Article published in Dropline.biz on February 6, 2006
Jeff Fischer─Actor, Voice-Over Artist, “Cartoon?”
By Sarah D. Goldstein (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)
FOX’s second season of the popular animated series, American Dad with Jeff Fischer, returns with all new episodes on February 26, 2006, at 9:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. CST.
Fischer not only lends his voice and acting talents to American Dad, but his name as well. The character of “Jeff Fischer” was created based on Jeff and his own persona. Most Sunday nights, television fans can tune in and watch the antics of “ultra left wing” Fischer and his fictitious girlfriend, “Hayley Smith” (played by Rachel MacFarlane), as the duo’s actions terrorize Hayley’s conservative father, “Stan Smith” (played by Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy).
Jeff started acting in theatre when he was in the second grade. Growing up in St. Louis, he did not have many venues other than theatre to exhibit his wares. It was not until Jeff attended the University of Arizona that he had an opportunity to perform in a different medium. The television show, The Young Riders, was in production in Arizona. Jeff landed a featured role which led to a friendship with most of the cast. “It was a lot different than your high school acting crowd,” said Jeff, “These are normal guys just doing their thing.” Jeff always wanted to be an actor, but because he was involved in sports this caused a conflict between the two groups. When he had an opportunity to hang out with professional actors he realized that they were just like everybody else. This convinced Jeff that he was going to pursue acting again, so he revisited his acting studies, this time at a studio in Tucson, run by the head of the drama department of the University.
After performing in more theatre in Arizona, Fischer returned to St. Louis for a summer. During his stay he was approached by his cousin who worked at a local radio station. She suggested that he come into the studio to record some voice-overs. Fischer was excited, but he admitted that it was a totally new world to him. His greenhorn status did not interfere with professionals recognizing talent when they heard it. A local agent in St. Louis quickly booked Fischer on a bunch of radio spots for a campaign for Pizza Hut.
Upon receiving a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, Jeff decided to move to Los Angeles. There, he continued to act in theatre and even began producing his own plays. This exposure led to a role on an episode of Melrose Place, several independent feature films, and a network pilot.
Even though his acting career looked promising, Fischer knew what medium was the ‘goose that would lay the golden eggs.’ He vigorously pursued voice-over work in commercials, television, films, and animation. Later on, Fischer provided the voice for many characters in video games.
Against tough odds, Jeff became very successful in a career that on any given day the artist must beat out approximately 500 voice-over artists for the job; this, as opposed to, general acting roles which are more like 20 or 30-to-1. Jeff explained, “Let’s say you are casting a T.V. show, you are going to bring in a guy for a guest star role. You bring in 20 guys; that’s a pretty good amount of guys to cast a smaller part; even if they brought in 30. In voice-overs, there are commercials with only one line or maybe an animated show with a character that has five lines. They can read 500 actors; they do not have to bring them in the office, it is all run through the computer. You go to your agents office, read the part in the booth, and they MP3 it over to the casting director. They can listen to people from New York, L.A., Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, and it doesn’t take a lot of time because they haven’t had to bring these people in. So you are dealing with a lot more numbers to get the job.” Jeff comments further, “Also, a lot of celebrities are participating in voice-over campaigns.”
American Dad came about through friends of Fischer, Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman. Barker and Fischer attended the University of Arizona together, and Weitzman and Fischer met in his first acting class in L.A. Fischer stayed at Weitzman house when he first moved to L.A. while he was looking for an apartment. The two friends go way back.
Barker and Weitzman were solo writers and total strangers until Fischer introduced them. Soon thereafter they became a writing team. The writing duo began to get staff jobs writing for such shows as The Last Frontier, Homeboys in Outer Space, Off Centre, and Father of Pride. The team’s big break came from their employment on Family Guy with Seth MacFarlane. While writing for Family Guy, Barker and Weitzman were able to assist their mutual friend, Fischer in reading for a small role which he landed.
The association of MacFarlane, Barker, and Weitzman led to the creation of American Dad. One day they called Fischer and told him that they created this character for him. Barker and Weitzman told Fischer that MacFarlane wanted to call him “Jeff Fischer.” They asked him, “do you mind—would that be okay?” Fischer agreed, even though he was still obligated to read for the network. He told his friends that it would be cool if you called him Jeff Fischer and he didn’t mind reading for the network, but he did ask them to promise to change the character’s name if he did not get the part. Jeff received the role and the character’s name remained the same. Since MacFarlane knew Jeff he had in his head that the artists should draw the animated character to Jeff’s likeness.
American Dad is now in its second season. FOX has committed to 19 episodes with eight backup scripts. It follows the equally popular Family Guy. American Dad is suitable for the entire family to watch. Younger children enjoy the colorful and comedic characters and adults appreciate the highly political and adult humor. The show definitely stretches the boundaries on what has been previously done on primetime animation.
The character “Jeff Fischer” is the boyfriend of “Hayley Smith” daughter of “Stan Smith.” Some episodes revolve around “Jeff & Haley” and their relationship issues, getting into trouble, and their left wing views.
Fans of movies, one-hour episodics, and sitcoms, are able to get an idea of what actors go through on a daily basis because of “Behind the Production” type shows. Most people, however, do not know what it is like behind the scenes of a weekly animation show. A typical week for cast members on American Dad starts on Wednesdays with a table read. During a table read the entire writing staff and support staff sits around a table while the cast reads through the script. This is done to see how the storyline flows and what jokes work. Afterwards, the writers tighten up the script, so that it is ready for the actors for Friday’s recording session.
On Fridays, each actor comes into the studio to read their character’s role separately. The actors do not rehearse with each other or even work off of each other during the recording session. Occasionally, the director from the booth will provide the preceding line for the actor to deliver his/her line. Also, the director will provide some direction as to what is transpiring in the scene and the characters proximity to the other character(s). Each actor’s recording time varies from one-half hour to a couple of hours.
There are times when the director and/or producers are not able to be at the recording session, or even when the network executives want to participate from their offices; they can by way of Integrated Services Digital Network (“ISDN”). “ISDN is comprised of digital telephony and data-transport services offered by regional telephone carriers. ISDN involves the digitization of the telephone network, which permits voice, data, text, graphics, music, video, and other source material to be transmitted over existing telephone wires. The emergence of ISDN represents an effort to standardize subscriber services, user/network interfaces, and network and internetwork capabilities. ISDN applications include high-speed image applications (such as Group IV facsimile), additional telephone lines in homes to serve the telecommuting industry, high-speed file transfer, and videoconferencing.” (Cisco Systems)
Through ISDN the parties can be in several different places at one time, yet they can communicate with each other and produce a product without any delay. Fischer provided an example, “When we were working on Babe: Pig in the City, director, George Miller was giving us direction while he was in Australia and we were in an ADR booth in Los Angeles.”
One would think that the animators would wait until all the characters’ voice-overs were completed before beginning the animation process. Not true. “The design process begins right after the table read; story boards are created from a tape recording,” said Sarah Peters, assistant to Mike Barker. Of course, the finished version of the animation is not completed until the artists have the final recordings.
Once the voice-overs are completed and the characters drawn, the post production staff goes to work putting the images and voices together. The entire process from creating the script, through the voice recordings, animation, and post production is a long process for each episode. It takes many people to create just one-half hour toon of American Dad.
Jeff Fischer is a busy man. He recently created a pilot entitled Off the Radar with Jeff Fischer. The show focuses on Jeff visiting restaurants, bars, and other venues with events that are unique and that most people are unaware of (e.g., underground clubs). It is about people going out in L.A. and experiencing this diverse city. The show has not yet been sold, but there is an agent who has been working on several offers.
In the field of voice-overs, Jeff has worked on hundreds of television commercials including, Budweiser, Burger King, McDonalds, Coors, Verizon, and Carl’s Jr., and recently was the voice-over host of the 2005 Teen Choice Awards.
Fischer’s voice work in animated television includes a recurring regular role as “MC Cobra” and a guest starring role as “Chip” in the Jackie Chan Adventures. He also had a guest starring role as “Gary” in the Spider Man series and voiced the “Spaced-Out Emperor Penguin” in the animated feature film, Happy Feet. Fischer also starred in the Warner Brother’s pilot, Power of Two in the regular role of “Itchy” and in the Warner Brother’s pilot, Cats and Dogs as the regular role of “Lou, The Beagle.” His other feature work includes voices in the films, Lilo & Stitch, Dinosaur, Antz, Ant Bully, Jimmy Neutron, and Homeward Bound II.
Fans of Tony Hawk’s video series can hear Fischer as the voice of various characters in Tony Hawk Undergroundand as the “Lead Skater” in Tony Hawk Underground II. Other creative projects outside of the animated world include an upcoming role in the feature film Death and Texas and a recent role in the stage play Blockage where Fischer received critical acclaim. L.A. Weekly- “… Jeff Fischer is a comic joy as Lewis.…” NoHoLA- “…Lewis, played by Jeff Fischer, managers to steal every scene he’s in….” Backstage West- “…The performance of Jeff Fischer as Lewis provides the biggest laughs of the evening.”
Jeff Fischer continues to work as a voice over artist and actor. In his free time he loves to travel the globe, learning about other cultures. Some of his recent adventures have included Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, The Golden Triangle, Croatia, Panama, and many other far away places.
Articles Written or Co-Authored by Dino M. Zaffina
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