted by' out-of-town casting directors since there were no movie casting directors in Chicago at that time, only talent agents. Though still small in numbers by New York and L.A. standards, some actors have made their mark. My first taste of a Hollywood film was working as an extra in "The Blues Brothers." Ill never forget working late as an extra and having an early morning voiceover booking for national Sears spots the next day. But the moxie bug was strong, and eventually it led me to a wonderful role in "A League of Their Own" working side by side with Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, the incredible Tom Hanks and director Penny' Marshall. When I started out, I primarily voiced retail; now medicine, law, gambling, and insurance have joined their ranks in prominence along with beer and fast-food chains. Character wise, comedic takes precedence 2-1 over dramatic presentation. There is more information available to those who wish to enter the field today. Due to the increased interest in the field by our young people, I have taught voiceover seminars at Evanston Township high school and Stevenson high school and was a guest lecture at Columbia College. However things have changed in the talent business-and I'm sure they will continue to further evolve-for me it's been fun, exciting and a great growth experience.