He’s one of Hollywood’s most recognizable voices, having narrated countless movie trailers, documentaries, and commercials throughout his career. Here's a brief glimpse of what a day at work is like for the voice actor.
Bill Ratner is also one of America’s leading storytellers. He teaches “Voiceovers for Storytellers” at the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and at storytelling festivals and conferences across the country. His most recent book, Parenting for the Digital Age, was just released with Familius this year. We thank him for his talents and for his willingness to share some of the wisdom he's gained throughout his career.
My dad was Managing Editor of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine when I was a little boy, and he often took me to work where I met the air-brush artists who drew the cars and cakes for the display ads. I played with the art supplies, and watched my dad design ads for the magazine. Later, he became Marketing Director for General Mills where I watched announcers record voiceovers, and musicians play on the commercial jingles. I had a bird's-eye view as a child of how and why ads were made. When I watched TV with my dad, he always commented on the TV ads, critiquing the style and content of the commercial. He wanted me to know what I was watching and how it was designed.
When I was twelve years old, I started a radio club with my friends in the neighborhood—The Brotherhood of Radio Statins—and I've been fascinated by electronic media and the communications field ever since.
What clued you in to the effect media has on children?
I was a TV addict as a child (which my older brother never hesitated to point out to me). Early on Saturday mornings, I sat, watching the test pattern on the local TV stations before the kids' programming came on, so I was aware even then of the mesmerizing power TV had over me. As a parent I later witnessed the power that media had over my own children, and my wife and I decided to devise a plan and come up with limits on how much time our kids would spend in front of a screen—whether it was TV, a computer, or a hand-held device.
What specific rules did you set in your home regarding media use?
I took my kids' cellphones away on homework nights and hid them in my sock drawer. And we banned TV & videos on homework nights. And on weekends when I would catch my kids watching what I felt was too much TV or videos, I would walk down into my basement and disconnect power to the entertainment center in the family room.
How can parents help their children be wise consumers?
Parents can sit down with their kids, turn on the TV or the computer, look for ads together as a project, and start and stop them as they watch and talk about them—what the ad is selling, how they're selling it, what language advertisers use to lure adults and children, and how effective you think a particular ad is. Watching TV should be done sometimes as a simple science experiment where mom, dad, and the kids are the observers and commenters.
TV commercials have largely been replaced by online ads and hand-held digital devices. What advice would you give parents in this digital age?
Working in advertising and broadcasting, I know that virtually all advertising these days is repurposed for or made specifically for the internet, so children are exposed to every conceivable kind of adult product and service at every turn. It's important that parents help kids analyze what they're watching to better understand it and perhaps be able to look at from a critical distance rather than just be manipulated by it.
Thank you, Bill, for your awesome advice! Click here to view his website, and here to order your copy of Parenting for the Digital Age.