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Daniel Day-Lewis, one of my favorite movie actors, is…a bit unusual. He’s unusual in that the degree to which he will prepare for a role is almost unrivaled. He will actually try to live the role if he can. When he was done training for his role in the movie, “The Boxer,” his trainer said that Day-Lewis probably could have gone pro if he wanted. His extreme efforts, and the efforts of actors who use similarly extreme methods, were parodied through Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the hilarious movie, “Tropic Thunder,” and rather ironically, Downey was nominated for an Oscar…for his portrayal of an actor who cared for nothing more than winning Oscars. Thankfully, as voice actors, we don’t quite have to do things like live in a replica 1692 village and build our own house without electricity or running water to prepare for our roles (something that Day-Lewis actually did for his role in “The Crucible”), but if you think for one moment that we can do this without preparation…think again.
Granted, we don’t have all that much time. You’ve likely heard many experienced VO talent recommend improv classes for beginners, and that’s precisely why. We gotta make creative decisions with lightning-fast speed, not only because we’re not given much time to prepare, but also because in today’s “I need it yesterday” world, we’re not even given that much time to actually do our job, quite frankly. Still, this job is competitive, so if you’re smart, you’ll do a tiny bit of preparing to give yourself a slight edge. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve got:
1) LOOK UP words you’re not sure how to pronounce! Nothing says, “I’m lazy and doing this quickly” quite like mispronounced words. Heck, you can write, “How do you pronounce (insert word here)” into Google nowadays! If it’s a company name, scour YouTube for it. If you can get in touch with the client, ask them how to pronounce odd words! Otherwise you’ll end up sounding like that guy in the “Mr. Dumass” commercial (search YouTube for it when you’re done with this, it’s one of my favorites).
2) Determine the age group! Be as specific as you can possibly be. I remember when I was 6, I got very offended when somebody said I was 5. I mean, I was polite and said, “No, I’m 6,” but on the inside I was thinking, “No, I’m 6, and I will thank you not to lump me in with the other 5-year-old morons, thank you very much!” I once did an infomercial in which I spoke in my regular voice, but when the client called me back and said, “Great delivery, but this is a children’s toy, think 6 years old”…then I had to up the pitch and the enthusiasm little bit! It might have annoyed an older audience, but hey, this product wasn’t for them anyway.
3) If the thing you’re auditioning for has a length–30 seconds, a minute, whatever–make damn sure that your audition is that length as well. A mistake I made early on was that I didn’t pay too much attention to time in the interest of giving a relaxed performance where I wasn’t pressured. Looking back, I think that was a mistake. Why, pray tell, would the client choose your 50-second audition for a 30-second spot when they’ve got a gajillion other voice actors who actually took all those little details into account? Furthermore, while this isn’t exactly super-common, some clients are so rushed that they may just ask to use your audition as the final product. Like I said, we live in a “we need it yesterday” world!
4) …..Okay…….please don’t yell at me for stating a “no, duh” fact….but…..keep hydrated and eat green apples. I know, I know, a ton of my readers and listeners just said out loud, “Thank you, Colonel Obvious!” I don’t mention this in the context of vocal health, though, I actually mention this in the context of speed. If you sound too dehydrated, it may necessitate another take, and things like mouth noises and clicks…I mean…yeah, they can be edited out, but that takes more time than just making sure your mouth is click-free beforehand. For that reason, I consider green apples to be the symbol of preparation for a voice actor.
5) Think of something that generally evokes the emotion you’re trying to convey. I know many people advise thinking of the specifics of your target audience rather than going for a general feeling, and I’m not opposed to that. At all. However, I think that, before you get into specifics, it’s best to think of something that has the general, overall emotional feel that you’re going for. ‘Cause if you just go straight into specifics, then–in my humble opinion, of course–you’ll just end up carrying your every-day baggage into the recording session. If the spot you’re auditioning for calls for a humorous tone, and you’re in a bad mood, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the specific choices of your target audience down. You won’t sound funny, you’ll just sound like someone who’s in a bad mood and trying to be funny (who has their target audience figured out). So if it’s a funny spot, think of something funny before you start making specific choices. For me, that would be Ernie Anderson’s blooper reel.
As always, I never give advice, only opinions, but I hope my opinions might prove a little helpful to somebody out there. Anyway, now that that’s over with, search YouTube for “Mr. Dumass!”