The author, Paul Ruben, and his wife - casting professional Paula Parker - at The Audies Gala.
Audiobooks: Casting The Perfect
Voice Is A 'Measured' Leap Of Faith
(Note: This enlightening article about the voice-over casting process is reprinted with permission from AudioFile magazine.)
By Paul Ruben
Producer, Director, Casting Professional & Teacher
Audiofileís review of Laurent Gaudeís The House of Scorta (June/July Ď06) described the programís main narrator as follows:
Please note that "... the sweet-voiced Barbara Caruso ...Ē appears throughout the story, as well.
Audiofileís reviewer, M.S., may or may not be the definitive word on audiobook narration or Dan Oreskesí talent, for that matter. Listeners and other reviewers may reasonably disagree with M.S.ís praise for Danís virtuoso performance.
Nevertheless, I echo M.S.ís sentiment, and would further argue that, from my perspective, Dan Oreskes was the perfect casting choice for this highly praised work of literary fiction.
Having produced and directed audiobooks since 1987, Iíve had similar, albeit few, casting opportunities that left me uttering what so many of my colleagues must feel when they get really, really ... really fortunate:
Looking back at casting Dan and other "perfect" voices begs the question: just how does one cast the perfect voice?
Additionally, what is a "perfect voice"?
And, how can you be certain before the recording begins that youíve got the "perfect voice"?
LUCK ... AND MORE
The glibly laconic rejoinder: luck!
I buy that, sort of. Because casting - more art than science Ė is, at least in part, decision making predicated on a host of impossible-to-quantify, concomitant perceptions.
These perceptions are predicated on equally imponderable notions of whatís good and what isnít.
IT'S A PROCESS
Based on nearly two decades of casting people I just knew would be great, and werenít - or, hoped would be acceptable and were wonderful - a more suitable answer, for me, would be:
Casting well, then, can be an acquired skill.
So, if it isnít just luck, what process have I employed that, after auditioning 10 talented actors Iíve never heard before, finds me saying Ė fingers crossed - Dan Oreskes is the perfect voice?
HOW I CHOSE DAN
The House of Scorta arrives at my studio.
I begin reading, but not for enjoyment or even necessarily total comprehension. That comes later.
I am trying to:
I see lots of Italian and remember that I must cast someone who can believably create this dialect.
HEAR THE NARRATOR ...
I keep reading.
In my head I hear a narrator whose power and intensity, whether vocally subdued, breathy, or unexpectedly explosive and volatile, must capture the tragic consequences of the Scortaís lives and this sweeping chronology.
Iím reading while simultaneously thinking,
CALL TALENT AGENTS
I call several of the talent agents Iíve come to rely on for casting: Access, Innovative, CESD, Atlas and Abrams.
I sometimes call colleagues and other publishers for casting suggestions, though this time I wanted to first try auditioning from agents with whom Iíve been very successful in the past.
Based on my analysis of the script, I explain my view of the narrator and "ballpark" my needs to each agent:
I fax the agents a script sample and rely on them to assess my needs, look briefly at the enclosed, and suggest appropriate talent.
Itís not always easy for agents - who want their clients to work - to come up with the right people to audition. But producers like me rely on and need them to do just that, and we are so very grateful when good actors come to audition.
About 10 actors (more than 10 and you often, though not always, will get talent that just arenít appropriate for the role) receive their script pages (Ďsidesí) in advance and come to our studio.
As the actor enters the booth, my goal is to let them begin with no instruction in order to understand how they intuitively respond to the work.
If I hear the actor emotionally connecting to the story, characters, and most importantly, the narration or storyteller, I will often ask them to go back to the beginning so that I can determine how they respond to direction.
DAN'S TURN ...
When Dan began to speak, he was not only connected to the story and the storyteller, but to me.
My disbelief was suspended, fully and immediately.
His vocal quality - powerfully understated, almost a stage whisper at times - his interpretation of the characters, his depiction of their surroundings, perfectly matched what I heard in my head, if you will, while reading the text.
NOW, SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT
I would ask Dan to redo a line with a slightly different sense of purpose; I would ask him to, as I often do with actors, speak the narration from "the point of view of the person youíre talking about."
A highly intuitive and intelligent (though intuition always trumps intelligence as a measure of good acting) performer, Dan not only altered his narration but, in the process, discovered the language more truthfully, more poignantly.
Paula Parker, my wife, colleague, and better at casting than anyone I know, listened to a CD of all the Scorta auditions with me.
We discussed vocal quality, connection to the text and authorís intention, directability. It all came out, Dan Oreskes.
Having consulted, Paula and I looked at one another and took a breath. I decided.
Leap of faith? Yes. But a measured leap, predicated on a sound, albeit fallible and risky, process?
Thatís casting. And sometimes, thatís casting the perfect voice!
ABOUT PAUL ...
Paul Ruben has produced and directed numerous award-winning audiobooks for every major publisher since 1987. His many Audie Awards include work for Itís Not About the Bike, Raymond and Hannah, The World is Flat, A Slight Trick of the Mind, and the 2003 Grammy (Best Spoken Word Album) for Al Frankenís Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. He has directed regional and summer theatre productions, contributed features on audiobook narration to Audiofile magazine, and was elected to the Audio Publishers Association Board of Directors in 2005. Based in New York City and casting and directing many first time narrators - some of whom have become outstanding and award-winning working narrators - he also teaches audiobook narrator workshops through his company, Tribeca Audio.
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