Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

October 31, 2011

The 1% (or whatever it is) in the VO Biz

Filed under: Business, Musings — Tags: , , , — connieterwilliger @ 8:59 am

With all the talk about the 1% vs the 99% these days with regards to Wall Street and Jobs and Taxes, something crossed my eyeballs this morning that shows that this spread exists in other areas as well.

Voiceover actors have been chatting about the jobs being lost to “celebrity” voices for years now…ever since the animated Alladin was released featuring Robin Williams as the Genie. There is no doubt that Robin Williams stole that movie, but it paved the way for more and more celebrity on-camera actors being cast in animated features and fewer and fewer opportunities for working class voice actors.

Written by SCOTT MESLOW – an Atlantic contributor and a film and television writer based in Washington, D.C., who has also written for Campus Progress andWealthBriefing – this article highlights how the “A-list” actors are nudging out the “ubiquitous but nearly anonymous, traditional voice actors.”

His main question is whether there is any demand anymore in the features for the versatile voice actor who can create a “thousand” voices? Or has the “marketing machine” taken over and pushed the working class voice actor to the side to do background and voice matching for those features?

As a continual student of my craft, I watch animated features and study the characters and the voices, trying to figure out just what value has been added by bringing on a “celebrity.” They sound like they sound in most cases and the character on the screen ends up just being an animated version of the actor whose face we see on the big screen and on Letterman.

Multi-talented voice actors still do the bulk of the TV animated series and video games, but frankly even that group is still in the upper 5% (or whatever the number is – I am not a statistician). But from my anecdotal observations the vast number of true working class voice actors live outside the major markets and don’t have, or perhaps don’t want to have, the chance to compete for those jobs (series, games or features). If we did, we would probably make the move to where the work is.

That being said, I would LOVE a chance to voice a character or two in a feature. I don’t live THAT far from Hollywood. Where’s my sign!? I’m the 95%! Occupy Disney!



  1. Clearly, having my name associated with a project isn’t much of a box office draw, and despite the fact that I’m probably at least a couple million cheaper than these big box office stars run, it’s still about the fact that their names will easily draw a lot more dollars than they are being paid.

    Technology notwithstanding, it’s always been about business and somewhat less about art. In the past, the form of animation was somewhat limited to a few practitioners and the form itself tended to be the sell. The “house” behind the work could be trusted, much the way we respect seeing “Pixar presents”, “From the Producers of the Simpsons” and so forth. Apparently though, the boast from a a solid celebrity is needed to send the marketing over the top. From what I’ve seen, this need for celebrity rarely equates to any better acting job than one can get from a no-name actor. This becomes even clearly when we see Pixar productions featuring the family and friends of its workers as voice talent. It seems that marketing is the only justification for a project hiring both several multi million dollar A-list celebrity actors and also hiring Brad Bird’s dry cleaner, doorman yoga instructor.

    As for the man of a thousand voices, I suppose to some extent I fall into that category. It works a little differently now, whereby the hiring bodies seem to mostly be concerned with only one of those thousand voices at a time.To illustrate, 12 years ago, I was the voice of 5 of the main characters in Twisted Metal: Black. This year, I’ve been resurrected for Twisted Metal for PS3, but only for the role of Sweet Tooth. Individual actors have all been hired for each of the other parts. It’s still a bit like the old days for casual games, for example for some iPhone and Facebook games I may play 5 or more characters per game. And certainly there are episodics like Futurama, Family Guy and the Simpson’s, where at the very least, actors portraying main characters will often do a tertiary role.

    The doors to Hollywood swing much differently these days, it seems that in many ways, an animator working for Pixar has a better chance of performing v.o. for a major animation than an unknown actor with perhaps even thousands of credits.

    Comment by J.S. Gilbert — October 31, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  2. J.S.,

    Another reminder that nothing stays the same. The only constant is change.

    Your last sentence reinforces one of the comments in my post – animator or janitor – you have to be there.

    Comment by connieterwilliger — October 31, 2011 @ 10:48 am

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