“Not everything is what it seems to be,” said the King as he looked into the Court Jester’s mirror.”
Have you ever wondered what’s going on behind the closed doors of a casting agency?
What’s it like to be part of a nerve-wracking cattle call?
Would the casting director be one of those failed actors who has turned his bitterness for the business into a lifelong mission to humiliate terrified talent?
Would the waiting area be filled with intimidating, cutthroat competitors, exchanging stories of horror and faded glory? Or is all of that just a caricature, perpetuated in Hollywood movies about the trials and tribulations of aspiring actors?
Well, you’re about to find out!
Being the famous blogger I am, I was recently granted unprecedented permission to record one of my auditions for the enjoyment and continued enlightenment of my readers. Nothing’s more fun than learning from other people’s most embarrassing moments, right?
So, for once you get to be a fly on the wall, as I enter a casting agency at an undisclosed location near New York.
For those of you who’d like to read along, you’ll see that I provided a copy of the script.
As I’m writing this story, it is January 6th, 2011.
If you happen to read this story four or five years from now, will you still remember Ted Williams?
And if you do, will you be thinking of that great hitter from the golden age of baseball or of the homeless man with the golden pipes with the same name?
Only a week ago, some of us were watching retrospectives of the year that was. To me, those programs are a wake-up call because they always remind me of how little I remember of the year’s most notable events and newsworthy personalities.
Here today. Gone tomorrow.
Ted’s remarkable story had me thinking. It brought up questions about the unfair randomness of reporting; about self-serving charity and even about the foundations of faith.
THE VIRAL VIDEO
What would have happened if that videographer for the Columbus Dispatch who shot the video that went viral, had done what thousands and thousands of drivers did for years: ignore that unkept panhandler begging for some change, or have him do a trick for a dollar without a video camera ready?
Would Mr. “Goldenvoice” be the internet sensation he is today? Of course not. He’d still be roaming the streets, together with over 3 million other homeless people in this Land of Plenty.
By nature, news focuses on the extraordinary and the exceptional. It is selective, it is simplistic and often sensational. Increasingly, news media emphasize non-news items such as stories about the irrelevant lives of celebrities. Objective, in-depth reporting has been replaced by shallow, subjective entertainment.
More importantly, the medium started to dictate the message: if we can capture it on camera, it’s news. No cameras, no news! What we don’t see does not exist. A few days ago, tossed-by-the-road Ted Williams did not exist.
There’s another reason why Mr. William’s story captured the hearts of many news editors. As we all know, most news is bad news, and to offset that daily dose of misery, newsrooms comb the wires for the perfect feel-good story with a fairytale ending. Well, last Monday was their lucky day.
“Talented helpless homeless man finds redemption on the highway.
We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.”
TWO SIDES OF THE COIN
Please understand that I am very happy for Ted. I was one of the first people to watch his video and I immediately joined the Facebook group “Help Get Ted Williams a Voiceover Job.” I did what I could to alert my voice-over community, and I wrote to the new Oprah Winfrey Network suggesting that they should hire Mr. Williams.
At the same time, I felt ashamed that I live in one of the richest nations on earth where people’s fate may depend on random encounters with reporters and networks, rather than on solid support from a caring society.
Yes, it’s great that a deserving family receives a million dollar Extreme Home Makeover. Yes, it’s nice that an undercover boss donates five grand to a working minimum wage earning mother so she can give her daughter the medication she needs. But it’s time to get real.
Let’s remember that these so-called “reality shows” provide tear-jerking, rating boosting entertainment that single a few lucky individuals out, often ignoring the underlying issues that have lead to these people’s problems. Let’s see if we can relieve some symptoms instead of dealing with the cause. As long as the numbers from the Nielsen rating agency are up, our sponsors will be satisfied!
There is a not so fine line between offering alleviation and engaging in exploitation. Today we’ll eat you up. Tomorrow we will spit you out.
The righteous religious have their own theory. Instead of random acts of reporters, they detect Divine Intervention. Ted Williams prayed to God and God answered by sending him Doral Chenoweth III from the Columbus Dispatch. “This time around I have a God of understanding in my life,” Williams told the Today Show.
I am not a theologian, but I consider myself to be a spiritual person. Here’s what I struggle with. Millions of God’s children are without a home today. In the United States, families make up 40% of the homeless population. In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment.
No matter where these people come from or who they are, I strongly believe that each individual living on the streets and off the streets is born with a God-given talent. I also believe that each and every one deserves a break and a shot at success.
I don’t believe in a God who would single some people out for redemption and some for a life of suffering. I believe in a benevolent God; not in a sadist. I also believe that God has given us hands that can either help or hurt and a conscience to do what is right. The choice is ours.
Baseball star Ted Williams once said: “God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”
As soon as the Goldenvoice video went viral and Ted Williams was scheduled to appear on the radio, lucrative voice-over offers started rolling in. The part of me that was rooting for Ted was absolutely thrilled. Another part of me was stunned.
In these challenging economic times, some voice-over colleagues with as much talent as Mr. Williams are forced to sell their equipment and find other employment. Even for people with a proven voice-over track record it’s harder and harder to get the attention of major players. On certain voice casting sites, producers are generously offering up to $250 for a TV commercial.
Meanwhile, Ted landed a $10.000 contract from the Ohio Credit Union and was hired by Kraft and MSNBC, and he was groomed by the Cleveland Cavaliers… AOL NEWS even spoke of “a thousand job offers.”
Most of us in the industry do not begrudge Ted’s sudden success. However, some of us are looking at these generous companies saying: “Where were you when we knocked on your door?”
I’ll go even further than that and ask these companies:
When was the last time you helped the homeless? Why are you just now jumping on the bandwagon? Are you really motivated by altruism or are you hoping to get something out of giving something? In other words: was your gift a selfless act or rather self-serving? And if you were giving in order to gain, was it really a gift?
Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish scholar. He wrote a code of law based on the Rabbinic oral tradition. He organized different levels of charity into a list from the least to the most honorable. Here they are:
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
Hopefully, a year or even six months from now, Ted Williams will be completely self-reliant.
Hopefully, we’ll all still know him as the man who gave the homeless a voice.
The Holidays are a great time to meet new people and catch up with folks you only see once or twice a year.
This season I noticed a new trend. I’d be quietly munching on a Christmas cookie, and a relative of a friend of a friend would come up to me with a glass of eggnog in his hand.
“I hear you do voices, right?”
“Well,” I said, “I’m a voice-over, if that’s what you mean.”
“You do books for the blind?” he wanted to know.
“No, not really. I….”
And before I could finish he continued:
“Because everyone’s been telling me that I have a great voice and I should be doing what you’re doing if you know what I mean. No offense, but it can’t be that hard. I bet you make some pretty good money. I said to the wife: “I talk all day long. I might as well get paid for it.”
“I wish someone would pay him to shut up for a moment,” said the wife, who had been listening to the conversation.
No matter where I went in these past few weeks, I’d always run into guys with eggnog, ready to show off their Sean Connery impersonation or some version of a “movie trailer man voice.”
All of them had three things in common:
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” – Benjamin Franklin
WARNING: do not read the following sentence.
Yes, this one!
Why did you read it when I asked you not to?
Don’t even think of reading the next line either.
Are you blind? You just did it again. What’s up with you?
Why is it so hard to follow simple instructions?
You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?
Kids are different. You go to the store and make them swear upon their teddy bear’s life not to touch anything. And what do they do? As soon as they get a chance, they start picking up stuff left and right. You tell them not to cross the road and before you know it, they run to the other side of the street. But that’s youthful spontaneity, isn’t it?
What about you? When you tell yourself not to do something, do you do it? Or rather: not do it?
Then why is it so hard not to hear that stupid tune that has totally taken over your brain?
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!
My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.
As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.
“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.
The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.
“Mom, I want it now!”
As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.
“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”
And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.
His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:
“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”
“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.
“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”
“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.
“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”
As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!
A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.
“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.
Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.
“Mom, I want it now!”
Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.
“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.
This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.
“Fifty cents,” I replied.
“And how much is this car?”
“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”
“Mom, I knew you would say that!”
“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”
At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.
His mother turned around and said:
“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”
The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.
“What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”
“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”
“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”
“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”
He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.
Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: MoneyManagement. And where does money management start?
“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”
“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:
Spend less than you earn
Pay off your debt
Invest, save and share
“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.
We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.
If life gets hard, put it on a card.
After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”
“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”
“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?
My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:
A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.
We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.
At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…
Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”
“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”
“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.
Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.
“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.
“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…
Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”
“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.
“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.
Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.
I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.
I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”
“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”
“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.
“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”
“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.
“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”
“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”
“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”
I took a deep breath.
“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science.
My Mom died on a Friday.
It was one of the darkest days of my life.
Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”
Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:
1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:
Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
What would happen if I don’t buy it?
Can I afford it?
Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals
If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.
It’s the economy, stupid!
In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.
My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.
If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.
Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!
So, what’s next?
Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying.Here’s how not to get lost in translation.
“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.
“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”
“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”
“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”
“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”
“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”
“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”
“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”
“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…
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Can ten minutes make a ten thousand dollar difference?
Not so long ago, a colleague introduced me to a client in need of a narrator. His institute was searching for a European voice and for someone who could read an audio book full of names and quotes in German, French, Dutch and other languages. That happens to be my specialty, and I was pretty confident that I could take on the task.
A day later I received an email. The client had listened to my online demos and found my sound to be ‘too commercial’ for this academic endeavor. In other words: Goodbye, Vielen Dank and bonne chance.
Some people might leave it at that and move on to the next best thing. Not me. My response to this client was a short and simple
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