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Mind Your Business: Seeing Voice-Overs

Mark Simon is very vocal about the importance of achieving great voice-over work.

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I love voice-over recording sessions. Working with great actors is a joy. It is so much fun to hear your characters coming to life and evolving.

Great actors make scripts better. Every time I run a table-read, the script gets better. And then when actors get in the booth and get into character, magic happens. Whether it's a change of a single word, the intonations of a phrase or a whole new line of dialogue, actors can make their characters more believable.

Being in a studio together allows a close working relationship to make the project as good as possible.

The one thing I don't like is when I don't have that closeness while working with actors. Long distance directing has been getting easier over the years, but there is nothing like being together.

But, I've come up with a way to make long-distance directing easier.

Watching the way an actor moves during a recording session allows me as a director to see what they are thinking. Changing their stance, motion or facial expression can make a huge difference in the way a line sounds.

Most animation directors will tell you that they often direct voice sessions long distance. Most voice-over actors are in L.A. and New York. No matter where you are, you are likely to need actors in one, or both, of those cities.

Stephen Chiodo, director and co-founder of Chiodo Bros. (Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Elf, Team America) has also never used video in a long-distance audio recording session. "It's a great idea. It would be cool to have video in a VO session."

It would cost far too much and take too much time to make all the actors travel to where the director is and directors often don't have the time to travel to the actors either.

Most sound recording studios allow us to dial directly into a booth, via ISDN or regular phone lines, and we can listen to and give direction to the actors and the recording engineers during the session.

I recently directed a number of voice-over actors in New York from my office in Orlando for the pilot Enchanted Thyme. We used New York's Hyperbolic Audio and I was able to dial directly into the booth to talk with my actors.

However, I really wanted to be able to see my actors act. I wanted to get to know them to make the sessions easier and more fun.

I asked Andy Roth, our casting director, to set up a computer camera with Skype in the recording studio. Andy has a Skype account and a built-in camera in his laptop. He simply set up his laptop on a chair outside the booth so I could see the actors through the glass window.

Before each session the actors and I spent a few minutes getting to know each other and discussing their characters. The video feed made it feel like we were there together.

During the session, I would watch how they moved and they could see my reaction for that ever-important feedback which actors need.

I'm sure the actors felt the sessions were a little like being in an episode of Futurama with my disembodied head sitting on a chair watching them.

After the sessions, the actors all said that although long-distance directing is common, this was the first time they ever had a video feed in a recording session.

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"I've always worked long distance with the directors of Avatar," says voice-over actress Jen Cohn. "This is the first time I've ever worked with a video feed. There are times when you're working virtually, with only vocal nuances to go on, you can become a little uncertain whether your director is genuinely happy with what you're doing or if he's just placating you. There a risk of losing confidence in the choices you're making."

Voice-over actress Blaze Berdahl, who provides three voices in our pilot, has acted most of her life. She's been on Third Watch, Pet Sematary, We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, Celebrity Deathmatch and others. Yet with all this experience, this project was the first time she's seen a video feed in a recording session.

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"This new experience of being filmed was a little intimidating at first," says Berdahl. "But then you get lost in the fun of the character and the session and forget someone is watching, not just listening."

Sean Elias-Reyes, one of the owners of Hyperbolic Audio says that while they work with long-distance directors on a daily basis, he has also never seen a video feed in a recording session and adds, "It was an interesting addition to the process. I liked it. There are things that can be communicated visually between a director and an actor that loses something without that connection. For that reason it was more like you were an in-studio director."

There's really nothing stopping productions from taking advantage of this technology. Skype video is free. If your laptop doesn't have a built-in camera, internet cameras only cost between $17 and $100 to buy. Even the lowest budgets can afford that.

So stand up straight, project your voice and smile.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director. He is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com, the ultimate resource for TV show creators. He is offering AWN readers a free month of his TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards. Go to www.TvPitchTips.com and register for your weekly audio postcards of insider Hollywood pitch tips, tricks and secrets.

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