Monday, March 26, 2012

From a Producer: We’re Not Getting What We Need

Had an interesting and enlightening chat with a producer over the weekend. He wished to remain anonymous, but is established in television and feature film production.

Recently working on a commercial package for a zoo he ran into an interesting challenge while trying to cast the voice of an animal.
By “interesting” I mean “difficult”.
“Not having a lot of VO relationships, and a lean budget, we went with web-casting hoping to throw a wide net.”
They got a lot of responses.
“That became a major hurdle to completing the project and making our delivery deadline. Funnily enough, with all of the options, a few patterns emerged very quickly. About a third of the auditions were bad, distractingly bad. Poor audio quality and performances. Noticeable edits, some on every single line of the copy. Audio levels too low or too high, and there was a lot of background noise. Of those “really bad” performance auditions, there were several with talent that could barely be understood due to accents (the copy called for a “regular American” read) or a couple that were having actual difficulties reading the copy, adding and subtracting words, stuttering.”
The rest weren’t much more helpful.
“We ran into odd issues with the rest of the auditions which weren’t outright awful. One of two things would happen. Either the actor would try to mimic [Famous Actor] who last portrayed a [Type of Animal] in [Recent Movie], or the read was just sort of a generic read. We absolutely didn’t want a [Famous Actor] read (the copy didn’t specifically mention the actor, but the direction indicated a very different personality than what the actor is known for), so those were out too. Of the plain reads, a lot of them came from talent agents. You’d hit a stretch of auditions from an agency, and the five or six guys we’d get would all kind of feel the same. A similar rhythm, or vibe. One agency sent half their guys using the same “ad-lib”. Nothing really felt honest or unique about the process. A lot of the reads felt like just that, someone reading them off the page.”
It’s not all on the actors of course.
“The production did get away from us. Deadlines were looming. Budgets were tight. Honestly, with the fast turn around, fatigue set in really quickly. Trying to listen through dozens of auditions at a time was exhausting. We thought our script was hilarious working with the writer. Trying to listen to over two hundred interpretations of it, it became noise...”
Their solution was one we’ve seen before.
“The writer we were working with had us cracking up describing the character, so we used him for the spot. We knew he wasn’t the best actor, but we knew exactly what we’d be getting.”
Where do we go from here?
“We have more spots to do with more voices to cast. Our budget and turnaround wont get any better, and after this experience I doubt we’d get more money or more time to improve the situation.”
I of course offered my services...

If you're looking to step up your VO game, I'm offering a four week commercial intensive online!


  1. As both an actor and producer, I understand the experience from both sides. While casting online, I found similar experiences. Several bad-technical-quality reads (note that voice123 suggests you degrade your audio quality so your read isn't stolen), bad actors, people trying to fit outside of their casting, a few that really stood out as workable, and a few that were good.

    One time I cast an actor online who walked into a session and asked, "okay, so what am I doing?" That actor had the script ahead of time and didn't give the best performance.

    Another time, I cast for a promo. I found several people "trying" to do the voice, then one or two that really had it. I hired one and he was fantastic! I was really happy with his work and I hope we collaborate in the future.

    As an actor, my online audition copy is almost never unique: "Introducing a fitness plan," "this tech product revolutionizes the industry," "coming soon," etc. In the rare case it is unique, I don't often book those jobs because the direction implies that someone is waiting to be WOWed, and who knows what voice that could be. In those cases, I'll give a "safe take," then go bananas with what I think would be fun for take two.

    Often I think, "what does the client want," and that's the death of a read. I have to give them what makes me laugh and cry and hope they like it, too. If I knew the client, I could cater to his tastes in a heartbeat. But actors don't always get that luxury.

    When I hear auditions as a producer, I often listen for a few seconds to see if they're in my casting, then click to the next. I don't have the patience to hear the whole thing unless it immediately fits in my casting. That means I don't take the time to listen to someone be funny, even if they're wrong for the part and great for something later.

    As an actor, when I do book a job online, either someone heard my demo and asked me to audition (and often we talk), they booked me off my demo, they hired me before and now want to grab lunch and work with me again, or I got lucky and booked 1/50 of my auditions. That means 49/50 times I'm wasting someone's time.

    What advice I can offer from my experiences as a producer is that you won't usually find the "wow" voice online, especially for something animated. You'll find people who can do the job online and some will do it very well (some major VO players use it). But 49/50 of them won't give you what you want.

    If you're not getting what you want for free, have a conversation with someone like Juan or a casting service to break down what you're looking for. They're great. They'll help you define what you're looking for and act as a filter for premium actors. They'll find quality actors willing to work at your price point. And they'll work directly with those actors. That's how you can make it honest and personal.

    And if you can, once in a while sit in on the phone during an audition and give feedback.

    Develop a "short list" or "go-to" list of people you can hire or want to hire in the future. Most of my VO work (actor and producer) comes from people I know, meet, and work with, and by changing my clients to my colleagues and eventually to my friends.

  2. Wow, great post and great anonymous comment! That is one of the frustrating things about online casting is that even if the quality of your audio and performance happens to be superior than other auditions - Your audition may not even be heard due to the sea of auditions that are submitted.

    Also, as mentioned above, listening to so many mediocre auditions can be exhausting. That almost leaves your "superior" audition vulnerable to not impressing the producer as much as it could have. Maybe that's total crap as I am not a producer. But I could see this happening.

  3. I just stumbled on your blog via Twitter. And I have super enjoyed your rants!! :) And I love that you used "meh" as an adjective, you're speaking my language... My husband and I own a freelance production house (although my focus day to day is primarily on voiceover.) and we work with a small stable of VO talent. All the bases are covered and you always know what to expect when it comes to audio quality, turnaround etc. and it makes life a lot less stressful. Luckily, I've got another set of ears if I ever feel I need some direction with an audition. Ya, he's not the client, but it's amazing sometimes what a different someone else's take is on a script. It's very handy!

    I've seen jobs pop up on some peer-to-peer sites where they're looking for 200+ auditions or over that many people have submitted auditions for the job. To me, that is insanity. Who in their right mind would filter through all that!? I totally feel their pain.

    1. Hey Erin. Thanks for checking my blog out.
      Honestly I think web casting has exploded in part due to the perception of convenience.

      Look at how quickly your project will get auditions!

      However, the problem then becomes what to do with them all. I don't know that we really can get this process down any faster. You just have to choose where you want to spend you time, and how much that time is worth.

  4. Thank you for this fresh look at the tired pay-to-play conversation that always centers on the talent's experience with those sites. This conversation points to the importance of QC and filtering auditions so producers get more of what they're looking for out of what they receive. Agents may not listen to individual auditions before passing them along to their client, but the auditions will be sent to whomever is appropriate for the gig and the talent on his/her roster were vetted before being added to the roster. While P2P sites tout fast turnaround and a great number of responses, there's no guarantee those auditions will fit the casting requirements and at best, there's limited, random quality control over those results (at least on one of the big sites).

    Any amateur with a credit card and barebones recording equipment can join a P2P and waste your time and we know a legit casting professional or producer wouldn't consider that same person for any voice job. The good talent agents, casting companies and production houses still serve a much needed purpose - providing access to **vetted talent** for their clients' projects.

    Web-casting sites serve a part of the market that isn't *necessarily* most concerned with quality control or fair rates. Not to say some producers don't use it to offer fair rates to talent and then sift through tons of bad auditions before finding the right person, because I've been hired by many and know they do. I just feel for their exhausting experience so much more after reading your blog! Thanks for another great article!