So I, like many BTVA members I have the dream of one day becoming a professional voice actor. However, it's not something I HAVE to do, but if I have the skill and opportunity to do it, and to make it a career, then that'll be freakin' awesome.
Anyway, I recently decided to rather than just contemplate doing it and wonder the "what if", to just do it. To test the waters, I wanted to find some voice over training in Orange County, California where I live, rather than having to drive 50 mins each week to Los Angeles to do one of the many courses available.
I found Del Mar Media Arts, a production company where half it's business is acting classes, mainly specializing in voice overs. The company has been around for over 30 years and is run by couple Bud and Bunny Barth.
Del Mar offered a free 2-hour introduction seminar about the industry and what they have to offer, which I attended last Wednesday evening.
Here's a rundown of the evening.
- I arrived at the office where I signed in and joined the group of about 20-something people as Bud gave a tour of their production studio. It was relatively small, with a few voice over booths of varying sizes, a green screen room, a couple other rooms and a stage and seating area.
- The group then sat down and were told the evening would be split into 2 segments. First we got a shown a short video of Cloris Leechman as she received a special award during the SAG Awards back in the 80s. It was Leachman performing/singing her story of how she became an actress. The point of the video was that Leechman had received the performance script so late that she had not even done one rehearsal but pulled it off flawlessly.
Bunny took the first portion of night and talked about what Del Mar does and then went over a Q & A list. That list was basically a culmination of all the typical questions that someone who wants to break into voice overs would ask. I won't go over all of them, mainly because I was aware of some of them and didn't take notes on everything. But the main point Bunny made was (and that's mentioned almost everywhere) AGENTS GET PAID AFTER YOU GET PAID. Never give money up front to an agent for anything. Their job is simply to find you a job since they work on commission (10-15%).
- Things I learned from the Q & A:
• Some scripts have the most terrible writing ever, but you have to treat it like it's the best thing in the world.
• Agents are not allowed to advertise/solicit in order to find talent. Good, legimate agents don't need new talent anyway so you'd better be damn good (or at the very least offer something they don't already have in someone else) if you want them to represent you.
• Let an agent know your schedule (eg. work, family). Even though auditions are often held during a weekday, an agent will do their best to work around your schedule.
• Always arrive at your audition at least 15 mins beforehand. If your audition is at 4.30 and you arrive at 4.30, you're already considered 15 mins late.
• More often than not you won't receive a script for your audition. It'll be a cold read and one of the main reasons is they don't want you to over-rehearse.
• A "cattle call" is when everyone who is called for the audition waits around while other people audition and then for the casting panel to make a decision. This is rare because if they make you wait over 1 hour, by law, they have to pay you. Because of this, "cattle calls" are often very expeditious, ie. really quick auditions.
• If you get an audition, you're expected to know what to do, where to stand, how to talk to the casting people, how to talk to the sound engineer etc. You can ask questions, but don't expect them to hold your hand.
- The second segment Bud went over the different courses offered at Del Mar and some other info about the industry. Like most other workshops/classes, you start at a basic level and use that as a basis for the next course. Voice Over 1 covers the basics of all types of voice over work and of course, acting. Voice Over 2 is an advanced version of Voice Over 1 and also gives focus to each students specialties. The other courses are more specific depending on what are you want to focus on, like Commercials, Radio, Audio Books, Narration and the one I'm eyeing on, Animation. The cool thing about these courses is at the end of each one, they're visited by current agents and casting directors who come in and give feedback. We're told one of them is from Disney.
Bud also got interactive with the group as he explained that having accents/dialects in your skillset is also beneficial. He then went on to demostrate the different techniques used to help deliver the sounds of people from Virginia (talk like your nostrils are partially closed), Arkansas (with your mouth wide and talk from the back of your ears), Boston (I forget the technique ), Mississippi (talk like you're showing off your front teeth), and a couple others. He asked the group to try each one as he did it.
- Things I learned from the 2nd segment:
• Voice overs nowadays are generally considered the highest paying acting jobs.
• So no surprise here but obviously if you can do more voices, you're more marketable. So in terms of pay, if a company hired you for a specific role, you'd get paid your flat rate of say $400. If they have additional minor characters that you're able to voice, you could be paid an addtional 10-20% per character.
• This isn't voice over but they also train people interested in public speaking. An example is someone referred to as an Ear Prompter. This is where you get hooked up with an ear piece that's connected to a tape player somewhere on your body. Basically your job is to listen to the tape and relay that information on the fly to the live audience. An example is a speaker at a convention talking about the latest gadgets. Ear prompters can get paid $600 per performance. And Bud said it's not uncommon for someone to have multiple performances in a day!
• As with acting, voice overs often get residuals (ie. actors getting paid after doing the job the first time). Depending on the contract, if say an actor landed a main role in an animated series that went on for 52 episodes, and got paid $1000 per episode, that's $52,000. As part of the residuals, if the series airs on tv for a second run, it's possible the actor could be paid the $52,000 again. Then the residuals would get lower and lower each following year for potentially up to 20 years!
The evening was bookended with an animation reel from Jason Marsden, who went to Del Mar for training and got his first gig with their help. Afterwards, Bud and Bunny asked all of those who were still interested in taking the courses to pick a time to come back for a 30 minute "interview" where they could get to know you, answer any questions and give you a short voice acting screen test.
All in all a great night and it got me really excited about trying to pursue voice acting again (having done one other workshop with Tony Oliver back in 2008).
Alright, so I booked my interview the next day and in preparation the night before I did a lot of reading out loud. Although I knew the screening process would be easy going (you'd have to be deaf, blind, anti-social or just the worst actor in the world for them to turn you away), I still went promising myself to give it my all, and not hold back (which I did at the other workshop and left regretting).
When I arrived (more than 15 mins early ) there was a questionnaire to fill out as I waited for the person before me to be done. My interview was with Bunny and we sat down in the largest recording booth on the engineers side. Bunny asked me to tell her a little about myself and why I was interested in doing voice overs. I then asked a few of my own questions. Then came my favorite part. The voice acting "test". Bunny walked me into the booth, showed me 2 scripts and said she'd come back in a couple of mins while I practiced.
- The script was for Verizon Wireless Services and was basically a long commercial piece of about 4 paragraphs. I read it in my regular voice and did my best to make it sound human, energetic and "sales"y. Bunny gave me good feedback and emphasized how terribly written the script was.
- This one was for a kids snack commercial. Bunny first asked me to do it as an adult trying to sell it to a kid. Next she asked if I could do it with a pirate, cowboy, or British accent. I picked British. Then in a villainous voice. Then a granny voice. Then I was asked to pick my own. I did a lively kid voice. Again I got good feedback and she told me a story about one person who had like 50 voices, but when he came in, he couldn't act. He could do the voices with his own rehearsed dialogue, but when applying those voices to a given script, he just couldn't read it well. So like many other pro's and teachers say, you're better off with 1 voice and great acting then 10 voices and not-so-good acting.
The short time in the booth was just pure fun. I kept my promise and didn't hold back. Gave it my all. You know, I could really do this aaaaaall day Afterwards, Bunny invited me to join the upcoming Voice Over 1 course which of course I said yes to. Did my paperwork and left feeling invigorated and excited about the possibilities. Can't wait to start. The only thing that sucks is I gotta wait 5 weeks before the first class starts!!