The art of making a voiceover is an incredibly important part of the film and documentary making process. A great deal of time and effort goes into making a voiceover as essentially, it is the glue that cements an entire project together, significantly elevating the power of the footage.
The narration or voiceover is used to help tell the story, set the atmosphere and convey information directly to the audience. There are various techniques used in the voiceover process, many of which are extremely subtle, but incredibly effective. Using inflections in the voice it is possible to portray happiness and sadness or create danger and suspense within the film footage, as well as emphasizing key and important facts. Documentaries, news reports and film often use asynchronous voiceover. This is usually pre-recorded and placed over the top of a film or video to explain information.
The voiceover is a direct link between the audience and the characters in a film and brings the audience closer to the action of the story. The viewer, as a result, becomes more than just a casual observer, but rather an active participant in the story. The use of the voiceover can save valuable screen time because the filmmaker does not have to spend extra time showing the audience information, but instead leave the audience to infer the real meaning. The filmmaker is able to explicitly tell the audience what they need to know in order to move the story along.
The process of making a voiceover is a challenging experience and it takes a lot of preparation, research and practice to get to a professional level. Here is my personal insight into how to make a successful voiceover.
Top tips for a voiceover actor
1. Look very carefully at the script you've been given. Now, it's been written by somebody else, so there could be grammatical errors and spelling problems as well. Look for any foreign or unknown words in the text and make sure that you are fully versed on their meaning within the narrative and their appropriate pronunciation.
2.Control your pace - Place the script comfortably in front of you, and the get the headset at the right level set by the engineer. Get grounded in your spot so that you are in control.
3. Mark your script - break up your script into small sections one piece at a time. When it comes to recording the voiceover in the studio, it is much easier to take it section by section, that way if you do make mistakes it is easy to go back and rectify them. If you record the script in one long take, mistakes may be overlooked or forgotten. Also split your sentences up, to make the script easier to read. Finish each word and speak clearly and pay attention to full stops and commas and finish each thought.
4. Talking conversationally into the microphone as if talking to a friend provides a friendly easy listening feel and sets a good tone. The mistake a lot of people make is to perform into the microphone, which can produce a stilted and less impactful voiceover.
5. Lean into your read - use your body to act as a trigger to emphasise your copy. Put everything you can physically into the sound you want to get out. Your voice sounds expressive when you are expressive physically. Using energy to move into a word helps rather than leaning back and it helps to point and gesticulate.
6.If possible, have the footage that the voiceover belongs to playing while recording the narrative. It will help make the audience believe what you are talking about more because you have seen it.
7. Try to kill the popping p's – Anyone who has ever spoken directly into a microphone will appreciate that it’s easy to make the letter ‘p’ resonate and ‘pop’ more than it should. You don't want to be distracted in a session popping your p's so sending p's downwards and talking across the microphone helps a lot.
8. Remember that the client is always right. If there is a sentence that doesn't make sense to you at all or the words of a 30-second commercial are not going to fit even at 100 mph, or the scriptwriter missed something out you must ask.
Top 3 mistakes
1. Reading the script the same way you read all other scripts. The danger here is to use the same sing-song modulation like a lot of news readers which produces a bland attitude.
2. Reading a script without fully following the clients’ brief. You must take note of what accent style and place it is required. You must ask because you don't want to deliver a hard sell when the client is expecting a BBC documentary style.
3. Assuming that you are right and the client is wrong and offering suggestions to make the script more effective. The client is always right.
My top 3 voiceover artists
1. David Attenborough has one of the most distinct voices of our time. As soon as I hear his voice it commands respect and he has the gift of being able to educate and entertain us of the wonders of the natural world at the same time.
2. One of my favourite voice actors is Mark Hamill. I had the privilege to work with recently him on the latest Star Wars film: The Last Jedi. He has been in voiceovers for 3 decades now, and his work has served as inspiration for me. He is so good at being bad and Mark’s standout performance for me has to be as the Hobgoblin in the 90’s comic cartoon ‘Spiderman”. Hamill is great at manic voice work.
3. Robbin Williams' greatest asset was his voice that he used to create great characters such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin’s Gini. The latter is my favourite performance by the late actor, which really lets his vocal talents shine.
My latest voiceover work for Orangutan Appeal UK took several weeks of planning to put together and I am extremely proud of it. It’s a wonderful documentary climaxing in the release of an 18-year-old male Orangutan back into the wild. Here is a short clip of that incredible day.
If you’d like to check out the full HD documentary and voiceover then please click here to buy the Orangutan Appeal DVD, “Man Of The Forest’ and all proceeds go into protecting this critically endangered species from extinction. It’s the perfect for a Christmas present that will make you feel good too.