Man with the world in his eye

Is the world ready for anyone else to intone “In A World”?

The passing of Don LaFontaine leaves us with a number of questions including how public perception will influence the future of voice over in theatrical trailers.
While we’re ready for change, is everyone else?

Where We’re At

For over four decades, the same voice delivered the vast majority of theatrical trailers, single-handedly dominating the niche within voice over, and by virtue of that fact, taking up ownership of and residence in the minds of hundreds of millions of people. Don LaFontaine was a pioneer in this field and was a co-creator of iconic phrases such as “In A World…” and “A One-man Army…”.

There is no doubt that Don has left a gigantic imprint on this industry and is recognized as a founding father of voice over, influencing all aspects of the art including excellence in performance, style, and even the very business of working from home as opposed to driving from studio to studio to record.

It is also publicly known that he hoped for women to enter theatrical trailers. While honouring Don and his legacy is important, he would want us to embrace change as he himself supported the idea of women making strides in this niche and also granted permission for others to take his place upon his death (“Just wait until I die”, as he often said when referring to other voice talent working in major theatrical trailers).
Don LaFontaine has us given his blessing and it is time to move on, however, we face significant challenges from external forces.

Our Challenges : Inertia and The Public

As creatures of habit, people in general find it difficult to change positions regarding preset opinions and perceptions. Making a shift requires effort and taking a risk on something new in the unchartered territory of our minds where we lack loyalty and concrete experience.
For instance, if you are loyal to a brand, you stick with that brand even though there may be alternatives to consider, deeply favoring one brand over another such as the Coke VS Pepsi wars.

Just as people are used to drinking a particular beverage, using a certain washing detergent for their clothes or buying a specific make of car, hearing Don LaFontaine’s voice (literally his brand), is their standard or touchstone when consuming a theatrical trailer. As Phil LaMarr pointed out in a comment on my “In A World Where Women Narrate Movie Trailers” article:
“The vast majority of entertainment industry ‘traditions’ are a combination of happenstance and inertia. Nothing changes unless something stops working, or something else costs less.”

In this case, the loss of Don LaFontaine has triggered the former, meaning that there will be a change because something, in this case, someone, stopped doing what they were doing and has ceased to work.

Perception Is Hard To Change

This is a reality.
Changing perception, especially perceptions that took shape decades and generations ago, is an extremely difficult objective to accomplish.

No one knows this better than those who try or are trying to change perception.
For the longest time, we had to explain to those interested in joining our service that was not an agency but a marketplace; that we didn’t charge commissions but offered memberships with subscriptions. When we launched SurePay, we ran into similar perceptions with people thinking that the SurePay escrow transaction fee was an agency commission fee (which it is not) and needed to communicate even more clearly what an escrow service was and why a transaction fee is necessary.

The Voice Over Business Has Changed Drastically In Recent Years.

I’m quite sure many of you have had to adapt and change your perceptions to reflect the new way of doing business to achieve success online, with or without agency representation, and having to learn technical skills to competently compete with your colleagues who work from home.

This brings us back to the original question posed last week:
Will women be welcomed into the realm of movie trailer voice overs?
Will men who are not Don LaFontaine, let alone women outside of this intimate circle, be perceived as suitable replacements?

Challenging and Shaping Perception

While at a seminar last night, I took a moment to speak with a marketing expert and ask what her opinion was of how difficult it would be to change the perceptions of people regarding movie trailer voice overs, presenting the facts as we know them and where we as an industry hope to go.

Her answer was that the process of changing perception among the public and moviegoers may take a very long time, longer than we’d expect because Don’s voice was so entrenched in this aspect of the craft and is ultimately woven in their psyche and embedded in their emotional responses.

Furthermore when discussing the potential of other men and eventually women voicing theatrical trailers, she suggested that although people may not voice their opinions out loud when leaving a theatre, they will notice the difference and feel slightly uneasy with the change, more so with female voices than with male voices who are able to imitate Don LaFontaine’s trademark style.

The conclusion?
Even if it takes the public years to move on, I believe that the process needs to start now, and that process involves focus groups and producers making different choices and taking calculated risks, and for others, leaps of faith.

How Do You Feel About This? Is Our Moment For Change Now?

Looking forward to hearing from you,
© Kelly


  1. “Will men who are not Don LaFontaine, let alone women outside of this intimate circle, be perceived as suitable replacements?”
    Well somebody has to do it, if there will be one dominant male voice or a handful of men and (hopefully) women is still to be seen. I just hope we don’t wind up hearing endless imitations of The Don. Nobody could be as good as the original and I think it would be disrespectful for a talent to try to fill his shoes.

  2. What a great topic to discuss. In my opinion I believe that maybe it’s time for evolution. To be sure, no one can fill the shoes of a such a great voice over talent and great human being. That said, I agree that the public is used to the tried and true. They are used to what they are used to, but now, it’s time to move on and evolve to the next voice. A voice that will set another new standard. Who knows maybe the time is right for a great female talent to step in. Perhaps it’s a kids voice? Perhaps its a voice with an English accent. Who knows until it is tried. And tried again and again until it catches on. Don is, or is one of the first to be credited with what we today know as the consummate “Movie Trailer” voice (if I have my facts correct). He created it. Now it’s time for the next voice star to make his mark and create the “signature movie trailer voice” whatever that may be: Woman, Man, Young Man, Brit, Canadian – who knows. If the Movie Trailer houses put it out there – again and again and again…guess what it then becomes the norm…the next voice everyone wants or wants to imitate!
    In the bigger scope of things, there are a lot of changes taking place out there. A historic new president, an economy in flux, behemoth banks and corporations folding…maybe now the stage is set to find the great new movie trailer voice…for all we know the Trailer Houses just may do away with voice overs all together! You just never know… That is my opinion with all due respect to Don.
    Ed Victor

  3. I don’t know how long it will take for women, but the time will come. However, I’m ready now…just send me the leads…
    Best Regards,
    Martin Victor

  4. Call me crazy but I think the general public will give about as much thought to who is voicing a movie trailer as they do to white gym socks.

  5. In a world where most consumers outside the industry and Hollywood don’t know our names and often can’t even tell us apart, public acceptance will be a non-issue. This debate will be wholly within the industry.
    There will be plenty of people accused of imitating Don. There are hundreds of male voice talents working now who have borrowed elements of his style, not out of blind imitation, but because they’re effective. It’s not just trailers, either. Don’s influence can be heard from rock concert and video game spots, all the way to pharmaceutical ads with minimalist production values.
    If you and your voice cannot reliably convey experience, authority and drama, and cut through loud music and sound effects, you won’t get some of these voice roles. If you can, you have as good a shot as anyone else.
    As for women getting more work in trailers, that’s a tougher question. Within the industry, we’re concerned with providing equal opportunity and appearing socially enlightened. Focus groups strip all that away. If they’re recruited and instructed properly, participants will respond based solely on the emotions they feel when they hear you, with no bias, but also with no quarter given to EEO concerns.
    I would expect women to get more trailer work now in genres where, frankly, Don was always overkill at best, or never really a logical choice. Comedies, documentaries, and others may present strong opportunities for women. Action, probably not so much.
    The women who make inroads in trailer work in the post-Don era will be those who have terrific, unique voices, yet can escape the trap of letting their voices distract them from the acting. There are women getting lots of work now despite being stuck in a sort of forced lilt, or who sound as if they’re seducing the mic, but the copy is an afterthought.
    One of Don’s major strengths was having a huge sound without appearing to “force” it, except, of course, when he was in self-parody mode. There’s something about movie trailers that turns many of us into what radio calls “pukers.” The challenge for men or women will be sounding natural while still conveying emotion which cuts through the mix.

  6. I wonder if another area for breakout might be — work with me here — foreign-language trailers. Does anyone know what the dominant voices sound like in, say, Spanish work? My guess would be that it would still be male because, let’s face it, the dominant personality in most things is male. For all the people who say it’s silly that people get in such a snit over “mailman” vs. “mail carrier” or “The average person likes his roses red,” the fact is that in much of life and language society has always had a default setting. Nonetheless, it would seem that one additional way for women (and kids, and nontraditional male voices, even) to break in would be in yet another area that’s unlikely to have been dominated by the one specific male we so recently lost.
    The other thing to consider is that as many of us as possible should be making demos that show both our ability to do traditional trailer voices, followed by some new ideas in trailers. Imagine, for example, a celebrity-impersonation trailer voice as if a famous woman were doing the voice-over, particularly if it were comically done. (I’ll be honest: I started to name one or two examples, but just in case, I decided to try it myself first so that I don’t get marked as the copycat! 🙂 Let’s play around a bit.


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