Voice-over work is a microcosm of the acting process as a whole. There's the audition, the callback, the job itself, and the payoffs-except that it all happens in a matter of days, and there are no costumes or make-up to contend with and no memorization.
Author Jack Angel has been a voice-over expert for more than fifty years, working with the likes of Lucas Arts, Disney, Pixar, Warner Brothers, Marvel, Steven Spielberg and many others. Now, he shares some of his secrets.
This guidebook to success offers strategies to build a career in voice-over acting. Discover how to build valuable relationships with key people, share your credits in a way that gets you more work, maintain a good relationship with your agent, and reinvent yourself when the time is right.
All Angel's advice is applicable to acting, voice-overs-and, in fact, most other professions as well. Just change the labels, and you'll have proven advice to succeed where others fail.
Take charge of your career and create a context for winning, no matter what happens. It all starts with learning How to Succeed in Voice-Overs.
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How To Succeed in Voice-Overs Without Ever Losing
By Jack Angel
Abbott PressCopyright © 2012 Jack Angel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOh, but It's So Hard to Break In
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "You can't break into voice-overs. It's a closed profession." Well, it may look that way, but guess what? All you have to say is, "I'm in!" and everyone will scooch over a tad to make room for you.
Of course, we'll eat you alive if you jump in without knowing what you're doing. That's why classes were invented. So take a few classes, learn the language of the game, and become familiar with the microphones and headsets and copy stands and all the other equipment with which you'll come in contact. And bear in mind that your teacher is only right some of the time. Nothing is carved in stone.
Then, practice, practice, practice! When I was new to radio, I used to read billboards aloud on my way to work. That served to get me warmed up and kept me sharp. Another objection that people sometimes raise sounds like this: "But I don't have the kind of voice they're looking for." Well, listen to the voices on TV. Listen to the voices on The Simpsons. They're all different, and they're all weird.
At one time in the business, Marty Ingels had what I felt was the worst announcer's voice I'd ever heard. I thought he sounded like he'd gargled with razor blades. Orson Welles, on the other hand, with those mellifluous tones, had the best, and everybody else fell somewhere in- between. On then-current commercials, Welles delivered with such authority, "The Wings of Man," the slogan for Eastern Airlines. Marty, with his gravelly voice, did a pitch for house paint. I thought that if you transposed them, the spots would have been different, but they would have worked. Hearing Marty saying, "The Wings of Man," and seeing Orson Welles on a ladder with a paint brush in his hand would have been priceless.
Truly, anything goes.
Go to www.arlenethornton.com and listen to some of the voice people Arlene represents. I suggest Arlene Thornton's Web site for a couple of reasons. First, because Arlene is my agent, and I'm on the site. (I know the other voice artists on the website, too. I know how good they are, and I know you can learn from just hearing them perform.) Second, as of this writing—and as amazing as it may seem—no other top agency in Hollywood has such a complete and interactive voice-over web presence.
For people just getting started, one of the most intimidating things is to stand on the soundstage all by yourself, watching four or five people in the recording booth discussing whatever after your first take. You can't hear them, so you don't know what they're saying, but they're quite animated, and in your insecurity you're positive they're saying, "Where the hell did you get this guy? Couldn't we get Jack Angel? What'll we do now? Well, have him do a couple of more takes and we'll get rid of him." How to Succeed in Voice-Overs Without Ever Losing
They are never saying that, but out of your insecurity your imagination will make up all kinds of horror stories. So, when you're new to the game and you're in that situation, make up this conversation: "Oh, my God! He's fabulous! We'll have to give him all our accounts." Or, "Let's sign her to a seven-year contract now, before her price goes up."
They are never saying that, either. But isn't that better than the alternative? This way, you're ready when the director says, "Take two."
This brings me to another point.
After an audition, some casting directors will tell you that your reading was "fabulous." They'll go on and on about how you were right on! Terrific! Wonderful! Actors then go back to their agents and say they think they booked the job, because the casting person was so complimentary about their audition. One casting director in particular has been doing this for years and says the same thing to almost everybody. Take compliments with a small grain of salt. You haven't booked the job until your agent says so.
Chapter TwoThere Ain't No Damn Rejection
"There Ain't No Damn Rejection" was almost the title of this book, so I should devote some time to the idea. If you speak to most actors who are struggling to "make it" in Hollywood, you will most likely be told that the rejection is awful. In magazine articles and on interview shows, some very successful actors say the same thing.
The plain truth of the matter is that there ain't no damn rejection! The process of auditioning is one of selection, not rejection. Rejection happens only when you cause it.
If you show up drunk or ill-prepared, if you become unruly or surly, you will most certainly be rejected. But apart from that kind of unprofessional behavior on your part, think of auditioning as a process of selection—not impending rejection.
For example, if you and I are given the task of casting the role of Santa Claus, we will notify various agents to submit actors who physically meet our specifications; they should be roly-poly, jolly looking, elfin, and have a full voice for his "ho-ho-ho." And although we can attach a beard to anyone, it would help if the actor has already cultivated one—which should be white.
Now, a whole bunch of fat actors will show up. Some will be wearing Santa suits, but most won't. Some will have beards, and some won't. We'll look at all of them, talk to them, have them read the lines (if there are any), and then we'll select only one—the one you and I agree upon as the most Santa-like of the lot. We can select only one. All of the actors who weren't selected may go out into the world and say they were rejected. Who rejected them? Not us! We were in a process of selection. If they said they were rejected, they made it up.
Some will say, "I lost a good one today." But when did you ever lose something that was never yours in the first place? The role was theirs to win, and they didn't win it. What they did win, however, was the chance to be seen by a casting director who might very well choose them for another part in another project.
More than that, on the day the call went out, we wanted the best actors from each agency to show up. We never asked for anything less than the top guys in the business.
Nobody said, "Send me a bunch of so-so actors." So, if twenty Santas showed up, all were the best in the business. And in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago (and from time to time, a few other cities around the country when they're producing national commercials), we're all playing at the level of "world class" .
Each time you're selected to audition, you are one of the best in the world. That's not rejection! In fact, it's great validation.
It's like this: when you enter the marketplace and you are the commodity, you're there to be bought (at least your talent is) if a buyer has a notion to do so. You should look at it like that. If someone was going to the store to shop for breakfast food and chose Wheaties over Cheerios, they'd just be selecting the Wheaties. Of all the choices available on the shelves, the Wheaties suited them best this time. They may come back the next day and buy the Cheerios, or not. Buying Froot Loops doesn't mean they're rejecting the Cheerios, either. They're just selecting, not rejecting.
If you can tap into that idea, your auditions will be angst-free.
United States Senator Hubert Humphrey provides the ultimate rejection story to illustrate my point, even though his story has little to do with acting. After being elected and re-elected to the United States Senate year after year for decades, Hubert Humphrey became vice president of the United States and then ran for president. He lost the presidential election by something like two percent of the vote. In a career that spanned all those years, he eventually had lost for the first time. He then lamented to a newsperson that it was agonizing to offer oneself to the American people and be rejected by them. Almost one hundred million people chose him for the highest office in the land, but Humphrey called it rejection. Just like the actors who don't get selected for a role, Humphrey made it up.
Chapter ThreeIt Only Takes One Person
A good friend of mine, the late Danny Dark, was the voice of NBC for fifteen years. It only had taken one person(John Miller, the head of promotions at NBC) to decide that he didn't want to hear Danny on any other network. John put Danny under contract at NBC, and Danny made close to a million dollars a year while he was there. Danny was one of the best voice-over artists who ever lived, so he also made a bundle of money doing commercials and movie trailers, and he was the voice of Superman in the Hanna/Barbera cartoon series, Superfriends.
Here's a story that'll tug at your heartstrings—or purse strings. Danny and I both auditioned for the Budweiser beer account a few years ago. Danny won. The creative director at the time was Rich Levy, who by chance is the best friend of my wife's brother. Rich came to Los Angeles, and Arlene and I took him to dinner at a posh bistro—The Ivy in Beverly Hills.
During the course of the dinner, Rich said, "Oh, by the way, do you want to know how close you came to winning the Budweiser account?"
"Sure," I said. Rich moved his coffee cup about a quarter of an inch. He went on to say that there were six people in the selection process. Five wanted me, and one wanted Danny. The head of the agency was the one who wanted Danny. Danny won. Then Rich asked if I wanted to know how much money I didn't make.
Arlene said, "No."
I said, "Yes."
"Well," Rich went on, "Darren McGavin had the account for a few years prior to this, and he had an annual guarantee of a million dollars, and each year he exceeded the guarantee."
That's the kind of account that will change your life.
Although Danny was "The Voice" of NBC, they did use other announcers in the promo department. As I mentioned earlier, I also worked at NBC for ten years. Do you want to know how easy it was to get that job?
I had auditioned and won the job as the show announcer for Michael Mann's Crime Story series. During the few weeks prior to the premiere, I was called upon to do a lot of pre-launch promos for the show. During that time NBC producers would ask me to voice other promos as well. Shortly thereafter NBC decided they needed a promo announcer for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. John Luma, the head of hiring promo announcers, called Arlene Thornton and asked for a list of names of qualified promo announcers. When she got to my name, John said, "Oh, we know Jack. He'll be fine."
So it was that easy to get that job. Just doing the Tonight Show promos alone netted me well over $100 thousand dollars a year.
After Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show, and they changed promo announcers, Paula Cwikly, who was in charge of daytime promos wanted me as the voice of the soap opera promos. Paula became my champion at NBC.
Once Paula left, the new guy in charge of hiring announcers said one day, "Jack's done it enough. Let's get someone else."
And as easy as it came to me, it ended. Everything has a beginning and an end, and so it was with my tenure at NBC. And adding ten years at NBC to my résumé didn't hurt my reputation one bit.
The late Charlie O'Donnell, the announcer on Wheel of Fortune ("You've just won thirty thooousand dollars") had been the show announcer for twenty–five years. He told me that when he got the offer for that show, he was at the end a long run on another show and had decided to visit family and friends in New Jersey. He had checked in at a hotel and nobody on the West Coast knew where he was. But somehow his agent found him, called, and asked him if he'd like the job.
It only takes one person, and you don't know which person that is, so you have to "create yourself" to all of them. That is, there are people in high places all over the country who might love what you do, but they don't even know you exist.
Chapter FourCredits and the Magic Word
Nobody hires "good." If people were looking for good actors, all the good actors you know would be working and the rest would be selling shoes. So how come bad actors are working and good actors are selling Nine Wests?
Obviously, something else is going on.
I think the credits game started when some poor schlump hired an actor for a part, and his boss called him on the carpet because of it.
"I hired him because he's good."
"Naw! We don't want good, we want terrific!"
How do you arrive at terrific? Obviously there has to be some method of measurement. If Disney hired him, he must be terrific. If Ford hired him, he must be terrific.
A couple of years after I started devoting all my time to voice-over, I had a week in which I worked several times every day. Since then I've had a lot of weeks like that, but this was the first. Add in auditions every day at my agent's office and at various casting offices and ad agencies, and it was a rather hectic week. When it was all over, I had the sense that I did and said the exact same things over and over again. Everything seemed the same. Except every job and every audition was different.
Then I got it. All the talk before, during, and after the session was the same. Only the content of the jobs itself was different. The introductions and salutations were always the same (We have one spot, two spots, whatever). In the booth were directors, producers, writers, sometimes even the client, along with the recording engineer.
"Okay, hold it."
Discussion in the booth.
"Hey, that was great, but it was too long. Do it again, and pick up three seconds. And you sounded rushed, so slow down your delivery."
"Okay, that was good, except you flubbed a word."
"That was great, but again you were long."
"Fantastic, but emphasize this word or that."
For every person in the booth, you will wind up doing at least one extra take, because at some point, everyone will offer his or her input. When you finally get to that moment where everything is terrific, with no buts, the game is over and everyone moves on. So "terrific" is the magic word. Terrific or any synonym.
Sometimes the director will just say, "Go home!" or "That's a wrap." But it means, "Terrific. We got it."
So if "terrific" is the magic word, develop a reputation of being terrific and you'll get more work.
Sometimes the car you drive or the clothing you wear helps to make you terrific.
"Gee, if she drives an MBZ SL500, she must be terrific."
"Leather jacket? Hmmm. Leather is expensive. He must be terrific."
But that's all just part of the game. In reality, you already are terrific. In case you think you might not be, just remember that now, with DNA testing, we know that you are absolutely one of a kind in the universe. The time in which you exist is also just a flicker of an eyelash in eternity. So both you and the moment of your existence are among the rarest things there are. That makes you pretty goddamn terrific, if you ask me.
Now, back to the game. Your reputation precedes the money. Since this is partly a game of credits, your credits help create your reputation. Your credits are the answer to these questions: Oh, you're an actor? What have you done? Who're you with? (Who are you with—meaning, Who's your agent?)
Any good actor will rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. Here's something else for you to throw into the mix. Your answer to What have you done? can make a huge difference in what kind of jobs you get. You should figure out the strongest way of relaying your credits and practice saying that.
I once asked a girl, who had been complaining about her career being in the dumper, what she had done, and she answered, "Nothing."
I responded, "Well, you must have done something if you actually have a career that's in the dumper."
Excerpted from How To Succeed in Voice-Overs Without Ever Losing by Jack Angel Copyright © 2012 by Jack Angel . Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Oh, but It's So Hard to Break In....................1
There Ain't No Damn Rejection....................5
It Only Takes One Person....................9
Credits and the Magic Word....................13
Speaking of Agents....................21
More Magic: Triangles....................27
Be My Valentine!....................39
More Promotional Ideas....................45
Damn! He Forgot!....................53
The Value of Positioning....................57
Visualize Your Way to Success....................59
The Light Goes On!....................63
There Ain't No Negatives (Just Slangy Double Negatives)....................67
Additional Tips for Success....................75
AFTRA and SAG....................81
I Have More Than Myself to Thank....................83
Other Books to Read....................97
That's a Rap!....................99