Inhabiting the WORLD of the copy!
Following on from the theme of last month’s article, voice over is more than just talking into a microphone. It requires the full arsenal of acting capabilities that the stage and screen actor utilise. A common misconception is that it is just talking, like in everyday life. Yes, it is talking. But in everyday life conversations often have speech patterns like this:
“Yes..umm..aaahh..sure. Well I didn’t, ah, think that it would, like, be like that..ah…you know?”
Try getting away with all those excess words in a commercial for cat food:
“Try..ah…Purina Cat Food One, because..ummmm…it’s really tasty for, ah, your…ummm..cats”
It doesn’t work. And where there is intent required in a copy, an action, an objective, what you want to make the listener feel, this is not as present in normal human interactions. We are generally at ease and in flow with our friends and family. That means voiceover is more than talking into a microphone. It requires acting skills.
Inhabiting the world of the copy
Chief among them, is the ability to inhabit the world of the copy, no matter what that world is. It is an alternate existence or reality for the time the project takes up. So it requires the skills of the screen or stage actor to put themselves into that world and live the organic human experience of the person speaking those words, whether they are elated or excited, frightened or petrified. Listeners want to connect with the true reality of the words, even if they are a complete fiction.
See and Feel The Environment
The next layer of the voice over putting themselves into the world is to see and feel everything that is in that alternate world. Running through the streets trying to get to the store before it closes? Shivering in the Antartic as you pull out a Snickers? Then it helps to really see and feel the world, the people and cars passing by, the exertion the heat or the shivering cold and the layers of snow mountains all about. All of it helps to inform the performance and give a flavour to the voice that is picked up by the microphone.
See the Person being communicated with
In screen acting, the other person isn’t always there. Sometimes it’s a tennis ball in effects heavy films (standing in for King Kong for eg) and other times there is nothing. In the booth, it’s good practice to place that person there with you. It creates an energetic connection that will somehow find it’s way into the microphone. Hard to pin down or explain, the difference between doing it and not doing it creates that extra something.
Have a thought process
This is vital in acting for theatre and screen. Screen especially. The camera loves to pick up the thought process that is going on inside. The same with the microphone. Except that it can’t see those thoughts. Instead, they get played out on the voice, which shifts and morphs to change as the different thoughts flash across the screen of the mind. So when the character says, “Gee, it’s cold here in the Antartic” if the thoughts and images that flash across the mind of the voice over aren’t aligned with that and they are blank, then the copy wont’ come alive in the way that it could.
Play the action
The whole basis of drama and acting is action. To play an action and get something. Like Hamlet, he want’s to get to the bottom of who killed father, and then once he does, seek revenge and become the King he was born to be. Same with a 30 second commercial or corporate piece. There is an action, an effect that we want to have on the audience. Keeping that front and centre is vital in order to have a consistent throughline in the piece.
Play on the words
Improvisation is vital in theatre and screen. It keeps it organic and fresh. The same with the copy. Except that we are not changing the words, rather we are improvising on them, playing with tone and pitch in order to breathe fresh life into them. Copy can have endless interpretations and ways to say the words. A good voice over can give you many different ways.
All these crossovers from theatre and screen acting can be useful for the voice over or the client directing the voice over. When something is not working it is important to come back to these considerations as they can help to unlock something that leads to the performance required in order to make the project truly come to life.
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Paul Mclaughlin © Versatile Voiceovers