Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"
YOUR BEST GUESS
If you’ve done any voiceover work at all, you know there is a lot more to it than simply reading a script. As a voice actor, you’ve got to know how to quickly figure out what the script is all about (the message), who the message is intended to reach (the audience), why your character is talking about it (the back story), who you are as the speaker (your character), and what your character wants and needs from sharing the information (internalized wants and needs). That’s a lot to do in a very short period of time!
In addition to these basics, you’ve also got to figure out what the producer’s vision is for the project you are working on. If the producer has a clear idea of what she wants - and the ability to communicate it to you - your job is made much simpler. All you have to do is construct your character and delivery to move in the direction of the producer’s vision. Assuming you understand what the producer wants, properly interpret the copy, and perform the copy with some good direction, you could be out of the booth in short order.
Ahhh, it is nice to dream!
Of course, the real world of voiceover isn’t always quite that simple. We get scripts that are poorly written or our producer might be working with a script written by someone else and have absolutely no idea of what the writer had in mind. There is also the occasional producer who is very ego centered and won’t let the performer perform. Or, my personal favorite, the producer doesn’t even show up at the studio or call in for a phone patch. She simply tells the engineer to “handle the session” - and it’s up to you and the engineer to make your best guess as to what the producer’s vision is.
Guessing is not a good thing! Whenever you guess about some aspect of your performance, there’s a very good chance you will be wrong! You take the risk of completely missing your target. Your character might not be appropriate for the target audience, your emotional attitude or delivery may not be suitable for the subject of the script, or the energy and dynamics of your performance might be completely off. If you are guessing at what the producer wants (and the producer doesn’t catch it - or isn’t there), there’s a good chance you’ll be back in the studio later on to re-do the session.
When you guess, you don’t know!
So, what’s the answer? The answer is to ask questions about anything and everything in the script. Begin by looking for words or phrases about which you can ask a question. I call this “looking for question marks in the copy”, and you’ll find this technique covered more thoroughly on page 102 of my book, The Art of Voice-Acting. For example, in the copy line “She’s just a few years old, and you’re already worried!”, there are at least four questions you can ask: 1) who is “she”?, 2) how old?, who are you talking to (referenced to by “you’re”, and most likely your audience), and 4) what might they be worried about? For each question you ask, come up with an answer that is appropriate.
Verify your choices by talking to your producer/director. You don’t need to reveal the choices you’ve made, but you do need to make sure your choices are on track with the producer’s vision. If you’re not exactly sure who the target audience is - ask! If you don’t know how to pronounce a word - ask! If you need help finding a certain attitude or emotion - ask! If the producer doesn’t have the answer then she will either make a phone call to get it - or she will guess. If she guesses, it’s her guess, not yours, and you will be working from the information you have been given! The bottom line is that in order for you to make valid choices as you create your performance, you have to have certain knowledge. And that knowledge is on shaky ground if it comes from your own “best guess”.
In my workshops, I call this process of asking questions and analyzing the script “woodshedding the copy”. This is a critical step in creating a believable performance. There are just some things you’ve got to know in order to do your job.
There may be times when you will need to make a choice based on what you feel to be your “best guess”. Hopefully, when this is necessary, you will already have enough valid knowledge to justify your “guess” as being the most likely possibility. In reality, your “guess” is based on information you have obtained from asking questions. So, what you think of as a guess is really a logical extension of the knowledge you have acquired.
But what about those times when you don’t have access to someone with the answers you need, or you can’t verify that you are on track? Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. Also, fortunately, the English language can communicate information, emotions and feelings very effectively with the proper use of descriptive adjectives, verbs and grammatical sentence structure. Every script (even a poorly written one) will have “clues” to guide you for interpretation, dynamics and many other important aspects of your performance. Learn how to uncover and use these “clues” so you can begin to get an idea of the producer’s vision. If you truly cannot talk to someone, use dictionaries, the internet, and any other resource you can think of to get the answers you need in order to make intelligent choices that are not based on guessing. Then ask more questions. And if you must “guess” - base your “best guess” on as much valid information as possible.
And, now that all of your questions have been answered - and you have all this knowledge at your fingertips, there is only one more thing for you to do before you start to perform: Stop thinking about it - forget it - just let it be!
That might sound odd, but the underlying concept of voice acting is to create real and believable characters in real and believable situations. All that information was collected for the sole purpose of giving your character substance and a basis for existence. When you are performing a character, it’s not you who is really saying the words and all that knowledge is really for the benefit of your character. You don’t have to think about what you know for it to be of value in your performance. Once the knowledge you’ve gathered is in your mind, it’s available for the character to use. All you have to do is allow your character to use the knowledge you have gathered. In fact, the moment you do start thinking about what you are doing, you will break character, and the entire tone of your performance will change.
When you open a door, do you think about everything you know about opening a door? No! You just open the door! Your knowledge of how to open a door is internalized to the point where you “just do it”.
Internalize the knowledge you gain by making intelligent choices from asking a lot of questions, and then let it go. It’s the best way to making the best choices and avoiding your “best guess”.
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