It’s happening more and more all the time. I book a job from my home studio. They forward me a script with an mp3 and a short note: “Use this to capture the tone”. Rather than getting actual direction on a piece, I get a scratch track of the director, writer or producer doing the voiceover.
I think this stems from a combination of inexperienced folks with no real acting or directing history finding themselves in an unfamiliar position and the ease of self recording these days. They don’t really know how to talk to actors and it’s so simple for people to record themselves these days, that they just do that. Sometimes this can be helpful, for instance to get an idea of the pacing, or if the subject matter is something highly specialized or technical that I know nothing about. But most of the time, at least as far as tone or attitude is concerned, it’s pretty unhelpful. Not to mention a tiny bit insulting, although I know they don’t mean it to be. They really don’t know that I’m probably not going to be able to glean what they’re going for by listening to them do it, as they’re not professional VO’s. For a trained actor, it’s much more helpful to receive actual direction.
So how do you handle this? Well, you can either: A) Get mad and do it your own way. B) Try to be a mind reader. I used to try this a lot and sometimes it works…but other times, not at all! I would try a take based on what I thought they wanted and then wait for feedback…and then do it again. But that wastes everyone’s time and energy. So I’ve learned it’s actually helpful to choose C) Ask/clarify!
A way I like to do this is to say something like “Ok, what I’m hearing is that you’re looking for …” and try to put into words what I think I’m hearing. This isn’t always easy, but it’s more polite than saying flat out: I have no idea what you’re talking about… Of course sometimes, this is the case and there’s really nothing to grab onto at all…but I can still put it delicately: “I’m not sure I’m understanding what you want me to go for here? Can you try to use some descriptive words? Do you want it sound upbeat and friendly? Serious and authoritative? I also try to ask questions like: Who are you trying to reach with this piece? What are you trying to communicate/get across in this video? What is the attitude you’re looking for?
Sometimes, they still can’t really put it into words, but at least by clarifying up front, you have a place to start and something specific to refer back to…
I’m so curious, fellow voice actors: has this been coming up for you more and more? How do you handle these situations?