It’s March 5th, 2013 – a Tuesday. Like most other Tuesdays, I’m getting ready to head up to Los Angeles for weekly rehearsal with my improv troupe, Room to Improv. As I’m getting ready to leave, my phone rings. It’s my agent(s). I think, “I wonder what this is about?” Usually, if it’s an audition, I get an email notification first. Maybe I booked something? But, I wasn’t waiting for word on anything. That couldn’t be it.
“Hello?” I say.
“Hi Earl, this is Jamie at KSR.* Just wanted to let you know you got a package at the office from Crystal Dynamics!”
“Whhaaaaaaat- that’s awesome.”
Oh, yes that’s right. It’s Tomb Raider release day. After keeping my lips shut about the project for well over a year, it was finally time for me to get on a digital hill and virtually scream, “Hey! HEY! Look what I worked on!” Hanging prepositions aside, I was stoked. As mentioned in my first post, I’ve been a gamer most of my life. My love for video games was what made me take the final plunge into acting professionally. This, this was momentous.
“There’s a very nice letter from Darrell Gallagher, a T-Shirt, and a copy of Tomb Raider!”
“Stop it, you’re making my nerd-heart melt.“
I didn’t actually say that, but that’s what I was feeling.
Wait, did I not mention it explicity yet? My name is Earl Baylon, and I was the motion capture and voice actor for the character Jonah in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot.
I am, by no means, famous or especially successful. In fact, I’m still a relative neophyte to the business. I’m still learning things as I go. If I’ve any luck, hopefully I’ll start carving out my place in the business sometime soon. I just thought someone out there might like to hear the story of some lucky geek that got to work with great people on an awesome project, right?
Invariably, upon hearing that I worked on the game, people ask, “How’d you get that?” Well, then, we’ve come to the meat of this entry.
Back in October 2011, I received one of the aforementioned audition email notifications from my agent(s) for a project called “Firecracker.” I was a bit confused as the breakdown I received had little more than the character description for Joshua, a “brown skinned, warm weather, island dweller” with a “teddy bear feel.” The only really telling bit was the very end of the project description that very concisely explained, “This is motion capture.” That whittled down the possibilities to it being: a) an animation or b) a video game.
I was even more confused once I received my audition sides (usually a portion of the script you use for the audition). This thing read like a longer form, on-camera script. It was a bit serious in tone for animation. The characters, Joshua and Becca were written very real, as opposed to broad strokes of caricature. And, there were four pages of sides, pretty dialogue-heavy. Most sides I’ve received for TV co-star roles were two or three pages, and contained maybe four to six lines of dialogue. As I sat at home, going over my sides, I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter what the project was, this breakdown was probably the best character fit I’ve had in a long time – I needed to come correct, take my time in the audition room, and be comfortable with the text.
Two days later, I had my audition. On the other side the table were two people: the casting director, and the director, whom I found out much later was Toby Gard, the creator Lara Croft. I took the opportunity to ask Toby about the project, and confirmed that it was indeed a video game. Then, I attempted to probe a little further, asking if it was for a big studio. He didn’t give me much, and just said, “You may heard of it.” I probably had already asked too much, so I shut my trap and gave my read once everyone was ready.
Maybe confirming that it was a video game before I had given my read was a mistake, because all of a sudden, I really wanted to book this… whatever it was. That’s kiss of death, that’s splitting focus during an audition. I did my read best I could, they filmed me running and shadowboxing. I thanked them for seeing me, and took my leave. Set it and forget it. To my surprise, four days later, I received another email that I had a callback. Again, I went in, with different sides this time, and did pretty well, I thought. Still, I looked out in the waiting room, and said to myself, “There are a lot of people here. A lot of competition. Don’t get attached to the idea.”
That following Friday, I get an email from my agent that they had me on avail for that Monday and Tuesday, and asked me to sign an attached non-disclosure agreement. Avail is industry jargon that basically means they’re asking you to keep those days open, in case they book you for the job. Exciting, for sure, but people get put on avail and don’t get booked all the time. So, I wasn’t getting my hopes up.
Then I opened the attached NDA and noticed the header. Crystal Dynamics, a Square-Enix Company.
The gamer in me was losing my mind. The actor in me was calm as possible at that moment, reminding me that it was just an avail. But oh boy, did I really want it at that point. By then, though, it really was out of my hands. As with most things in this career, I put the possibilities of booking it out of my mind. Set it and forget it. I did my part. If it comes, then it comes.
The next day, I had an improv gig at SIPA, a community center in Los Angeles’ Historic Pilipino Town. And, as I’m waiting in the green room with the rest of my troupe, I get an email from my agent.
I booked the job. The character name: Jonah. The project: Tomb Raider. WHAT? Attached: an 11-page shooting script for Monday and 75-page full cinematic script. At this point, both the gamer in me and the actor in me are screaming at the top of their lungs, going nuts, celebrating… but only inside because 1) I’m backstage at a show, and 2) I signed an NDA.
That’s when it got real, though. I had just been hired on my first big video game gig, a AAA title reboot of a storied video game franchise that practically redefined the action adventure genre. Tomb Raider. 85% mind blown.
To top it all off, I think we did a bang up show that night.