Communicating with Voice Actors
Communicating with your Voice Actors: Tips for Producers
by Robyn Paterson
So, youíve casted your new radio play or fandub, and now your Voice Actors are hard at work. Or at least you think theyíre hard at work, you donít really know. I mean, after all theyíre in the U.K. and youíre in Egypt, so how can you be sure? Will they make the deadline? Are they lying to you? Will the lines be any good? Should you give them your instant messaging contact info and phone number just to be sure? How much is too much communication? Should you check with them every day?
Whoa! Whoa! Letís just calm down before you give yourself a production-influenced heart attack. After all, this is supposed to be fun for both you and them, and thereís no point in getting stressed out about things, itís not going to help anyone.
Now, the thing to remember as a producer of any media is that youíre in charge and people are putting their faith and trust in you. Theyíre assuming you have the ability to get this job done, and whether youíre doing this for fun or not, it is a job, and will be a lot of work. To make this easier on everyone, youíre going to need two traits that every successful producer has: patience and professionalism.
Thereís an old comment about life aboard a navy ship being ďlong periods of boredom punctuated by moments of frantic activityĒ. Well, as a producer, I tell you- ďWelcome to the navy, sailor!Ē Youíre going to whip off a radio play, cast it in a frenzy of exchanged e-mails, give everyone a deadlineÖand then things will get really really quiet in the old Inbox. The high of casting will still be hanging in the air, but suddenly nobodyís talking to you anymore. Is this normal? You wonder. Have they all abandoned me?
The answer is- yes, it is normal, and no, they havenít abandoned you. The truth about audio production on the internet, when one side gives lines and the other sends them in, is that these things take time and different actors have different schedules and paces of working. Some actors are going to send you lines the next day, other actors are going to send you lines a month after that, thatís just how it is. Donít panic and think the slow actors are abandoning you- often they just need longer to record the lines you sent them. Sending them e-mails every day asking for progress is not going to help you or them, and is more likely to piss them off and make them quit. (Theyíre volunteers, remember that, you can only push them so far!)
As a producer, my own way of handling this situation is this- I cast the play, set the deadlines (usually a month for most radio-plays), and then I forget about it and do something else. If they contact me, I respond quickly and deal with whatever comes up, but generally I just wait and see what happens. Two weeks before the deadline, I send out an e-mail to the cast and ask them for a status report and if anyone needs more time to please write and let me know. (I try to set flexible deadlines- assuming that some people may be late getting things in, but want most in by that date.) One week before the deadline, I send out another e-mail reminding everyone that the deadline is in one week, so please have your lines in. (And again, ask if people need more time and to let me know.) Then I wait for the deadline to come, and see what I get in. If all the lines are in, then I get to work on mixing, if not, then I generally give them an extra day to account for time changes and such, and then write to them asking politely if they need more time. After that, if they respond quickly, then we re-negotiate when they can get their lines in, if they donít respond for a week, I send another letter asking if they received the first letter and to please contact me. If they still donít reply after a few days I send another e-mail saying Iím sorry but I need this project completed, so I will be recasting the lines. (No hard feelings, itís about getting the project done, obviously our schedules didnít meet. Good luck in the future.)
Now, some of you reading this are probably asking why Iím so darn polite to people who have just thrown off my schedule by making me recast (assuming I didnít have an understudy for the role), and even blown me off. The answer is- professionalism. Being a professional in any field means itís about getting the job done, not being emotional. Sure there are emotional professionals, but they donít tend to last very long because they either burn themselves out or quickly lose the respect of everyone around them and make a lot of enemies.
So, let me say it again- ďif you want to be a successful producer, you canít afford to be emotionalĒ. Itís that simple.
This doesnít mean you canít get mad and pissed off, you will be, a lot. But, it does mean you canít let the people youíre working with see it if you want their respect. You can vent your feelings to your friends, family or dog, but not to your actors. (Any of them, you also canít badmouth actors to the other actors because you never know who knows who.) Welcome to the real world, because this is how it works in every industry, so you better be prepared to master it now if you want a good future, period.
Your best approach is to assume all actors who ďdrop off the face of the planetĒ have some good reason for it, and just forget about them. No, you never need to cast them again or give them a second shot, and yes you can tell your fellow producers about them, but for the sake of the current production you need to just forget they exist and move on. Which brings us to the next stage of producer-actor communication- re-takes!
Once lines start coming in and you start checking them, youíre going to find a few lines youíre not happy with. Maybe the actor skipped a word, maybe they pronounced something wrong, maybe they just donít have the emotion youíre looking for in a line. At this point you have two questions to ask yourself: 1) how important is it for this line to be right, and 2) does my schedule allow them enough time for retakes. If the answer to both are yes, then write to the actor (specifying the line number or even just cutting and pasting the lines into the e-mail for ease of reference), tell them clearly whatís wrong and how you want it fixed, and politely ask them to redo it.
Thanks to the difficulties of communicating speech as text over the internet, itís likely that the retakes may not be quite right either. Thatís okay too, most actors in my experience are more than happy to redo a few lines two or three times to get them right, and some will even redo more than that (but donít push it unless they offer!). Again, the key here is being polite and professional- assume both sides want to get it right and work with them to get the job done. If they give you trouble over the retakes, or donít have time to do them, then you may have some recasting to do as well, but thatís life in the audio producer game. (In my experience, sometimes bad lines can be dropped or edited to deal with a lot of problems if retakes arenít an option. Audio editing software is indeed your friend!)
Once retakes are in, and everything is mixed, then you hit the post-production stage. Remember to credit your actors properly, and ask them how they want to be credited in the production. Donít make any assumptions because some people want to use their real names, some want to use stage names, and some want to use aliases. Whatever the actor wants, they get, itís that simple if you want to get them to work with you again in the future. You may also ask them if they want their e-mail addresses included in the credits, so that other producers who like their work can find them, but this is entirely optional.
And finally, when the production is released, donít forget to send an e-mail to all cast members letting them know itís out there. This is just common courtesy, and often if they like it they will let others know about it, so itís in your favor to do this. However, donít expect them all to write back and tell you how wonderful it is, thatís probably not going to happen. They did their job, and if you want feedback itís not their job to give it to you, go look on a forum or wherever you publish your work for that.
Tips and further thoughts:
So, there you have it. Be patient, professional and polite with your actors, give them the room they need to do their jobs, and keep the lines of communication open. Follow these rules, stay organized and stay positive, and youíll be on your way to becoming a successful and respected audio producer. Itís not easy, and itís a long slow and often hard process, but if you do it, and do it successfully, then youíll be one of the fewÖthe proudÖthe eliteÖGo Navy!
- Your actors are not your friends, they are people volunteering to help you out and work with you, but this does not make them friends. If they decide to be very friendly and chatty with you thatís great and you may indeed make new friends (I know I have), but if they decide to send in lines and ďhereís your linesĒ as the only body in the text, then thatís their choice and you need to respect that. They may be very busy people and not interested in doing more than sending in lines, so donít bombard them with e-mails or hunt them down on MSN. Let them come to you, donít go to them more than necessary.
- Youíre working with volunteers, so donít push it! I canít emphasize this enough- these people are helping you out from the kindness of their hearts. Yes, you are making the next epic fandub that will make everyone adore you and have Hollywood calling, thatís fine. However, right now you are nobody, and youíre lucky to have anyone helping you at all, so be polite, respectful and make their lives as easy as possible. This doesnít mean treating them like divas or sucking up, but being as professional and direct as possible. (In trade, they will hopefully respect and work hard for you!)
- Be available, try to reply to any e-mails you receive from your actors quickly and answer their questions as clearly as possible.
- Give them their own space, let them come to you when they need help, otherwise leave them alone. Assume they know their job and will do it to the best of their abilities, then let them do it. You produce, they act. Unless they come to you, communicate with them once a week, tops.
- When giving actors criticism be as constructive as possible, donít just tell them what mistakes they made, tell them how they can do better next time. By helping them get better, youíre helping yourself and the community, so itís worth it to take the time and help those you work with.