INTERVIEW – In Conversation With The Talent of Bay Area Sound

By Marty Mulrooney

Bay Area Sound Interview

Bay Area Sound is an award-winning audio production company that specialises in voice, music and sound for interactive media. Located in San Francisco, California, the studio has been active for over 20 years, with recent projects including The Wolf Among UsThe Walking DeadTales from the Borderlands and Firewatch. Alternative Magazine Online was therefore very excited – as well as honoured and delighted – to be given the opportunity to interview some of the talented individuals currently working at the studio, from both sides of the microphone! Read on to find out how audio magic is made at Bay Area Sound with faith, and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust…

Julian Kwasneski

Julian Kwasneski
Bay Area Sound Founder

Julian Kwasneski is a video game industry veteran, with over 20 years of experience and countless titles to his credit. He joined the audio department of LucasArts in 1994 and worked on numerous classics, from X-Wing Alliance to The Curse of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. He left LucasArts and founded Bay Area Sound in 2000.

How long have you been doing voiceovers for video games?

My first job in video games was when I joined the voice department of LucasArts in 1994. I was hired to help with editorial on the fully voiced version of Tie Fighter CD-ROM – crazy to think that was 23 years ago!

How did you end up in the games industry? Was there any study involved?

I was a Communications major at UC Davis which is a major for people who don’t really know what they want to do. I had always loved audio and have played with audio technology my entire life so I suppose it was an extension of how I spent my childhood – just with more powerful toys! That said, I learned almost everything I know by putting in long and hard hours, something that continues to this day. There is something about game audio and time – you can’t rush this and you never could.

What was it like working for LucasArts on Star Wars projects and some of the classics like The Curse of Monkey Island?

It’s funny but back then we had to push the envelope on everything we did and technology was moving fast enough that each new project had some new thing we could take advantage of. I look at my work on the early projects such as The Dig and X-Wing Alliance as technological achievements as much as creative ones. Back then the tools were primitive and we still relied on outboard audio gear, not plugins like we do today. All the audio skill I learned working in recording studios really helped.

Creatively I would have to say my best memories are Outlaws and The Curse of Monkey Island. Clint Bajakian was the composer on Outlaws, Jeff Klimment was the sound designer and I was in charge of the cinematics. And like any LucasArts project, we all ended up cross-pollinating each area… In the end, working with Clint was so great that it led to us working together on Curse and inevitably to co-founding Bay Area Sound. Curse of Monkey Island was a new animal though. We had multichannel audio, we had an advanced version of iMuse (an interactive audio engine developed by Michael Land and Peter McConnell at LucasArts) and we had disk space. Again, I am sitting here recalling so many good times, but in the end, The Curse of Monkey Island is probably one of the best-sounding games from the classic days of LucasArts along with Grim Fandango (which was another psychedelic thrill ride!).

What was your favourite project to work on?

I would have to say The Curse of Monkey Island for all the reasons mentioned above but also because it was a very natural and atmospheric game set in a world that appealed to me on many levels. It was the first time we had access to assets at Skywalker so I was able to spend time up there with the likes of Gary Rydstrom, but we also recorded a vast amount of custom material – most if not all was from custom recordings. I think it’s also cool that many years later I would find myself directing VO for Telltale’s Monkey Island game.

What differentiates the voice directors at Bay Area Sound from other voice directors at other studios?

I honestly don’t know many other voice directors so I only have my own opinions and the stories told by voice actors to go off of. What I know is that when I am in the studio with an actor, the whole world revolves around my relationship with them and my ability to create a safe environment to bring out their best performances. In the end, I am a social person – a people person. Sessions are fun, we connect first as people and I explain how the story arc for the day will go, what the goals are, etc. We almost always have a representative from the project in on the session too because at the end of the day, it’s their vision we are tasked with creating. I have worked with hundreds of actors over the years and am happy to call many of them friends – there is a mutual respect and trust that is imperative to the process.

What are some of the challenges you face in directing voice for video games and how do you overcome them?

One of the challenges is that the games industry moves at a breakneck pace and often times you don’t have a lot of time to prep for a session. Still, you have to run the session and you need to drive how the narrative is coming across – there’s a lot of thinking on your feet and time is money. But perhaps the biggest challenge is that you often work in a vacuum where very little reference material exists other than concept art and test animations. Dialog is often the first audio assets that get produced – sometimes before any animating has begun. There is often quite a lot on the line with each session.

Do you have any tips for an aspiring voice director?

Listen. Listen to everyday conversations, to movies, to other video games… notice how people talk, their inflections, etc. Try to get directing experience of any kind, even if you have to do fake sessions to see how to lead an actor through a scene. There are tons of how-tos and master classes out there but in the end it’s going to come down to the type of person you are and how you communicate with other people. If you are someone who thinks you’re going to get what you need by ordering people around, consider another profession! Oh and check your ego at the door… actors will see right through you.

What does the future of Bay Area Sound look like to you?

I see so many applications for good audio, for good performances that will benefit from our approach. It’s not just about getting great takes in the studio – that’s a given – but it’s also about how quickly you can get them into the game. And it’s not just about games… we work with eLearning companies and recently produced 120 hours of content for the GPS-guided walking tour app start-up ‘Detour’ that delivers a highly immersive on-location audio experience. But related markets aside, we hope to see the boom in narrative-driven games continue because it’s such fulfilling and creative work.

Connor Stock

Connor Stock
Lead Voice Director and Head of Production Operations

Connor Stock is a singer/songwriter and an alumni of NYU’s Music Business programAs a lead Voice Director and head of Production Operations, he has pioneered the scaling process of Bay Area Sound’s VO production pipeline. 

Where does the creative vision come from for any given scene?

The creative vision always comes from the writer/designer/creative representative from the client. The way I see my role as a director, I’m a translator, a facilitator, coach, and sometimes a therapist. It’s the brilliant writers, designers, and other creative folks that have the vision for the player’s and other characters’ emotional journeys, and it’s my job to translate that vision from the client in a way that the talent can understand and relate to in their own unique way. Once the translation is made, then my job is to facilitate a safe environment for the talent to connect to their own related experiences, feel comfortable to go out on a creative limb, and wear their hearts on their sleeves (and vocal chords). Sometimes, if the talent is struggling to connect with the nuances of the creative’s vision, my role is to coach them towards that understanding, and help them connect their own experiences to that of the character they’re voicing. Sometimes the talent is having a personal struggle that’s making it hard to connect with the client’s creative vision, and in that case, my role is to be a good listener, and allow the talent space to express themselves and get all the shit out, before we dive into a fantasy world and try to make a masterpiece – that’s the therapist part.

What is the biggest challenge directing branching stories?

There’s a lot of stopping and starting emotionally, and more details to remember over the course of a season. Did that character lose his eye because of a player choice? Does this character hate that character because of a death the player let happen? Often when we’re working through a scene, the script will contain conditional options close to each other, and it requires a lot of emotional flexibility for the talent to jump from happy to sad, or angry to thankful, and then back again when the branches recombine or new events occur that the characters shift focus to.

How would you describe the shift from directing Telltale’s Walking Dead to Minecraft Story Mode?

I had to make a concerted effort not to curse or make off-colour comments at the beginning of Minecraft Story Mode, because the production overlapped with the end of the last episode of Walking Dead. I was jumping back and forth between sessions where we were yelling fuck you at zombies or other terrible people, running them over with cars, stabbing enemies in the throat or punching family members in the face because of a potential love triangle. And some of the talent overlapped too, so we all had to concentrate on not swearing or being too dark in Minecraft.

Minecraft has drama, don’t get me wrong, but it’s targeted at a younger audience. It’s full of humour and bravery in the face of bad guys that ultimately do some uncool things, but don’t have the same evil intent that you find in Walking Dead.

Fortunately, the talent I had the pleasure of working with on both projects was incredible. The writers and the performers were tapping into the emotions that make us all human, weaving real feelings into their creative vision of the story.

How do you guys handle co-directing a project?

It doesn’t feel like co-directing. I learned everything I know about directing, voice performance and working with talent from Julian (well… besides the stuff I’ve improvised in the moment). We traded sessions back and forth on The Walking Dead for example, and when I listened to the sessions, I couldn’t tell the difference between the scenes he worked on, and my scenes. It’s the Bay Area Sound way, and it’s worked for us for years.

Why is it important to keep your editors in mind while you’re directing?

The editors have a lot to do with how the dialogue sounds in the game itself, and end up making tons of tiny creative decisions. Having a great note taker, being clear in the sessions what you want (down to keeping or cutting beginning and ending breaths) is incredibly important to the overall voice performance in a game. Because speed is important, working with the engineer to re-slate the takes often and in an organized way helps reduce the amount of hunting and guesswork when the editors are trying to locate and use the director’s selected takes from the session. This approach allows us to turn around game-ready, edited assets within six hours of most recording sessions. Quicker editing means the client gets the files faster, the animators can start lip syncing earlier, and those files can be used for the next sessions to play for the other actors.

You can always go back and double-check everything once recording is complete and the first edits are in. But fast paced production schedules don’t allow for a lot of rework, so nailing it on the first try is incredibly important to cut down on alternate take swapping and re-records. Keeping the editors in mind while directing is a key part of how we do voice at Bay Area Sound.

How important are trust and communication to voice direction?

Trust and communication ARE voice direction. Everything else is just icing on the cake. If trust and communication aren’t established at the beginning of the session, the creative energy can’t be translated between the writer, the script and the performer. The director’s job is to create an atmosphere where everyone involved can do their best work, and guide the talent to their most sincere version of the writer’s creative vision. Without trust, nobody feels comfortable taking risks, and in creative ventures, those emotional risks are where the magic comes from.

How does Bay Area Sound play a role in the future of video games?

Bay Area Sound has been the leader in decentralized audio and game production for years, and now I feel the industry tides are starting to align with our model. Our focus on talent and creative sensitivity, combined with efficiency and lean scalability will be the model for many games companies moving forward. Our narrative driven approach to game audio will also become increasingly important as these characters start to replace TV and movie characters in the lives of our fans.

Marcus Stock 12-04

Marcus Stock
Executive Producer and CEO

Marcus Stock joined Bay Area Sound after working for over 30 years in consulting and high-tech sales. He was attracted to the studio by the unique opportunity to help grow a team already considered world-class. 

You once described your role at Bay Area Sound as like being ‘Wendy’ to me – what did you mean by that? 🙂

It’s a Peter Pan reference – Wendy and the Lost Boys. She has no magical powers and she can’t fly, but she provides a sense of stability, a home for them if you will. My role is to help create an environment where creative people have the freedom to do compelling work, eliciting exceptional performances from actors, composing unforgettable music and imagining captivating soundscapes, all in the pursuit of great storytelling – that’s where the magic happens. If I can help make a place for that, I’m doing my job. As Peter said, “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”

How would you describe your day-to-day responsibilities as CEO?

The creative can’t do their best work if they are worried about paying rent, insurance, contracts and all the other things that shouldn’t exist in ‘Neverland’ or the fragile and exciting creative universe where we take dead air and turn it into a compelling story, a blank sheet and make a haunting melody, or an empty room and design immersive sounds that transport you to another world. Of course, that’s more of an aspiration for all of us since in reality, I enlist their help in all that – especially talking to new clients. I also jump in and do session support as well as script editing and preparation for our recording sessions (I majored in writing and have written a couple of ‘yet-to-be-published’ novels). But the more I can keep the team focused on making great audio, the more the rest of the pedestrian stuff takes care of itself. At the end of the day, it’s the creative work that counts!

Julian Kwasneski, Connor Stock and Marcus Stock with Shelly Shenoy at E3 2017.

What makes Bay Area Sound unique?

Would you cringe if I say “the people”? I mean, it is a service organization, so that has to be the differentiator. But there is more to it. There is also a shared set of values in the way we treat other people, especially within the creative process. We recognize that all art is fragile. So whether you are the lead role in a first person shooter, a talking robot, or a villager who speaks no English (or any identifiable language for that matter), bringing your lines to life required giving part of yourself, opening a window, however filtered by acting, to your inner self so that we can feel sad, or happy, triumphant or defeated, bewildered or beguiled. It’s our job to elicit performances that allow you to forget you are playing a game and instead become immersed in the story. We handle that process with great care and respect, making sure that while we get what the role requires, we do it in a way that everyone feels good about.

From a business perspective, I think our blend of talents makes us unique. Julian brings incredible industry experience and professional expertise. Connor and the Virtual VO production team have optimized the process for transforming the raw performances into game ready assets faster than anyone in the industry. Our rapid turnaround speeds game development by allowing the animators to get to work more quickly and improves performance quality because we have the feeders to give actors in subsequent sessions. And I’m pretty good at making connections and throwing great parties, which you will see first hand if you make it to E3 this year! Together, we provide an approach that delivers for our clients, and makes our actors feel great.

What are your plans for the future of Bay Area Sound?

World Domination. Sorry, I was doing my Donald Trump imitation! Seriously, the game audio industry is highly fragmented. Clients don’t know where to find exceptional audio talent, and some of the best people are sort of “underemployed”. We have been able to harness the talent of some amazing people and deliver exceptional work at a lower cost than most similar firms. We have a really lean business model – we rent the best studio facilities instead of maintaining our own, we don’t have an expensive centralized office – so we can create audio assets faster with more focus and at a lower cost than many in-house teams. And when the game is done, we are out the door, until you need us again! Clients love our focus and our innovative, creative approach. I think they appreciate that we come in, and as we like to say out West, “git ‘er done!”

So our goal is to grow our company from the 25 or so we are today to over 100 with “practices” in VO, Music and Sound of 25 to 30 people each by working on the most innovative games, telling compelling stories and still not have an office! That way, we can return more of the value to the clients and the creative folks, rather than paying for leather chairs.


Gavin Hammon
Voice Actor

Gavin Hammon grew up in the eastern SF Bay Area and has worked in every aspect of VO, from award-winning games to cartoons and audio books. He voiced Kenny in The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series.

Hi Gavin! How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

Luxurious? The dozens of sessions I’ve had directed by the BAS team have set a high bar for me as a voice actor. I’ve come to judge other directors by their high standard.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

There’s a level of trust that you don’t often get as an actor, a trust both from them and of them. I know they understand the material and the context, and that the process is collaborative.

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

Playing Kenny in Telltale’s The Walking Dead would probably be my favourite role for BAS, because it gave me the opportunity to show more range than I ever had in a game role and I knew that I could trust Julian and Connor to help me get some emotionally difficult material off the page, so to speak.

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energized?

I certainly go through a range of both throughout the session, but by the time we wrap, I’m usually feeling pretty good about what we accomplished.

What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

For emotionally challenging material, it’s instrumental to performance. If an actor has to wonder about whether the director is listening, hearing and understanding their performance, it undermines everything.

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

It’s an average work day! Honestly, that’s the job these days, so having a director you can trust that understands what they need and can articulate that to me makes my job much, much easier.

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

Most importantly, we must listen to them, figure out their needs, ask questions if it isn’t clear and interpret if they’re not articulating it to us. Understanding the director is as important as getting the performance across, so when a director is clear, concise and supportive, like the folks at BAS, it’s a perfect working environment.

Cissy Jones

Cissy Jones
Voice Actor

Cissy Jones has appeared in over 50 video games in less than five years, including indie darlings like Firewatch and AAA blockbusters such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Grand Theft Auto V. She won a BAFTA (WINNER: Best Performer) for her role as Delilah in Firewatch.

Hey Cissy! How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

The best word I can think of is Family. I’m immediately at ease when I know they’re at the helm because I know I’m in the best hands.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

There’s just an immediate connection with this crew. I felt like I developed a rapport and a shorthand with them in such a short amount of time, which makes it so easy to come back to no matter the project. I have offered to work for free if it meant that they would be directing, that’s how much I trust my performance with them.

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

Just one?? Well, The Walking Dead Season One was my first job (and my first experience with them), and it was all-around aces. There were a few characters per session, so I can’t say just one. But I sobbed in those sessions, I laughed so hard I cried in those sessions, I even went into labour in one of them!

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energized?

Sometimes the scenes can leave me feeling drained, but the interactions always leave me feeling hopeful, energized, and ready to take on the world.

What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

I don’t honestly know if words will do it justice? Knowing that the director is able to funnel the information they’re getting from the creative team and give me the gems to nail the read, knowing that they’re looking out for me with regards to vocal safety, and also making sure I don’t look like a fool in the finished product… it’s invaluable. Everyone I know who has worked under these circumstances (and EVERYONE who has worked with Bay Area Sound) feels that we would walk to the ends of the earth if that means we get to be in session with people like these. This business can go straight for your soul, and having trust in your directors is paramount.

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

It can be overwhelming, for sure. But this is where trust comes in again – I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I walk into this scenario with Bay Area Sound at the wheel, they will be prepped on what I need to bring to a role. They’ll fill in the world for me, the motivations, the scene, so all I have to do is inhabit the headspace of that character.

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

Be open to quality direction, but if you have an idea for how you feel your character would react, ask if you can give it a go. If they ask for three in a row (or “abc”) of a line, give a different take each time – don’t read it the same exact same way three times. Be kind, understand that we’re all working to feed our families. Laugh when you can, and don’t overstay your welcome. Also, thank you cards never hurt anyone. 😉

Melissa Hutchinson

Melissa Hutchison
Voice Actor

Melissa Hutchison is an award-winning voice actor currently working in LA and San Francisco including the surrounding Bay Area. She voices Clementine in The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series. AMO previously interviewed Melissa in 2012 (twice – the first time on her own, the second with Dave Fennoy) and again in 2017.

Hey Melissa! How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

It’s like getting paid to have fun! Haha! No but really, it is. You know, at this point those guys are family to me. We go all the way back to 2007, probably earlier than that, and have worked together on so many different projects. A typical session is getting to reconnect with the people I hold near and dear to my heart, and have the honour to work with. I guess the biggest transition for all of us was the heartbreaking loss of our dear friend Jory Prum. Previously we did all of our recording sessions at his studio, Studio Jory. The studio has since changed hands, so we record via other studios in the Bay area and Los Angeles, where I split my time.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

When you walk into a recording session you KNOW you are going to get the best damn directors in the business! And that is priceless. I could write a “thank you” letter 1,000 pages long to Julian, Jared, Marcus and Connor for everything they have done to make my job easy. These guys have played such a huge part in the path my career has taken and the success that has followed!

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

I have had the pleasure of recording so many amazing roles with BAS but honestly, and not just because it’s my longest running role, it would have to be Clementine in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. This journey we have been on, from Season One in 2012, to the upcoming Season Four set to be released in 2018, has been such a crazy, wonderful, hilarious, heartbreaking, bittersweet experience. This character is so precious to me, but she is not mine alone. It takes a team of people to create the magic of a character that people want to protect, and fall in love with. It takes a team of people who pour their hearts and talent into making sure the performance is right where it is supposed to be!

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energized?

Usually the answer to that question is, I feel super jazzed and energized! But there have definitely been some very emotionally heavy sessions, that have left me feeling pretty drained. A couple of the Walking Dead sessions have taken me a few days to mentally recover from! But for the most part I leave feeling pretty damn grateful to be doing the work I do, with some of the best damn people ever!

What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

Trust is really important in VO. ESPECIALLY in-game work. You rely on the director for basically… everything, but definitely the context of what is happening in the scene. If you don’t trust your director, then most likely the project is already heading in a not-so-good direction.

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

Ahhh yes, the “What the hell is going on?” aspect to VO sessions. When I first started that was a bit tricky for me. I have a theatre background, so I was used to memorizing lines, and immersing myself into weeks of rehearsals as that character before ever performing them in front of an audience! In VO, 95% of the time, you don’t get the script until you are minutes away from recording your first take! That, again, is where a great director will come to the rescue! You get the script, they give you the context, you lock in the voice, and then you start to record. It is a cool acting challenge to create on the spot!

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

The best advice I can give to new VO talent working with directors for the first time is to TAKE DIRECTION! Also, give them a wide range. Directors love an actor who can change things up! Generally in a game session we will do a few takes of each line. Make each take different. Sometimes all that means is changing up the emphasis on different words, or taking the tone up, or down, but making each take unique will let them know you are not a one trick pony. 🙂 Directors will remember the actors who make their jobs easier, and they will put you in their pockets for other projects.

Shelly Shenoy

Shelly Shenoy
Voice Actor

Shelly Shenoy is a voice actor of German, Irish & Swedish descent. She has worked for a number of years as the head Voice Artist and Loop Grouper for Telltale Games. She made her co-starring debut in 2016 as Kate Garcia in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. AMO previously interviewed Shelly in early 2017.

Hey Shelly!

Hi Martin and Alt Mag Online readers! Glad you’re doing an interview with Bay Area Sound. These guys are amazing!

How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

Forget everything I said before about them being amazing. I was lying. The truth is, *sigh* THEY’RE MAGNIFICENT! Magnificent jerks that is. Ugh. Ok, my answer is… there is NO typical recording session with BAS. They/we work on SO many different projects, absolutely nothing is the same. So sessions range from seriously dramatic, intense and focused, to absolute mayhem and hilarity, and everything in-between. The only reason I can call them jerks is because they are family and I love jerks.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

I have worked with over a hundred different sound studios in the last five years alone. I can count on one hand the number of sound studio producers/engineers that I call or text regularly to catch up with and collaborate with weekly or bi-weekly – and that’s six studios! Bay Area Sound is one of them. Also, I am the six-fingered man. I killed your father. Prepare to die.

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

I started working with BAS in 2016 with The Walking Dead. We didn’t meet until AFTER The Walking Dead was wrapped! When we met it sealed the deal of our eternal love. So our very next project after Walking Dead was EVEN MORE FUN. Then each project after that got even more fun! Now we call to remind each other how much fun we had on the last job we did, so we intentionally try to have more fun each time. Honestly it’s exhausting, I hope they never call me again. I’m so tired.

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energised?


What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

You will never get incredible work from the talent if the talent doesn’t trust the director – and vice versa. It’s Trust or Bust, basically. This is why BAS insists on team-building trust exercises with every job. When I met them at the E3 convention this year the first thing they did was make me fall backwards off of a table where they were all stretching out their arms to catch me. I fell right through their skinny, fragile arms and got a concussion when my head hit the ground. Every single member of BAS went with me in the ambulance to the hospital though, that’s when I knew it was love. Also I can’t remember what day it is or who we’re talking about.

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

This is where the trust you build up at the hospital comes in handy.

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

Run for your life.

Yuri Lowenthal

Yuri Lowenthal
Voice Actor

Yuri Lowenthal had a gypsy childhood, growing up throughout Europe and Africa as well as the U.S. After briefly working for the Japanese government, he turned to acting full-time. An internationally produced playwright and a published author, he created production company Monkey Kingdom Productions with his partner Tara Platt in 2004.

Hey, AMO readers! Yuri Lowenthal here. Martin, thanks for taking the time to listen to me talk about my favourite thing!

No problem! How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

Generally I come in and we do a bit of catching up, which is always nice because besides working with these guys, we’ve become friends. Then, because I don’t receive scripts in advance (and because the branching nature of the scripts can often be confusing), Connor asks the writer in the session to go over any story/character stuff that may help give me context in the session, and then – after a quick voice reference to make sure we’re on-voice – we’re off to the races, with occasional breaks to check in, especially if more context is needed.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

I’d say the great care they take with telling the story. It seems like that would be de rigeur for video game recording sessions, but you’d be surprised. Games always have a lot of lines to record in a short period of time, and things can fall through the cracks, but Connor is always checking in with the writers and with me to make sure the story is being served and that I feel confident in what I’m doing. And if he senses I’m not, or the writer has reservations, or Connor’s not convinced, then we work it til we’re all happy – and I think it shows in the final product. When we were developing the voice for Radar in Minecraft: Story Mode, Connor, at one point, gave the direction: “How would Radar sound if Sagan (my 1 year-old son) were playing him?” And the result– while not actually sounding like my son –was the voice we went with. He wouldn’t have been able to give me that type of direction if he wasn’t invested in me as a person as well as an actor.

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

That’s a Sophie’s choice question and you should be ashamed for asking it, but I’m going to have to go with Radar from Minecraft: Story Mode. While his is the most physically taxing voice I’ve done working on any of the Telltale games, his arc has been the most rewarding.

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energised?

Generally tired, but it’s the good kind of tired. Like I’ve worked something out. Sometimes I think I became an actor to give myself more license to express heavy emotions.

What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

It’s huge. I think I’ve touched on it a little bit already, but I think the game can only benefit when we’ve taken the time to establish trust between actor and director, and then, in turn, the director and the rest of the team. When it’s there, it allows me to do my job fully. And when it’s not, well…

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

It took some getting used to! I come from the theatre and on-camera world, where you get the script in advance and rehearse, but when voice acting, especially for video games, you rarely get scripts in advance, so you’ve got to get good at making decisions on your feet and working efficiently with the director. It’s a rush, and it definitely helps when you’ve established a good working relationship with the director. When I jump into a session with Connor, I know he’ll let me know everything I need to know to do my job.

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

Relax, but be professional. It’s literally fun and games, but the work needs to get done, so take your lead from the director as to how much “fun” you should be having at any given point. Listen. Don’t be afraid to ask for breaks. Trust what the director is telling you, but ask questions whenever you need to. Come in with your own vision for the character, but be ready for that character to change as you receive direction. Remember, making games (and pretty much everything in this industry) is a team effort, and you’re only one small part of the process.

Jeff Schine

Jeff Schine
Voice Actor

Jeff Schine has lent his voice to a number of recent projects, including Mafia III, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. AMO previously interviewed Jeff in early 2017.

Hey Jeff!

Hey Martin, glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

How would you describe a typical recording session directed by Bay Area Sound?

A typical recording session usually opens with me telling Connor or one of the other guys a story about my dog. Then we download quickly if anyone has seen a good movie or Netflix show we have to watch. Then we all settle in, Connor gives me the plan for the day… and we are off to the races. Generally… a session with them is friendly, collaborative, familiar, fast-paced and efficient. Oh yeah… and fun.

As a voice actor you will have been involved with plenty of recording sessions over the years. What makes working with Bay Area Sound stand out?

I think Bay Area Sound stands out for a few reasons, not the least of which being that they really make you feel like part of a family. They are always genuinely excited to be in the booth with you. They just create this really warm, yet professional work space that really fosters a lot of artistic creativity and freedom.

What’s your favourite role you’ve performed with Bay Area Sound and why?

I’ve done a lot of roles with Bay Area Sound, hard to pick a favourite. I guess I would have to say Javi, from Season Three of The Walking Dead. We spent a lot of time with that character. It was really on Javi’s shoulders that my relationship with them grew. It was a huge project that I fell in the middle of and Bay Area Sound never skipped a beat. We worked REALLY fast, like break-neck speeds and really bonded over that project.

Do you leave emotionally heavy sessions feeling tired or energised?

Without being obtuse… both. You obviously feel tired from the investment, the effort, the emotional expenditure. But anytime I get to have authentic moments as an artist I always feel better, cleaner, expressed… like there has been movement… if that makes sense.

What role does trust play throughout the VO process?

Trust is huge. Sure… you can operate in a bubble, and regurgitate what you’re being asked to say. But when you have trust the whole world opens up. Now, I feel the freedom to try something, experiment, and play while not having to worry about if it’s good or bad, or will they like it? Will they fire me? You can’t be creative and critical at the same time… it’s two different processes. So when you trust your director you can just create and know you’re safe. So I guess it’s a combination of trust and safety. Paramount to a really good session.

What is it like reading a script for the first time and diving into a character head-first, with little to no prep work?

I don’t mind that process at all. I’ve learned over the years to work quickly. Frequently as a VO actor, especially in games, you’ll show up at a session and not know the project or what character(s) you’re reading for; the script pops up on the screen and they say “go”. So in the span of about four minutes you have to make character choices, vocal choices, etc. I like it because for me it doesn’t leave any room to evaluate, or over-think: it’s pure instinct. But I suppose more accurately it’s where instinct and talent meet craft. The craft of it is really knowing your job, the business, the rules and parameters, all of the contracts and metrics that go into creating a character. And when you’ve studied that for 15+ years you can lay back on what you know and be creative. I can’t remember where I heard the quote but I love this one: “You have to know all the rules before you can break them.”

Do you have any advice for up and coming talent on how to work with voice directors?

Yes… I have a lot of advice but I’ll try to make it quick. First… make choices. Big ones, bold ones, it is literally your job to have an opinion and to present your vision of a character. Don’t walk into a room and say “OK, what do you want me to do?” Second… listen. Part of your job is going to be speaking a hundred languages, because every director is different. They talk different, have different wants and needs, and you gotta try to translate what they say into a workable note. Which leads me to my third piece of advice… and my favourite one. You would be AMAZED at how many actors don’t do this. BE ABLE TO TAKE DIRECTION.

There is nothing more defeating for a director than to give you notes, and ask you to do it again, and for you to over and over again turn in the exact same read. TAKE DIRECTION!!! Be flexible, be able to take all those amazing choices you made and throw them out the window and do something else. And lastly… be early, be kind, be professional, do your job, and leave. People respect pros, they respect reliability, they wanna know they can rely on you to do good work, quickly, and not make them wanna rip their hair out with nonsense.

Oh, one more thing. After you give a read, and your headphones are silent because the engineer hasn’t pushed ‘talk back’ yet and no one is talking to you, and you see everyone in the room talking to each other, grim-faced, solemn… know that about 80% of the time while you are sitting there panicking that they hated your read, that they are talking about you, that you’re about to be fired… more than likely they are discussing what to order for lunch. It isn’t always about you. OK… so this turned out to not be quick at all!


1 Comment

Filed under Alternative Musings, Games

One response to “INTERVIEW – In Conversation With The Talent of Bay Area Sound

  1. So extensive and fun and informative – thank you for putting this together! I am very excited to see what these guys do next.

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