VoiceOverXtra Interview: Bill Holmes / Part 1
Auditions: Make Your Choices Outside
The Booth - Are They Weak Or Strong?
By John Florian
Bill Holmes is the ultimate multi-tasker: voice talent, voice-over teacher, actor, director, producer, audio engineer, and filmmaker
… All in the same day?
Well, not necessarily. But his energy flows in those multi-directions.
Holmes is owner/founder of Compost Productions in North Hollywood, CA, a full-service audio and film production and post-production facility – where he also offers voice-over classes, workshops and demo production.
Let's add that when you're talking with Bill, it's not long before you're smiling or laughing.
In a recent wide-ranging conversation with him, we hit upon two themes, which shape this two-part interview:
Following is Part 1: Auditions.
Bill, we've agreed to talk about the audition process and the best way to approach a script. But first, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, about your career, when it started and how you got to where you are now?
Well, I started oh, God, almost 30 years ago.
You are that old?
Yes I am.
Of course, nobody knows that.
I started my acting career back in the early 80s and I was primarily an actor for most of those years, doing everything from commercials to film, to TV, to standup comedy, theater and musical theater.
I pretty much have run the gamut of media and entertainment that I could get into, and I have now expanded into production and film direction and things like that.
I started my voice-over career in my early 20s and have done it for the past 28 years and made a fine living at it. But I also started working part-time as a freelance director at various casting houses around Los Angeles.
Then a woman by the name of Kat Lehman, who used to be the voice of the Disney electrical light parade, at Disneyland - you know, "Boys and girls, moms and dads …"
Been there and heard it, of course.
Well, she did that for years and conducted a bunch of casting workshops. She asked me to start teaching, so I got the bug of teaching through Kat.
When I started Compost Productions I just started teaching on my own and developed a system that even other places around the country are teaching now.
A system? What do you mean?
I teach people how to direct themselves so they can eventually stop taking classes. I have made it my chore to try to put myself out of business. Like a doctor.
Wait a minute, that's what you call yourself.
Yes, the Voice-Over Doctor. I try to treat the pains of learning this business, and that's where the voice-over doctor came up.
My message to people is that you don't have to spend a fortune on this. But you do need to take a couple of classes to see if acting is even something that you want to pursue.
You mean acting classes, not necessarily voice-over classes?
Well, I consider voice-over classes to be acting classes, for the style that I teach.
When people come into my class, even a beginning class, I make it very clear that they are not taking a voice-over class - they are taking an acting class. Because the majority of the people who make a living doing voice-overs are really, really, really good actors.
And what would you teach about the audition process?
In the beginner's class you are basically going to learn how to act - the basic stuff. If you decide to move on to the audition workout class, I treat it like an audition.
You are going to walk in, pick out whatever script you want to work on, go out in the lobby, and make choices about the delivery.
When you come into the booth, you do the script with the choices that you made.
Then I like people to listen to the playback, and I walk them through the process of figuring how to make it better. Because when you're at an audition, you don't always have the luxury of working with a good director.
So you approach this … how?
Basically, an actor just has to say, "Can I hear that back?" And if they have time, they will play it back.
Then you figure how to incorporate your own corrections and adjustments to the direction you're receiving.
Your second take should be much better because you are the one incorporating your adjustments.
But how often do you get a chance to say, "May I hear this back?"
It all depends on if the casting director is busy or not. You know, it's the casting director's job to send the best possible auditions to their client. They want you to succeed.
So if they are not all backed up in the lobby with actors and have time, the good ones will go, "Yeah, you can hear that back."
Eighty percent of the (in-person) auditions are at your agent's office anyway, and if your agent cares about you getting the work, they will probably let you have that time in the booth to listen back and make corrections.
Typically today, by the time you have an agent and you are getting these auditions, you are how many years into the game?
There is no real number to put on that. I've had people take a couple of classes, make a demo, and an agent signs them as soon as they hear the demo.
Then there are others who take three to four years to get an agent. They finally land the agent because they've gotten better and improved over that period of time.
And we're talking about major markets here, right?
Yes, mainly I am speaking about Los Angeles.
But the nice thing about voice-over is that you can have agents anywhere in the country because of the Internet.
Right. And speaking of the Internet, what about doing auditions online, for the casting web sites?
Well, I believe the two are the same. In-person and online, your technique is your technique.
But let me get back to learning how to do auditions …
We listen to the playback, and the first thing you should listen for is, do I believe it?
Does it sound conversational rather than like pitching a product? Does it sound like the conversation I was having in my head?
You know what I mean? Eighty percent of the scripts out there want an announcer, but the directions say, For God's sake don't let him sound like an announcer!
Everything needs to be real. Everything needs to be conversational. It's basic Acting 101 stuff.
If you don't believe what you hear in the playback, you have to go back into that scenario in your head and make it more specific. Make stronger choices.
When people work with me, there is no right or wrong choice - but rather, weak and strong choices.
Far be it from me, the acting teacher, to tell you that you are wrong. That's what got me thrown out of a lot of acting classes!
I would argue with the acting teachers, saying "How can I be wrong? It's my choice!"
But then I ran into one teacher who said, "Well, you made a weak choice. Let's try to find a way to make it stronger."
That really clicked with me.
Is there a method for that?
Basically, to get a stronger read, you make more specific, simple choices.
And you might find that even though you sound believable, it's kind of flat – dragging. For this, go to the PAVE checklist:
Adjust one or two of those points in your next read.
I know it sounds complicated, but it is actually a little easier when you are doing it.
That's a lot to think about on-the-spot, in a short period of time.
The goal in my class is to spend as little time behind the microphone as possible. The real work is out in the lobby, when you are making your choices.
My whole thing is, do your homework in the lobby, step behind the mic and do two takes and get the hell out of there.
That's what an audition is.
That doesn't mean you won't get more than two takes if you need it. If you need 15 minutes behind the mic for one script, I'll give it to you.
But as the class progresses, you're hoping to spend less time behind the microphone. When that happens, it's time to try this out in the real world. That's the cool part about teaching. When you see people out there doing it with success.
But training doesn't necessarily end there.
If you need a check up down the line, we have other outlets for that, as well.
One of those outlets is called Margaritas, Mojitos and Microphones. It's basically a big get-together.
We all sit and have some margaritas and practice all of the stuff that you learned in the classes for one night with guest directors. It allows you to be directed by other professionals and to hear what they have to say.
It's best to get ideas from as many different sources as possible. Again, there's no right or wrong. There are many ways to approach acting. You have to find the one that fits you best.
On that note, Bill, let's pause …
Bill Holmes' Compost Productions is a full-service audio and video post-production facility located in North Hollywood, which also offers group and private voice-over instruction. Classes include Introduction to Voice-Overs; Audition Workout; Scene Study; Margaritas, Mojitos & Microphones (copy reading); and "Billy Bob" Weekend Seminars with animation great Bob Bergen. He is also a workshop instructor on the VoiceLympics VoiceOver Cruise, Sept. 21-26, 2009, from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
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