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Polly Wants a VO

Perfecting Your Parroting Prowess Like voice actors, most directors have their own unique style. The busiest, most successful actors tend to be those who can easily work and get along with any director, regardless of their working methods.

During a session the director may try to nudge the actor’s performance a certain direction, but ultimately let the actor fall into their groove on their own. After all, who knows more about the capabilities of the actor than the actor?

From time to time directors may also offer a ‘line reading’. Line readings are provided with the expectation that the actor will mimic, or ‘parrot back’ the line using the same delivery, cadence and inflection. Good actors welcome this type of direction, because it takes the guesswork out of figuring out what the client wants. However, I’ve witnessed some voice actors become agitated, even offended at the mere suggestion of being offered a line reading. Their attitude seems to be,“How dare this 'director' tell me how to do my job?” Having confidence in your own abilities is good. You might even feel that you have a better handle of what is needed than the director. However, this type of attitude will NOT make you a hero in the eyes of your client. Nobody cares to work with an annoyed, know-it-all voice talent a second time. Actors generally react this way to the suggestion of a line reading for one of two reasons: 1) they have a hugely successful career and feel they are beyond being told specifically how to practice their craft; or 2) They are incapable of accurately repeating a line reading. If you can’t (or won’t) parrot back a line reading, the reason really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s your pride and principles or lack of ability, chances are you will not be considered for future projects. In fact you’ll be lucky if they let you complete the session at hand. To be clear, the majority of successful actors have no problem mimicking any delivery offered. Great projects are collaborations, but your job is not to educate the director about how their message should sound. Good working relationships between directors and talent are forged in trust and fostered over time. Once you’ve established a relationship with the creative staff on the other end of the line you may speak more freely. But until you are confident that they know exactly where you’re coming from, it is best to play it safe and allow them call the shots on their end. So why is it that some talent have so much trouble emulating a line reading? Remember that speech is much like singing. Copying inflection is a matter of repeating the exact “notes” of the spoken words while replicating the cadence and stress on each. The most important skill required for this purpose is your ability to LISTEN. Pay careful attention to the sample presented. If you cannot hear the subtleties of the delivery, you will not be able to reproduce them with your own read. Just as some people are “tone deaf” when it comes to music, there are many who simply cannot discern the difference between what is spoken to them, and how they are are actually delivering the line. Sharpen your parroting skills with this fun exercise! • Find a commercial or other performance (done by someone else) and put the audio onto a track in your workstation. • Edit the audio so there are individual (repeatable) lines, each followed by blank space of approximately the same length as each line. • Play the track in your headphones while recording your voice onto another track. Try to mimic each line as exactly as possible. • When you are done, line up each phrase with your own audio and play it. If your parroting is close, you should hear a “doubling” effect on each line. Any deviation from the original read will become very obvious. For a more portable/low-tech approach try parroting lines from commercials while listening in the car. Most importantly, as you improve your listening and parrot performing skills, remember to always reward yourself with a cracker.

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