New York Comic Con 2014 was host to voice director extraordinaire Andrea Romano on Friday, October 10, as she spent an hour talking about her career and her advice on being a professional voiceover actor. In the middle of the panel, she was joined by voice actor Greg Cipes, whose first professional audition was for Romano for the role of Beast Boy in Teen Titans, and with whom she works now on Teen Titans Go! and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
She began by noting that there is no school to learn how to be a voice director, and that she had started by knowing she wanted to be “in the entertainment industry” somehow from a very young age (also noting that she wanted to be married someday to an artist from another country with an accent — mission also accomplished, since she’s married to Brazilian Rogerio Nogueira, who was a storyboard artist on Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs). While Romano began with acting through high school and college, she joked that her career as an actor was hampered by a summer job at a Dunkin Donuts in Riverhead, NY, when she put on 25 pounds in one summer. An undergraduate degree from Fredonia (whose claim to fame was throwing out the Marx Brothers during their vaudeville years, which is why it’s the setting for Duck Soup) and an aborted graduate program at Rutgers eventually led to life as an actor in New York City in 1977, where she worked auditions and plays around day jobs (including one in phone sales, which she described as “the worst job in the world” but which has also made her much more sympathetic to phone sales reps when they get her on the phone).
She moved to San Diego with only a desire to get away from cold weather, $400 in her pockets, and no job prospects, only to discover after the fact that there was no acting work in San Diego. However, after linking up with some Fredonia alums who were agents in Los Angeles, she landed a job in 1979 as assistant to voice agent Don Pitts, since his normal assistant had been very badly injured after a car accident. She took voiceover classes and even produced a demo reel to better understand what voice acting entailed; she was soon the youngest agent in Hollywood at the time. From Pitts’ agency, she moved to a small boutique agency to start their voiceover department, which led to working with Hanna-Barbera and their voice director Ginny McSwain.
When McSwain left Hanna-Barbera for Marvel, she offered Romano an interview for her job. The interview led to many years at Hanna-Barbera, where she got to meet many of the voice actors who had performed her favorite cartoons from her childhood. She stated that Huckleberry Hound was her favorite cartoon because he broke the fourth wall to talk to her. When she met Daws Butler at the studio, she had a minor fangirl moment that ended with her bursting into tears when Butler spoke to her as Huckleberry Hound. She did miss out on a chance to work as a freelancer on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, since her bosses at Hanna-Barbera didn’t allow her to do it, but she was able to freelance for Disney TV animation during the peak of their syndicated TV animation phase in the 80’s. She noted that Disney was going to audition 5 different voiceover directors for Duck Tales by having them each direct an episode, with their favorite directing the remaining 65 episodes that had been ordered. The first episode was directed in 8 hours; Romano did it in 4 and scotched the other 3 auditions when Disney offered her the job immediately.
1989 was a real watershed year for Romano, as several Hanna-Barbera animators were leaving to form the nucleus of the new Warner Bros. TV animation division, and offered her a freelance position as their voice director. While leaving the safety of a staff position was a nerve-wracking decision at the time, she has never stopped working since, rarely doing fewer than 5 projects at a time and at one point hitting 11 simultaneous jobs. Among those jobs were Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Batman the Animated Series.
With Cipes, Romano relayed that she had winnowed 1,500 auditions down to 5 actors for Beast Boy, and that she fought for Cipes while the producers wanted someone else for the role. Cipes was more than happy to sing her praises as a director (and drop into a Beast Boy voice for the audience), saying her nickname as the “Velvet Hammer” really means she’s able to communicate clearly and get actors comfortable to get the takes the producers are looking for. Romano added that much of her job is getting actors comfortable, promising them that if they trust her, she won’t let them put out a performance that sounds bad. Part of her job is knowing what actors will respond to what kind of direction. She likes the ability to give line readings to actors to get the take she’s looking for (and has only encountered two actors who asked her not to do that), and she added that actors are also put at ease when they detect her own emotional commitment to their performances (relaying that she was crying along with Jensen Ackles during the more emotionally powerful scenes of Batman: Under the Red Hood).
Panel moderator Gary Miereanu asked how she directs actors like Frank Welker or Dee Bradley Baker when they’re doing non-human characters. She said actors like them get hired for creature work when a message has to be communicated, so she approaches their vocalizations like words. She also noted that both are consummate professionals, communicating direction in one or two words with Welker on the upcoming Puss in Boots series for Netflix and in directing Dee Bradley Baker in as many as 14 different creature voices for a show like Ben 10. She also added that there are no women doing creature work currently, and that it’s a good niche to work on if you’re an aspiring female voiceover actor.
In giving advice to would-be voiceover actors, Romano emphasized acting, joking, “it doesn’t matter how many voices you can do, if you can’t act, you’re probably a lot of fun at a party but I can’t actually pay you money.” She also added not just taking voiceover classes for animation, but to take voiceover and general acting classes as well. Actors need to know the terminology she will use in directing them, and since union rules mean a voiceover actor can do 3 different roles for 1 price, good actors who can do that are much more likely to get work. Romano also said that your competition is someone like Rob Paulsen, who is doing voiceover auditions and jobs for 12 hours a day, five to seven days a week. If you’re not practicing for comparable amounts of time, it’s like “trying to jog a block a day, and then trying to run a marathon on the weekend.” Finally, she highly recommended Dee Bradley Baker’s IWantToBeAVoiceActor.com website, and said never to do voices in a casting director’s face.
During audience Q&A, Romano stated that auditions give an actor 30 seconds to impress her, so don’t wait until the 22nd second to bring out the big guns. She may not finish listening if she doesn’t hear anything interesting before 10-15 seconds. She also suggested having 2 ideas for every character, since the first one you came up with is almost certainly the same one that 10 other actors had as well. She also answered a question about voiceover acting careers for the hearing impaired by stating that actor Andre Sogliuzzo is hard of hearing, and had special hearing aids built that can plug into the standard headset feed so he can hear directions. Finally, she added that managers really don’t help much in the voiceover business, adding an extra layer of separation from the actor when she’d almost rather contact actors directly just in the interests of time.