Who is Locking out Female Voice Talent?

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When you think of movie trailer voice overs, what do you think of?
Perhaps, the better question to ask is: Which gender of voice do you think of?
Join us as we explore the world of movie trailer voice overs and the role of women in this male dominated sector of the voice over industry.

Everybody knows who the movie trailer voice over guy is. The first thing to note is that I said “guy”. To put a name to this man of mystery, it’s Don LaFontaine. If you would like to read a bio on Don and get to know him and hear about his illustrious journey to voice over success in the movie trailer biz, you can catch an article we published last month and click the back button to return to this article.

For those of us who are captivated by this particular post, let’s continue 🙂
It’s no secret that the movie trailer industry is a man’s world. I happen to be acquainted with and know many gentlemen who record movie trailer voice overs. Rodney Saulsberry is one of them, and his work is exceptional and highly regarded just as Don’s is. Let’s cut to the chase! When is the last time you heard a female voice talent promoting a blockbuster film in the theatres or on TV? Even the straight to DVD movies, including independent films, sequels and the like, are predominantly voiced by men.

Why is that?
What is holding female voice talent back from excelling in this arena?
As we said before, maybe we should reevaluate the question we are asking and pose it another way: Who is holding women back in movie trailer voice overs?
Now, we have somewhere to go, because now we have a classifier to add to the mix:
It is not just a collection of mere adjectives that turn female voice talent away in this niche, it is a distinct parcel of nouns that are holding the barricade up, even in this time of perceived equal opportunity in the workplace.

A noun is a person, place or thing whereas adjectives (i.e. happy, graceful, smooth, aggressive) are describing words used to compliment or detract from a given noun or verb (action word, i.e. to sing or to record). So, a noun. A person, place or thing is preventing female voice talent from climbing the movie trailer ladder of success.
A place couldn’t do it. A thing which is likely inanimate couldn’t proceed with such acts either. That leaves us with a person or a group of people. One could hypothesize all the way throughout the creative production cycle and point fingers at a number of different people within the chain of events that lead to a movie trailer being produced and released.

Movie trailers are voice overs, just like any other voice over. They may have more prestige attached to them in some circles, but they are voice overs just the same.
Voice over is a creative element in the cycle and open to different interpretations, including female voice overs, so… If it’s not the writers, the producers, the actors, or anyone else associated with the creative aspect of production, who it is it?
That leaves us with those at the end of the line who decide how a movie is presented to the public through marketing efforts.

Could it be the film industry itself that is shutting women out? An interesting factor to consider are “Focus Groups” and their role in what is disseminated to the public. These Focus Groups tend to have a lot of sway and can change many aspects of how a movie is presented, including alternative endings, voice over, and other components in the creative realm. Focus Groups, from what I understand, can be very exclusive and comfortable. People in focus groups don’t want to lose their positions and due to that fact are often persuaded to make decisions that they do not support simply to keep their jobs.

This includes the voice over in many cases. If it is presented initially with a female voice over instead of a male voice over which is generally perceived to be a safer if not more authoritative option with movie goers that will drive in the sales and “legitimize” a film. Now, that’s just hypothetical, of course. It wouldn’t be fair to pinpoint focus groups alone when trying to get to the root of the problem.
Is it that the world simply isn’t ready to hear women perform movie trailer voice overs, or are there politics at work behind the scenes?

What do you think?
Why are female voice talent left in the dust by the movie industry? What doors need to be opened or barricades broken in order to change the status quo?
Looking forward to a heated debate and intelligent discussion 🙂

Technorati Tags: Movie Trailers, Voice Overs, Female Voice Talents, Movie Trailer Voice Overs, Don LaFontaine, Rodney Saulsberry, Focus Groups, Movies, and Voices.com.
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  • Justin
    May 2, 2007, 4:03 am

    For starters, I believe a lot of the decision regarding the gender of voice to use for any given trailer focuses around a single element: emotion.
    It starts with the film being advertised. The core, driving emotions that the film generates naturally affect the creation of the trailer, which tends to have a similar emotional read (often with those emotions enhanced through the power of editing). When it comes to pick a voice for the trailer, one is sought that generally complements those emotional tones. (Once in a while a voice with a contrasting emotional overtone is chosen for specific effect, but in most cases I believe that trailer producers seek voices that have the same feel as the trailer content.)
    Now, whether we like it or not, there are clearly different emotional overtones in a male voice when compared to a female voice, and those emotional overtones affect the gender of voice chosen for each trailer. Even within the realm of male (or female) voices, there are subtle differences between how voices “feel.” Those further affect the voiceover choice, and the trailer producers try to hone in on the voice with the closest emotional match to their trailer. If the emotional read you get from the visuals, music, sound effects, and actors’ voices in a trailer takes you one way, but the emotional read you get from the voiceover — specifically the sound of the voice, not the delivery of the lines — takes you another way, that’s not a very effective trailer. For example, try replacing Don LaFontaine’s voice in the Terminator trailers with Jim Cummings. It’s still a male voice, and Jim could probably match Don’s delivery style, but there’s a completely different set of emotional overtones in Jim’s voice itself, and it just wouldn’t work. You’d have the same problem if you got Don to voice Disney projects…the voice itself is not an emotional match.
    While I’ve been saying “trailer” all this time, the same pretty much applies to any type of voiceover for any project. If a voice doesn’t have the right emotional match for the project at hand, it isn’t going to be used. So “why are female voice talent left in the dust by the movie industry?” Ask the filmmakers…or in some cases, ask the folks at the very TOP of the chain who provide funding and decide what films the filmmakers get to make. These are the folks who establish the emotions of the films we see, thereby having a huge impact over the types of voices that we hear promoting them.

  • Melanie Haynes
    May 2, 2007, 8:55 am

    Justin makes some very good points. However, I would suggest that a lot of it has to do with what we’re “used” to.
    Certain subject matter may lend itself to a specific type of male voice, but the fact is that for years it has just been a given that a male voice would be the narrator. This has held true for commercials and corporate narrations as well.
    Years ago, one expected to hear the typical well modulated, deep throated male announcer voice on all commercials. That has certainly changed!
    25 years ago, when I started voicing professionally, I was hired for commercial work exclusively, but even so, women were only getting a fraction of the commercial work. And no one would even think to hire a woman to voice an Industrial Narration! It had to be a male voice – the only voice of authority. In fact, at one on camera audition where I asked about the voice over portion of the industrial, the two male producers had a great deal of fun joking about how that would be a “mizz-interpretation of the script”!
    But, over the past 10 years or so, my work has shifted to include even more corporate narration work than commercial work.
    Eventually, the traditional male territory of the movie trailer will probably begin to include more female voices – as long as something besides action/adventure films designed to appeal to the 18 – 35 year old male audience are made!
    Don’t get me wrong, it may take a lot of lobbying on our part, but it may begin to shift.

  • Bobbin Beam
    May 2, 2007, 12:13 pm

    All comments thus far I agree with. The truth of the matter is, however, that movie trailer work eliminates the majority of all voice talents, regardless of gender.

  • Julie-Ann
    May 2, 2007, 12:34 pm

    I think that the emotions established in films could easily be complimented by a female voice. It may be unusual to begin with but then everything new is!
    But what could we do to change this fear of breaking the mold? I don’t know!

  • Carol Hahn
    May 4, 2007, 3:35 pm

    I think that it is an idea whose time has come. However, the voice would have to fit the movie that is being promoted.
    Someone should be brave enough to give it a try as it might be a welcome relief. I have no idea how this could be accomplished.
    A female voice could certainly pull it off if it were appropriately matched to the film in question.

  • Maggie
    May 4, 2007, 6:48 pm

    I agree with Melanie that it’s partly what we’ve come to accept because “that’s the way it’s been done for x years”. But that’s not a good enough excuse not to do anything about it.
    The bad news is that it’s still very much a male dominated world (except maybe where pre-school and elementary education are concerned) but times are-a-changin’…
    The good news is that nothing is static in life… think of all the areas women were banned from – voting, executive management positions, women in politics, owning their own businesses, working in engineering or high-tech (when I got my degree in Comp. Science, there were a mere handful of us females in the program) and have now changed.
    Since everything begins with a thought, people need to start shifting their beliefs and thought patterns and start including women into areas where they were previously not a part of. These kinds of shifts in thought create waves and waves create change. Never underestimate the power of Mass Consciousness. The rest is history.
    Getting back to trailers, I completely agree that mood and style have to fit the story. Just as Don LaFontaine might not be appropriate for DWA’s “Flushed Away”, a woman’s voice may be more appropriate for children’s films, “chick flicks” or films like “Erin Brockovich” that celebrate women’s courage and strength and if she has the right edge in her voice, for an action flick!
    At the end of the day, the most appropriate voice needs to be hired for the job, regardless of the gender or material being voiced.

  • DC Goode
    May 5, 2007, 7:30 am

    We can talk all day about this and not really accomplish anything. I agree with most of the comments I’ve read so far and that it would be a real boon to have a female voice on a Trailer but… the fact of the matter is that the Trailer business is a small club of HEAVILY entrenched individuals in niche of the industry with little to no way “in”, qualified or not.
    The exception to this rule is Indie films.
    To see the members of “The club” go to Joe Cipriano’s http://www.primetimevoices.com
    None of the above factors in the “politics and preferences” of the Trailer/Promo business which is located (by a factor of 98%) in Hollywood.
    Maggie is right, “The most appropriate voice needs to be hired…” but the definition of “appropriate” is made in a niche of the industry where EVERYONE involved, holds their cards VERY close.
    Buy a lottery ticket. The odds are better.

  • B.Z.
    May 8, 2007, 12:45 pm

    In a world where movie trailers were dominated by men… one woman… has stepped up… and changed the course of the industry!!
    Her name… Disney… Melissa Disney… and she’s out there kicking movie trailer butt!!
    Check her out at http://www.popcornvoices.com

  • Nikki Saco
    May 16, 2007, 10:23 pm

    PopcornVoices.Com seems to come up with a login page. Try MelissaDisney.Com. I heard her trailers and they’re great. Her Resident Evil trailers have a nice multi-voice effect that sounds futuristic. I think female voices would be very effective for sci-fi and thriller flicks, not just comedy and romance.
    I agree with Melanie. It really is what we’re used to. And change is inevitable, but sometimes very slow to come.