By the time a project hits the screen it’s gone through a myriad of incarnations. How does it get there? Who are the Creative Masters behind the art? The Begetters? The Chef d’oeuvres? The Taskmasters? The Contessas of communication, who bring the finished product to this farm- to-table world? Truly, that answer deserves its very own documentary. But for now, let’s take a look at one tiny, but fierce part – Voice Over Casting. A slice of the business I hold dear to my heart.
It’s pretty inevitable that at some point in your voice over career, you’ll connect with someone who tells you they’re doing a project that requires you, the King of Voice Overs, to help them find additional voices, and of course you’ll be heard on the project. This calls for celebration! You have just donned your new Voice over Casting Director Tam O’Shanter and it fits perfectly.
In the early 90’s, just before the influx of home studios, I used to voice a project inside of a guy’s closet. Let’s be honest, it was a smelly bachelor pad and the only place to sit was on his bed-slash-futon-slash-weekend girl crusher, or 25 year-old orange shag carpet. I wore flats and stood. The project grew rapidly and required additional talent. I was asked to help facilitate finding those voices and run a Voice Casting Session. Without the mp3 convenience of today, there was no way for someone to submit their voice through the computer. I had to kick it old school – through human contact. I called from my “home” phone, arranged talent to come in for an audition, directed them, gave the messenger an edited DAT and a CD to deliver, helped the client make choices, and then called the talent to book them for their paid gig. Eventually, as bigger jobs started filtering in, the once noxious bachelor pad turned into a top-notch successful studio that currently takes up half a city block in Burbank, sans shag carpet.
I love those success stories, especially the ones where I become the go-to girl and work on “amaze balls” projects. (OMG, I just borrowed from Perez!). The greatest gift is that I have been given the opportunity to provide work to a host of awe-inspiring talent over the past 19 years.
But lest you be fooled by the glitz, Voiceover Casting is a tough racket and has grown increasingly more difficult as the untrained, untalented (There. I said it!), closet dwellers of today are jumping in line to be discovered. So cutting through all the riff-raff is a tedious task that has fallen on the Voice over Casting Directors.
When it comes right down to it, the job of a Voice over Casting Director is to bridge two crucial islands, the client to the talent. And in between, there are a lot of steps.
Know The Client
Oftentimes, the Voice over Casting Director must transform into Carnac The Great and jump into the heads of the Ad Executives. Remember, these are the guys that can build a master storyboard like nobody’s business, but don’t always understand how to find the right voice choice. It’s not so off-the-mark when direction comes down the line that reads, “We are looking for a Denzel Washington type who is also like John Corbett with a George Clooney style of delivery, similar to Mike Rowe or Allison Janey if you were a female. No announcers, not conversational.” Inevitably, it’s a script that starts with “Introducing”, has price points everywhere and ends with, “But hurry, these prices won’t last long.” If you are talent, you are probably having a visceral reaction right about now. I feel your pain. The Casting Director is most likely going to put the client’s direction on the copy and then add a couple of interpretive notes of their own like, “Just make it low-key, don’t go too fast, don’t treat it like a retail ad, think real dad, just be you and speak.” But in order to do that, it’s important to understand the product being touted, what message is being conveyed, and the audience type.
Know The Talent
I heard a well-respected voice over agent speak at a class the other night and one of the great things he said was, “I’m really a casting director too.” It’s true. Technology has made it so that hiring a Voice Over Casting Director isn’t always the preferred method. Agents have stepped into the booth to direct talent. This requires having a strong grasp on their signed talent’s abilities, great directing prowess, a good ear, some acting chops, lightning editing skills, and the ability to multi-task while negotiating contracts and treating clients to dinner. While agents must know their roster, Voice Casting Directors must know everyone’s roster of talent. We’re often talking an excess of 300 voice actors per roster, times how ever many agencies there are. How do these actors handle auditions? Do they take direction well? Are they flexible? Will they deliver the goods? The Voice Over Casting Director has to have a colossal mental Rolodex.Help The Talent Know The Character
With cartoon and game auditions, the voice over talent is given the character breakdown (specs) and a page or two of the script. Many times the lines are stand-alones, and have no context. It depends solely on the company who’s hiring. Having an overactive imagination, it’s always better for me to know what is going on in the scene. What is the character before me saying to make me to have this reaction? After all, a statement like, “Let’s eat Grandma” can be taken very out of context if not given a proper storyline (or comma). When I’m voice casting, I need to be absolutely character driven. We’ve already gotten past who would be good for the role, now it’s time to see who can bring it to the microphone and make the character jump off the page. It’s essential to do as much homework on a project as possible. In the past year, I’ve voice cast a few feature films. Many require voice matching or total voice replacement. I always ask to watch the entire film, even if the character needed has a more incidental role. When I send a character breakdown or a clip of the actor’s voice, I also make sure the voice actor knows the context, the feel of the character, the tone of the scene, and the relationship between the other actors. The client is looking for someone who can enhance the original role. The more information I can offer the voice talent, the more they can wrap themselves up in the character and deliver greatness. I love listening back to mp3 auditions before I send them on to the client to decide. Those who really take to heart the information I’ve given them can usually knock it out of the park. But those that don’t, oy! Remember the client often asks for the Casting Director’s personal preferences.
Voice Casting is a fundamental component of making a project successful. The ability to decipher another person’s idea, add in personal interpretations, and marry that to skilled talent is a bona fide discipline within itself.