martes, 11 de mayo de 2010

Making $$$ in V/O... and More

Once, when a magazine editor asked me to write a piece on alternative earning methods for local actors, my first thought was, What can I say about alternative earning methods? I’m not an actor – I just played one on TV. But she correctly noted that I work in several distinct areas and know others who do too. Stage actors can look to work in industrial films, commercials, PSAs, or films – there are many smaller jobs to augment your income, and some could turn into second careers.


Voice-over work is very popular in the Bay Area, where a number of houses turn out high-quality animation. There’s Wild Brain in San Francisco, with ILM over in the Presidio, Phil Tippett Studios in Berkeley, DreamWorks in Redwood City and Emeryville’s own Pixar. And many video game producers always need V/O talent, either for scratch-tracks or for final product. Your agent or manager can find you work at any of the places hiring V/O talent.

If you’re really serious about voice-over, then consider buying a high-quality microphone and lining a smallish room with old comforters. Many local actors audition via MP3 at home; they get their sides by e-mail, then they e-mail the MP3 files back. Jarion Monroe says, “Auditioning from home is extremely economical. By not going into the city, I save $15 to $20 on gas, tolls and parking – plus general wear on the car. It also means that I can keep recording the audition until I get the perfect take.”

Julian Lopez-Morillas actually does the work itself at home, but he’s invested almost $2,000 in some very high-quality equipment and dedicated a small room as his studio. For book-on-tape publisher Audio Scholar, he’d previously worked in a professional studio to record Jung: Man & His Symbols, Einstein’s Relativity, and books by Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and others. He explains, “When Audio Scholar started contracting with people to record in their own home studios, I consulted with a sound engineer and gave self-producing a try. Today I’m doing quality control work on a self-produced CD, Muse of Fire: Favorites from Shakespeare.”

Two years ago, Mary Windishar thought her husband was nuts when he suggested that she produce her own spots at home. But he proved prophetic. For past 18 months, she’s done three Flash demos for Internet companies, two sets of co-op commercials for GE appliances, and numerous commercials for broadcast TV and radio. She says, “I’m still a bit shocked that I can stay home in my blue bunny slippers and earn hundreds of dollars. I had to be dragged into this, because I didn’t want to be an engineer – I wanted to do the glamorous stuff. If I had my choice, I’d always choose to work with engineers and other creative collaborators; I love the camaraderie and I love working in a real studio. But the truth is that to survive as a V/O artist today, you must have a home studio.”

Windishar warns that you can’t just drop into voice-over. There are very rigid expectations, and things that can’t be faked, like how to audition, how to perform – the things you can only learn from a pro. Voice-over work isn’t easy money and isn’t something that anyone with a good voice can do. For one, you’ll need a good teacher.

Anyone can fake a Southern accent, but regional accents are very specific and not to be trifled with. Invest in a book on accents. The following ones run about $22 each: American Dialects and Foreign Dialects, both by Herman & Herman, published by Routledge; and Accents: A Manual for Actors, by Blumenfeld, published by Limelight.

Just starting out and have no demo reel? You can make your own reel by taping a commercial from the radio and then duplicating it. You’ll probably have to do it many times before you get it right, and even then you should call someone with a studio (even a home studio) and do it all over again – believe me, you’ll benefit by the experience of others by this effort. You want to present your best work, and agents and casting directors know when something is knocked together by a newbie. V/O teacher Taylor Korobow is also an expert at self-producing proper demo reels.

Print Work

Print work is also a good option, especially if you have a unique look. You could make a tidy living from the many catalog companies in the Bay Area. Williams-Sonoma and the entire Pottery Barn conglomerate works out of a studio in Brisbane, churning out five or six catalogs annually for each of seven different concepts.

Other companies include Ambrosia, Smith & Hawken, The Sharper Image, Target, Northface, Restoration Hardware, Mervyn's California, Gump's and The Gap, not to mention the retail newspaper ads shot every week by Macy’s and other big advertisers. Remember that you’ll need specific types of photos that mimic advertising photos (called ‘zed’ or comp cards) that are different from headshots – they’re usually in color and offset printed. And don’t contact the companies directly, because they all hire casting directors who work solely through recognized agents, so if you want to work in this market, have your agent research it.

Spokemodels & More

Other actors with the right physicality for the specific jobs can land work as spokesmodels – they may want only women, or persons within a certain age range, etc. There’s a lot of work at conventions, and the local casting companies get calls for people to dress in business clothes and learn a script before heading over to the Concourse or Moscone Center. There are numerous fashion-oriented shows that need booth workers at the Concourse, and the big conventions at Moscone always attract people to work in booths, hand out samples or take customer information. You’ll get a lot of experience meeting different kinds of people, giving you a great store of physical mannerisms to use in constructing characters.

‘Medical actors’ impersonate patients with specific symptoms as part of training exercises for aspiring doctors. These faux patients (called ‘standardized patients’) study and exhibit symptoms, helping medical students and interns hone their communication skills and create an accurate diagnosis. As a 'standardized patient' with four years experience, Local actor Don Schwartz says, “I work for three medical schools and a physician-assistant program, as well as a test-preparation program specifically designed for foreign-trained physicians. I enjoy working with med students and physicians. It’s an opportunity to make a positive difference in their development as health care practitioners. I’m helping to nurture more humane, compassionate practitioners.”

There are similar 'litigation actors' who impersonate criminals and witnesses for lawyers-in-training. And several law-enforcement agencies hire actors to impersonate felons for officer-training purposes. Keep in mind, though, that these are very specialized jobs, not many actors are hired, and there aren’t any local agencies handling them… yet. An online search can help you find such companies – but again, let your agent do the heavy lifting here.

As part of your continuing education in your chosen profession, I urge you to get acquainted with the Reel Directory, published by Doug and Lynetta Freeman. An immensely valuable resource, RD lists everything from actors to writers, with all crew and vendor resources indexed by category and name. Read the entire book – you’ll learn a lot. RD is also online on CD as well. Find it at:

There are other jobs that use the same skill-set that you have spent so much time building, and the only limit to this kind of work is your imagination. So get out there and break a leg!

SIDEBAR: Acting in Other Ways

Bartenders & Waitstaff

These jobs aren’t too confining, the tips can be good, and you can go to auditions in your off hours. You’re also in constant interaction with lots of people and you’re solving interpersonal problems for customers, both of which can be very helpful in building characters for your repertoire.


Doing phone surveys can be an excellent way to earn money while honing your skills at conversation and improvisation. As a customer service phone operator, you can develop a character and stick with it for extended periods.


Many an actor has earned a very nice living in real estate, because that profession relies on the right kind of interaction: you have to know the right thing to say at the right time, and then you have to sell it. Again, you can work (mostly) your own hours, you have free time to book auditions, and you may not have to show up every day. And the money’s reported to be pretty good. Just watch out that you don’t wind up trading one career for another.

Public Relations

This field is highly provisional within some set boundaries. You have to know the playing field, know the players, then improvise like crazy to achieve the desired result. As with real estate, PR is all about people skills and knowing the motivations of the people you are dealing with.

In-Home Service Jobs

Others who have to know their clients and meet their needs are home decorators, interior designers and organizers also. There is a lot of research required, similar to building a character, and you’ll find situations that challenge your skills and patience – always good activities for learning. Perhaps not as demanding is the job of a home organizer or home-office organizer, in which you’d work with a client to find the proper way to get things placed for maximum efficiency. This may be a good area to explore for scenic designers and builders as well.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2010 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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