The Trailer Voice Paradox: Why Do They Hire a Commercial Guy When They Want a Trailer Voice?

I’ve worked on thousands of commercial castings in my career, perhaps even tens of thousands, and one of the greatest paradoxes in the biz has been the commercial breakdown for a “trailer” voice. Several hundred times, I’ve seen the trailer breakdown but, in my entire career I may be able to count on my fingers the times an ad agency has actually hired someone who is universally known to work in trailers. Why? I can’t venture a universal answer as I’m referring to ad agencies and creatives spread throughout the United States but I’m going to try regardless of ruffled feathers.

Everyone is always quick to proclaim that only 5 or 10 guys (sorry gals) do every trailer and that’s been an interesting myth for several years. What the myth suggests above and beyond everything else is that the movie going public recognizes and accepts a very small group of voices (and their “sound”) as being legitimate. Now 5 to 10 may be more prototypical than the 25-30 but overall that group voices roughly 98% (in terms of total voice budgets) of all union trailers, home video spots and TV spots for motion pictures. Over my twenty-year career, I’ve represented a handful myself and generally every rep knows these voices in the business. In fact, they universally go by first names like Don, Hal, Ashton, Miguel, Howard, George etc. so finding a trailer voice is not a difficult process yet, for a commercial, suddenly the search becomes complicated.

Another point I need to make clear and, it is an obvious one, is that perhaps 80% of the movie going population knows what a movie trailer sounds like. That doesn’t mean they intellectually understand the beats and the formatting of a spot but viscerally they know what feels real. The reason why “In a World…” (the phrase not the film) remains such an inside movie joke is because so many movie fans have heard variations of that phrase for years and years and there are so few ways to avoid it. That’s why “the Comedian” trailer is still so funny. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIILUKJ74r0) and likely will remain funny for years and years.

So how do we explain this trailer voice paradox? I can’t.   Yes, I admit I have no real theories because as you will see every theory has an obvious counter. For instance

1) Trailer voices are too expensive… in fact, almost any of them will work on a commercial @ scale with the exception of certain conflicts.

2) The majority of commercials are produced in Chicago and NY so LA trailer voices are not included in the search… since the advent of Voicebank has nationalized a significant portion of the voice-over market whereby New York and Chicago agencies often include Los Angeles.

3) Commercial producers think more highly of prized commercial voices versus trailer voices… then why ask for a trailer read to begin with?

4) Commercial producers are unfamiliar with actual trailer voices… I just commented that the general public is fairly aware of the sound if not the actual voices. I can’t imagine writers and producers are unaware.

That brings me to my only explanation. For years and years, I’ve made the claim that commercial auditions can’t quite be a finished product. The point of the audition is for the talent to follow the road map of the script (ie understand the message) but also give the creative enough room to believe a talent is “directable.”   Trailer auditions and scratches are the opposite. The point of a trailer audition is to deliver a finished product.   In fact, trailer auditions are often lifted and put directly into spots. Somehow when commercial creatives hear finished/polished reads, they interpret that the performer as not directable even when the read may be exactly as written on the page. The only answer for an agency creative is to counter by hiring an actor instead of a trailer voice with a typically deep and resonant voice. That doesn’t necessarily mean the actor even approximate the skills of a trailer voice yet, in the end, the creatives believe they got what they intended.

Does any of this make logical sense? Of course not but, as we know, when it comes to creativity, it is not a matter of what’s best. It’s only what is perceived as best.

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