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What Makes a Bad Director? How to Avoid Giving Bad Direction to Voiceover Talent

When it comes to producing voiceovers that drive real results for your project, just how important is giving good direction? As the conduit of the vision, the director's role in a production is paramount. The director is the carrier of the creative vision. They are the conductor on the journey from an idea to a reality. They are the double agent supporting all sides of the project. Thus, the type of direction you give and how you give it directly affects your talent's performance, the final result of the project, the project's resonance and impact with the target audience, and ultimately your client’s satisfaction. Giving good direction is crucial to success. As a professional voiceover artist, I’ve had the privilege of working with directors all over the world. Through countless experiences recording with directors both good and bad, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of what makes bad directors and where they go wrong. Furthermore, after working as a director and acting coach myself, I consciously avoid these bad directing techniques in my everyday work and opt instead to utilize directing principles that are proven for success. In this post I’m spilling the tea and sharing with you the worst direction I receive as a voice actor, and what makes it bad direction so that you can make sure you never make these mistakes.

A voiceover creative director copywriter in a recording studio directing voice actor talent

Avoid Line Reading at all Costs, and Here’s Why:

Starting off with a hard hitter: line reading. Giving a line read is probably the biggest mistake a director can make when giving direction. This is because there is a reason the talent was hired to do the job and not the director themselves, and that reason is more than just their voice. When a director gives a line read they assume that the only output the actor has been hired for is their physical voice. But this belief actually neglects the biggest asset the voice actor brings to the table: their skills as an actor. What voiceover professionals offer as actors is far more valuable than their voice. A good voice actor uses skills they’ve studied and practiced throughout their careers to bring the copy to life. When you give a line read, you take away the actor's creative freedom and make it much harder for them to do their job in bringing the copy to life. You wouldn’t go to a 5-star restaurant and give the chef a play-by-play of how to cook your meal, would you? Giving good direction isn’t about showing the talent what to do, but about guiding them — and then trusting them.

Time is Precious, But so is the Performance Process. Avoid Interrupting your Voiceover Talent in the Middle of a Read

Another big no-no is when a director interrupts an actor in the middle of their performance. This can be tempting when the talent isn’t quite grasping the direction you just gave them, but I urge you to wait until the actor is finished their performance before giving them further direction. Why is this important? First of all, when an actor is delivering their lines they are in the zone. The acting zone is a space that exists in the actor's imagination that requires focus and vulnerability to access, and so it needs to be respected. When you interrupt your talent when they’re in the zone it can often be interpreted as a sign of judgment or disrespect, even if that’s not at all the intention. Standard efficacy is that the performance is respected, and as the performance goes on the actor may actually surprise you. That leads me to the second reason why interrupting your talent is a bad directing practice. As the voice talent finishes their read they may follow your direction, or they may even take the read somewhere different that you actually end up loving and wouldn’t have gotten if you had interrupted them. So during the performance take notes, hold your thoughts and allow your voiceover talent to stay in the acting zone and finish their read before you give them your next piece of direction — you just may get a voiceover that works even better than expected.

Emotions as Direction Is Less Helpful Than you Think

Another common mistake that directors often make is to give an emotion as the sole or primary direction for the read. Unless the voiceover talent you’ve hired hasn’t taken any acting classes in their career, in which case you probably won’t get a realistic performance anyway, the actor will probably follow up by asking why should I be feeling this way? Telling them “the why” rather than telling them to sound like emotion will yield a much more real and genuine emotional performance in their read.

Disorganization is Destructive

The organization and structure of the voiceover recording session is another crucial aspect of the recording process often overlooked by directors. With anything that requires multiple percipients and moving parts, preparation is key to success. Make sure everyone that will be attending the live-directed session knows how the session will go — you can even state this to everyone before beginning the session that way everyone can stick to their role and no one steps on each other's toes. Tell them what will happen when, who will speak when, and what they will comment on. When a structure is set and followed, everyone will perform their jobs better.

Become a Pro Director

I hope that this list of directing habits to avoid was helpful! I am certain that you will see better results in your work as a director by avoiding these common mistakes. If you’re interested in reading what makes a good director, I’ve dedicated an entire post where I share several ways in which you can get better voiceover results as well as how to conduct a seamless voiceover session.

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