VORG #38 jan-feb-mar-apr 2003

What a Director / Producer Looks For in a Voice-Over Actor

Every director or producer has a core stable of actors who “get it.” These are highly talented people who can hit the ball out of the park on the first pitch, and make reading very challenging copy sound easy. It’s their job to make the producer look good to the client - that’s why they were brought in in the first place.

Directors look for key indicators in an actor that will tell them whether that actor can perform flawlessly in a session, particularly in a phone-patch session, where anywhere from one to ten or more clients will be hanging on your every word. The actor who has all of these abilities will be working a lot. The specific traits that make for an in-demand V-O actor are:

Consistency: You must be consistent from take to take; in your timing, pacing, inflection, breath control, stress/punch, acting, and “notes”. You need to match your voice for pick-ups and punch-ins. You need to keep your energy consistent, not only from take to take, but from the beginning to the end of the spot/campaign. If you’re a particular character, your character’s voice must be consistent. The bottom line: you must be dependable and able to deliver what everyone is looking for.

Taking Direction: Listen carefully to what the director and/or the client is saying. Ask for line reads, if necessary. Listen to the director’s and/or engineer’s cues for pick-ups and punch-ins. Don’t ignore any words or phrases in the script that are italicized, bold or underlined. They were written that way for a reason. Pay attention to punctuation, unless it seems awkward or erroneous. If you step on another actor’s lines, make sure to avoid that error on the next take. And never argue with direction, even if you think it’s wrong.

Professional Behavior: Remember your elementary school report card? The phrase “works well with others” is the operative one here. From the moment you enter the studio door to the moment you exit, comporting yourself as a professional is critical. Make sure you shower and shave. Dress appropriately. No noisy clothing or jewelry. No perfume or after-shave lotion. Introduce yourself and try to remember names. Always keep an up, positive attitude. If it’s a dialogue, workout with your fellow actor(s) beforehand, especially when adding adlibs. If you’re sharing a mic, work out the choreography ahead of time. Bend over backward in the booth, even if they’re asking you to jump through hoops - you’ll be .tagged as a real trooper. Keep your questions and/or suggestions pertinent. Resist the temptation to be a raconteur or an entertainer for the client - that’s the producer’s job. Don’t forget to do your talent payment paperwork after the wrap, and if you want a dub of the final spot(s), hand a CD or DAT to the director or engineer, along with a SASE. When you act professionally, that’s the way you’ll be treated.

Readiness: This covers myriad areas. Are you early? Are you warmed up, relaxed and focused? Have you taken the time to analyze the script, rehearse, time and mark your copy? Are there questions you need to ask about your character’s emotion or energy, or the correct pronunciation of proper nouns or regionalisms? Have you brought water (or a green apple) with you in case of mouth noise? How is your health? Are you physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to give everyone involved a stellar performance in a sometimes stressful and compressed amount of time? The “fishbowl” effect of a booth can be an isolating experience, and it takes a true pro to exit the booth smiling.

Talent: A standout talent makes the copy their own, i.e., puts their unique spin on it. Their believable, they become the character, and they sound like they’re talking to the listener, not reading. They’re sincere and conversational (when called for). They exhibit their versatility and range and their excellent at adlibbing. In other words, they not only bring the copy to life, but they infuse it with an energy and interpretation that makes the producer exult: “YES! You nailed it!” This is the actor who producers will bring in to audition again and again, secure in the knowledge that if that actor books the job they won’t have to worry about how the session will go - - at least from the talent end.

- Marc Cashman