William Shatner schools a director

Here's a smashing recording of an commercial audio recording session with William Shatner. The director in the booth has lots of notes for Captain Kirk, and Kirk gives it to him, with astounding, passive-aggressive, brilliance.

Click through to hear (warning: autoplaying audio)

William Shatner Voice Session (Thanks, Mary!)


  1. Why are we celebrating this? From two seconds in Shatner seems like the biggest douche. Every voice actor is asked to give multiple readings and then they parse them together or pick the one the director thought works best.

    Frankly, after having watched Shatner sign at cons for $80 and ignore the people he was signing for and talk to the rep beside him, I am not surprised he’s a piece of dreck, but let’s not cheer him on as he mocks the person who is effectively his boss.

    1. This director has absolutely no ability to handle vocal talent. A professional commercial v.o. director doesn’t just sit there in the control booth and let the talent blather without giving him an ounce of specificity. Telling someone who has a huge reputation for voiceover that you  want more “excitement,” right out the gate, without providing details, is amateurish, not to mention bad judgement. It would put off anyone who knows he’s a pro.

      When he provides a hilariously bad guide-vocal rendition, Shatner imitates it absolutely dead-on, and proves that he can do whatever he’s directed to — if he’s directed.

      He’s absolutely right when he says, “I am going to do it your way. You know what you want.” And the director says, “No I don’t.” I mean, ferchrissake, he might as well tattoo his incompetence on his forehead. He’s totally cowed by Shatner, and he deserves to be. Shatner handled him perfectly.

      1. This is a pet peeve here: I loathe the use of the word “talent”. It implies that talent is only in front of the camera, which is blatantly untrue, and an insult to the team effort that any production is.

        (Indeed, the talent shortage of the director is apparent here)

        1. My understanding is that they use the word “talent” anyplace they really want to say “performing monkey”.

          Gerald has a point about the director though, especially in voice work. They have no cues to go off of, so if you want it a specific way, you have to describe it that way. They also rarely want to be there, because voice work is the sort of thing that fills an afternoon or two in between on-screen roles. An actor has to work, but most of the time they hate the fact that they have to do it.

          The director has to drag them through, and make sure you actually get something useful out of it. He’s treating Shatner like a delicate star, and not someone they’re paying.

    1. While Shatner is having some fun with the director, but more importantly, he’s giving the director a valuable lesson in the both the proper roles of director and actor, and on the value of actual voice talent.

      The difference between Shatner’s apt imitation of the director and Shatner’s first take make quite clear that the director needs to understand better how to effectively direct, and that voice talent is much more than simply talking.

  2. What is with this (notably american) pejorative obsession of jumping to the ‘passive aggression’ label?

    Sure, Shatner was gently taking the piss because the director was clearly failed both at a) successfully describing what was wrong and b) effectively demonstrating what he (the director) considered as the correct way.

    Bill simply took the guy to task, I think that is totally fair in the circumstances. He did it with good humour and was essentially saying – if you want to be the guy in the chair calling the shots you need to be ready to be taken at your word. The guy openly admitted he didn’t really know what he wanted and his attempt at voice-over was hilariously bad.

    My reading of passive aggression is not where folks are just trying to deal with unexpected, frustrating or unsettling situations, it is where people are setting out deliberately to be hostile but wrapping it up as sincerity. At worst I thought WS was maybe a little peeved at the cluelessness – aggressive? … not so much.

    1. Speaking of passive aggressive, what is with this (notably British) pejorative obsession of jumping to the ‘americans are dim’ label?

        1. Oh no. The Scottish believe Americans are dim too. And when I read some of Xeni’s posts about your healthcare system, I’m beginning to wonder…

          1. Scotland wouldn’t even have health care if the lazy Scots weren’t supported by the saintly, hard-working English. When they’re not too busy being run over by shiftless, illegal Polish immigrants, that is.

            Can you tell that I read the Daily Mail?

          2. If it didn’t appear that over half the population has fallen victim to something like that kind of defeatist self-labeling, we might have had the will to vote for independence.

          3. In the context of the vote, I’d say it’s more of a rationalisation for having chosen what appears to be the ‘sensible’, ‘adult’ thing to do. Rationalisation or not, it synthesises something like the cringe, I guess.
            Although, if you ever meet a Scot that doesn’t bloody love being Scottish, let me know. I’m interested in unique individuals.

        2.  Not so much the British, or English, as the non-Americans.

          And also Americans, who, despite some truly stellar international competition, still manage to be their own worst critics.

      1. Who said anything about Americans being dim? I didn’t.
        I do however frequently see US commenters on this and many other blogs jumping to the PA issue – I’d cite examples if I could be bothered ;-) that is why I raised the point.I think it is a cultural issue, in the same way Brits are seen as reserved and over polite (we often are), people from the states are more direct but for some strange reason vilify anyone just politely disagreeing with them.

    2. You don’t think saying, “Is that the way you’d like me to do it? Okay. I’ll do it that way,” counts as being “hostile but wrapping it up as sincerity?”

    3. Shatner was gently taking the piss

      I’d agree with you for the first 2/3, but then he started rubbing it in pretty hard when he refused to quit after the dude cried uncle…

  3. I don’t blame Shatner. It’s infuriating to be hired as a professional only to be criticized by a know-nothing. It doesn’t matter that they’re paying him. If you pay Annie Liebowitz to do a portrait and then ask her to make it look like it was Instagrammed do you think she’ll appreciate it? If you pay Jerry Seinfeld to do a set at your club and then ask him to put on a clown suit he’ll appreciate it? Here’s one that will be close to home for BoingBoingers – If you get hired as a web designer and your client complains that you didn’t use Comic Sans, do you appreciate it? I think a lot more people would react like Shatner if they could afford it. Unfortunately most of us have to put up with it or not get paid.

    1. I thought it was wonderful. Right off, he mimics the director’s crummy reading so perfectly. He used his voice like a great musician: ask and you shall receive, , , but be careful what you ask for, and god help you if you don’t know what you’re doing.

  4.  An immortal classic. Both parties at fault there.

    I’ve occasionally directed VO sessions and the anonymous professionals will attempt almost anything you ask and surprise you at how good it can be.  They’re paid by the hour, not by the page.

    A college professor of mine told of how Oscar-winner Mercedes McCambridge had been obtained by the backers of a documentary he was making to voice the narration.

    She was quite sure that her first take was always excellent and while she didn’t actually refuse his direction she would sabotage all further takes with a cough or by bumping the mic or stumbling over a word.

  5. Shatner was really being a dick. As a guy who directs voice over talent I can tell you what talent does NOT like, especially known actors, is to be given a “line reading”, that is, for a director to say, “Do it like this” and then read the line to them. It’s kind of a taboo. Now, Shatner ASKED for a line reading and the director fell into it, given him a terrible reading which in fact was not that different from what Shatner did in the first place! Shatner then took it way too far, well past professional, essentially refusing to do the job he was hired for, a job he accepted. If I was there I would have told the engineer to stop rolling, kill the mic, and I would have walked into the studio and get it straight with the man one on one.

    1. It was immediately apparent that the v.o. director did NOT know how to direct talent, and Shatner demonstrated that in front of him. I am nobody’s blinkered trekkie Shatner-head, but this director got exactly what he deserved from a professional.

      1. Gerald – respectfully disagree. Shatner’s petulant insistence that the director give him a reading of the next paragraph – when the director had repeatedly apologized and made clear he was wrong – was very unprofessional. The clock is running and there’s work to be done. The man apologized – suck it up and get back to work.

        1. The director doesn’t apologize until after he does his own bad read and then comes to an understanding that (a) he has no idea what he wants, and (b) he is lousy at conveying — through example or description — what he’d like to hear. His comments until that point consist almost entirely of “Uhhh.” The person wasting time here is the director, in the face of Shatner asking how the guy wants it done. From his first off-putting comment it’s clear he has no idea how to work with vocal talent, and all he does from that point on is confirm it.

        2. What I’m getting out of this is that you are probably a better director than the one in the clip. You’ve already suggested two things that he could have done to improve the situation:

          1) Refuse to do a line reading because you *know* you are not an actor

          2) Cut the mic and go deal with the actor face to face

  6. They should have hired Ellen McLain from Portal. I think it’s so cool that a woman in her 50’s who used to read drug side effects in commercials now gets flown around the US to be the “alpha-mom” at gaming conventions.

    In any case, what was wrong with the first take? It sounded quite natural .

    1. I think the director’s original point was valid–it was a little lackluster. But he probably should’ve just asked Shatner to “bring the energy up” or something. He walked right into the Shatner buzzsaw when he read the line in a dull, carefully enunciated voice.

  7. I suspect that what you think of Shatner’s behaviour is much affected by whether you’ve ever done any voiceover work before.

    Regardless, it’s great entertainment.  I just wish I could find a take of this without Stern and his perpetually overstimulated crew guffawing along in the background.

    1.  I’ve done v.o.work, but I have much more experience being in the booth watching directors work with vocal talent for feature films and ad spots (I wrote the dialogue), and so I have a lot to compare this alleged director to when I side with Shatner by saying that this guy is worthless.

  8. I hadn’t heard this one.

    I’m familiar with the animated Star Trek outtakes where he pronounces “sabotahge” as “sabotaage” (canadian accent, where the final “a” vowel sounds exactly like the first “a” vowel sound), and then declares himself “sickened” when the director tries to correct him.

  9. Okay, so what is it about my browser config that this was auto-playing, did that not happen for anyone else?

  10. I remember hearing the final version of that line on TV. It sounded way better than any of the deliveries heard in this clip so I have to assume that they stopped dicking around and got the job done one way or another.

  11. I have been in this situation before, kind of. I direct a lot of voice actors in my line of work. One thing you learn very early on is to NEVER read the lines for the actors. You do everything you can to pose the problem in a way that they can solve it, but it is the greatest insult to their professionalism and ego to just read it as if you were as good as they. But that being said, Shatner took it way too far here. The Director clearly realized his mistake too late, but was contrite and tried to make amends. Shatner wouldn’t let it go well after he had made his point.

  12. You really should acknowledge the Howard stern show for this clip. It is obviously pulled directly from the show, and has been played on the show many times. They played it for WFS himself. His explanation was delivered in the same way that he mocks the director In this clip.

  13. Speaking as director, albeit not a famous one, Shatner is spot on and this has happened to many other ignorant directors before. If you’ve got the budget to hire Shatner (or any other actor at that level), you’d better know how to direct.

    This guy makes the two most fatal errors that mark someone with no clue how to direct – result direction and a line reading, so the whole session is a waste of time from the get go. It’s extremely vulnerable being an actor as you are at the mercy of script, direction, lighting, sound, editing – those all can make the best actor of all-time look awful – and it’s preserved for all time.

    The only lesson here is for aspiring directors – read Judith Weston now if you don’t want to end up here when you try to make an accomplished actor look like an idiot – and record or film them.

  14.  On the other hand, Patrick Stewart, who does quite a bit of VO work himself, has said in interviews that he doesn’t resent getting suggestions from a director.

    His attitude is that the director has been living this project since its inception and may just possibly know what the goals are more than Patrick Stewart, famous actor, who has just seen the script for five minutes.

    So someone needs to go tell Patrick Stewart that he doesn’t know how a voice-over session should work.

    1.  Bingo. If I want a line read a certain way, it’s because I’ve got a certain goal. I’ve got the production in my head. I know what I want it to sound like. But if I couldn’t express it, I’d be better off keeping my mouth shut and let the high priced talent call the shots. Frankly, I’m doubting the other voice we hear is the director. Sounds more like a mid-level suit trying to feel like a big shot but quickly realising he’s out of his depth.

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