You got the job! You’re at the mic, you have the script and you did the audition. You know exactly what you did in the audition and you are ready with your character. You open your mouth and go through the first read. The client says, “Great! Now let’s try one just a bit more natural” You think, “No problem” You take another pass and yet again the client asks for it to be more natural “Just like you were speaking to a friend”. Again, another passage…..still no celebrations of happiness. The client is not getting what they want, and you are starting to panic! “What do they mean? What do they want me to do? I think I’m reading it like I would to a friend”.
This is all too common in our world. The outcome can be in our favor or tear apart our flesh and everything we stand for. Then the “Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” kicks in. “I would have, I should have, I could have”……but you didn’t. Face it, you didn’t give the client the read they had in their head! Why? Well that is the trick answer and it’s not always a treat. There are so many reasons for why you might not have nailed a read, or for the client to be unhappy – or even worse, difficult. It could be you weren’t ready and fluked out on your audition, or it could be the client doesn’t know how to direct (which is usually the case), or it could be the client has something very specific in their head and they won’t be happy till it’s perfect.
Halloween is right around the corner. My favorite time of year. Many times I write about creating characters as this is the best time of year to do so, but my right hand man, John Harris, suggested I talk to you about ‘Client Horror Stories’ and I have a few. Even the best of the best have client horror stories. In fact, they probably have the most! We go into this industry thinking we are suppose to be perfect, and when we don’t meet the perfection required of us, we can crumble and fall! This is something YOU MUST prepare for. It’s not a matter of “IF” it’s a matter of “WHEN” you will experience this – so I hope this article will prepare you for some of the biggest nightmares of your life!
As much as we beat up the client for their need of perfection, we must keep in mind that many of these clients have a lot at stake. We are just a SMALL part of the money pool when putting together a project. NO MATTER your rate/salary on a project, there is many more people to pay besides you! We think we are high and mighty, but the truth is, we are just the talent. We are replaceable. Doesn’t mean we aren’t awesome, incredible and unique, but there is more talent to choose from – even at the top. So it’s important we know how to handle these situations.
I will use one of my first client horror stories that happened in the beginning of my career. I was in LA and I was cast in a job from an audition through a company called “The Big Fish Voice Company”. This project was a major Furniture company and was a great campaign to nab and The Big Fish Agency truly went out of their way to accommodate me while I was in LA. It was an ISDN session (which means $300 an hour that the client has to pay to the studio) so there was a ton of money riding on this one. They loved my audition – so that is what I prepared for. It was nice and natural and personable….as I’d studied so hard to master. When we did the session they kept asking me to add more energy – so I did. By the time they were done, I was doing an over the top broadcasting radio read….which was NOT AT ALL like what they requested. So because I wasn’t expecting to go there – I kept adding back in my natural qualities (I’d spent enough to learn them, so by God I was certainly going to practice them). I was just hating everything about the session and how the spot sounded. In fact – if my head wasn’t so stuck in NATURAL at the time, I think I would have been fine. If they could have said, do what you used to do before you got training, or we want an old JOHNNY RADIO read, I would have nailed it on read one. Unfortunately my head was stuck in one direction and the clients aggravation at me for not getting what they want, took me into my nerve mode and my need to impress…pretty much the kiss of death. I lost the job. I was devastated to say the least.
Knowing what I know now, I know it was the clients direction and the confusion of going from natural to broadcasty. But one never knows and all we can do is learn from each experience. Remember though it’s not always the clients fault and so we have to find our lessons in each experience so that we can not let them get to us the next time. Even recently I lost a job – not being able to get the read the client wanted – and I walked away beating myself up and questioning whether I should be voicing or not. Then I confided in a friend/colleague, got a bit more training and understanding into the incident and got back to normal.
You have to protect yourself. Don’t allow them to walk all over you or treat you like a walking Zombie…stand up for yourself when you know you’re not being treated humane, but at the same time prepare for these kinds of situations. Realize its not always you and you can’t please everyone. THERE WILL BE PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE YOUR PERFORMANCE and in the words of “Stuart Smiley” from Saturday Night Live, “THAT’S OKAY”. There are many other clients and many other jobs. DO NOT let them get the better of you. It’s like the old adage “Don’t Feed The Bully,” I don’t mean to say that all clients are bullies, but there are many – who just don’t have empathy at the time because they either just don’t have it, or there is a TON of pressure on their heads that you don’t realize.
I’ve gotten really good at listening, trying to learn my place in the room and realize, I’m just the talent. I’m not a power house that is free of error. I’m human and I too will make mistakes just as they do. My favorite way to get through this and not live in the “Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” is to say, “I did the best possible job I could, under those particular circumstances” and “Gosh Darn it, I like me”! LOL (okay that’s a Stuart reference, but I couldn’t resist. )
Trust yourself and brace yourself. If you’re prepared for the inevitable and realize it happens to everyone at some point – it’s easier to accept and move on to the next one!
Send me your client horror stories. Maybe I can write a book, then sell it to the clients so they can see the monsters they can become!
Until next time everyone,
VO Chef Deb