Directing Voice Overs
Christina & the Animation Demo, Pt. 1
by Peter Drew
On January 19, 2004, I received an email from Christina, a 15-year-old living in Melbourne, Australia. Christina asked me:
“I have to put my voice on a demo for a producer who is going to do some TV animated pilots up in Queensland. He has given me the opportunity to do a demo showing different styles. However, I am not sure of what I am meant to say on it. Can you please advise? I have always wanted to get into Voice Over so I am new to this and don't want to lose it. I am also an actress and model and have been given very little work, even though I have an agent. So I thought, I will keep my agent but will look for work myself too.”
When I get emails like this it just makes me stop in amazement at how small the world has gotten because of communication wonders like the Internet and ISDN technology. Must be getting old. Anyway, everybody has their own opinion on auditions and demos, including me. This is how I responded to Christina:
“Glad you're interested in voice-overs, Christina. It's fun, but it's definitely something you need to learn and practice before you make a real demo, which will cost a bit to produce and distribute.
As for the animation gigs, here's what I would do: if you know the basic story lines and the types of characters the producer's looking for, then play around with a cassette recorder, creating characters. If the shows are aimed at kids, then take a kids book and go wild with the dialogue in it. Get goofy, serious, ironic, sarcastic, sweet, bubbly, naive, etc. Change your voice: high, low, rough, sibilant, nasally. Let go of your inhibitions and play.
Then listen back and choose four to six that you do really well. Give those voices names. Write down each name and next to it the qualities of the voice and the basic personality of the character. That way you'll be able to look at your list and remember how to do the voices. Find 10-15 seconds of good dialogue for each character and then rehearse each character.
Next, if you have a friend or your parents know someone with access to professional recording equipment, have that person record your characters and edit them together. Put them on two cassettes and two CDs. Give one CD and one cassette to the producer. Keep the other two as masters. You may be able to use them in the future.
If you can't get your demo done professionally, or you simply don't have time because the producer needs your demo in a hurry, then just record your characters right to your cassette recorder. Start the recorder, do a voice, then immediately press "pause". When you're ready to do the next voice, release "pause" and start your next character immediately. The idea is to get the individual voices as close together as possible, so there's not a lot of dead air between them and the demo keeps moving forward.
Do some searches on the web for forums and articles on animation and acting for animation. There are lots out there.
If you're serious about voice-over, start with a couple of books. Get The Art of Voice Acting by James R. Alburger. This book contains all the info you need to start investigating voice-overs. It comes with a CD that contains VO demos, resources, more books, and info on voice actors.
Another book that may be helpful is Word of Mouth by Blu and Mullins. It's got a lot of great tips on how to employ the basics of the famous Method used by actors. I’ve used this book in the voice-overs course I’ve taught over the years. Both books are available via Amazon.com.
If you don't have a cassette recorder, then go to your local electronics store and pick one up for $30-$40, along with some 60-90 minute cassettes. Then, just start reading and practicing as the book(s) instruct. Make a little demo and play it for some of the people in your life who can be a little more objective (not an automatically supportive sweetheart, or close friend or relative, maybe the animation producer!) and see what the reaction is. In fact, send me an .mp3 or cassette if you'd like and I'll critique it for you.
If you feel you're ready to proceed, then check out local continuing education programs for voice-over, improv, and acting classes. Be very careful of the commercial "voice-over workshops," which promise to teach you VO in a few short sessions, then make a demo and duplicate CDs or cassettes for you. In the U.S. they charge anywhere from $500 to $2000 and you end up with a mediocre demo, not much instruction, and highly inflated expectations. Voice-over is a craft. It takes time to learn. You wouldn't take two or three lessons in shoe making, then claim you were an expert shoemaker. I certainly wouldn't buy a pair of shoes from you! They'd probably last one day in a rain storm.
I'm sure there are reputable teachers and coaches in most urban areas in Australia, including Melbourne. Call local production houses and universities to locate one.
Don't go into this with the goal of making lots of money, Christina. Go into it because you love to perform and play. It really is about playing. Yes! Become an expert at playing and having fun! It's pretty much like anything: love it, do it well, and then the money will come.
And just a note about agents: if you're not getting much work or he/she is not too helpful or available to you, then you can always shop for another one. Also, no performer ever relies just on his/her agent. You need to market yourself constantly. Make sure you've got current headshots, resume, business cards, and a portfolio of your work. Always be ready to hand out your business card. Contact every local theater company, TV production company, TV and radio station, etc. Be courteous and professional and doors will eventually start to open.
Have fun, Christina and best of luck. Maybe one day I can say that I helped the next Nicole Kidman, Christina, get her big start!”
I pressed “send” and thought about a kid on the other side of the world, enjoying summertime (while I freeze in the northeast US), trying to break into show biz. The world may be a little loony right now, but folks still gotta dream, right?
©2/11/04 Peter Drew
Next article on directing voiceovers: Christina & the Animation Demo, Pt.2