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January 12, 2009

REINERIO A. ALBA

“Ows? Ikaw yung boses ni Justin? Sample naman.” (Really? You’re the voice of Justin? Let’s hear a sample.)

Such reactions are encountered on a regular basis these days by Fourth Lee, 30, the voice behind the character Justin in the chinovela (for the clueless, the term evolved from telenovela, which literally means a novel on television, and now, generally refers to telenovelas coming from either China or Korea) “Full House.” When he is in a good mood he obliges, otherwise he merely shrugs off the request with a smile. He reasons that it is akin to asking a comedian for a joke on the spot as soon as introductions are made. And besides, he explains, it is his normal voice which he uses for Justin, making the request plain naive. Still, he sees it all as part of a voice talents’ job. He is just as happy to share with this writer that there is even a blog site dedicated to animefanatics who keep track of local voice talents’ projects. He is delighted  to read that even a particular delivery of a line or a dialogue is a hot topic of discussion for the members of the blog site. Criticisms like that, he says, are valuable and keep him on his toes everytime he takes on a project.

Rowena Benavidez-Lazaro, 34, the voice behind Jessie in the same chinovela, admits to even getting remarks referring to her body type when people gets to see her in person, oftentimes comparing her to the svelte TV character Jessie she lends her voice to. “Pero okey lang.” (But it’s okay.)

Of her experience, Grace Cornel, 31, the voice behind the ABS-CBN cartoon series “Cinderella” aired in 1999, remembers how her friends would jokingly refer to her then as Cinderella whenever they introduced her to other people.
 
Lee, Lazaro and Cornel are among the pioneer voice talents in the country, and are collectively grateful for the steady flow of projects that come in these days, whether it be for radio or TV.

Not that there has not been a previous need for people like them because obviously radio and TV commercials perpetually rely on the services of voice talents. But this additional volume of jobs for voice talents has undoubtedly gushed forth from the introduction of the Mexican telenovela “Marimar” in the country in 1996, which radically changed local TV programming. As the number of imported telenovelas increased, so did the need for Filipino voice talents. Dubbing (the total replacement of the originally recorded audio with a new one) itself took on a whole new important role, which is to clarify and familiarize for the local audience the dramas that are otherwise played out by foreign actors. For the first time, local viewers saw Mexican actors conversing in Filipino, in colorful dialogues that could have been culled straight out from one’s own neighborhood. The success of such a formula inevitably led to local TV programming in 2001 being swamped by Mexican telenovelas and Japanese anime all dubbed in Filipino. ABS-CBN had the telenovelas “Alicia” and “Camilla” and the Japanese anime “Digimon” and “Cardcaptor Sakura” while GMA 7 dished out “Morelia” and “Monica Brava” and the Japanese anime “Lupin III” and “Pokemon.” In March 2003, GMA-7 soon even had local actress ChinChin Gutierrez lending her voice to Beatriz Pinzon Solano, the lead character in the worldwide hit telenovela “Yo soy Betty, la Fea.”  Two months later, ABS-CBN premiered the next phenomenal teleseries import “Meteor Garden.” Since then, the workfield for voice talents in the country had been enlarged permanently.

Lee, Lazaro and Cornel have made a career out of their voices working freelance and all admit to enjoying and loving their jobs.

Lee, having started in the business while still in college at UP Diliman, recalls piloting the cartoon series “Zenki” for ABS-CBN. It proved to be vocally challenging for him as it required him to voice, instead of people, the monsters that were in it. He had to experiment a lot with the growling and other monster-like sounds he could think of at that time. Another such project, which tested his voice’s “versatility” was when his group was asked to dub inanimate objects like a pencil, a bulb, and a chair. “Biruin mo! Nagsasalitang pencil at bombilya!” (Imagine that! Pencils and bulbs that talk!)

Normally, how many voices should a voice talent have? “Dapat at least five voices ang required, kung hindi, ‘di ka masyado kukunin lalo na ‘pag low budget (At least five voices are required, otherwise, they will not often get you especially when it is a low budget production),” Lee points out.

Early on, too, Lee admits to encountering “monster” directors and dubbing supervisors as well but he breezed through the experience having had an ample exposure to such types of people while still taking up theater arts in college. He says that it definitely helps that he has theater as a background to help him draw on a range of emotions required for each character he takes on. But most of the time, he says, all it takes is one’s voice and the ability to adapt to any given scene or situation.

Lazaro, a graduate of Communication Arts from the University of Sto. Tomas, initially did production work at ABS-CBN during her practicum days handling recording for the network. She did segment production and writing as well but eventually found herself as a supporting voice for the cartoon series “Ray Earth.” These days though, she prefers telenovelas over anime projects. “Mas sanay ako sa tao eh. Minsan din nadadala ako sa emosyon.” (I am more familiar with people. Often, too, I am affected by the emotions) She takes pride in being the voice behind the character Tamara in the Mexican telenovela “Christina,” which she said was also her most challenging to date as she was, through her voice, able to flesh out a wealth of emotions felt by the character herself and was able to successfully communicate such emotions onscreen.

“Daimos” fans would easily recognize Cornel’s voice because she is the voice behind Erika (Yes, she had fun shouting the name “Richard! Richard!”). Cornel, who has been in the business for seven years already, initially saw her projects as a source of extra income, starting out while still in college majoring in theater arts at U.P. Diliman. She remembers the cartoon series “Cinderella” fondly because it was the project that had her as a lead voice. The lure of making a regular flow of money out of her voice after graduation proved too strong to resist. Cornel says she loves the job, first of all, and besides, she confesses, she abhors the idea of working in a 9-5 office doing routine work. When she was starting out, she remembers being always reminded to react during a recording. Unlike Lazaro, Cornel says she enjoys doing anime more because she can experiment more with her voices. Her mom, she says, was initially against her job because she ends up going home late at night but soon came to understand its nature when she showed her how responsible she can be despite the sometimes unpredictable schedule she has. Doesn’t she ever get tired? “Hindi. Every new project excited ako. Dati nga nababaduyan ako sa mga tinatagalog na anime or telenovelas pero ngayon excited ako sa bawat project.”(No. I’m excited with every new project. Before, I was turned off by the idea of dubbing animes and telenovelas into Tagalog, but now I’m excited with each project.) She reasons that with each new project also comes new people to work with and new experiences as well.  

Of such experiences, Lee recalls a funny incident when somebody released gas in the recording booth—they all necessarily had to stop recording and flee from the room.

How do they prepare themselves for a recording? “On the set nasanay ako nagbabasa ng script.” (I am used to reading the script on the set) She explains that for anything, the script director is there to guide a voice talent through the situation. She admits that dubbing itself is hardwork as it also entails that the delivery of one’s lines or dialogues are in synch with the opening of the character’s mouths on screen. “Sa kasabay mo minsan bago, naiinis ka pero isipin mo nag-start ka rin sa ganyan.” (With a new talent in the same scene, sometimes you get irritated but you have to remember that you once started like that.)

All three agree that their job pay well (standard rate they say for new talents per recording is at P500 for an animation and P800 for a chinovela) but unlike the notion most may have of people like them who are not office-bound and who earn a handsome enough wad of money,  these three live sensibly. “Alam ko darating sa point na mawawala kaya dapat mag-ipon ka (I know that at some point , all these will be gone, that’s why one should save),” points out Cornel. Lazaro, being married to a PBA assistant coach, has a clinic for injured athletes while Lee, at one point, tried taking up a short course on nursing but decided instead to refocus his energies on scripting. Scripting he explains is another area of the whole dubbing process where he gets to translate the scripts of locally-made telenovelas for telecast abroad. “I prefer staying at home, so the job is perfect for me. I can work on my own.” He admits that even though life is quite difficult in the country, he says, he wants to stay put and struggle with the situation with his countrymen. “Kasama ako dito sa laban.” (I am here with the struggle) Lee also happily tends to a small vegetable farm in Cainta.    

Lazaro advises those who are interested to become voice talents to love their work, to be always punctual, to have in hand several approaches to a given character, to be open to suggestions and to have respect for one’s superiors as well. Lee, on the other hand, encourages those who want to become voice talents to first know the work and go instead into production like writing and see what happens next from there. Cornel agrees and adds that in the end, after all, for anyone to derive fulfillment from any job, one should only get into a job that one loves.