Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why aren't enough women heard on Trailers?

Source: Variety

Don LaFontaine, "The King of Voiceovers" held a virtual monopoly over the narration of bigtime movie trailers until his death Sept. 1, had a clear idea of who his successor should be -- God's voice, he said, should belong to a woman.

"I think women are vastly underrepresented in this area," LaFontaine told me in 2006. "You'd think that for films directly aimed at women, chick flicks, the logical choice would be for a woman to narrate the trailer. But studios hold focus groups and the people in them, women included, seem to prefer the male voice."

Two years later, little has changed. Movie trailers remain largely unaffected by feminism's march, with growly baritones like those of Andy Geller and Ashton Smith seeming the likely replacements for LaFontaine's wizened authority. Women, who make up a small fraction of the trailer voice talent pool (William Morris reps three female trailer voices compared with 33 males, according to its website), remain almost exclusively confined to TV, radio and DVD trailer spots. The reason isn't so much gender equality, apparently, as it is resistance to change among the moviegoing public -- male and female.

"Audiences, including females, are so used to hearing a male voice that when they hear a female voice they think something is wrong," says Michael Camp, creative advertising executive at 20th Century Fox. He, like many interviewed for this article, is in favor of hearing more female voices in movie theaters. But he says it's "always a fight" trying to get a female voice approved for a trailer, even for more female-friendly TV spots.

"The public is finicky, and it takes them a while to trust voices they aren't used to hearing," says Camp. "And the voice they were used to for many years was Don's."

On the rare occasion that trailer houses suggest using a female voice, studios often nix the idea. "A female voice might take away from the content of the trailer," says producer Christine Peters ("How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"). "If the industry does transition to more frequently using female voiceovers, I imagine it will take the audience awhile to get used to it."

A notable exception to the rule was the trailer for Jerry Bruckheimer's high-octane "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (2000). Voiced by the sultry-toned Melissa Disney (widely regarded as the most successful female voice artist working today), the trailer is cited as the one example of where a feminine intonation actually worked.

"The few movies that women have worked on tend to be the high-testosterone movies," notes Jason Marks of Jason Marks Talent Management, who specializes in representing trailer and promo voiceover artists. Marks thinks action movies, not chick flicks or romantic comedies, present more fertile ground for his female talent.

Even though the odds seem against them, voice actresses are optimistically chipping away at the glass ceiling. Debi Mae West, whose voice has been heard on NBC, Starz and AMC, recalls that after Disney's "Sixty Seconds" work, she found herself being invited to "scratch" more trailers. Scratching is industry lingo for when trailer houses invite voiceover artists to voice a spec trailer, which is then submitted to the studio. The winning submission is then "finished" by the trailer house.

The competitive nature of pitching means trailer houses are often pressured to present safe, salable options, which means female voices are risky. "There might be three other trailer houses trying to get the same job, so often it's a matter of staying within the comfort zone," says West. "But people are starting to realize that women can really sell the sexiness of a film. Women are a lot softer and less showy, and trailers seem to be moving in that more conversational, less in-your-face read anyway."

And even if women still aren't actually getting the bigtime jobs (LaFontaine was said to earn $10 million per year), "scratching, at the very least, means you're on the radar," says voice actress Sylvia Villagran, whose voice is regularly heard on MTV, NBC and Mundos. "Of course, the ideal would be to go from scratching to finishing -- but I guess it's one step at a time."



Great article. Thx for posting, but I would love to hear about the research that verifies that the public is not ready to hear a female voice. Is that a general opinion or belief conveniently held by the decision makers, or is it backed up by some serious research? After all, many believed Barack would never be president....I think the public is more open than many speculate.

Ladie Mo$t said...

It's all about perception and changing the Industry & the public's mind-set.

The same thing that made Don LaFontaine, Don Morrow and all of the other well known "Voices of God" Trailer guys become a staple among the VO Industry.... will be the same thing that will "Break the Barrier" and shift the Industry and the public's acceptance of Women being the "New,New" when it comes to the "Voice of God" voices in the Movie Trailer World!

I have signed myself up for that campaign to become a force of Change, which is the slogan for 2009 and beyond!!!

Beau Weaver said...

As to why trailer producers are not open to new talent, here is the deal. As I have said elsewhere, feature films, unlike other consumer products have one weekend, actually ONE DAY (the Friday the film opens) to be successful. A consumer product might have a niine month introduction rollout. A film has one day to produce results, or in many cases fail to make back it's investment. The stakes are huge. The advertising campaign for a feature film is often times equal to the entire production budget of the film.

In Hollywood, there are bout five major film studios. There are about thirty trailer houses. Those trailer houses are made to compete for each film they do campaigns for, many times on spec, at their own expense. It is cut throat competition for the trailer houses. They might think, "gee, maybe a different narrator would work well here." but then, they imagine losing the campaign to their competition because the studio did not like the narrator. They cannot take that chance. So, they go with the guy they KNOW that studio always signs off on. Or, the guy who voice the campaign that was number one at the box office last week. Sometimes, they will get adventurous and use a dark horse narrator.....and get cold feet at the last minute and put Ashton Smith on the campaign for air, because they just can't take that chance. The only off brand narrators that occasionally squeek by and end up on the air on television campaigns are editors for a trailer house who cut a temp narr, and who are trying to make the transition to voice talent. They are occasionally approved for final campaigns. Those are the "new voices" that you will hear sometimes, and think to yourself. " see....they ARE using some different guys." Well, yes, but those guys had an "in" that you don't have.

The studios use the same seven guys over and over again because they have produced results. Could a woman produce results? Probably. Nobody wants to be the executive that lost all of Paramount's business for the next six months because he picked an off brand narrator, whatever the gender.

While no one will credit the trailer or television campaign voice over if a film opens big, they will certainly blame the risky choice if it tanks. They just can't take that chance.

For the guys who have produced results for the studios, it's like being a made guy in the Mafia. But getting a seat at that table is the longest shot in show business.

Women have made huge inroads in almost every other area of national voice work. Convincing trailer houses to take what the see as a huge risk in an area where they MUST produce results, is a tough sell. It will happen, in time. But not simply because you think it should.

Women who have aspirations to compete in this area should take the following actions: Listen to every trailer that comes out. Transcribe the copy. Work on your own performance until you believe you can match the reads you hear on current trailers. Then, develop something that is unqiquely complelling of your own. Work on this for several hours a day. In a year or two, you may have something to play for one of the five reps who have the ear of trailer producers. This is to say, that, if you break down this barrier, you will do it just like the men did. With hard work and dedication. It will not come because of an expectation that women "should" be used from some kind of notion of cosmic fairness. It will only come when your performance has been honed to the point of that it is absolutely compelling. Good luck!

Beau Weaver

Speech Doc said...

Thanks for explaining the "ins" and "outs" of the business. With that understanding, it makes sense that they'd go with the "voice" they can count on to get the job. Sounds like a "tough" market to break in to!

Just call me trash said...

I posted this on and thought it would be appropriate here also.

"Things Change" is a short and pointed statement. However, the rate at which Things Change is another story, maybe not so short.

I support the ideal and voracity that our LoV, Ladies of Voice, bring to light. If LoV are to be the agents of change, it will take a great deal of patience and cleverness to develop a format that will resculpt the landscape of trailers as creative genii Don LaFontaine and others, like his old partner Don Morrow and the rest, have forged and followed. This will take years to happen and not overnight.

My own opinion on this is: Probably the #1 determining factor approaching this surreal part of the advertising world will be: "If" LoV are embraced by... #1, the movie going public... and then, 2&3 trailer producers and studio execs, then... the wheels will be set in motion.

When this element is recognized and the judges and juries (the aforementioned)of the mainstream pass their decision that they like and accept what they hear as the new driver of the vehicle, then we will be hearing the LoV coming out. The liking and accepting I mention is defined by......$$The Boxoffice$$

In Voiceover Universe Beau Weaver put it succinctly about a movie's success being determined in 1 opening weekend. When the powers at be that are responsible for putting their neck out on the line and embrace the Fiscal and physical retribution of a failure, they tend to go with the proven winning formula. It is probably capitalism's truest form. If a method has a tried and true way of creating the best $$return on investment$$ it will be a day in hell before you take it from their cold dead hands.

To our LoV, Embrace the "How" that The Dons of Trailers created on the road we now travel. Take the "How" to heart, Awaken the creativeness and weave it into the surreal fabric of our trailer world. With new generations of judges and juries, there is always change on the horizon.
Nothing lasts forever.....Except chocolate.

Best to all you LoV