“Like building a music ensemble, I was looking for voices that would stand apart from each other, but still compliment and play off of each other tonally.”
-Drew Hodges, Creator & Executive Producer
As with many television series’, “Tumble Leaf” didn’t exactly start out as “Tumble Leaf”. Drew’s first vision of the show was called, “Miro”. “Miro” was the story of a very young boy, not a blue fox! Drew and Kelli were very passionate about casting a young boy in the lead role, a boy who was not necessarily a trained voice-over actor. They wanted someone innocent and real. Kelli turned to her friend, Jodi Downs who just happened to have a three-and-a-half year-old son, Christopher. Christopher Downs… remember that name.
Kelli and Drew wrote a short script, recorded Christopher’s voice, and animated a segment to use as a sales tool to sell “Miro”. Four years passed and finally “Miro” found a home at Amazon. Kelli and Drew collaborated with Amazon and “Miro” developed into what we now know as “Tumble Leaf”.
“Christopher’s voice quality and who he was as a whole little person just felt right for Fig.”
“When we first met Christopher he was like a kid who would talk to anyone, who’d listen (mostly about rocks and rollercoasters), but that energy was perfect for a character like Fig who the audience could easily befriend.”
When it was time to Cast “Tumble Leaf”, the adult voices were cast rather quickly. Kelli & Drew informed Amazon that they wanted to cast Christopher in the lead role of Fig. There was some apprehension on Amazon’s part, as Chris didn’t have any acting experience, but that’s the exact reason that Drew & Kelli wanted Chris for the role – he was a natural!
Let the negotiations begin!
The "It" Factor & Milkshakes!
Kelli & Drew auditioned several more ‘professional’ actors for Fig… the other kids did fine, but none brought the ‘it’ quality to Fig that Christopher had – he was Fig the Fox!
“Tumble Leaf” has two key supporting characters that are voiced by children. Drew & Kelli were able to find two wonderful (working) actors that have terrific chemistry with Chris: Brooke Wolloff (‘Maple’) and Zac McDowell (‘Hedge’). That did it! Problem solved. Win-win-win for Amazon Executives, Producers, and the show!
“Directing voice actors, young or old, for animation is mostly about leading them towards a certain rhythm and energy in their read. You listen to the first natural take, and then refine and experiment and hopefully get inspired to try new lines and directions for the character to tell the story. We only have one try to get it right in animation, but in the booth we can try anything that comes to mind. The voice performance is the fuel the animation performance is powered by so you want to keep working until you can feel what the character is going to do just by listening to the line.”
Christopher Downs was seven-and-a-half years old (same age as Fig!) when he started his role on “Tumble Leaf”. Drew and Kelli both went to that first script record to make sure that Chris’ performance was the best that it could be. Chris did not disappoint. After that session Drew, as “Tumble Leaf’s” Director, formed a bond with Chris and got to know him well enough to come up with some directing techniques that helped Chris’ performances throughout the five years of voice recording that they would experience together. When he wanted to get Chris’ energy up, Drew would ask him about his rock collection or his latest baseball game. To get genuine laughter, Drew snuck into the record booth and put a whoopee cushion on Chris’ chair! And there were always the milkshake rewards for a job well done.
In 2015, Christopher Downs and Zac McDowell were both nominated for a Young Artist Award: Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role – Young Actor, 10 & Under . That same year, Brooke was nominated for a Young Artist Award as well: Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role – Young Actress. All three of our young actors were recognized!
“For Christopher, Zac, and Brooke to get nominated for best voice-over actors, on our first season proved that others thought we were right to cast these genuinely talented kids!”
“When I heard I was nominated, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect or how to react. But then I thought, “I’m an actor… I got this!”
–Christopher Downs TL Actor, Fig the Fox
“I was a very proud Mom when the nominations were announced. To see industry professionals recognize my little man for doing something he enjoyed and worked hard at was incredibly special and a great lesson for Chris.”
–Jodi Downs, Chris’ Mom
The Young Artist Awards Ceremony
And the Winner Is...
It was Friday May 15, 2015 and the The Young Artist Awards Ceremony was finally happening. Everyone there was dressed to the nines. After posing for pictures, after interviews had been given on the red carpet, and after the last comfort break was taken, it was time for our young nominees, parents, and producers to make their way to the “Tumble Leaf” table. Nervously, everyone waited for their turn in the ceremony. Finally, they announced the category for, Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role – Young Actor, 10 & Under. The Winner’s name was read. CHRISTOPHER DOWNS! (Remember. That. Name.)
“When I heard my name announced as a winner, I was confused and couldn’t believe it. I realized I was supposed to go on stage and talk, so I just went up and spoke from the heart.”
“I was so impressed with how he handled himself on the red carpet and with the interviews, but when they announced his name as the winner, I immediately felt my heart pounding out of my chest and thought, ‘How in the world is he going to get through this?’ but he made it to that stage so fast and just started talking… I thought, ‘That’s my kid up there! First acting job and the first year of this show… I can’t wait to see what else this kid is going to do!’ When he made his way back to me, he said, ‘Mom, could you see my legs shaking up there?’ I assured him that he did a great job and that I was incredibly proud of him! And he keeps impressing me and making me proud every day!”
-Jodi Downs, Chris’ Mom
“The ‘Tumble Leaf’ Cast deserves all the awards and more… they had to endure five years of me telling them to say crazy things like, ‘Oh no! Rutabaga’s toe!’”
“Chris worked so hard in that booth!... we’d all worked so hard to convince Amazon. Chris’ win was so sweet, so deserved… perfect! It was especially lovely to see Brooke and Zac (both nominated, but didn’t win) support and celebrate with Chris for his win! I LOVE KIDS!!”
2016 Young Entertainer Awards - Best Ensemble Cast
Epilogue: In 2016, our three young actors – Christopher Downs, Brooke Wolloff, & Zac McDowell went on to win Best Ensemble Cast at the Young Entertainer Awards. You’re going to remember all of their names…
The Young Artist Awards was established in 1978. The Young Artist Awards Academy, was founded by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and recognized historian, Maureen Dragone. YAA has honored many young artists who have continued on to successful adult careers, becoming household names in the entertainment industry. Some notable examples include: Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, Scott Baio, Jaleel White, Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, and Mario Lopez. Christopher Downs deserves to be a member of that elite group of Actors. We’re so proud of all of our young actors!
The Young Entertainer Awards was founded in late 2015 by Amparo and Michael Wiener.
Both academies were founded to recognize and reward young performers in the entertainment industry.
2015 The Young Artist Awards
Winner: Christopher Downs (shared award with Devan Cohen from “PAW Patrol”)
Category: Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role – Young Actor, 10 & Under
2016 Young Entertainer Awards
Winners: Christopher Downs, Brooke Wolloff, & Zac McDowell
Roles: “Fig”, “Maple”, & “Hedge”
Category: Best Ensemble Cast, Voice-Over