What moves us, touches us, affects us, makes us happy?
Let's talk about furniture for a moment, you'll soon see the connection with voice over and intention, I promise. Woodworking is one of my hobbies, and I find it meditative. And even if carpentry and cabinet-making aren't your thing, you'll quickly understand my point. Furniture made by machines in factories is perfect, to within a tenth of a millimetre. Does it offer what a piece of furniture made by a cabinetmaker emanates? Absolutely not. It breathes the hand of man and his inherent imperfection, and by the same token, nourishes those who look at it, who touch it, with living sensations, with an extra touch of beauty. And why? Because the person who made it has passed on his soul to it.
The perfect is clinical, robotic, polished, hollow, cold, dead. What touches us, moves us, thrills us is not the perfect, it's humanity. Humanity with its rough edges, its weaknesses, its frailties, its slight imbalances. This woman's photo resonates with us because her face tells her story and expresses her soul. The opposite of the botox and silicone that polishes and standardises everything. Before continuing with this article, I invite you to watch these four short videos. It won't take any longer than a compilation of bloopers or a few videos of kittens.
I'd ask you, if you don't mind, to watch these videos in their entirety (each is between 1 and 2 minutes long). The Michel Simon and Serge Gainsbourg film is in french, the promo for the travelling exhibition is in Mandarin - please watch those too. Even if you don't speak these languages, trust me: there's a very good reason why I'm asking you to watch them.
What do these videos have in common, and how can you draw a fundamental, essential lesson from them that will radically change your approach to voice over?
So what do the four videos you've just watched have in common? Humanity, honesty, vulnerability, sincerity, truthfulness. You get these feelings from the intention of the people who are conveying them. Now, how does that translate in the voice over world?
With a little practice, anyone can read a script aloud very easily if you don't bring anything to the table. It's easy, it's hollow, it's meaningless. If you put your heart and soul into it, if you tell the story (whether it's a few words in a TV ad or an audio book lasting several hours), even with considerable experience, everything changes: it becomes much more difficult, you stumble, you row... and that's where it gets interesting. By exposing ourselves, by laying ourselves bare, we feed the script with our own humanity, our inherent imperfection: we 'give it life'.
I'm not going to tell you here how this is technically feasible, as the subject is too vast to cover in one article. But without going into too much detail, the voice (and its transmission), because of its non-linear physical composition, is imperfect. It is this imperfection that needs to be exploited. That said, I can tell you how NOT to do it: with tricks, pirouettes and other sweeper feints. GIVE an INTENTION. Note the capitalisations. That's the real secret.
The intention in voice over
A question that often comes up is: what do I mean by intention? When you say yes to your marriage. When you give a farewell speech at a friend's funeral. When you say 'I love you' to your baby. When, as a soldier, you shout for your unit to take shelter... You haven't experienced any of these situations? Use the "actor" part of "voice over actor". Appeal to your humanity.
On the subject of perfection, Charles Bukowski said " Perfection stinks. It disgusts me. All these women and men who seek perfection in the stereotypes created by society make me vomit. Fucking meat mannequins with no personality and no self-respect. Same clothes, same music, same expressions, same food, same sex, same cars, same lives, in the end (...) When everyone is the same, everyone is nobody. Perfection is a little bird in a cage that lives, eats, shits and dies for the sole purpose of being admired. "
As for the intention, Auguste Rodin, in his artistic testament (which you can listen to and read in full in this video The Artistic Testament of Auguste Rodin ), talks about it much better than I could. "When modelling, never think in surface terms, but in relief. Let your mind conceive any surface as the end of a volume that pushes it from behind. Think of shapes as pointing towards you. All life springs from a centre, then germinates and blossoms from the inside out.
As you will have gathered, I'm obviously not advocating mediocrity. We must, of course, strive for perfection, but without losing our humanity. It's up to you to find the best way to negotiate this oxymoron!
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