Sound of the Stars

Sound of the Stars

By Andy Emery

September 22nd 2010 at 8:00AM

AUDIO SPECIAL: Side's creative director Andy Emery talks about getting famous voices in games

With more developers looking to engage high profile acting talent on video game projects, it’s important to realise the full benefits, as well as potential pitfalls, of this delicate process.

Over the years Side has cast high profile actors for a number of titles. Highlights have included Brian Cox as Leader Visari in Killzone (2004), Keeley Hawes as the voice of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: Legends (2005), Stephen Fry as the narrator in LittleBigPlanet (2008), John Cleese as The Butler in Fable III (2010) and Sir Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle as Zobek and Gabriel in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010).

There are a number of key points developers must consider to ensure they are targeting the best actor for the job, have the best chance of closing the deal and achieve the performance they had hoped for.

It is easy to get swept away with a ‘fantasy’ Hollywood cast list for your latest project but profile actors cost a lot of money so there must be solid creative and commercial benefits behind your decisions. The key creative factor is the performance a profile actor can bring to your specific character and the key commercial factor is what additional early interest having this actor on board can generate for your game.

IN GOOD VOICE

Most of the time an actor’s performance for your game is going to be mostly a vocal one, so it is important to think about where their strengths lay. If they are best known for their expressive eyes or amazing ability to look like well-known figures they may not be the best person for the job.

Thinking ahead to marketing, consider the actor’s recognition factor – are they known globally? Will their television or film audience – especially if known for a certain genre, such as a sci-fi – overlap with potential players? Of course it’s a bonus if they are known for their passion for games.

This will all start your casting long list. These are your ideals: the stars you had in mind when creating the character, the person you watched on screen and thought ‘that’s our hero (or Big Boss)’. It’s also good to consider actors whose profiles are rising. Side’s casting team puts a lot of time in building relationships with agents, going to theatre, keeping up with film and television careers, even predicting award nominations.

The long list is then cut down to a realistic short list considering budget, known projects the talent is currently involved in, or just a reality check: is Tom Cruise actually going to be interested?

Now it’s time to approach the agents. Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships with agents. Trust is a very important factor, especially if this is their first game. There are going to be concerns about exposure – could their involvement affect their career? 

Side has had to jump the trust hurdle with countless agencies; helping them understand game projects, what the fees are, what the record sessions are like. We’re now in the enviable position of having agents whose clients have had such positive experiences with us that they are asking about more opportunities. Whoever is dealing with the agents must understand how to present the game, and how to manage the agent’s financial expectations.

With an approach you need to be sure of your budget and record date. You can’t just fish around for a high profile’s interest or fee. You offer them a role: if they say yes, they’re on board. You must also have a character description and script ready to send. If you flounder you lose credibility. Points to cover when negotiating a contract should cover record and pickup dates and what marketing extras you want (interviews, photos, appearances ). Be specific and detailed. The vaguer you are, the higher the fee.

Profile talent secured, there are key factors in ensuring you get the best performance from them. Too many times we’ve heard about ‘diva’ or difficult behaviour. More often than not it is because they’ve walked into an environment not conducive to performance.

Don’t spring surprises. There shouldn’t be a photographer unless photos have been negotiated. Don’t have too many people at the session. Everyone may want to meet the talent they’ve paid for, but there’s an intimacy required for good performance.

THE DIRECTOR APPROACH

It is also important to have a professional director at the session. There’s a misconception that experienced actors don’t need a director. But the director is not there to tell them how to do their job, they are there to help them understand the game’s world and guide them towards the performance you want, using the language the actor understands.

The attention the video game industry is now getting from other media is clearly reflected in how much more receptive profile actors and their agents are to working on games. As games have a greater focus on story, actors are being provided with more interesting characters. But money is still a key factor in any decision for a profile actor. We have not yet reached a stage where a performance on a game will enhance a high profile actor’s CV.

This will change though, especially as more young actors who have grown up with video games become established. Hopefully it will not be long before these actors will be willing to take a punt on a new, interesting game project for a low fee in the same way they would appear in a low-budget indie movie with an exciting new director. Happy casting.

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