If you are in the UK and are a fan of The History Channel, you may have already started watching the latest series to air (started last night on Wednesday January 21, 2009), Dinosaur Secrets, featuring the wonderful narration and vocal talents of Mike Cooper.
VOX: Congratulations on narrating Dinosaur Secrets for The History Channel in the UK! Â How did you come to get the gig?
MIKE COOPER: Thanks Stephanie! It was a speculative contact, to be honest. I contacted History early last year, and managed to get auditioned when they were looking for new voices back in the summer. A few weeks later I got a call out of the blue offering me the chance to narrate the series, which – as you’ll know -Â is the greatest feeling!
VOX: Â How much work was involved and did you need to record outside of your home studio?
MIKE: The recordings were all done to picture at The History Channel’s production centre in West London, over a period of about three months. In a four-hour session we’d typically cover two programmes, though sometimes not both Dinosaur Secrets, if something else came up which was more urgent. Hence a couple of weeks back I was delighted to find myself voicing a gripping special on “Operation Valkyrie”, ahead of the UK premiere of the Tom Cruise film. I’d get the scripts the previous night, which would give me the chance to look through them and flag up anything potentially problematic.
VOX: Which episode was your favourite to narrate and why?
MIKE The last in the series, which follows the countdown to, and aftermath of, the asteroid hitting Earth. This was what finally brought the epoch of the dinosaurs to an end once and for all. It was fascinating! I hadn’t realised that there’d actually been two extinction-levels events during the dinosaur era, only the second of which was massive enough to finish them off forever. It was quite sober and thought-provoking for me, that a disaster beyond our control could do exactly the same thing to our own civilisation – and we’ve been here a fraction of the time they were…
VOX: Â Since you’re not a palaeontologist, were there any terms that gave you difficulty initially? Â If so, which ones?
MIKE: It can be hard to tell which syllables to stress when you meet names like “majungatholus” for the first time. Luckily the sync sound already on the tape, of the palaeontologists themselves speaking, helped to clear up any confusion. Make the most of the available resources, I say!
VOX: Â What were three things you thought of before recording to get into the right mindset?
MIKE: I think the general rules applied, really: thinking about the audience for a start. I imagined them to be a mixture of enthusiastic kids and fascinated adults, perhaps watching together, and needing someone to help tell the incredible story. Second, therefore, was who I was myself in the piece. There are times where we switch from past tense to present to tell the immediate story, rather than the backstory, and I gave that slightly more of a whisper.
If anything I was aiming for something akin to David Attenborough – but he’s a legend, so I don’t pretend I even came close. Working really close to the mic on those segments, keeping those great natural history programmes in mind, and not letting myself get too carried away with the amazing CGI and thumping soundtrack was probably the third thing, in fact.
VOX: Â Have you narrated for The History Channel or for similar projects before? If so, what other programs are you the voice of?
MIKE: This was the first project I’d done for History, but I voiced National Geographic Channel’s UK version of “Fishzilla: Snakehead Invasion” last year, as well as the “Inside Tut’s Treasure Tour” special, ahead of the Tutankhamen Exhibition opening here in London. I’m also the voice of some Biography Channel programmes, including Hell’s Angels and Jamie Lee Curtis, and History’s special on “Operation Valkyrie”, as I mentioned. Documentary narration is something I’m keen to do more of in 2009.
VOX: Â What was the most enjoyable aspect of this job in particular?
MIKE: Working with a nice bunch of people who really appreciate what you do. And as so many of us work in our closets and spare rooms most of the time (me included), it’s always nice to turn up at a studio where there’s a skilled sound engineer and a producer. That face-to-face contact gets missed so much these days, and I feel it’s important when you’re doing a big project.
You can be more spontaneous, and I think that when you’re in the same room and can see the other people then you can offer more to the production -Â like ad libs, suggestions for making it even better, and so on. It’s harder, though not impossible, to do that down the line, and you need to pay much more attention to the vibe in order for the rapport to be as good.
VOX: Â What was the most interesting part of recording Dinosaur Secrets? Â What is your biggest takeaway?
MIKE: The most interesting part for me was what I learned from the material. I had no idea how dinosaurs managed to get so huge, for example, and I’m the kind of guy that loves to store that kind of stuff away and trot out to unsuspecting victims who get stuck with me in the kitchen at parties… My biggest takeaway was undoubtedly being given a whole series to narrate. When someone you’ve not worked with before has the confidence in you to throw you a job like that, it’s an enormous confidence boost, don’t you think?
VOX: Certainly! I’d say that’s a huge confidence booster. On another note, are there DVDs available for purchase yet, and if so, where can they be bought?
MIKE: There is a boxed set on Amazon called “Dinosaur Secrets Revealed”, but that’s from 2005 and I’m pretty sure it’s not the same thing. Our programme went out in the US under the title “Jurassic Fight Club”, and that was there to buy when I looked online. I’m not sure when or if the UK version will come out on DVD, but I’ll let you know if I hear anything! The US version has an American voiceover and there are some changes to the scripting for the UK audience.
VOX: Â Did you watch the debut episode last night?
MIKE: Erm, would you believe not?! A friend got some stupidly cheap tickets for a West End show, which would have been lunacy to pass up. So at 9 o’clock last night I was actually watching act two of “La Cage aux Folles”! Fortunately it was waiting for me on my Sky+ PVR box when I got back, and I’m hoping to make it a regular date on Wednesday nights for the rest of its run. I only wish we had the High Def box -Â it must look amazing!
Be sure to catch “Dinosaur Secrets“, airing Wednesdays at 9 right now on the History Channel in the UK. History is on Sky Channel 529 and Virgin Channel 234, with the HD version on Sky 545.
How To Show Support
To support Mike and his work, be sure to watch the show on television and also join the Dinosaur Secrets Facebook group online.
Also, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment here 🙂