By Jeffrey Hedquist
A frustrated radio person asked: “How do you convey the tone you want a commercial to take, the
nuance, so to speak, to the talent? If they are in studio, I can just read it like I want it to sound. However, we send some production out and I’m sometimes disappointed in the results. It’s not their fault, of course; I need to learn what words to use to convey my thoughts. Help! “
These ideas come from directing and performing in thousands of commercials. Here’s what I’ve learned from being directed by some of the best directors in the world, and by some of the worst.
It may not be a matter of finding the right words, mailing them out and expecting the results you want. If you really want a certain tone and you’re worried about the actor being able to direct him or herself, you need to be on the phone or ISDN or Source-Connect with them.
You can then direct them, hear what they do, refine your direction, listen, modify direction, etc. This will allow you to continually adjust to get what you want. It will also let you know what direction worked with this actor. Then in the future you might not need to be on the phone with them, just reference the phrases you used in the live session to get the read you want.
If your talent source won’t allow you to direct the talent as they read, you are at the mercy of self-directed voices. If the talent is really good, you’ll have a better chance of them doing the read you want. In that case, you’re probably going to pay more and will have the option to direct them live. The low-cost voice talents that you don’t have direct access to are usually the ones who need the most direction. It’s a Catch-22.
Here are some possibilities when you can’t speak with the talent:
Refer to example reads from their samples: “Similar to the read you did on the truck spot, but with a little less gravel and more warmth.”
Refer to reads that they’ve done for you in the past: “The same approach as you gave me last March on that restaurant spot.”
YouTube references: celebrities, other voice talent, actors, movie clips, commercials, etc.: “Like Kevin Spacey’s narration on American Beauty.”
Record your own interpretation and send the recording along with the script as a guide.
Try to describe the person you want them to be, rather than the effect you want. “You’re the mother of two kids. After exhausting months of spending time coaching, helping, and tutoring one of them, he has just aced his toughest exam and been singled out for praise by his teacher. He just walked in the door from school and told you the news. Tell him how you feel.”
Describe how the person they’re portraying might be feeling: “You’re filled with rage – not undirected anger, but more like incredible frustration you feel because the other person just doesn’t ‘get it.’ You’re not yelling, but the rage is just under the surface, barely held in check, about to burst out, but it never does. Your voice is controlled, but we can feel you’re about to explode.”
Emotional prep: “Think about a time in your life when you were really hurt – you failed to accomplish a goal, lost a friend or were let down by someone you trusted. Relive the moment until you feel it deeply. Now, with that feeling of vulnerability give me a read from that place in your heart.”
I hope these suggestions are useful. Through trial and error you’ll develop your own techniques and you’ll find that different techniques work with different actors.
Do you have any directing techniques that have proven effective? I’d love to hear them. Email them to me and I’ll include them in my upcoming work.
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