Kris Zimmerman is one of the most gifted and talented Casting and Recording Directors in the animation and interactive game industry.
I had the privilege of doing an interview with her. She discusses how she broke into directing, her insight into the animation and interactive industry as well as her thoughts on how to become a great voice-over actor.
Her incredible resume includes directing, “The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest”, “Ben 10” the upcoming “Curious George” as well as many other cartoons. Kris has an extensive interactive game resume including; the “Metal Gear Solid” series, “Area 51,” “God of War II,” and “Tomb Raider: Underworld” as well as many other games.
How did you get into directing cartoons?
Well, I started out as an assistant at Hanna-Barbera (for a bio on Hanna-Barbera check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanna-Barbera) a long time ago. Any time I was ready to move on, the person above me ended up leaving, and that’s how I became a casting director. I was working with Gordon Hunt, and we worked side by side for many years. Back then, the casting director would sit in as an assistant director with the recording director because we were all on staff. I learned basically everything by sitting next to Gordon and watching him for many years, watching him work with the actors. I was a theater major so it wasn’t out of the realm for me but it certainly was not something I planned on ever doing. We were doing a primetime show called “Capital Critters” (for more info on this show check out: http://pro.imdb.com/title/tt0103383/), and we had to record them on Saturday because Neil Patrick Harris (for more on Neil check him out at: http://pro.imdb.com/name/nm0000439/) was our lead, and he was doing Doogie Howser at the time. Then Gordon called me one Friday late because his doctor told him he had to stay home, he was sick. He told me “I’m not going to be able to make it tomorrow, and you’ll be fine,” and that was my first directing experience. I stayed up all night studying the story board being nervous and then we got in there, and we got started. I said let’s do the scene again. “Frank give me a little of this and Neil a little of that,” and the actors listened, and it was fun. Eventually Gordon left Hanna-Barbera, and I did all the casting and most of the voice directing. Then I went freelance, and, knock on wood, have been doing it fairly well ever since.
Kris, what do you like about directing?
I like directing for animation and for interactive because of the pace. I love working with the actors and using my imagination along with the actors to give it life and meaning. I don’t think I’d like on-camera life because it’s so tedious, and it moves so slowly. I like to keep moving, and I like the energy about it, and it’s fun. No matter whether it’s a dark interactive project with blood and zombies, or light like “Curious George,” you can have fun doing both. I like animation because of the group records, 5-12 actors all together, the energy is fantastic. With interactive, group records is more cost prohibitive. I think it’s helpful for the actors in the group records.
How do you run your sessions as a director? Bringing everyone in to read as a group or individually?
I prefer directing in groups, but it’s not always cost efficient.
What is the best way to prepare for an audition to come in and read for you?
The funny answer is “I don’t know. I’ve never done that.” Come early, be prepared, come with an imagination, and come willing to be directed. When I was learning about acting and casting, it was like the casting director was the enemy. Yet, what I’ve learned over the years is that is not true. As a casting director and voice-director, I have a puzzle to solve and I’m not going to be successful unless I solve my puzzle. I’m going to give every actor that comes in whatever I can to help me solve my puzzle. I love finding new people as much I love working with the veterans.
What tips do you have for people trying to break into voice-overs and cartoon voice-overs?
Belief in yourself is key; having the acting skills, as well as vocal versatility. It’s not a voice job, or a sound job, it’s an acting job. I don’t like it when it’s pinballed as “it’s just voice-over.” It’s one of the most difficult acting jobs that you can think of, because you don’t have sets, or props. All you’ve got is a microphone and a piece of glass between us and our imaginations. The more that the actor can pull on those tools: imagination, creativity, and self-directing skills, the more successful they’ll be.
What makes a voice over standout in an audition?
You have to be in the moment. The actor must have the character live that moment. It’s easy to hear if someone is just reading. If it sounds like they’re giving me the dialogue because it’s written in front of them, I can tell. It’s a medium where you have to read because you’re not going to memorize a 1700 page script, but you have to be able to get your brain off the page and not forget that you’re responding to something that happened.
Are there any final thoughts or tips that you can leave us with?
For interactive work, you have to have stamina. Do not audition with a voice you can’t sustain for 4 hours. Chances are you’re going to have to sustain it for 4 hours at the top of your lungs with all the fighting skills and screaming. Most of all have fun.