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Innovator Rita Vennari, SBV Talent:
Creative Ideas Promote Voice Talents
"The entertainment business is constantly changing, and all agents have to be constantly changing and constantly creative.”  - Rita Vennari

By Kelley Buttrick
Voice Actor & VOXtra Staff Writer

Upon reading the words "voice over agent,” the picture popping up in most minds is one of a person sitting at a desk, phone to ear and fingers flying over the keys of a calculator.

According to an online dictionary, a talent agent is defined simply as "one who represents performers.”   

But for Rita Vennari, an agent for more than three decades and founding partner of Los Angeles’ SBV (Sutton, Barth and Vennari) Talent, that definition also includes creative innovator.  

"When people think of creativity in the voice over industry, they immediately think of writers, directors and talent, " says Vennari, the first female voice over agent in the country. "But agents have to be creative too. 

"We’re not just always taking bookings and making money.”  


Proving that agents rely on more than just numbers and networking skills, Vennari and her team built SBV Talent into one of the top agencies in the industry.

And while methods have changed over the years, the importance of using creativity in all aspects of an agency’s work remains a top priority. 

"Rita has an openness and uses a lot of common sense along with intuition,” observes Jessica Bulavsky, an agent in SBV Talent’s promo/trailer department.

"That openness facilitates a creative atmosphere because you never feel your ideas will be shut down. 

"She creates an environment where you are encouraged to think on your own and establish new ways of doing business,” Bulavsky adds.  


When Vennari started in the industry 38 years ago, creativity came into play when an ad agency representative would call seeking a particular voice. 

She would read the copy, decide what she thought might be the right voice, and submit a talent with a sound that might be a bit different than what was requested - but ideally suited to the message.  

In her early days as an agent, she also got to use her creative energy when getting into the booth with her talent.   

"You were in the room hearing the talent read, and you knew how he could put a twist on that copy like he did for another piece copy at a different time,” Vennari says. 

"It was a lot of knowing your talent and what they were capable of doing from working with them one-on-one. 

"Now, I hire seasoned directors to direct my talent, but our agents still listen. You have to understand your product and your audience.”  


Being creative in working with TV networks has also changed over the years.   

"We have to tap into a different type of creativity in finding voices for the networks,” Vennari says.

"It’s so much more creative today because the networks were more generic and didn’t used to be as branded.  They are more creative now, and we have to be more creative along with them.”  


An example of using innovation to find a voice to fit a network’s brand was when the SBV Talent promo agents got together to pitch their voice actors for the fall launch by mocking up promo scripts for some of the new shows.  

"It was an eye-opening experience to put ourselves in the shoes of a writer/producer/creative director and begin that creative process,” Bulavsky recalls. 

"We started by thinking about what we would want to hear as a writer/producer and trying to think like a creative director.”  


Agents from the other departments must also use ingenuity to promote their talents.  

Cynthia McLean, co-director of SBV Talent’s voice over department who also specializes in animation, keeps her finger on the pulse of the industry by reading the trades. 

Upon spotting an article about an animated version of Mel BrooksSpace Balls years ago, she sent a letter saying she represented the man who did looping for John Candy after the actor passed away, and who would be a good voice match for the character Barf that Candy brought to life in the original film. 


While waiting for a response, McLean started thinking outside of the traditional, talent-promotion box and had the voice actor come in and lay down a sample.

The response came back that they weren’t the organization doing the casting. 

Months later she got a call from a production company looking for the original film actors for the animated program. She pitched her guy and sent the sample she had kept. 

The talent won the job without even an audition, thanks to McLean’s  idea.  


At SBV Talent, there is no limit to the number of stories where agents have had to be innovative, and Vennari encourages her team to think beyond now into what can be done better.  

Agents at SBV work together to develop their talent among each other. 

For instance, the agency’s voice over division includes departments specializing in commercial, animation, promo/trailer, interactive, Latin and celebrity. 

While they may represent a talent who works primarily in animation, the agents may also recognize a budding promo star.  

"We look to diversify our talent as much as possible by helping them uncover and utilize what could otherwise be untapped talent,” Vennari explains.  


Beyond looking for new talent within their own rosters, SBV agents regularly attend actor and improv showcases, plays, comedy shows, etc., where new talent might be discovered.

For the woman who started as an agency receptionist but knew it was "more fun down the hall,” creativity is intrinsic to being an agent.  

"I think my colleagues are creative or they wouldn’t have their businesses,” she says. 

"The entertainment business is constantly changing, and all agents have to be constantly changing and constantly creative.”    



Author Kelley Buttrick is a versatile 15-year voice over talent and staff writer for VoiceOverXtra who also has extensive experience in marketing and on-air roles in broadcast media, newspapers and business. Her work experience on many sides of the microphone gives her a unique 'big picture' perspective for each project.

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Comments (3)
Amy Snively
12/15/2011 at 4:16 PM
Great job, Kelley! And thanks for a glimpse into your process, Rita!
Roy Wells
12/15/2011 at 8:49 AM
First rate article Kelley, real good look inside the world of agents and how they think. (And what they think about.)
Joe Cipriano
12/14/2011 at 11:38 AM
Now you know why I've been represented by Rita and her team for the past 21 years. It's so more than a talent - agent's always been a collaboration and a team effort. She is always looking to improve, move forward and innovate. We share that drive and optimism.
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