Finding & Rewarding Talent | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #4
Once your story has been written in script form, it's still only words on paper (or screen). We still have a few things to do before we can start recording and production. We're going to need voices for your characters. That means we need to find actors. So where's the best place to find actors who are willing and able to play characters in your fiction podcast?
By far the easiest way of finding actors is to get a small group of friends together. You probably know one or two people who you think could do a good job, maybe someone who's good at doing accents/impersonations, or even someone who has acting experience under their belt. Ask around and see if you can get 3 to 4 people together to record a short (10-15 page) story script. You might be surprised by how much your friends get into the performance.
Remote & Satellite Voice Actors
These are common terms for voice actors who have their own recording setups. A producer with a remote cast of actors will email out a completed script with any additional info (direction, deadlines, file requirements etc) and each actor will record and send back their own character's lines back to them.
You can spread a casting call over the entire world and have access to a wealth of global talent. This means you can arrange a diverse and talented cast of different accents, ages, and genders, even if you live in an isolated area.
No matter how good your remote actors are, you'll lose a little of the magic of your actors performing together when they are all recording in isolation - they're just reading off the page, not reacting to each other! You'll also have to deal with varying degrees of microphone and recording environment quality, which can be challenging to blend together in post-production.
Local Theatre Groups
It's worth reaching out to (or even joining) a local theatre group to find acting talent for your show. If someone's already part of a group like this they're probably quite keen to get involved in other productions.
Again, go with the short story approach where you get 3 to 4 people together to record a self-contained piece. Finding someone who can act is only half the battle, you also need them to be committed and reliable. Don't rush into casting your five season epic audio drama before you're absolutely certain everyone is aware of what they're signing up for. You don't want to be killing off or re-casting main characters every few episodes.
Do It Yourself
There are a few folks out there who voice entire shows themselves. A stalwart of the audio drama world is Cayenne Chris Conroy who started his series Teknikal Diffikulties way back in 2005. Rich Matheson runs and voices Keeg's Quest: A Skyrim Adventure all by himself, and Dayn Leonardson's The Fall was largely voiced by him throughout the show's first season.
On the one hand, going down this route removes all the complications and logistics of working with others. On the other hand, you're going to have to do a lot of voice work to create a distinguishable variety of characters. Both Rich Matheson and Dayn Leonardson have appeared on the Audio Drama Production Podcast talking about this, on the episodes Doing It All Yourself and Being A One Man Band.
Casting Groups & Voice Acting Websites
There are many different sites and communities where you can find actors of all different backgrounds and experiences. There are a few things to be aware of before you post a casting call;
Read the rules of the group, site, or forum to make sure you comply with them. Most places require that you detail exactly what you want from potential actors, how they should audition, and clarity on whether you're offering payment or not.
Aside from avoiding potentially having your post deleted, this can save you loads of time during the casting process. The more details you provide up front, the fewer follow-up questions you have to answer by e-mail afterwards.
Some things to include are;
- Accents - do you want actors to audition in their natural voice or another, specific accent?
- Pronunciations - are there any names (character, place, or otherwise) in your audition script that actors may struggle to pronounce? If so, either clarify the pronunciation in advance, or change the names to something simpler.
- Deadline - be sure to create and state a deadline, instead of just asking for auditions "as soon as you get a chance". Most actors will prefer to see a deadline set as they can plan accordingly.
Judging Audio Quality
If you're casting for local actors whom you plan to record on location with your own equipment then asking for auditions by phone or voicemail is totally fine.
If you're casting remote/satellite actors however, then you'll be judging their audio quality just as much as their performance. There's no point casting Leonardo DiCaprio if he's going to be recording on an old tape recorder inside a cave.
Be clear on the file format you're looking for actors to send you. So that might be a WAV file, or an MP3 of at least 24bit at 128kpbs. Ask your actors not to process or clean their audio before sending it over. You'll want to do all that yourself, for the sake of control and consistency.
Once you receive a file, listen through good over-ear headphones and analyse...
- Reverb - is there a bit of an echo in the voice? Would it sound unnatural to place the voice in an outdoor scene?
- Vocal quality - Does their microphone sound like it's making their voice sound tinny?
- Background noise - perhaps the recording has a loud hissing or buzzing underneath it, or maybe there's a bit of external environment noise present. Either way, both are bad news.
- Microphone etiquette - is the actor repeatedly popping the mic, thumping the table or boom arm, or causing any other distortions through poor technique?
If you're creating an audition script and casting both male and female actors, write a one page scene with two gender-ambiguous characters (you can use names like Lee, Toni, Charlie, etc). Create some dialogue that will test actors on exactly what you're looking for. If you're writing a comedy you'll want to test them on timing a delivery. If you're writing something more serious you might create some emotionally charged dialogue like an argument. Tailor it to the style of show you enjoy writing the most. When you find good actors, you'll want to cast them again and again in your projects.
Rewards & Money
If you have no budget how can you pay actors for their talents? Before you answer that, it's a good idea to be clear on your plans for the show or series you're making.
If you're making a series for free, giving it away for free, and never plan to try to monetise it, then let your cast know from the start that this is a completely amateur production, and there'll be no money involved at any point.
That doesn't mean you can't, or shouldn't try to look after your actors though. If you're getting together on location to record then bring some food and refreshments for your cast, or offer to take them out for dinner or a few drinks afterwards. For more info and tips on this front, there's an episode of the Audio Drama Production Podcast about building your talent pool, and taking good care of them.
If your show ends up making a little incidental income (through Patreon, sponsorship, etc) now or in the future then it's a good idea to be clear up front about the ownership of the production, and offer your cast royalties through giving them shares in the series. This can prevent your project from imploding further down the line.
If money is involved, it's a good idea to operate an open book policy where everyone involved can see exactly what has come in and what has gone out. Treat your cast as partners in the project, offer them a creative input, and everyone will buy into what you're trying to achieve.
What Route Suits You?
Are you thinking of going down the local, on-location actor route? Or do you plan on building a global cast using the remote/satellite approach? Remember, you can also find a middle ground between the two. Your 3 to 4 main characters might be recorded together in person, whilst you populate the wider cast and more minor characters with actors who record and send their lines in to you.
Use whatever methods suit you and your show best, and the easiest way to find that out is to start small by creating one or two self-contained short stories. Let me know how you get on.
In the next chapter we're going to take a look at recording your show, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, have you had a look at the previous 3 chapters of this series?