The Following article was written by fellow Canuck Mark La Pointe (silent ‘t’). He was nice enough to drop by a leave a comment about this article getting picked up and published in Broadcast Dialogue Magazine in Canada.
Voice Over Fun by Mark La Pointe
So. There you are. Alone in a small room. In front of you, a glass wall separates you from the people next door. They are watching and listening and pointing. They have snacks. Despite the glass, about ever thirty seconds or so, you hear one of their voices thunder into your ears with criticism. Most of it is nonsense…gibberish. But you HAVE to listen and obey. This is not a nightmare. This is not a Stephen King movie. This is a voice over session. Well…it could also be a nightmare, I suppose.
There is nothing more unnatural than having a piece of paper full of words and clichés and bracketed terms thrust in your face, a set of dirty duct taped headphones from 1972 strapped to your noggin, while a handful of complete strangers give you the stink eye. Oh…and try to sound natural.
But as miscreants who scrape out a living as voice over actors, it is a reality. I have been in and out of a bunch of studios over the years, and have compiled a short list of tips and insider secrets that may come in handy to a few of you…jog the memories of even fewer of you…and bore most of you.
ALWAYS ARRIVE EARLY
That way you get the FRESHER coffee. You may also get to peek at the script ahead of time (which likely won’t help as much as the coffee).
DO A LITTLE HOMEWORK
Find out who the client is. Check them out online. Learn a little about them. It will make awkward silences less awkward and silent…and may give you a little insight into what they’re trying to accomplish. If you understand the goal behind the words…they may be easier to interpret. Also you’ll know what free stuff to hint for.
THE SCRIPT IS THE BIBLE…THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE A LETTER. LEAVE THAT TO THE PRODUCER, WRITER, CLIENT, SALESPERSON, CLIENT’S FRIEND, AND ANYONE ELSE WHO WANDERS INTO THE ROOM DURING THE SESSION.
“That take was perfect…so it needs to change. Hang on…we’re working on it”.
BRING A PENCIL
Nothing is written in stone (except for maybe those cute house number rocks), and with scripts they shouldn’t even bother to use ink. Ink indicates a confidence on the part of the writer. Silly writer. Pencil is better. By the time they’re done with edits, your working script will look like a crossword puzzle done while having sex in a tornado. “Now read that baby and make it smoooooth!”
AN ENGINEER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. OFFER TO GET THEM A COFFEE OR POSSIBLY EVEN PAINT THEIR HOUSE. THEY ALONE DECIDE IF YOU WILL SOUND LIKE PRO OR A NOOB.
LOVE THE PRODUCER TOO
A good producer will piss you off a little. They will also make you better then you were when you walked in the door. Thank you Mike. Thank you Rob. Thank you Fred. Thank you Roger…you have all made me a much better performer. (and contributed to my anger issues and subsequent therapy)
THE NUMBER OF TAKES YOU HAVE TO DO FOR EACH SPOT IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLASS. PLUS 50.
Everyone MUST put their fingerprint on the session…and announcers are just so touchably soft. 5 people looking at you? You’re in for at least 5 takes. 5 different sets of conflicting directions. 5 little voices in your headphones saying things like “That was too long and you sounded rushed. Can you pick up the pace and slow down a little?” Seriously…I was actually told that once. (see “BE PATIENT”)
DURING THE LONG DEAD SILENCES BETWEEN TAKES, THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT THEIR KIDS, GOING TO THE CAN, DISCUSSING CURRENT EVENTS…AND OH…CHANGING THE SCRIPT. AGAIN. THEY ARE ALSO MAKING FUN OF YOU.
Be prepared for long, lonely, dead silences between takes. It’s a little like solitary confinement, except everyone can hear you fart.
TRY NOT TO FART.
Like I said, everyone can hear you. I once had a stomach gurgle so loud it drowned out my read. The studio STILL likes to play it back for me every time I visit. High-larious.
SCAN THE SCRIPT FOR THE KEY WORDS
A good script will tell you how it needs to be read. Look for the sensual words. Stop giggling and turn off that 3 chord guitar…I meant the words that stimulate or simulate the senses. Action words. Urgent words. Underline them (see BRING A PENCIL). Mark spots for pauses, breaths, and specific phrases that are meant to flow together.
Turn the script into voice actor sheet music.
Find a dark corner in the studio that isn’t full of the discarded souls of earlier talent, and read the script really quickly. Then. really slowly. Let your brain dance with the words for a minute. Imagine your favourite actor in your favourite movie delivering the lines. Now forget all that and just do whatever the hell they tell you.
p.s. “AND” is not a key word. It links keywords together. What are you more interested in…the sports car, the speedboat, or the trailer hitch that links them together?
(special note: don’t get drunk and fall on a trailer hitch. It REALLY hurts.)
JUST BECAUSE THEY MAKE YOU DO A BUNCH OF TAKES DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE A DOOFUS. SOMETIMES THE “TARGET READ” MOVES AROUND…AND THE CLIENT IS NOT QUITE SURE WHAT THEY WANT…WHICH MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO DELIVER IT. YOU MAY STILL BE A DOOFUS, THAT’S NOT FOR ME TO SAY.
I think the long title pretty much says it. Sometimes what looked good on the page, doesn’t sound right coming out of the speakers. Heck, you could do something so fantastic that they redesign the entire script around it! (pause for hysterical laughter to die down) Recording can be a very organic process…so be prepared to just grow with it.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER SHOW FRUSTRATION OR GIVE UP.
I was put in a booth once with a children’s entertainer (who specialized in balloon animals), a bunch of recipe cards with “catch phrases” on them…and NO script. To do a 60 second beer commercial. We won an award for writing. I learned how to make a giraffe.
TAKE YOUR JOB SERIOUSLY…BUT NOT YOURSELF
It won’t prevent a stroke…but when it hits, it may not be as life threatening. Play. Remember, you are one of the luckiest people on the planet. You get to act silly, play make believe, and GET PAID FOR IT.
DON’T BE BETTER THAN ME
And if you are…stay home. I need the work.
Mark La Pointe has been a freelance voice over actor for over twenty five years, and can be found at KillerVoiceOvers.ca
He has, on occasion, fallen on a trailer hitch.