Samuel Pleitgen, music producer turned voice actor

The music producer turned voice actor talks to us about working with Sting and what’s on his Christmas list.

samuel-pleiten

I am an English speaking voice actor. You can hear my voice in TV commercials of major brands like Canon, Nikon, Cathay Pacific, Warner Brothers, National Geographic, CNN and more.

I used to be a music producer – I’ve worked with British pop bands, UB40 and Sting. A few years ago, I was working with a client at my studio in Shek O and the voiceover talent didn’t show up. We needed to complete the recording by the end of the day and the client liked my voice so I was asked to try. Later, my friend introduced me to a production house in Chai Wan for casting.  

Working with Sting and his band was a great pleasure. They were in Hong Kong as part of their “Mercury Falling” tour. I engineered several live broadcasts from a studio in Hong Kong to radio stations in the US, including the Howard Stern show in New York. It was so much fun – while we were waiting for our time slots we had a lot of time to play around and it ended up being a bit of a jam session between all of us. Sting himself is a really interesting person to spend time with. A very philosophical and extremely well read man who is very much into yoga and meditation. Our conversations were never boring and, of course, his skills as musician completely blew me away.

My first proper voice acting job was a four-word recording which I finished in 5 minutes. It paid me enough to cover the next month’s rent. Then I made a demo tape and sent it out to advertising companies and production houses in Hong Kong.

As a voice actor, you need to be imaginative and flexible. Clients don’t always know what they are looking for.

My most unforgettable job was when the script for a large event at the Wanchai Convention Centre didn’t arrive in time from the US. Instead of recording the five-page script, I had to read it live to the audience, standing behind a curtain while taking cues from at least five different people, none of whom really knew what was going on. It came so close to being a disaster but nobody actually noticed.

I was born in Hong Kong but went to boarding school in India when I was 13. My school was in the Himalayas – that’s where I found my passion for music.

I asked my parents if they would buy me a bass guitar but they said no, so I built a one. I took some drawings and magazines to a local carpenter in India. It took six months to make. I did get a real bass guitar from my parents after my teacher spoke to them.

When the time came to apply to colleges, I told my parents that I didn’t want to study; I wanted to play music instead. My father made a deal with me: I would spend a year in Taiwan to learn Mandarin.

I ended up staying for an extra five years as part of a local band called MIT, short for “Made In Taiwan”. I played bass guitar. We didn’t have any hits but we got a lot of radio airplay. We also won sponsorship from Coca Cola Taiwan. I’m really proud of our album, “We Can Be One”, all written and produced by us.

We toured in Southeast Asian countries. It was unforgettable, but a very young lifestyle: awake all night, asleep all day. My ears became damaged due to the prolonged high volume working environment. Eventually, I decided to be a music producer and studied music engineering in the UK.

One day, I woke up and my heart was telling me to go to Hong Kong. I arrived in 1993, and moved to Shek O. I live in a village house in a friendly neighbourhood. Life here is quiet on the weekdays. I walk barefoot everywhere in Shek O: to the grocery stores, the beach, small restaurants…this year I am the official photographer for Tai Ping Ching Chiu Festival.  

I am a yes man, I say “yes” to every new opportunity. Soon after moving back to Hong Kong, I was wandering around at Art Walk in Stanley. I could sense someone stalking me so I stopped and turned to face her – she worked for a model agency and invited me for a casting. Since then, I’ve been modelling. I have shot around 60 commercials for the likes of Sun Hung Kai Property and Quaker, plus many in China.

Modelling work has taken me to many places: from a freezing Mongolian mountain top at first light (3:15am) in the winter, surrounded by wild horses and curious sheep (I was given a week-long crash course in horse riding so the director could get a single shot of me in full gallop), to driving an SUV at full speed through a very rocky river north of Beijing – I was told not to worry about trashing it.

I live a sober lifestyle. I am a vegetarian now. I wake up at 5:30am every morning, feed my three cats and meditate for up to an hour. After working out, I make myself fresh juices with beetroot, carrot, blueberry, chia seeds. My working day usually starts at 11am. Today might be a voiceover work, tomorrow might be a casting overseas.

This Christmas, I will be hosting a Christmas Eve gathering in Shek O for the 23rd year in a row. Most of Christmas Day will be spent surfing followed by dinner with my close friends next door. I like to keep Christmas simple and not get caught up in the frenzy of it all.

What’s on my wishlist? The gifts of knowledge and new experiences are always welcome in my life, but my christmas wish is for the return of sanity and the end of suffering.

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