Just in time for Patriot Day, I have a special interview to share with you featuring voice actor Neil Kaplan, and his mission to bring audio theater to the US troops overseas.
Some of you may know Neil as the voice of Optimus Prime in Transformers : Robots in Disguise (2001) and for his videogame voice acting work including roles in Everquest II, Lord of the Rings II and III, and a number of other character voice acting roles.
Find out more about this unique project and learn how you can help make this dream a reality.
Interview with Neil Kaplan
VOX: Thanks for letting me know about your project Neil. It sounds very exciting! Could you share a little bit with me about how Audio Theater for the Troops came about?
NEIL KAPLAN: Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for having me here. “Audio Theater for the Troops” is a project I came up with back in 2005. The way it came about is odd, but it makes sense so follow me for just a moment:
A) I grew up listening to old time Radio Shows and I STILL love them!
B) I had two cousins in the U.S. Navy for many years. One was stationed on an aircraft carrier. While docked in San Francisco, I went aboard. WOW! Was I blown away. They even had a small TV production facility aboard. Of course, these sailors were at seas for long periods at a time. They needed to edit inbound material and also provide information and entertainment.
C) A good friend from high school was on a nuclear sub. Though I never went on board, I knew that again, these were people spending LONG periods at (or under the) sea.
D) I played a character by the name of Optimus Prime on “Transformers: Robots in Disguise” and as a result became friendly with a fire fighter who had legally changed his name to Optimus Prime! That man went to Iraq to support our troops. To fight fires and to keep men and women safe. That is one VERY brave man. One day while chatting I he to me “You know, you’re my hero” to which I responded “I’m a cartoon voice guy… YOU’RE the hero!” …and I thought to myself, what could I do to thank this brave man and his colleagues.
D.5) I also don’t like to fly, so going over on a USO tour was OUT for me. I thought to myself… “I do voice overs, I know people that do voice overs. If I find scripts I can put together something for him to enjoy and let him KNOW we think of them and support them (Regardless of is we support the mission. We support the human beings.)
On the flight back from a convention in Dallas, I met Walter (Chekov) Koenig and Ernie (Zedmore) Hudson. I asked both if they would be willing to volunteer their time to do a project like that. they both said “YES” as have every other actor I have spoken to.
After all, we not have 10 days to go overseas… BUT we all have an hour or two somewhere in our schedule.
With that, I applied to AFTRA for a waiver to allow actors to donate their time. Earlier this year, I got my waiver and my first pilot script and began moving forward.
VOX: You’ve entered a contest at IdeaBlob.com where you may win $10,000 to help make this dream a reality. How would you invest that money if you win?
NEIL: I have received offers of donated studio time, engineering, scripts, composers and their music, actors… but knowing the amount of time and energy needed to edit the project is TOO much to expect anyone to donate. So, the plan has ALWAYS been to pay the post-production engineer. I am doing this first edit myself… and folks… it is NOT one of my stronger skills.
So, the first thing I would do with the money is complete post production on our two “waiver covered” pilots. Then they would be submitted to the Pentagon for approval.
Once approved, I would need to set up a 501 (c) 3 to become a legal non-profit so that people and companies can start donating money to support our growth and development.
VOX: What kind of audio theater will you be producing? Do you have any audio plays in mind?
NEIL: My idea is to steer away from Old radio style acting, sound effects and music. My desire is to truly create a movie for the ears! To be honest, THIS is the hardest part. I try not to be TOO politically correct, BUT… We cannot do a story that is political in nature, anti-war, etc. I had a wonderful script submitted to me, but ultimately it was about suicide, and I just could not with a clear conscience move forward with that. I think you understand what I mean.
The best scripts I am finding are in fact un-produced animation and television scripts.
BUT, since this will be an ongoing project we will need HUNDREDS of scripts to provide a vast library of material for these brave young men and women to enjoy on their off hours.
This is a FULL time job for me… and when we get up and running, I’ll likely start with a staff of three.
VOX: Your desire to send the troops audio theater is admirable and heartwarming. One can only imagine the horrors and uncertainty they face on a daily basis overseas and any form of quality entertainment would be a welcome addition. How has the US army received this generous offer?
NEIL: I have spoken with a few liaisons but, at this point they want a finished sample of what we plan to do before moving forward. Which makes sense. For clarification these are being done for ALL of our armed forces… and eventually, I would hope that we are the model for similar programs for nations around the world.
VOX: I read that celebrity voices will be donating their time and talent to record. Are you able to share more information with us regarding who is volunteering?
NEIL: Well, let’s say this… I am bold enough to ask ANYONE to participate. I have yet to hear “no.” After all, since we hope to be a full time production entity, we’ll work it into ANYONE’S schedule.
I may be humble and quiet when seeking voice over work, but with this? I am NO wall flower.
I do attend Sci-Fi and Comc Book conventions to sign autographs, and have approached MANY of the far more recognizable folks there. and as I said, its pretty much always been something along the lines of “Yes, and what a GREAT idea. Thank you for doing this.”
For the initial pilot I was thrilled to have recognizable faces from TV and film and recognizable voices from animation. Since this was a pilot and may or may not ever make it to the troops, I hesitate to let those names out at this time.
VOX: Are you taking any new voice talent volunteers? Could studios also volunteer their space and assistance to help offset costs to show support for your project?
NEIL: ABSOLUTELY. I’d love to meet new studios and work with new actors I do not yet know. Unfortunately, as a matter of respect for the waivers I have been granted and/or promised I would only use SAG & AFTRA talent.However, I always need an assistant on recording days and that would be a great way for a talented non-union actor to help and participate.
I should have mentioned that I have met with members of BOTH major slates for SAG and this is truly a non-partisan project! They both have promised that once we get our approval from the Pentagon, they will grant me what ever waiver I need to allow SAG members to volunteer their time.
VOX: When is the earliest you could get started on this?
NEIL: I am in post on our pilots. Winning this award would allow me to fast track this and move forward much, MUCH faster.
VOX: How will the audio theater be made available to the armed forces?
NEIL: I could do it right now on CD. BUT, that creates a LOT of waste that is not necessary.I would have to print THOUSANDS of dscs so that each base had one. Even then, we would get MAYBE 2-4 episodes per disc.
When we get approved by the Pentagon we can move toward being able to actually be on hard drives. And THAT would be best for all concerned. We can fit hundreds of hours of audio theater practically on the head of a pin.
In my opinion I’d rather be slower and greener.
VOX: In the event that you need to find resources for this project by other means, how would you proceed?
NEIL: Out of my own pocket. Until we are approved by the Pentagon and qualify for Non-Profit status. At that time, I’ll approach a few targeted corporations for funding.
VOX: What can we do to help you in this effort? Any ideas?
NEIL: Well, to win this award, I need your votes, twice. Once to make the monthly finals (the sooner, the better, by the way) and then once again in the final week of the month. The site is VERY user friendly and easy to register and vote. If you check the box… they won’t pester you with e-mail.
ALSO, American Express is running a promotion like this as well.. BUT you must be nominated by an AMEX holder. None of my immediate friends and family are.
SO… if any of your members are, and would like to submit us for the contest… I would be VERY grateful. (I do a GREAT outgoing message on voice mail!)
Thank you Stephanie for letting me get the word out!!!
To Vote For Neil Kaplan’s Audio Theater for the Troops, click on the link below:
Audio Theater for the Troops
Neil and Stephanie