The Voice Director Presents: Let’s Talk Voiceover
Sunday Jul 03, 2022
Sunday Jul 03, 2022
Mark is one of the most well-known and credited video game directors in the world, casting and directing actors in titles such as Warhammer, Tropico, Wallace & Gromit, Need for Speed, and so many more. He's been at the forefront of the creation of the industry. and he's still a bit of a mad scientist: creating, tweaking, and pushing the technology envelope. He has his own definite style and a deep love of the craft of acting. We got to have a rare in-person interview with him, where he put us in separate booths so we could experience "the lab" that is his London studio OMUK. This is what came out! Randall Ryan: You want to do a sync clap? Just like one, two, three? It'll just make it easier for me to sync the three feeds. Gillian Brashear: All at the same time? Mark Estdale: Yeah. You're recording now. Do it now. Randall Ryan: Let's do it now. Gillian Brashear: Okay. Mark Estdale: Okay. Randall Ryan: All right, here we go. Three, two, one. Way to go, Mark. You didn't clap. Mark Estdale: Oh, you want me to clap as well? Randall Ryan: Yeah, all three of us. Mark Estdale: Okay. Randall Ryan: Three, two, one. Perfect. Close enough. Mark Estdale: Ish. Gillian Brashear: Nice. Randall Ryan: It's ish, it's ish, yeah. Gillian Brashear: Right. We're ready to roll here. THEME MUSIC Randall Ryan: Mark Estdale is one of the more fascinating personalities in our industry. Over 25 years, he's directed more than 140 video game titles, including some very well-known franchises, Warhammer, Tropico, Need for Speed, Wallace & Gromit, The Witcher, and Tales of Monkey Island. He's an innovator who really pushes the technology envelope when it comes to casting and recording. Gillian and I had a rare in-person conversation with him at his London studio, OMUK, which he refers to as the Petri dish. Gillian Brashear: Mark Estdale, let's talk voiceover. Mark Estdale: Let's do that. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Mark Estdale: And you're in the lab. Randall Ryan: We are in the lab. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: It's a bit of a mad lab. Mark Estdale: It is a mad lab. Randall Ryan: Mark, when did we first meet? Do you even remember? Mark Estdale: Fuck knows. I have no idea. It's a few years ago anyhow, so. Randall Ryan: Interesting conversation that you and I were having just a minute ago about how you got into this because ... Mark, hey, look at the guitars. Are you a musician? Mark Estdale: No. I play for myself. It's a meditation. I ended up messing around with music, which, fundamentally, has to do with being with people and doing interesting creative stuff. I think musicians have, people have a degree of competence and can produce music. I doodle and from doodling sounds happen. Connecting those sounds is another art form. I doodled all my life. And I went to run a studio for a record company and I brought my doodle tapes. I would get my mates into the studio. We would just experiment with stuff. It was the beginning of digital. The only music I was working with was experimental industrial stuff in the '70s and early '80s. And you were going out recording foundries and factories and noises. And then making tape loops and running tape loops in the studio and experimenting with all that kind of stuff. Mark Estdale: So the art of replacing sounds with other sounds was about cutting tape and doing all that kind of stuff. So, my deal was the studio. They paid me fuck all. When I wasn't in session, I had free rein of the studio to do what I wanted. So I just record staff and have friends around and some of the musicians, we'd just experiment with things. So I basically transitioned to another studio with my tapes. The owner of the record company went, I want to give you a deal. And I went, great. And then, suddenly, it became work. And all the pleasure went out of it. And I went blind in the sense of there's no way I can mix my own stuff. I can't direct myself as an actor. So I'm on a journey as an actor right now. So I'm doing training right now. Mark Estdale: But yeah, we did a single and it was great. Let's have the album. And it was just like nah, nah. It's too much light work and it doesn't come from the heart and out of the weirdness of it, but I'm still planning. So I've been building instruments and I bought interesting drums and things and just things that just got weird sounds. But the world has changed dramatically since my skill as an editor was with a razor blade. Randall Ryan: Razor blade, right. Mark Estdale: And then when digital came in, I got really into that early ... We were mastering to Betamax and things like that back in the- Gillian Brashear: Right. Randall Ryan: Yeah. Mark Estdale: That was in the, I think that was the early '80s when that all came in. Then, my journey took me away from that. But I got into the whole music stuff that it was just farting about, trying to break things, trying to do things that were interesting. You wouldn't call it music per se. Randall Ryan: But the thing is that you produced. You produced albums, you produced singles, you produced bands. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Randall Ryan: Well, I mean you did. And so- Mark Estdale: Yeah. Randall Ryan: I've talked about this before. Actually, one time, you and I were at Buca di Beppo in- Mark Estdale: What? What is that? Where is that? Randall Ryan: Well, it's this little place where they can ... Yeah. Mark Estdale: Somewhere in LA. Randall Ryan: D.B. Cooper had organized something. Mark Estdale: Oh yeah, that'll be in, yeah, that'd be in San Francisco. Randall Ryan: Yeah, so it was in San Francisco, right. You and I were talking about this at Buca di Beppo, which is the first time I knew you had anything to do with music. And you were talking about the band that you did and just how you were taking all these electronic pieces and parts and stuff and putting them together. And I just remember listening to that going, this guy's a producer. And that's probably, I'm guessing, somehow how you got to doing what you're doing now. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Well, the thing is I came from performance originally. So, one of the things I got into was acting, but it wasn't really starting as acting. I was just a bored teenager on the street with a mate. We'd used to sit and watch people, then mimic people. The game we played was copy somebody and see how close you could get to them and copying all their mannerisms, just walking down the street. And it was just hilarious. We got more and more outrageous, making it bigger and bigger. And we would gather an audience. People would see us doing it than just stop and watch. And the person we were mimicking was completely unaware of it. Randall Ryan: That was going to be my question. Like, people started to come up going, do me? Mark Estdale: No, no, no, no. It was just us and about. But we had so much fun doing it and it was a real buzz from it. I was 15 at the time. And then, yeah, we started doing a bit of sketch stuff and I just loved it and I thought I really wanted to be an actor, but I'm deeply dyslexic. I got thrown out of school at seven. And it's a long brutal history that goes behind that. And one thing about acting was learning words and scripts. And I just, I can't do that. Gillian Brashear: Are you able to learn and memorize without reading it? Like just listening and memorizing? Mark Estdale: Nah. Gillian Brashear: No. Interesting. Mark Estdale: Nah, I can't even memorize what's in my own head. I'm an endless note-taker now. So I think on paper and on screens. But I love words. Being dyslexic gives me a, I think, a massive advantage in doing what I'm doing. Because in the studio I've learned that playing dumb is the blessed place to be. It's proven to be in a sense. I also get ill where I can't talk. Gillian Brashear: Really? Mark Estdale: Yeah. I can't remember the name of the disease. But essentially, if I talk I get stomach acid in my lungs, which would destroy my lungs. Gillian Brashear: And so then physically, the ability to talk, it's shut down or you just- Mark Estdale: Yeah. So it becomes ... I get into a state of uncontrolled coughing because, basically, your stomach acid is eating in your lungs. Gillian Brashear: My gosh. Mark Estdale: So it's potentially a very, very dangerous disease, but it's just a tiny thing. So, if it starts, I start coughing, that agitates it, and it gets into a loop. So, fundamentally, I can't talk. So, when I first got ill, I was in the studio and I had to communicate completely nonverbally. So that was a really interesting learning space too, because it was all about body language and communication. And the studio was set up like a regular studio where the engineer is in the main position and the director is at the back or somewhere else. I prefer to be in the booth with the actor if I could, but I'm far too noisy. So the glass is a necessity. But then I realized having this level of intimacy where it's between you and I, and it's about that trusting relationship. And one of the things about not being able to speak is then to be able to communicate ... I became Silent Bob. All hand gestures, things gestures, but it became a really intimate way of directing. And just the performances that were coming out were just great. Mark Estdale: And I just thought, okay, director, shut up. And in the studio, it's that whole sense of you want the performer to perform. We speak 9,000 words an hour. And sometimes, especially when you're doing the advertising stuff, you'll have a team of people just chatting away in the control room. The actor's doing nothing. Or then the director is talking, talking, talking. You're actually paying the actor the most to do the performing. And the ratio between performance and chatter, there's a tendency to be more talk here than in there. And just from the fact of being ill, observing that process and going, okay, this is liberating the actor in certain ways. That was interesting. Gillian Brashear: That is interesting. Mark Estdale: I've learned to just ask those straight questions. So rather than directing somebody, being in control, doing all that background work, it's been in the moment and going, I don't understand this. So we work in the studio exactly like we are here now. We're all talking to each other. And what I do is have the writer in. I'll have currently those people on Zoom, which is horrible. But generally, there's a group of people here and the whole idea, this is a collaborative process. So there is no talkback button. It is always open. So you are coming into the studio space to do your part, but we're working as a team. And it's exploring together. Mark Estdale: So, my default for directing is not talking to the actor, it's talking with the writer or questioning the script in an esoterical way or just going, I don't really understand this. What do you think? I go, what do you think, and joining into a conversation and letting the actor take from what is being said what they think is necessary. It's a non-pressure thing. But actually playing the dumb guy in the space, to ask the stupid questions is the liberator. Gillian Brashear: It allows the space for things to happen. Mark Estdale: And I think that was the thing when you mentioned earlier about record production and all that kind of stuff. It never came to where I wish I was doing it now because I know so much more. But the one thing I really noticed was having the studio as a liberating space was the most important factor of getting a great performance. Like bands in rehearsal rooms, in their own space, can produce magic and be fluid. Come into a studio, that's that level of stress. Then you'll say, recording, that's another level of stress. So, I looked at everything down the line, which actually liberated that space, that stress. So for instance, the space here is a living room. Randall Ryan: Basically, yeah. Mark Estdale: It's a den. It's somewhere to come and feel at home and you want to relax in, you want to hang out in it to feel safe. It's breaking down those barriers. So for instance, the recording engineer is working like recorders on film set. They're out of sight. It's all about the action. It's all about living in the fluid space, without words into the moment of the game. They're absolutely in the game. It's about immersing them in the game. Gillian Brashear: What do you mean by that? That you're immersing them in the moment of the game. How do you do that? Mark Estdale: The one thing that you need to be connected to is the game. I always think artwork is a corpse, animation is a zombie. An actor embodying the zombie, bringing it to life, is a fully realized character. So, all of those elements are really powerful. So with the game developers, say, they've been working on a game for five years. If you've not cast early, you are dealing with a team of people who have got a voice in their head. And every single person will have a different voice in their head. Randall Ryan: Yep, absolutely. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. Mark Estdale: So you're competing against that. Randall Ryan: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: Well, the phrase that's used always is, fuck yeah. Casting is about fuck yeah. Randall Ryan: Yeah. Mark Estdale: It's just like, yes, that character is fully alive within the orchestra of the ensemble. And if you cast early and the developer's going, fuck yeah, there is no doubt whatsoever about the character. There is clarity at that point. And then you can move that character in different directions. You may even want to recast it because it doesn't quite work within the context of the world. But what you have is a united vision, early, and that is so powerful because it influences the nuance of the writing. It influences the nuance of the animation. Every element is feeding each other. And by the time you come to record, you are already well ahead. And we want the actor engaged in that process, within those discussions that we have with the developer, so they're part of that process of developing a character. Randall Ryan: So, because the culture is so strong for casting late, doing all the VO late in the development of the game ... Mark Estdale: Yeah. Randall Ryan: ... how do you get people to buy on to, hey, we need to do this now. Scripts aren't even written a lot of times. Mark Estdale: Yeah, they don't. We don't need them to be written. Randall Ryan: You still buck up against the culture. Mark Estdale: We are the culture. Those ideas are the seeds. You are bringing in a master of character in an actor, somebody who knows how to interpret and to bring that character to life. You're bringing that level of craft and expertise into the team to weave magic within that team. You need to just talk about it like this and people go, oh yeah. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: Yeah. But that's the way we roll. The sausage factory of just churning it out at the end..hey, that is an opportunity to do magic beyond. So if we're working on a big plan, they're just throwing everything to the universe, and I'm working with an indie with no money. We can so outperform, outclass with so little. Randall Ryan: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: Simply because of the depth of engagement. And that depth of engagement costs bugger all. But it's a human engagement in a process and it's a creative journey you're embarking together. It makes a profound difference. Gillian Brashear: Absolutely. And it makes use of what actors do and have early in a process. It makes so much sense now listening to you ... Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: ... that for the writers to be able to hear the words while they're still in the process of making it all, but actually hearing a character must inform the writing aspect in such a more rich way. Mark Estdale: Yeah. We look at games that we've worked on that are ongoing franchises, which is a really good example is a game called Vermintide, which is a Warhammer game. And there are a bunch of player characters. And it's all about the interactions between those player characters. As soon as the actors came on board, the characters became fully alive. And over the years, each time we record, the actors bring feeds, the writing feeds, everything else, and feeds the humor and the humanity of everything. The way the dialogue works is really interesting as well, because it's not just straight dialogue, you're using buckets. So, conversations are actually built up. Randall Ryan: So you're randomizing some of the responses? Mark Estdale: Yeah. But the way that the whole system here works is the actors are always working with each other in the booth, in that random space. We're not ensembling it because ensemble won't work in the situation. But they're always working off each other and adjusting, and everything becomes this fluid movement. So, the cast is now mature. The game is now six years on. But the writing has become funnier and funnier and more nuanced. Randall Ryan: So are you doing playback? Here's just some random playback for you to respond to. Mark Estdale: Yeah. There's a thing called CDT. There's creative dialogue tools. And fundamentally, what creative dialogue tools does is connect any game asset to the script. So for instance, you've got this script in front of you. You can see here. So, you've got this bit of dialogue. And whatever's going on, it can be video, so you've got character scene, item video. So, anything visual is there. I don't need to explain that conversation to you. You know where you are. We also got the voices of the actors. Source that if it's another language. Spot effects, those are just things that may interrupt, like an explosion or a door slamming or a sonic interruption. Then you have ambience, which is the ambient noise of the thing. And then music. So all those layers are available instantly. So what the CDT does is connect all the potential game assets to the script, so the actors in the movement. So this one is just this scene here is you're in a bar. This is Randall. He's talking to Elaine. Gillian Brashear: Randall, you're talking to Elaine. Randall Ryan: Well. She was there. She bought me a drink. What are you going to do? Mark Estdale: So, you can just go in and act this straight away, but I've got the Randall line straight here. So you can go off, you're off. Gillian Brashear: I'm nervous since you're here. More like barracudas. Okay, good. ´Cause I don't. Mark Estdale: So she's straight into ... She knows the scene, you know the level, you know everything, you are utterly connected. Gillian Brashear: Yeah, this is fun. Mark Estdale: Exactly. And that is the response. You're entering the roller coaster. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Mark Estdale: So the actors are coming in just going, they just make choices and run. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Randall Ryan: Yeah. Mark Estdale: I was talking earlier to you about the neuroscience of this. This is where I'm super excited, but I can't really articulate much of it now. When I first started doing game stuff, one of the things I really noticed was you'd be really diligent and give actors the script in advance and they will study it- Randall Ryan: When you can. Mark Estdale: Yeah, when you can. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: The actor will prepare and come in and do their thing with the context of the directors who knew the background work and got the choices and all that kind of stuff. But then if you gave the actor a side they'd never seen before and say, just go, oftentimes their very first read, it'd be just knock the ball out the park. And I was going, what is going on here? So I never ever give actors a script in advance. Never. It doesn't matter how intricate it is. There was this really profoundly personal dark journey a character had gone on. There's this monologue, long monologue. And I thought, this is one to give in advance, but I didn't. I decided not to. And he hit it in one take. And by the end of it, we were all in tears. And the actor didn't know what was coming. They didn't know what the next sentence was. They didn't know what they were going to expose about themselves. It was profound for us in the studio here. We just go, fuck yeah. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. I think it's got something to do, when I listen to what you're saying, the element of discovery. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: And when the actor is allowed to discover in the moment, the reactions they're going to have are very fresh and real. They're not manipulated. Mark Estdale: When I first started experiencing this ability to just live in the moment, I was thinking about where in the real world does this kind of acting exist? In theater, it's within improv. Randall Ryan: It's improv, right, exactly. Mark Estdale: But an improv is part of devising, part of knowing… Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. Rules. Mark Estdale: Yeah. However, in the real world where that improvised space is happening is when somebody's working undercover. So if you've got a cop who's working undercover, they are acting, they're being somebody they're not. And they have to survive in the world and their life is at stake. So that is improv extreme. Somebody from MI6 came down to the studio and couldn't talk about anything. But then he said, I would take it, I would take ... Gillian Brashear: It was a silent session. Mark Estdale: But what he said to me, he said, this is what we do, but for fun. And he's like, I can't tell you anything, but I can take you on a journey. And an interesting journey unfolded after that. That thing about living in the moment, I was really curious about how can you cold-read a script? Because somebody working undercover is total improvisation. Randall Ryan: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: Improvised theater is improvisation. But having a script and reading it, how come that works cold? And I was really curious about that. Basically, our brain is so much faster than we think it is. The thinking, speaking part is a linear element that comes from insane complexity. But if you think of the connections in the brain that are happening and firing at all times, if those connections were a ball of Christmas tree lights, that ball of Christmas tree lights would be the size of the known universe. That is the complexity and the power and the speed of our brain. We're coordinating everything at any one time. So you're trusting our humanity. The choices we make are always instant. If you go out on a date, and you prepare things, you just fall over yourself. Randall Ryan: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. Mark Estdale: Yeah. But if you don't care and you relax and you yourself, you come out and it's enabling that to happen. There's a lot more depth to the neuroscience of it. One of the really exciting things that's happening in cognitive science is the merging of psychology, of neurology, of physiology in their language and understanding. The connection between that and what's happening in the scientific world about how the brain works is so exciting. And the thing is, actors have known the essence of that and have created their own language about how we function because they're questioning how we function. Mark Estdale: Anybody who studied acting or taught acting is looking about how do you become another character, how do we embody fully somebody we're not? And that's the essence of the heart of the craft of acting, but it's studying humanity from a creative point of view. Whereas the science, the cognitive world is thinking about exactly the same subject from a scientific point of view. And those two worlds are converging. Mark Estdale: Rizzolatti, the Italian neurophysicist discovered mirror neurons. And mirror neurons are those neurons that respond ... I think some 300 people or 3,000 people probably take me in a corner and beat me up for getting it wrong. But they are the things that ... They're our imagination. So if I tell you a story, you will have an emotional response as if that was real. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: I remember when I was at the Game On thing in LA and I talked about my fingers being broken. Randall Ryan: Oh yeah. Right. Mark Estdale: And the whole audience went ACCK!, you know what I mean? We learn from other people's experience. Gillian Brashear: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: And that is why theater is so wonderful. Gillian Brashear: That's storytelling in itself. Mark Estdale: It's storytelling. Gillian Brashear: Yes. Mark Estdale: The whole art of storytelling. Gillian Brashear: Right. That's why we do it. It's our shared consciousness. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: We're learning from your experience. Mark Estdale: Now science is beginning to go, oh, there's all these connections. So you've got embodied cognition. You've got a thing called 4E cognition. We're not just a brain in a head. We're a brain in a body. It's that physical connection. So, you get embodied acting. Then you get transformative acting, which is taking a step further. If you look into the relational stuff that Uta Hagen talks about what is the relationship between you and an object or your environment, really important. But this 4E cognition is about the cognitive process is connected fully to the environment, not just to head, not just to body, but it is external as well as internal. So, it's to do with spaces and containers, and containers is the thing I'm really interested in. That's when the new studio lab is going to be built, is looking at that research into containers. Mark Estdale: I can talk about this for hours and just go, because it is really interesting. But the fundamental thing is it's about how to liberate somebody in that moment. For an actor coming into the space, it's about being. One of the things I advise in auditions. You can hear when somebody's crafted it and reread something first. You can hear somebody living in the moment. You can hear when somebody's directed. You can hear when an actor is stuck in front of a microphone. It's a cage. I am caged. Because I keep moving off mic and you can hear it. That means it's a bad take. You will never give me a bad take. So when we're casting, what I recommend now is don't look at the sides, look at the character. Yeah, think about the context of who you are, what you are. Look at the context for the lines, not the lines themselves. Then cold read the lines, then press send. Without reviewing it, listening back or anything. If you fluff it, stop, start again. But keep that in and just give one take, send it. Gillian Brashear: I like it. I like that whole idea. Mark Estdale: Because it's about coming ... You're making a choice. So when I'm casting and having people in the studio, when somebody have made a decision, you have something tangible that you can flow with. And they've come in with a decision, you are throwing them into something and they're going with it. And then you can go, how about this? And they go, oh, different decision, let's go that direction. That's what I'm looking for in casting. That's all. Actors are coming to the booth wanting to please me. Randall Ryan: Right. Gillian Brashear: Right. Mark Estdale: And it's just dead. Gillian Brashear: Yes. Mark Estdale: It's never going to happen. And it's what I call licking. People want to lick you. It's like uh-uh, make a choice, run with it and let's play. They're entering a playground. They're being a child. And that is what training really gives people, that ability to play and to be safe and have confidence. We get actors bouncing into auditions and it's just like, okay, let's play. It's always a learning experience. And they're less invested in trying to please. And the more they're embedded in being the better chance they have. And the tough thing is, the actors who are really experienced know that. But that's why we have these agent sessions, where the agent comes and sits in here and we'll discuss everything and do the same thing as if I'm directing a session, open mic, just mess around. Here's a scene. I go through these scenes here with the actor, throw them about and introduce them to it. And this is basically what I call a no-risk session. So, we have a very strict score system. Four is on the knows. Zero is what the fuck. So, fuck yeah to what the fuck. Yeah. Randall Ryan: So one is I don't give a fuck. Two is ... Mark Estdale: You could give a fuck. Randall Ryan: Could give a fuck. Three is fucking pretty good. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: The four levels. Mark Estdale: Yeah, we could have the fuck scale. Yeah, we haven't thought of that. But I think, we actually do do that, having the fuck scale. The Randall Ryan fuck scale, that's what we're going to call it. Gillian Brashear: Four levels of fuckery. Mark Estdale: Yeah, exactly. So, we'll zone people. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: To start with. So it won't go into refined. This will be a three, four or a two, three or a one, two, or a zero, one on their first take. That to me is meaningless. Because what happens, you are dropping somebody into the playground for the first time and they're going, do I like this, do I want this, do I embrace this? Then they go away and they think about it. And if they want to come back, they'll be a different person. Randall Ryan: So when you're casting with this, when you're doing things like that, is that either you're already thinking about casting them and so these are like call back auditions, because you probably can't do that with everybody, right, unless you have a really small number of people that you're calling from. Mark Estdale: We get people to self-take. The casting side's really important. Randall Ryan: Right. Of course. Mark Estdale: Because that score system exists. We have a thing called the casting matrix. I think I can bring up a matrix for you, which is terrifying because it's another sheet. Yeah, Google Sheets is wonderful as well. Randall Ryan: Do you realize this visual stuff is great for a podcast? Mark Estdale: Yeah, that's perfect for a podcast. But it's fundamentally. So this is a casting sheet. This is sanitized so you don't see all the actors on it. Fundamentally, get their scores. Our casting briefs are really precise. And within it, there is a description of how to submit, what to submit. So we'll say things like don't slate your sample. So if an actor slates the sample, they don't get listened so they go straight to the bin. Randall Ryan: I've told so many people that exact thing. Thank you for saying that. Mark Estdale: Well, the thing is if somebody can't follow instructions when they want a job, how the fuck are they going to listen when they're on their job? Randall Ryan: 100% agree. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. Mark Estdale: So there are details within the casting submission, which adhere to or be damned. And the other thing is, so the way we look at the casting is each actor, if they're going to submit for multiple roles, their best score is going to be the average. So if they submit for one role and nail it, they've got top score. Randall Ryan: Yeah. Mark Estdale: Yeah. We've got some down here that submitted for a couple of roles. They've nailed one, but they submitted for three, and they're off the scale down here. They were four for one role, but they wouldn't be considered for that role or they wouldn't be the top choices for that role because their average was lower. And the reason we do this is, one, it's about self-awareness. It's also about production awareness. So when you submit, it takes at least 20 minutes to listen through to a sample. And oftentimes, when we're in casting, three people will listen to that sample and make notes. That takes time. Yeah. If you're carpet-bombing want to be hopeful and you'll say, oh, I'll go for this one and go, you are wasting our time. You may be brilliant and be able to nail them all, but get through your door on one is all you need to do because we can play once you're in production. Randall Ryan: Okay. So let me give you a little devil's advocate on that. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Randall Ryan: So, unless you are doing one-to-one casting, one actor, one part, one part, one actor, even if you're submitting for roles that maybe you don't get, if you're submitting for something that you have no business submitting for, that's a faux pas. But you submit for that one role that, as you said, you nail. And then maybe you submit for a couple others, like they're okay, they're average, they would work if we had to work with them. Isn't there something positive to that if you are having to say, they're going to get that main role of rows, this actor is just perfect for rows? I can give them two other roles. I can give them an NPC. I can give them maid number eight. Mark Estdale: That's my decision, not yours. It's a production decision. So this is about getting through the door. You do a self-submission, submit your best. Because then, if we don't know you, we'll call you in and then we'll mess with you. We'll send you on a roller coaster. So we'll play around with that character because we want to see about adjustment. The self-tape tells you nothing. Some self-tapes, whether that actor can really do it, especially if it's somebody you don't know, it may have taken hours of crafting and all that kind of stuff. So, it's saying, yeah, this works, but I want to see it work under production conditions. If we don't know the actor, then we'll bring them into the studio, put them into production conditions. And during that exploration, we will explore other characters. Randall Ryan: Well, this is something you can do because of what you said, where you are getting casting done early. That gives you that luxury of that. Mark Estdale: But it's always pushing that casting time. Having casting time is ... Casting is king, is everything. Randall Ryan: Yeah, it is. Mark Estdale: We cast wide all the time. So, probably the casting backlog is about thousand actors right now within productions. We've got all these samples. So, Zach here and Nat are going through those building the database. So which is the matrix here, which is scored. So every sample gets a score. And the average score is the actor's in through the door score. So if they come in, they cast, they go, that is the role I want. If the actor is undecided because they're so brilliant, just come to make one choice. That is the message. Make a choice. Because if it's good, we will call you back for other stuff anyhow, even if you don't get the role. Mark Estdale: So this is statistics. And this also gives us statistics about the agent and every statistic tells a story. So, the average score from the actors then becomes the average scores to the agents. So we basically expect agents to do a lot of the work for us. So we will send the briefs to the agent. And if the agent is really hot, they know their talent, and they go, he'll be good for this role. Or she'll be great for this one. And they will send specific actors. Randall Ryan: And they don't give you 10 to show that they've got a bunch, which happens a lot. Mark Estdale: Yeah. So some of our agents will just send us three samples. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: And they all go bang, bang, bang. They're in the bag. Oh, nice agent, good, saved us time. And others will get all the briefs come in. They just put it onto their website for any actor to put in whatever they want. And they just pipe it all to us and we'll get 100 submissions. Randall Ryan: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: Do we want to work with that agent? Do you know the production cost of dealing with that and waiting through that? And some of those samples will be shocking. So having the agents in here for these agent sessions, we talk about this thing. And so we are evaluating the agent as well as the actor. And if we get carpet-bombed, okay, they don't understand production and they're not putting their best foot forward. They're just being hopeful or hoping something will stick in there. And that ain't good practice. We don't want to work with those agents who carpet-bomb because it is wasting our time. It's making them look really crap. The data tells a story. So we know when an agent's carpet-bombing and there's no filtering. Randall Ryan: Do you try to train the agent at all? Mark Estdale: Yeah. That's why we invite the agents down. So we've got two sessions this week with different agents. They're coming down from different agencies. So oftentimes, agents don't get to really know their crew, the actors. There's hundreds of actors on the book. And it's a real opportunity for the agent to get to know the talent, which they wouldn't normally get within the normal working day. And it's about us educating the agent, educating the actors. And that is the fundamental thing. And we find gems in doing that. So we have a massive database. Every single casting that comes through here goes onto a database. We have all the score and their average score over everything, and the notes. Every sample that comes in is an asset for the database. So there's tens of thousands of the data thing. Gillian Brashear: My gosh, it's incredible that you have time. Mark Estdale: But it means it's all at the fingertips. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Mark Estdale: So for on a production side, you want that sense of know who you are as an actor. Put your best foot forward, what you think you're great for. Randall Ryan: Okay. So let me ask you something else then. Mark Estdale: Go on. Randall Ryan: So, let's just say you're precasting for a game. You've got a main role for something. And an actor submits for that. And they give you two different submissions for it that are radically different from one another. But they're making choices like here's one way I could play it, here's something else I could see. Or maybe the first one is, here's something that is absolutely in spec based on the brief. I have an idea on something else and I just want you to hear it. I mean, that's their thinking. They may not say that in the audition because they're just going to give you a couple of things. In your world, is that a positive, is that a detriment, could it be either? Mark Estdale: In my world, I would say it's a detriment. Randall Ryan: Reason being? Mark Estdale: Make a choice. Randall Ryan: What if they have, they've made two choices? Mark Estdale: They made two choices. Choose between one of them. Run with it. Yeah. What's your gut feel? Sometimes, they may want to go off the brief, fine. It is about conviction. Conviction carries. Randall Ryan: Okay. So if what they're doing is they're giving you one on the brief, even if they nail it, but the reason they give you the second one is because this is a little bit off the brief but this is what I feel. You would probably say, if you were the actor, give me the second one, don't give me the first, correct? That's the dilemma. Mark Estdale: It's not a dilemma. It's just make a choice and run with it. Because once you start building an ensemble, we want the brief to be precise. What actors submit expose a brief. Because if actors are submitting wild shit, we've got something wrong with the brief. But with the brief, yes, there are choices to be made. And you could go in different directions. And some actors will give me five variations, all of them wonderful. But again, that takes five times the time. Randall Ryan: It does. Mark Estdale: To do it, to review it. Randall Ryan: Unless you hear one and you're like, I don't care what else they did, that's it? Mark Estdale: Yeah. We would never make that decision. So, a self-submission is that's interesting. All you need to do is pique my interest. Because the next stage is getting them in the booth and working with them. And then that is where the discussion opens up. It's just clarity of choice. It doesn't have to be to the brief. It can be, I've got this idea, I think this will be this and give it. Because what you see is choice momentum, life in the performance, it's there. And when something is fully alive and realized and vibrant that you go, that's interesting, I want to go that way. What I'm looking for is talent to work with. As we said earlier, there's 26 productions live right now. It's not just that one role we are casting for. We are casting all the time. And if somebody's showing stuff that's interesting, that interesting gets flagged. It's part of the pool for all the productions. They may not be good for that role, but they'd be great for this one. Randall Ryan: Right. And that happens? Mark Estdale: Yeah, all the time. People will submit stuff and you go, ah, that's such a great performance, but it's just not right. And it's not just about the performance. You're building an orchestra. It's all about the group of actors. It's the ensemble that is what makes a piece work. And you want different tones and textures, pictures. You want color. It's like an orchestra. If an orchestra was all fucking violins, it'd be dead. Gillian Brashear: Right. Randall Ryan: Right. Mark Estdale: It doesn't matter how virtuoso you are. You're looking for different instruments to give you the thing. So casting is not about the brilliance of your performance for that one thing. It's about that performance in relationship to everything else. But a great performance will always be noted. And it'll go into that resource for the casting team. Randall Ryan: So a technical question then on the way that you're doing your thing. Mark Estdale: Go on. Randall Ryan: Somebody gives a great performance, but it's not what you're looking for on that brief. They are possibly going to be scored something like a two. Mark Estdale: But if it's a great performance, it wouldn't get a two. Randall Ryan: Okay. So even it's like, they're not going to get this role, you're still essentially saying, by your scoring system, they got a three. Because even though it was a great performance, it's not what you're looking for in that role. Is that not how that would work? Mark Estdale: Yeah. But three's good. They can nail it. Randall Ryan: I see. Gillian Brashear: You bring them in? Mark Estdale: I would bring them in and work them. Gillian Brashear: How do you deal with people across the ocean? Mark Estdale: We don't do any remote recording. Gillian Brashear: Interesting. Mark Estdale: Because it's all about this. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. So people have to come here and record. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: For any of your jobs. Wow. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Gillian Brashear: Okay. Mark Estdale: Yeah. We won't remote ... Well, the thing is if it's one voice in something, then fine. I did one production in lockdown with actors all over the world. We were shipping out the same equipment to everybody. But the most expensive thing about a recording studio is the room you sit in. Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Randall Ryan: That's right. Mark Estdale: And ... Gillian Brashear: That's the toughest. Mark Estdale: ... basically, people in their cupboards, under duvets, whatever, will sound different. And the thing is, you've got a disconnect. The actors are dealing with the technical as well as performance. Some actors are massively technical. Some of the best ones don't know what the internet is. Randall Ryan: That is correct. Mark Estdale: So the technical side of it, it's always a compromise, it's always a loss, it's always a degradation of what you can do. So we've made that in June last year. That's the way we roll. And we started mid-June, July last year back into full production. Gillian Brashear: Do people fly over for you? Mark Estdale: For doing stuff from the States? Gillian Brashear: Yeah. Mark Estdale: There's so many Americans over here now. Gillian Brashear: Okay. Mark Estdale: Now that was one of the thing is like 50% of our productions are US. And we are looking for studios to work with in the States right now. But we want to be able to plug them into our way of working. Gillian Brashear: You might have to go back and rebuild that studio again! Mark Estdale: Well, yeah, it still exists. Now, I'm not going to go and do that. We want to do it in a partnership thing. Gillian Brashear: So you're looking for a partner over there who can do something with the same type of setup and have the same relationship. Mark Estdale: But it's having a really great room to be able to do this. This is fundamentally my playground. And the research element of it I'm doing. You are sitting in the Petri Dish. Everything you do is noted. And so, why does that work, why does ... I've done this for decades. And you notice patterns and you see things and you're going, okay, I'm going to change this and I want to be able to take that further. Now I'm understanding more of the science. The science has caught up with the acting. So the dialogue is now current and live between the cognitive sciences and performance. And it is the most exciting. There's three great books on the subject. The one that really got me is a guy called Dick McCaw. He did a book called Training the Actor's Body. Originally, I thought the most important element in performance is one of the things I watch in casting is the physicality. So, how an actor physically enters a character. You can't do it with a 416 in front of you or a U87. Randall Ryan: Well, you can but- Mark Estdale: You can but you are caged. You're in a cage. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. You're doing this and working with them. Mark Estdale: Yeah, yeah. You can do it wonderfully, animation there. The common practice is to do it in a cage. Randall Ryan: Right, right. Mark Estdale: But when you release the beast, holy fuck, you get something different. Randall Ryan: So another technical question. This mic, small capsule. Mark Estdale: Yeah. Randall Ryan: How are you getting the depth? Mark Estdale: Okay. So, it's a 4060, it's a DPA. Randall Ryan: Okay. But what's the technology that makes this give that bottom menu and all that stuff that's around 180 hertz that sometimes you're rolling off, but if it's not there and those harmonics aren't there, you lose that. Mark Estdale: You are listening to a voice. For me, performance is a voice in an environment. So, what we want is something that's natural and neutral. That is the focus. Every mic colors. Randall Ryan: Absolutely. Mark Estdale: And you want a constant coloration. So, there's a distance, the way the mic is placed and everything. We've researched this forever. And it's like working that mic where it is, is like working at U87 at a meter. But you need a good room for it. That's another side of it. And- Randall Ryan: So its polar pattern is a little more omni? Mark Estdale: Yeah, they're omnis. So, I want a really natural sound to it. And the other thing is the more performance capture you're doing, you've got mics attached to people. Yeah. And they're using these mics on the stage. So the performance capture stage we're building is going to be just a very big sound studio. But it's going to be one that's going to have controllable acoustics because I want to put orchestras in there as well. But it's having that playground because when their new studio comes, to be able to connect all the different rooms in the different environments, that means we could do some really crazy shit. And the crazy shit is something that tickles me. Randall Ryan: You realize you can't die because you've got a good 50 years' worth of ideas here. Mark Estdale: Oh God, yeah. I know I can't die. Gillian Brashear: I got to say ... Mark Estdale: But it's ... Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Gillian Brashear: Your spirit of experimentation, I applaud. That you're constantly curious and experimenting to get to a more refined connection and truth. I really appreciate that. Mark Estdale: I guess so. Gillian Brashear: Yeah, yeah. Mark Estdale: Yeah, so it's ... Yeah. You only have one life. Gillian Brashear: Mm-hmm. Mark Estdale: And it's like, if we don't enjoy our craft and what we do and can't be supportive in each other's shit, what the fuck's the point? Randall Ryan: I'm kind of with you. Gillian Brashear: I agree. I agree with you fully. Randall? Randall Ryan: Gillian? Gillian Brashear: All right. Randall Ryan: Sure. Gillian Brashear: Thank you so much, Mark. Mark Estdale: Thank you for being here. Gillian Brashear: Mark Estdale, it's fantastic. Mark Estdale: Thank you. It's lovely to have you in our day in the Petri dish. Gillian Brashear: Oh, my gosh. Randall Ryan: I already feel a little more moldy. My cells are dividing as we speak. I don't know. Maybe someone can pull Mark out of his shell someday, right? I really enjoy hearing his perspective and it's a joy to feel the passion that he's got for creativity and really just for our industry. Let's Talk Voiceover is hosted by Gillian Brashear, actor, director, visionary, and me, Randall Ryan, owner of HamsterBall Studios, delivering the world's best talent virtually anywhere. And I can also be found at thevoicedirector.world. You got comments, questions, or just want to let us know what you think, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us at all your favorite places, GetPodcast, iTunes, Stitcher, Apple Podcast, Podbean. If there are podcasts, we're probably there. Thanks for listening, and we'll talk again real soon.
Monday Jul 09, 2018
Monday Jul 09, 2018
Cliff Zellman is Mr. Automotive Advertising. He's a lifelong studio engineer, and one of the leading automotive ad audio guys. This podcast offers some of the most valuable lessons you can learn about being a voice talent for automotive ads. As one of the most sought after speakers for voiceover conferences, Cliff shares it all in this, Episode 20, of Let's Talk Voiceover. You may want to listen to this one more than once. It'll be worth your while.
Thursday May 24, 2018
Thursday May 24, 2018
Zach Hanks is a voice actor, coach and director in Atlanta. As a former Assistant Professor in theater, we talk about the difference between coaching in the classroom versus coaching in the "real world", and that transition from working for yourself to working for a paycheck. Zach brings a lot of interesting perspectives, as a former L.A. actor who stepped out of the Hollywood thing to walk down a slightly different path, and how he still makes his living as a voice actor today. Listen to Episode 17 of Let's Talk VoiceOver.
Wednesday Mar 07, 2018
Wednesday Mar 07, 2018
The Legendary Marc Graue joins us for Episode 011, and as Robert Pattinson said to Kristen Stewart in Twilight, "You better hold on tight, spider monkey." Having a 30 year history with Marc, the war stories in this one are totally worth the listen. From growing up in Hollywood to "In A World" to alien creature voices to what makes a voiceover demo great, we fly through a fast paced and funny peek inside the mind of one of busiest voice actors around.
Thursday Feb 22, 2018
Thursday Feb 22, 2018
Why are there so many dudes in audio? Jacquie Sladeck, Head of Studio for SIDE LA gives her thoughts on that. In Episode 010, we also talk about moving from recording studios to game studios and back to recording studios; working for entertainment companies headquartered outside of the U.S. and the cultural adjustments necessary; and Jacquie gives her insights into how you can build your voice acting business without being annoying. You'll want to hear this!