Today we get to hear from Cari Scholtens who applied to Bioware’s Explorer’s Wanted Contest last year. She recently got the chance to come out to Los Angeles and be a part of one of the biggest games of the year. Make sure to check out Cari online and Mass Effect: Andromeda when it hit stores March 21st.
I was sitting on my couch watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when I found out. My phone binged.
“Hi Cari. You’ve been selected as a potential winner of the Explorers Wanted contest.” Was the first sentence the reached off the screen to slap me in the face. I had nearly forgotten about the contest as my final presentation for my master’s degree loomed on the horizon. They needed a form from me of some kind and needed it in a timely manner. My printer was out of ink so I peeled out of my parking lot and zipped to school to print it.
My heart raced the whole time, but it was tempered by that word…potential. What did it mean? What did it depend on? How long would I have to wait before it was official? So it was that I filled out their form, scanned it back to ol’ Sean and began the stomach churning, cheeks burning waiting game.
On a cold November day, grey and overcast, I had taken a day off to drive north to Big Rapids, Michigan to give my master’s presentation. I had only told a few people of the contest so if I hadn’t indeed won, I wouldn’t have to come back with my tail between my legs.
Anyway, on that dreary day that was the farthest thing from my mind as my master’s presentation was much more immediate and dire. After about forty five minutes of blind rambling and displaying a documentary I had created on the importance of a school administrator being a good mentor, I was on my way back to Greenville for basketball practice with my team. If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a teacher and a coach at a small Michigan high school. I had practice that night but at the time-being, I was calm and satisfied. I had my masters. Something I had been breaking my back on for almost three years and with a Caesar-esque upturned thumb of my masters committee I had it.
Practice that night was a breeze. It was early in the season yet, and my girls were all kindly asking how my presentation had gone…that’s when my phone binged again.
“Congratulations. You are a winner!”
For the first time it was official. They would fly me to LA, put me up in a swanky hotel, by me the fanciest fare. All of the things I had read about and figured it would be as likely as being struck by lightning…these things would happen to me.
My students were geeked as one would expect, where most of the respected adults whom I call colleague had never heard of Mass Effect or indeed any videogame other than Pong and Mario. Nothing like that mix of reviews to keep you grounded, I guess.
After months of planning, stressing, form-filling and desperately trying not to get sick, I was on a plane bound for Los Angeles.
I had to remind myself that I was chosen from thousands…over 16,000 they’d said. I had something they liked. I had done nothing special with my voice save a few red leather, yellow leathers. No accents, barely anything that I would dub “acting”. I just said the lines like I imagined the character would. That meant there was something about me, just me, the way I was that made them choose my needle from the haystack.
My alarm buzzed at 8 AM the next day in the hotel though I had already been awake for about an hour. I turned on some music and tried to take my time in the hot water. My body ached from the worry and the unfamiliar mattress. I wandered downstairs and met Sean, the representative from Bioware, and the other winner, Kyle, for breakfast.
My worry dissipated as we chatted over a feast of French toast and eggs and various other forms of breaking our fasts. Kyle was a super guy, though I was still a bit intimidated by him because he had done voice work before. We talked about the process of the contest and how long it took to sift through the thousands of entries. Then Sean pointed at me.
“Caroline really liked your audition for Jordan Tate. She said she could hear in your voice that you were smiling. That was what set you apart.” He said. All the flittering butterflies in my stomach dropped dead in an instant. That had seemed like a natural choice for me. The character was introducing herself, so why wouldn’t I smile? Maybe there was less mystique to this whole thing than I had initially surmised. Maybe I could excel just as much as the next girl. Just maybe.
My mind exhaled relieved as I saw neatly printed parking spaces each with a “Reserved” sign on it. We got out of the car and Sean led us to a less than spectacular metal door.
“Right this way.” He said, holding the door for me and Kyle.
The inside of the building was beautiful, exposed brick and ductwork. Natural light flooded in a few of the windows. To the right a little kitchenette displayed donuts and bagels and any flavor or coffee, tea or soft drink that we could possibly desire. We waited in a little alcove for Caroline the voice director came to receive us.
“So here are our winners!” she said, jovially as she reeled around the corner and embraced us both. Kyle and I both stumbled over our thank-yous and our greetings of the staff.
“So,” she said. “I figured you all might benefit from watching a few actors do their thing and then we’ll toss you right in.”
There was another actor reading lines in the booth, the process of which I found fascinating. At a few different times, Caroline turned to Kyle and me and said “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Or “No tweets, no posts!” We could tell she meant business. For my part I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode and stuffed it into my back pocket.
After about a half an hour, the door to the booth opened and there, poking his head timidly inside was Tom Taylorson a.k.a. Scott Ryder. People near him were being very quiet so… very quietly, I stood up, shimmied through the crowded booth to where he was and stuck out my hand with a confidence the belied my true feelings.
“Tom? Cari Scholtens. Kyle and I are the contest winners.” I whispered, shaking his hand. He smiled a handsome Hollywood smile that nearly made my knees give out.
“Very nice to meet you, Cari. Congratulations.” He said, not feeling nearly the need to whisper that I did. He was much more at home here than I, so that made sense, I suppose.
We watched the other actor finish the slated lines and then it was Tom’s turn. As I sat there and watched him and listened to Caroline’s direction I realized that this whole voice over affair made much more sense to me than I thought it would. I found that there were times when I felt like I knew what Caroline’s suggestions would be. There was a certain arithmetic to it all, logical beyond my expectation. Emphasize this word, then a different word, then another. More angry, more scared, more tentative, more sure, louder, softer, more surprised, more sexy. These were her suggestions and I found myself thinking what I would change if that were her direction to me.
Just as I was getting comfortable, Fryda frickin’ Wolff walked in. Sara Ryder in all her glory joking about us being the “The Big Weeeeners!” She endeared herself to us instantly. She was funny and vibrant and kind and gave us all tips and tricks of the trade. My fear that either she or Tom would be standoffish in the slightest dissipated in fairly short order.
At long last, it was my and Kyle’s turn. I had long ago called dibs on the first go of it as I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be.
“You want me to…you know what? I’ll go in with you. You know, just in case you need anything or any help or whatever.” Fryda chimed in.
“Thanks, Fryda. That would be great.” I said, figuring that a little help from the main character could only be a positive. I was impressed at their willingness to help Kyle and me. They didn’t have to do that. They didn’t even have to stay and watch us, but they had taken such an active role of their own volition. I was so humbled by their kindness.
About three lines in and Caroline says into my headphones “Sit tight. I’m going to get you a green apple.”
I shot Fryda a confused look.
“Green apples are alkaline,” she explained. “When you are doing lines like this, you are swallowing your spit faster than you can make it. This will help you make more spit. Don’t just eat it. Work it up under your lips and gums and it’ll help so you don’t sound smacky.”
“Well, I’ll be darned.” I said, totally unaware of this whole anatomical strategy.
She was right. It did help. What pleased me most was that Fryda and Caroline didn’t have to give me very many tips on what I would consider “acting”. More of what they said seemed to be things like keeping my mouth spitty and making sure to hold still so my clothes wouldn’t make noise and how to stand so my knees wouldn’t shake and not forgetting to breathe.
“You definitely don’t have to do it all in one breath. They can edit out any mouth sounds.” Fryda explained.
“Well, I am a big fan of breathing.” I joked in response.
I stood there before Tom and Kyle and Caroline and Sean and Judy, the sound gal and did my lines as best as I knew how. Every so often I would see Tom look over and Caroline with a very pleased expression on his face. I could be so wrong, but it felt to me as though I was offering up a very pleasant surprise. They had every right, after all, to assume I was just some Midwestern schmuck who didn’t know voice acting from cow milking. But even Caroline would shake her head once in a while in a somewhat happily incredulous manner. The more relaxed I was, the better I did.
“You sound so natural.” Fryda complimented.
“Awww. Thank you, Fryda. I hope so.” I said.
“Well, being natural is important. When people come in here and try to ‘act’ it sounds stupid. You just came in and were you. That’s what we want.” She continued.
When I finished they applauded in the booth and I just breathed a sigh that I felt I had been holding in for months. Sean and I performed a very Predator-esque high five and he pulled me in close.
“Cari, that was good shit.” She said in low tones meant just for me.
Then he wanted a few pictures of Fryda and I so I pulled my headphones around my neck for effect. Through them, I could hear the Caroline and Tom talking in the booth and singing my praises and making my cheeks go irreparably pink. Fryda, a good head shorter than me, looked up and asked “can you hear what they are saying?”
I smiled a smile dueling pride and sheepishness. This was all almost too much.
“Yeah, I can,” was all I could manage. Fryda hugged me closer and congratulated me.
It was then Kyle’s turn and he was phenomenal. More than me, he had the voice that he did for characters, which was distinctly different than his normal voice. It was a very impressive display and I was proud to watch it behind the scenes. We had a little extra time scheduled after that so Caroline threw me back into the booth to record a few more lines which she hadn’t thought there would be time for. It was neat to get to go back in one more time…almost like nearly waking from a dream but finding your way back into it for just a few minutes more.
And then it was done. We had finished the day. I had done all I wanted to do, including slipping Caroline a copy of my demo reel. From there, we were off to dinner at some place in town. It was all the people of the day and few more. I remember sitting there and just watching them receive each other like dukes and duchesses would. Hollywood-types through and through and yet warmer than I expected.
At one point I came back from the bathroom, to find, theater man, his wife, Tom, Sean and Caroline leaning in to our end of the table almost as a basketball team would huddle. They turned with that ever-damning “we were just talking about you” twinkle in their eye.
“What?” I chuckled.
“They were just telling us what a great job you did today.” The man said before asking again if I had EVER done any voice work. If they were not really having that discussion, I am willing to live in blissful ignorance. For that moment and in fact the whole meal, they all made me feel special. Like just being who I was thoroughly Cari Scholtens, was something to be proud of.
We laughed and joked about anything and everything namely the fact that there was a menu item called the “pumpkin slab” which we naturally ordered and split among us all.
“Yes, I’ll have the pumpkin chunk.” I jested.
“Do you have the pumpkin squidge here?” another boomed. We laughed and laughed until we realized the restaurant was empty and we found we hadn’t noticed how late it was. We all hugged and said our goodbyes. I thanked Fryda for being my security blanket.
“Pfft. Like you need me. You did a great job all on your own.” She said. We got an Uber back to the hotel and from there on, everything blurred together until I was back in Michigan in my own bed.
School the next day was torturous. Jet lag aside, I had to tell my kids more often that I couldn’t tell them anything because of my NDA. But, who knows, maybe even that added an element of cloak and dagger to me that they would respect. You never know with high school freshmen. You never know.
The whole experience was unforgettable and it left me with a desire for more. I wonder if this will lead to more voice acting jobs and experiences. Most of my life has been a long series of trying things with the idea of “you never know” in the back of my head. I threw my name into the hat with 16000 others because well, you never know.
Does it always pay off? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try things. Sometimes they can lead to grand adventures which you can tell your kids about and sometimes they can begin you on a path of self-discovery. Sometimes they lead you to a restaurant on the edge of Los Angeles which has an incomparable pumpkin slab.
Feature Image Credit: Bioware
Additional Images: Bioware Blog
Cari Scholtens is an admitted 80s sitcom junkie, a gamer, a teacher and is now moonlighting as a voice-over artist. You can contact her @carischoltens on Twitter and listen to her demos for animation or commercials on and YouTube (animation and commercial also available here). For business inquiries you can contact her directly at [email protected] or at Casting Call Club.