Breaking into voice over acting can be tough. Benita Scheckel shares a few surprising tips for working in this competitive field.
1. Less is more.
The days of an actor being coveted for his or her ability to perform 20-30 wacky voices, in Looney Toons fashion, are mostly gone. Animation and commercial copy writers, more often than not, are asking for subtle, “real and natural” sounding voices. This is both good and bad news. The good news is that you can just bring your “real” voice to the mic and if yours is the type of sound the director had in his or her inner ear when they read the copy, you’re in. This can be bad news, however, if you are a character actor, who has, for the past twenty years, been perfecting your best French skunk or irate cowboy voice. There is still a need for these awesome characters, but just not as frequently.
2. 5% of the Actors get 95% of the Work.
Just as in any other industry, the big players don’t have time to try out unknown talent. There are a handful of men and women in L.A. who are tried and true. They are fierce in the booth and their agents, casting directors and clients know and trust them. They get most of the work. But do not despair. That fact should not dissuade you from carving out a little space for yourself. Like anything else, if you do your research, prepare properly and keep an open heart and mind, there is room for all of us in voice over. You may not be able to retire to a mansion on Lake Como, but you can find some very satisfying extra income (and residuals) from a few, good voice over jobs. Plus, you’ll be that kitschy “life of the party” guest who regales strangers with your, “That was me on such and such show!”
Listen to Benita Scheckel’s Short Voice Over reel:
3. Trust your gut.
So, I was sitting in my office one day, looking over a list of three teenage characters that had been sent to me to audition for a recurring guest spot on Phineas and Ferb. The characters were the popular, Reese Witherspoon in “Election” kind of girl, a moody, depressed, sad girl, and a too cool for school, Goth girl named, Lacie.
The first one was totally in my wheelhouse, a no brainer. I opened my voice notes app on my iPhone and recorded her quickly. No big deal. Next I recorded the depressed, sad girl and that was fine, nothing spectacular. Finally, I recorded Lacie. I didn’t think much about it, I just hit, record, and out of my mouth came this girl that I’d heard so many times in my career as a high school teacher. She was an “Every girl” in fact, a sort of iconic Valley Girl, morphed with the lazy-mouthed, slightly nasal, I couldn’t care less, vocal fry of every young girl you’ve ever heard in the past few years. That was it! I knew it was her.
I sent the audition off to Disney and within two days I was booked as Lacie for several, well paying sessions. Not even my friends at Disney, recognized my voice. They said, “When we heard that voice, we all went, ‘That’s it! That’s Lacie! Who is that actress?”
My point is, just let the creativity flow. Think back to your training in improvisation and just go with it. Not every take will be The One, but that’s okay, you don’t have to send every take. Just play. Have fun. It’s not Cancer research; it’s playing around, with a nice financial bonus. Enjoy and trust your instincts.
4. Being a quick study with a good ear helps.
Here is the hard truth. If you have trouble reading out loud, have a limited vocabulary and are just not very in tune to the auditory fluctuations of tone and inference, voice over acting may not be for you. The ability to read quickly, synthesize direction and attach meaning to words on a page is paramount to being successful in a recording session. Yes, you can prepare and memorize, but if you do not have a grasp on the subtle differences between say, annoyance and chagrin, you will find the work frustrating and everyone will be frustrated with you.
5. There is no substitute for solid acting training.
I went to interview with a boutique agency last summer and within the first five minutes of our time together, the very busy agent asked,
“Do you have any acting training? Because I don’t want to work with any voice over people who have not been properly trained.”
Wow! Interesting. She went on to explain how so many people come in to see her because their auntie or random cocktail party guest once said, “Hey, you should do voice over. You have such a (fill in the blank) voice!” That’s all well and good, it’s always nice to receive a compliment, however, unless your dad is Robert Iger, you’re going to need some solid, acting training, and then some great voiceover coaching and then a fabulous demo. So, who you gonna call? Here’s my list that I’m lovingly sharing with you. Go out, get trained and have fun! You just might be the next Bart Simpson.
For a great, professional Demo call Susan Palyo at Voicetrax West http://www.voicetraxwest.com/ She also teaches voice over classes
Benita Scheckel is a voice over artist, playwright and arts educator residing in Pasadena, California. Look for her show, Bend in the Road, The Anne of Green Gables Musical in regional theatres next year. Benita will be a special guest at “Fight Club” with Tish Hicks the V.O. Dojo on December 3rd with Swampy Marsh, co-creator of Phineas and Ferb. “Making Voice Over Your Way of Life: 7 Simple Truth move from Pastime or Part Time to Big Time VO”