This week I was casting for voice-over actors in Los Angeles and it left me feeling sad, bittersweet and whole mix of conflicting emotions that may or may not have to do with my impending period and certainly have to do with my having been an actress in LA myself. Why would finding an American voice-over actor ever make one feel sad, you may wonder – periods aside? I shall explain.
Since I – initially unwillingly – returned to the Netherlands in 2016, I started working for a company that makes corporate films and commercials. Which is great. Although I’m not making the fiction projects I ultimately want to make, I’m surrounded by filmmaking on a weekly basis, and get to do screen/copywriting, storyboarding and directing pretty much monthly – which is so cool. As such I’ve also been casting (English) voice-overs and actors, usually through local Dutch agencies. And it’s generally only made me happy to be on the other side and able to treat actors with the respect and thoughtfulness they deserve.
This week however, was different. Because for a super last-minute job we needed a good American voice-over. Pronto. As in cast and recorded within six hours. May sound like plenty of time, but it’s not when it’s 10AM in the Netherlands so 1AM in Los Angeles. And since all the Holland-based American voices at the agencies we usually use were not available, I decided to reach out to the communities and friends I encountered while living in Los Angeles as an actress myself.
I hoped I’d get some responses despite the hour of night, but I didn’t expect to get so many, so fast. So many in fact that I took down the posts within an hour. All the voice-over demos that came in were great, professional and hosted on well-made actor websites with awesome, expensive headshots of one pretty face after another. Which was great for me since we got the job done, with an actress that was lovely and funny and accommodating to the crazy schedule.
So why so sad?
Well… Well… Sigh. It’s just that it has been a while since I’ve been to LaLaLand. Immersed within the #hustle. Occupied by #thegrind: the casting director workshops, the dialect coaches, the acting classes, the headshot shoots, the sending postcards to casting directors, and resumes to talent agencies. The auditions, the networking events, the “actor administration” groups, the career coaching and the self-tape studios. Being here, where currently raindrops are falling from a grey sky and where I bike to work no matter the weather five days a week my life is so different. Sometimes it even feels like it was all just a dream. Weekly Griffith park hikes, going to Trader Joe’s in Hollywood on my pink motorcycle for the weekly groceries: it feels like another life.
So when I get reminded of that life it’s always a little bittersweet. But never quite as intensely as during the casting of the voice-over. You see, my coworkers – completely positive by all means – were so surprised by how all the actors were so eager. How they were so overly accommodating and nice and talented. But mostly so very eager. To anyone familiar with the US film business this is nothing new. You move to LA and you slowly start considering it normal. But seeing the reactions from my coworkers, realizing how other people view it, kind of hit home.
Because once you’re out of that bubble and have some distance, you see how tragic it all can be. Hang on! I don’t mean tragic in a mean or condescending way, the #tragic from social media. Look: I’ve been there and was probably more eager and less successful than any of you reading. I just mean that – seeing it from the other side – you realize how uncommon it really is; that kind of eagerness and that kind of willingness to accommodate, to please and do your best to be liked.
Perhaps it’s because being eager isn’t sexy. It isn’t cool. To want something really badly and having it show is for some reason not attractive and gives people space to abuse that willingness. And according to the manifestion/vision board/visualization gurus it’s also not effective. Allegedly, it’s better to want something casually.
So seeing all that talent and discipline and professionalism and dedication and knowing that so few of these actors will be rewarded the way they deserve to be, perhaps because they are so eager… Well, that’s a tragedy isn’t it?
It’s not that I had illusions beforehand about the percentage of succes in the film business or the world being a fair, just place where everyone gets what they deserve. But Dutch actors are mostly classically trained and whether or not it’s related much less eager (you can now turn this into a drinking game), so I hadn’t been around that vibe since moving back to Amsterdam. Therefore it was a pretty eye-opening moment to experience why that level of eagerness often doesn’t really work, to witness it as someone on the other side and. As someone who’s sensitive and dealing with period hormones on top of that.
And so, realizing how small that group of actors really is on a global level – how the rest of the world differs and views it and how far from normal it is – made me sad. But that’s not to put down actors. Because let’s not forget how brave it is to put yourself out there to be disappointed and rejected every day simply because the supply is higher than the demand. To wear your heart on the outside of your body and give your all despite how uncool it’s perceived to be. To choose a life of uncertainty and stress because you’re simply (hopefully) just that in love with acting.
Oh, dear LA actors, I salute you.
Hopefully, even if only in the tiniest way, I can help a little.