‘The Fabulous Life’: Chris Flockton of Hartford’s Voice Goes Around the Globe

Saturday, December 07, 2013
When Chris Flockton speaks into a microphone, to an audience of none, he moves his hand sharply. It moves with the changes in the pitch of his voice, like a conductor pushing an orchestra through a staccato passage or a singer showing the musical scale he’s ascending.

Flockton is in the recording studio he built in his home, located in Hartford, near the Pomfret line. A recording program shows the waveforms created when Flockton says:

“You’ve always heard, ‘reach for the stars’ — we just bring them a heck of a lot closer.” He adds a chuckle. “You’re welcome. The new 93.7 Sky FM.”

His voice, bigger and brassier than it is in conversation, glides along the syllables. “The result you get when all the stars in a Utah sky align — flawless,” he continues. “The new sound of 93.7 Sky FM. Trust the music.”

Those vocal tracks, soon after, would be transmitted across the country to a Utah radio station. It was just another bit of work for Flockton, who has made a career as a voiceover artist for nearly two dozen years, providing a British sound that has found its way into ESPN commercials, Jimmy Kimmel Live bits and every episode of VH1’s celebration of absurd wealth, as narrator of The Fabulous Life Of , which ran from 2003 to 2008.

For those who watched the VH1 show, Flockton’s voice — a deeper, back-of-the-throat version of it — was as encoded into the show’s DNA as ultra-rich celebrities. His voice, which in context sounded like it was delivered from atop a diamond-encrusted throne, gave the show its unctuous charm.

Flockton, 46, promotes his services as “British Voiceover.” His accent serves him well.

“I’ve lived in this country for quite a long time, so I don’t have a sort of fresh off the boat ‘Allo, gov’nuh’ sort of British accent,” he said.

He’s from Liverpool, England, but years on this side of the pond have evened out his natural dialect. He doesn’t sound like he’s from the north of England, or the south of England, or the Midlands of England, places with regional accents. He sounds like what an American might think of as “British.”

It’s a marketable sound, and Flockton isn’t the only one to capitalize on it.

“When U.S. companies are looking to sell overseas a neutral Brit accent is sometimes seen as having an international dimension that many countries are comfortable listening to,” Alex Warner, who bills himself as a “British Voiceover Guy,” wrote in an email from Spain, where he lives and works.

When he was young, Flockton bounced around England before landing in Boston and then New York. He acted in television and plays — his passion is theater — and participated in sketch comedy groups in New York. At one point, a colleague told him his voice would be good for voiceover. He made a demo.

That was in the early 1990s. Flockton’s voice work existed alongside his acting work until the early 2000s, when he realized that interest was tipping toward voiceover.

“You go with what’s showing you the most love,” he said.

For years, Flockton recorded his voiceovers in New York studios, whether for established clients or for auditions. Eventually, he moved to the suburbs north of the city, where he built his first home studio. He still has the little stool from that studio, its wooden legs cut short due to the studio’s lack of head room.

In 2010, he guest starred as an oil company CEO on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It was just before he left New York. He had the opportunity to tell Mariska Hargitay’s character to “bugger off,” a moment he looks back on with pride.

Then, Vermont. Flockton’s wife, Amy, grew up in the Green Mountain State, and the two would often head there to get away from city life. Now Flockton is more or less a picture of rural Vermont life. He has three cats, five chickens and a horse (and a 6-year-old son). Two more horses live on the property, and have free rein to move from their pen to a sloping backyard with views of ponds and, farther, mountains.

“You make some sacrifices, career-wise, but it’s more than perfect to live in a place you really love,” he said.

His Vermont studio is not showy, nor does it approach the stereotypical picture of a recording studio, with scores of knobs and the sequestered recording booth. Flockton’s studio is a small, sound-dampened room with a desk, three monitors and two microphones that stretch over the screens. Other than the required equipment — a pre-amp, an ISDN box for digital transmission and so on — there’s not much flourish.

Not that there needs to be, for Flockton’s purposes. There are very few studio tricks necessary when it comes to voiceover. If he wants to sound good, he has to do it himself.

And he has to do it on tight deadlines. Many days present a backlog of work, and every day Flockton remotely auditions for new jobs. But any day could see a call from a client who needs something right away. It’s not uncommon for him to get a call from Jimmy Kimmel Live at 6:30 p.m. The show might need narration for a bit in the next 20 minutes, so he’ll get up from dinner, fire up the studio and start recording.

During the day he tries not to venture too far from his house in case of a surprise call. Whenever he goes on overnight trips, such as hosting gigs, he brings a mobile rig. He’s recorded in studios, hotel bathrooms and friends’ closets while on the road.

“That’s sort of the workflow,” Flockton said.

Last week, Flockton recorded his Sky FM radio promos. He was expecting a different script to come in, and so was loath to leave his house. He rifled through files on his computer, looking for an older Sky FM promo. He queued it up.

“In the spirit of fall, the following song is now pumpkin flavored,” came his voice, carried through the whizz-bang sound effects of FM radio. “Mmmm, delicious.”

Jon Wolper can be reach ed at jwolper@vnews.com or 6 03-727-3242.

Will Ferrell does not get embarrassed.

He’s not embarrassed when he’s dancing in tight, white pants on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, or when he’s ice skating in a rhinestone-spangled bodysuit, or when he’s cross-dressing as Attorney General Janet Reno. He’s not even embarrassed to be completely naked, although he’s planning to cut back on the streaking scenes.

“It did get mentioned a lot,” Ferrell said. “ ‘Do you take your shirt off in every movie? You like to get naked all the time.’ So that is now viewed with a little more diligence. If I don’t have to do it for a scene, there’s no need to. Because,” he deadpans, “I want to save those moments.”

Ferrell stopped by the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night on his all-consuming, kind-of-meta press tour for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. He’s clocked far more hours as fictional newsman Ron Burgundy off-screen than he has in both Anchorman movies combined. Ron Burgundy has in recent weeks, among other things, read the real nightly news on North Dakota’s KX News, interviewed Peyton Manning for SportsCenter, shot 70 commercials for Dodge Durango, and announced the Olympic curling trials for the Sports Network in Canada.

Neither Ferrell nor Burgundy knows a whole lot about curling, to be honest. But ignorance has never stopped Burgundy before.

“They gave me a glossary of facts and terms, and I kind of just threw it away,” said Ferrell. “I dove into it as if I was Ron. Because if Ron Burgundy got a call to come announce the National Canadian Finals of Curling, he would say” — Ferrell steps into his Burgundy voice — “Of course! Thank you so much! This is an honor. I’ll see you Tuesday.’ Click. ‘What is curling?’ ”

Ferrell is amused by all the positive feedback the media tour has been getting. AdWeek gushed that the push is “unlike anything done before” and is “changing the way movies are marketed.”

“I keep laughing at it, because this really is an aberration,” he said. “You’re not going to see Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow going on The Tonight Show. It’s a character that lends itself perfectly to this, but I don’t think I can think of any other characters from past movies I’ve done who could do this⅜ ... I know I’m setting myself up for the next movie I do. Another studio will be like, ‘Oh, you’ll do all this crazy stuff, right?’ No, that was a one-off.”

If you didn’t already know Ferrell was capable of great acts of ridiculousness, you’d never guess it from his demeanor. It’s the end of a long day of press, and Ferrell’s still got that for-camera makeup on, his blue eyes glow-in-the-dark bright against a face caked with peachy powder. He speaks in the soft, gentle voice of someone trying not to wake the kids. His outfit — a polka-dot necktie knotted over a checked shirt, tucked into a tweed vest, topped off with a brown jacket — is about as far as one could get from Burgundy’s loud, polyester wardrobe, much of which is on display at the Newseum.

The most surreal part of the whole exhibit, said Ferrell, is to see “that we were so accurate.” Ferrell remembers the first film initially “kind of got pooh-poohed by the news world,” which dismissed the comedy as goofy fiction. And it is a little jarring to see the advertisement for the Anchorman 2 exhibit in the Newseum lobby sandwiched between posters for the JFK assassination exhibit and 1963: Civil Rights at 50.

While introducing Ferrell for a Q&A session, Newseum chief executive James Duff stated his hope that Anchorman will “draw more visitors in” to see the “more serious” exhibits on display.

Ferrell reports that a friend of his dad’s who worked in news vouched for the essential truth in Anchorman : “She’s said, ‘I’m telling you, I know it’s a crazy movie. But it’s the most accurate thing I’ve ever seen. That’s exactly the way news stations were.’ ”

The idea for Anchorman, the 2004 comedy that has become arguably the most-quoted movie of the past decade, came from a documentary Ferrell saw about Jessica Savitch, a broadcast journalist for PBS’s Frontline and NBC Nightly News. Mort Crim, Savitch’s co-anchor, “was being open and honest about the fact that he was a real chauvinist,” said Ferrell. “The thing that struck me was, here he was doing this interview” — switching to Burgundy’s tone again — “but he still kept his effective newscaster voice.”

“I just started imitating him,” said Ferrell. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to see a character ... to see this newsperson who never let that down?”

In Anchorman 2, Ron is confronted with even more opportunities to be blissfully ignorant: One scene takes him to dinner with the family of his black female boss (who he happens to be sleeping with), where his racist behavior gets him punched in the face but somehow doesn’t alienate him from the audience. “Ron’s not doing it maliciously,” said Ferrell. “He’s showing, ‘Oh, I thought this was the way you were supposed to communicate with black people.’

“He can kind of get away with a lot because you can tell there’s a sweetness to the character,” he said. “He’s not a malicious person. And he ultimately will admit when he’s wrong. It may take a while. He just wants to be liked. That’s all.”

Ferrell and Anchorman director and co-writer Adam McKay have a nearly two- decade creative partnership (they both joined Saturday Night Live in 1995) that has remained nearly unchanged in its logistics. “We kind of sit in our office and just start spitballing ideas, from the most linear thought to the most outrageous. ... In the first one, I said to Adam, ‘Should Ron play jazz flute?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes! He absolutely should.’ ”

After flirting with a bunch of other ideas — “What if Ron and the news team are selected to colonize the moon? What if Ron somehow gets involved with Manuel Noriega and gets caught up in that conflict in Panama?” — Ferrell and McKay decided to set Anchorman 2 in 1980, at the dawn of 24-hour news. “At that time, CNN just needed bodies,” said Ferrell. “They had to have people on around the clock. You could conceivably find a guy like Ron on at 2 in the morning. And that’s perfect: to thrust these guys onto that stage, there’s a lot of comedic possibility.”

There is no catchphrase brainstorming session, no way of predicting which quotes will worm their way into the lexicon. “Anyone who says they can, they’re lying,” said Ferrell. “We’ve been asked that: ‘Do you sit and think of catchphrases?’ It’s so hard not to be facetious. ‘Yup, we’ve got a computer program! Yeah, we just run the numbers.’ ”

When the interminable press tour finally ends, Ferrell says he thinks he’ll miss Ron Burgundy. He’s not planning on a third Anchorman movie, he said, and “it’ll be a little sad” to leave this character behind. Starting a new movie from scratch is harder than it used to be, even though Ferrell is more famous than he’s ever been. “Everything’s just really kind of scrutinized on a super hyper level.”

He’s still got a few weeks left to slip into character, though, and being Ron comes naturally now. “Just put the wig and the mustache on,” Ferrell said. “And I’m good to go.”