Originally posted at pixelsandpins.com/theguide.
Casting calls, an important part of the creative community, something that connects voice actors with producers. Some people hate them some people are so super amped to make them…they jump the gun a little bit and make some easily avoidable mistakes.
Either way, super duper important to get right because it very well may be the first impression you make for not just voice actors but the creative community at large.
Ideally, a casting call should focus on giving the actors the information they need, so that they can give you what you want to hear. It needs to be clear, concise, well-structured and easily manageable. In a studio audition setting, this is done with a notebook or a pamphlet that has everything you need to know in one place. We replicate this digitally by making Google docs, PDF’s, or using provided templates on casting call hosting sites.
Let’s assume you’re starting from scratch with an open, public casting call. We’ll use the casting call for my visual novel The D (Stands for Demon) as an example.
Start with who you are. In a live audition, you know you’re walking into Funimation or Bang Zoom! or Disney or whatever. In an arena like the internet, though, where anyone can make anything, the burden’s on you to prove you’re someone worth working with. So who are you? What have you done? What have you finished? Is there anything special about what you’ve done? Maybe you’ve won an award at an indie dev showcase or you had a write up in a magazine. One or or two sentences. Simple. Sweet. We’ve got Google, so it’s okay to just skim the surface.
While you’re talking about your accolades, though, you don’t want to come across as arrogant. No one wants to work with someone who seems like a jerk, so be careful of your tone.
Then talk about the project just a little bit. This is where an actor’s really going to decide if this is something they want to audition for and how they might approach the audition. Make sure you include what it is (in this instance we’re talking visual novels, obviously), what the original IP is if it’s a transformative work (for your fangame), how much work there’s going to be involved, and a general timeframe if there are any restrictions
(on a timeframe of something like NaNoRenO, actors need to know they’re racing the clock).
Include any relevant content warnings like violence, gore, sex, or even the presence of profanity. Actors have certain lines they won’t cross, charge extra for, or might have additional stipulations.
This is also a good spot to talk about payment. If you’re doing any kind of commercial project you need to be paying your VA’s, so state that payment structure clearly. Is it hourly? By line? If it’s by line, be sure to include line counts per character. If it’s the kind of project where you’re not paying, that’s fine, just say it’s a unpaid project.
Don’t say it’s great exposure. “Exposure” has no value. Everyone knows this, and, unfortunately, it reads a little insulting to see it in print. Just state things as they are, and if you’ve properly introduced yourself and your project, the actor can make the appropriate determination themselves.
Have audition instructions and set a deadline. There really isn’t one right way to do this, just keep it simple. In doing your casting call research you might notice some directors include extra information about how to record–“No pops or clicks, good environment etc.” Providing a baseline mic brand can be useful for hobby projects to give a sense of the overall expectations. But know the higher up you go in the project quality ladder, the less necessary that becomes. Think about the level of talent you’re wanting to court and whether they really need you to tell them how to record.
When you set a deadline, keep that deadline. Don’t cast before or close it early, even if you think you’ve found “the one.” That’s like a teacher giving you homework then changing the due date because half the class turned in their essay early. By that same token, set reasonable deadlines. A week with a weekend in there is, in my opinion, the absolute minimum you can get away with for an open call. It needs time to get around to everyone. Don’t make a ludicrously long deadline, either, though. I’ve seen some set at a year, and that’s just simply unnecessary. In my experience, three-six weeks is a good casting period in the open market. You can always extend it if you need to.
In a setting like NaNoRenO or other visual novel game jams, the short deadline can make the auditioning process extremely truncated. You can help this by having the characters to audition for ready to go within the first few days of the jam, then auditioning for a week while you finish the script. Most actors will give a little leeway in jam situations…as long as they’re properly informed.
If you have an original property, this is where you might feel compelled to provide some lore or narrative backstory, and that’s good instinct. Having that information can affect an actor’s approach to a character. A little bit goes a long way, though. If I’m doing twenty auditions in one sitting, I physically don’t have time to read an entire lore dump about each of the thirteen generals of the Red Dragon War and the socio-political effect of the ensuing hob-goblin rebellion. A few sentences conveying tone, genre, and general themes–like a book blurb or a store page–is really all you need. If the actor wants to dig deeper, hey, you’ve provided your contact information.
Finally, we actually look at the character descriptions and the audition lines themselves, the real meat and potatoes of the casting call. Like the story, character descriptions should focus on the information essential to figuring out characterization. Things like age, gender, personality, pitch, accent, geographic origin, even socio-economic position or profession if it’s relevant to the story at hand. While elaborate, thought-out backgrounds are great for writing, keep in mind that an actor doesn’t really have the time to read a page of backstory for every character. A paragraph or two is plenty if you make it nice and compact and fill it with good personality and voice keywords. Bubbly, somber, smokey, cheerful to the point of annoyance. Basic things that provide solid guidelines but give an actor some space to play around.
Some producers might include a video link or call out a specific character by name for a voice reference. I’m not gonna say not to do it ever because I have seen it on pro casting calls once or twice, and there are circumstances where you know there’s some element that you want for a voice that you can’t describe in words. Just use that technique sparingly, and only if you have no other ways to describe what you want. The impression I get when I see that kind of thing in the wild is that you don’t want an actor that understands the character, you wish you could have that specific actor your referencing and whoever you find is good enough. That’s very weird to work around, especially if I have to look up whatever character you’ve referenced.
Then, lastly, you have the audition lines, and they should, in theory, be one of the easier things to pull together. You’ve already written if not the entire script, a large enough chunk of it that you can just pull from…right? If you’re casting before you have a script, don’t. Like I’ve mentioned before, you might not be ready.
Three to five lines is a good starting place depending on how long the lines are. So, what lines do you pull from your script? If there’s a broad character arc, something from both ends of it. If they start naive and innocent, but are utterly tainted by the trials of war through the course of the story, grab something showing off both aspects of that character. If there’s a pivotal moving scene, pull something spoiler free from there. Include lines where a character has to speak another language or have a very specific verbal tick or maybe has to get into a fight or fall down a flight of stairs. Cover your narrative bases, so to speak.
In The D, I had two characters that speak lines in a different language. I made sure to include one of those lines along with a pronunciation guide to hear how my prospective actors would approach the line.
Never ever, ever, EVER, ever put “say what you think might fit” or something similar. It’s lazy, it makes you look like you don’t have a proper understanding of your character, and tells me that you don’t know what you’re doing. The point of the casting call is to find the right actor to perform YOUR words, not somebody else’s words or an improv skit. If you don’t have a script, you shouldn’t be casting (with the exception of jams). If you’re trying to incorporate improv, have lines to improv around. I did this with The D by providing reference emotions for the vocables I was searching for.
Generally, there’s no reason not to provide audition lines for your actors. Making them write their own lines on the spot is insanely unprofessional and does not reflect well on you as a creator if you can’t be arsed to meet your actors half way.
Now, there are a lot more nuances to casting calls and casting as a whole as well as alternative methods worth discussing. Until then, this should get you started on the road to working with voice actors in an online arena.
Places where you can research and post your casting call for free when it’s ready:
If you’d like to view the entirety of the casting call for The D (Stands for Demon).