Casting Call Red Flags and Considerations for Online/Indie Voice Artists

Before, we’ve looked at one of the ways to put the best foot forward for your indie project when recruiting voice actors.  Now let’s look at it from the perspective of an indie voice actor auditioning for a project online. What are some things to take into consideration when choosing to audition for a project?

You can always drop out.

It’s important to remember that, no matter what, there’s always a way to work out leaving a project. You don’t want to be unreliable, obviously, and you may take a hit to the bank account, but you have every right to turn down or stop working with a client if they’re making you uncomfortable or not compensating you as agreed. How and when you leave a project is going to depend on the style of project, but there’s going to be an out for you somewhere.

If you’re not getting paid, it’s important to remember that you’re volunteering your time. If the people you’re working with can’t respect that, then they don’t respect you, and they don’t deserve any more of your time than you’re willing to give them.

If someone’s paying you, and there’s a contract, that can be trickier. Someone may even throw that you’re “breaking your contract” in your face. If you haven’t recorded anything, however, and you’re not asking to be paid for work you haven’t done, you may be in the clear. If you want out of the project because you’re not being paid, then they’re the ones who might be in breach of contract. Read the fine print. See what you’ve already agreed to. Jump through the hoops.

In the end, you have to keep your mental health and safety in mind. That’s your number one priority. Ideally, though, we want to avoid this to begin with.

Major Casting Call Flaws

We’ve talked about casting calls and how to make them. That being said, a casting call that seems to not follow any basic structural guidelines very well may belong to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Bad character descriptions, missing audition sides, and inadequate descriptions of the project are all evidence of someone who doesn’t have the experience to know better and didn’t bother putting in the research to learn.

Inexperience in and of itself isn’t inherently a problem. It’s the total lack of effort to do research and the disregard for typical operating procedures that ever so slightly raises a red flag.

Unclear Project Parameters

As we keep reading the casting call, this is likely the first place we’ll find out whether they have clear project parameters. If you have no way of knowing what kind of thing you’re auditioning for or what kind of time commitment you’d be making, you’re looking at a project with no foundation that’s going to fall apart before it even gets started properly.

This also applies to major changes that might happen during or right after casting. If a project lead suddenly sends out an alert that “hey, we’re changing it from a visual novel to an audio drama,” that’s another red flag. Even if things seemed ready to go initially, they’ve made the mistake of bringing in a cast way too early in the project which just complicates things even further. Minor changes can and will happen over the course of any project (adding levels, adding scenes, changing episode order), but major fundamental changes should have happened long before casting ever occured. The failure to do so is evidence of a production team that doesn’t have their ducks properly in a row.

Casting Early

Another thing you might see from a casting call, especially if it’s being hosted on Casting Call Club or BTVA, is casting before the stated deadline for auditions to be turned in. This probably comes from a  misconception of how casting actually works. The myth of the starlett who walks in, reads the sides, then is immediately told “you’re hired” by the casting director because they were perfect for the part is very persistent. That’s not how that really works, though,  in the real industry for stage or screen or voice. Casting early denies you possibly more qualified talent and doesn’t do you any favors as a casting director. It also shows a lack of decorum and ostensibly reveals that they don’t know best casting practices. It’s possible the entire project could be peppered with these kinds of mistakes, and you have to weigh whether that’s worth it to you.

There are other things outside the casting call that you can look at when researching a project.

A Lack of Completed Projects

What has this producer already done? Maybe this is their first major project, and that’s fine. Everyone starts somewhere. What might raise concern, however, is if they’ve never done anything and they’re shooting for the moon for their first wide release. If they’ve never so much as done a comic dub, and they want to abridge the entirety of One Piece, that might be someone who doesn’t properly understand their own limitations or the amount of work they’re making for themselves. If they also seem to have started a lot of projects and not finished any of them, then they either don’t have good follow through or there’s something about the way they conduct their productions that they don’t get finished. Not that you shouldn’t go for it if you think it’s a cool project. Just keep in mind the likelihood of it falling apart goes waaaaay up.

Seeing their previous work also gives you a more solid idea of their style and content. You may come across an animator and all their shorts to date are filled with content you find objectionable. That might affect whether you want to be involved creatively and attach your name to something they’ve made.

Unclear or Not-Guaranteed Funding and Payment

The source of the funding to pay you isn’t necessarily of much concern. People get money from a whole bunch of weird places. What you should be looking out for, though, is if that funding seems insecure. Maybe your official casting is contingent on a successful Kickstarter. Or it’s starting as an unpaid project, and they’ll pay you if their Patreon gets enough of a following. It’s good to be wary of those situations. It shows something of a lack of foresight to not have the money ready to compensate your cast. While it’s perfectly fine to produce and audition for unpaid projects (there are certain forms of hobby voice acting that are entirely unpaid by nature), a will-they-won’t-they with payment is like interviewing for a job and not knowing if you’re going to get a paycheck after your hired. You can take the risk but remember that it’s just that: a risk.

Also be on the lookout for people attempting to pay “in exposure.” I’m very comfortable saying that anyone who unironically uses the phrase “it’s good exposure” in a casting call has no concept of the actual value of “exposure:” practically nothing. They just don’t want to/can’t pay you and think whatever little exposure they can give you is equal compensation. Most of the time it’s a gross over-estimation of the value of their fame or reach.

Bad Social Presence or Reputation

In addition to their content production, how they present themselves on social media, in vlogs, or other platforms will tell you a lot about what they’re like as a person. Even a well-crafted facade can’t fully hide a truly terrible human being. By that same token, a solid marketing voice and face is the evidence of someone who does deeply care about how they’re perceived and likely won’t want to ruin good working relationships.

Social media is also the place where you’re going to get an overall feel for their reputation and behavior. If they’re constantly in Twitter feuds with people, that  gives you a really good idea of how they conduct themselves and their level of professionalism. These things taken together paint a pretty good picture of what you’d be dealing with were you to work with this particular producer/director.

Weird Casting Patterns, Always in the Lead

Something that is a little more subtle and may only lightly set off an alert depending on the fuller context is the pattern of their casting. It’s not unusual for someone to cast themselves as the lead of their own project. That’s a pretty common thing across the board. I’ve done it myself with my game The D (Stands for Demon). It’s not even that weird to always write a small part for yourself if you’re a voice actor/producer/writer combo (guilty as charged). You’re allowed to be an auteur. Where it might start raising eyebrows is when someone only casts themselves in the lead parts and doesn’t seem to do any kind of voice work for anyone else.

This isn’t a knock on the possible quality of the end-product. It may be an amazing, well-paying project…you just have to be ready to deal with the personality behind it. All passion projects come with a certain level of self-indulgence. It’s why people create. When a person is constantly putting themselves at the center of their own projects, though, there’s a high chance they’re creating for the soul purpose of self-aggrandizement or fantasy fulfillment. They’re only goal may be to make themselves look good as opposed to telling a story or exploring a theme. As a secondary actor, then, you’re now being used as an instrument of vainglory as opposed to an independent creative collaborator.

If they also don’t seem to involve themselves with any other kind of collaborations, there may be a reason for that. Why don’t they want to work with other people? Why don’t other people want to work with them?

Someone who’s in this situation isn’t necessarily a bad person. You just have to decide how you feel about possibly being the Rob Schneider to somebody’s Adam Sandler. Diane Keaton to Woody Allen. Rock Lee to Naruto.

How They Talk about Their Own Project

Another one of those subtle things to look for is how a project lead talks about their own project, how much they try to upsell it.

No one who creates for themselves thinks what they’re creating is bad or unenjoyable. Being proud of something and encouraging people to audition is perfectly fine and even necessary. There’s a very fine line, however, between promoting your project for the sake of enticing collaborators and public consumption and thinking you’re making literally the best video game in existence that everyone is going to love and you’ll be so famous and everyone will love you and it’s gonna be the next Undertale.

People who are confident in their work will feel comfortable letting it stand on its own merit. If someone feels the need to convince you that “it’s good, I promise” it’s either not good and they know it. Or they’ve been told there are some fundamental problems, and instead of addressing them to improve the project, they’re plowing forward under the insistence that it’s perfect as-is. Either way, there’s a higher probability that you’re looking at something that’s not going to be a high quality product that you can feel proud of or put on a resume.

There’s also a huge difference between being confident and being an egomaniac. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Coppola have decidedly created some of the most influential films in modern cinema, but they were downright abusive to their cast and crew. You have the option to not put up with that sort of thing, especially from some dude who just wants to turn his totally amazing sci-fi novel (that he self-published) into an audio drama (that he’s not going to pay you to work on).

Something of a lesser offense I’ve seen in regards to how someone views their own project is the use of the phrase “win the audition.”  There’s a perfectly serviceable word for getting a part, and that’s “cast.” An audition isn’t a contest, it’s a job interview. You don’t “win,” you get “hired.” So, yes, it’s a bit of a semantic argument, but I feel like the connotations of saying someone “won” a part show a lack of understanding of what the actor/director/producer relationship should look like. Combined with other signs of pretension, it can be the nail in the coffin that holds my interest in a project.

Treating Auditioners Poorly

The auditioning phase is possibly the first time you might see a producer interacting with the people who are looking to join their project. If they’re quarrelsome or unresponsive those are all indicators of how they’d likely still continue to interact with people after casting them. If they seem like a jerk…then…well…if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

After Casting

So say everything has appeared copacetic up through auditioning and, hey! you’ve been cast in a cool new project. There’s a window of time, right at the start, where hopefully you’ll know pretty soon if you need to bail (a task made easier if they’re not paying you and you haven’t signed anything, yet). If you get cast and the director just ghosts you, that’s a problem. That means they don’t have their own house in order. If you don’t get a script, if you get strung along, if you’re suddenly having to do more work than implied in the casting call, then you have reason to be on guard.

I left an unpaid project one time because, among other things, after casting me he suddenly slammed me with the information that my character was actually three characters because of shape-shifting something something simulations. There was no indication of that in the casting call in any way shape or form, so that is not what I agreed to. Had other circumstances been different or I were getting paid for the work I would have probably been fine with it and chalked it up to being a minor annoyance. As things were? Nah. I don’t have time for that.

Just stay on your toes when working with new people, and never assume a project’s going to publish in full until you actually have it in your hands (metaphorically speaking).

Taking Advantage of New/Young Actors, Especially Teen Girls

Something new and teenage actors should be aware of is that are indeed people who will attempt to take advantage of you because they think you’re a kid, and you don’t know any better. If you’re engaging with something in a professional manner, you deserve to be treated professionally no matter your age. Full stop. If you’re being pushed to do something you’re not comfortable with or you’re being denied compensation, you may have to stand up for yourself and go “no, you will treat me with respect or I’m out of here.”

Early in your career or hobby, you might feel like you have to put up with certain things because you’re trying to prove yourself and get your foot in the door. You’re right to a small extent. That only applies, however, to lower pay and smaller parts. You always deserve to be treated with respect and not given the runaround.

Teenage girls need to especially look out for the type of adult man that creates and casts projects partially under the pretense of surrounding themselves with teenage girls and getting close to them. That’s not to say that an adult and a teenager can’t have a good working relationship. These particular men, though–and they do tend to be men–are looking for what amounts to internet concubines. Young girls they can buddy up to and attempt to groom to their liking.

I’ve had first hand experience with this because I have a “super anime magical girl voice.” As such I’ve been contacted by people interested in working with me because I have a “cute voice.” Then, in the process of hashing out the details, they treat me as though I’m a teenage girl (because that’s what they think I am), and their true, creepy colors shine through. Jokes on them; I’m a grown-ass woman who won’t put up with their garbage.

So if you find yourself in the situation where you’re getting creeped on or lines are being crossed, first tell someone else who might be able to help you and have your back. Then get out as soon as you can. If you haven’t done any work for them, yet, or there’s no payment involved, don’t be afraid to cut and run. If there’s money involved (like if you’re waiting to be paid), that’s where your adult friend is going to come in handy to help you navigate the weirdness that situation creates.

Your mental health and comfort in the project your working on are worth way more than whatever money or experience or exposure you’d get from working on a project. There will be other producers in the future who know what they’re doing and will respect you.

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