I was going to wait until a bit later in these articles to bring this up, but after talking with a few of my casting director friends, I feel like the sooner I can touch on some of the mistakes we can make as voice actors the better.
Okay. Real Talk for a minute.
Like it or not - whether you think it’s fair or not - every casting director and most actors have a List. For some people it’s called a blacklist, for others it’s simply “that list of people I will never ever work with because of ______.” Actors and directors follow these lists very carefully based on their experiences. Whether or not you’re on a list makes the difference between getting invited to auditions, collaborations, and other business opportunities that could be advantageous to your career as a voice actor... or not. These lists also grow and change over time, but it’s vital to remember that because online voiceover is a very small and niche community, if you’re on one person’s list, chances are that they’re telling others to add you to their own.
Fortunately, getting on one of these lists really only happens because of poor business sense. Part of being a professional in this industry means knowing that there are some major pitfalls and that you aren’t immune to them, no matter how much experience you have under your belt. Occasionally, some newcomers are very politely informed if they cross any boundaries, but you can’t count on being so lucky every time. And if you do have experience and ought to know better, you can permanently ruin your own career.
To make sure that this never happens to you, let’s look at some of the most common situations where voice actors have inadvertently sabotaged their relationship with other actors and directors.
1. Cold Calling
Situation: You know an actor or director who frequently sends out casting notifications or they just work on a really awesome project you want to be involved with too. You may already be on their audition list, but haven’t seen anything from them recently. Or they held auditions for that project a while ago before you started following them. You really want to work with them, so you email or message them over social media to see if they can get you involved.
What You Should Have Done: This kind of behavior is called Cold Calling. This would be like calling a local business and asking why they haven’t hired you yet just because you sent them your resume. In that situation, they may hire a lot of candidates, and if they have your resume and see potential in it, they already have you on file for specific kinds of work. They will call you if you match the position they’re looking for. Trust me. Voice acting works the same way.
If it has been more than six months to a year since you’ve heard from a casting director, and you’re really worried, send them a formal email directing them to the professional work you’ve done recently so they can see you have been working and what kind of work you’re doing. Ask if they will let you know if anything is coming up. Respect the answer you get, no matter how short or succinct it is, and move on.
2. Taking Unresolved Drama to Social Media.
Situation: Your client recast you without giving you the heads up. Or you were in negotiations to play the lead in an awesome new project, only to find out that they just released a public announcement that they’re teaming up with a group of famous Youtubers to handle voice over for them. Frustrated, you tweet about it. Or you post a long, public facebook rant about how no one in the industry should work for them again because they are such poor business partners.
What You Should Have Done: This happens. This happen frequently and it is an unfortunate dynamic of working in online voiceover. This can really suck for you, but you also have to be the bigger person when it does. Businesses can be ruined this way. Even when you're in the right, other directors or clients don’t want to take the risk that you’ll ruin them too.
If it does happen to you, always start by contacting your clients with formal emails following up on the situation. Never assume the worst in their actions, and understand that their expectations may be different than what you understood. You still need to be the professional. Always try to communicate and resolve rather than retaliate.
3) Sharing Audition Sides Without Permission
Situation: You just got an amazing set of audition sides for a project with great art, pay, and exposure. Your friend didn’t. You want them to have the chance to audition, so you forward the email to them.
What You Should Have Done: Do Not Do This. Almost every set of audition sides very specifically comes with a warning that they are private and not to be shared. If you are invited to view these sides, you are invited to view them as a guest - not as their owner. If there is an NDA attached, your friend shouldn’t even know you’re auditioning for this project.
However, if you really want to help your friend out, have them contact the director personally with a formal application to be considered for their audition pool in general. If you're comfortable doing so, you can ask the director if you can forward your friend's information because you think they might be a good fit for a role. Always respect the answer you get back. You are responsible for your own success, not your friend’s.
4. Vanishing Without Warning From a Project
Situation: Life happens. You had a massive breakup. You moved. You had to finish school or you lost your job. You keep meaning to get back to that voice over project you were working on, but you just don’t have the time or energy.
What You Should Have Done: Email the director immediately and tell them the truth in whatever level of detail you feel comfortable with. Let them know you don’t have the time you thought you would and though you wanted to be involved, it’s just not possible right now. Ask them what they would like to see happen with the project moving forward - some might be able to give you more time to record just to keep you on board and not have to recast. Otherwise, be apologetic. If you want to get back on the horse, let them know that you would like to work with them again after life gets back to normal. Give them the money back if they already paid you, or arrange for the chance to do so as soon as you are financially able. Just don’t vanish and leave them hanging in the middle of a project.
5. Making Your Personal Life Public
Situation: Your sense of humor on public social media is edgy. You’re constantly looking for fights about politics and social issues. You get into flame wars with people who say negative things about projects you’ve worked on.
What You Should Have Done: As an online voice actor and professional, you now have a public face that will be promoting your brand (which includes your voice and your reputation) as well as the brands of others. If those brands get mixed up with combative behaviors or off color joking, you can prevent both your and other brands for selling. Be respectful of your brand and the fact that you might be representing others with what you say.
Keep separate social media accounts for your personal and public image or brand. Your public accounts are responsible for marketing you to others and your content on those accounts needs to go through that lens. Ask if yourself if that content is controversial, and if it is, will it hurt or help your brand to post it for that audience? If the answer is "No," keep it to your private personal accounts and chats.
6. Don’t Hijack Your Character
Situation: Not only are you a part of a really awesome project, but you totally relate to the character you play. Like a lot. You constantly ask the creator to incorporate your ideas into the narrative. You cosplay and role play as them over social media. When people criticize the character, you even take it personally.
What You Should Have Done: Right away, let’s make it clear that there is a HUGE difference between enjoying playing a character, and hijacking them. I have a lot of friends who actually have cosplayed as their character, especially after the creators found out they already cosplay and asked them to do so for publicity. They are also happy to answer questions about playing that character and what they liked about being involved in the project. This kind of interaction with your character and the audience is totally fine!
The problem of hijacking really starts to come in when a voice actor starts to take ownership of that character as if they are the only one responsible for that character. They don’t acknowledge the creator when they “speak” for that character, and they go out of their way to emphasize that they were in that project and are the main reason people like it. Voice actors are incredibly important to bringing many games and animated projects to life, but they are usually doing so as part of a team, and professional team at that. Be respectful of this dynamic. Enjoy that project as part of a whole. This really comes back to marketing your image and whether or not you’re marketing yourself at the expense of someone else and their creation.
7) Criticize Casting Decisions or Other Actors Publicly
Situation: You auditioned for an indie game and didn’t get in. You turn to social media to announce why the people who were cast shouldn’t have the job.
What You Should Have Done: We’ve already covered that you shouldn’t take your drama or personal controversial behavior to social media. Let’s take this a step further. When you publicly criticize casting decisions - especially if you auditioned and didn’t get in - you run the risk of communicating to other directors that you will talk smack about them if they don’t cast you. You can influence their brand negatively. Is that worth the risk?
As an actor, you now have inherent bias about casting decisions, regardless of how much you might mean well towards the project itself. You also cannot know all the factors involved in each casting decision - such as what the product owner ultimately decides to do, or how the casting director had to fit a group of voices into a big picture. It’s impossible for you to make an unbiased statement. You can still discuss your thoughts with friends and other professionals in private, but don’t bring these conversations into public forums where they have the potential to impact your career.
8) “Can you get me into….?”
Situation: You asked anyone at any professional level of voice acting this question.
What You Should Have Done: No. No they can not.
Asking anyone this question is saying, “Can you put your reputation on the line to ask your client if they can hire me, regardless of whether or not I am qualified for the position?” That’s a risky question to ask even your best friend. And to be honest, if you are best friends and you happen to be qualified at the same time, they’ve already mentioned your name in a place where it was professionally appropriate to do so. Do not try to put anyone in this position.
9) Putting Fandubs On Your Resume
Situation: You don’t have a lot of professional work under your belt yet, but you’ve been in a few well produced fandubs that have tens of thousands of views on Youtube and got a lot of positive feedback.
What You Should Have Done: Find anything else. Literally anything that is not a fandub.
To be honest, I actually think fandubs are great experience builders when you’re first starting out, but they are not for resumes. Ever. Fandubs do not showcase your ability to create fully realized original characters. They also tell a casting director that you’re not capable of working on original content if you still need to pad out your resume. Worst case scenario, the casting director feels very strongly about fandubs having a negative impact on the industry and you are contributing that impact. Don’t take that risk.
10. Not Listening To The Director
Situation: You were cast in a new project and sit down over skype to record your lines. The director says to give them two takes, but you know you can do better if you just do it a few more times until you really nail that delivery for them. On another take, they tell you to try something different, and it doesn’t sound very good. You tell them "trust me, that won't work."
What You Should Have Done: Always pay strict attention to your director, even if they’re a friend or acquaintance you’ve hung out with casually before. If they say you gave them a take they like, stop and get ready to move on to the next line. If they ask you for a difficult type of delivery, you do whatever it takes to give them what they’re asking for and listen to their suggestions on how to do it. Don’t make the decision for them, because it says that you know better about what they need for this project. After a while, they may stop reminding you that they only need a few takes or to try different things, but they'll also stop casting you or even sending you auditions.
Don’t assume your director has extra time to listen, or that their engineer doesn’t mind wading through another half a dozen variations of the same line. (I’ve been that engineer, please don’t do that.) If you can't listen, you very quickly establish that you’re not worth the time or effort to direct, no matter how talented you are.
Okay. I think we’ve hit a lot for now, but I hope this helps give you an idea of what you want to be thinking about as you engage with the online voice over community. Remember, a lot of this is just good business sense and being respectful of your directors, clients, and peers. You’re maintaining your business image and the image of others with your interactions, and you don’t want to sabotage that in any way. Keep this in mind, and you’ll never see anyone’s blacklist.
Photo by vince42