On March 7th, voice actor Hal Douglas died of pancreatic cancer. If you watch television or movies, you are familiar with at least some of his work. Probably one of the most amusing segments he has ever performed is this trailer for the Comedian, a rare instance where Hal Douglas got to show his face.
Hal Douglas didn’t have the most diverse voice-acting skills. He wasn’t Seth MacFarlane, Frank Welker, or Mel Blanc. In fact, he did very little voice acting and instead did primarily voice-over work, only occasional providing narration to a film or TV show itself. Rarely was he a cast member within a tale itself. He was a niche performer that provided a key element to the success of films and television shows for years. And he’ll be missed.
As a fan of film and television, the passing of someone like Hal Douglas underlines the small but critical roles the ‘rest of the cast’ plays in the success of films. We think of the headlining actors, the directors. They define a movie. When people talk about the Rock, they may refer to it as ‘a Jerry Bruckheimer movie’ or ‘one of Michael Bay’s movies’ or it starring ‘Sean Connery and Nichols Cage’. And yet, it is one of Hal Douglas’ most iconic voice-over roles. His dramatic narration in the trailer helped to redefine trailers in the 1990s. Perhaps not the biggest accomplishment in the grand scheme of things, but trailers are an art unto themselves. And to be trailblazer in any art form is something to stop and take notice of, and to respect.
Movies used to be made by dozens of people. Now, they’re made by thousands of people. Each one, an artist. Each one hoping to put his or her stamp of creativity into the final product. Each one doing their part to help bring to life a work of artistic majesty. Next time you watch a movie, sit through the credits. Read the names of everyone you can. If you were Best Boy Grip or 2nd Unit Carpenter, you’d want your name read.
Think about your favorite movie trailers, and consider what it is about them that make them good. The framing, the pacing, the shot selection. The voice-over work.
And the next time you see the trailer for a movie, think about how many people went into the creation of that mini-film, whose sole existence is just to psyche you up for the film itself.
As an anime fan, I admire the work of voice actors and voice-over artists, perhaps more than most. As a fan of trailers, that admiration is only compounded. The loss of such a distinct voice like Hal Douglas is a loss to the art form.