Friday, 30 May 2008


He has been nicknamed « The Voice of God ». But Don LaFontaine is more than the voice artist moviegoers have been given the opportunity to hear in most of the movie trailers of the 20th century. He has invented the modern trailer and the influence of his work goes beyond the Cinema industry, as contemporary advertising borrows a lot to the standards he has established in more than 40 years.

« When you die, the voice you hear in Heaven is not Don's. It's God trying to sound like Don. » (Ashton Smith)

Don LaFontaine, thank you very much for accepting this interview. First, what are the origins of your name, « LaFontaine »?

Don LaFontaine: My immediate family on my father's side came from Montreal, Canada. One of our ancestors, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, was one of the original Voyageurs who founded the fort that became the city of Montreal. We are also descended from Jean de La Fontaine, the fableist.

Before being the well-known voice-over artist you are, you were a recording engineer and sound editor. Could you please tell us a few words about this part of your rich career.

Don LaFontaine: I learned to be a recording engineer in the Army in the late 1950's. I was assigned to the U.S. Army Band and Chorus, stationed near Washington, D.C. When I got out of the service, I moved to New York, where I found work at National Recording Studios. One day I was assigned to work with a young radio producer named Floyd L. Peterson. We found that we had a lot in common, and shortly thereafter, I joined him, and we became a two man operation.

We were part of a very small number of people who were advertising motion pictures. The business grew rapidly, and within two years, we had our own building and about twenty employees.

You started your voice-over activities on movie trailers in the sixties, at a time where, for instance, Alfred Hitchcock could allow himself to visit the set of Psycho with the spectators during the trailer of this classic (almost 7 minutes, which is unthinkable today!) But as you also not only voiced them but write and conceived them, you gradually, over more than 40 years, changed this conception and literally invented the modern trailer.

Don LaFontaine: That's true. There were about six of us in the beginning. One of the most talented was a young man named Ed Apfel, who must be credited with creating some of the most popular phrases that are still used today. I found that I had a knack for writing, and now, here I am, 43 years later, still reading variations on scripts I wrote in the early sixties.

Could you explain us how you started to work on trailers?

Don LaFontaine: We began with radio commercials. Up until the early sixties, movies were promoted basically in two ways - the Theatrical Trailer and print ads. Radio and Television were not used to any great degree. Trailers were produced in house by the studios, usually cut by the film's editors, and finished at National Screen Service in Los Angeles. They were pretty much the same, overblown, flashy and star-driven.

How did the majors considered the trailer as a promotion object at the time?

Don LaFontaine: In the early sixties, a number of young men, fresh out of college joined the advertising department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, most notably Andrew J. Kuehn and Gordon Weaver. They wanted to expand the reach of their departments, and suggested that the studios go out of house for the creation of their materials. At the same time, a handful of producers, Floyd and myself among them, were petitioning the studios for work.

Needless to say, the experiment was a huge success. We rapidly went from radio spots to television spots to trailers themselves. Some of the early successes were films like Dr Strangelove, and that other Doctor, Zhivago.

Can you please explain to our readers how a movie trailer is conceived and how and when in the process are you requested to intervene?

Don LaFontaine: That process has changed over the years.These days, the trailer production house is often involved from the very beginning of principal photography, working from the production dailies to make teaser trailers that come out far in advance of the films release.

In the early days, we were usually called in when the film was in rough-cut form. We were given a black and white copy of the picture, without any sound or visual effects, often with missing scenes. Sometimes we were given a recording of the musical score, if it was available. From these materials we created the trailer, television and radio spots.

How do you succeed in creating such different vocal atmospheres, from a thriller to a comedy, without giving the feeling that this is the same voice over and over again?

Don LaFontaine: The different vocal atmospheres are « dictated » to me by the script. The words « tell » me how they should be read. If you play two trailers with the same basic theme back to back, you will usually hear a similarity in the narrations.

The question must have been asked to you a thousand times but could you describe for our readers a typical day in the professional life of Don LaFontaine?

Don LaFontaine: It's different now than it was a couple of years ago. Then, I had a limousine that drove me from session to session - as many as 26 in a single day. Now I work at home, in my own studio over digital telephone lines which connect me to studios all around the world.

These days I mostly do commercials for network television shows, with an occasional trailer thrown in from time to time. A new crop of voice actors are doing the great bulk of the trailer work, and there are far more of them today then there were a few years ago. It's a very popular field to get into.

Would you please tell us who is Nita Whitaker?

Don LaFontaine: Nita Whitaker is my beautiful and talented wife. She was the first woman of African-American heritage to win the title of Miss Lousiana, a southern state that used to be known for it's segregation policies.

She is a world-class singer, who performs in many concerts across the country, and has recently completed her third CD, LifeStories (one word). People who are interested in learning more about her should go to

In 1998, you wrote the script and produced a movie called Sandman. How did you start this adventure?

Don LaFontaine: It started with my young daughters telling me that they wanted to be singers and actresses like their mother when they grew up. I had a good video camera, so I decided to write a brief scene for them to perform. I would light and shoot it like a feature film, with multiple takes, master shots and cutaways to show them how tedious film making can be.

Well, the script sort of got out of hand. It wound up being over 100 pages long. I also wrote five songs to go into the picture. We recruited a friend in the business, Ernie Lively, to help us. He had a small film studio with professional cameras, so we decided to go for it. We had sets, miniatures, computer generated graphics, and a number of friends who had starred in televison series as guest stars. One of the kids, Blake Lively, wound up a movie star in her own right, appearing in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Accepted.

We even had a premiere. It's a great big overblown « Home movie » that the kids can enjoy in their later years.

The Internet has changed the way movies are promoted. Trailers are available on official websites, sites are devoted to trailers and even Television now uses and abuses of promotion material (trailers, featurettes...) to talk about movies.

Don LaFontaine: Trailers are still produced to be seen on the big screen. The effect of the internet can't be minimized, but I think people still want to have that big screen experience. Seeing a trailer on a small computer monitor can't compete with seeing it in a theater with THX Dolby sound coming at you from a hundred speakers.

Has the fact that the Internet is now virtually the first medium to showcase a trailer an incidence on the content of the trailers themselves?

Don LaFontaine: Availability of the internet hasn't changed the content of the trailers, but new materials are being produced strictly for computers, such as web sites for the films, themselves. They are very effective sales tools.

Besides movie trailers? What are your other professional activities?

Don LaFontaine: As I mentioned earlier, I do a great number of Television promos for our major networks. I also supply the in-show announcements for syndicated programs like America's Most Wanted. Most recently I have been appearing on camera, as a guest on Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, the CBS Early Show, and a very popular commercial selling car insurance. I also have made a guest appearance in a film, I See You Dot Com, which is looking for distribution.

You are considered as a kind of Pop culture icon, and your voice is even often the subject of parodies. More than that you have set the standards used by the modern voice-over artist and in your long and creative career some of your trailers did become classics in their own respect. What are the trailers you are the most proud of?

Don LaFontaine: That's almost impossible to answer. I have worked on roughly 5000 films in my career, and voiced nearly 4000 of those. There have been many many highlights, and to single out one or two would be impossible. I have tried to do that in the past, and every film I mention seems to lead me to another one that I like equally. It's a frustrating process.

Do you know that in France there's a famous french dubbing artist who voice-overs a considerable amount of film trailers? How do you explain this similarity between the US and France?

Don LaFontaine: Voice acting for trailers is a very exacting craft. If one French actor is dubbing most of the trailers, it must mean that he has figured it out. Many people, men and women, try to break into this business, but few can make the cut. It's very different from say, selling cars or soup. It takes a special approach to the copy that is very hard to duplicate with any veracity.

On what are you working at the moment of this interview? What are your next professional projects?

Don LaFontaine: I never know what my next project is going to be. I am called upon to read for multiple films during the course of the year, recently, more comedies than dramas - which is ironic, because it is my drama read that is most often emulated - but I never know what reads are going to be used in the final product, unless I see it in a theater.

I am currently working on some materials for Dreamgirls, Hairspray and a film called Firehouse Dog. As I mentioned earlier, Trailer work has slowed down considerably for me, compared to a few years ago, and it's okay. If it all stopped completely tomorrow, I would be grateful for the run I have had. It's covered nearly a half a century, and that's good by any estimation.

(Interview done in 2005)

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