Friday, January 5, 2018

Interview with Griffin Puatu - Moving to (and living in) LA as a voice actor

Griffin Puatu is a voice actor based in Los Angeles. He has a pretty extensive voice over work history on games such as Shadowverse, the upcoming CyberThreat, and Zodiac-Axis (hey, I'm in that one!) as well as anime like One Punch Man and Charlotte, plus probably a ton of other things coming out he can't tell anyone without subsequently killing them. He's also responsible for scripting and directing my very own character voice over demo.

The decision to move to a new location to expand one's voice over career is always a weighty one, especially when that location shares space with Hollywood. To learn more about this process and how to make the most of it while avoiding costly mistakes, I spoke with Griffin for just a little over an hour to learn some very valuable things.






If you're interested in jumping straight to certain topics, I've created a handy list of time markers below:

0:00 - 5:15: Introduction
5:16: Why would a voice actor want or need to move for their careers?
10:10: Being that Los Angeles is such an expensive city to live in, what did you do to ensure you would have a stable income there before you moved?
18:50: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the process of moving to LA?
24:40: Based on your experience, does LA have a mindset of "If it didn't happen here, it didn't happen at all," so you really need to have work and experience in that city to really market yourself there?
32:47: Having connections in LA before you move is important; what sorts of connections did you have before moving, and how did they help your transition?
40:25: When you finally did move to LA, was it just like you expected (or in your case, remembered), or were there many things that surprised you?
44:35: Naturally there are bigger studios and agencies in LA that can be conducive to voice actors, but what other helpful groups exist, like classes, seminars or support groups?
50:48: How easy or hard was it for you to hit the ground running? Were you able to start getting voice over work right away, or - with the exception of online work - did you essentially need to start from square one building your network?
53:55: Are there any specific types of part-time jobs that lend themselves to a voice over career?
57:35: What are some weird things you've experienced since moving to LA?
1:00:50: What are 3 pieces of advice you would give to a voice actor who wants to move to LA?
1:03:31: Wrapping up

To summarize what we learned in the interview, I've also created a system of bullet points:

Why would a voice actor want or need to move for their careers?

  • Mainly because bigger, better-paying jobs are only in certain places. There's a good chance you can make a decent living doing voice over work from your home or in your local city, but your career can only grow so much without living in a place with more opportunity, like LA. With rare exceptions, studios will almost never work with someone who would need to be flown in to record - there's simply too much chaos in the production process to make that reliable.
Being that Los Angeles is such an expensive city to live in, what did you do to ensure you would have a stable income there before you moved?
  • One thing to bear in mind is that Los Angeles is a massive place - the city is big by itself, but the greater Los Angeles area takes up a good swath of southwestern California. Therefore, part of a successful move is knowing exactly which part of the area you're moving to, as some places are more expensive than others and have different pros and cons. In other words, do plenty of research before making the jump.
  • Most of the voice over studios in the LA area are in or near Burbank, if you want to use that to help influence the location you move to.
  • We'll go into greater depth on this topic later in the interview, but you should not move anywhere, let alone the great city of LA, without making a connection there first. Knowing someone who lives there (or many people, preferably) can take the weight off of figuring things out or requiring help. Examples of connections to make include studio directors, agents, or fellow voice actors.
  • To make those connections, be bold, up front, and professional about sending emails. Introduce yourself to directors/actors/agents, mention where you're moving and what you're looking for. You don't always need an agenda when sending that email or making that call - sometimes you just need a friend or mentor.
  • In summary: do as much research on the area as you can, have a plan, and act on connections with the people there. If you don't have any connections there yet, work at making some.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the process of moving to LA?
  • For Griffin, perhaps the drive from Idaho to LA itself, which he describes as something of a "harrowing experience" where "a lot of things happened." Basically, anything could happen, even on an ostensibly simple drive through the country, so have a plan and a thousand back-up plans and be prepared for anything.
  • Despite the need for planning, what can also be a struggle is having to stay on everyone's radar. Sometimes you can plan all you want, but your timing may just be off; you let everyone know you're in town once you've moved, but either they've forgotten just who you are or, because you're not top-of-mind, they can't find a use for your voice at the moment. That could potentially lead to much more of an uphill battle in the beginning if your timing winds up off and the directors/clients in LA can't find a way to fit you in at the moment.
  • Because of this, focus on the things that ARE in your control (i.e. networking, marketing your demo and resume, professional attitude, etc.) and not on things outside your control (studio can't use you at the moment, friend's out of town). It'll keep your spirits up and help you move forward rather than waiting for an opportunity you have no control over.
Based on your experience, does LA have a mindset of "If it didn't happen here, it didn't happen at all," so you really need to have work and experience in that city to really market yourself there?
  • To a CERTAIN extent, this may be true, simply because people in LA prefer to know the people they're working with. You can be amazingly talented, but if there's another amazingly talented actor lined up who they already know, they may be more likely to favor them instead of you.
  • Another tip: level your expectations and be understanding of what's going on behind the scenes. A lot of times, that studio or working professional you emailed didn't respond to your email because they were simply busy and didn't see it, not because they don't like you. Don't get too upset if things don't happen exactly the way you think they should. There are probably a lot of other things going on you're not aware of.
Having connections in LA before you move is important; what sorts of connections did you have before moving, and how did they help your transition?
  • Certainly a lot of fellow actors, as well as staying in contact with various directors and agents.
  • More than that, Griffin acted on those connections. When he was in town, he made opportunities to meet the people he knew in the voice over industry, whether for coffee, or to see some upcoming event, or just to hang out.
  • People in the voice over community tend to be very open, friendly and helpful. Try to make friends with them, and they will probably reciprocate. Be bold (and professional, of course) in making new acquaintances.
  • Griffin notes that the "master/apprentice" relationship that existed in the olden days is alive and well in the voice over world. It helps to know someone who's a bit further ahead who can give you advice and guide you in the right direction.
  • It may very well be possible that "talent" is actually secondary to growing your career, or tertiary, or "even further down the line." You need talent, of course, but there are so many other facets to growing your career, like networking, perseverance, and professionalism, so don't neglect those.
  • The golden statement for this month's interview: "It's the actions that make that actor." Not just the innate level of talent the actor possesses, but how they take to the ground and get people to recognize that talent. Well spoken, Griffin.
When you finally did move to LA, was it just like you expected (or in your case, remembered), or were there many things that surprised you?
  • Various elements; Griffin grew up in LA as a child but naturally saw the place a bit differently as an adult. Certain elements of materialism and vice became more apparent, as did elements of people working hard and being a community.
Naturally there are bigger studios and agencies in LA that can be conducive to voice actors, but what other helpful groups exist, like classes, seminars or support groups?
  • There are plenty of classes, instructors, and work groups (improv, theater, general creativity, etc.); searching for them online or asking an LA native to introduce you to one can help point you in the right direction. Entertainment conventions (including the likes of E3 or anime conventions) are also great events to go to since you'll meet a lot of other people there in the same sort of work as you.
  • Additionally, Griffin highly recommends budding voice actors take basic acting classes that go over the fundamentals - pulling emotions from your history, the basics of theater, etcetera. Voice over and ADR classes and the like are extremely helpful as well, but a lot of voice acting hopefuls have a tendency to skip the fundamentals, which can get them in trouble down the road.
How easy or hard was it for you to hit the ground running? Were you able to start getting voice over work right away, or - with the exception of online work - did you essentially need to start from square one building your network?
  • A bit of both. A lot of voice actors (even very popular or otherwise successful ones) have to supplement their income through other means. It often takes years, if not decades, of hard work to get to a point where a voice actor can make a living doing only voice work.
  • Griffin was able to find a fairly consistent amount of voice work on moving to LA, though he still needed to supplement his income other ways. On one hand, you need to have a patient attitude that accepts you're in it for the long haul and things won't always go as planned or happen on your schedule. On the other hand, you need to have an impatient attitude that prompts you into constantly stepping up your game and getting yourself out there.
Are there any specific types of part-time jobs that lend themselves to a voice over career?
  • In the end, not necessarily. Anything that a) keeps the lights on, and b) gives you time and space to advance in your voice acting career could feasibly work. However, if you work a 9-5 job and have no time for auditioning, going to a recording session, or going out to network, that's a problem you need to address somehow before you can really move forward.

If you want to keep up with Griffin, you can find his Twitter here.

Let me know what you thought of the interview and what types of content you might want to hear about next. I always aim to please and improve. New interviews the 5th of every month, starting now!

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