Friday, August 26, 2016

Interview with Branden Loera, voice actor at Funimation

Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing actor Branden Loera. We've crossed virtual paths before, having been in Zelda Universe's Wind Waker dub, and from everything else I've seen him do (which, admittedly, I have not seen much, but maybe that will change), he's definitely got the acting chops to back him up.

What made me want to interview him, though, is his involvement with Funimation, the company responsible for dubbing and distributing English versions of such anime as Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and pretty much every other anime you've ever liked. Of course, nondisclosure agreements go with voice acting like love does marriage and a horse does a carriage (if Frank Sinatra is to be believed), so we couldn't talk much about some of the work he's done with them. He's been working with them for a few months at least now, and given my burning curiosity to know more about his perspective, I think a lot of you may appreciate it, too. The interview itself - nine real questions, one for giggles at the end - is fairly lengthy, but more than worth it in my book.


James Burton: Funimation, as I'm sure you're aware, given you've worked with them for a little time now, is one of the largest anime dubbing companies in the west, so how exactly did you come to work with a company this big with this much of a reputation?

Branden Loera: My brother and I have been looking at going into their "generals," I guess you'd call it, and submitting some stuff... I don't know why, it just hadn't been the right time or hadn't worked out somehow. But it was maybe six months ago - six or seven months ago - that I got recommended by a couple friends of mine who work at Funimation. They do various things like...I think "Assassination Classroom" and some other ones, and "Fairy Tail" as well. They're just like, "Hey, we need some new people, do you guys have have any guys who can act the crap out of things and people you can trust with all your heart?" And so they gave my name...

James Burton: So somebody said, "What about Branden? He's a good guy."

Branden Loera: I was like, "Eh, I'm alright." And they were like "Sweet!" It's really weird. I mean, it's really great that that happened, but I also feel really bad for the random people who just send in demos and stuff, because for the most part, they kind of like to go by recommendations.

James Burton: So it's a little bit of an insider type thing, where if you know someone on the inside, you're more likely to be recommended, that kind of thing?

Branden Loera: More often than not. I'm not saying that's set in stone or whatever, but I think your chances are better if that were to happen.

James Burton: Moving onto the next question, can you explain in some detail how Funimation's casting process works? Through my understanding, they have a closed talent pool that they invite to audition for certain projects - and I'm guessing, like you said, a referral from talent who are already working with them - rather than just hosting open auditions to the public at large. Can you expand on that brief synopsis any?

Branden Loera: I guess I can kind of go into how mine went down. It is a tad different. Like you said, pretty much the casting pool are taken in for these closed auditions type things. They want to hear what you can do, so for me - I can't say exactly what anime I was doing, but I went into the studio in Flower Mound, and they were like, "Alright, just go ahead and get in the studio and we'll have you do, like - " Oh gosh, I did like fifteen different voices for... It just felt like a billion characters.

James Burton: Wow. They made you work for it pretty quickly, huh?

Branden Loera: I'm telling you. That thing was so fast. If you're not on it and just not 100% attentive, it can just go completely above your head, because, you know, time is money, and you're speaking a million miles a minute, or a second. So they're like, "This is your character, blablabla, this is the Japanese version, this is the English version, go."

James Burton: And you have to be on point very quickly.

Branden Loera: Yeah. So I don't know if a lot of people really understand how this works. They get you in, and they're very... It's kind of unnerving, how quiet the studio is, it's a really beautiful piece of work that they do in there. They have these two monitors besides the microphone, and one is the script, and one is the TV with the actual anime, and they're having to... I mean, you know this, but they're having to match up the mouth movements with the voice and stuff. You have to be really good at multitasking. So that's basically what I did, and at the end of it, they're like, "Wow, that was very good" - and they apologized because at one point, they were like, "Alright, now we hate having professional actors do this, but can you just voice this baboon for me?"

James Burton: A baboon?

Branden Loera: And I was like, "Sure, no problem, whatever you want!"

James Burton: "Yeah, I voice baboons all the time, it was in the curriculum!"

Branden Loera: It was very unexpected, but I just went full ham and they were laughing in the studio, like, "Okay, thank you, that was great!"

James Burton: So you've got to be prepared for anything.

Branden Loera: Yeah. I don't think it matters what you do beforehand, you'll just never be fully prepared for what they want you to do. It's completely unexpected.

James Burton: That is an interesting point to make.

So compared to online projects or other studios or acting projects, how hard do you feel it is to be accepted into Funimation's casting pool, or from there, to be cast for one of their projects?

Branden Loera: I know there's thousands of thousands of thousands of people who audition and stuff... They're kind of similar. A lot of the people who do Funimation also do some side projects in their down time or something like that. But there's a lot of people, you know, "Behind the Voice Actors" and also Funimation... I'm not exactly sure on the numbers, but like I said before, it is maybe a little bit difficult because I feel like Behind the Voice Actors and other websites like that...it's more random, there's not a whole lot of directors and people who know each other strictly from the internet and stuff like that, you know what I mean?

In Funimation, you would know people personally, you would hang around with them around the Dallas area, and you'd have this real tight-knit relationship with them. It's just easier to get into that, because... I don't know, it's just easier in the area, and Behind the Voice Actors can be from literally anywhere. There are people from England, all different kinds of time zones, but I think it's a tad bit harder, especially since most of the time, they like to go by recommendations, so it's harder for the people who actually do the demo process. I feel that maybe they're a little bit on the downside on that aspect.

James Burton: So it's a very personal sort of casting process. There is, like you said, an element of demos and auditions that the casting directors consider at Funimation, but it seems to be largely referral-based, or at least a pretty large percentage of it is.

Branden Loera: Yeah, I'd definitely say that.

James Burton: Have you ever seen, heard, or so much as smelled one of Funimation's prominent voice actors in person in the studio, like Vic Mignogna, Caitlin Glass - you're probably familiar with the bigger names who work there. Have you ever, you know, accidentally bumped into Eric Vale at the water cooler?


Branden Loera: There were a couple of them that were, as I was going into the studio, there were three of them that were sitting on the couch. It's a very small lobby/reception area that you sign into, and there are two couches on either side, so I was sitting on the right couch by myself, and to the left, there were people who were doing... Gosh, I feel so terrible for not knowing this, but they were doing Assassination Classroom. They were just talking, having a good time, and I don't remember who they were, and actually, while I was doing my, like, twenty different voices, they were like, "Hey Branden, there's this guy that needs to do this voice, and he's just going to do a quick ten-minute thing and then we'll put you back in there, is that cool?" And I was like, "Yeah, totally." He was in there, and he was doing a completely new show...I'm pretty sure I can't say what it is anyway. Just watching him work, it was really special. I have personal friends, like one - he's done so much, he's one of the villains in Fairy Tale, he's in "God Eater" or something like that, it's just really top-notch stuff. And he's in a couple of new ones that are coming out soon, so I'm really excited. That's the one that comes to mind. Also, one that's also in that new one that I can't say...

James Burton: Yeah, we know how that goes. Have you ever bumped into anybody that a reader or listener might be more familiar with?

Branden Loera: Not at the Funimation studio. It seems like whenever I went in, it was a pretty chill day. There were only about four people there, three of which I didn't know, and the other one was a close friend of mine who was also doing the kind of recommendation process. So unfortunately not.

James Burton: It seems to me Funimation is more of a closed [environment], not very many people per se working at the same time, only one person in the booth, as opposed to some other voice over projects where they have multiple people in one booth.

Branden Loera: For sure. The way I think they've got their time table set up, most of the time, each one has their own individual thing. For a crowd scene or something, they'll just bring individual people in and mix it together.

James Burton: How important do you think it is to live near Flower Mound while working with Funimation? Obviously they do all their work in studio, but how far do you think voice talent should be from the studio in terms of living arrangements before it really becomes detrimental for them to travel there to work or audition?

Branden Loera: I kind of have a rule myself, for theater or what have you, to not go more than an hour - and even then, it's kind of pushing it. But I kind of live extremely close - maybe 15, 20 minutes away from Flower Mound, so it's super convenient for me. It just takes no time at all, and I love that. But it definitely is a detriment - I mean, luckily with Funimation you get paid a crap-ton, so it's not as bad, but on other projects, if you're not, and you have to travel a lot, you're using a lot of your gas money, and you're paying more to go to this place and not get paid as much, and while that's completely fine, it does have its toll after awhile. Actors aren't the richest people in the DFW area, but you can make some money depending on where you go, and Funimation's a good place to be. It's one of the highest-paying in the state, as far as projects go. I'd say no more than, at least for me, an hour.

James Burton: That's a good rule of thumb.

What sorts of other jobs do sometime-voice-actors at Funimation work? What sorts of "day jobs," per se, would you think well to help pay the bills while pursuing a voice over career with places like Funimation, or acting or voice over in general in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area?

Branden Loera: Me personally, I do a quiz-master type thing at random bars, and we just have quizzes about random knowledge and stuff. So at night I would go to these bars and everybody would be drinking and stuff, and you're basically just improvving for two hours, right? And that really could help work on that craft and you'd be learning some stuff. You could also do tons of voices there, and that's what I like to do, honestly. The people don't seem to care. Or they're too drunk to notice. But you can definitely try some stuff out there. It definitely has a performance quality to it. I personally love that job, and I recommend that.

Anything that requires speaking in front of people. If voice actors only do voice acting, that's fine, but what I kind of like to do with all that is to expand my horizons into as many aspects of acting as I can, because it just gets you out there more, and it helps each individual section of acting even more, so it won't hurt to go do a commercial, or a film, or be an extra in something. That's what a lot of them do, by the way, is be extras in films. It pays, and you get 5-star food...I would go only for the food. It's freakin' amazing.

James Burton: I think that would be enough to entice me.

Branden Loera: Commercials, get on stage and stuff, it could be just a small thing, but especially in the film business, it only takes a couple days out of your week, and even then it wouldn't last that long. I think that's your best bet, honestly.

James Burton: Things that are performance- and acting-related - reading, performing, extras and that kind of thing. Definitely getting your feet wet in the other areas of the entertainment industry.

Branden Loera: Also, a lot of them do master classes and stuff, and teach how they do things. I know a lot of them do that, and that makes them money and takes some time while they're not actively doing voice acting, so that would help too, honestly.

James Burton: I've often heard dubbing described as one of the hardest forms of voice acting. Can you describe up to three talents you think voice actors should have to be successful and engaging while dubbing?

Branden Loera: You have to be attentive, for sure, and I would say be humble in the sense of, like a sponge type thing, because you have to take all their information and you have to regurgitate it the same exact way. What's a little bit different from stage acting and voice acting, with the directors at least - it's kind of well-known not to give a stage actor a line reading - that's just theater etiquette 101, you don't usually do that. But in voice acting, it's the opposite - it's the complete opposite. They'll say, "That was good, but try the line this way, or accentuate this word," and it's a completely different experience, so I'd say just be a sponge and bounce that right back into the mic. Otherwise, if you're having to do multiple takes, obviously they don't like that, so you've got to give it to them right there as they say it. So that's a little bit different.

I guess, along those lines, just to not get your feelings hurt too much if they tell you to do something differently. It's not that they're trying to be rude or mean about it or that they're trying to rush you or anything. They're just trying to get the best out of you as quickly as possible. They clearly have a very specific vision. Especially, they have to take into account the Japanese version and kind of how that sounds as well, it can't differentiate too much. So with dubbing, you kind of have to worry about that as well.

James Burton: So pay attention, be willing to listen and reciprocate, and basically keep an open mind, is what you're saying - don't take anything personally, because everybody wants the best for the product.
Branden Loera: Exactly.

James Burton: What other sorts of positions, besides, of course, voice actor, would you think exist at Funimation? I know there are positions such as directors, engineers, scriptwriters, etcetera, but what other positions exist that you know of that the average person might not think about - anything specific, or anything as ordinary as a janitor?

Branden Loera: Purely based on when I went there, it was very, very, very quiet. There was the receptionist at the front, so I guess not a lot of people think of that, but there's a receptionist that signs you in and offers you whatever you want basically while you're waiting a little bit. And then when you go in, there's this very, very, very long hallway, basically, that just has a bunch of doors to different sound booths and stuff like that. The director, the sound engineer, are basically the only two people that are in one room at a time. I believe there was someone, like you said, a janitor, just cleaning up around. But that's it. There were like five people working. It's crazy. There wasn't really anybody that stood out.

James Burton: I've been in a studio before, and I remember being surprised myself that there aren't necessarily a whole lot of people working there at once, or even at all. They just have a few key positions and they all do what's needed to take care of the work.

Branden Loera: Yeah, it's very efficient. They try to have the least amount of people working on something as possible, I think.

James Burton: Has anything about working with Funimation surprised you? Any nuances of the building or their recording process that may have caught you off guard, that you weren't really expecting going in?

Branden Loera: Immediately going toward the Funimation building, as I was putting into my GPS, I was getting closer and closer to these...they just look like manufacturing facilities, and they were very cookie-cutter, very basic warehouse, huge buildings. They're very flat, they're not very high off the ground, but they seem to go on forever, and there are these yellow buildings, and they all seem the same. I was like, "Am I in the right place?" Because there's, like, airplane hangars or whatever, and metal building machines, so I was like, "This clearly can't be the right place." And I was expecting, you know, the logo of Funimation to be somewhere, but it's not, or not the way it's usually appeared. It has this really tiny logo in the center of a building and it's just all black letters, and I was like, "Holy crap, this is it." I felt like I was in the wrong place. I went in, and actually went in the wrong door, because I didn't go to the reception area first.

James Burton: Sounds like something I would do.

Branden Loera: I was just like, "Oh, I'm so sorry," and they're like, "No, just go to the door on the other side." And so I did that. And going in, it's a very nice building. It's very clean. Like I said, very efficient. They use their time very wisely. The thing that surprised me was the sound engineer. That dude is... It reminded me of those aliens that have like a million arms and they're just typing on a computer so freakin' fast or something like that, you know what I'm talking about? But I felt like he was that alien, because whenever I came out to watch the dude do some voice acting for like ten minutes, I was watching the sound engineer the whole time, and he is having to work so incredibly fast between takes so that he can be ready for the next take that the actor does. I've done some editing, but that editing is finesse. He has, like, a P.h.D. in editing. It was a sight to behold, I'll tell you what.

James Burton: I feel like sound engineers don't always get the credit or the recognition they deserve. They do a whole lot of work to make the product actually sound presentable when it's released, or even at the time of recording they do a lot just to make sure your voice doesn't blow out the mic or otherwise come off unwanted.

Branden Loera: Right. It's a science, man. That was so calculated. It's awesome.

James Burton: I guess we'll get to our final question - the most important one of them all - what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Branden Loera: So people are going to hate me, but I don't usually eat ice cream. The last time I ate ice cream was probably when I was eleven. But I will say my favorite at the time - and probably still is, I just haven't had it in awhile - is cookies 'n' cream. Just classic cookies 'n' cream. Personally I don't like chocolate, and I love vanilla, but whenever you put those cookies in there, that's top-notch stuff right there.

James Burton: Moose tracks fan myself.


Branden works out of east Texas and plays in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Onstage in Bedford, a sort of dark comedy stage play running between September 4th and September 18th. If you're in the area, maybe check it out.

I hope you found this interview as informative as I did. I enjoyed talking with Branden and hearing his perspective, and I think there's a lot we can take away from it. Let me know what you think of the interview, or if there's a perspective you think we should hear in the future.

For more interviews like this one, subscribe via the little boxes below the article or on the top-right of the page, and you'll be notified immediately when another one goes up. Next week, stay tuned for Let's Learn Accents #1: Russian, where we attempt to pick apart a foreign accent and speak it better. Click here to learn more about how interviews and Let's Learn Accents will work. And while you're waiting for the next posts, check out some other stuff I've written, like 3 things you should bear in mind before pursuing voice over, or how expensive starting voice over might be. Thanks, and good day, sir!

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, editors do quite a bit! Just a 2 minute video can take up to 10 hours! (I speak from experience)

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    1. My hat's off to them, because they do a ton of detailed work that goes way over my head. I edit my own audiobooks, and while they are up to a professional standard, I know there's a whole world of technical things I still don't know.

      Thanks for reading, Fireally. Stick around next time for Let's Learn Accents #1!

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