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Giving Your Video Voice

I know, I know. Your video budget is tight and you want to stretch it as much as possible. But if you want your results to be beyond average, please consider a professional voice talent to record your narration or character lines.

Yes, sometimes you can get really lucky with an amateur. But that luck usually comes at a price, often in the form of a much longer recording time because your well meaning friend, uncle or grocery store clerk needs a lot of directing – and a lot of re-takes.

There are a lot of great voice actors/narrators all over the country. You can listen to demos all day long on their individual or agent websites. You can also ask other video producers for recommendations, or call agents and/or casting companies and they can help you find a good fit.

One piece of advice is to get preliminary estimates from a couple professional voice talent (or their agent) before you’ve even completed your project bid. Let them know whether the job is union or non-union since that will affect the rates. If you can give them a ballpark on length of script along with intended audience, means of delivery to the audience (DVD/flash drive vs. web vs. broadcast), expected shelf life and a few other particulars, they will often be able to give you a ballpark cost estimate. Just be sure to clarify whether their estimate includes studio time, changes and time to clean up the files. Then you may want to add a small amount, just in case the script ends up longer than anticipated. If you don’t need the extra money you budgeted, you can always use for another production category, or better yet, reduce your final bill to the client. Trust me, this makes for a very happy client.

If you already have a script, email it to the professional voice over talent you are interested in for your project (or their agent). Some are willing to give a free audition, but you’ll need to check that on a case-by-case basis.

  • You can either let them know what your budget is and ask if they can work within it,

  • or ask them to give you an estimate based on how much time they think it would take for them to complete the job.

  • Again, be sure to ask if the estimate includes changes and studio time.

When I’m producing a project, once I’ve selected the appropriate talent for a specific project, negotiated a fee, emailed the script and scheduled a recording time, I like to be patched in to the recording session, especially if I haven’t worked directly with the talent before. It gives me a chance to get to know their style and answer any questions (like pronunciations or emphasis) that come up as we go along. We’ll often spend a few minutes at the beginning of the session discussing tone, pacing and style, and then get rolling.

I polled a couple of friends (each represented by several talent agencies) in the professional voice talent biz about things the director can do to make the process go smoothly. Here are some snippets from their responses:

“If the director won’t be on the line during recording, a phone number is important so that if questions come up we can get a quick response. I need the script in a digital format. Some clients write their scripts using a two column table in Word while others use an Excel spreadsheet. Don’t send a PDF storyboard; it is very hard to read from and requires cutting and pasting into another format so that all the words can be seen in context. PowerPoint presentations are also difficult to work with at times.

“If you are in a large market with some reputable agents – use them – ask them for help in determining a rate that is fair to everyone. If you use an online casting service, you will get better quality talent submitting for a job if you include a lot of details about the project and its use and set a fair rate.

“As for technical aspects of the script, if it uses sound bites, include a transcript of the words that the narrator will be leading into and coming out of. This will help with flow. Double space the script so there is room to mark the copy. Use at least a 12 point font. Use normal sentence punctuation with upper and lower case text. Avoid breaking a sentence from one page to the next. ”

“I like to know what the client is trying to achieve with the target audience. Knowing something about the desired outcome helps me “feel my way” through the script in a way that drives an appropriate interpretation of the written word. Do they want a strong, forceful presentation or something not too hard-sell. Polished or laid back? Professional or common-man? Serious or a little lighter?

“My most important suggestion to producers would be: know what you want. Don’t ask a voice talent to come into the studio hoping he or she will be able to give you 50 different interpretations until you hear one you like. Listen to demos before you select a voice talent, and when someone’s demo proves they can hit the sound you are after, you’ll have a smooth recording session. Then the focus can be on getting the best possible interpretation and sound. The producer can ask the talent to refine each read a little bit here and there and also pursue capturing that certain nuance that gives the recording some “sizzle.” By being prepared, by knowing what you want, you can end up with an excellent end-product from voice talent.”

Susan Reetz, of Clear Focus Media, LLC, is a writer/director/producer for film, video, web and print. Her script writing and producing work has earned numerous local, national, and international awards. She also writes feature articles, brochure copy, news releases, web copy, and other promotional materials. She can be reached at 715-212-6239 or Susan@ClearFocus.Media.


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