Jim Cissell speaks for himself, and the Fortune 500
Lon Chaney may have been the man of a thousand faces, but West Seattle's Jim Cissell may be the guy with a thousand voices. The award-winning "VoiceGuy" as he calls himself can be heard narrating Disney trailers, promoting Levi's jeans, California avocados, and asks, "Did somebody say 'McDonald's?'"
Cissell, who has been working in Seattle since 1986, may be the city's least recognizable big-time celebrity, working for more than half the Fortune 500, as his voice and not his face is familiar to many. That said, he has appeared in front of the camera on some Boeing and other commercials, more so in the past.
"Less since these ears got bigger over the years," said the modest but successful, youthful 61 year-old as he practiced reading a script for a snowmobile ad in his basement home studio on the water in Fauntleroy.
"Let's see. This asks for a man, age 30, slightly aggressive, and manly," he said, scrutinizing the script. "OK. Here we go." He punched at the dialog like a boxer and flailed his arms as if speaking to a large audience at a recreational vehicle convention. Then he read the disclaimer real fast at the end.
"Speed reading is what you try to do with disclaimers," he explained. "You load up with a big breath and then cut down vowel sounds. Classically-trained actors resonate forever with each sound. Reading the disclaimer is the opposite. You bust through the vowel sound, getting right to the consonant. The consonant is what really shapes the word."
Recording from his basement offers him much control over the sounds exiting his mouth, but there are a few hazards to working out of the house. For instance, his grandfather clock rang loudly in the middle of his script-reading. And there are the natural disasters.
"The noise of the water out there gets in the way, and there's a bald eagle that squawks in my trees," he said without too much disappointment in his voice. But he was quick to add that he otherwise has great acoustics, and even installed a foam padded section in his ceiling over his microphone.
And those voices, from a dead-on Donald Duck to a "crotchety old woman," as he put it. "I can do women's voices, but only when they sound old and crotchety."
Cissell said he was inspired as a youngster watching, or rather listening, to Saturday morning cartoons.
"That's when I started messing with voice. I loved imitating Donald Duck and Goofy. In 1959 we got our first TV, a black-and-white. I was 12, and only allowed to watch one hour a week. I figured out that if I got up early before my parents I could watch three or four hours of cartoons, like Mr. Magoo, and Heckle and Jeckle."
His life took him to the Air Force, stationed in Thailand, and to law school, stationed at the University of Washington.
"I finished getting my degree and passed the bar, but practicing law was too tough, too nasty. This is much more fun."
His wife, Linda Kaye Johnson, is a semi-retired school teacher with the Shorecrest High School English and drama departments in Shoreline for 36 years. She "admitted" she shared her voice with her husband on a few commercial spots. "I think they were desperate," she smiled.
Son, Jamie, did not follow in Dad's footsteps, but instead became a North Highline firefighter at Station 19. Jim said Jamie is very content there.
And as for the VoiceGuy? He is pretty content, too. "It's great pay when you're working, and great fun," said Cissell. "Most workers punch in, do their job, and go home. In this business people compliment you for doing a good job."
To sample many of Cissell's on-air voices, check out: www.voiceguy.com