Don’t Be. Do
by Peter Drew
Directing a voice-over talent you’ve hired to read a spot for, say, dog food is pretty much the same as directing a great actor in a scene in a major film production. Well, almost the same. Go with me here.
It’s all about action. The end result of the performers’ action in both situations is a reaction from the audience. A successful performance in the dog food commercial gets the listener to buy the product. The well-acted movie gets the viewer to buy into the world it creates. Independent filmmaker, Steve Pak, writes: “…the goal is to tell a story dramatically rather than didactically, which means characters do things rather than explain things.”
To get listeners to buy your product or service, you need to get the voice actor to actually do something with the copy, not think about what they’re doing with the copy. Mr. Pak observes: “The challenge for directors is to stop talking about results and start talking about process.” In other words, it’s what happens during the journey, not just arriving at the destination, that’s most important to the story.
Mr. Pak’s key to talking about process is the use of action verbs, not adjectives. How does this work with a piece of commercial copy? Let’s take our example of dog food. We’ll call our brand “Stinkalicious.” It’s a wet, canned food. Now, Stinkalicious’s unique selling proposition is that it only stinks to dogs! Yes, when you open a can of new, genetically altered Stinkalicious dog food, only your dog can smell the disgusting aromas that always appeal best to dogs. It’s these non-aromatic aromas that cause Rover to come a runnin’.
Next, let’s say your research into the most effective copy approach leads you to a discovery: people don’t find stinky things humorous. Surprisingly, the best choice is straight copy, delivered with an authoritative demeanor, written to convey the sense of relief from stinkiness the purchaser feels every time he or she opens a can of Stinkalicious.
Now here’s where action verbs come into your direction to the voice talent. Instead of saying to the actor, “When you get to the line about relief from stinkiness…be happy that people will be relieved,” say, “When you get to that line, convince, Jane, the listener, to really agree with you.” By using action verbs instead of adjectives, the voice actor doesn’t have to think, "Now I'm supposed to be getting happy." Instead, the talent can concentrate completely on actually convincing the listener of the happiness to be found with stink-free Stinkalicious. That’s motivation and that’s what the talent needs to make a piece of copy come alive and be persuasive.
In the words of Steve Pak, “Action verbs lead to specific action through which actors discover and experience emotions -- resulting in compelling performances.” Not just in feature films, but voiceovers, too.
© Peter Drew, 2005
Next article on directing voiceovers: Christina & the Animation Demo, Pt. 1