Video at the bottom for those in a rush 🙂
So the time has come that I can finally share what I got up to in San Francisco at the end of August, this was a once in a lifetime trip and so much went on that this is a bit of a long one but if you’re interested stick with it to the end as I think there’s a lesson in here for all of us…
It all started with replying to a tweet so never underestimate the opportunities hidden away in social media! I got invited to a filmed casting in London and it probably took no more than 30 minutes. I left honestly thinking that of all the hundreds that apply there was no way they’d pick some “normal” guy doing silly voices.
Over the coming weeks it would turn out that I was wrong and that what I was in store for was absolutely in the most genuine sense going to be a once in a lifetime thing. The news trickled in slowly that the director was interested in my story but nothing was definite and that was probably the case for a couple of weeks until finally it was confirmed, they wanted me and I’d be flying out to San Francisco in a few weeks.
Everything was taken care of for me, flights, transfers, a layover in LA and hotels all booked and organised, all I had to do was turn up.
Day 1: Travel
Not a lot to mention here other than this production company knew how to do things in style! I felt like I was a movie star, I was booked in First Class with Air New Zealand and I can honestly say it was the nicest travelling experience I’ve ever had! I arrived in LA around 21:00 with a limo waiting to take me to the hotel for a couple of hours sleep before more limo’s and a short flight with Virgin America (also First Class) up to San Francisco.
That afternoon I had my first meeting with one of the casting agents out in the states, she came to the hotel and we went over some basics such as call times for the next day and a rough schedule. I was staying on Fisherman’s Wharf which is the tourist spot in San Francisco so after the meeting I went for a walk, grabbed a bike and cycled the 4 miles to the Golden Gate Bridge and back (well, got to get rid of jet lag somehow!) Bit of room service and an early night’s sleep ready for fun in the morning!
Day 2: Filming
So I was picked up in the morning and driven out to Treasure Island along with a guy from Germany who was also being filmed. 12 people were being filmed and I was in the last batch of 6, each of us had our own story to tell. Bernhard (from Germany) was a highly qualified Urologist with dreams of owning and cooking in a restaurant.
Once on Treasure Island we were kitted out by wardrobe and makeup and mic’d up by the sound guys then waited in the car until it was our turn for filming. Suffice it to say I was quite nervous, I’d never been on camera before and although I’ve done a lot of stage work there was something more intimidating about being filmed.
Soon it was my turn, I walked over to a car park by the bay and saw a small crew of around 6 people, this was the secondary unit I was told, the main crew were doing more filming in the city. Filming started nice and simply with me just being asked about driving, what I thought of driving, what it meant to me, what I drove at home those sorts of things. Unbeknownst me, almost silently someone was pulling up in a car behind me. I was told to turn around and was faced with a brand new, prototype, 2015 Ford Mustang!
I have to say first and foremost, it was gorgeous! The Mustang has always been a guilty pleasure of mine and I’d actually rented an older one for my LA trip earlier this year but this one was something else! Out of the car came a guy from Ford who literally knew everything there was to know about the car. I was asked what I thought of it, how it compared to previous models, how it made me feel etc. Then I was given the pleasure of getting in, starting the engine and giving it a good old rev, man that sounded nice!
Some more interviewing in the car and then it was off to location number 2!
This was a much bigger affair as we were now with the main unit, we got taken to a motorhome where hair and makeup were re-touched and again some more waiting for our turn to be filmed. Here in the motorhome I also go to meet another of the “6”. It was a great guy called Lonnie Council, a comedian from Los Angeles who had dreams of hitting the big time with his comedic material. Lonnie and I hit it off immediately and it kicked off 3 days of some of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had, though none of which are probably suitable for public consumption!
When it was my turn I was taken over the road into what could be described as a huge warehouse, it was entirely dark apart from some light emanating from a side room and one little corner which was set up with flood lights and the film crew. At this point the nerves really kicked in but I sucked it up because ultimately this was crazy fun! I very briefly got to meet the director before sitting down in a chair, facing the camera with just a plain back drop behind me. The camera was set up in such a way that even though I was staring into a camera I could see the directors’ face, very clever stuff!
We then started the interview which covered my dreams as a voiceover, why I’d pursued it, what I wanted out of it, what the difficulties were and what it meant to me. I won’t lie that I got choked up saying it all, I wear my heart on my sleeve most of the time and have no issues getting passionate in front of people when it’s about my dream. They, of course, also had me do some voices just for good measure!
Once the interview was done, that was it for the day! Back to the hotel for some chill out time, I shot out into the wharf to grab some food but then it was back to the hotel to relax before another packed day of filming tomorrow…
Day 3: Things get awesome!
So day 3 started a little later than the others so I treated myself to a true American delicacy for breakfast, iHOP! I have to admit, it was pretty damn good! Feeling stuffed I walked back to my hotel to the awaiting car and headed off to filming.
This time everything was very different, I arrived at a large car park with what I would guess to be around 60 crew working, it was an absolute hive of activity! I could see around 4 of the Mustangs laid out and mine being worked on furiously. I was ushered into the motorhome for hair and makeup and then sent out to sit in the car while everything was setup. Now things were really turning into a pressure cooker, sitting in the car I was watching around 8 guys work on getting lights fixed to the hood of the car, the lighting guy was sat in the passenger seat next to me configuring up the interior lighting (I later found out he is one of the best known lighting guys in Hollywood, working on all the films and TV we know and love). I got a real feeling here of just what it takes to film things to a high standard, everything was under such time pressure and we had to get these shots before lunch, everyone was an utter professional diligently doing their job with little old me sat in the middle of it all! I definitely felt the pressure of making sure I delivered the goods so as to not do a disservice to all the amazing people that were working so hard to get it done.
I was told that plan was for me to drive around whilst being interviewed, I’d have to follow a “pace car” in front of me and just do exactly what he did. When everything was ready a cameraman jumped into the passenger seat, the director (Alex Gibney) jumped in the back and a sound man was situated in the boot (yes the boot!).
I have to admit I was REALLY feeling the pressure here, as I say I didn’t want to let people down, but we were all set and rolled out onto the roads of San Francisco.
So the drive was just like the previous day, I was interviewed by the director about my dreams again, what they meant to me, what kicked off the start of my journey etc. They even had me create a voice for the car right there on the spot (FYI, I created a cowboy character, it’s a Mustang after all!).
This was when things took a turn for the truly amazing / bizarre / mind-blowing / life changing.
The director said “I’d imagine getting the right contacts must be a difficult part of making it in voiceover, so what if I told you that we’ve arranged for you to meet with Tippett Studios in Burkley and audition for their latest project…….this afternoon”
I was utterly gobsmacked, you can see that in the video but I did not know what to say or do. So many thoughts rushed into my head all at once, was I ready, would I nail it, what could this lead to, what an amazing opportunity this was. Worst of all I’m still driving at this point so trying to do my best not to plough into the car in front of me!
For those who don’t know, Tippett Studios are an Academy Award and BAFTA award winning effects studio responsible for bringing some of the most iconic characters and creatures of the 21st century to life having worked on films such as Star Wars, The Matrix, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers and plenty more!
The next few hours flew by in an utter haze of adrenalin and nerves, we finished up driving and headed straight over to the studios. With very little time to prepare, before I knew it I was at the studios and being called in for filming. Bear in mind that if this wasn’t pressure filled enough all of this is being filmed. All I knew was that there was a few characters that they were going to have me read for, a fairy, a gnome, a zombie, a penguin and an alien, that was it.
When “Action” was called I walked into a room that can be best described as a small theatre, it was essentially a screening room with a few rows of seats and a projection screen at one end. Sat in the middle of the room was Corey Rosen from Tippet Studios. I walked up, said my hellos and sat down, we had a quick chat about my dreams, what I’d done so far and the project they were currently working on and before I knew it, we were off! Corey handed me a few pages of dialogue for the characters and set me up on the mic.
Up on the screen they played short animations of the characters in a loop and I had to create the voices and characterisations for them right there and then in a directed session with Corey. I can only describe this as the most intense experience of my life, everything happening so quickly, being somewhere so prestigious, having a camera 6 inches from my face and having to try and deliver the best acting performance I can on the spot.
Even writing about it now is giving me goose bumps, it was single-handedly the most terrifying yet rewarding thing I have ever done. If you ever needed a test to find out if you can take the pressure of performing this was it (see the last section for the life lessons available from this!)
Thankfully I think I did myself justice, every direction Corey gave I could respond to, every accent he asked for was in my VO toolbox and once I blew off the nerves we were just having good old fashioned fun!
It felt like it was over almost as soon as it started but after we finished up with all the characters it was back to the waiting area to calm down before eating a classic American hotdog and heading back in for a “post surprise” interview.
After it all I was totally exhausted, all the adrenalin had worn off and I was just drained. I went back to the hotel and crashed. The next day would be an early start and even more surreal experiences were in store!
Day 4: Ok this is just silly now
So an early pick up from the hotel to head off to the final day of filming and what an experience it was going to be. I’d just about recovered from the previous day and an amazing day of driving was ahead of me! We were driven to downtown San Francisco in amongst all the skyscrapers to find closed off roads, motorhomes everywhere and Mustangs lined up down the street waiting for us. There were around 10 police officers receiving a briefing from the film crew, a Porsche being unloaded from a truck with a huge crane arm camera mounted on it and a full chef service cooking us custom omelettes…..on the sidewalk!
It transpired that today we would be driving our Mustang’s, on closed San Franciscan streets, with a police escort!
This was one of the most fun mornings I have ever had, the group of the 6 of us were all finally together for the first time and it gave me a great chance to find out about the amazing journeys each of us had been on and to talk to other people with dreams and passions as real and as intense as my own.
Driving on closed streets, in a prototype car, being followed by camera’s, with the public taking pictures and with a police escort is not an experience I am either likely to do ever again or forget very quickly.
Once we were all filmed on our runs through the streets it was all over, we headed off for a lunch and the filming was finished. We all headed back to our hotels to relax and take stock of the last few days before heading out on the town that night for a celebration; cast and crew together.
I then got treated to a locals night out in San Francisco as some of the crew were local so knew all the best bars and places to go. I found myself at the entrance to my hotel at 02:30am smoking a cigar with our group and reflecting on what had been the craziest few days of my life.
So how on earth do I sum all of this up and find the meaning of it all?
This trip taught me many, many things, the first of which is that when people follow their passions they are truly alive. Every person I met on either the cast or crew had a passion and a dream and you could see it in the way they acted, everyone was happy, everyone was having fun, everyone was alive.
It taught me that no matter what people’s religions, sexuality, political affiliation or place of birth what unites us all is our humanity and our desire to make the most of the time we have on this planet. Our group was so wonderfully diverse, we were black and white, we were straight and gay, we were male and female, we were Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Atheist, we were from Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia but above all we were all human and our singular common desire of following our dreams transcended any petty differences we so often put up as barriers to others. I consider all of those people my family now, we shared something truly and utterly unique and no-one else on the planet can understand that other than them. I love them all! So to Jamie, Liz, Elizabeth, Marie, Bernhard, Bassel, Lonnie, Jennifer and Ray, thank you and I miss you!
Finally this trip taught me one thing above all else and I found myself saying this spontaneously during filming…
“Whatever you want to be, you already are. All you need to do, is do”
So what does that actually mean? Well it means that no matter what you want to do with your life you already have within yourself, you already have the desire and passion to make it so and you have all the tools you need (even if that tool is just being able to learn the skills you don’t have). It taught me that when you truly follow your passion and give yourself over to it, fully, with everything you have, you cannot be stopped. If I can fly to the other side of the planet, have an audition dropped on me at a moment’s notice and be filmed throughout the whole thing then I have no reason to fear anything any more.
Follow your dreams folks!