Voiceovers by Gregory Houser
A man, a martini, and a lot of microphones.: Own your mistakes!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Own your mistakes!

A lot of new, and even experienced talent fall into this trap... myself included. A lot of voice actors far more talented than I have mentioned it in passing. I just want to offer my take on it.

When something goes wrong, when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up over it or we simply view it as a negative. It's a common practice, and definitely one which is not unique to voiceover. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people grumbling about the quality of their auditions while going over copy before heading into the booth at any number of casting sessions in Philadelphia or New York City. One professional talent called them "the mistake mumbles" because we all knew what they were complaining about, but it was done in such a way that all you can hear is mumbling as they walk past you grab their stuff and head out to the car.

I'm not so subtle, but I leave my complaints about my performance to the car ride home. Driving on the Schuylkill Expressway and dealing with the traffic gives me plenty of time to vent my frustrations. I'm sure that my fellow motorists stuck in traffic think that I've lost my mind (probably even more so when I'm taking NJ Transit on the way home, lol).

It's natural, it's human, and it's really self-defeating. Don't get me wrong, we need to get out the negativity. To bottle it up is really bad for your long-term mental health. However, when we get to the point of being negative, we've basically just lessened ourselves. That's a bad thing, but we do it anyway because so much of society and our own nature as people is to look at mistakes as a negative action, as a weakness. We then equate that negative action, not with the action itself, but with the person who committed that act. Sometimes it's an appropriate response (without getting political, I can point to examples in Darfur, the Middle East, acts of terrorism, etc.), but in a lot of cases it's overblown (a teenager working the register for the first time at my local supermarket). In voice acting, or nearly any kind of creative art, it's almost always an overblown thing. After all, you can't have people who are doing emotional work, using their inner feelings, hopes, and fears to draw out the emotion from a piece of paper, and then act surprised that they get emotional about their performance.

I'm telling you that all of this is normal, and much of it is part of how we deal with things in society. I'm also telling you that when it comes to voiceover it's wrong, it's bad, and it's self defeating. As a species, we've become so trained to avoid mistakes that we run away from them, we look down upon ourselves for making them, and normally, we will do anything but the one thing that's necessary when we make a mistake... admit it, own it, and move on!

It sounds easier than it is, but if you watch a professional actor, a true genius of the craft, you'll see that even when a mistake is made, it's owned. To be certain, some of this is based on ego (the irony of ego in acting is an amusing thing to me - if you get into acting for your ego, you'll be disappointed, yet you need your ego to have the confidence to be an actor... it's a twisted circle), but mostly I think it's based on experience. I don't know of anyone who has done anything and become proficient without making a mistake. Even those who are proficient make mistakes, they've just learned to own them in order to better their craft, and so should you. You need to accept the fact that practice, and the experience which we learn from our mistakes that is going to make us better at pretty much whatever we do.

If you have to, think of it like this - the only job you're ever going to have where you start at the top, is when you dig a hole.

Instead of digging a hole for yourself by ignoring your mistakes, I say that you own them and use them to learn how to do things better.

Now if the idea of owning your mistakes makes sense to you, and you want to see how one particular voice actor was able to use a post mortem analysis to do exactly what I'm talking about, then you're going to want to check out Jeff Kafer's blog to see how a good example of this.


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