Checking Your Morals at the Recording Studio Door
I think the majority of voiceover actors would consider what we do as creative. Some might even call it artistic. But if you’re a commercial actor and you’re being honest with yourself, at the end of the day you’re hawking a product. So what happens when you’re asked to lend your voice to something questionable; a product, company or person, you don’t believe in?
I was recently talking to a guy whose ad agency obtained some new business. Great news, right? Well, maybe not. The new client (that shall remain nameless) does some things, environmentally speaking, that might be considered questionable at best. When the Director approached the creative team to announce what they’d be working on, they refused. The boss’s response: “Do it, or quit.” The Director wasn’t trying to be insensitive and actually brought up a good point, which is that if you dig deep enough, most of the agency’s clients have a dark side. Soft drinks make kids fat, sportswear is sewn in factories in India, probably with child labor and another client uses GMO in their dairy products. Ultimately, the creative team had to kick their morals to the curb and work on the new account.
As voiceover actors we have it a little easier because we work freelance, floating from gig to gig. We also have in our favor, anonymity. Most people listening won’t ever know it’s us, except for maybe our friends and family.
The other day, a friend of mine booked a commercial right off her reel. If you’re a voiceover actor you know the sheer joy that brings. It’s like free money because you didn’t have to audition for it. In her elation she forgot to ask the all-important question, “What’s it for?” Her agent had communicated to her what recording studio to report to, the ad agency, the producer running the session and off she went. When handed the script she was immediately taken aback because it was one of the products on her “list” she said she’d never work on. But now she was in a pickle because everyone was there waiting on her, the studio time was paid for and the clients were on a tight time schedule. So she did what she thought was best and voiced the commercial. There is no judgment here. She did what she felt was right in that situation.
As voiceover actors we sometimes have to go against our morals in order to pay the bills. And let’s be honest: those big national campaigns are dwindling by the day. For those in the non-union pool some of the rates clients are offering are truly laughable. If the economy were better and there was more work, then maybe we could have a longer list of jobs we wouldn’t voice. Now, every job counts.
But it’s important to give some thought to what your deal breakers are ahead of time. Maybe you won’t sell hot-dogs because you’re a vegan, or a political spot for the other side, or anything for the company that rhymes with Shmonsanto…
We all live our lives with a set of rules, a moral code if you will. But when you’re code is called into play; you need to have a game plan. Communicate to your agent ahead of time what those products are so you’re not put in an uncomfortable position. And never accept a job without asking what the product is first.
On the other hand, we all need to feed ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up if you drew a line and circumstances forced you to cross it. A fellow performer said she looks at voicing products she doesn’t agree with as a fun acting challenge. She also says, “It’s not really how you make your money, but how you spend it that matters. So if voicing a commercial you don’t believe in allows you to support other causes you do believe in, then look at it as cheating the system in a good way.”
Where do you draw the line? What products do you refuse to voice? Or do you feel as commercial voiceover actors we’re paid to do a job and it’s not our place to let our own personal beliefs interfere with that job?
An interesting conundrum to say the least.
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