Casting Directors. Are they necessary (In Voice Over)? Part One.
By now I’m sure you’ve probably heard about a remarkable new documentary out on HBO called “Casting By”, which profiles the often misunderstood role of casting directors in the film industry. In particular it focuses on the career and influence of one woman, the late Marion Dougherty, who hand-picked and helped foster the careers of some of the most legendary actors in Hollywood history. While this documentary focused solely on the role of the casting community in film, I was touched by this documentary in many ways. For one, it resonated with me, as I had considered a career in casting years before I became a voice talent, so I understood the process the film focused on. I didn’t have a thick enough skin for that side of the business but that’s another story. The other reason is that it made me realize how the role and impact of the casting director seems to be changing rapidly. And also how, in the today’s online VO climate, the casting professionals are often taken for granted and/or dismissed completely. This can have both positive and negative effects. Let me explain.
As a voice talent, I love being called out for auditions at casting offices. Running around NYC from office to office is quite the adventure. Not only does it get me out of my confined apartment studio and into the real world, but it also confirms that I have not completely surrendered myself over to the over-saturated online marketplace. I get a major buzz from waiting out in the hall and talking with other talents, prepping the copy, taking a break to pee in between, then having my name called and greeting the CD with a smile. If it’s someone I’ve been to before, or have taken a workshop with, there’s a familiarity already in place. We chat for a bit and then I step into the booth and work my magic.
However, I haven’t actually been “out on an audition” to a casting “office” in months. The last time I was sent out, I got a first refusal for a national campaign. While I didn’t book the gig, it was clearly enough to fuel my week. Rejection sometimes really stings, but THIS didn’t feel like rejection. It felt reassuring because there was someone else rooting for me, aside from myself, on the other side of the booth. This person was in part, responsible for getting me to make that slight adjustment, that made all the difference in my read and piqued the interest of a creative team of producers at a desk somewhere. At home, we don’t often, if ever, have that privilege, unless we’re being directed over the phone. It’s a relief to have an extra set of ears in this business.
The advent of online casting sites is dramatically transforming the industry every day, creating that ever-present, for lack of a better word, threat to casting folks who are sometimes still needed to make the the voice over industry resilient and balanced. Casting directors, associates and assistants possess this uncanny ability to weed out the mediocre and down-right awful talent from the exceptional talent. Without sounding too cliche, the casting director really IS your best friend. Sometimes the selection process gets a little hairy, but when you’re in that booth, the casting director giving you her undivided attention in hopes that you NAIL IT.
So, in answer to the question, I’ll be more specific. Perhaps what I meant to say was ‘Are casting directors in voice over necessary?'
Yes and No.
I am truly confounded because the role of casting folks is still vital. At least, on the Union end of things. I want it to be. And I’m sure a handful of my colleagues would agree with this. Whether we like it or not, it’s a challenging question to answer in this day and age with so many new realities unfolding before our very eyes. The VO market is quite unpredictable- trends keep emerging and we’ve got to be on top of them- sink or swim. Aside from the ubiquitous P2P venom, I would imagine casting directors are also competing with online education and training forums, a plethora of which are pretty hot right now. Don’t bother taking classes at a nearby studio or in the flesh because you can now do it all via a new virtual portal. Or via Skype and Google Plus. Have you joined one of the many voice over group hangouts? Not my style. I live in one of the greatest cities in the world and have so many options available to me. Remember when I said I was old fashioned? Though I can understand this for someone with ISDN living in Montana. On the bright side, I’m sure those sites will nevertheless reach out to some CDs to lend their coaching services- those who do. But will the casting director commit to this? Is it even needed at this point? That remains to be seen.
Indeed I have a few favorite CDs to whom I will always be grateful though. They’re wonderful, have helped me grow as a VO artist and challenged me in ways that were for my own good. In a large part I am a better talent because of them. A casting director ultimately possesses a certain skill set that I don’t think some agents and booth directors even have. Instinct and that little thing called “Patience”. It bothers me when people refer to casting directors as “agents.”
What is the casting director nowadays if not the second brain of the producer, working like dogs in the trenches of the entertainment industry, doing other people’s dirty work. The ear that can sort through hundreds and thousands of auditions and head shots to find the right person and in this case, the “right voice”. At the end of the day, there’s that universal ability to recognize the pool of VO talent, without putting a dollar sign on someone’s forehead. Casting directors can put aside corporate politics and hierarchical agenting while willingly and truthfully being an advocate for the person in the booth in that very moment. When I walk in the door, I feel empathy radiating from inside the studio, shining down upon me; almost surreal. Yes, there’s a bit of ego– good ego- not the vanity kind. The process doesn’t feel rushed.
Back in my casting and film production days, I learned that directors and producers put a great deal of trust in the casting department. More so than the studio. Some studios are less involved in the day-to-day process. Others, want to have a say in every decision. If you watched the above documentary, you might remember how often casting directors in film were taken for granted. They’re the essential element in influencing the creative minds, which, in turn, hand the select choices to the studio alter, like an animal sacrifice to the Gods. They’re armed with gut instincts, knowledge of the vast talent pool, and, in voice over, act as the producer’s right hand woman/man in making judgement calls out in the field.
Wish I could make the same case for voice over where the producer and/or client is the one who knows what they want…or don’t want. By enlisting the CD, they’re handing over a lot of stress, aggravation and major decision making to a third party that’s seeking your “directability” and range to make you better, all the while being entirely subjective. If the CD is “pit boss” and “the gatekeeper” to the powers that be what do we have to do to get beyond that point? I haven’t a clue.
On the other hand, there are those few who do seem to give us more hassle than encouragement, treat non-union talent different from union talent, find our monthly newsletters/post cards annoying, or bring their personal baggage into the studio at every audition.
Regardless of who you’re dealing with, and being an actor, you may ask yourself the following questions:
Am I really going to be submitted?
Are they just telling me it’s good because they want me out of the booth quick?
Are they going to scrap my read altogether?
Do I have to take that bold choice in my read just to 'wow’ someone even though it may not be what we actually record?
And then the other question remains: aside from good ol’ competition and now over-saturation, could our not getting that bigger gig also have to do with the problem it really could be—the casting director?
To be continued….
And thanks for reading!