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Mind Your Business: Working with Star Voice Talent

Mark Simon talks to Max Howard about the realities of collaborating with big-name actors.


We've all seen big name actors on posters for our favorite animated films. It is a necessary element of production to help with promotion of a movie.

If you are producing an independent animated feature, you may not have the promotional dollars of DreamWorks or Disney. So how do you compete to get people to see your movie in the theaters? Have at least a few star actors that will catch people's attention on the posters.

But there are other things to keep in mind when you hire an A-list actor for your production.

I spoke with animation producer extraordinaire Max Howard about the realities of working with big-name actors.

Max was formerly president of Warner Bros. Feature Animation and senior vice president of Disney Feature Animation. During his 12 years at Disney, Howard was one of the senior architects of that company's animation renaissance. He has collaborated on such animation successes as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Lion King. At Warner Bros., Max oversaw one of the greatest animated features of all time Iron Giant as well as the international hit Space Jam starring Michael Jordan. He was also an Executive Producer on Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron for DreamWorks. His recent independent feature Igor featured the voice talents of A-list actors John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Arsenio Hall, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jay Leno, Molly Shannon and Christian Slater.


Max told me that while hiring star voice talent on independent features does come with a price.

"Essentially you have no rehearsal time with star talent," offers Howard. "The busier and better known the actor, the less likely you can pull them into a rehearsal situation. This is not about willingness, it's about availability."

Howard says his experience proves rehearsal time with star actors is impossible to coordinate, "There are ways one can overcome this challenge and provide the director with some clever alternatives."

Howard also told me about some of the issues he's run into when scheduling recording time with star talent. "Unusual circumstances may call for unusual solutions. For example, one lead character voice for a project I was producing was on location in Thailand. The director and I were located in Los Angeles. So, at 5:00 am one morning I coordinated the session from a sound studio with the director participating from his home using Skype."

One thing to remember when recording voice talent in multiple sessions, continues Howard. Voice talent may have many projects going on at once, not to mention that their recording sessions may be months apart. It is up to the producer and director to lead them back to the energy, emotion and state of mind of the previous session and script. "Just remember, while you have been living and breathing your film, the voice talent have been making several others, reading scripts, publicizing films, etc. It's up to you help make their performance great and consistent."

Igor producer John Eraklis, director Anthony Leondis, actors Molly Shannon, Jennifer Coolidge, Exodus executive Jerome Williams and Exodus president & producer Max Howard at the Igor premiere. Courtesy of Mark Simon.

Howard knows a lot about working with talent. Besides his experience as an executive and producer of some of the greatest animated features, Max started his career as an actor. His first acting experience was jumping off a sinking ship on the backlot of Pinewood Studios in the war film The Heroes of Telemark. In that film he acted with Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris. He has spent his entire business career of 50 years working with and beside great talent.

You need to make sure you plan ahead for these and other issues as you move into production, whether it's a studio film or an independent feature. You will have a successful production when you when you are properly prepared.

Want more info on producing your own animated feature? I am hosting a Master Class teleseminar/webinar with Max Howard on March 4th. We will go over all the details for producing an independent feature. I will grill him on how much name voice talent costs. He'll spill the real scoop on the making of Iron Giant. He'll share what it was like to work with Michael Jordan. You will have an opportunity to ask him your questions about producing your own animated feature. Go to for more information and to register.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director/producer. His animation is online at He is also the co-founder of