A while back I asked my media production clients for questions for Voice Actors (VOs). Several clients wanted to know how VOs feel about line reading. Are they for or against it? Is it a sensitive topic?
What is a ‘Line Reading’?
It’s when the person directing (a Creative Director, a Media Producer, or Product Marketing Manager, etc.) reads aloud the scripted line with a specific tone, energy, and emotion as an example of how the line should be said. It’s predetermined and meant to be mimicked by the VO. That’s a line reading. It can be either offered by a director or asked for by an actor.
What’s the Controversy?
In the broader acting community, a line reading is considered undesirable – a red flag for limited capability on the part of the director or actor. As straight forward as it is, a line reading can dilute the collaborative process, or imply a lack of trust for the giver or the receiver.
At the same time, in a single voiceover session, there’s always a deadline and usually multiple stakeholders. A line reading can move the process forward for either a director or an actor who feels stuck under pressure.
Tension lies within communication, creativity, limited time and the ability for specific creatives to ‘connect’ or ‘get each other’ within this constraint. The Director uses words to describe the desired creative result. An acceptable result is required in a specific and limited period of time… The controversy is whether to use a line reading as a shortcut through that process.
Is Line Reading Acceptable for Voiceover?
Let’s consider the parties involved in voiceover. Everyone in the production, including voice actors, takes their profession seriously and wants to be as creative and collaborative as possible, within time constraints. Everyone would love to have a creative, collaborative voiceover session where acting and directing shine like gold. That often happens.
Like other creatives, focused and successful VOs train and develop their talent. VOs come with acting skills to break down, interpret and perform the script. They compete for jobs via auditions. Once hired, they want to use their creative skills and give clients the best performance possible.
The Short Answer is… It Depends
Voiceover sessions can be for audiobook, animation, commercial or promo campaigns, series narration, and website or product videos. Each is a unique type of session.
Frequently, not always, the voiceover script is the last phase of production. Time buffers may have been used up prior to the voiceover session. No one really wants to use line reading, and yet sometimes it can be a useful tool for saving time.
I asked several VOs about this. Most said they welcome line readings openly. A smaller subset does feel limited by it and wants to avoid it. It wasn’t a scientific survey.
Since each VO session is unique, there is no right or wrong. But there is a general stance to avoid line reading from the greater acting community. That doesn’t mean the small group in your voiceover session believes that or needs to work within that paradigm.
Considering everything I’ve mentioned, the answer lies within the team at the session.
Tips for Hirers of VOs (and VOs)
When you’re part of the team at a voiceover recording session, you’re there for a reason. Everyone has a role. In order to have an effective session, which is why line readings come up, here are some basic tips.
Prior to sessions, VOs should prepare their script by seeing it earlier and being able to bring questions. We all know this isn’t always possible, but it’s a good goal.
After session introductions, any participant can ask, “How do you feel about line reading?” Be open and flexible with any answer.
Key creatives can share the project vision, the audience, and how the script message fits into this.
VOs and Directors can use questions to encourage collaboration. Specify if you’re referring to a specific line or set of lines:
- Can we try it with a different choice?
- Would we like to shift the performance somehow?
- Can I give / Can I get some guidance for that?
- What’s driving the delivery of that line?
- How about a final take to just go with gut feeling?
Like all things in life, it’s not as simple as yes or no. In my experience, it really does depend on the specific situation. I understand why the controversy exists, particularly for the projects that have more time for rehearsal and collaboration.
I love the creative collaborative process. It’s a huge reason I do this for a living. And, rarely, the question, “How about a line read?” has popped up. It’s always been a ‘yes’ answer, followed by the slight release in tension for the freedom to use this technique. It’s often a new opportunity to try something different, maybe even the final ‘safety’ take.
If you’ve enjoyed this and would like to collaborate with me further, please reach out via my email listed above.