By Lani Minella
Metamorph At Large
Production Company)

Part 1:

Part 2:
What Price, Talent?
"Stars" and Union
talent costs

Part 3:
Other Voiceover Costs

Part 4:
Finding Great Talent: Audition Secrets

Click to hear Lani's Voiceover Demo Reel

Lani's Credit list - Voiceover talent
for over 400 games
and counting

Lani's Credit List in PDF format

Avoiding time delays and major budget overages is easy... if you do a bit of work before you start recording voices. First, start by finding a good scriptwriter. They can help you create at least enough dialogue to cover one level of the game. Next you'll need to also decide on approximately how many characters you will use and roughly how many lines they may say. Then set your schedule - how soon do you need this done? The more rushed you are, the more your budget will suffer. Then nail down your technical specifications: what format do you need your lines recorded on? Also, do you have your own in-house sound person or will you need the lines edited, processed or mixed with effects? Finally, at least try to have a file naming convention for the dialogue lines prior to your first session. The less your outside company has to do during the voiceover session, the more time and money you save.


So now that we've dispelled a few myths, let's look at the other big question on most people minds when it comes to voice over talent – what's it going to cost? This of course depends on what you want to do, but let's start with some specifics.

First the big question – should you hire union or non-union talent. The main thing you buy with union talent is experience – which can be invaluable when the clock is ticking in the recording studio. In the early days of game development, the two main acting unions (the Screen Actors Guild or SAG, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) didn't have a clue as to what they should charge for interactive titles – so naturally they charged premium fees ("…A video game is sort of like a feature film – charge them that…").

However, since 1994 AFTRA has created a special interactive, non-broadcast fee schedule that makes using union talent a lot more enticing. For example, here are some minimum AFTRA Interactive rates (naturally these are negotiable by the hour as well as having it depend on the experience of the actor you use)

  • $556.20 - for on-camera day players or off-camera performers (up to 3 voices/4 hour day)
  • $278.10 - off-camera performers (1 voice/1 hour)
  • $185.40 -For each additional voice until you get to six voices or more
  • $1,112.40 -6 or more voices/8 hour day

So, what about "Star" talent, getting that movie star to do the voice of your hero? I always advocate talented sound-alikes whenever possible. I have been Sigourney Weaver, Linda Fiorentino, all the Land Before Time dinosaurs, Rocky the Squirrel, Natashia Fatale & Sherman, known Star Trek characters, Hollywood film stars etc. I've also cast other sound-alikes for Bruce Willis and the Die Hard cast, and many more titles that cost the game company a few thousand dollars as opposed to millions. Don't forget that besides the start salary, you can also get the "star" attitude: prima-donna behavior, an inability to get or stay in character, or even bad mic techniques.

Agency charges and other fees
Talent agents charge an extra 15% non-union or 10% extra if it's a union gig. Most people don't realize that agents take out the same percentage from the talent's check on top of what they charge the client. If it is done under a union contract, there is an additional 12.65% charge that goes to a health and retirement fund. Casting agents charge from $300-$3,000 a day to parade people in front of you.

Some casting agents charge for additional days of prep while they call agents to round up people for the cattle call. Casting agents can also charge a percentage of the entire voice budget. At my agency I work with an ever-increasing talent pool of multi-voiced people who have done games and are versatile. I know what they can do and I do spec tapes for clients, giving only the best choices for each part. Some people pay buyouts, meaning an extra fee to be able to have unlimited use of the audio.