BOTCON 2013 – PT 1: Pre-Show Fun!

Botcon_2013If you’re looking for a detailed review of BotCon 2013, including its panels, guests, and exclusives, look elsewhere.  If you want to hear about how four old friends like to use BotCon as an excuse to maximize their vacation fun, read on!

Another year, and another BotCon has come and gone.  As I reflect on the weeklong festivities (including the pre-con activities my fiancée Tamiko and I had with our dear friends Tony and Rose), I’m left thinking that this year was one of the best for us.  I’ve attended more than half of these shows, including a streak from ’95 through 2002, 2004 (unofficial), 2009, and 2011 through now.  It’s my favorite time of the year; it’s like Christmas for Transformers fans…if Christmas lasted 3&1/2 days, and was smack-dab in the middle of summer!

IMG_8956Going back to our earliest shows, Tony (whom some of you might recognize as my cohost on the Big Broadcast) and I would often meet up a day or two early to spend time together, and check out local touristy attractions.  He and I became friends through the (now little-known) Survivors fan club, an indie Transformers pen-pal collective that formed out of the remnants of the Transmasters (another such group – hey, it was pre-internet!  How else are you going to meet like-minded folks?!?).

IMG_8768I also go back to ’94 with Rosemary, the lovely host of Screamer’s Retro Flashbacks, and Tony’s wife.  Ironically, the two of them didn’t meet until ’98 at (what else?) a BotCon.  They live in Pennsylvania, and I’m a California boy, so BotCon is our one time a year to hang out in person.  And depending on where it is – BotCon is in a different city every year – we’ll try to stretch out the fun, and see just a small fraction of this great land of ours…everything from big city life in Chicago, to dimwater burgs like…ugh…Rochester, New York.

IMG_8754This year, Tamiko and I were ecstatic to learn that BotCon would be held in San Diego, California, a city that’s just a short drive from our native Los Angeles.  It’s never a bad thing to save on the money, hassle, and danger of air travel, so we were relieved.  It didn’t take long to coordinate with Tony and Rose, and we agreed that having them fly into LA to stay with us for a couple days before heading down to San Diego made the most sense.

IMG_8770Shortly thereafter, Rose began to communicate with her friends in the animation voiceover community, most of whom live in and around LA.  Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, get to know, or even interview a few voiceover artists over the years, but Rose takes it to another level.  Her charm and charisma has allowed her to interact with a wide variety of voice actors, and has even become personal friends with quite a few of them.  It’s not out of the ordinary for a Dan Gilvezan or a Jack Angel to call her up at home, leaving messages if they don’t reach her.

IMG_8752At any rate, Rose had the idea to ask a few of her friends to meet up for dinner or something casual on the first night she and Tony would be with us in LA; that Tuesday.  As their hosts, chauffeurs, and all-around good buddies, we’d be invited to tag along as well, an offer we couldn’t refuse.  Rose originally intended it to be a casual, intimate dinner with just a few available friends, but after getting legendary voice director Wally Burr involved, the even snowballed into a full-fledged, anything-goes reunion of anyone and everyone who’s been involved in the voiceover industry, although most of the folks invited were primarily active from the 70s through 90s, and a big concentration on the 80s – which is of course right in our wheelhouse.

IMG_8765Billed as “No fans, no agents, no host bar and kitchen, no B.S., no ulterior motives”, the event was as private as they come, and took place at a bar and grill called The Draft, in Studio City.  Of course, “no fans” wasn’t entirely true, as the four of us were bumming around.  It was amazing to be a fly on the wall and observe folks struggle to place a face they haven’t seen in as many as thirty years, and then see the recognition come over them.  There were many happy faces throughout the evening, and we grabbed every chance to chat with or get a picture with as many of them as possible, while not coming off like stalkers.  Some that were invited failed to show, and a few that heard about it DID show.  Fear not, there were no party crashers – the official invite encouraged people to invite other voiceovers who may not have gotten the proper email.  It would be nigh impossible to list EVERYBODY that showed, but from memory, here’s an impressive list:

IMG_8761Wally Burr
Michael Bell
Brian Cummings
Neil Ross
Gregg Berger
John Moschitta
David Mendenhall
Paul Eiding
Tom Pope
Chuck McCann
Dan Roth
Morgan Lofting
Michael McConnohie
Tony Oliver
Dan Woren
Rebecca Forstadt (aka Reba West)
Melora Harte
Steve Kramer
Robert Axelrod
Shannon Farnon
Paul St. Peter
Marlene Aragon
Melodee Spevack
Pat Fraley
Michael Charles Hill (writer on Transformers and G.I. Joe)

IMG_8758As you can see, a healthy amount of Sunbow regulars were in attendance, as the grand poobah Burr was key to invitations, but several Robotech regulars made it, which tickled the four of us, as we’re all big ‘Techies.  For some crazy reason, Wally Burr got it in his head to have everyone take part in a karaoke tournament with just one song: Stan Bush’s “The Touch”.  With the original video playing in the background, Wally, sporting a cowboy hat, took the stage and encouraged people to join in the fun, but while he meant well, I think he didn’t take into account that a lot of these voice actors weren’t even involved with Sunbow, much less Transformers, and were unclear on why this particular song was chosen – and probably hadn’t ever heard it before.

IMG_8767Still, all in all, a fantastic night, and we have our friends to thank for allowing us to be involved.  I should also mention that one of the ulterior motives for this get-together was to raise money for animal rights charities, a movement spearheaded by Michael Bell, a huge animal rights activist.  Tony and Rose brought a bunch of collectibles and merchandise for the actors to sign (a few of them even brought their own donations), and these items will be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to this cause.  So not only are voice actors cool and talented, they do good in their free time!  Check out this video that Rose put together to get an idea of what the night was like.

IMG_8749That night, we were invited by Paul Eiding to meet with him at Cartoon Network Studios the next day to possibly eavesdrop on a professional recording session for his current hit show, Ben 10.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late – it was an early morning session, and after getting a late start, we had a big, leisurely breakfast on our way to the studio.  But we were invited into the lobby of the studio by Paul, and we chatted for a few minutes as two other G1 alumni filtered out of the session: Sue Blu and Corey Burton.  Sue is the voice director for the show, and Corey costars with Paul.  They were both unable to attend the previous night’s festivities, but they were more than happy to sign a few items for the charity auction and chat with us for a few minutes.  In fact, at one point, Steve Blum filed into the lobby, and we got to meet him briefly.

IMG_8782We met Sue before at BotCon ’98, and she hasn’t seemed to age a day.  Meeting Corey is huge, for he is known for being a bit shy and reclusive, and because of that, will probably never attend a BotCon.  That’s not to say that he isn’t a very nice, charming person – which he is – it’s just a rare occurrence for a fan to get to meet him.  Again, it’s Rose’s relationship with him that’s responsible, and for that, I am grateful.

IMG_8785Sue and Paul had to go, but before he left, Corey invited us to attend ANOTHER recording session later that day, on the other side of town, at LA Studios.  The session was for a Disney show called Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Corey plays the classic Disney villain Captain Hook, and his hook often sounds a bit like his take on Count Dooku from Clone Wars.  That is, until Hook becomes angry or excited.  We met Corey at the studio, and at first it looked like we wouldn’t be able to site in, but the director was convinced to allow us to observe the second of two sessions, which Corey would be acting in alone.  So we had to wait for about two hours, but it was worth the wait.  We were whisked into the control room of the studio after Corey and the crew had a short break – Corey had some tea in between sessions, which is good for the vocal cords – and the magic began.  Corey was in n adjoining room with stools, a microphone, and a stand for the script; pretty much the way you always see clips of voice actors working.  On our side, the director, his assistant, a script consultant, and the engineer worked while facing the big window.  We sat on a couch and chairs behind the crew, and watched these wizards do what they do best.

IMG_8809The director knew what he needed to ask of Corey, his assistant helped keep track of takes, the script consultant kept everything in continuity, and Corey’s pipes o’ gold spewed forth magic.  Any Transformers fan – or animation fan in general – has always wanted to sit in while one of our heroes worked, and we got to do it.  Pinch me.  It was that great.  Everything Corey did was awesome, but at some points, the director would call for an alternate take on something, i.e. asking Corey to say a line with more excitement or in a questioning tone.  And Corey came right back with pretty much EXACTLY what the director intended.  I’m quite sure that these professionals could do this job with great ease from the outset, but with this series a season or two in, it was running like a well-oiled machine.  In fact, we were privy to some small talk between them, commenting that there were certain jokes or types of takes that they could get away with only now, after the Disney brass were confident that they knew what they were doing.

IMG_8800When it was over, we thanked the crew for allowing us to eavesdrop.  They were very gracious, and picked our brains on what it’s like to be non-professionals witnessing such proceedings.  We thanked Corey, said our goodbyes, and were off to shop and tour around Hollywood for the evening.  You know, you live in Southern California all your life, and you never see the Wax Museum until friends visit from out of town!  Finally, we crashed after a long, exciting, but exhausting day.  We had already seen, heard, and done a LOT, and BotCon hadn’t even started yet!

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Photography by Austin Welch, Tamiko Treadwell, Tony Tuski, and Rosemary Tuski

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