Voice Actor. Author. Alien. Human

My Disney Channel Appearance!

Hey guys! I have a bunch of announcements coming up about stuff that I’ve recorded over the last year or so. It’s the way the voiceover world works; you record something, and then forget about it for a year (sometimes two) before it comes out. There’s so much work involved in post-production that sometimes it takes a while. 

Today, I’m happy to announce my first-ever Disney Channel appearance. In Lego Friends of Heartlake City, Episode 17 (or 19, depending on the region) entitled “Dive In,” you can find me as Tad, the dreamy/cheeseball lifeguard who also has somewhat of an obsession with clean teeth.


Many thanks to the wonderful folks at Bang Zoom for working with me on this one. I got to work with the very talented director Michael Donovan, who was instrumental in bringing this character to life. 

If you missed the cable airing, you can see it at Disney Channel’s on demand website, here, by logging into your cable provider. 

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: Union and Non Union

This article is part of the Hiring a Voiceover Artist series. You can find the rest of the articles here. 

SAG-AFTRA. A combination of two unions that now represents every aspect of voiceover work in the United States. But what is it, what does it mean, and what path should you take in your project?

This can be an awkward and confusing topic for several reasons, and let me start by explaining why I think this is the case. This is only my opinion, of course, and even among voice actors this is a divisive, contentious issue.


Voiceover used to be two towers - one in New York, and one in Los Angeles. Those two towers of NYC and LA held the lion’s share of voice work, and therefore collective bargaining via a union was easy. The talent pool wasn’t as big. The industry wasn’t as big. Nobody was looking for Kickstarter videos or e-learning courses in 1975. Or even 1995. All SAG had to worry about was basically radio and television, and that was really only happening in two major cities in the United States. People knew members of the SAG AFTRA board by name, because the community was small.

If you wanted a voiceover, you needed to go through the union. That’s the way it was.

Not in 2017, it ain’t. The industry is so huge now that it’s impossible for an organization to keep track of bajilions of projects. It’s almost ridiculous to expect SAG to manage residuals and contracts for every little project that happens all over the United States. So now we have a huge part of the industry that is non-union. Instead of two towers, the industry kind of looks like a sprawling landscape with cities and villages, with two large hills where the towers used to be. The industry has dramatically expanded.

Does that mean that collective bargaining is no longer effective? Absolutely not. SAG-AFTRA does, and always will, still represent the baseline etiquette, rates, and contracts for the entire industry. Even if talent aren’t in the union, it’s the union contracts that determine what is fair, acceptable, and expected for voiceover artists. See my rates article for more infoon why non-union does notmean race to the bottom - and why voiceover artists won’t work for you if that’s your attitude.

My opinion? In a perfect world (for us, anyway) all talent would be union. All union contracts would be updated to represent the most recent trends in technology, advertising, and entertainment. All jobs would be union. But that’s not the world we live in. Actors are forced to navigate the industry’s landscape to feed their families - we have to go where the jobs are, and sometimes that’s the wild west of non-union.

So, should you hire union talent? That’s up to you. Does the union have the majority of the best talent? Yes, I think it does, but it certainly doesn’t have the monopoly. If you need help converting your jobs to union jobs, try to reach out to SAG directly. 

Either way, it is still important that you become familiar with the current union contracts so that you can understand the industry that you’re about to tap into.

If this has been helpful to you, or you have questions, please feel free to comment below! You can follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, and you can get more updates via Twitter and Facebook.

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: Rates

Welcome to the Hiring a Voiceover Artist Series! You can see the full list of articles in here.

I’ll be honest with you: voiceover artists are kind of expensive. I wanted to say that upfront to dispel any illusions that you’re about to read an article about how to get a bargain - as with all things, you are getting what you are paying for. If you read my article on whether or not you need a voiceover artist, you might remember my analogy of a voiceover artist being the frame to a sports car. You spent a lot of time coming up with the message and the content, and you want someone that’s going to deliver it with maximum impact.


When you’re paying for a voiceover artist, you’re not just paying someone to read a script. That’s like saying that you’re just paying a dentist to brush your teeth, or you’re just paying an artist to rub a colored pencil against a piece of paper. Anything sounds simple and easy if you reduce it down to its base parts. Voiceover artists are freelancers, creatives, and masters of nuance and communication. Some of the single most powerful people in ancient Roman and Greek society were orators. Delivering a compelling message in a compelling way is crucial to a return on your investment.

So, how do you determine a fair rate for a job? This is probably one of the most confusing topics in the entire industry, because rates seem to fluctuate at total random. Is there a method to the madness?

I do think, however, that I can break this down into simpler components. When determining a fair rate, it’s based on three basic attributes: usage, distribution, and length.

Usage: How is this going to be used? In order to determine a good rate, I need to know if your project is internal/external facing, and the medium on which you will be presenting it. There are different rates for TV, Radio, internet, audiobooks, e-learning, and games.  Also, how long will the spot be used? Typically broadcast commercials are for 13-week “buys” but can be longer or shorter. This will affect the price. Good talent do not do in-perpetuity buyouts for broadcast media - if you are asking for that in your casting, many top talent will probably pass for several reasons.It’s also going to be tough convincing a talent that you can’t afford to pay them a good rate if you’re making a five-to-six figure media buy for national television.

Distribution: This is mostly influential for broadcast, since internet usage is global, but a local TV/radio commercial doesn’t pay as much as a regional or national. The more people in your potential audience - and the higher your media buy is for that medium - the more you should be ready to pay your voiceover artist. I’ll also include brand popularity in this as well. If Coca-Cola contacts me for a non-broadcast video, I will expect them to be ready to pay a higher rate than a simple kickstarter that needs a video.

Length: This is mostly applicable for non-broadcast, but you need to know the length of your script. A five minute e-learning video should not be charged the same as a two hour e-learning course. The longer the script, the higher the fee. Some talent charge by word, by minute, or by hour with a minimum. You should never expect talent to budget by page. Font sizes and spacing can change the amount of work radically.

There are, of course, other factors that might influence your voiceover artist’s quote. The experience of the actor, the timeline (I will charge more for rush projects or projects that need to be completed over a weekend). I also charge differently based on whether or not the client wants a live session where they can direct me. There will be another article soon on live direction methods, and another on tips when directing a talent live.

In the simplest of worlds, I would refer you to the actors’ union (SAG AFTRA’s) rate sheet, but sometimes it’s not so simple. Contracts are always advancing as mediums change and evolve, and it’s better for you to be on the leading edge than the trailing one. Otherwise, the single most comprehensive rate guide that I’ve ever seen can be found at the Global Voice Acting Academy, which you can see here. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you consider the things I’ve said here, you’ll be able to find a ballpark that any talent would be comfortable with as a starting place for negotiations.

If this has been helpful to you, or you have questions, please feel free to comment below! You can follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, and you can get more updates via Twitter and Facebook.


Oxenfree Now On iPhone

Just about a year ago, I was cast in a really interesting game called Oxenfree, put together by some developers that had worked at both Disney and Telltale Games. Since then it has taken the world by storm, has been covered in every major gaming outlet, and has been nominated for droves of awards.

Now it’s available on iPhone!


The Verge wrote a great little piece on the game and its release on the phone, but if you haven’t checked it out because you haven’t had the hardware, now is a great time to experience this spooky, teenage coming-of-age story with really fantastic writing and dialog. 

 

It’s been nominated for awards all over the place, including the Game Developers Conference and the BAFTAs and has captured the hearts of millions of gamers all over the world. My presence in the game notwithstanding, it’s a wonderful representation of the development of storytelling in video games. 

Having played it, the format of the game should translate really well to mobile, as most of the meat is in your dialog choices and basic movement, so you should still get the absolute full experience of Oxenfree in all of its glory.

 

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: Finding The Right Voice

Welcome to the Hiring a Voiceover Artist series! You can find the repository of all articles HERE.

The internet is a vast chasm of useless information and rabbit holes, down which you can fling yourself for years at a time without finding anything that you actually need. It sounds pessimistic, but if you’ve ever attempted to start from scratch looking for something online, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Without any foundational knowledge in a topic, you can find yourself clicking link after irrelevant link, finding resource after unreliable resource, until you’re wondering if what you’re trying to accomplish is really worth all of this clicking.

My goal in this short article is to make finding a voiceover artist not one of those things.


Direct Searches. Yes, you can just go on the Google machine and type in “voiceover artist” and see what happens. Unfortunately, without some kind of base knowledge, you’ll find yourself plowing through hundreds of pages of people, some of whom are better at managing their SEO than reading a script. People have found me this way, yes, but it’s rare because it’s kind of inefficient. If you’re going this route, make sure to check their demos, references, and proceed with caution. If they don’t have links to past work, you need to be extra careful.

You can always include other search parameters, like “Los Angeles-based” or “union voiceover artist” to whittle down some of the random garbage. I am a huge fan of using different boolean logic and operators to make a search more efficient.  Here’s a little article that helps you do just that.

Referrals. I’m always surprised how often I forget to do something really simple when I’m looking for a specific resource: ask someone I know. We’re so well connected these days that it might make the most sense to ask Sarah, the production engineer next door, who she uses for her voice work. Collect a couple of names and start your own roster so you can look like a boss when someone in your shoes asks you the same question ten years from now.

Online Casting Sites. These sites get a bad rap from a lot of people, but it’s all about being an informed consumer. There are hundreds of them out there, each boasting the best list of talent, the best rates, the best customer service, etc. I could write an article on each of them, but I’ll say right now that there are really only three you should be looking at: Voices.com, Voice123, and Bodalgo. Based on my years of experience navigating the online casting realm, the rest of them typically have bottom-tier talent, sketchy rate structures, or are just a mess when it comes to user interface.

One piece of advice on all sites you try out - always understand what you are paying for and who you are paying. Some sites have different ways you can post a job and different ways to hire talent, all of which have different overhead costs. But, with some caution, you can navigate these sites and get great talent to do your work.

Just remember when you post your job that sticking to something very close to industry standard rates will ensure you get the best people bidding on your job. If you don’t know what the job is worth, look it up before posting. I promise that you will always get what you pay for. More about that in an upcoming article!

Agencies. Want to go old school? This is how it used to be done almost exclusively. You needed a voice, you found an agent. There are many tried-and-true agencies all over the world that represent the best-of-the-best when it comes to talent. These are the true gatekeepers; if you are working with a good agency, you can guarantee that the talent they provide you will be excellent. If you want absolute no hassle recording, this is the way to go. They will take your casting requirements, help you refine them, and then find the talent that meet your needs within their roster. They will add a commission to their price for their services, and they will demand good rates for their talent, but you just can’t go wrong with a good agency. Many agents nowadays represent both union and non-union talent, and can help guide you through the hiring process.

Agents generally operate within a specified region. A Google search will do you very well here. Some great names of places I have worked with at some point in my career: CESD, SBV, Atlas Talent, DBTalent, Agent99, Heyman Talent, MDT Agency, Stars, and DeSanti. This list is by no means exhaustive.

VO Casting Companies: Here are some of the absolute experts in matching your project with the right voice - it’s literally their #1 job. They’re talent-agnostic, meaning that they don’t only want to use someone on their roster. They’re primarily concerned with finding the best voice for your project. In Los Angeles (where most of the major casting companies are), we have Kalmenson & Kalmenson, Elaine Craig, Carol Casting, the Voicecaster and others that have access to gigantic pools of talent (many of them via their agents noted above). They will strategically select talent even before auditioning and present clients with intensely refined results, far less broad than many other methods. Some of the biggest gigs I’ve booked have come through casting companies. 

Production Houses. These guys kind of function in a similar way to agents, but in a much smaller capacity. If you’re outsourcing some of your production, ask your studio who they have on their list of voices. I can guarantee you they work with voiceover artists all the time, and have a couple of people that they go to regularly for work. I get a huge amount of my work from studios that produce content, and offer me as part of their whole production package.

These aren’t the only ways you can find a voiceover artist, of course. I’ve had people find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but the above represents 99% of the way people reach out to me.

If this has been helpful to you, or you have questions, please feel free to comment below! You can follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, and you can get more updates via Twitter and Facebook.

Happy hunting!

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: Do I Really Need a Voice Actor?

Welcome to the Hiring a Voiceover Artist series! You can find the repository of all articles HERE.

So, you’ve got a project, and you’re looking for someone to put a voice to it. You might be a veteran producer, filmmaker, animator, or video game developer. You might be a student, or a brand new producer still trying to figure things out. Before you go any further, there is one important question you need to ask yourself.

Do you really need a voiceover artist?


I know, it seems weird to say anything but that you need to hire one, especially since it’s kind of my career on the line. The truth is, though, that there may be occasions where your extremely limited budget might be better off spent elsewhere.

If you’re still in school, and you don’t stand to profit from whatever it is you’re making, maybe it’s time to barter with someone else who has a decent reading voice. Trade them help on their project for some help on yours. Get something that is “good enough for government work” as we used to say in the Air Force. If having a professional read your work isn’t going to alter the course of your career or your wallet, maybe take a step back and see how you can work around it.

If, however, your project is public facing in any real capacity - greater than a couple of people, especially if those people are decision-makers - then you probably want to consider hiring a professional voiceover artist. It took you tons of time, patience, and love to make your message ready for public consumption; you need to have it delivered by someone who is trained to convey that message in a way that will most strongly resonate with your audience.

Think about the engine of a sports car. It’s meticulously built for power, speed and performance. It’s going to drive beautifully, so you put it in a beautiful frame that will take the greatness of that engine and enhance it with design, aerodynamics, ergonomics. If you took a sledgehammer to the frame of a Lamborghini, you’d still be able to drive it, right? The engine is still there - the core message and the content. But you can hardly say that driving it would be enjoyable. Certainly not to the full potential of the vehicle.

That’s what a good story is like. A good story poorly told is, suddenly, a bad story. Think about how many movies you’ve seen ruined by bad acting. Books you’ve read, ruined by a lack of language mastery.

You want your message to shine - so put it into the caring hands of someone who has spent their life doing just that. And in the next article, I’m going to give some tips on finding that someone. Stay tuned, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and follow my Twitter and Facebook page for updates.

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: New Blog Series

Hi everyone!

I mentioned this a little bit ago on my Facebook and Twitter pages, but I wanted to formally introduce the HIRING A VOICEOVER ARTIST blog series. 

This will be a series of at least ten different articles, each tackling a specific topic of voice acting, voiceover, etc. but from a client-centric point of view. There is a huge glut of information out there for voiceover artists on how to get gigs, get gear, and hone your voice, but there are so  many questions I get from clients on HOW to work with us in this new, internet age. With over 3,000 projects under my belt, I wanted to weigh in on what I’ve found to be successful during my career. 


We’ll be covering topics  like whether or not you need a voiceover artist, where you can find voice actors, what the hell the union is, and how to determine a fair rate. 

Although each of them will be released as a separate blog post, I am creating a page that will be a repository to link to all of them as well. You can view that page here.

I’m also currently considering making a small video/audio series for these articles as well, so you can listen to them in your car or watch them on the go rather than read. More on that as I come up with it.

If this is something that interests you, the absolute best way for you to keep up to date would be to subscribe to my blog on this page. You can also follow my Facebook and Twitter pages, where I’ll be posting links to each post as they come up.

I hope this serves as an edifying and useful experience for everyone. I have most of the articles written already, they just need to be organized and posted. You should expect an article about every week from here on out, with the first one coming in the next few days.

If you have any questions or topics you’d like to see included, please drop a comment below. 

See you soon!

My New Videogame Demo

Video games, as a medium, do a lot of incredible things that other media just can’t. They immerse people in stories in a new and innovative way, bringing a level of personal experience to storytelling that isn’t available in movies, television, or even Choose Your Own Adventure novels. That’s one of the reasons I love working on them so much. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I moved out to Los Angeles in the first place.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been honing my craft as a voice actor in several different categories, working on specific skill sets that would help me grow as an actor and a storyteller. I’ve been meeting with David Lyerly, a NYC-based coach and video game connoisseur, and the journey has been an interesting, difficult, and rewarding one. At the end, we produced a demo reel that I am really proud of.


I present to you my brand new video game reel:

We tried hard to focus on the recent trend of video games to be more theatrical, relying on the actor to provide subtlety and nuance to the dialog in order to bring out specific elements - not just what’s going on visually, but the implications all of that has on the story surrounding all of it. Video games have become so realistic and raw lately, and we tried to focus on that here.

I hope you enjoy taking a listen! I can’t wait to continue having a part in telling these incredible stories.

Filling in the Spaces: GOD EATER and DURARARAx2

Typing Durarara is literally one of the most difficult/hilarious things I’ve ever done on my keyboard. I never know just how many ‘ra’s I’ve typed, or how many more I have to go. And then we added x2 in there to signify the sequel to the anime series, and things got even worse. Pretty soon we’re going to start talking about Kingdom Hearts titles, and then we’re really going to be in trouble. Right after we play Kingdom Hearts π/215.5 Flavor Space Dream Pop Lovers Ball, HD Special.

This may be the earliest in a blog post I’ve ever digressed so far. Let’s get back to business.


Right. All I really wanted to write about was a couple of cool voice acting gigs I’ve booked lately, which you might already be guessing from the title. That’s right! It’s Super Mario Brothers. No, I’m kidding. It’s God Eater and Durararax2. Keep up.

Playing lead roles is crazy fun and challenging in its own right. Star Fox was a blast, Syndrome was awesome. Side characters, like Steve from Space Run Galaxy, are just as great. But lately I’ve had a chance to work on a couple of really big projects in a different capacity - the IMDB category you always see as “additional voices.” What does that mean? Well it means all the side characters, the little accents that you might only see once or twice in an episode, or even a series.

Let me tell you something - it’s HARD.

With Fox, or other main characters, you have one guy and you have to sustain him for the entire performance. You reference past audio if you fall out of character, and you have a storyline that you can fall back on for context. In God Eater, I did the voice of a cool/calm pilot, a frantic citizen trying to figure  out how to flood a dam, some old guy yelling about Aragami, some young kid trying to prove himself, and 3-4 other characters that had one or two lines and no context. And I had to make them all separate, distinct characters. Different ages, different texture levels, different states of mind.

Durararax2 was its own kid of fun. I got to work with a larger group of actors doing walla (background noise) for the series, which ended up being an absurd amount of fun. You know all those zombies who are chanting “I love you” all the time? I’m one of those guys.

Also, when a guy throws a vending machine across a crowded street, people react. What does that sound like? Well…me and a bunch of other actors making surprised noises. That’s what that sounds like.

Anyway these experiences have shown me just how expansive and wonderful the voiceover industry is. So much of what we use every day has voice behind it, so many characters in the background of every show, movie, video game. And each one of them, to build a compelling narrative, needs to have their own personality.

Stories take so much effort from so many people to make an impact. It’s so much fun to be involved in any part of it.

Now go forth and chant “I love you” at people!

Majora's Mask - A Terrible Fate, Part II AND MOVIE!

If the word “ocarina” immediately makes you think of a hookshot, I think you’re in for a treat.

If the word “ocarina” makes you think of a 90s dance song, please go buy a Nintendo 64 and start playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask right now.

I mean, it wasn’t even called the “ocarina.” It was the macarena. You disappoint me.

Anyway, the brilliant and talented Jason Gallaty, also known as Theophany, has dropped a two-run homer consisting of two absolutely incredible fan projects centered around the Majora’s Mask game. I had the privilege to be a part of both of them in different capacities, but even without me (maybe especially without me) these two projects are just wonderful to behold.


First, here’s Majora’s Mask: The Story of Skull Kid. It’s a bit of an origin story behind the tragic villain of the game. It’s made by Ember Lab, which has put out some stunning stuff in the past. I got to play the voice of the Skull Kid himself, which mostly consisted of guttural screams and noises. Which means it mostly consisted of fun.

Aside from being spoonful of visual awesome, it’s a chilling story told with no words at all.

Then, I’d like you to bounce over to www.terriblefate.com, which holds the now two-disc Terrible Fate album. Two whole discs of music from Majora’s Mask, re-interpreted and re-imagined into some of the most gorgeous tracks I’ve ever heard Jason write. He invited me to play some instruments on some of them, and I was, as I always am when Jason comes knocking, happy to help.

In one of the tracks, it sounds like he has like a hundred soprano singers going absolutely nuts. So I asked, “Jason, how did you get it to sound like you have a hundred soprano singers going absolutely nuts?” And he responded “we got a hundred soprano singers to go absolutely nuts.” That’s the kind of awesome that Jason brings to this album.

Go. Listen. To. The. Album. And then go hug a nerd while you both softly cry.

And then go learn the macarena.

***UPDATE***

Well this became viral way quicker than I expected. Here are some links to stories about this project that you might be interested in:

Majora’s Mask Cartoon Is Real Good - Kotaku

Witness Skull Kid’s Origins in “Majora’s Mask” Fan Film-Crunchyroll

This Amazing Majora’s Mask Fan Film Explores the Origins of Skull Kid - Escapist

Majora’s Mask Fan Video Brings To Life Skull Kid’s Origin Story In Stunning Detail - Gameinformer

My New MoCap Demo!

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, namely because I’ve had roughly 8 flights on airplanes in the last 3  months, one of which was a trip to Japan, because why not? I’ve been working on a whole host of things, but I recently completed one project that I wanted to share right away because I am so excited about it.

I present to you, my new MOTION CAPTURE DEMO!

I am so happy with the way this turned out! 


Some of you might be wondering: what the hell is motion capture? Motion capture or MoCap, is a brilliant technology that allows animators and programmers to integrate human-like motions into a game for the purposes of increasing realism, streamlining programming, and overall creating a more realistic, expressive experience in game. Here’s a little video produced by FullSail that explains the process a bit more:

To me, MoCap is the next evolution in video game voice acting. Not only can you capture the voice of the actor, but you can capture the actor’s movements as well. This allows the voice actor to do things that were previously impossible or difficult - act with his/her body, without worrying about staying “on mic.” In the booth, you can’t really move your head away from a very thin degree arc, or the microphone won’t pick up your voice well enough to include in a video game. 

In short, MoCap is a great technology that allows us to tell stories in new ways, which is enough to give it a pass in my book. 

Thanks for visiting! 

Welcome to the New Website!

Hi everyone! Some of you more discerning, observant types might have noticed that something is slightly different about joezieja.com. Well, you’re right.

In partnership with the excellent designers over at Cubicflow, I’ve taken all of my disparate internet resources and merged them into one, comprehensive page. I discovered that trying to split myself into multiple personas was both inefficient and bad for my therapist, and I wanted a central web location.

You might have been redirected here from Voices By Joe, which used to be the home for all of my voiceover stuff. Don’t fret! You’ll still find all of the same content here, but it’s organized in a more streamlined, easy-to-access format. As of right now, please continue to use the contact form to reach out to me regarding new projects. I’ll likely be shuffling around some email addresses soon, but it will hopefully be transparent to you.

If you find anything out of sorts, please feel free to either let me know here in the comments section or give me a shout on the contact page. You may find that you’ll need to re-follow the blog if you had done so previously. You’ll find a space to do just that over to the right. While you’re at it, I encourage you to hit me up on Facebook and Twitter, where I post all kinds of news and fun stuff on a daily basis relating to writing, humor, voice acting, and general nerdery.

For now, enjoy exploring the new site!

MECHANICAL FAILURE Voiceover Mad Libs Contest Extended

Hi everyone!

I've gotten some amazing responses on the Mechanical Failure Voiceover Mad Libs contest. So much so that I'm extending it for one more week!

If you're not familiar, head back to the original blog post for the rules and prizes, as well as links to how to submit your entry! Don't forget that by pre-ordering your book and tweeting with the #MechanicalFailure hashtag (and including my name so I can see it, @JoeZieja) you're eligible to submit in BOTH categories.

The entries I've already produced are up in full here but here are a couple samples embedded in the post below.

CONTEST ENDS MAY 24th. Winners will be announced by Friday that week.

Come join the fun!

MECHANICAL FAILURE Contest: Voiceover Mad Libs!

UPDATE! Everyone is having so much fun that I'm extending the contest. You can see current submissions here.

______________

Hi everyone! I'm still super excited about my role as Fox McCloud, but I'm switching gears here for a minute. We have less than 45 days until the debut of my novel, MECHANICAL FAILURE. To celebrate and promote the release, we're merging the two major career paths of my life - voiceover and writing - to create what I'm calling the "Voiceover Mad Libs" contest. Since I'm a military veteran, we'll go ahead and create the acronym VML for brevity's sake.

Here are the basics of the VML contest. YOU, my readers, get to fill in the blanks of one of two different voiceover scripts that I've created - a romantic comedy trailer or an infomercial. I will actually get in the booth and record and produce them to make them sound like ACTUAL voiceover spots, and then publish them to a page on SoundCloud for everyone to listen, download and laugh. You will get an actual produced copy of your spot if you enter. 

What will they sound like? AWESOME.

Here is a sample of the TRAILER spot. 

Here is a sample of the INFOMERCIAL spot. 

After two weeks, I'll close entries and me and my team of lab rats and minions (it'll pretty much be me and my agent Sam) will decide on the funniest entry, one for the TRAILER category and one for the INFOMERCIAL category. No purchase is required for a single entry.

Prizes will be awarded as follows:

1st Place: Signed hardback copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE and I will professionally narrate your voicemail message in any requested style or character in my repertoire. You write the script!

2nd Place: My literary agent, Sam Morgan, will read and critique a short excerpt of one of your novels. If you don't write, he will critique a picture of your face. If you don't have a face, I will professionally narrate your voicemail message in any requested style or character in my repertoire.

3rd Place: A free e-book of MECHANICAL FAILURE to read or give as a gift, and I will professionally narrate your failure to achieve first or second place.

BUT I AM HILARIOUS AND WANT TO SUBMIT ONE SCRIPT IN EACH CATEGORY you say? Well, you can do that if you pre-order a copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE and tweet a screenshot of your order to @JoeZieja with the #MechanicalFailure hashtag. Once we see that, I'll go ahead and read both of your submissions. A Twitter follow and a Facebook like wouldn't hurt, either. Also cookies (oatmeal raisin gets your entry deleted though so choose wisely).

What are you waiting for? Enter now via the typeforms below!

Click here to submit your TRAILER script.

Click here to submit your INFOMERCIAL script.

Click here for a FREE, EARLY copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE! 

*** A couple of notes before you go. First, if the spot doesn't conform to reasonable language standards or length of phrasing, I reserve the right to edit it. Feel free to include profanity, but it MAY get censored. Honestly, sometimes it's funnier when it gets beeped out. But when writing your entry, try to conform to standards of common decency.***

I am Fox McCloud!

I am so thrilled to announce that Nintendo of America has cast me in the role of Fox McCloud in STAR FOX ZERO:  THE BATTLE BEGINS!

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THE BATTLE BEGINS is an official anime-style animated vignette that fills in the story before the new game Star Fox Zero, which released on April 22nd of this year. It was produced by the same folks that worked on the amazing Attack On Titan, Ghost in the Shell, and, of course, the legendary creator of Mario, Star Fox, and Zelda:  Shigeru Miyamoto.

Being a huge anime and video game fan myself, I was so nervous about fan reception. When you take something so beloved as Star Fox and try to do something new with it, the space between making your fan base scream like children because they're excited and making them scream like children because they're angry is a thin, treacherous area. But to my delight, the overall reception was wonderful. The animation quality was fantastic, Phil Bache's voice direction was incredible, and all in all everyone that worked on the project was a superstar. The result was well over half a million views in a week and thirty thousand thumbs up on YouTube, all surrounded by pleas for a series. I couldn't have asked for a better response unless someone bought me a functioning Arwing.

And what a rush! I didn't know I was working on a Nintendo project until literally 4 days before I recorded, and it was still codenamed until about 12 hours before I stepped in the booth. I was sitting on my couch on a Sunday when I got the email from the casting director, and my wife knew something was up when I started gleefully yelling profanity.

"What is it?!" she yelled.

"FOX @#$&@#$& MCCLOUD!" I yelled back. Repeatedly. Over the next day. It became the house slogan.

And in just four days, I went from not knowing a project existed to being the lead role of an iconic video game tie-in. Wow.

Just to clarify, since I've been getting lots of questions, Mike West is still the voice of Fox in the video game. He's an iconic, incredible voice actor and I currently have no plans to dethrone him and burn the franchise to the ground. My plans mostly include eating these new IHOP Cupcake Pancakes that are in front of me and slipping into a diabetic coma.

So long everyone! Don't forget to check your G-Diffuser system!

MECHANICAL FAILURE Gets A Narrator - And Other News

Hello readers! As we near the end of March and the beginning of April, that means we're looking at just a few months until MECHANICAL FAILURE hits the shelves. I thought I'd give a little update as to how the trilogy is coming and what you can expect over the next couple of months.

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First, the book itself. ALL EDITS ARE DONE! WOO! This means the book is in its final written form and no other edits will be made. Soon I will have shiny galley copies in my grubby little hands. If you host a reputable review site, and would like an early copy for review, please contact me.

Second - and here's that announcement - we've sold the audio rights of MECHANICAL FAILURE to Tantor books! That means that an audio version of the book will release simultaneously with the version that has actual visible words. And here's the fun part: I've also been hired as the narrator! In an inception-like moment, we sold the audio rights to my own book and then hired myself as a narrator. I'm not even sure what tense to put any of those verbs in. The point is, I've already started some recording and I am having tremendous amounts of fun. Tantor has given me creative license to do some really fun things with the book that just make me giggle with delight. I hope you will too!

Oh, and we've also sold the audio rights to the next TWO books to Tantor as well.

Speaking of next books, book 2, COMMUNICATION FAILURE, is sitting on my editor's desk waiting for consumption. Yep, that's right. I already wrote the second book. I'll be waiting to start the first draft of book 3 until I get some solid feedback from my editor at Saga, just in case he lights it on fire and tells me to start from scratch. These things happen.

In the meantime, I've got to start getting geared up for MECHANICAL FAILURE's release, which is happening in like two months and change. That's ridiculously exciting. Soon I'll be starting to plan my book tour, most of which is going to happen in the greater Los Angeles area. I do plan on making stops all along the west coast, from Portland and Seattle to Buenos Aires. Maybe not Buenos Aires. That'd be cool as hell though.

Stay tuned to my Facebook and Twitter for news on upcoming events, guest blog posts, and more!

(Almost) Five Things I've Learned About Working From Home

For those of you that don't know this already, I've had a pretty radical career shift within just the last couple of years. I went from working for the US government after a long stint in the air force to a full fledged creative career, for which I never had to leave my house. I didn't even really need to speak to other people for 90% of my work. Hey, let's take it one step further - I literally started working in a 3' x 5' soundproof box. How's that for isolation?

Needless to say, there were some adjustments to be made. With my day so rigidly structured - and with 10 hours of it not even available for self-determination - suddenly having to plan my day from wake-up to sleep was a good mixture of thrilling and daunting. I won't pretend it wasn't awesome to not put on pants, but I also won't pretend that not wearing pants affected me psychologically over time. So here are five things I've learned about self-employment/working from home.

1. You need people. God, this was a hard one for me. Look, I know it's cool to say that you don't like people, but let's be honest. You just don't like most people. There's a non-trivial percentage of the population that you need to talk to every once in a while because they're funny, or they help you expand your mind (now I sound like I'm talking about an LCD dealer) or because having them in your life enriches it. You ain't gonna find that in a 3x5 box. Socializing with and helping others is an important part of life, and it's easy to forget when your job doesn't force you to talk to people.

2. You need structure. Put. On. Pants. Seriously, put them on. Staying in your pajamas all day puts yourself in a state of mind that says you're about to go to bed, or you just woke up, or you just watched The Notebook again and really need some ice cream. Decide when you want to work and stick to it. Eliminate distractions. And when you're done working? Turn the goddamn computer off. Don't click random icons like you did when you were in the corporate world. DO WORK. BE DONE. GO AWAY.

3. You need to remember what number 3 was supposed to be.

4. You need self-care. The 9-5 lifestyle tells you when to sleep, eat, bathe, work out, etc. Without that structure, you might find yourself skipping meals, eating constantly, ignoring physical activity. There's a fantastic self-care chart that I refer to that shows you what to do every time you feel like the deck is stacked against you. Sometime's it's as simple as being hydrated.

5. You need gratitude. At the end of the day, you need to look at yourself and consider how lucky you are to be doing what you do without a boss and without having to put on a suit. Not everyone gets the chance to pursue their own business or creative endeavors. So when you're dealing with a crappy client or you can't get your F@#$*KING USB SLOTS TO WORK PROPERLY...ahem...take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember how good life really is. This is not an excuse to accept the status quo - striving for improvement is important - but it is a reason to keep a positive attitude.

That's it! Those are literally the only 5 things you need to know about being self employed and working from home. Seriously. When you go to a bank and try to get a business loan for your Bonk-o-Matic Bread Throwing Device and they try to find out if you're qualified to get their money, mention this article. They'll practically pour money on you.

What's My Favorite Voice Work?

Possibly the hardest question that I get asked from people when I talk about voice acting is "What's your favorite thing you've ever done?" Everyone has projects they love, and everyone has projects that they don't love as much. It really is hard to pick one.

So much goes into what makes a project fun or fulfilling. A lot of the time it's actually the client. How many of you have ever worked at a job where the work you do is really amazing, but your boss makes you hate your life? I had a few of those during my government days, for sure. It's amazing how one person can make working to defend freedom/save the world/defeat Hydra feel like mucking medieval horse stables. On the other hand, a two minute video on a new cat medication can be a riotous good time if the people on the other end of the line know how to have fun.

For example, I had a client once ask me to use a lead in (ad-libbed introduction) to a line to make sure that it really felt like the next statement was a "wow" moment. It's a common technique; you say something off-script that helps "lead you in" to a moment and make it feel more natural.

So I took a breath and yelled "HOLY SHIT! This software is three times more likely to detect security threats before they become a real danger to your system!" We had a good laugh, one that I couldn't have had with all of my clients.

So, the people you're working with can make a project fun, even if you're not particularly enthusiastic about the subject.

As far as projects that I enjoy purely for the content...well, that has to be video games and animation. That's a broad brush, since the two can be very different, but these two types of projects are basically the reason I moved to LA. There are a lot of things about character work (a term I'll use to lump these two things together) that make it appealing to me. First, of course, is that it leans heavily on what I've discovered is the central theme of my life: storytelling. Yes, there are storytelling elements in commercial and promo, but not change-the-way-you-think-about-life storytelling. Character work has that. Plus, I get to be different people. Check out some pictures of characters I've played:

 Archer Artwork.png

Second, I'm not exactly a guy that people would describe who lives with his heart on his sleeve. I'm usually measured, calculated, and standoffish. It's just an aura that I've picked up over the years, from being an east-coast Italian boy and from the military. So when sometime hands me a script and gives me permission to lose my mind? What a release that is for me. Pardon my sappiness for a moment, but acting has let me get in touch with and understand not just my own emotions, but the emotions of others. Acting is an extreme exercise in empathy. It has - like storytelling - expanded my point of view.

Third, I'm a nerd, and the thought of being in video games makes me giggle. I was playing Oxenfree last week and heard my own voice come out of the radio, heard the other characters talk to me, and I actually chortled like a small child. So sue me; I like validation.

If you're a freelancer - or if you're a dayjobber, who cares? - post your favorite type of project, and what makes it special for you, in the comments below!

Check out my voiceover page, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, for the occasional voiceover update and clips from projects I've completed. 

 

Oxenfree - Video Game Voice Acting Through A Radio

One of the biggest reasons I moved to LA this year was because, unlike the other areas of voice acting such as commercial and promo, you need to be local to get into the animation and gaming scene. Being a storyteller, I wanted access to the opportunity to be part of story-focused platforms. That made for an exciting moment when I was contacted by a friend of mine - Theophany (Jason Gallaty) - who was working on some sound design for a game called Oxenfree. He knew I was a voice actor and wanted to see if the producers liked me.

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Well, long story short, they did, and I got cast as the "radio" voice as well as the tour guide for the entire game.  Sean and Adam, the heads of Nightschool Studio, came over to my home studio and talked about the project, we laid down some tracks, and a new character was born. The radio/tour guide is a really interesting character, as it is the medium through which the protagonists speak with the spirit world. It made for a very non-standard dialog that reminded me of a sedated Wreck-Gar from the Transformers movie, in that I used catchphrases and advertisement pieces, as well as radio drama dialog, to communicate.

It was fun. And I thought, well, that's that. Job done.

I'll be honest with you, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. I've done maybe a dozen video games in my career, most of which are available on Steam or iOS/Android, but they were all fire-and-forget projects that I never heard about again. I sort of thought this was just another one those

Yeaaaah I was wrong. I found out that the cast I was acting alongside was from titles like Borderlands and Wolf Among Us. Britanni Johnson, Gavin Hammon, Erin Yvette, Aaron Kuban are all fantastic actors to be alongside. The studio's team had worked for Disney, Telltale Games, and had a huge amount of industry experience they were bringing to bear on this project. In short, I had no idea who I was dealing with.

And then, as the game was about to release, stuff started popping up in my news feed that I didn't expect at all. Apparently, people were paying attention to Oxenfree.

For example, opening up my latest issue of GameInformer and seeing a title I worked on staring me in the face from the reviews section. I about jumped out of my seat when I read "fantastic voice acting drives the experience" in the summary. The LA Times did an article on it, calling it "the first  must play game of 2016." Kotaku has a whole bunch of paragraphs on the radio and how it was employed in the story.

Oh. and a movie.

A MOVIE.

I have no idea where this is going to go from here, nor do I have any idea whether I'll actually be involved. But it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this really unique gaming experience, and it sits right on the edge of what the medium is capable of and transforming into. Video games can tell stories in ways that other forms cannot, and Oxenfree is exactly the kind of title I've had my eye on for years. Adam, Sean, and the Nightschool team are the kinds of people that are bringing gaming to a completely new, terrifically exciting level.

For now, you should check out the game, available on XBox and PC. A PS4 release has been announced.

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