The Voice, a short story from The Netherlands.
In June 2010 I arrived in The Netherlands with the notion of finally ‘settling down’. Young, in love and still just a little wet behind the ears, my girl and I had all the typical rat race dreams. Get the jobs so we could save money. Save money so we could get the house. Get the house so we could have kids. Have kids so we could be a happy family, a regular functioning cog in this big old machine we call society. What could possibly go wrong?
Leighton: Welcome to your weekly dose of Films & Stars!!! Coming up this week… Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis don’t exactly see eye to eye …
Robert Downey Jr: I despise who you are on a cellular level!
Leighton: Charlie Sheen definitely has no issues with acrophobia!…
Charlie Sheen: I just wanna get high!
Leighton: …and Daniel Radcliffe claims to have nothing in common with his character Harry Potter!
Daniel Radcliffe: I think I’m allergic to magic!
Leighton: But first… sit down, buckle up and hold on tight for this week’s movie news!
“Aaaaand cut!” said Ozzy, shooting me a punchy thumbs up from behind the glass. “Great Leighton, I think you’re starting to get the hang of this”.
It was only my third day of work at Old Harbour Productions and things were going well. In fact, I was still pinching myself that I’d even managed to get the job! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the call for a voice test. I was more than a little nervous when I met Ozzy, the towering, bald-headed sound engineer with a firm handshake and booming laugh. However, Ozzy put me at ease immediately by showing me his fearsome motorcycle out in the parking lot. “How do you like Amsterdam?” he asked, as we took the elevator up to the production floor.
The Voice, a short story from The Netherlands.
From there it was a flurry of names and faces as we worked our way up towards the actual studio. Finally, right outside the recording booth, I was introduced to a chubby, middle-aged Englishman called Aston and his irritable sausage dog, Winnie. Aston was the opposite of Ozzy. Unsettlingly aloof, he met me with a limp handshake and an almost bored look that suggested he wanted this to be over as quickly as possible. It turned out Aston was the head of sales, and therefore had a big say in my suitability as the company’s new voice over.
The test went well enough, Ozzy coaching me through a poorly written news piece about Reese Witherspoon and her wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet. “Can you do that again Leighton? This time I really want to hear you stamping out those final words ok? Be as sarcastic as you want!” Aston meanwhile sat mute with his legs crossed, an arched eyebrow, his head tilted up to the ceiling.
A few days later I was called back for a second test, this time just with Ozzy. Afterwards, on the production floor, he asked me to edit a script for a children’s show called Kidz Flix. When I hadn’t heard anything three or four days later, I gave Old Harbour a call and got through to Annelies, the friendly but ditzy HR girl. “Oh we are still waiting!” she told me. “Ozzy likes you very much, but Aston… he’s not sure”. “Oh, right” I replied, a little startled by her candidness. In the end I simply reiterated that I felt really enthusiastic about the job and was a hundred and ten percent available and ready to start work!
“Ozzy likes you very much, but Aston… he’s not sure”.
My career in broadcasting kicked off on the 1st of September 2010. I was stationed in what was called The News Feed, a team of half a dozen Dutch editors responsible for providing daily movie-celebrity news to a number of international clients. In those early days I was simply cleaning up the scripts before heading up to the studio for the morning recording sessions. It was fun! I got to read, write and talk about the latest Hollywood releases, discovering my inner tabloid whore along the way. Miley Cyrus says this… Lindsay Lohan did that… Justin Bieber is an ass… it didn’t feel like work at all.
In addition to the daily news, I was also trained up as the host of four weekly movie magazine TV programs. Firstly, there was Films & Stars, a clean cut show aimed at a family audience. Then came the female friendly Hollywood Buzz and its thought-provoking dramas and romantic comedies.
Finally, I came face to face with Action Zone, aimed at Alpha males. This was a ridiculous romp of a show where I had to make endless references to “hot chicks”, “massive guns” and “kickass effects”. And it all had to be done in a rasping over the top voice resembling Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. It was a real workout smashing out that script, hence my voice was often shot to pieces by the time we were done.
Old Harbor Productions was owned by a Dutch film journalist called Remy. He was quite the celebrity in The Netherlands, often appearing on TV and radio. Remy wasn’t in the office much, due to the fact that he was usually jetting around the world interviewing Hollywood’s finest. As a result, he spent a fair amount of time in Hollywood itself. All his interviews were stored on the company server and during my time at Old Harbour I got to see nearly all of them.
Remy’s interviews were fascinating, especially the exchanges before and after the camera officially started rolling. As the weeks went by I learned that Meg Ryan really was as awful as that famous Michael Parkinson interview suggests. And that Robin Williams’ 100 mile per hour energy literally had no off button. Elsewhere, James Franco came across as a major asshole and Al Pacino might just be the nicest guy on earth. Oh… and to say Jean Claude van Damme wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box might just be the biggest understatement ever made.
I’d been working at Old harbour for a few months when I finally bumped into Remy in one of the corridors. “Ah, you’re the new voice over?” he said cheerfully, “I think you’re doing a great job, keep up the good work!” It was one of just a handful of exchanges we had in my five years at the company, but I’ll always be grateful to Remy for those early words of encouragement.
The Voice, a short story from The Netherlands.
Outside of work S and I finally moved out of her parents place in Brabant and relocated to Amsterdam. My old buddy Kristof, AKA Projector Man, brought our stuff over from Belgium. Filling every last inch of a rented minivan, he drove all the way from Leuven to Tilburg to pick us up. Loading a few extra boxes into the back, we then went onto Amsterdam to our new apartment. It was a great location, right in the heart of town and just a ten-minute walk from the Albert Cuyp Market.
I’d always been petrified at the idea of settling down. However, those first months in Amsterdam felt like just my latest voyage of discovery. The city was wonderful, a dizzying mix of glassy canals, tilted buildings, treasure-packed museums and leafy parks. We explored the gorgeous Vondelpark, checked out priceless art in the wondrous Rembrandt House and rummaged through the dusty antiques and black-and-white movie stills of Waterlooplein.
Like a real Amsterdammer, I bought a bike and began cycling to work. It was and to this day remains the most beautiful daily commute I’ve ever had. Every morning, I’d make my way through the deserted canal streets towards Centraal Train Station.
Cutting through the station’s main hall, I took the back exit and cycled right onto the free ferry for the five-minute journey to Amsterdam North. Day by day, I witnessed the construction of EYE Film Museum right on the riverbank.
It wasn’t long before my role at Old Harbour began to grow. Instead of editing the daily scripts, Ozzy asked me to write them from scratch and let the video editors concentrate on editing. It was great to have full control over content. I got to choose what we covered and write them in my own words, which also helped me become a better voiceover. After all, it felt much more comfortable to actually record my own material.
I also took on the responsibility of revamping the company’s Star File series, a shoddy collection of outdated actor-director biographies. We had over a hundred of them, from old school legends like De Niro and Hoffman to fresh-faced stars such as Robert Pattinson and Jessica Chastain.
It would take me a couple of days to knock out a Star File. First I rewrote the original script. Secondly, I inserted key interview quotes from the server. Finally, I’d head up to the studio with either Eva, Kim or Remco, the editors who brought everything to life onscreen.
It was the Star File project that finally got me into Aston’s good books. He’d remained indifferent towards me for months after my appointment, always coming up with little critiques and pernickety comments. I don’t recall there ever being a compliment, nor indeed anything resembling words of encouragement. But when he watched my Star File on George Clooney one afternoon and saw how the series was being brought back from the dead, I think he realised that he essentially had a new product to sell. Aston and I were never going to be best buddies, but it was good to know I’d finally gotten him off my back.
I was alone in the office one morning whipping up the day’s movie news when the phone rang. “Hey Leighton, it’s Han!” Han was one of the editors and it was a big surprise to hear from him, because just a few days earlier he’d gone on vacation to Vietnam. “Just a quick call! I’m in an electrical store in Hanoi and they’ve got like a thousand TVs. And they’re all blasting out… YOU!” Extending the phone out to the nearest row of screens, Han treated me to a ten-second storm of Action Zone. I could actually hear myself waxing lyrical about some “AWESOME” scene from a crappy Jason Statham movie. And then the line suddenly went dead and all I could do was let out a bemused chuckle and shuffle off to the kitchen for coffee.
“I’m in an electrical store in Hanoi and they’ve got like a thousand TVs in here. And they’re all blasting out… YOU!”
“Are you enjoying everything?” asked Lianne, the newsfeed’s leggy, well-dressed manager. We were at lunch one afternoon eating Bitterballen in the little café across from the office. “I am!” I exclaimed, with a wide smile. And I really was! If someone had told me that one day I’d be writing and talking about movies for a living, I would have laughed in their face. And the best thing about it was that I felt like there was so much more I could do for Old Harbour.
I wanted to get in front of the camera and contribute to The Hotseat, an MTV show reviewing upcoming movies. And, more than anything else, I desperately wanted to get into the interviewing side of things. But of course Remy did most of that. And for the press junkets he couldn’t do, there was Ruben, another established film journalist. After that there was Lisa, a self centred, tantrum throwing egoist who guarded all the spare interview opportunities with her life. “Just keep working hard and maybe one day you’ll get the chance!” S told me. Yeah right, I remember thinking.
I’ve always been a bit guilty of adopting a half glass full way of thinking. Therefore, I certainly didn’t see it coming when Remy wandered up to my desk one day. “Leighton, are you busy this weekend?” he asked casually. “Um… not really. Why, what’s up?” “Well…” he said, the first traces of a smile beginning to form at the corners of his mouth. “…how would you like to go to New York and interview Jake Gyllenhaal?”
‘The Voice’ is the second installment of my short story collection Notes From The Netherlands.
For my travel reports on the Dutch capital, take a look at my articles on Amsterdam.