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Voice Actors

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We''re at the stage in our development where I want to start looking for voice actors, particularly of an international breed, as our accents are going to stand out a mile away. But where do I look for voice actors? I can only afford people willing to work for the fun of it, as profits aren''t assured in any way. Ideas?

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I wouldn''t mind doing that, but since I don''t have any acting experience I doubt anyone would pay a bit of attention to me. I''ve always thought it''d be fun though.

If a squirrel is chasing you, drop your nuts and run.

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Well, if you can''t afford it, then I probably couldn''t make any suggestions. However, if you can scrape up the moneys for it, theres Ocean Studios in Vancouver, but the Anime crowd hates them due to the horrific translations they do. And then theres Animaze, Inc. They do a lot of work for the Cartoon Network. In either case, this is a money investment, if you want people to work for free, I would ask in the Anime Fansub/fandubbing community.

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Try the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) or the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), if you are in California. Many of the artists will work for nothing under a pseudonym (stage name) for this kind of credit because it is becoming more popular in the acting industry.

If you are in Northern California, you can advertise on several community web sites.

Generally speaking, you want the very best talent possible, or, to paraphrase the founder of NFL films, "you want a voice that can make the reading of a laundry list sound like the commencement speech of the Constitution."

Scan the AM and FM radio bands for voices you like from talk radio hosts and such who could be approached. The currency here is the credit and exposure, not necessarily the cash, so you want to offer not just credit like most failures do, but a delightfully irresistable credit, such as, "And Special Voice Talents performed courtesy of INSERT_TALENT_NAME" or, "The Voice of INSERT_CHARACTER_NAME was performed by" -- on other words, you really have to give it that shiny, special showbusiness spin treatment if the offer is going to get them to like the idea of doing it, which is the only way you are going to get to yes without money.

Why? Becuase everybody loves the love you give them in that business, and if you don't play the game, you are not in it. So suck it in and smooth them down, pilgrim. Or become an accountant, because as the old showbiz saying goes, "It's the only way you will stay in this town with any self respect."

Follow the pitch up with a quick approximation of how long it will take to do the work, "You'll be in an out in an hour, sweetheart" or, "We can get it all done on three consecutive Saturday mornings" (respecting their schedule is important) is good (you gotta remember these are talents, and entertainment talents, or so they think so, no matter what level of the industry they are on, all that matters to them is that they do it professionally and for a living or nearly so, so you gotta treat them as special or they'll forget you in a heartbeat; don't try it like that and find out after the fact what you did for your chances elsewhere, for it is a close community) and you'll have to do some other "pot sweeteners" like, "Our driver will pick you up and drop you back off anywhere you want, and, we will have the set catered" (use as many show business terms as you can so you at least look like you know what you are doing/talking about).

Give them a little mystification of computer entertainment as the future, and that this is a good place to establish a toehold with their career, and you will be a player in it for a long time to come, and associations are long running in this business, as you know.

Have some snazzy animations to dazzle their eyes with while you weave your spell verbally. You are selling after all, and you are trying to get something for no money. Think about what it takes to achieve that.

Plus, you are going to have to hook them on liking the character, so be ready to pitch a vivid picture in words of the character, dilemma and types of scenes in a short presentation, also known as the "elevator pitch." Make it sexy, sweet and tempting, and they will be inclined to saying yes. Then, as they say in sales, go for the close by "calling to action." Well, what do you say So and So? Do you want to be a part of the biggest game in show business to come?"

If they say yes on the spot, set the schedule up then and there, and don't dare change it unless absolutely necessary. What you want to do is make it as easy on them as possible before they get there, while they are there, and after they leave. The only time you want to sweat them or work them is in the recording takes themselves.

Brush up on your directing skills, and keep the sessions tight, regulated and relaxed, so the talent can just wind up, go in, and make magic. You kind of have to set them up mentally with it beforehand. Some directors rehearse, which is recommended, but you have to get the lines in their hands in script form early enough for them to read, do some light memorization and then come into the rehearsal a little prepared.

If you are working with top talent, and they get a sense of character, plot and pace from your initial pitch (which a top talent will do) then just bring them in day of recording, show them their chair (nobody else will sit in it but them) and ask them if you can get them coffee, juice, tea, milk, water, etc -- whatever they want.

Get them comfortable and then bring them up to speed casually, and make sure you are briefing them eye to eye, don't stand while they sit. Then, tell them to relax, and you will give them the half hour call in awhile. Follow that up with the fifteen, ten and five.

This is important, because talent winds up and prepares in different timings and ways, and you have to be flexible with that. Brando would take weeks for method acting preparation, Brad Pitt goes in a couple of weeks after first introduction to the material and nails it.

A word on directing. At a certain point, even though you know the character more than the talent, the talent in a sense becomes the character, so at a certain point, you just want to let them rip and not make them go back and do things differently take after take, cause they are going to get the idea a, you can't trust them to get it right, or b, you think they don't know the character when they think they do, or c, you are over directing, and therefor amateurish, and do they really want to work with you again. These are real expectations.

The cure for this as I have done and seen done better than I can direct is to use context as a guide. Example:

Character reveals something important before the level in a cut scene that player would need for the level. Tell the talent, "Say it with some anticipation, or a little speculatively" or, if it is a big level, "Say it with a touch of reservation or a tinge of hesitancy or doubt." You want to create the impression they have it right, you just want it a different 'flavor for effect' in context to the level that you just left or are heading into. See what I am driving at?

Also, once they are in the booth, and you are ready to record, all gear is on them, do some "walkthroughs for sound check and playback." Use the words. Tell them, "OK, so and so, take it from here where CHARNAME just escaped from/toward/away the FOO/LEVEL/BOSS for a soundcheck and playback for engineering, and.... ACTION!" Use the words.

They will do it, direct engineering by saying, "Did you get it?" If they got it, and say or sign so in the affirmative, then say, "Play it back for us, please" (Use the words) and take off one headphone while they play back and listen to the speaker playback in sound studio. Once it plays back and you like the sound, look at your talent and ask, "Sound good to you?"

They will probably affirm, but if they say something is off, even if it is not, instruct the engineer to fiddle with something that he really isn't going to do (this is where the secret hand signal to 'don't do what I say keep it just the way that it is but play along' comes into play; and if you don't think this kind of adroitness is not necessary from time to time, you don't belong in show business) and then have him/her say, "Ok, try it now." Call another test take number two, and do it again.

Do another take and play it back, and they talent will probably say ok, but you want them to think they had technical input as well as creative input. If there is really something wrong with the sound, their input may actually help, so be prepared for that as well, for if you have somebody with any major or long term minor experience, play up to it, it can be worth the trouble.

If they say it is, smile big, and look them in the eye and say hapily and confidently, "Good, great. PrintTakeNumberSequentialCharNameSceneorCutSceneNumber/Name aaaannnd...ACTION!" Just like I said it.

Trust me, these things will pay off bigtime, and you have to be prepared for them. I have been on film sets since the mid eighties, and see this kind of stuff all the time. It's the behaviors and confidence and competence you indirectly and subtly display that will do most of the work of inspiring the talent for you, as well as maintaining a controlled and professional production environment.

Then, *do* all those things. It may seem like you are really killing yourself, but all it really cost you is your personal presentation skill, some gas, some time and some decent food and a lot of flattery.

Make it sound like there is nobody else that could do it, and reference some of the things you've heard him or her do on the air that made the lightbulb go off in your head that this talent was the *perfect* and only person for the role. Never say job, say role. Keep the focused on the creative, which is where you want talent to keep their minds focused.

Give them an idea of what kind of recognition they will recieve as an bonus for doing the part *beyond* the credit, such as, "We expect your voice to be heard in X tens of thousands of living rooms more (the number of units you expect to ship) than you are heard now in homes and cars", and, "what new dimensions of format and genre they will be heard in, increasing the ways in which their versatility and range can be publicly percieved."

All these things are important to a narcissistic talent. And, as our industry grows closer and closer to entertainment central, you will be in need of these skills once roles for voice talent are no longer the perview of just top talent for top titles, but a source of creative output and eventually income for the rest of the creative voice actors out there.

You may want to put in some sort of sweetheart clause that if the game goes bazonkers in the stores and you really sell a lot of titles, they do make some cash royalties per title sold over x number of titles. You are in computer entertainment, act like a producer in entertainment, and it can only help.

You may not want to do all these things, but I would definitely do them myself if it was my project, for a very important reason: you want the talent to give you free advertising of your game on their own show with their own seal of approval which you can't get anywhere else in any other way (and this can happen several times over a long period as they sell themselves to other projects; and expect them to call back to ask when your next game is going into production, if they don't ask that before they leave), and two, if they put out the word you took really good care of them, well, like I said, it's a small community, and exclusive, and it will payoff in other accesses to other talents. But you gotta get it right the first time.

I would even have a green room and a sound studio access to it, so it's really percieved professionally. A little green paint, some special attention and fresh cut flowers and fruit are a small price to pay for a big time performance, and the talent knows this, you should too.

You only get one shot at a reputation as a director/producer with talent, so prepare, and trust me, they like to do nothing but chat and yak and chat some more about the ENORMOUS influence they had creatively over your production, and how WONDERFULLY and PROFESSIONALLY they were treated. It's something you can't buy. remember that.

You can also look in the bookstores in the entertainment industry section in annual volumes like Hollywood 411 and other industry talent listings. There are some top flight industry web sites also you can look through.


[edited by - adventuredesign on October 14, 2003 9:50:11 PM]

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If you''re a pro shop, all of the above advice is your best bet. If you''re a semi-pro or amateur group, there are usually about a BILLION* people in the modding scene with "voice acting" as one of their talents. Some of these people actually have talent.

no excuses

*: not a billion

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New Jersey accent? Sure! Any accent is fine, we could be getting a coverage from all over the States, some from Europe and some Asian accents as well. I''m really trying to create a multicultural atomosphere in the location of the game.

Thanks for the huge post adventuredesign. I''m not even in America though, so a lot of the more Hollywood specific stuff isn''t so helpful I''m afraid.

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