by Martha Mayakis, Casting Director and Studio Manager at TalkShop

Yesterday, my associate was regaling me with a tale about taking notes for a job with pen and paper because his computer was taking too long to boot up, and I was reminded how much has changed in the way in which we process work, in this biz we call voiceover.

You don’t have to be a dinosaur to remember how different things used to be.

the beginning of voiceoverMe and Gary Owens in 1997


Let me walk you through a day in the life of a voiceover Casting Director…….. just before the start of the millennium.

We open on a desk scene…..starting with 10-20 minutes on the phone getting the specifics from the designated Ad Exec or Producer about their upcoming project, filling out a hand-written work order in pencil, and copying the faxed-over script – (which we re-formatted with scissors and tape) the casting process actually began.

After the casting staff had all made various talent suggestions, the DOS-based computer data had been consulted and the results printed out with the dot matrix printer, it was time for putting out the calls.

Dozens upon dozens of phone calls exchanged with each of the local agencies, finally yielding confirmations for the next day’s auditions –neatly confined to 2-3 hour blocks of time – and all within typical workday hours between 10am and 5pm.  Yup, there were actual professional boundaries – no requesting auditions at 7pm that are due the next morning by 9…..

The next day we ran the auditions. Specs were posted on a dry erase board so talent could prep before their appointment time. VO actors would show up to find they were auditioning for a new animated series and needed to come up with 4 new characters (with 2 different voices for each) in the 15 minutes they had allotted prior to their audition slot.

There was no getting-scripts-the-night-before – you had to be able to deliver at the drop of a hat.  And they did.  Brilliant characters were created in minutes because talent was so used to the process. Dialogues were especially fun because – get this – actors always read together, so the improv possibilities were endless.

Talent was allowed to employ the first rule of acting – re-acting.  Ad libs and “buttons” were hilarious.

To record, we fired-up the old reel-to-reel (like from an old World War II movie). If talent made a mistake, we had to record an entirely new take – no cutting out individual lines.

If you couldn’t do a full take without mistakes – you weren’t right for the job.

No “fixing it” before sending.  It was what it was.  If you did replace a new take with the old one, the booth director had to make a razor edit and splice it with blue tape.  Since we re-used the same reels for years, some reels had nearly as much editing tape as the original audio tape!

On the occasions where clients were looking for a voice match or suggested a movie or TV reference – there was no You Tube or even internet.  We would have to pop in the car, drive to the nearest Blockbuster, rent the appropriate flick, watch it to find the reference point, strip off the audio & transfer it to cassette – so the talent could stand in the lobby holding the tape deck and wearing headphones to master the match.  Once again – in very few minutes.

Once all the auditions had been recorded, the reels were moved to another tape deck where they were transferred at high speed to cassettes.  While that process was taking place, the director took a spin at the typewriter to type-up the ‘Slate Sheet’ (talent list) included in the cassette case, that would make it into the client’s hands sometime the next morning – via Fedex.

Eventually, we graduated to recording on DAT – but editing was impossible.

Then came the beloved mini-disc and transferring to CD’s which was really state-of-the-art.

As the century drew to a close, we started recording via the computer.  Our brains had a hard time seeing the edit point instead of just hearing it.

But the really fun part was The Lobby.

Sure, we still often audition talent face-to-face, but “back-in-the-day” – the lobby was packed with all the regular VO pros, sprinkled with unexpected TV stars of yesteryear.

These days, how often do you run into the dad from Patty Duke (William Schallert), Dr Smith from Lost in Space (Jonathan Harris), Wilbur from Mr Ed (Alan Young), or even the Announcer from Laugh-In (Gary Owens), – all of whom were terrific VO talent as well as on-camera TV stars.  They would hang out telling stories to all the eager newbies as well as the veterans who couldn’t wait for the next anecdote.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s way more efficient to email audition requests and even get submissions the same way… and same day, but for those of us who got to experience the heyday, it’s hard not to harken back every so often to a time when   we had personal relationships with every agent and assistant, every talent, even the Fedex guy!

Would love to continue to reminisce – but a client just emailed that they need a slew of auditions delivered this afternoon.  Gotta get on it.