Celebrities Are Taking All the Jobs

There seem to be more and more celebrities doing voiceovers, whether it's Morgan Freeman telling us why we should use Visa or Reese Witherspoon and an all-star cast duking it out in Monsters vs. Aliens. But is the perception accurate?

Voiceover agents Beverly Kline and Laura Fogelman of Independent Artists Agency, who together have more than 25 years of experience and work with both celebrities and noncelebrities, write in a joint email that celebrity voices have been used for "as long as we can remember. We're just more aware of it now." But "90 percent" of voiceover jobs still go to "everyday voices," they say. "Only certain accounts are celebs."

Harvey Kalmenson, who founded the voice casting company and voiceover school Kalmenson & Kalmenson with wife Cathy in 1993, agrees. Jobs for journeyman actors, he says, can be found "in all the same places as always and then some—far more venues than ever before: cyberspace, cable, and a huge increase in animation."

Why Celebrities?

But even if it only seems celebrities are taking all the jobs, the lure to use them is powerful. "If they have the money for a celebrity, then they will go for one," write Kline and Fogelman. Because celebrities are identifiable, "they bring more attention to the commercials. There's familiarity with celebrity voices, and the consumers pay more attention to that."

Adds Cathy Kalmenson, "For animated projects: box office draw. Producers are counting on the notion that parents value the potential entertainment value of the celeb participation." There are also artistic reasons. "Celebrities bring their confidence in themselves, being who they are, to the table," she says. From her experience, "a celeb seems to respond to the copy by asking the question 'What is it I see?' rather than 'What is it they want?' " Everyday voiceover artists sometimes "attempt to conform to what they're guessing is required. Celebs just tell it like it is, the way they see it. And celebs rely on their acting instincts or their own human responsiveness. Often the nonceleb voiceover actors attempt to stylize. This loses the genuineness that a celeb delivers without going for it."

Finally, there's the human factor. "Let's face it," she says, "the sponsors and producers enjoy the celeb encounter. Celeb involvement also offers a sense of success associated with the product or campaign."

On the bright side, she points out, the recession may be your friend: "These days the production budgets are tighter than ever—for commercials especially—so in many cases it's harder for a sponsor to justify the talent-payment dollars that are required for celeb participation. That's good news for the scale players."

Kline and Fogelman concur. "As the market shrinks and the economy is troubled, budgets are challenged," they write. As a result, "there's less celebrity work than there are celebrities right now. Celebrities also require higher fees and they have limited availability."

What You Can Do

Aside from working for less, what can you do to beat the odds? "Applying acting skills wins voiceover jobs today," says Cathy Kalmenson. "Be present as yourself and be genuinely responsive. This takes reflection. Reflection takes time. Show up early. Study the copy. The actor's focus should be on the attitude choices to be made in the script; it shouldn't be on who else is in the lobby. Figure you're considered one of the best…if you've been given the opportunity to audition amongst celebrities. That's a compliment to you."

Are there ways for unrepresented actors to increase their chances of getting work? "No," say Kline and Fogelman, "other than being good at the craft. The agencies will take notice. Keep studying!" For beginners and pros, they suggest, "Go to workshops and have a great demo. A great demo is really important. Also, mixers are a great way to meet people in the industry."

You can also make use of the Web. Sites such as Voices.com, VOPlanet.com, and Voiceover123.com cater largely to nonunion talent, and many let you post MP3s of your work. Potential employers can search by vocal style or by pay rate, though some sites won't allow actors to quote a rate below a certain minimum.

As Kline and Fogelman advise, networking is key, and getting involved in the voiceover community is a smart way to learn about possible work. Attend seminars, workshops, and classes. Voiceover groups on Facebook or VoiceoverUniverse.com let you stay in touch with fellow performers and learn more about the craft.

Of course, not everybody is suited to a career in voiceovers. "Just because people say you have an interesting voice doesn't necessarily mean it will translate," write Kline and Fogelman. But if you have what it takes, "you need to invest in yourself and treat it like a business. Nothing gives you more confidence than practicing your craft…. The voiceover world is competitive, but there's always room for good talent."