With more years as a voice actor than a millennial can claim to be alive, I am often called upon to direct voice over sessions. What is the view from this particular vantage point? Join me for part 1 of a 3 part Insider Series with lessons from both sides of the glass.
This morning I directed a voice actor, female, 30ish, to do a narration for a corporate video. Completely bilingual, (French and English) but with more experience working in French than English, she had a light, genuine vocal imprint which appealed very much to the client, for its contrast with the subject matter: a French manufacturer of airplane parts.
Working with Karin, who ended up being very happy with her performance and our interaction, collaborating with one of my favorite sound engineers to work with (yes Violaine, I’m talking about you) and speaking to the clients via Skype from their offices in Lyons, the project unfolded in the best way, organically.
A good voice actor director has three facilitating positions to play in any given project. Here they are:
Between Actor and Words
I wish I could remember which Hollywood director I heard this from so I could throw the spotlight on a quote jewel here, While the name escapes me, the essence of this is what I remember when directing others: I’m there to help them achieve their best performance. This means stepping back, calling on your inner observer/listener and then finding the right words to send them in the direction they need to go to take their performance to the next level. To reiterate, listen to what needs improvement, use the actor/theatrical vocabulary to help them achieve it and make sure to deliver the message in a way that encourages, yet drives them toward your mutual goal.
Between Script and Tech
Every script is a story delivered with constraints. Personally, I love constraints. They are the borders within which we must work. For a corporate narration your script constraints are the words themselves, the tone, and how they are delivered. The technical constraints (from a director’s point of view) include timing and the energy of the delivery, which you can literally monitor by looking at the wave form on the sound engineer’s board, if you want to verify what you’ve heard. Apart from certain builds and falls and transitions – which are achieved more with intention, than a vocal shift, the energy should generally be consistent throughout the piece. Timing is twofold. This includes how long you’ve booked the studio, then simply making sure the product (your vocal track) fits within the desired timeframe. If the sound is being recorded before video, you have room to play. Most often though your client or producer has an exact idea of the time and you must make certain the tracks fit the time. This morning’s aviation corporate video was longer than the client hoped. An unanticipated surprise. English is traditionally 20% shorter than French. (We use fewer words to say the same thing.) But I’d been aware of it after the first 30 seconds were laid down. Our track did not even match the time of the French guide track. This discrepancy leads me to the third role the director must play.
Between Finished Product and Client
Directing calls for knowing when to collaborate and when to take control of the project. Actor, sound engineer, producer, writer, client, we all bring our expertise. We collaborate. I find it’s important to let the client have their say about their vision for the sound of the project (because it is theirs) at the beginning. After a few test lines, I get their approval. I also check in with them a couple times throughout the project to again, secure their approval. So, they are part of the collaboration and sign off on parts of the product as it’s being created. This helps when I’ve brought up timing or tone throughout the recording and at the end you may hear. “Wow. This is 20% longer than we thought it would be.”
So, as I suggested, we listened back from the top. And you know what? The pace was near perfect. We made two small adjustments, because could. We still had studio time, the adjustments improved the pace while respecting the flow. The narration was beautiful. As director, I stepped in to again speak to the client. They had options. They could cut copy or adjust the video. Either way, they had the fresh, genuine, feminine element they wanted from Karin to offset the masculinity and weight of their aerospace content. Firmly, but respectfully, I led them to giving their final stamp of approval on the project.
Directing takes a certain skill set. This blog is Part 1 of a three-part series on directing voice talent and can be applied to most audio or video projects. The second instalment looks more specifically at working with the voice actor. The third focuses on tips on self-direction for working remotely form your own home sound studio, as more and more of us are doing nowadays.
Which side of the glass have you sat on? And what has your experience been?