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PEOPLE
Dave Fennoy Chats About Voicing Video Games
... And Interactive Zombies In The Walking Dead

By Rebecca Michaels
Voice Actor

Dave Fennoy is a preeminent VO actor in Los Angeles, providing voices for commercials, narrations, award shows, animation and games.

He is known by over 30 million Hulu viewers as "The Hulu Guy." However, he may soon also be known as one of the heroes of a new video game The Walking Dead - as the character Lee Everett. 

Dave has many other credits as a spokes-voice for many, including Lexus and McDonald's, as narrator for programs on National Geographic and Discovery channels, as well as film and TV, including Ghost Rider, Happy Feet, Kim Possible, Ben 10 and many more.

My Love That Voice Over series of podcasts recently caught up with Dave for a fascinating interview. A transcript of Episode 2 of that interview, focusing on voicing video games is below. You can also listen to this podcast by clicking here.

LoveThatRebecca

Ladies and gentleman, welcome back to episode two with Dave Fennoy. We are going to jump in to video games and your extensive experience. I found at least 31 titles.  

Some of the big names that people enjoy your work on are Starcraft 2, Metal Gear, That's So Raven, Ultimate Spiderman, Delta Force, Star Wars, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider and many others.

Now, the latest, of course, is The Walking Dead. What can you tell us about that?  

Dave Fennoy

It's a very different kind of video game. It's not the "chase them down and shoot them up" kind of game.

You get your chance to battle zombies - that's for doggone sure, but there is lots and lots of dialogue, lots of interaction between the characters in the game. And as a player, you have to make decisions about what my character says and does.

Like, your group is out and about, and some zombies show up and you have to save somebody - but you can only save one person. Who do you save?  

LoveThatRebecca
Oh my god.  

Dave Fennoy

People in the game ask you questions, you have a choice of several answers. What do you answer? And based on what you do, or actually what you have my character do and have my character say, this has repercussions later on in the game.   

LoveThatRebecca
OK. Zombies are really the cool new thing, right?  

Dave Fennoy 
Zombies are (dramatic pause) the new vampires! 

LoveThatRebecca 
Now, how did you become involved with this project? 

Dave Fennoy 
Well you know, it came to the normal circles. I got an email with an audition for the part of Lee Everett in a game called The Walking Dead and I went, "Oh wow, so it's like the TV show in a graphic novel, OK." 

And (the audition specs said) we want it very natural and we really just want your voice. This is not an odd character. This is a real guy. So we are looking for just a good actor. 

LoveThatRebecca 
And what kind of audition did you have to do? Was it a long scene? Was it a couple of sentences? Because video games can be very different in that approach, right? 

Dave Fennoy 
Yeah. Usually with the video game, you will get a picture of the character because a lot of times you are playing some creature from another planet or you are playing some warrior. 

And you will get an image or drawing of the character, what his psychological make-up is, the things that motivate him, and then some lines. One where he is just kind of regular, normal and greeting somebody. One where he might be fighting, you know, a few different examples of this character in different mindsets.

This was not that dissimilar, except they wanted a real person. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Which is dissimilar for your experience in the games that you have been in, right?   

Dave Fennoy 
Yeah (heavy British accent) because so often you are playing one of these.   

LoveThatRebecca
Or a monster?   

Dave Fennoy
(Boris Karloff-type voice) Or a monster. (Back to normal voice) You know, just all kinds of strange voices. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Yeah (laughing). Or, you know, somebody Rastafarian? 

Dave Fennoy
(Rastafarian dialect) Rastafarian man, you do be doing that t'ing, now, where everythin' is comin' from the island. (Changes to African accent) You might be an African man. (English dialect) You might be English. Or (French) bonjour, you might be the French man. You could be almost anything. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Fantastic!   

Dave Fennoy
So this was just really a character much closer to me. He is a former college professor who - for some reason, we don't know exactly why when the game starts - is on his way to jail when the zombie apocalypse hits. 

LoveThatRebecca 
OK. So you got the part and now we are going to speed ahead.

How did they piece together the game? Because you have mentioned there will be all these different choices for the player to choose for you in that moment. And there would be moment, after moment, after moment of decision making.

That's a lot of lines and variations in the actual game play that have to all be scripted. 

Dave Fennoy
Oh yes. Telltale Games and the people who work for them are all graduates of LucasArts.   

LoveThatRebecca 
Oh wow! So some real creative folks. 

Dave Fennoy 
They are up with Marin County and ... 

LoveThatRebecca 
Because you are based in L.A. you didn't go up there to go and record this, did you?   

Dave Fennoy 
Actually (dramatic pause) I did!   

LoveThatRebecca 
You did? 
 
Dave Fennoy 
I did. They have flown me up several times to record and there are five episodes and we are still recording. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Nice! So this is episodic in terms of what the levels the gamer can get to?  

Dave Fennoy   
Think of it kind of like the TV show. You are in this zombie world and we have an episode where Lee Everett and the people that he has met, the little girl Clementine that he has kind of adopted because her parents died in the zombie apocalypse, they all have to go through something. There is some adventure. 

LoveThatRebecca 
They have to achieve something. They have to get somewhere and pass through ...  

Dave Fennoy 
They have to achieve something. They have to get something. They are going to come into contact with other survivors. Do they trust these people? Are these people going to help them or not help them? 

LoveThatRebecca 
Just like a great zombie movie.   

Dave Fennoy
It is. 

LoveThatRebecca 
And like the Walking Dead, the graphic novel, I am assuming that most of this follows in the spirit of that and the television show? 

Dave Fennoy 
Absolutely. So you have got this black, former college professor who was on his way to jail for murder. And now it has been thrown into a group of survivors including a little nine-year-old girl that he is protecting, and a very racist guy and his grown daughter and several other people.

So you have people that in any other time of life would not have been thrown together, but here we are! 

Zombie apocalypse, what are you going to do?  

LoveThatRebecca
Let's go behind the scenes, and tell us about the arrival at the recording studio. 

Dave Fennoy
Actually, they have a studio up there in Fairfax in Northern California. A nice little town where all the hippies go to die. 

LoveThatRebecca  
Fairfax is it, man. People don't know that I have lived out there. I lived in Marin County for a year and I grew up in the Bay Area, so I am familiar with Fairfax. It's totally a hippie town even still. It is like a little Berkeley. 

Dave Fennoy 
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Four, five blocks long, a bunch of great little restaurants and night clubs that have music in them, five to six nights a week. All of them in this three block stretch, it's like, "How did this get here?" 

LoveThatRebecca
Yeah, it's true. But tell us about your experience. So you arrived in Fairfax and you are tripping out, because have you ever been to Fairfax before? 

Dave Fennoy 
I have never been to Fairfax, although I had spent 10 years of my life living in the Bay Area in Oakland and Berkeley. I never went to Fairfax. That's up the road.   

LoveThatRebecca
OK. Well, it's a really small town, considering all of Marin County and that's all north of the Golden Gate, north of San Francisco for folks who don't know the area. And Oakland is on the east side of the bay and this is all north. And they really feel different too, because this area is much more countryside. And Oakland is more urban and so is Berkeley, even though they had the kind of hippie ...   

Dave Fennoy
(Interrupting in a hippie stoner voice) The people's republic of Berkeley, man. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Excellent! And also the Haight-Ashbury was the hippie-ville in the '70s. 

Dave Fennoy 
I think the hippies from Haight-Ashbury all moved to Fairfax. 

LoveThatRebecca 
I think you are right. (Both laugh) 

Dave Fennoy 
But a very artistic community - I really like it. I really like Fairfax a lot. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Yes, they are very chill, too. 

Dave Fennoy 
Yeah, so we record in a little studio run by a guy named Jory Prurim. It's basically set up just to do games. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Oh wow! OK. 

Dave Fennoy
That is what he specializes in.   

LoveThatRebecca 
Can you give us a mental image? 

Dave Fennoy 
There was a control room, one big recording room, a microphone sitting there in the room. He has got an iPad set up in front of his microphone, which I think is very cool, I mean no paper, just all off the iPad. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Yeah. All electronic. 

Dave Fennoy 
And you go through line by line by line by line by line by line by line. I mean there are hundreds and hundreds of lines, which is very different than most games. Most games, yes, you are going line by line and you are doing it by yourself, but you do not have so many lines.

I have recorded more for these first two episodes - more hours - I have never recorded for so many hours.   

LoveThatRebecca 
Wow. And that is because of the interactive conversational nature. 

Dave Fennoy
Exactly. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Because most of the time (in standard video games) it is action oriented, and so you have fewer lines because the character has to do things instead. 

Dave Fennoy 
Right. You are spending a lot of time with your battle sounds (Dave makes some sample ooh, eh, aah sounds). With a lot of those! This (game) is a lot more acting, which actually, in many ways, is much more gratifying. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Good. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Dave Fennoy 
Yeah. You are interacting with characters. You have secrets that you are trying to keep. You have to decide, well you have lines. The player's actually going to decide if you lie, or tell the truth, or say nothing, or just answer but not lying and not telling the truth - obfuscating about what's been going on. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Right. 

Dave Fennoy 
And based on that, is what happens later on down the line. And you are in conversation with lots and lots of people. So, I am in conversation with Clementine and I'm in conversation with all the other characters in the game. 

LoveThatRebecca 
But you never, ever record in conversation with that other actor across from you in the studio? 

Dave Fennoy 
Unfortunately, no. We are not. I have done a lot of animation, and usually when you are doing a cartoon, there are other actors in the room - at least the actors you are doing the scenes with if not the whole cast, each with their individual microphone and script in front of them on the stand - and you are going from the beginning to the end and that's how it goes.   

LoveThatRebecca 
In a linear fashion with each actor speaking their line, yes. So it feels more interactive in terms of the actors doing it together, like they are "live" similar to being on the theater stage.

Dave Fennoy
Exactly.

LoveThatRebecca
Ok, but in this case, when the game player is playing the game, it feels to them as if everything flows because they are just moving through, right? 

Dave Fennoy 
They are, exactly. They are just moving through. And the only reason that can happen is 
a) The level of acting ability of the actors that they have hired and 
b) The fact that they (TellTale) are very, very careful about making sure you (the actor) understand the context.

LoveThatRebecca 
Right, and what you mean is they are framing the scene for you.

So when you are saying that line, you know what has happened or is about to happen or what secret you are holding and all of those factors that go into building your whole Lee Everett character and his response when you record each set of lines. 

Dave Fennoy
Yeah. Emotionally, who is the person you are talking to? What is your relationship with that person? Do you like that person? Do you not like that person? Are in conflict with that person? Are you angry with that person? Are you desirous of that person?

So, you have to know all those.

LoveThatRebecca
(Playfully teasing voice) What do you mean desirous? 

Dave Fennoy 
(Macho guy voice) You know, a cute zombie come along - aaay! You never can tell what a guy might wanna get into. (Both laughing) 

LoveThatRebecca 
That is awesome. Well, you have clearly illustrated what was unique about the Walking Dead in this case. What about the recording sessions for you in terms of the people that you are working with, the people that you do have the ability to work with? Can you describe that in more detail? 

Dave Fennoy 
Typically, a session is: I show up at the studio and the voice director, Julian, is there and probably a couple of writers as well as Jory, the engineer. So, I will be working with three or four people in the control room and me in the booth. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Right. 

Dave Fennoy 
What they are trying to make sure is that context is correct and technically that it's recorded well. So, what did the person I am talking to sound like when he said his line, so that I am not shouting at this person who is two feet away from me and vice versa. 

LoveThatRebecca 
Right. Excellent. So they give you a lot of technical framework so that ... 

Dave Fennoy 
A lot of technical framework.

A lot of times Julian will read me in with the line that came before and context is everything. Context is everything. You gotta know who you are talking to, why you are talking to that person, what is your motivation is.

It is really an acting gig and all those same questions that an actor has to ask himself. What do I want in this scene? What is driving me? 

LoveThatRebecca 
Excellent. These are really good points because people who play games don't always think about it, but more and more in the last couple of years people are realizing in general how much video games can be interactive. 

It sounds like Walking Dead is really taking it to that next level from an emotional context because certainly on the games that existed before this, you could play and be interactive and totally animated. But in this case, your emotions and your brain really come into play more with the choices that you have to make as the game player.

In a way, player choices have to be made more reflectively or intellectually rather than just intuitively pushing buttons. Would you say that is correct? 

Dave Fennoy 
I would say that is absolutely correct, and I think this is the kind of game that respects the brain power of a gamer who is little older. Like everything else, games have evolved. Remember "Pong"?    

LoveThatRebecca
Exactly. Yeah.

Dave Fennoy
About '95 or so you started getting some decent interaction games, but even then it was blow up this stuff, kill that guy, so forth and so on.

I think as gamers have gotten older and more sophisticated, this is the kind of game that they will truly enjoy. And if the critics are correct and the sales are correct, that is exactly what is happening.    

LoveThatRebecca 
Ah, OK, cool. Excellent. Any final thoughts on Walking Dead that you want to leave us with? 

Dave Fennoy
Yeah. Get it and play it!   

LoveThatRebecca 
Do you need a particular type of PlayStation or something like that? 

Dave Fennoy
I think it is available across several different formats.   

LoveThatRebecca 
OK. So cool.   

Dave Fennoy 
I should be on the sales staff here and know all that stuff.   

LoveThatRebecca 
Well, people can find out about it.   

Dave Fennoy
You know, I have a confession to make. 

LoveThatRebecca  
(Excited) Yeah! A confession!

Dave Fennoy 
I probably shouldn't. I am not a gamer. I am so not a gamer. I do not play the games. I do not play any games. 

LoveThatRebecca
It's cool.

Dave Fennoy 
But I love being on the games.

LoveThatRebecca 
Yeah, because you are in the game already. You know what I mean? 

Dave Fennoy 
Yeah. 

LoveThatRebecca 
You know, I can give you a break in however way you want to frame it or I can probably make you feel good. But you're doing a great job and people are loving the work that you have done and they are playing these games. 

You have been in some terrific work. I want to find out about a little bit more about that, but we are almost out of game time here. Hahah! 

(Both laugh, then much more seriously…) But yeah, you know, it is a confession. Alright, you know what? Thirty lashes and you are good.   

Dave Fennoy 
(Making sounds of a whip lashing him and his reactions with screams of pain)  Aaaahh! Oooooooh. aaaaaah.    

LoveThatRebecca 
(Deep voice, slowly) I like this. 

Dave Fennoy 
(Meek voice) Can I get the rest of the lashes later? 

LoveThatRebecca
No, I want more now!  

Dave Fennoy
(Continuing with the lashing sound effects and screams) Oooooooh, hoo, hooo, ooohhh. aaaaah.    

LoveThatRebecca  
And we will right back after I finish lashing Dave.   

Dave Fennoy
(Final whipping, and then a whimpering) Oow, that hurts! Mommy!?

ABOUT REBECCA ...

Rebecca Michaels hails from California but lives some of the time in Italy, currently voicing a variety of English-speaking projects with folks from the U.S. as well as Australia, India, Germany and the Netherlands. She interviews voice over pros in her Love The Voice Over podcast series (see link below), and keeps in touch with friends and fans via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. 

Email: rebecca@LoveThatRebecca.com
Web: www.LoveThatRebecca.com
Love That Voice Over Podcasts: www.lovethatrebecca.com/podcast_lovethatvoiceover.html

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Comments (1)
steven lowell
8/10/2012 at 2:17 AM
Wow! I was literally just playing this game tonight and wondering who Lee's voice is.

I'm on episode 2 on xboxlive. I find this game innovative because you are choosing the reactions to dialogue as the player. I see that Dave had to read reactions several different ways because each choice determines the plot progression..amazing work.

I love the cartoon comic strip style of the game itself, too. Awesome Dave! Really great work!
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