Is It A Big Deal When A Voice Actor Changes Agencies?
by Justin Sevakis,
Is it big deal when a famous voice actor/actress decides to change agencies when the contract for their current agency expires? Is it difficult for voice actors to work as freelance instead of being support by agencies?
"Big deals" are, of course, always in the eye of the beholder, but generally, no. Actors and other talent changing management agencies is a completely normal part of life in showbiz. The effects of these changes are so far removed from the fans and the experiences they have as entertainment consumers that it's basically impossible for them to point to any results from such a move. When major Hollywood stars change agents or managers, "inside baseball" entertainment news publications might run a story (because covering agencies is part of what they do), but literally no consumer-oriented sites even bother, because fans have no use for this information.
How management companies for talent generally work is that they facilitate getting the creative person various gigs. For actors, that means floating their names to talent coordinators and casting agents, sending them out to audition for new projects that they think they might be suitable for and interested in, and generally providing advice on how to get hired. For higher-tier talent, they negotiate actors and directors into committing to a project in development, which they then "package" into a ready-to-produce movie or series that they then sell to a studio.
Voice work tends to be lower profile than live action starring roles, even in anime, so voice agents aren't doing so much packaging. However, in Japan, voice actors do need representation and support. They need to be sent to production committees for consideration, and need to be called for auditions. Sometimes agencies are asked to cast a show entirely from their roster of talent, and in a few cases they even sit on production committees. Since most Japanese voice talent do far more than anime (video games and visual novels, drama CDs, radio, and music), somebody needs to manage all of that, as well as the promotional events they do, like meet-and-greets, autograph sessions and appearances.
Beyond just the Japanese voice talent world, casting directors rely on agents to narrow the playing field to a manageable list when it comes time to cast for a project. If you had to hold open auditions for every role, you would have to freshly work out for yourself who had acting range, who's difficult to work with, and who's just a bad fit. Auditioning all of those people is a waste of precious time, and if you had to go through that for every role, it'd take you a year to cast a show. Those casting people will reach out to various agents, tell them about a role, and ask who they'd recommend. It's a symbiotic relationship, and without an agent, it's almost impossible for an actor to get considered. That's true of every major entertainment industry in the world.
English anime dubs, however, are an exception. They're usually too low-budget to involve any agency participation, and most are cast from a list of reliable talent maintained by the dub studio. Audiobooks, educational media, and other low-paying non-union gigs also don't bother with agents.
For more info, I reached out to my buddy Griffin Burns, who you may know from his recent starring roles in the dubs of Devilman Crybaby and Anohana. Griffin has had a long and varied career in voice-over but only recently started doing anime work, so I wanted to get his take on how important agents were to his career. He did not hesitate: "You basically NEED an agent to get all of the jobs you actually want, the ones that pay really well." This includes video games, commercials, pre-recorded voices for original animation, voice samples for toys, and anything else covered by unions. He recently provided the voice for the "social robot" personal assistant device Jibo, which, he pointed out, definitely came through the agency.
For their work in securing an actor a role, the agency takes a portion -- usually 10% -- of their payment. As long as the agent is sending the actor out for work that fits them, things work out well. But eventually, many of these relationships sour. Most working actors, no matter their level of success, eventually get frustrated by the lack of control they experience in their careers. After all, an actor can generally only take what is offered to them. Some get frustrated because they're not being sent out for the roles they want, or maybe they're not being submitted for work at all. Other times there's a fundamental mismatch between the sort of actor they want to be, and the sort of roles the agent is sending them out for.
And so, when things aren't working out, an actor will "fire their agent," and start over with a new firm. There are lots of agencies out there (in the US, there's at least a couple in pretty much every major city, though of course the big ones are in Los Angeles), and obviously every one of them has different connections, specializes in different types of work, and will find different opportunities for an actor. A new personal relationship gets formed, and with it, perhaps a different understanding of who they are and what they're good at.
But all of that happens behind closed doors. Fans can never really know what transpired between talent and their agency, and it's all happening so far behind the scenes that it's simply not really relevant to them. All a fan can do when they hear news like this is shrug and hope that the actor's future career goes well.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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