Joan Baker Chats It Up With BANG ZOOM! Entertainment’s Casting Director And Post Production Supervisor, MAMI OKADA.
By Joan Baker, August 3, 2019 ©Society of Voice Arts and Sciences
JOAN: How are you, Mami? What’s your day been like?
MAMI: I’m doing fine! Thank you for asking. (laughs) Work has a bit hectic for me nowadays, but I’m managing!
You’ve work at Bang Zoom! Entertainment for a very long time. Did you start, as a teenager?!
MAMI: (laughs) Although I wasn’t a teenager, I did start Bang Zoom! at the young age of 23. I studied filmmaking in college, interned at several entertainment companies while I was student, and worked at an intercultural entertainment company prior to joining Bang Zoom!, so I did have some knowledge of how production worked coming into Bang Zoom!. But I definitely learned a lot in the first few years here, and I’m still learning and discovering things every day, even after being with the company for over 17 years.
So, you Bang-Zoom-It as both a casting director and a post-production supervisor. How does that work?
MAMI: It may sound like a two completely different jobs to someone, but to me it always feels that they are connected, and in fact every aspect of production and post-production is connected to one another. In the end we are all trying to tell a story to an audience in the best way possible. The world that sound creates is so vast – including voice, performance, music, sound design, and how it is all mixed together in the end. As a casting director I love the fact that I can work directly with talent such as voice actors and directors, but I also very much enjoy working with audio engineers and what they bring to the end result. Coming from a production manager/producer background, I always care about who will be touching our audio, how they will be touching it, and what’s the best and most efficient way to achieve the sound we’re looking for. So, for me those two aspects of the job flow together naturally, and I enjoy both very much.
Does one role excite you more than the other?
MAMI: I do feel Casting is something that I’m placing most of my focus on at the moment, as I still have a lot to learn! Every new character that is presented to me is a new window I’m opening, and it goes the same way for every actor I meet and get to know. It’s always evolving and I’m excited for what comes next!
What’s the fascination that drew you to anime?
MAMI: Before getting into anime myself, I was surprised to discover how much anime is accepted and cherished here in the States as well as all around the world. I had no idea back when I was growing up in Japan. Anime definitely has some of the most unique storylines out there, anything you can imagine and beyond is there! I especially love the way it can get very dark and deep. Anime creators always seem to be able to come up with new character designs, beautiful animation and mind-blowing techniques to express the story and action!
What is it about your nature that makes you suited to the work you’re doing?
MAMI: When it comes to anime, I think it’s definitely helpful that I understand the culture as well as characters by listening to their speech cadence, inflection and sometimes subtle subtext. As a casting director, in general, I’m the kind of person who enjoys all kinds of story-lines and content. I do watch a lot of movies and TV outside of work, and am always exposed to stories, characters and different emotions. I am also a pretty emotional person, so I get into characters easily. I think all these aspects come into play when I’m working on casting.
When I first met you, a few weeks ago, it was amidst the absolute mania of Anime Expo. What was that like for you?
MAMI: I’ve been attending Anime Expo ever since I got into this industry and it’s exciting to see how big it’s gotten and to know that more and more people are interested in anime. It has been a great opportunity to receive direct feedback about the work we are putting out into the world, and to know what fans are excited about – what they like and don’t like. It’s always a joy to come across a cosplay from the shows we’ve worked on!
Do you draw a distinction between anime and what a lot of people typically referred to as cartoons?
MAMI: I do consider greatly what type of project it is when requesting auditions, as each type of project requires a different skill set. However, whenever the opportunity arises, I like to introduce actors to different genres and have them try out things they might not have been asked to do much before. (laughs)
Was there a point when you knew you were in love with anime?
MAMI: I wasn’t too familiar with anime before I started at Bang Zoom!, but as I worked on projects over the years I quickly realized that each new anime series genuinely had so many great things going on – the story-line, the character development, and of course great animation. So I started to feel that I want everyone in the world to check it out.
What do you tell newbies who want to become voice actors today?
MAMI: It’s about performance. Be an actor first and don’t worry about what kind of character voices you have. There is always a role that fits your voice. However, please know that you are stepping into one of the most competitive fields in the industry. Be patient, and be ready for the fact that you won’t living from voice acting professionally for at least a few years.
Tell me about your process for seeking out talent?
MAMI: I get recommendations from fellow actors and voice coaches. Also a lot of actors reach out to us through classes or our general website. Once I have their demos and resumes, I start including them in auditions and see what I get back! I also have my go-to agencies that I work with.
What’s the best thing an actor can do when preparing for a part?
MAMI: If the materials and information are available, it would be best to familiarize yourself with it. Also to understand what type of project it is (over the top cartoon or serious drama, etc). If the project is “Top Secret” and not much information is available before the audition, come to the session warmed up, open minded and be ready to give anything!
What’s the main “something” that inspires you to hire a particular voice actor?
MAMI: More than anything, it’s the performance – the believability of the characters they are creating through performance — and how much they own it.
What is the selection process when you and your team conduct auditions?
MAMI: Once a project is greenlit and we know which characters require auditions, I list up 10 – 20 actors per role from our talent database to request auditions. We have a different production team working on gathering all the auditions from each actor, and after submissions were made we send them all to our audio engineering team. This is to edit/clean/level all the audition files so that every audition file is at an equal point technically as much as possible to help ensure that the clients will not judge any auditions based on some technical issues. (We’ve had occasions in the past where audition files recorded with low levels were automatically judged as “bad auditions”.) Once the engineers complete their edits, I review every single audition file, then make my selections or recommendations to clients. I tend to recommend wider selections for original projects because often the creators are open to listening to wider varieties of performances and voices.
How would you describe a successful audition?
MAMI: I’d say every audition is a success if you owned the character and gave it your best. If you know you brought your best performance, even if you didn’t get selected for this particular project, it’s always a success. Moreover, I’ll always remember standout auditions for upcoming projects – which literally might be tomorrow, or in six months. We keep ALL the audition files (we have tens of thousands of files by now that I can access at any time on my offline database) and always refer these actors for other roles in the current project as well as in future projects. I often make recommendations and cast from the auditions from other shows.
What was a biggest risk you took as a casting director and how did it work out?
MAMI: Several instances where I cast a young, new actor, in a lead role, even though they had no prior experience in playing lead roles, nor many credits on their resume. I did so because I believed they were solid actors who had what it takes. I’m happy to say they are all working actors now and have played multiple lead roles. Some of them even have huge fan followings!
For English dubbing, how familiar does the actor have to be with the Japanese version of the character?
MAMI: If the episodes are already available to watch online prior to the session, it would be helpful if the actors can study a little bit. It helps to be on the same page with the voice director quicker. Also when it comes to anime, the genre can be all over the place – serious, wacky, you name it – so it will probably only help to be mentally prepared with what you are being directed to do! Also, in anime, a lot of characters are often multi-dimensional and have a lot of emotional layers to them, so it may help to understand what really is going on with the character if you study the show beforehand. That said, at Bang Zoom! we always refer to what we call “OJ” – the original Japanese dialogue — for each line and use them for guidance. We never ask actors to mimic Japanese performances – we still need actors to understand, own the character, and create their own version.
How does one break into anime?
MAMI: First things first, anime is all about ADR – some lip-sync skills are a must. This is essential so that we can focus on emotions and performance rather than worrying about lip flaps. If actors want to break into anime, I highly recommend physically being in the locations where anime is done – currently the majority of it is being done in Los Angeles and Texas. I’m not personally familiar with the Texas voiceover scene, but if you are in LA and in a voiceover community, it shouldn’t be hard to come across someone who is already working in anime and/or dubbing projects. And they may be able to get you in touch with the studios and Casting Directors.
Which anime Would You Most Want to Be Turned Into a Movie?
MAMI: There are so many, but for recent titles I would have to say “The Promised Neverland” and “Megalobox”.
Joan Baker is an award-winning voice actor, author of Secrets of Voice-over Success and co-founder of Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, That’s Voiceover!™ Career Expo, and the Voice Arts® Awards. She’s also an acting and voiceover expert for Backstage Magazine. Joan coaches voice acting in her Manhattan office and via Skype. Connect with Joan at Joan@sovas.org and on Twitter: @joanthevoice
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