Updated: Jun 24, 2022
Here’s some news that might surprise you: directing is just as much of an art form as acting is. A good director makes all the difference in an actor’s ability to produce an outstanding performance, so your job is a crucial one. The director is the conduit, the support system; the guide.
Whether it is your first time directing a voiceover artist or you’ve been directing for years even decades, the tips I talk about in this article will take your direction to the next level and transform your ability to get incredible results from whomever you work with — regardless of their skill level.
First, focus on what intention the actor should have, not what emotion they should sound like.
At first glance, most people believe acting to be about emotions. Emotion certainly plays a large part in the picture. But playing emotion is much harder than playing intention in a real way, and thus it yields cheesier and less believable results than playing intentions. As a director, the value of realizing this distinction is immeasurable.
It can be very tempting during filming or recording to say phrases such as “be sadder”, or “do that, but more excited!”… However without grounding that sadness or excitement in an actual reason, an actual situation, an intention, the emotion drawn upon in isolation won’t sound believable as it isn’t coming from a real place. If the actor you work with has had training, they will do the work on their end to find the intention behind the emotion — but that’s an extra step that you can help them with to get there faster. If the actor hasn’t had acting lessons, they will try to play the emotion in isolation and you’ll be left with a fake-sounding voiceover. And who has time or money for that in 2022? No one.
Instead of using emotions as the body of your direction, think about what the script is really about and think about why you think the voiceover should sound excited. For example, let’s say your script is for Powerball and you need a super upbeat and exciting read. Rather than telling your actor to “be excited”, tell them THEY just won the lottery and they are telling their friends and family. Ask them what it would mean for them? This type of reflection is what direction is all about and it is guaranteed to give you a more real, more authentic, and more interesting voiceover.
Trust your talent’s instincts, choices, and talent.
By using intentions instead of emotions, you are also allowing your talent to make more creative choices in the nuances of their delivery. This stuff is gold. Seriously. What’s beautiful about the way voiceover and media content, in general, is going these days is how real and effortless it’s beginning to feel. As you yourself know, as a result of the noise out there and how hard it is to capture attention, the golden rule for standing out is giving value in a real and relatable way that will make a long-lasting impact on your audience.
If you go in there and you start nit-picking everything the talent is doing you are basically guaranteeing the talent won’t give you what you need. This level of direction otherwise known as criticism will only hurt their ego, get them deep in their head and far away from a real, raw, and powerful performance
Watch what you say. Don’t use discouraging language.
The words “ that was bad”, and “that was ok” are creativity’s kill-joy. The language and tone you use when delivering direction is a lot more important than it may seem. Because acting is a vulnerable art, it is vitally important that the vocabulary you use in your direction be of a supportive and encouraging nature. Of course, I am not telling you to flat out flatter the actor the entire session as sacrifice all criticism and guidance, but to make them feel like the answer is within them. To reassure them as you help them pivot. To validate that what they are giving you is great, and with a little tweaking — it will be magical.
Know what you want. Really know what your client wants.
OK, I know this one seems painfully obvious but you would be amazed at how common it is these days for this to be an issue. If you don’t know what qualities you need in your voiceover, what the tone of the spot is, or what impact the vo needs to make then how the heck will the voiceover artist figure it out? Even if during the session you end up changing your mind — which is totally ok and can actually be a beautiful result of good creative collaboration — you still need a clear understanding of the appeal, the tone, and the message.
Use these tips everywhere, no matter the format.
The principles of the direction we just discussed are relevant for all forms of communication with voiceover and acting talent. Whether it be the description of a casting spec, an email briefing before the job, a live-directed recording session, a movie set, a tv set, or even if the talent is recording themselves and you’re giving feedback, apply these points to your direction and you WILL get better results from the talent you work with EVERY time.