Q It Up: How Do You Get Your Voice Talent To Think Dramatically?

Now I don't know if he was the original one to say it. In fact, I didn't care. In college I was often more concerned with other pretty things, like Jill, and Holli. Neither one of them was in Broadcasting. In fact, in our Broadcasting department, there were a few really good looking people. Most of them were like me. Faces for radio.

"In radio, the pictures are prettier," he'd say. It's true! It's perception vs. reality. For example, in my head my productions are all beautiful, flowing pieces of copy with wonderful voicing and music and sound effects that fit perfectly. In my head each new spot wins $100,000 Mercury awards and my wife and I (Christina, not Jill or Holli) are jetting off to the tropics to celebrate. Yes, in radio, the pictures are prettier. They're in my mind. That's perception. In reality, though, these beautiful productions usually fall far short, and I have to abide by the ProdDir's creed: "Do with what you have." You have a face for radio.

This month we talk about how you get your voice talent to think dramatically. Not just announce a spot, but how to get them to deliver what you hear in your head, to help the great spots that are there become great spots on the air. Harvey Atkin is a twenty-five year veteran of voice acting--the voice of Archway Cookies, Air Canada, Southwestern Bell and Bally's Resorts. Craig Jackman of CHEZ 106 in Ottawa, Ontario was well represented in the recent RAP Awards. He was winner of Best Promo, Medium Markets for "Renaud talks about..." and a person whose spots we've enjoyed on the RAP Cassette for many years. Here are their thoughts:

Harvey: Producers don't always convey the growing pains of a spot. In other words, here's where it started out; here's what we're trying to get across. We've been working on this thing for seven months. We've crossed every "T." We know every nuance that's supposed to be familiar to the advertiser and what their particular desires are. But here you are walking into the studio. You've got five minutes. Here's the script, and we expect to get from you an acceptable take within five takes and if not, you're the wrong guy!

To explain a spot to the talent you have to say things like "Look, what we're trying to push here is this is a new and improved product. It's really the same thing with a different package, but what we're trying to emphasize is that this is the best stain remover ever." Explain to the announcer what it is you're trying to sell. That way they also understand what the problems are. Don't just hand them copy saying, "Here's the words dry. Make them sing. Lift them off the page." Saying things like that doesn't convey to voice talent what it is you're trying to do.

What I hate is coming into a spot and the guy says, "I'm looking for something. When I hear it, I'll know it." You need to tell the talent what it is you're looking for. Otherwise, you're both wasting time.

Harvey is looking for representation in Chicago or New York. He also does a lot of bumpers and sweepers. He offers this advice for PDs who hire bumper talent: Say to them, "Hey, I've listened to your tape, and the reason I've hired you is that cut you did for so and so...that delivery you did for such and such. I really liked that kind of thing, and I really liked the voice quality. That's what I'm looking for. Let's start there and we'll fine tune it as we go along."

Craig: It has to start with the script. Sometimes I will let the jock have free reign even if it's not the direction I want to go originally because, when I hear them read it the first time, I may get a feel for something that's not on the script. It won't usually change things drastically. It's like changing lanes on the highway; we're still going the same direction, but we may just be going with a different speed with something they have suggested. Generally, though, it comes back to my direction, and it's just patience trying to get them to get the feel that I've got from the script. It may mean them mimicking me a little bit.

What I've found effective in certain situations is, I've got this old sheet with a bazillion synonyms under it under various headings, and if I can't find the right words right off the top of my head, I'll pull the sheet out. For instance, if I want something romantic, I can describe it as Poetic, Whimsical, Flighty, Starry-eyed, Dreamy. I can go through a whole bunch of these, and a word that I wouldn't have thought of will fire the jock off and they'll go, "Ah, I know exactly what you mean." [We've put this list at the end of this article. Use it!]

I think part of it is being interested in how things sound or how things look. Like if you watch an old movie and you close your eyes, you still get the feeling of how things are looking and how things are going together. Find the read with the right emotion that'll fire off the right emotion from a piece of music or sound effect.

Both Harvey and Craig got me to thinking. Harvey, when he said that producers don't convey the growing pains in their spots.... Think about it. You know your kids. Other's don't. Now if your spots are your children and you want others to see them like you do, you will have to introduce them.

When Craig talked of being interested in how things sound or look, I got to thinking how I plain, flat-out like this medium. Conveying thoughts without pictures. Yet...I still like the pictures. I love to study movies, TV, print and interactive media. I like to study why certain voices, camera angles, fonts, colors, SFX were chosen. I dig the creative process.

Are you a student of the theater? Here's an exercise. Rent Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Watch John Cleese as "Tim the Enchanter" describe the killer rabbit. Imagine you're the director and figure out what you'd have to say to give him the direction to deliver the lines that he does. I'm convinced that this was an example of the marriage of excellent direction and talent. If that's not your style, try the good-bye scene in Schindler's List, where Oskar Schindler wishes he could do more. Powerful stuff. How would you convey that emotion to voice talent? If that's not your style, rent Citizen Kane. Study the pacing, the darkness, the contrasts. Still not your style, try Revenge of the Nerds Two. I've actually never seen it, but it looks like some of my personal experiences in college. My Perceptions (chicks in bikinis) vs. Reality (Nerds). Yes, in radio, the pictures are prettier, and we're beauty consultants. We convey the emotions or the comedic actions that dramatically move people. It's a beautiful thing, and that's what we're paid to do.

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