Friday, December 1, 2017

How to Find Voice Actors For Your Indie Project, Part 2 - Holding Auditions

Last time, I waxed briefly on some expectations and guidelines of the voice over casting process, at least as it pertains to indie projects like video games and web series. If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend you do, as it focuses on a different aspect of casting, that aspect being how you should prepare before opening auditions.

Today, however, we're talking about actually holding auditions. It is entirely possible to contact voice actors directly and therefore skip the open audition process altogether, which is sometimes preferable if you're trying to keep certain parts of your project under wraps. (For instance, there were no open auditions for Quantum Suicide, a video game wherein I play charismatic medical officer Nikolas Vogel, as the game developer wanted to keep the English voice acting a secret until a specified date.) You'll still probably want to ask them to audition, though, rather than outright hiring them unless you know beyond a shadow of a doubt they're the vocal embodiment of your character. Regardless of which method you use, consider the following pointers to make the casting process far smoother.


Determine a deadline for when you'll stop accepting auditions, don't cast before it. With the exception of roles that need immediate turnaround (usually due to previous actors dropping out or setbacks popping out of nowhere), you'll need a deadline. That's the cutoff point for when you will no longer accept auditions for your project. This tells actors when they can schedule a time to audition (busy schedules, remember) and how quickly they need to haul their rear ends. It's rather vexing for a voice actor to work overtime to record, edit and send an audition only to realize the role was taken in the midst of their feverish work. Deadlines create order out of chaos.

A couple of other pointers: do not cast before the deadline is over. This is a pretty big faux pas among voice actors because of the aforementioned busy schedule thing. You're telling them they have a certain amount of time to plan their lives and work accordingly, then pulling the rug out from beneath them with false information. Someone may have sent a killer audition your way, but you created that deadline for a reason. That killer audition will still be a killer audition by the time the deadline rolls around. Don't start on two when you said you would start on three, then blame the voice actor for not seeing it coming.

Second pointer: don't make the deadline more than a month from the day you open auditions. If you need more than a month, you're not ready to hold auditions. “But that gives people plenty of time to audition!” you protest. No, that gives them way too much time to do nothing. It slows down production for little benefit. Spread the word about your auditions and give people between two to four weeks to meet you there. If it's not just another abridged series and you play your cards right, word of the audition will reach the ears of the right people.

Give actors as much info as you reasonably can. Here's what I sometimes see from casting calls, and it's not very helpful:

Shounen the Anime Hero

A higher voice. Must be able to scream.

Line 1: Hi! My name's Shounen!

Line 2: Huh?

Line 3: [scream of rage]

Uh-huh. So I know nothing about where dearest Shounen is coming from. I don't know his role in the story. I don't know how he views the world, events or characters around him. I don't know what he holds closest to his heart or what he dislikes, and I certainly don't sense much depth from him when Line 2 is just a confused grunt. The auditions you receive for a character like Shounen are going to be all over the place, and even if you do decide on one that sounds kind of cool, chances are the actor isn't going to sound natural with the actual character because you cast them based on virtually nothing.

Look instead at this sort of description:

Shounen Kuromaki

Age: 17

Vocal Range: Medium/medium-high [some musically-inclined people may get more specific with terms like “baritone” or “tenor”]

Accent: Any; Scottish or Irish preferred

Description: A common farm boy from a small village. A country rube who'd never even seen a sword prior to the evil wizard Zapalot engulfing his village in flames and killing his parents. His world torn asunder, unsure of what to believe anymore, Shounen joins an underground resistance to fight back against Zapalot and ensure no one else has to suffer like he did.

Personality: Normally plucky and outgoing; not very bright, but he makes up for it with his country charm. Slow to anger, but his ire is unquenchable once he gets going. Distrusts magic after Zapalot killed his parents; trusts his commanding officers without question. Has a mega crush on Shoujo Dreamgirl.

Vocal inspirations: Donnel from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Vash the Stampede from Trigun

Line 1: [panicked, embarrassed] “Whoa, Shoujo! When did you get here?! And whatever it looked like I was doing, I can explain it.”

Line 2: [quiet, disbelieving] “Huh? Commander Sternface, you want to use magic to defeat the bandits? I-I mean...I guess that works.”

Line 3: [blind rage] “YOU WENT TOO FAR! I'LL TEAR YOU TO PIECES!!”

Now here we have something to go on. You don't need to format a character bio exactly like this, but this is a general guideline. Wax briefly on the character's background and role in the story along with any defining personality traits. Vocal ranges and inspirations help to paint a better picture, too. Comparisons are okay to make because it tells actors what direction to lean in.

Shounen is a country rube, so perhaps we can surmise his diction isn't going to be in top form. We know he distrusts magic but places immovable faith in his commanding officers, and those two bits will definitely color how actors approach Line 2. We can also more easily form context for Line 3; maybe somebody hurt Shoujo and Shounen is stepping in to defend her; maybe he's standing in the flames of yet another village Zapalot is burning to the ground; maybe the officer he trusted the most jumped in the way of an arrow meant for Shounen. Actors can visualize so much more when you help them fill in the blanks.

Otherwise, even if they can create the most compelling, intriguing character right on the spot, it may not sound anything like your compelling, intriguing character. Give them the tools they need to build your shed, rather than shrugging and hoping they'll gather the wood on their own and beat the nails in with their fists.

Be up front about content that might make voice actors uncomfortable. No voice actor wants to sign on to a project only to discover too late it's advocating the church of Satan. That may be an extreme example, but the same goes for anything that might be considered controversial, including:

  • Sexual content/nudity
  • Far-left or far-right political messages (i.e. a game created specifically to espouse a certain viewpoint)
  • Presence of heavy swearing and adult language
  • Mature themes that might trigger someone (i.e. rape or abuse)
  • Violence and gore

On top of that, alluding to the basic nature of the project's voice over, such as how much dialogue is expected to be voiced or whether a character might scream a lot or have a rough voice, can help prepare actors.

Create your audio submission rules. Not only does creating a template for auditioning actors to use help you better organize your auditions, but it's also sort of a mini-test to see who pays attention. Someone who ignores the rules you carefully laid down and sends their audition in however they please may show signs of not being attentive to details or otherwise not very professional. Someone who knows what they're doing will pay attention to everything.

What “rules” am I blabbing on about? Consider the following:

  • What format you want the audio in (MP3 and WAV are the two most common)
  • What email you want auditions sent to (some studios create their own email for auditions alone)
  • What you want the audio files themselves titled (i.e. “JamesBurton_Berkut”)
  • What you want their email subject titled (i.e. “FireEmblemEchoes_Auditions_JamesBurton” - no, I was not in Fire Emblem Echoes, but darn it if I don't fantasize about it, I'm listening to the freaking soundtrack right now)
  • How many takes you want of each audition line
  • How you want the lines divvied up – all lines in each character's audio file, all lines in their own files, etc.

Random note: it really isn't crucial to include a bit about “must have clean audio with no background noises.” The people who know what they're doing, whom you want in your project, already know that. Someone who needs to be told that is probably going to create some problems during production.

Start seeking out talent. There are various places you can post open auditions to, where anyone who stumbles across it may apply. It's not a bad idea to post an audition in at least one of those places so people have something to look at, but it's not always a good idea to rely only on the people who haunt those places to audition, since you may receive fewer auditions than you think, and some of those may not be from working professionals.

It's also a good idea to seek out individual voice actors you think might fit the bill, whether by searching for them online or going through a directory of voice over demos. Be prepared to put your best foot forward and “haggle” a bit, as depending on the nature of your project, you may need to convince some voice actors why they'd want to invest in it. (Spoiler alert: “You wanna be in my Naruto abridged series?!” probably isn't going to get too many takers.) If some of these voice actors have any sort of online presence, like a Twitter or YouTube channel, it may help to stalk them a little and see if they sound inclined to try out for your project. Depending on how you want to play your cards, you could even skip the whole “open audition” process and just ask actors individually to try out for your characters in your own time, no grand deadline needed. The choice is yours, but this section is largely about open auditions.

You could also try finding voice actors through a talent agency of some sort; I don't know a tremendous amount about agencies, especially online, but there are “talent pools” of reliable actors you can sift through with an agency's help.

You can post open auditions to sites like Voice Acting Club, Behind the Voice Actors, and Casting Call Club, probably the three most popular. Note again, though, that it's not a guarantee of talented actors finding your project, as literally anyone can audition so long as they have a profile (and sometimes not even that much). You can also try some Facebook groups like Online Voice Actors Actresses and Voice Acting Alliance, as a lot of talented professionals do hang around there and might see your posting.

Regardless of where you post your open audition (if you have open auditions), it's still probably a good idea to seek out individuals and pique their interest, as you're only getting so much mileage from audition sites alone. Online Voice Actors Actresses has its own extensive list of voice over demos to mill through, amateur and professional alike, as do sites like Edge, which is pretty much exclusively for professionals. Let them know what the pay is like (if you're paying), the nature of the project (first-person indie game, online web series, mobile puzzle game, etc.), how you found them, why you think they'd be good for your project, how you want to make passionate love to their voices. Maybe not the last bit, but as with any recruitment attempt, massaging their ego is a pretty good step toward bending their ears.

If there are a lot of characters to be voiced, try opening auditions in “waves.” Through my experience, throwing fifty characters onto an audition page and yelling “Open season, yo!” isn't very successful. Fifty, or thirty, or even twenty characters is so many that a lot of prospective actors get overwhelmed and either only try the big ones or don't try anything at all. To make finding the right actors a little easier, you may try opening your casting call in “waves” - eight characters in Wave 1, eight more in Wave 2, then some supporting characters in Wave 3, then the minor roles in Wave 4, something along those lines. But again, throwing a tidal wave of characters to be auditioned for all at once isn't usually successful.

NEXT TIME: "Once You Have Your Actors." When you finally have your cast together, how do you get the best reads from them in the most efficient manner? Find out next time on Dragon Ball - uh, Addicted to Voice Acting. (But be honest with me, you totally read that in Kyle Hebert's voice.) Let me know what you thought, whether you found this article helpful, surprising, and be sure to stick around for Part 3 soon.

Click here to read the third and final part of this blog series: Once You Have Your Actors. Or if you want to go back to the beginning, here's Part 1: Before You Begin.

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