Sam Pond, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, is a radio advertising producer. His great-grandfather Edward Bates Pond was mayor from 1887 to 1891. Pond, 53, lives in the Haight district with his wife, Margaret Tan, a personal stylist, and their 11-year-old son, Henry.
We hang out in recording studios, play with scripts, throw out what isn’t funny and keep what is. I’ve had my grammar corrected by Sting, been threatened with cannibalism by Mike Tyson, shared a group hug with Siegfried and Roy and spent an afternoon watching a professional whistler drink corn oil between takes.
I came out of the ad agencies as a writer/creative director. Before that I was an actor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In advertising, being a successful creative person is rewarded with the opportunity to attend more and more meetings. So I ducked outand focused on a very actor-oriented medium.
It all starts with a creative brief. I meet with the client and we try to figure out, “What are we saying here?” There’ll be a mention of tonality – how outrageous can we be.
Writing a radio script is much harder than writing for TV – there’s no visual element to help you tell the story. I cannot write in an office, so I have four or five coffee shops that I sit in every morning. There’s just something about watching all the people and hearing the voices. The distraction fuels me.
Afternoons are usually spent in casting and preproduction for another product. For casting, I send a script out to a number of voice-over agents. I say, “This is what I’m looking for; explore this and feel free to improvise.” Then the agent sends me an MP3 recording of several actors reading the script. Yesterday I listened to 220 voices.
Nowadays you don’t really need to go anywhere to record, because with digital patching you can do it from one end of the country to the other. And a lot of voice actors have their own studio. It’s all beamed to you.
I stay in San Francisco for about 70 percent of what I do. In San Francisco you have interesting, quirky voices. And there’s a history of comedy in this town, so there’s a lot of very funny people. If I cast out of Los Angeles or New York, voices tend to sound the same after a while.
Hollywood has taken voices away from the great talents. Every single animated feature is littered with celebrities, whether they’re the right voice for the part or not. I listen to these things and go, “I know 10 actors who are completely nameless who could have brought that much more to life.”
The real voice-over guys are not getting that work. They’re getting video game work now.
Occasionally, if I have to work with a celebrity, I go to where they are. I worked with Dave Chappelle a few years ago on some Pepsi spots. He insisted on doing the recording at his office, not in a studio where he could be at a booth.
So he’s reading the scripts and all the Pepsi clients were there and all the agency clients were there. And he’s pretty funny and after about five takes, he says, “People, I’m a comedian. I need laughter. Am I bombing here?”
I said, “Dave, we’re in your office, and nobody can laugh ’cause you’re not in a glass booth. The microphone is right in front of everybody.”
I was at the Mirage in Las Vegas and Mike Tyson comes into this little trailer where I’m working with seven of the biggest men I’ve ever seen. He flops himself down and says, “Y’know, I could eat you right now.” It was just a little power thing. They all started laughing.
Sting was very nice, very cordial. He came in to record some spots for North Face. I don’t remember what it was but he said something in my script was grammatically incorrect. The funny thing was, he was wrong. But it’s Sting. What are you going to do? Tell him he’s wrong?