Compiling A Reel – How Do You Do It?

October 9, 2009

That’s not rhetorical, it’s an actual question. I’m curious to hear about how you all compile your reels. I seem to have a bear of a time tracking down projects and, maybe even more so, finding that right balance between contacting a producer / director too soon after a project (and coming across as pushy / annoying) or waiting too long (and having them have no idea what you’re talking about anymore because they have 100 projects going on).

Thoughts? Suggestions? Tricks? I’ll even except submissions involving magic and whatnot.


That “Uh oh!” Moment…

April 24, 2009

It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. The “Uh oh!” moment is NOT a fun thing. But if you’re a professional and you’re good at what you do, in this case, voice acting, you’ll work it out. But let me back up…

On Monday I got a call from one of my agents that I’d booked a gig and I was on hold for 10:00am on Thursday. Awesome. The client had auditioned talent via demos so this was the first I’d heard of the project. It was recording at a studio I’d never been to before, and an impressive space: The lobby was a two-story area with lots of designer elements and what appeared to be custom-made things like lighting fixtures, stair railings, etc. The receptionist asked who I was seeing.


I actually had no idea. I tried to call my agent’s office but just then a woman phoned the receptionist to ask if I was there yet and that I’d be meeting with Nancy. Great. Crisis averted. Apparently this place was so big and busy, even in this economy, that they had a jillion sessions going on this morning and so, you know, not knowing who I was working with could’ve been a bit of an issue. Especially since the receptionist asked “Hmm, are you here for a singing voiceover session? To record a jingle?” Anybody who’s ever heard me sing would know the answer to that would be a resounding, in unison, in stereo where available “NO!”

A few minutes later, Nancy arrived via elevator and took me up a couple of floors. In the elevator, she tells me “So, we listened to a TON of demos…and picked YOU!” As a voice actor, that’s no less rewarding than actually auditioning, specifically, for a project. At least for me. And plus you hear that little voice inside your head go “Yesssss!”

Once at our floor, Nancy led us through a series of winding hallways past any number of recording studios, past a screening lobby, to the studio where we’d be doing our session. The client wasn’t there yet, but she introduced me to a guy named Steve, as well as the engineer, Brian. Both nice guys who almost immediately started to discuss American Idol, in the process lulling me into a sense of comfort as I chatted along with them.

Then the client arrived and it was business time. To be honest, I always get a little bit nervous with a new client. Not so much in a “I hope I don’t screw up” way, but in a way similar to how you might feel going to dinner with a client for the first time. You want it to go well, right? So the client, and his associate, both seemed like good guys, too, which was a nice, quick hop over the first hurdle.

But then came the “Uh oh!” moment…

“So…” the client begins, “we liked your demo a lot.”
“Great, thanks,” I replied.
“Especially,” he continued, “the Olympus spot. The tone of that was great.”

Um. There’s no Olympus spot on my demo. In fact, I don’t think there’s even a camera spot of any variety on my demo with which to confuse for an Olympus spot. Oh, crap. There was the uh oh moment. The thought that I couldn’t get out of my head for the next 2 minutes.

They hired the wrong talent, and the wrong talent was me.

Of course, I feigned a bad memory: “Hmm, I don’t remember that one…” I sorta mumbled as I turned my head and pretended that I wasn’t pretending.

But there was no way I was going to let that little detail ruin a perfectly good session. After all, the client could have mis-remembered the spot. If they did truly listen to a lot of demos, that could be a thing that could happen, realistically, right?! And besides. I’m a professional. I mean, this is what I do. All I have to do is take direction well and deliver the goods and, provided they weren’t looking for a DLF performance, I should be good to go.

And in fact, the words “natural” and “conversational” came up. No sweat. I can do natural and conversational no problem.

I should point out that there were five scripts, and as we were recording voice for the launch of a big, new product, the client wanted to make sure we had time to get it just right, and as such had booked the studio for a double session.

Now, direction comes to you in a few different ways. Sometimes, it all comes from the client. A couple weeks ago, in my session for Corona, there were five people from the ad agency as well as one person from the beer company, the engineer, an assistant, a guy who just seemed to be wandering around, somebody ready to get bagels and coffee and, for some inexplicable reason, a mime wearing a banana suit. Don’t ask. But all of the direction came from one of the ad agency people:  The woman who, I believe, had written the spot.

Sometimes, though, the direction comes from the engineer after he or she speaks with the client following a take. Sometimes it’s all from the engineer. In this case, it was a combination. Mostly, the client would give comments to the engineer who would in turn give me some new direction. Sometimes the client would give me direction himself, and then I would intepret that based on what I’d just done and follow up with “So, kind of like this…” and then give an example.

The first script was the shortest, and I think we did 7 or 8 takes of that one. After that, the voice and tone were set and on two of the other scripts, they were happy with the first take. Awesome. Of course we did a couple more of each as safeties, but I was glad that they were digging what I was doing and, to be honest, after just the first couple of takes of the first script, the “Uh oh!” moment had left my head and it was just business as usual.

In all, we were done after about 35 minutes. The client seemed to be very happy. He thanked me and said he hoped we’d work together again…a sentiment I shared. (I’ve worked with clients before who seemed like they either had no idea what they wanted or no idea what they were doing, so working with a client like the one in this story, who definitely knew both of those things, is always a very good thing). Nancy walked me back through the maze of halls to the elevator, telling me “Wow, that went a lot smoother and faster than we were even hoping it would…great job!”

Sweet. I was pleased with myself, professionally. As I walked out of the elevator and said goodbye to Nancy, it struck me again how great it is to be able to do something that I love to do, and get paid to do it.

But most of all, I was glad that I didn’t let the “Uh oh!” moment get the best of me.

An Interesting – and Eye-Opening – Idea

March 23, 2009

Over on fellow v.o. Jeff Kafer’s blog, he poses an interesting idea, which is to do a post-mortem on v.o. projects. He brings this ideas from his time spent working in the video game business, and it’s a really good idea there. Think about it…you’ve got dozens or maybe even hundreds of people working on a project for 12-36 months. Doing a post-mortem on the project to analyze what went wrong and what went right is a good idea.

Jeff goes on to give an example of a post-mortem of a recent v.o. project he did (and seems to be very honest with himself in it, which is an important thing to remember!) but the thing that struck me the most was how I wouldn’t really be able to do with with any kind of effectiveness on most of the projects I’ve done.

My v.o. work is primarily commercial and sometimes I’m literally in the booth for the session for a total of 10-15 minutes. I should also point out that the vast majority of my sessions have been at client locations, whether their offices or a recording studio. Very few of the projects I’ve voiced have been done from my own booth here at my office. I bring this up because generally speaking, when a client is paying for booth time at a studio, they have very little incentive to keep the session going long for obvious reasons.

I’m not saying that I never make mistakes…I do, like anybody else. I try to minimize them as much as possible, but even the best v.o. in the world can’t get around the simple fact that the director has something in his / her head, and there’s no way to guess what that is, especially if you haven’t worked together before.

But what was the most eye-opening thing about Jeff’s article is that there are so many other types of v.o. projects out there that I haven’t pursued. Audio books (books on CD), long-form narration, etc. These projects are large-scale and often require many hours in the booth. I’ve done only a few of these types of things…I could probably count them on one hand.

The last one I did, for which I’m still under NDA, was for a web-based project with a fair amount of interactivity. It was a few dozen pages worth of script and I was fortunate in that the client’s only pickup requests were for places where they’d gone back and modified the script a bit.

For me, though, the thing that Jeff’s article has inspired me to do the most is to pursue some of these other types of v.o. projects, not only to increase the amount of work I’m doing, but because they sound like they’d be both fun and challenging. And then, of course, I can take Jeff’s advice and do a post-mortem after each one.

Jeffrey Kafer’s Blog

The Callback

August 26, 2008

Like many voice actors, I do a lot of auditions. Sometimes, you do so many – whether through an online service like or through an agent – that you sort of have to purge them and you kind of lose track of all of them.

So on the rare occasion that you get a callback for an audition, it stands out. In my experience, callbacks are extremely rare. I think I’ve averaged on a year for the last three years. If you’re not familiar with a callback, it’s when, as the name implies, you’re called back to audition again. This is generally a good thing because it means they liked you enough to bring you back and have you read again.

But whereas the initial audition may have been a zillion people (that may be a slight underexaggeration), the callback might be a dozen people.

Now, I may have a goofy outlook on this, but when I audition for a voiceover job, I do the best audition I can, but I usually don’t get attached to it: I don’t sit around wondering if I’m gonna get the gig or anything like that. But callbacks are tricker. Something about knowing that the producer or casting director liked you enough to invite you back is enough pressure to make it infinitely more nerve-racking than the normal, everyday audition, because now there’s a sense of “Oh, I’m SO close!” In reality, that may or may not be true, but mentally it’s there and hard to ignore.

Which is why, in this case, it’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t get the gig, haha.

Tech Like Image Metrics’ Emily Project Could Lead to Even More V.O. Work

August 20, 2008

Check out this post that I put up at my site about the “Emily Project” from Image Metrics.

Although it certainly conjures up some potentially naughty holodeck scenarios, what’s cool about this as relates to voice work in the real world is that it opens up all sorts of possibilities for voice actors, especially those who can sound like other celebrities.

Extrapolating out this technology’s usefulness to, say, 50 years in the future, it could be used now to build a library of Harrison Ford’s facial expressions and subtleties, for example, which could then be used to create a CG copy of him, which could be used to make lackluster Indiana Jones sequels (ahem) for decades to come. All that would be needed at that point would be a very lucky actor who can perform Ford’s voice well enough to marry to the CGI and, presto, movies with actors who aren’t around anymore or who never even existed.

Even if that never comes to pass, this is still amazing tech.

Bernie Mac Dies at 50

August 9, 2008

Bernie Mac died today at the age of 50, from complications arising from pneumonia.

I wouldn’t say I was a huge Bernie Mac fan, but I’d seen his show a few times and thought he was very funny. I also liked what he added to movies like the Oceans films and Transformers. He had a unique style and delivery and, in the world of entertainment, he will be missed.

Stan Winston Passes Away

June 16, 2008

Like so many people responsible for what we see on-screen at the movies, Stan Winston wasn’t exactly a household name, although to movie FX fans, he certainly was well-known and, by many, revered.

Stan Winston passed away today after a long battle with multiple myeloma.

He was a special effects and makeup artist who worked on some incredibly notable films, such as both Terminator & Terminator 2, Predator, Jurassic Park and Edward Scissorhands, to name a few.

Winston was also one of the founders of the FX house Digital Domain.

You can read more about Mr. Winston at the following links:
Hollywood Reporter’s article on Winston’s death
Winston’s IMDb page

Fire at Universal

June 1, 2008

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a fire broke out at Universal Studios in Burbank, burning through, among other things, Universal’s New York City outdoor set. It’s believed that the fire, fought by 200 firefighters and 2 helicopters, has also damaged or destroyed two other soundstages.

The HR story can be found here:

Pure Genius

May 26, 2008

Every once in a while, I have a great idea. This is a great idea. No, make that a brilliant idea!

I’m going to market a spelling an grammar book to spammers!

Every time I get spam, it’s laden with countless spelling and grammatical errors. You know, things like “It is a good for your mail parts!” or “Vinagra for only CAN $62 per one bottles – is cheap okay! And plus bonus Rollex Copy Watch to be yours!”

You’re probably thinking “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Yeah, I know, I’ve been there before myself, too.

The Pet Rock. Duh. Those Baby on Board window signs for cars. Duh. The nuclear subselene developed by Raytheon to bore holes in the Earth and Moon and leave an atomic-reactor-heat-glazed solid glass tunnel in its wake. Duh.

But finally I’ve found my “Duh” product. The one that’s gonna really push me headlong into the world of the movers and shakers.

Now…if I can just figure out how to market it to my target audience…


May 24, 2008

Well I’ve been absent from my blog for well over a month now, but with good reason.

I’m the proud daddy of a brand, spankin’ new little boy, and he is just too adorable.

Considering that some 400 zillion books have been written on the subject of babies and parenthood, I’m sure there’s nothing I can say here that hasn’t been said 400 zillion times before, but I’ll say a few things anyway.

Yes, your life changes. Everything has more weight to it. You consider things more. You don’t care about much else other than this perfect little person that you helped create and keeping him happy. And you fall in love instantly.

There seem to be two camps of people…one camp who say that having kids is the greatest thing in the world, and the other who say that your life is over once you have kids.

I feel quite sorry for the second camp. Beyond that, I won’t say anything about them.

Parenthood is, in fact, the greatest thing ever.


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