Congrats. You are all set to take your spot into the studio. Your script is a fine-tuned to a tee; everyone from creative to account execs to client is totally on board; you’ve got your dream cast.
Now, all you have to do is talk to them.
Seems simple enough. You wrote the words, you should be able to coax performances out of your assembled actors. Right? Easy peasy. That is, if you pay attention to that crucial word: Actors.
Despite the conviction on the part of some writers/producers (“Please give us actors. No VO people”), good voice over performers are real actors. Really, really good ones.
The first and best advice I would give anyone directing voice overs is to take an acting class. Basic acting 101. Improv training helps tremendously with writing, but acting workshops are the tits for directing. I think actors make some of the best directors, because they can walk the walk and certainly talk the talk. They know just what to say to actors, because it’s precisely what they would want a director to say to them.
And here are a few handy tricks to help you find the words:
TRICK #1 –
Remembering back to my first acting class in college, the first thing we did when we got a script for a scene, was to come up with a set of playable adjectives for our characters and their situations. These are helpful beyond measure for voice overs. A good actor of course does this for himself. A good director has a list of them at the ready. If you didn’t write the spots you’re directing, have the writer come up with a list. It’ll be a good exercise for them as well.
What exactly are playable adjectives? In a few words, descriptions which translate into performance. For instance, tall and thin are descriptive but not really playable. Particularly useless for the radio. Nervous, sappy, creepy, clueless. Those are playable adjectives. They relate to states of mind, and evoke emotions. And emotions are after all the actor’s lifeblood.
Obviously, you’re directing for audio and we’re looking most particularly for information your cast can hang a VO on. You wouldn’t neglect to give an actor something as basic as “she has a Slavic accent. ” Emotional information is just as vital. Things like “one really cold dude” or “insanely happy all the time” tell an actor a lot about how to approach the character and how they’re gonna sound.
TRICK #2 –
Any experienced director will tell you never ever give line readings. They’re right. Never ever give an actor a line reading. Sometimes, though, a simple technical direction works wonders: “Try making that a question,” or “See what happens if you throw it away.”
Also, pace and rhythm are as important to any performance as vocal qualities. Just having an actor pick up speed or change to a different cadence can totally nail a character and make a spot.
If you stay in the moment and tuned in to your actors, these are tools that will help you come up with directions quickly and precisely and give you what you need to give your actors what they need. Essentially, you are giving your cast a license to play, and the toys to play with.
It’s always about the playable.