Q&A with JEAN-MARC BERNE, Berne Media Enterprises

q&A (1)Jean-Marc is president of Berne Media Enterprises – a Spanish creative media consulting and production company – and a busy voice talent and Spanish voice over coach.He is also a Spanish-English audiobook narrator, and the creative consultant for print and radio ads for HUD, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, and the National Crime Prevention Council. His list of commercial work includes Bud Light, McDonald’s, Western Union, Timberland, Pollo Loco, McKinsey, Pfizer, VNSNY, Xfinity, NFHA, HUD, National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, Metro Cable and Eclipse Gum to name a few. He’s narrated the Spanish audio book “Negocios,” from Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz, the AP Spanish Princeton Review 2009 and “Yaks March In Washington,” the first of a series of English-Spanish educational audio books. He also voiced the role of the World Grand Prix commentator for Disney Pixar’s ‘Cars 2′ online video game in Spanish. He’s also back for a third season as the Voice Over Coach for the US version of the Disney animated series ‘The Octonauts.’ He’s also one of the new songwriters for Nickelodeon’s animated series “Dora and Friends: Into The City.”###1) When did you first realize that you wanted to develop a career in voiceover?  It was shortly after I graduated from Manhattanville College that I was contacted by them to do my very first voice over, 18 years ago. They asked me to translate a Financial Aid presentation they were going to show in the Dominican Republic.  They did the presentation, and I wasn’t there.  But 6 months later, I was down in Santo Domingo and one of the parents who attended the presentation told me, “that was your voice in that presentation, wasn’t it?  You should do voice overs!”  I didn’t think much of it at the time, even though I really enjoyed doing the work.  When I came back to New York I took every class you can think of that had to do with voice overs, and fell in love with it.  When I started auditioning and saw that I was getting great feedback and landing some voice over gigs, that’s when I started believing that I could really have a go at this as a career. 

2) What is your biggest pet peeve in this industry? Voice over scams.  A lot of actors don’t have a lot of money to begin with and here you have some shady people trying to take advantage of the “newbies” who will do everything it takes to make it in the VO industry.  One of the worst ones I encountered was when one of my clients emailed me about having been hired to be the voice of an online game show, and that they had found her on Facebook.  They said they would pay her $900 for the gig, but that they would send a check for $2,400, and that she needed to cash the check in order to pay the producer on the recording.  I’m so thankful that she called me, because quite a few people fell for this and ended up losing $2,400 of their hard-earned money.  Know this: as a VO talent, unless a client already knows you, you will be asked to audition for the part.  So if someone claims to hire you right off the bat, that should raise the first red flag.  The other one is getting a check mailed to you before you even do the gig, and making you pay another producer from that check.  Also, any reputable producer will either have their info available online and will also take care of production logistics.  

3) What is your favorite career-building habit? Networking.  It is one of the most underrated and underutilized ways of building a business.  This I learned from one of my mentors, Mr. Voy Sohver himself, Dan Duckworth. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people in my business and it’s because of all the networking I did every week that I was able to land some of the most amazing gigs.  For example, I had met Marc Bazerman, one of my sound designer friends, through a voice over gig I did about 10 years ago.  I was interested in having a steady place to produce voice over demos for my voice over coaching clients, and we developed a great relationship. I still work with him as my sound designer on all of my student’s voice over demos. One of the times that I was meeting with him at Big Yellow Duck, I noticed that they were casting the animated series “The Octonauts,” now airing on The Disney Channel.  It was thanks to the connection to Marc that I was recommended to be part of the production team, and I ended up being the voice over coach for the series.

4) Describe one of your hardest career challenges to date. To get SAG-AFTRA to admit that there is more Non-Union work than Union.  As a bilingual English-Spanish actor, it is extremely hard to make $30,000 in one year by doing only Union gigs.  I mention this number because it’s the threshold to be covered by the Union’s health insurance.  With most bilingual actors not making this threshold, many are faced with the decision of whether they accept Non-Union work to make ends meet.  While doing non-English VO work is still a grey area with the Union, it’s a conversation that needs to be revisited, but unfortunately I haven’t had much luck in getting support around finding creative ways for Union actors to get more work while still following Union rules.

5) What is one piece of information you wish every actor in the world already knew about voiceover work?That it’s hard work.  It’s not enough to have a great voice.  You need to get the right training, get to know yourself and then have a voice over demo produced.  One of the biggest mistakes I see with a lot of voice over actors is to think that they can be everything to everyone, and end up making a generic-sounding demo.  By this, I mean that it’s not branded.  They don’t know where they fit in the market, and because of that, the people in the industry don’t know how to work with them.  And while they may get auditions, they get frustrated because they’re not landing any gigs.  Your brand is what makes you unique.  It’s what separates you from the other hundreds of voice over talent who sound like you in pitch, tone, vocal age range and delivery.  With a branded demo, you understand where you fit in the market, therefore you make it easy for casting directors, agents, producers and managers to know what to call you in for, so you become that much more effective with your marketing and landing gigs that you’re right for.  Branding as an actor is something I learned from Jodie Bentley and Kevin Urban, and have adapted to help my voice over clients brand their voices. 

6) Who are your favorite industry players to watch right now?  (ie directors, writers, actors, shows etc) Andy Serkis (Gollum “Lord Of The Rings,” Caesar “Planet Of The Apes” series…)  Troy Baker (The Joker “Batman Unlimited”)  Jennifer Hale (“Mass Effect” series)

Want to learn more about branding yourself for success in Voiceover work?  Check out Jean-Marc’s class starting August 8th, “Voice-Over Branding: Putting Money Where Your Mouth Is!“.

Why CAN the English? Why CAN’T the Americans? Or CAN We? A Discourse on Dialects

by Brian O’Neil

Much has been said and written over the past several years regarding the ability of English actors to speak with an American accent in contrast to the lesser likelihood of Americans being able to speak with an English accent.  To the extent that this belief is true– and to a certain extent it is–it’s worth taking a look at a few of the reasons why. Some are artistic, some are practical — and some are a combination of the two.

Exposure to “our” sound.  For purposes of this discussion, unless otherwise noted, I’m going to say “our” and “their” when referring to the sounds of American and English actors. Why?

There have been many references in the media to “the American accent” and “the British accent” when, in fact, both countries have an almost uncountable number of accents within their boundaries.

Over two dozen actors from England (as well as Australia, Ireland and New Zealand) were interviewed for this piece, and all unanimously concurred: Growing up in an English speaking foreign country means being inundated with “our” sound in the media to such an extent that it has naturally made “our” sound easier for them than “theirs” is for us.  Americans don’t live their entire lives hearing the English sound in the United States– anywhere near as much as the English hear the American sound in England. The overall consensus was that If “we” did we would have one big advantage “they” have.

One English actor in the focus group pointed out that while he was still living in England he was in a play that required him to do a Scottish accent.  He said that despite the fact that English and Scottish people speak the same language, and despite the fact that England and Scotland are located on the exact same island, he was still more familiar with the way English is spoken on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean than he was familiar with the way it is spoken just a few hundred miles away from where he had lived his entire life.  And so he found playing the Scottish character- at least from the standpoint of speech -more daunting than playing any of the American characters he had played up to that point in time.

Many English actors have actually pointed out which American television television shows they watched that helped them to learn “our” dialect, but the perhaps the point was most pithily put by English actor Edward Westwick of the now defunct CW hit “Gossip Girl.”  Asked how he learned the posh prep school American sound for the character of Chuck Bass, Westwick’s response was always the same: He got it from watching the character of Carlton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Exposure.

One actor in my group contends that “our” sound is actually easier to enunciate from the sheer standpoint of a more relaxed physical execution.  And while many agree, it’s only fair to those who work diligently to perfect “our” sound to acknowledge that, like most skills, accurate sound will come more easily for some than others.

Training and Motivation.  Much to the credit of the English drama schools, they have almost always placed more emphasis on speech than have their American counterparts. Also, several top English drama schools have rachetted up their number of productions of American plays and admirably they want to get “our” sound right.

There are also practical aspects in the English training of “our” sound that cannot be overlooked. Clearly one of them is the increasingly realistic chance of an English actor’s coming to the United States to play American characters, something that has escalated over the past decade in unprecedented numbers. The reverse is clearly not the case. Therefore the English actor would be more motivated today, from a sheer standpoint of practicality, to learn “our” sound than we would be to learn “their” sound.

As far as ratcheting up the number of American plays being done at English drama schools is concerned, let’s look at two reasons why.  1). More so than ever before, members of the American entertainment industry are observing the work of English actors while still in training. To be a successful English actor working in America today largely means being able to play an American. Therefore, students are often being presented in their school showcase productions playing American characters with an eye toward their future goals.  2). From a sheer artistic standpoint, there is so much American drama of high quality that they are eager to perform it for its own sake. (Dame Diana Rigg weighs in on the quality of American drama later).

Learning “our” accent was not always the priority for the English speaking foreign actor as it is today.  A look at films from generations past shows that the accurate emphasis on “our” sound was in place on some occasions and on others, it clearly wasn’t.  One notable example of the latter, is Welsh actor Richard Burton’s deservedly Oscar-nominated portrayal of “George” in the film version of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  Whatever George is or is not, he is most definitely an American.  While some critics carped at Burton’s accent, the public pretty much let it slide because we were, after all, getting a couple of major gifts in having Burton.  The first being the sound of one of last century’s most mellifluous vocal instruments– regardless of its origin– and the second was Burton’s being the other half of the most famous acting couple on the planet.  And in the very same film to boot.

Amusingly, some felt that the actual character of George lent itself to acceptance of Burton’s sound, as if to say that a character who is erudite and academic enough to become a college teacher, clearly just might magically also happen to sound like someone who comes from, you know,  the United Kingdom. Even more amusing– and what follows is American bias — two years prior to Virginia Woolf, English actress Julie Andrews played the Austrian Maria von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”  Some found it odd that an Austrian character would speak with an English accent, but if one extends that mode of thinking about two more feet down the road, one might then consider why an Austrian character would be speaking English in the first place.  Again, this was American bias at its best. Had Andrews been an American actress, and had she spoken with an American accent in the film, no one would have said anything at all.

Familiarity with the actor.  Here is where an American actor can be at a distinct disadvantage. It commonly happens that by the time an American actor is asked to assume an English accent, the actor is already well entrenched in our consciousness.  That is, he or she is famous. We have been watching them for years. We know the person we are watching on the screen is an American and we know the speech pattern they are assuming as a foreigner is an artifice. While an English actor who is taking on the role of an American may also be well-known, there are many more instances in which the foreign actor whom we are seeing is someone with whom we are not quite so familiar. There is an advantage in that and I elaborate in the next point.

Geographical acclimation. When an English actor is imported to the United States, it is not uncommon to be slipped into our consciousness in somewhat subtle fashion– especially in the medium of television– and often as part of a relatively large ensemble.  In most cases the actors’ true roots only become known to the American public in one of two ways: 1). Appearance on a talk show, or 2). Appearance on an awards show. It’s at that time when the actors revert to their original manner of speech.  This is often done to give us Americans the full effect: (“Did you hear him on Jimmy Kimmel last night??” “Did you know?” “OMG, I almost died when I heard him!”). Yet, by the time that happens, the actor has often lived in the United States for at least a couple of years.  This gives a clear advantage because the actor is now on an American set with American actors and living in an overall environment where English is spoken with an American accent.  When it becomes known that the actor is indeed of English origin, one can often hear the differences in the actor’s speech in the earlier episodes of the show versus the more recent. Again, that’s after it becomes known.  And to some extent, the reason for that follows next.

Most people do not know what they are hearing.  While many people claim to have a great “ear” for dialects, it truly is the highly sophisticated ear that is really able to discern what is accurate and what isn’t.  Two examples: In one situation an English actor with whom I spoke had appeared in an American play in England. The play then came to the United States. The cast was pleased because English sources had informed them of how genuine their American dialect sounded. That is, until they got to New York where they were quickly informed how far off base it actually was and that it had to be fixed. The second example involves an American actor who appeared in a play in New York portraying an English character.  American critics praised his English accent with frequent use of the word “flawless.”  Then he headed off to London to perform the same role in the same play where the word “flawless” was not the word used by English critics to describe his sound.

Quality of American product.  While the massive expansion of American television has enabled the induction of English actors into our media in a way not seen before, quantity and the opportunity for international exposure are not the only reasons for interest by the English. Quality, as I mentioned previously, is another.  While a number of English actors and directors of English drama programs have recently heaped enormous praise on the current quality of American drama in the areas of stage, screen and television, internationally acclaimed Tony and Emmy winning British star Dame Diana Rigg is quite emphatic in her position on American drama versus British drama. In an April, 2018 interview with American Theatre editor Diep Tran, Dame Diana says:  “There was a turning point, I think it was the 40s and 50s- Splendor in the Grass, On the Waterfront. The writers, such as William Inge, and the subjects they tackled- they were miles ahead of us- and still are, as a matter of fact. The visceral subjects they tackled, and we tend to be skittering on the top. I’ll probably be kicked in the teeth when I get back to England if you put that!”

As for the writer of the article you are currently reading?  I love good actors and good writing no matter what or where their origin or present location. Good acting and good writing exist everywhere and I don’t believe that any of what goes with either of the two territories is easy.  No, not me. Not by a long shot.

Brian O’Neil is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success, Fifth Edition. A former talent agent and personal manager, he teaches at many top conservatories and universities including The Juilliard School and NYU.  He is also an acting and marketing coach. For more information, visit: http://www.actingasabusiness.com.

UPCOMING CLASSES at ACTORS CONNECTION

August 17th-Accents on Actor-Accents for the 21st Century Actor- 5 Week Class with Actor Paul Liberti

September 5th- Accent Reduction- Part 1: 6 Week Class with Susan Finch

Q&A with BARRY SHAPIRO, Casting Director, Herman & Lipson Casting

q&A (1)Barry Shapiro has been a commercial CD for over 30 years.  He has cast commercials for GOOGLE, TACO BELL, McDONALDS, NFL, REVLON, MILLER BEER, DICK’S SPORTING GOODS, VOLKSWAGEN, BAYER ASPIRIN, MACARONI GRILL and more.  His class is always popular at Actors Connection  and serves as an excellent training opportunity for performers looking to break into the commercial world AND experienced actors looking to expand their skill set.

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1) When did you first realize that you wanted to be casting director? I had been out of college for over 5 years and I hadn’t found my passion yet..I was working in commercial production and my boss’s wife was a casting director and needed help in the office for a day. I was there ten minutes and knew what I wanted to do. Both the women who owned the company had lives so at 5:30 they left the office.. I always had an amazing memory and to be creative and still have a nightlife really appealed to me and directing came very easy to me.

2) What is your biggest pet peeve in this industry? Lateness and not only audition lateness but late for meetings, the theatre, movies etc. I’m not talking about the person who does it once or twice but someone who does it all the time. They have no regard for the other person’s time.

3) What is your favorite career-building habit?  Acting-wise it’s making bold choices and then listening to the direction. Those actors will work all the time. Better a bad choice than no choice at all.

4) Describe one of your hardest career challenges to date  It’s always been making the clients happy because it is all so subjective. Often I have to present talent without having any idea what my client will like. In most careers, if you do what’s required all will be okay. It often doesn’t happen in this world. Secondly it’s adjusting to the ever changing technology. There is good that has come of it but it also has it’s problems.

5) What is one piece of information you wish every actor in the world already knew? Being talented isn’t enough. For me the two most important qualities in an actor is to be smart and lucky. You can’t control the luck but you can be a smart actor. Smart actors work. And you have to be pro-active.

6) Who are your favorite industry players to watch right now?  (ie directors, writers, actors etc) I’m much more of a theatre person than film. I’ve yet to find a director or writer that I’m always happy with. So I rarely pick something to go to because of the writer or director. But I will see a play or movie or tv show because of a certain actor. There was a play a couple of years ago called “The Wolves”. I think several if not all of the nine young women in that play are actresses to be reckoned with. I will see anything that they are in. So I will always look to see who’s in the project.

Like Barry’s advice?  Want to learn more from his skill set and years in the business?  Click below to learn about his upcoming classes:

INTRO TO COMMERCIALS - July 31st

5 WEEK ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL CLASS- Begins August 14th

Teachers Hear Students’ Concerns at 2018 Congress of Nat’l Alliance of Acting Teachers

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 1.47.03 PMby Brian O’Neil

On Monday morning, June 18, a panel of exceptionally well-trained students and actors assembled to voice their concerns to teachers as part of the New York segment of an annual meeting of the Congress of National Alliance of Acting Teachers. On board for the panel were: Condola Rashad (TV’s “Billions” and 2018 Tony nominee for “Saint Joan”); Santino Fontana (TV’s “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and Tony nominee, “Cinderella”) ; Keziah John-Paul (currently B’way’s “Book of Mormon”); Ben Graney (B’way’s recent revival of “The Heidi Chronicles”); Susanna Stahlmann (The Acting Company and The Guthrie Theatre); Ysabel Jasa (a recent graduate of the BFA/New Studio on Broadway at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts); and Cloteal Horne (presently a student in Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium’s MFA program in acting).

The Alliance itself was founded in 2014 as an independent offshoot of the long established organization known as The Actors Center. The Alliance’s mission, per its website (http://actingteachers.org), is to “clarify and nurture the highest ethical and artistic standards in the education of actors and acting teachers. Expanding our programming to now include an Annual Congress, a Professional Society, regional events and workshops, and the forthcoming launch of ‘Parodos’ – a publication devoted to teaching acting- our work is born from a collective desire to maintain excellence in our craft, while providing a creative home and ongoing dialogue for those in the field of actor training.”

A series of topics was introduced and presented by the seven-member panel, whose educations ranged from training at such schools as: the BFA program at the University of Minnesota/Tyrone Guthrie Theatre; The Graduate Acting (MFA) Program at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts; The New Studio on Broadway in the BFA program of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts; the BFA program at California Institute of the Arts; and the earlier mentioned Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium MFA program.

Topics of the actors concern ranged from a desire to see more collaboration within various departments, specifically with regard to more co-produced projects between acting departments, writing departments and filmmaking departments.  The actors felt this was not only a necessary part of a more inclusive aspect of training itself, but also of the all-important nurturing and development of relationships to take out into the “real” world upon completion of their education.  Also voiced was the desire for more teacher interest and attendance at student-written and produced works presented at the institutions; not only in support of the students for its own sake, but also to see what the actors were creating and performing as a way of showing teachers and directors new ways to look at students’ casting potential for future projects.

Interesting to hear, also, were the different policies for casting at different institutions.  Santino Fontana, most recently of Broadway’s “Hello, Dolly!” and an alum of the BFA program at University of Minnesota/Guthrie’s BFA program said that he was assigned roles that his teachers and directors felt would further his needs as an actor in development, whereas Keziah John-Paul of NYU/Tisch’s BFA New Studio on Broadway said she had to audition for everything.  Both saw similar advantages in the different policies. Fontana saw the growth of his range and John-Paul said that having to “audition for everything has made me ready and willing to audition for anything.”

Ben Graney, an alum of NYU’s MFA graduate acting program, is the co-founder of The Artists’ Financial Support Group, an organization which covers practical concerns which include everything from financial planning to student loans.  Graney’s desire was for educators to have a greater awareness of exactly what their students are going through as they enter and grapple with the world that they will soon be facing.

Condola Rashad recalled one of her most treasured memories that was passed on to her from a teacher, and something perhaps all actors need to remember at all times.  Said Rashad, “Never freak out over an audition. You don’t have the job going in. And if you don’t have the job when you leave, you haven’t lost anything because you didn’t have it in the first place. Never freak out over an audition. Never.”  Wise words indeed.

Perhaps most noticeable of all was the keen interest with which the teachers were listening to the actors on the panel and seeking to hear their concerns.  No one in the room at the Conference’s location at The New School was required to be present on what was an especially sweltering Monday morning in mid-June. Every educator present was listening. Really listening. All told, this was a highly productive event to help enable the bringing of teachers and students closer together in the increasingly difficult and complex world of the performing arts in the twenty-first century.  For more information about the National Alliance of Acting Teachers, please visit: http://actingteachers.org

 

brianoneilBrian O’Neil is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success, Fifth Edition. A former talent agent, he is currently a faculty member at NYU and The Juilliard School. For more information, visit http://actingasabusiness.com

“Curiosity Killed the Cat” Why I started Entertainment(x)

entxpodcastartworkfinalby Clayton Howe.

Ever hear that saying, “Curiosity killed the cat?” It means if you stick your nose in the business of others you may wind up dead.

But how then do you learn faster and realize quicker the habits and thoughts of successful people if not through.. curiosity?

As I get older and continue to find my purpose in the world, I want to have more in-depth conversations with established performers in entertainment. Granted, I can and will learn many things as I get older, but life is short so why not cut through all the noise and get straight to the point.

We as humans are information hungry. Why do we spend so much time on Instagram, Facebook, or reading this article? A lot of the noise is just filler or dare I say JUNK, but if we look in the right places, there is a whole lot of actionable advice and solid information for us to consume.

I am a musical theatre performer in NYC, but I wanted to learn more about living life, creating happiness, and maximizing a day. So, I began writing letters to many top performers in entertainment but to little or no avail did I receive answers back for obvious reasons.. I’m sure they were thinking, who the heck is Clayton Howe? Why does he want to know about my life? Yet I didn’t even get those responses.

In November, I looked in the right places and found Tim Ferriss. This guy is smart, intuitive, an amazing achiever, and you guessed it CURIOUS. Check out his podcast ”The Tim Ferriss Show.” Specifically those episodes that feature Terry Crews, Jamie Foxx, Tony Robbins (Part 1 and 2), and Arianna Huffington just to start you off.

While having dinner on 8th Ave a good friend of mine said, “You have so many questions, you should just start a podcast.” I thought, that’s a great idea, why didn’t I think of that? Thus, the idea for Entertainment(x) was born.

I started with cold calls, but got a bit more intelligent with my asking style; I now go to friends and ask for the introduction rather than cold call. Cold calls work and I am still doing that (actually in the form of writing letters) but why not build stronger relationships through friends instead? This means I will be starting off by interviewing top performers, specifically actors and friends of friends, on Broadway but eventually I want to expand to any and all top performers in the entertainment world because, WHY NOT?

Now recently I have enacted a new way of looking at events/projects I want to participate in. Thanks to Derek Sivers, creator of CD Baby, I’ve learned that if it’s not a HELL YEAH! then it’s a No. HELL YEAH! is exactly the response I am getting from everyone I ask. To me that’s a good sign, as though I have struck a chord within my community and people are truly interested in being a part of this project.

Entertainment(x) is considered a long form podcast, coming in close to an hour per interview. My guests and I discuss life paths and struggles along the way. We also discuss books, movies, and quotes that inspire them. I launched at the beginning of February 2018 and am looking to release one episode per week!

While curiosity may have killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back.

This could be the case for me…or maybe I’m just down to 8 lives.

Either way, Stay curious. Ask questions. Tune in to Entertainment(x).

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Clayton Howe is a performer, podcaster, and tv show creator. His inclination to create thoughtful storytelling has brought him across the world in various types of performances and to the creation of “inclaynation media” which distributes his podcast “Entertainment(x)”. All of this has brought Clay to a higher understanding of what it means to change the world through storytelling, which is why he created the podcast “Entertainment(x).” Clay believes in understanding the roots of one’s successes and struggles so others can learn from them and live a more fulfilled life.