Ratatoing: Ain't That a Shame!

Every once in a while, some snarky YouTuber gets the idea to grab a copy of the legendary "mockbuster" Ratatoing and rip it to shreds.

That's usually followed by a small flood of social media users reaching out to me with questions like, "so, um, i was just watching this ripoff movie called ratatoing and one of the characters kind sounded like u. was it? why would u take that job?"

What the Hell kind of question is that, exactly? Yes, I'm in Ratatoing. Not only am I in Ratatoing, but I voice four distinct characters in it. Apparently I'm supposed to be ashamed of that. For doing my job. Which is being an actor. A job I happen to love. I hate to say "how dare you?" but… "how dare you?"

Let me explain in a screed:

As a working actor, I have no idea where my next paycheck is coming from. So, while it's adorable that y'all think I must vet all my gigs by some internal Standards and Practices committee in my head, the world ain't like that. I'm self-employed — a freelance independent contractor, free to work for whoever's willing to hire me. I was never a full-time employee of any of the companies with which you usually associate me. Like all actors, voice or otherwise, I'm hired by any number of clients on an hourly or per-project basis to voice what they need me to voice, then I'm off to find the next gig. The appointment-based nature of the Voice Over business means I'm usually working on multiple projects simultaneously, much like someone with a horrible disease keeping appointments with multiple doctors all over town. Or an electrician working at one house Tuesday morning and a dentist's office Tuesday afternoon, as needed.

I love working. Acting is my passion, and voice acting is the most efficient way for me to do it. I constantly audition for gigs of all genres, most of which I won't book because the odds are always against each individual actor in a crowded field of auditioners, and most of which you'll never hear or care about, because in addition to the popular cartoons and video games you know and love, I also dub cartoons from every foreign language imaginable into English, and voice TV, internet and radio commercials, corporate projects, and e-learning materials, and the occasional audio book, for dozens of producers and clients you probably haven't heard of.

I work with numerous agents and managers who send me auditions for all those potential gigs, as well as a number of private clients who reach out to me directly with auditions, or cast me in projects without an audition because they know my work. Among those is that dreaded "mockbuster" dub director you love to loathe. His list of clients includes the international producers who, for whatever reason, make those cartoons, and want to distribute them in multiple languages around the world. Once he gets that contract, he subcontracts someone to adapt the script, and rounds up actors to voice it because cartoons can't voice themselves, then he'll mix the audio and deliver it to his client. All the talent, both the adapter and the actors, are freelancers. He keeps a list, reaches out with auditions, or just casts us and calls us in. A master of business efficiency, he's not known for his high standards, his excellent directorship, or his people skills, but he hands you a check when you leave. It's not the biggest check I've ever gotten, but it always clears, and instantly funds my Starbucks card. And his staff is nice. All those factors combine to make him a reliable client, so I'm happy to keep working with him. I still work with him to this day, voicing projects as varied as narrating a documentary on terrorism, and dubbing an ongoing Italian cartoon series, an eLearning piece on Chinese, Greek and Egyptian history, and a Czech cartoon that, as far as I can tell, is a wholly original idea. And while I'm working I focus on the task at hand, rather than agonizing over what effect it'll have on my career, because for a working actor, it's all in a day's work that I'm lucky to have on that day. On the unemployed days in between, I wish there was a Ratatoing of some kind to give me something to do.

Recording a Sonic game takes about four hours a year. A year has 8,756 other hours to worry about, and it's my job as an actor to try to fill up as many of those hours as possible with work. I'm my own boss, and keeping my calendar filled with gigs is the biggest part of my job.

I've never brought a résumé to a voice over audition, because voice over clients are rarely interested what an actor has done in the past. They want to know if you have the sound they're looking for and can give them the performance they need for the project they're creating. Nothing more, nothing less. So those who worry that Ratatoing and its bootleg Brazilian brethren are a bad career move needn't. I'm proud of the work I do because I'm proud to be a working actor. I'm living one of my childhood dreams, and I couldn't be happier.

This brings us to the larger issue of Job-Shaming. Work is about competence. If someone is competent at their job, why would you shame them for doing it just because it doesn't meet your high expectations? If you're working at McDonald's® and cranking out decent burgers, is that something of which you should be ashamed? I could understand if the burgers tasted like old shoes, but if you're doing what your boss expects you to do, where's the shame in that? Don't shame a person for doing their job. Your school custodian will thank you as he's dumping green sawdust over that puddle of emesis in the hallway.

Until you've spent a week banging out dozens of auditions that only get ignored, don't shame me when an audition finally leads to a successful booking that I'm only too happy to accept, because food, clothing and shelter aren't free.

Don't shame me for voicing an advertisement if you don't know just how lucrative those commercials can be.

My joy comes from performing, not from performing in things you think are good.

Sometimes a plumber installs a hot tub, sometimes he unclogs toilets. It's all part of the job.

And an actor without a job is a bum. I have no desire to be unemployed just because you think it beats the alternative of working on something about which you think I should be ashamed. Acting is all about losing one's inhibitions onstage, so there's no point in being embarrassed about your career offstage.

Some might say "a job's a job." I prefer to say: "a job's a meal."

You might be surprised to see what else I've done in my not-so-long but varied career, so I'd be honored if you'd click around my highlight playlist: The Sound of Mike

Thanks for listening, even if you can't believe some of the things you're listening to.