BEYOND TALENT: WHEN A GREAT READ ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH
There’s a sort of talent meritocracy in voice acting that is unique. Give a great read and you have a good shot at getting cast. That’s how it should and often does play out.
But sometimes the “best” read isn’t good enough to book it. This can be discouraging, but it’s good to understand why this might be. Here’s what you are up against:
Casting a recognizable star can supposedly help draw an audience:
Audiences can sometimes be swayed to tune in or buy a ticket if a noted star is involved in the show and its marketing. At least that’s the logic.
Casting a star somehow makes it easier to find finance money:
Fame and Twitter followers may instill a sense of misplaced confidence in those who pay for the production. Making an animated series or movie ain’t cheap and a famous person can feel reassuring to those who worry about it all paying off, but who lack creative antenna.
Voice casting recognizable talent is increasingly used to leverage cross-platform marketing:
A company making an animated feature or television show often has a stable of up-and-coming on-camera actors/pop singers/reality show personalities, each working on various projects. It is easier to cross-promote all these multiple projects via a single famous person interview, for instance.
A single “star” or “influencer” cast in an animated project could thus be used to promote an animated series, an upcoming movie, a book and maybe a pop song. So, a good voice actor may be right for the role, but the up and coming pop star/YouTube sensation/body builder/stand up/cooking show personality/Twitter God may give the marketing machine more fuel to sell a much broader range of content and products. The company thus stands to both save money and make more money, theoretically, by casting “star talent” in voice roles.
Also, it’s easy to frame marketing or promo materials around a list of famous names involved with a project. The thinking is something like, “Famous people attract viewers and more media attention and social media buzz.”
Fascination with your on-camera IMDB credits and social media presence:
The increased use of fame as a marketing tool translates into casting directors and even agents feeling they need to see impressive on-camera IMDB credits before granting you an audience. I’ve also heard of the number of Twitter or Instagram followers being a factor in casting as well.
The pressure is to deliver proven, well-established talent with the added benefit of ready-to-go “brand awareness” via an instantly accessible base of fan-followers (free marketing). All of this appears to add to a project’s marketability, which makes the money people smile.
This is especially true in feature animation, but is growing in television animation too. An extensive on-camera television and movie career seems increasingly a prerequisite for commercial “spokesperson” voice work as well.
Regular (anonymous) voice actors feel this pressure. I’ve known some voice actors who plotted getting more voice over work by trying to get more on-camera work.
A famous person wants the role:
Famous people/actors sometimes have an inclination to voice act on an animated television show or movie. Either they are a fan or a close relative is. They have their people call the show’s casting director and they ask for a role. They get the role.
A famous person may only want to work with other famous people (i.e., not with you):
This you are more likely to see in feature animation rather than television. A name-brand performer may not want to be seen as working with someone who isn’t a recognizable commodity. Dilution of their brand is probably their concern. Your marvelous (already recorded) performance is replaced– relegated to the status of “temp track” which may well be used by the incoming famous person as reference, your performance and improvs copied by the famous person.
It kinda sucks, but at least you got your session fee. (This is a reason not to brag about a gig until it has aired and you’ve confirmed that they used your work).
Self-casting show creators, writers, producers, casting coordinators, etc.:
Increasingly, show creators cast themselves, to voice their own projects.
Even in voice acting some are now and then cast because they are friends, family or a co-worker of the show creator or producers. Sometimes they possess the requisite talent, sometimes…
Star-casting from the past:
It’s exciting for some show creators to reach back into their childhood and ask stars they admired once upon a time (who may not be working much anymore) to voice a role in their show. The show creator gets to mingle with someone they’ve always wanted to meet and experience their “star power” firsthand. The star is all too happy to experience a momentary comeback, get some praise and adulation in a quick v.o. session, not get any flack for showing up late, earn a paycheck and be on their way.
Same goes for currently working stars as well, who may have family members who are fans of a series or be flattered or curious to get a request to be in an animated project.
Casting from appearance:
Sounds crazy in voice-overs, but it happens. Young, handsome guy voices young, handsome superhero. Drill sargent character is voiced by a guy who played a drill sargent in a famous movie, etc.
I’ve had a couple show creators tell me about how they met someone at the gym, Starbucks, hardware store, etc., liked them, and decided in a moment of brilliant clarity to cast this “fresh face/voice.” The same can happen if they see a stand up or musician they like and they assume that the skill in one performing arena should easily translate to voice acting.
The moral of the story here is this: You must bring more to the studio than the occasional non-voice actor can– in acting ability, versatility, dependability and even your own version of “star power.“
Rather than complain of these realities, it is up to you to find your way of delivering what others cannot in order to book the gig. You should be ready to bring what the star cannot.
The apparent advantages of casting a famous person can (and often do) sour, when the client realizes (perhaps too late) that they shelled out a ton of money for a high-maintenance “star” who showed up late, was difficult to direct, was less than enthusiastic to be performing a “mere voice over,” and whose voice performance was less than stellar, to be kind.
Every time I hear a story echoing this scenario (and I hear them fairly often), it brings a grin to my face.
I write further on the financial realities of casting and being an actor HERE.