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Audiobooks are turning to Hollywood to bring classic novels to life

Audiobooks are turning to Hollywood to bring classic novels to life

BY Jessica Gelt

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

"I'm not so sure I got directed as opposed to them allowing me to go into the booth and have as much fun as I could finding the characters and their voices," says Jackson.

Hoffman agrees, adding that reading an audiobook is "a specific kind of talent."

"I don't think I'm good at it. I don't think it comes easily," says Hoffman, who had to stop reading after three hours each day because the task of visualizing the story a step ahead of vocalizing it made him tired. "With acting, you're working off of other people. With this, it's very different."

Plus "Being There" is "written in an almost skeletal way," says Hoffman. "It's lean and almost like a prose poem … and nothing like Jerzy himself, who was a rapid-fire speaker in life — he never paused, there were no periods or commas."

Katz isn't worried about Hoffman's performance, however, which he says is one of many that make listeners realize "why our great actors are our great actors."

"I think they're seeing that they really get to exercise different muscles as actors, and they get a lot of creative control," says Katz. "They're effectively more like the director and actor in that booth, and they're making all sorts of sophisticated decisions, so it's challenging to them."

It's also rewarding to think of spreading knowledge through the ancient art of storytelling, says Jackson.

Reading helps you "explore the world of the mind in a specific way," he says. "I'm always pleased to do that, and I've always fancied myself a storyteller, so this is right down the sightline of what I think is important and viable about passing on literature."

The cost is $14.95 per book, and customers can listen on their computer or download it to any Apple listening device, such as an iPod or iPhone. The books can also be burned to CD via iTunes.

To expand its inventory, Audible.com maintains offices in Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan and also hosts seminars at prominent drama schools across the country, including Juilliard, NYU's Tisch and UCLA, aimed at training actors to perform on audiobooks.

"I've been consistently told that this is one of the only growth markets in the acting business," says Katz. "When it's done right, there is a subtle take on voices — you hear great phrasing, like great singers — all of this to bring words on paper to life, which is what actors do with scripts."

Except that with scripts, actors can sometimes change a word here and there. Not so with audiobooks, says Hoffman, whose director would have him read a passage again if "I said one word that was off, or pluralized a singular. He caught it, and he was looking at each word. He had done his homework — so had I — but he was smarter than me."

Dist. by MCT Information Services

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