Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How to Find Voice Actors For Your Indie Project, Part 3 - Once You Have Your Actors

Today we review the final part of this three-part series on how to cast voice actors for indie projects like video games and web animations. You can read the first part detailing how to prepare for casting here, and the second part on holding auditions and finding voice talent here.

Part 3 is about how to manage your voice actors once you've got your cast, maximizing efficiency and minimizing miscommunications and stepped-on toes. Your auditions are done, you've spoken to the people you believe are the right fit for your characters, and you're ready to move onward. ...How?


Quick question: do you have all your character scripts ready? This sort of loops way back to part 1 where I said "have more than just an idea." It is immensely helpful to already have all your scripts written by the time you cast your voice actors so they can set to work and make magic happen immediately. Surprisingly often I get cast in a project, and rather than hitting the ground running like an All Star, I slump to the ground like a sack of potatoes and awkwardly scoot along with my butt in the air. The reason for this is because despite the producer agreeing I sound right for the character, there is absolutely no work to be done yet. Quite often - in fact, almost every time - this results in the project being delayed. Sometimes it means the project winds up cancelled. In short, now that you have extra talent on board, the pressure's on to keep everyone updated and finish the scripts, and the added pressure has a tendency to slow down the project. Writing's hard, man. It takes time, sometimes longer than you think at first, and all the while, the voice actors are wondering when they're actually going to get a shot at their characters.

Some voice actors I've spoken to have expressed a desire to pull out of projects that take too long to get going, simply because they're tired of having it on their conscience and they're annoyed by working with someone who put the cart before the horse.

Not every project is going to have everything prepared by the time the voice actors come on board, and that's fine. Some projects work in waves - an example being the visual novel Lucid9, which had (and, I believe, continues to have) multiple story branches and follow-ups added later on for free, kind of an episodic thing. However, if you have absolutely nothing for the voice actors to do, know that your project is probably going to be delayed and your actors might be mildly annoyed.

It's a good idea to have voice actors sign a contract. You might think asking voice actors to sign a non-disclosure agreement or some other form of contract might scare them off. Just the opposite, in fact: we love knowing what we're getting into and what's expected from both sides of the equation. A contract of some sort means the actors are bound to uphold what's stated therein; if, say, you tell all actors to avoid speaking of their involvement with the game until a certain date, and one of them immediately goes off and tells the whole world, you are well within your rights to pursue legal action against them. At the very least, you'll have proof that they're untrustworthy and/or unprofessional to work with. On the flip-side of the coin, if you tell a voice actor they'll receive $150 for their work and you later decide you can only pay $100, they have the right to pursue legal action against you. It's insurance for everyone.

I am not the master of writing up contracts, so I can't tell you exactly what you should or shouldn't say; my advice is, state clearly what you want and need for the project, and if you have any doubts, ask a senior indie developer/legal worker/someone who knows what the flip they're doing to look it over. Consider putting the following things in your contract in some form:

  • Payment offered to the voice actor (in all its forms – up-front, residual, payment for pick-ups, etc.)
  • When the actor will be allowed to reveal their involvement in the project (right away? Not until it releases? June 30th, 2018?)
  • What parts of the voice actor's work you will own and how you will use it (i.e. lines can be used both in the game and for promotional material)
  • When voice actors are expected to turn in their lines

In this digital age, most indie project contracts between developer and voice actor are in the form of simple PDFs. Send them the basic form of the contract PDF, let them type and sign where they need to, and they'll send it right back.

Send actors their scripts, connect with them about their characters. You might be surprised just how many indie studios forget to tell their actors exactly what sorts of characters they're playing. A lot of times, the blurb about the character's background during the audition process is all actors get. If you really want your actors to connect deeply with your characters and bring them to life, take some time to clue them in. Help them be prepared for when the day of recording comes, rather than having them wing it with some vocal deliveries that are hopefully suited to the character in question.

This is much easier if you've chosen to direct the actors live, but at least some measure of further background is probably necessary to achieve that connection. Maybe schedule some time with an actor to discuss their character and certain parts of the script, or create a detailed document for each character going into greater detail on their backgrounds, personalities, living arrangements, how they should feel during key moments of the plot.

A possible exception is if you're, say, creating a fighting game and the dialogue is exclusively battle noises and screams. You may still give them some pointers on how they should sound, though (Fighter A is young and puts everything into his screams; Fighter B is posh and refined and doesn't raise his voice louder than he needs to).

Determine if you want the actors to edit their lines at all. Preferably, any detailed editing of a voice actor's lines will be handled by a professional audio engineer, whose fingers become magic when they touch a keyboard or an interface and perform miracles. Every voice actor will have different equipment, booths, and recording spaces, and therefore their audio will sound inherently different from everyone else's. An engineer can help them sound much more natural when they show up in your project. I'm a voice actor, not an engineer, so I can't offer you a world of help there, but they are wonderful people and crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, parts of the creation process.

That said, you still need to determine how you're getting an actor's lines. Sometimes an actor just records everything, touches nothing, and sends the whole darn audio file over, weird mouth noises and flubs and everything. Engineers will then sift through it to get the audio they want. This is the go-to option for when actors are directed live. Or you (or your engineers) may prefer they cut their audio down to only the successful takes (the go-to option if actors are recording on their own). Very small productions may ask voice actors to edit, mix and master their own audio, but bear in mind they're actors and probably not engineers, so a), it won't always be up to the most professional standard, and b), without an engineer, each voice actor's lines will sound acoustically different and may be at different volumes, because again, different equipment and environments without a guiding shepherd.

Create deadlines and milestones for your actors to turn in their lines. If you shrug and say, “Eh, just get them to me soon,” there's every chance it's not going to happen when you need it. Voice actors should stay on top of things anyway, but light a fire under their tushes to remind them the project needs to move forward. A reasonably-timed fire, anyway – asking a voice actor to turn in 500 lines in a week is just a little bit insane. Unless the project absolutely needs to move quickly, your deadline probably shouldn't be shorter than two weeks or longer than two months.

On the issue of deadlines and possible delays...

Delays and setbacks will happen; don't beat yourself up too much for them. Your lead animator's mother died and he needs time to see to her funeral. You've found yourself with an absurd amount of work outside this indie project and your schedule's filled up. For whatever reason, a key member of your team has had to pull out of the project, leaving you with a gap to fill.

All these things are unfortunate, but also not uncommon. It's good to try and meet your established deadlines, but don't feel as if you've failed everyone if something comes up and production is pushed back. Projects are delayed all the time for a wide variety of reasons. Don't put on your hat and walk out the door; get back here and stick around.

That being said, try not to can the project either. It's disappointing for absolutely everyone if the project winds up being canceled. This does happen from time to time as well, and sometimes it's simply the smarter business decision to let it go when the project becomes an utter train wreck. Just remember: you started down this path because you had a strong desire to make this thing a reality, to put smiles on the faces of your audience, right? Life will always try and get in the way of your success, but believe that your project deserves to be out there, and even if it's slow going and you stumble a bit, keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Of course, don't become casual about delays. Don't blow past deadlines and just shrug it off. Deadlines are there for a reason. All I'm saying is, don't let the first failure destroy your morale, because you will fail multiple times before you eventually succeed.


Not every process is going to be the same, from conceptualizing to casting to adding the voice overs. However, I do hope this has helped alleviate any possible confusion about incorporating voice acting, and will therefore ensure a smoother, easier, less stressful experience. It's fun to get out there, meet new people, learn new things, and work together to make a project as good as you can, and nobody likes hitting snags due to misinformation or miscommunication.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this three-parter. (Unless you just jumped in now, in which case, go back and read the first two parts, you silly bean!) Until next time, friends.

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