You MUST OWN your voice-over script. Here’s how to do it: Here’s how it commonly plays out when beginner voice actors approach the idea of script analysis:They read the script in their head. Once, maybe twice if they really wanna read between the lines. I then ask them to tell me what it’s about. Here’s where things go wrong. Their choice of pronouns. Let’s use an actual script to illustrate how it goes wrong and how it can go right…
Subaru-I love faster. As in I’m faster than you and there’s nothing you can do about it. I love that around every hard corner is another adrenaline rush. That’s why I love the new 2014 Subaru WRX. So, if you want to feel what it’s like to cross the finish line first…step inside the cage. The 2014 Subaru WRX. It’s a whole new animal.
Ok, so here’s an example of what they say to me when i ask them to tell me about the script.“They’re saying that the Subaru is fast and it’s a rush and you should get one.”Let’s start with the main point here. Pronoun usage. The opportunity any actor has, actually MUST engage in, is ownership of the script. The main way to do that? Remember that YOU are saying these words. Period. So let’s correct the response now. “I love speed, and that’s why i love the Subaru. And if you love speed too it’s the car for you.” Which perspective has PRIMED you better for the performance?
So, never detach from the script by even acknowledging that it was written by someone else. Understand it as if it’s your own idea, and utilize the proper pronoun to further indoctrinate yourself. Acting is brainwashing! So, wash your brains well before every performance.
Voice over work as something intuitive versus something learned is a concept i often ponder. As with any type of acting, there are so many elements to consider that it gets complicated. Since i can’t help you with the intuition, let’s focus on the skill, and how to vastly improve yours.
First there’s the script, which means you have to now be an English major among other things. Deeply understanding the meaning/message of the script is your first stop. When we talk in “real life” we of course know the message behind what we are saying. This gives way to us emphasizing the correct words in each sentence that really point to the meaning. It also gives way to understanding the way we feel about the message. All this happens automatically in real life, but when faced with a voiceover script we need to now indoctrinate ourselves to fully feel and sound like this is our message, our attitude, our words. It’s the only way it will sound authentic. A breakdown of your considerations therefore, when looking at any script at all, is your bullet point list of questions:
1- What is this about? (message/meaning)
2- How am i supposed to feel about it? (tone/attitude)
3- What are the keywords in every single sentence to support the meaning? What are the tools i can use to support the tone (inflection, volume, pacing, etc.)
Next to consider are the other details that all relate to – yup, how we talk in real life. We are almost always talking to just one other person all day long if we are conversing. Unless you are a teacher, or give TedTalks for a living, this is a fact. We rarely talk to very large groups of people. Therefore, number one on your list is to first check your volume. Are you “announcing?” I know! So fun right?! Stop it. When you hear someone that sounds like they are talking to a massive number of people, do you ever feel like that information is personally relevant to you? Nope. You don’t. But when it sounds like the person is talking the same way they do when they’re having a personal conversation you definitely do…so you lean in. You want your audience to lean in right? You absolutely want the produce or writer or director to lean in during the casting session! So unless the script calls for something high energy or very excited, try tapping in to that exact volume you use when you’re talking to one friend. And then lower it another decibel. There is your sweet spot for intimately connecting with your listener. While you’re at, actually visualize the friend in your head. Pick the one you like the most, feel the most comfortable with … because imagine if someone was taking to YOU in a voice that felt like they trusted you and really liked you? You’d eat it up. Basically, who do hang out in your sweatpants with? Talk to them. Um, for me that just might be everybody. Next, put yourselves in a room. Yes, not just a cloud bubble in your head. Where are you? A living room? The couch? Glass of wine? Or a slow walk on a sunny Sunday in the park? Believe your scene and you will stop performing scripts. You will just be TALKING. And that’s good.
Know what else i would consider a voice-over skill? Taking it WAY less seriously. Here’s the truth: the number one mistake i hear voice actor beginners make is to try so hard at sounding so Good, Perfect, Blah Blah, etc. that they forget the one thing that makes us more likable than anything else, a smile. Think back to when you used to play video games as a kid (or think back to yesterday?). Remember that serious intensity on our faces? Trying to win, to do something challenging, to SHOOT THAT SHIP DOWN MOTHA F—A! Whoa, ok, ahem, i did like my video game dramas. Well, that is what we are unconsciously doing when we are reading a script. Trying to do it soooo gooood. And that backfires. We are concentrating too hard. We sound too serious. Let it go. Be a little sloppy. A little easy. Smile. Don’t make it sound like you’re giving a lesson in advanced physics. Unless you’re that TedTalker. And even then, at least throw one joke in 😉
Inflection in voiceover, and therefore in everyday speech, happens all day long. Our speech patterns sound like a rollercoaster, and if you’re a sound engineer staring at that screen filled with wavy lines all day, it looks like one too. We almost can’t speak in monotone as it’s not our inclination. The vocal chords want a natural rising and falling to rest and recover from their opposite. We also subconsciously hit these high and low notes as a way to lead in to or emphasize important points in a conversation. It’s high time we made this a conscious act, in order to communicate exactly what that decision-maker in the audition call is looking for in the performance. And that would be CONNECTION. If you don’t emphasize the right words in the right way, you aren’t sounding connected to the script, and therefore it is sounding “read.” Onwards to the solutions!
Voice acting requires the same level of connection that any other type of acting does…understanding the text and how you will convey it emotionally. Let’s start with the text and the specific words that need to have inflection consideration. Best done by a few examples. “I’m thinking of starting a business.” In this sentence your keyword is business. This is the word you end with a falling inflection. A deep or lower inflection. Because it’s a two-syllable word you should think of it as the “Biz” sound going up, and the “ness” sound landing down. Why? The final moment of any word is the final impression we leave. If it’s an important word, we end it on a downward note. It sound important. Final. The final say in the matter. The words thinking and also starting are both what i would call Leading words. They lead into the important stuff, they are not the final say. So you would never end them with a falling inflection because it will sound like you’re “done.” If you go up on them right away it sounds like you’re highlighting the important of it, so you don’t want to do that. Think about every leading word and keyword combination like this – the way we say “THE END.” We go up on The, because it isn’t important, it’s just leading us INTO what IS important. We go down on End because that word speaks to the point we are making – that something is completed. Is your head hurting yet? Mine is. So, think of the ING in Thinking and Starting as and extended version of “The” and the BIZ as “End.”
Oh for crying out loud this is nuts. Stay tuned and I’ll get a video demonstration up!
Do yourself a favor when you make a mistake in the middle of reading your voiceover script – take a nice slow breath. Think of your breath as a palate cleanser. You don’t want to jump right back in to your audition in “mess-up mistake mode.” Breathe, and reset your gears. You will now go back in to your performance with a clear mouth and mind. Let go of the anxiousness to instantly correct your mistake because this will continue the energy in the same direction. Breathe. Start again.