Say It Again, New York, New York
I passed the Casablanca Hotel on West 43rd Street several times as I traversed the numerous streets of New York City. If not for an invitation I had received from the recording artists Bella Czar, I would never have entered the hotel’s doors. The Casablanca Hotel exuded an air of romance. The lobby and second floor lounge were classically exotic with a touch of mystique. Was it a coincidence that these were all qualities I also thought were the embodiment of Bella Czar?
It had been a year since I had met with my friends Bella Lamora and Czar Dain in their studio in Sacramento, California. Many changes had taken place for the recording group Bella Czar in that short length of time. My visit with Bella and Czar was to discuss the ensuing transformation within Bella Czar Productions. The reason Bella Lamora and Czar Dain were in New York City was rather interesting and the pair had not come to New York alone. I was also to meet the new voice talent of Bella Czar Productions, Destiny Landon and Lee James.
Tony di Napoli’s Restaurant
After a few pleasantries, we decided to talk while having dinner. We didn’t go far. We dined at Tony’s Di Napoli Restaurant, which adjoined the hotel. We laughed and chatted over savory dishes of hot antipasto, chicken and shrimp Capri, chicken Scarpiello, salmon Oreganato and steak Pizzaiola. The wine and sparkling water flowed as freely as the conversation and laughter. At one point before dinner arrived Destiny complained that she was starving. She stared at Lee who was calmly eating his salad. “Don’t look at me!” He chuckled when he noticed Destiny’s blue gaze focused on him. “Please,” Destiny drawled, “I need to sink my teeth into some red meat, not a scrawny vegetable.” For some reason I didn’t think she meant the salad. Yep… that’s the way dinner went.
NWTW: What have you been doing lately? What brings you to New York?
Czar Dain: A book. He smiles but says nothing more.
NWTW: Umm, Czar, can you be more specific? What kind of book? The Yellow Book, Blue Book, dictionary, an encyclopedia… I throw an inquisitive look around the table hoping someone will help me out. Bella Lamora comes to my rescue.
Bella Lamora: Since you were last in our studio in Sacramento we started doing voice-overs for books and commercials. We’re here to do the audio version of two novels to be published later this year and a commercial.
NWTW: Congratulations! What made you go into the field of voice-overs?
Bella Lamora: Believe it or not, partly you. After we did the voice-over for your short story, Death Came To Call. We received a lot of good feedback and several offers from authors and producers for audio books and commercials. When we though about it, it just seemed like a natural progression.
NWTW: You said authors and publishers contact you quite often. Do you do all kinds of books and commercials? Do you have a limit of how many books per time period? And are there certain materials or genres you choose not accept?
Czar Dain: We don’t restrict our work but we are realistic about limitations. We really want to give each project our best and you can only take on just so much. We made the decision from the start that we would not accept works of graphic violence, SMBD, graphic or hard-core erotica. There are so many great books out there we don’t feel the need to venture into those genres.
NWTW: Do you enjoy doing voice-overs? Which do you prefer more, writing lyrics and producing music or performing voice-overs?
Czar Dain: Each venue has its challenges. Punching out exciting and engaging audio is easy, but editing 20 hours after recording is not. Voice-over work is already scripted. You just let the creative characters flow out.
However, creating original music in our studio, writing the lyrics and the melodies for both the instruments and the vocalists, all take a lot more time to conceive.
Bella Lamora: It’s really apples and oranges. Bella Czar is a creative expression of our music. The voice-overs are an expression of someone else’s work; we are more or less a tool to be wielded, either by an author or a producer.
NWTW: What exactly is “punching out”?
Czar Dain: Punch out means to record something quickly. The act of recording your voice.
NWTW: Can you tell me what books you have recorded?
Bella Lamora: We did audio and background music and sound track for The Secrets of Paradise Bay by Devon Vaughn Archer; Killing With The Edge Of The Moon by A. A. Attanasio; Tears Of A Vampire and Born to Darkness by Lorraine Kennedy…
Czar Dain: Dare the Devil by Elaine Raco Chase, and Inhibition by Valerie Bowen there are a few more I just can’t remember them all off the top of my head.
NWTW: That’s an impressive list. How do you juggle the voice-over work and Bella Czar’s up-coming CD as well as videos? They all laugh and start to speak at the same time.
Czar Dain: Juggle is the right word. Right now production of our second CD is moving at a slower pace. The voice-overs have taken off like wildfire. Look at this. Czar holds his arm out to me. It is tanned and firm but I don’t see anything unusual.
NWTW: What am I missing?
Czar Dain: This tan didn’t come from the sun; it came from putting out all those hot flames in our studios. Bella, Destiny and Lee show me their tan and toned limbs as well. Must be a heck of a lot of fires!
NWTW: Do you primarily use the studio I visited in Sacramento?
Bella Lamora: No, we use both studios but we work more out of San Francisco these days.
NWTW: You’ll have to invite me there one day. I’ve never been to San Francisco. I turn to the two new artists of Bella Czar Productions. You two have been rather low-key this evening. I know for a fact that is not your nature. I have heard you two laughing and caring on in the background when I call Bella sometimes.
Destiny Landon and Lee James look at each other, then me. They both start to deny my assertions at the same time.
Destiny Landon: Surely not me!
Lee James: You must have called the wrong place…
NWTW: Okay, okay. I get it. Tell me something about yourselves. How long have you been doing voice talent work? I listened to the voice-over samples on both of your websites. You two are excellent. I liked all the different tones and accents.
Lee James: I started off in radio and comedy in Northern California. Then moved to commercials and audio books and a few movie trailers. In all, I’d say around seven years give or take.
NWTW: I’m very nosy Lee, so you’ll just have to excuse me for asking, you and Destiny seem to have a rather long history. Is there more to your relationship other than professional? I couldn’t help noticing how comfortable you are with each other. Destiny, who was in the process of drinking her wine, starts to cough. Lee pats her lightly on her back.
Czar Dain: I know exactly where she’s going with this Lee, bail out while you can! Bella and Czar groan loudly and call out a warning to Lee and Destiny. They know the drill. I grilled them on the same subject when I visited them in California. I like a good romance. You can’t blame a girl for trying!
Lee offers nothing on the subject. He relaxes back in the booth, a big beautiful white smile stretches his lips. His blue-gray eyes sparkle with mystery. There’s something going on with him I might not get it during this interview but trust me I WILL get the answer.
Destiny Landon: We’re just really good friends and close associates. Lee and I caught a few jobs together about five years ago and now when one of us gets a gig, we try to see if there is an opening for the other. We work well together and know how to play on each other’s nuances. A lot of our clients comment on our chemistry. They like it.
I had heard her voice several times but as I looked at Destiny it was hard to reconcile the rich dulce tones she emitted with her Goth appearance. It was almost as if someone threw Elvira and Pat Benatar into a blender and out came Destiny Landon. Whatever happened, it seems to works for her.
NWTW: How long have you been in the business of voice-over?
Destiny Landon: About ten years, this is going on my eleventh.
NWTW: How did you get started?
Destiny Landon: Believe it or not, I used to work for a California tour bus company. I was one of the guides that pointed out and explained all the sites. A guy with a voice talent agency happened to be on my bus one day and when the tour was finished he handed me his card and told me, “You’re better than this kid.” I know it sounds like a line out of some movie but that’s how I got my start. I’ve loved it ever since.
NWTW: You’re really good. I’ve heard some of your work. Do you or Lee ever think about acting?
Lee, Destiny and Bella: They laugh. We are acting!
NWTW: I’m sorry, let me clarify. Must be the wine… Do you ever think about acting on the big or small screen, you know, movies, shows, etc.?
Lee James: Shrugs. Sometimes.
NWTW: You’re kidding right? Usually in a group you have one, maybe two, attractive people. You’re ALL very attractive, have mucho talent and you’re not interested in movies or television?
Bella Lamore: We’re not saying that. What we’re saying is if the opportunity should arise we wouldn’t say no. No one has contacted us yet.
NWTW: I’m sure someone will, probably sooner than later. How did Destiny and Lee find Bella Czar Productions?
Czar Dain: After we started getting offers for voice-over work, Bella and I realized we needed to join forces with other voice talents so we could offer a broader range of talent. Destiny joined us first. She and Bella had crossed paths a time or two. Lucky for us, when Bella asked her to join Bella Czar Productions she didn’t hesitate. Destiny in turn, introduced us to Lee James as well as a few clients.
NWTW: Even though you’re fairly new to the field, what do you think makes Bella Czar Productions unique in voice-over talent?
Czar Dain: Many voice-over artists work alone, possibly because they want sole recognition. We found by offering both female and male narrators who work together to play out each gender, the voice-overs sound much more believable and realistic. The story becomes much more engaging and entertaining.
NWTW: I agree. As I said to Destiny, I heard, The Secrets of Paradise Bay by Devon Vaughn Archer. It reminded my of when I was a child and my father and I sat by the radio and listened to “Mystery Theater” on Sunday nights while the rest of my family was watching television. I quite enjoyed the audio book. Whose idea was it to also add the music and sound effects? Everyone points to Czar. Why am I not surprised?
NWTW: To Destiny and Lee. Do you find working with Bella Czar Productions to be the same, or different from when you where out on your own or with other agencies?
Destiny Landon: I have worked with other groups and on my own in the past. The thing that drew me to Bella Czar Productions was their dedication. It doesn’t matter if the client is a new or an established best-selling author; they receive the same quality of work on their project. I also like the artist freedom I’m allowed. Bella Czar respects me and doesn’t have a problem deferring to my years of experience if need be.
Lee James: I liked the idea of the sound effects, music and editing all being done in one studio. I had a lot of jobs previously where I was literally sent all over the planet just to complete one project. It was tiring and after running around all day, it drained a little of my creativity. I’ve never seen someone come up with some of the music and background Czar creates for our client’s audio books.
NWTW: By the way, you never did give the titles and authors of the books you’re here in town to work on, nor did you mention the commercial.
Bella Lamora: In due time. We’re still in negotiations, but you will be the first to know.
NWTW: Anything to say in closing?
Czar Dain: The next time we sit down with you, I hope we’ll be telling you about the list of movie trailers we have narrated. And that we are ready to release our second CD.
Lee James: Stephanie Meyer, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark and Stephen King, where are you? Bella Czar Productions is waiting for you.