Friday, July 13, 2012

Mailbag: Celebrities in VO?

I get questions like this a lot:
Question: I know that a lot of people in the VA industry don't like screen actors taking voiceover roles from VAs partly because screen actors don't have the experience of voice acting and that they usually wouldn't do as good a job as a voice actor, but screen actors have to do dubbing/ADR to replace their own dialogue, & have to try to match lips, emotion, etc, so isn't that similar to the kinds of conditions that VA have, in terms of behind-the-mic experience? At least w/ anime?
-@tb_lenano via Twitter
Ah, the celebrities in VO question. Well, this might turn into kind of a LOOONG article, so let's get to it.

To answer your direct question, yes. Really good on-camera actors tend to develop some booth savvy, and the skill set isn't dissimilar to anime dubbing. I guess the one key distinction might be, in ADR you're trying to re-create your own performance, not trying to craft an original performance which will sync with produced animation. A subtle but important distinction in my opinion.

Moving over to the world of original animation, the general ire tends to be directed at situations in which a celebrity has been mis-cast in an obvious attempt at pandering to a perceived audience. For example, I think Brad Pitt is a terrific actor, but I think his work on Sinbad was rather dull and uninspired. I don't actually lay the blame on him, I don't think he was the right fit for that kind of property. It feels like Dreamworks took that production, and tried to shoe-horn in famous people to raise the cachet and visibility of the project.

For the animation purists, this is a terrific irritant, and ultimately very distracting. Rather than being whisked away to a fantasy, you'll spend the whole film playing "Guess the Celeb".

I honestly don't think it's as big a problem today as it has been in the past however. Thanks to the success of recent Pixar productions, and the incredible work being done on Marvel and DC animated series and features, producers seem to understand we wont be impressed by celebrity, that we want good actors cast appropriately.

This has come at the same time as the rise of the "Niche-Celeb" in animation and video games, actors who are insanely popular within a smaller community of media fans. I think PR companies are starting to understand the value of performers who might only command a couple thousand social media followers, but those followers are far more likely to respond to a call to action than a mega-celeb with millions of followers. Having these performers in a project is becoming more and more valuable as promotion tackles "grass-roots" style advertising.

I'm actually very positive on the current casting trends for features. I get the business of it. Hollywood is afraid of risk right now, so you have to cast a couple famous folks if you want your project to be bankrolled. If the project isn't bankrolled, it doesn't get made, and all the "real" voice actors who would've had supporting and utility roles now don't get jobs. Check out Bob Bergen's IMDB page for example. He's got TONS of  looping and smaller "additional voices" credits. It doesn't bring the fame, but he's in the residuals pool for EVERY one of those films. That's a great career.

The current trend of casting celebs in commercial work is a little more frustrating at the moment, often the backlash is rooted in a "don't they have enough money already" ire. However, using celebrity in ads comes from a similar place of "security". Celebrities are well defined "brands", so they make sense to people who represent products and services as brands. If you can throw enough money at one, getting a celeb is an easy way to help insure that you're spreading the appropriate message about a product.

Think of it like this. As an ad exec, I could walk into a Nissan boardroom and say:
For the new voice of our new campaign, we're looking at an actor, mid-forties, savvy, sophisticated. He has a taste for the finer things, he's tech forward, and isn't afraid to try new things. He's got a wry playfulness, but we know he takes work and play very seriously. He's sexy and energized, with a smart sound and a touch of texture to the voice. His name is Steven VoiceActor.

Or, I could walk into that same boardroom and say:
Robert Downey Jr.
Which pitch do you think Nissan is going to respond to?
It's a bummer because we are seeing a commercial squeeze happening where the low end jobs are going web and non-union, and the nice campaigns are going celebrity. It means your working VA's have to be tactically aware of what they bring to the table. If you aren't a brand, how can you sell yourself to people repping brands?

1 comment:

  1. Michael BaldonadoJuly 14, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    Interesting paradigm. It (and I feel stupid now) never occurred to me that an animation company would cast high level actors as a way to draw, not just because they would fit the character they were trying to create. As I said I feel foolish now...

    I'm still conflicted about actors being the spokesperson in commercials. Tim Allen as the voice for Chevy? Never once have I thought, oh I recognize that voice that car MUST be good. I don't know. Maybe I'm just being grumpy this morning....