BEYOND TALENT: WHEN A GREAT READ ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH
There’s a level 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 or “influencer” 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, each who may bring a sea of Twitter or YouTube followers.
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 or a website. 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.
As with many things, to find the truth of the matter, just “Follow the Money.”
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 marketing leverage translates into casting directors and even agents feeling they need to see impressive on-camera IMDB credits before granting you an audience or audition. Your number of Twitter or Instagram followers being a factor in casting or signing as well.
Big media companies are running scared these days. Streaming is massively and successfully disrupting the entertainment industry to its core. 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 and relax a bit.
This is especially true in feature animation, but is all over television and streaming 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 or working social media.
A famous person wants the role:
Famous people/actors sometimes have an inclination to voice act on an animated television show or movie or game or theme park. 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. You don’t.
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 gloriously well-paid famous person as reference, your performance and improvs copied by the famous person, of course.
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). As I like to say, you can “go cry on your bag of money.” Ha.
Self-casting show creators, writers, producers, casting coordinators, etc.:
Increasingly, show creators cast themselves, to voice their own projects. Well, it’s their circus.
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 quick paycheck working their default 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. It’s not like it used to be. Toons are cool.
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.
Note: Unlike stage acting, movie or television, voice acting is a realm of entertainment where an actor may be directed by someone without any real experience or appreciation of acting or theater. You may be directed by someone who really doesn’t “speak actor.”
Gotta be okay with that on occasion.
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.
Results may, uh, vary.
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.” Don’t let it bug you.
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 or “influencer” 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. Perhaps next time they’ll save themselves the time and effort and hire a voice actor who can bring it effortlessly and efficiently.
Every time I hear a harry story of the mal-cast famous person (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.
Dear Mr Baker,
If [someone] specifically requests you for a part, does it put you in a more powerful position as an employee, or does it make them seem unprofessional..?
If I’m indeed right for the role, it’s good that the creators know what they want. It also bodes well that they trust I can deliver what they want.
Is it okay to chew gum while auditioning?
Does your accent become a big deal in voice over? I’m from the south so I have that southern accent and southern drawl. Is it hard to learn how to talk and not have that accent?
It’s kinda like if I were to move to Nashville with my guitar but I was only able to play Christmas songs. Might there be some work (eventually) for someone so specialized? A bit I guess, if I’m really good at it. But most session players can play different styles flawlessly and that is their value to those that hire. If you are so good that you are The One Person everyone thinks of for your specialization, that can be good. But I’ve no idea if it’s “hard” to gain fluency in other accents, or to lose one. That depends on you. If you want to try acting, do it. Don’t let a minor issue like your “accent” be an issue in deciding whether to try something new.
If I were to contact a casting director, how would I find their contacts or do I let them contact me via website / twitter page etc.?
I can’t imagine most casting directors want talent to contact them directly. The ones I know only go through trusted voice over agents. Even in the non-union realm, I’d think you want to get in with an agent and perhaps take a casting director workshop when you are ready to shine.