Casting Calls, directing, Project Management, voice acting

How to Cast Voices Like You Know What You’re Doing Part 2: Finding the Character’s Voice

Last time we talked about how to frame the voice you want for your casting call. Now, how do we implement this?

Everyone casts a little differently, but, without digging into those details, there are some broad strokes you can abide by to get the best out of the casting process.

Stick to Your Deadline

In “The Anatomy of a Casting Call” I talk about setting a deadline. As a casting director, it is your responsibility to stick to the deadline you set. Imagine being in a class and the teacher says “hey, I know I said this essay was due Monday, but I’ve gotten all the ones I’m willing to grade, so I’m not accepting any more.” Then you don’t get a grade for that assignment and fail the class. That’s what casting before the set deadline is.

This is a problem  you see in the indie creator community far too often, and it stems from a misunderstanding of how the professional casting system works. A young ingenue doesn’t walk into a casting call, wow the directors, and then get immediately cast on the spot. There are scheduled appointments, and the final client generally won’t even see auditioning footage until the casting director sends it to them at the end of the auditioning period.

You’re not doing yourself any favors by casting early, and you’re denying yourself the opportunity to hear as many auditions a possible. Just because you think a voice is a perfect fit, doesn’t mean there’s not an even more perfect fit that’ll get an audition in at the last minute.

Pick Your Priority and Take It One Step at a Time

There are a handful of different decision vectors that go into picking the right voice and the actor that goes with it:

  • The right voice sound
  • Appropriate acting/characterization
  • Mic and recording space quality
  • Ability to work together
  • Various aspects of professionalism
  • Ability to follow/take direction
  • Experience

Like I mentioned in the first part of this write-up, a lot of the aspects of casting come from experience. You learn what the right acting or right voice sounds like from doing the process over and over again. That doesn’t mean you can’t break it down analytically.

I usually start with excluding anyone with a mic quality I can’t work around or who has otherwise totally botched the technical file management part of sending in an audition. That’s just how it works best for me. After casting for voice and making my top pick, I double check they haven’t done something so horribly egregious that I won’t worth with them. For me, a lack of experience isn’t a deal breaker. If I can give someone an entry they desperately need for their resume, then good. I know that life. I’m still living it. Name recognition, then, is low on my priority list while ability to follow directions and being a decent human is up there on even footing with the voice/acting combo.

That doesn’t have to be how you choose to do it, though. Maybe you’d prefer to bring on people with more experience to compensate for your lack of it. Maybe the choice between two actors comes down to who you think can drum up the most interest for your project or bring in a new audience. These are all perfectly reasonable choices to make as long as you’re not sacrificing the quality of your product for favoritism or fame.

There’s also individual vocal characteristics to consider. Which of the various things you asked for in the audition sides is the most important to the character? The laugh? The accent? What are you willing to give up or compromise on if finding the “perfect voice” becomes intractable?

Going in with your preferences set ahead of time will help you in breaking down the decision making process into manageable steps.

Consider Your Cast’s Synergy

A case study: a project with an all male cast (so I won’t be auditioning for it and merely watching as an outside observer) starts casting actors within days of the casting call going online, well before the one-month deadline they initially set.

This would reveal itself to be the bad idea that it was when the “deepest voiced [re:pitch] member of the cast” didn’t have the lowest voice at the end of casting. Far from it. Now, they may have made that decision in the end, anyway, but by casting early they took that option away from themselves. It remains to be seen how things will turn out, but they took a real risk of throwing off the balance of their whole cast by making choices early and without the ensemble in mind.

My audio drama from a few years ago, Ollie and Molly, featured two sisters, close in age That necessitated making sure they sounded similar enough to be related, but not so alike they’d get confused in the audio-only format. In my current game, The D (Stands for Demon), I went back and forth between two low-voiced characters, trying to decide which of a trio of voice actors fit the best. The decision got made in the end by listening to them all in conjunction with the rest of the cast I had picked.

It’s worth considering the gestalt of your cast in conjunction with the individual voices. Is there enough vocal variety to tell characters apart on sound alone? Does the older mentor actually sound wise and authoritative in comparison to the main character? Do the teenage students sound younger than the adult teachers? Do family members feel like family members? While this doesn’t necessarily have to be a high priority, it can that essential factor in making your final decision on a voice and contribute to the overall power of your cast.

Follow Up Like a Pro

So you’ve got your cast! You know who you want to bring in. Neat! This is when you reach out to your possible cast and offer them the part. When you do so be very clear on expectations and how you’d like to arrange the recording process.. Also include how you’d like them to announce (or not announce) their involvement on social media so there’s no accidental early announcements.

One of the worst possible things you could do at this stage is to drop out of communication. You have people in your cast. They’re excited to be involved. If you suddenly disappear, not only do you look bad as a producer, you’ve suddenly lost all your momentum. In the indie community, voice actors are just waiting for projects to fall through. Don’t be one of them. If something unexpected comes up that will delay production, a quick e-mail to everyone will but you loads of goodwill.

From there, remember that it takes people time to check their e-mails and that things can go wrong. If you don’t hear back in a day, follow-up with another e-mail. If there’s still silence on that front, try Twitter or whatever other means of communication you might have with them. Recasting or casting someone else has to happen sometimes, but doing so without alerting the people in question does no look good on you.

This also goes for casting people again in sequels. Don’t assume that someone wants to work with you again or is available. Ask first. By that same token, it’s good form to ask a person if they’re available to encore their part before casting someone new. Open communication will go a long way toward actors wanting to work with you again in the future.

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