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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Sarris

Tips for Getting The Best Out Of A Voiceover Actor

Hey there... maybe you're a director or producer (or business owner or anything else) who is making a video for your company or client. You need a voiceover. You've picked a voice. But you aren't sure what to do now that the actor is actually coming (in person or virtually) to record your script.

I've gotcha covered. I'm a video producer as well as being a voiceover actor, so I bring a perspective from both worlds.

While there isn't really a right or wrong way to direct, here's a few things I find helpful.

Pick the right voice!

The first piece of advice comes before you even get into the studio. You will never get what you want if you pick the wrong voice. If your script is quirky and fun, don't pick the actor with the more stentorian tone. He or she is going to give you a stentorian read! At the same time, if you want an authoritative sound, don't get the breathy, sexy voice. It won't work.

Actor William Sarris recording a killer VO
Recording a killer VO

Now, many actors can do both (personally I can modulate my read to be more quirky or more authoritative) but you get the point. So, ask for an audition read. Give some quick direction without getting into the weeds (more on this in a minute) and let them give you what they feel is the right style and tone for them. Then pick accordingly. By quick direction I mean things like "this is a piece going to our shareholders, so we want it to be straightforward and earnest without sounding stuffy" or "this is written as a very wry, almost sarcastic script".

I've been on the receiving end of directors who apparently hadn't listened to what I actually sounded like, and wanted the script read the way THEY heard it in their head. What resulted was pleasing to no one and wasn't a very fun experience.

Listen to how the actor's voice and style deliver the material and start there.

One of my favorite experience with a director was a series of videos I voiced for amfAR (an organization working on curing AIDS). The director first gave a little direction (these are hopeful, but calm, giving information to people at a conference) and then played me the video as it currently existed (in this case they had used temp VO to start the animation and had music in it as well). He then said "so, read it for me the way you think it should be read so I can get a feel for your voice".

THAT'S the way to do it. I can't sound like someone else. While I (and any good voiceover actor) can take direction and tweak our style and tone, ultimately it's a tweak. I sound like me not like someone else.

He then was able to guide and direct me on what to emphasize, when he wanted more power and hope behind the words and when he wanted more contemplation.

The whole experience was great. So, as I said, listen to the actor, hear how they sound delivering your material, and then guide them to making their sound compatible with your end goal.

Make sure there is one director!

Have you ever done a project with multiple managers who had different goals and ideas about how to bring that project to fruition? Did you enjoy it?

I was in a session where I ended up being directed by 3 people. And unfortunately they all had different ideas of what they wanted out of the commercial we were recording. At one point one person said "Make sure you emphasize this word" and another said "and don't forget to emphasize these other words" in the same 6 word sentence (to paraphrase Syndrome in The Incredibles "when all words are emphasized, none of them are!")

It's no problem having different stakeholders in the room to hear the voiceover recorded. That happens all the time. But the best sessions are when one person (usually given the title of director or producer) is making the decisions and communicating with the actor. To go back to the amfAR videos, the director made the decisions, but he had input from 3 other people in the room (a writer as well as the project lead producer). The engineer also had input (more on this later). But the director was the one I knew to listen to, and if there was conflicting instruction or ideas he would work it through, make a decision and tell me what to do.

Listen to your engineer if you have one.

Recording engineers record and edit hundreds of voiceovers each year. Maybe more. They know what sounds good, what sounds current, what little tricks and tips will make an actors voice really get the sound you want. So, make sure they know to speak up if they hear something or have something to say (often engineers will keep quiet except to note technical issues). If you aren't as experienced directing actors, they often know how to translate your instruction into actor speak (do you know what "make it smaller"means? They do. So does the actor!)

Voice actor sitting at desk ready to record
I really am a fun guy to get to know!

Get to know the actor before jumping into the session.

One of the weirdest sessions I had was a session where I waited in the waiting room, was summoned into the booth (through a private door no less) and then recorded the spot in a few takes and left. I couldn't see the director or engineer, and I didn't know the director. They communicated with very simple language, so I knew what to do, but there was no personality on the other side of the direction. There was also no feedback so I couldn't judge if what I had done was what they wanted or completely wrong.

While the spot turned out fine, the experience was jarring. In general an actor will give you a better performance if they trust you and know you at least a little bit. They'll be more relaxed and able to give you the nuances you want. If the spot had been a more intimate, emotional style read, it would have been harder for me to give it.

Remember, we all want the same thing.

Ultimately everyone involved in a project, from you to the engineer, writer, actor and other production crew, want the same thing. We want the project to be great. As an actor I want to really communicate and tell the story of whatever it is I'm recording. To make it clear, understandable and impactful on the listener. As a director I want the same. To make sure that this voice communicates in the best possible way what I'm trying to say. And on down the line.

As an actor I also know that the director or producer is the one in charge. I'm trying to please him or her, because I trust that that person knows best what will bring this project to life.

This is why the bad experiences with multiple or micromanaging directors can be so damaging. They erode that trust, and make me (or any actor) question if we are even able to do what the director wants. That ends up coming through in the read and in the acting decisions, ultimately making the voiceover worse.

I hope this was helpful to you. Also, remember that while many times the director is in the session with the actor, many times they aren't. You can do this virtually, or even over email (I personally don't charge for re-recording scripts unless there are major material changes to the script.) In this day and age we are all busy, and carving out time to sit in may not be worth the time, especially if you trust the actor to give you a good read in the first take or two. But you can still do these things even then, trusting that the actor wants to get you the best read for your script.

So hey, as always, if I can provide you with a voiceover I would LOVE to do so. You can contact me via the contact form on my website!

Happy directing!

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