The animation industry takes all types. This is no surprise given the varying types of roles available within it. Brent Miller recognized this 10 years ago and leveraged his eclectic skillset into a successful decade-long career as an animation writer, voice actor and director. Oh and in his 'spare time' he taught voice acting for a few years.
Brent and his animation content creation company, MillMac Co, have written an excess of 400 minutes of produced animation, done voice-overs for hundreds of animated episodes and has done casting and voice directing jobs for some of the biggest names in the industry (like Warner Bros, Columbia Tristar and The Cartoon Network—just to name-drop a few).
We recently got the incredible opportunity to talk with Brent about his incredible experiences in the industry and how talented voice actors and animation writers can break into his cut-throat industry:
How did you get into the voice casting industry, and what type of training did it take?
Years ago I was taking radio broadcasting at BCIT out here in Vancouver, I had the goal of becoming a morning show announcer. During the second year, we ran the college radio station and other students were always using me for funny voices. Also during this time I realized that radio guys make no money unless you’re in a big market. A pro voice guy named David Kaye came to our school and showed us his demo. A bell went off in my head as I knew I could do it as well. So I took him to lunch and picked his brain, he suggested I do my practicum at a cartoon casting office. So I did. Then, after that month, BLT Productions hired me. For six months I watched behind the scenes on what I needed to do to become a voice guy, then I got an agent and started booking parts etc. Also during this time I wore many hats, first as production assistant, then production coordinator, to assistant director, to casting, and eventually voice director.
Could you describe the process for doing voice overs for our readers?
Well it’s really quite simple. You get a call from your agent saying you have an audition for..., then you show up, usually it’s a few days notice but sometimes the following day. Then you audition in a studio with the voice director there. If they like what you did, they put you on a short list. That list gets submitted to the producers/broadcaster through the production company and then they pick the cast from that. Sometimes there are callbacks and you go back and read again but this time with more people in the room. Then you hopefully get the call that you got the part and you start recording the series. Here in Vancouver, we have four hour calls for one episode. The latest show I’ve been working on, Lego’s Ninjago (I play the white ninja Zane), we were typically recording two episodes in one day with back to back record dates. Then a month would go by and we’d go in and do the next four until the series is complete.
Where do you find your clients from?
Well that’s the beauty of having an agent, I don’t have to. Sure there’s Internet voice work that can be found, but honestly it’s a crap shoot trying to get that sort of stuff because soooo many people are trying, and the rates usually aren’t that good. So, my job is to just give a good audition when I get the call. That being said, I do get work from the Internet, but only when clients contact me direct. Has outsourcing affected your business? Well in most cases Vancouver is where the voices get outsourced to. There’s only a few production houses in town that do the full animation and voices here. So really, it’s mostly how we get business. However things have changed here in Vancouver with the industry itself. Years ago I used to be one of the only guys with a home studio (that was an advantage), now everyone has one. Guys even audition into their iphones and book parts. Smaller castings are now having actors send in mp3 auditions to save studio costs, a bunch of dubbing work that used to be here has moved to Texas where they are working for lower rates, and the Canadian dollar is too strong. So in that sense it’s changed things because producers are always looking to save money, so now if they can outsource the voices to Texas i.e. for cheaper, they will.
You have incredibly varying talents, from voice acting to directing to writing for animation--was this an intentional move you made by training yourself in different areas, or you just happened to have a talent for all three?
Well first off, thank you. I guess I’m a very driven individual and at the same time, I found out that I have a talent for all three. Let’s just say God gave me a creative brain, and gave my brother the handy-man hands. What happened with me is that first off, when I found out that I could do voice overs, nothing was going to hold me back. So my main goal was to always be a voice on TV. But when I was working in casting, I found out that I was good at giving direction, and other actors responded to it. At the same time I was reading hundreds of scripts all the time. I kept thinking...I could do this, so I did. At the time I formed a writing company with a former partner and we literally came up with concepts together and the pilot scripts we wrote for our own shows, ended up landing us script writing jobs. Being an up and down business, now I focus on whatever is given to me, every year is different.
What software do you use to produce your voice tracks?
The Industry standard is pro tools and that’s what’s used in probably 99% of the studios here in Vancouver. I have a home studio where I can do the 24 track thing, but honestly now I only use that one for music. I plug a little pro tools mbox 2 into my mac pro, and that gives me two inputs (and I only need one). The thing works like a charm and isn’t expensive at all. Add some nice headphones, a nice mic, and I’m good to go.
Are there more-popular geographical locations for the voice acting industry,or is it fairly well spread out across the globe?
I’m not going to lie to you and say Vancouver is number one because we’re not. Los Angeles is still the most thriving when it comes to voices. However, Vancouver would be second. Clients like Warner, Columbia Tristar, Cartoon Network all come up here. Our talent pool isn’t as big as LA, but we have an incredible amount of talent. If you turn your TV on and flip through some channels, I’d bet that one or more of the cartoons that are on at any given time were voiced by Vancouvrites. Here’s the reality though, it used to be that producers came here for three reasons, now it’s only two. We have a voice buyout, that means that you get paid a little more up front but they own your voice, so they never have to worry about paying you residuals down the road. They own your episode, and can air it for years without repaying, this is still the main reason why they fly up here. Second is our talent, we really do have great actors. The reason that used to bring more business but hasn’t helped us in years is our dollar. For us, when the Canadian dollar is high, business is lower. I remember when our dollar was at .65, I had so many auditions it was ridiculous.
As TV, Movies and Commercials begin to use more animation (as opposed to more expensive modeling and non-animation special effects) do you feel there will be a boom in the voice acting industry?
I haven’t noticed any difference in the types of auditions I’ve been getting, but anytime animation is used more, yes it’s good for us. What does it take to be successful in the industry? You need to be able to handle constant rejection. You don’t book every part so right after an audition you have to wipe it clear from your brain, then when you do book something it’s a surprise. And honestly, you have to be able to act really good. I taught voice overs at the Vancouver Film School for four years and from all those students, only one ever made it into voice over. There’s always people who think they can do it cause they come up with funny voices at a party, but if you can’t act, it doesn’t matter if you can do a funny voice or not.You also need a flexible schedule, a good agent, and hopefully a vast amount of voices inside of you.
What is the most interesting part of working as a voice actor?
That I actually get paid to do it. Years ago I played Hot Shot on Transformers Armada and Energon. I remember the very first time I got to say “Transform”. I grew up watching that show as a kid, so for me it was a highlight. Honestly I think I would have done the show for free! So for me, it’s still the love of cartoons and doing something I love that I find most interesting.
What advice would you give to those looking to break into the industry?
This is a tough question because I don’t want to come across negative but the reality is that I’d suggest having two jobs. Get a flexible job on the side that allows you to do voice overs when you get the call. This way you’ll never be financially stressed, I’ve seen it too much in our Industry. One year a voice actor is a rock star and is on lots of shows, the next year they’ve spent all their cash and are broke and can’t seem to book a part. So get a real job, do this for the extra.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.