Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

April 27, 2010

Sense of Direction

Filed under: Recording, Techniques — Tags: , , , , — connieterwilliger @ 8:14 am

I remember a session very early on in my career where I was just NOT producing what the director wanted. It was a horrible experience – and I was dismissed knowing that I had not been able to understand and deliver. I knew this because I heard the producer on the phone with my agent asking if she had to pay for me. Really horrible experience.

 A few years later, I was in a session with 6 producers – each offering different bits of “advice” for the read – and was able to find the “right” read that satisfied them all. Was it simply my added years of experience? Are there any standard words of advice that veteran voice talent can offer a director to help the session run more smoothly with successful results when all is said and done?

My friend and fellow VO talent Peter O’Connell sent a link out this morning that has a wonderful article from Babble On Recording Studios that covers the mysterious and often confounding issue of “directing the talent.”

Key messages I took from the post:

  • Maintain a rhythm in the session. I have been in sessions where, after a take, the talk-back stays silent for minutes – many minutes – leaving me wondering what was being discussed. The basic insecurity inherent in being “talent” starts planting seeds of discontent and we end up trying to find other ways to read something without any feedback.
  • Avoid references to famous people when directing. Famous to one person may not be famous to another. Rather, describe the “quality” that you think you want.
  • Steer clear of “line reads” if at all possible.
  • Replay the audition. Seems logical. We audition so much, we may not remember what we did to win the job.
  • Let us do “three in a row.”
  • Playback the reads as time permits.
  • If something is “perfect” and the client thinks it is “perfect,” why are we doing another one? It is nice to know if we are free to do something different, or if you want another read very much like the “perfect” read.


  1. Connie,
    You always seem to post interesting and useful things. I tend to be one of those people who needs to know how the toaster works to enjoy the toast. So, when I made my decision to take a stab at voice over many years ago, I also wanted to understand things from the perspective of the producer, director, audio engineer and so on. In my case it actually led to me paying various respected members of the community to have coffee with me and answer questions. Several years later this led to my developing a program called the Talent Forum – a series of inexpensive workshops that brought in industry professionals from advertising, publishing, gaming and so forth to speak openly and honestly on the subject.

    It was great to get a better perspective of what took place “on the other side of the glass”, as in those days the actors only worked at professional studios. Nowadays this type of perspective becomes even more important as talent tend to be more isolated than ever before.

    I would suggest that talent work on various aspects of role playing to become more comfortable taking direction and working in various environments. Talent should be comfortable working with phone patch and should practice auditioning to voice mail. This comes up more often than one might think.

    One thing that makes things slightly less complicated today is that the bulk of jobs seem to hinge upon a successful audition. In my particular case, 90% of my work comes from auditioning. Even when I am responding to a referral, it appears that an audition is De rigueur. This may not be the case for talent that work the penny ante circuit, but I find it is almost always the case. In other instances, I am hired on the basis of something they might have heard in a demo. Simply referring to that piece in the demo can usually be enough. On rare instances, there isn’t a “baseline” or true reference and I am hired because I have demonstrated range or the client is in a rush or… Other instances may have the directing by committee thing going or may have someone enter the picture who wants to go wildly from the direction that may have been originally established. In one case, they didn’t so much like my audition, but they “loved” my slate.

    Which once again brings up the big question of slate or no slate.

    But I digress. Here’s where the analogy of taking apart the toaster to see how it works comes in. I have recorded in almost every type of environment imaginable by every type of client you can conceive. Being as prepared as possible for varying circumstances and differing directing styles is a big part of what makes a professional actor professional.

    Preparing for this is a two-fold operation.

    1. Improv workshops are invaluable. I simply can’t stress enough that of all the training that a person can receive for voice over, improv is singularly the most important. In my neck of the woods, there are 30 – 40 actors who have virtually no experience taking v.o. classes and instead have backgrounds steeped in improv and this group are firmly among the top 5 – 10% of earners.

    2. Practice daily with changes in effect. Practice auditioning over a telephone line reading into voice mail box. Practice holding your scripts in your hand and on a music stand. Practice sitting and standing and hopping on one leg. Move your scripts so that you have to look at them out of the corner of your eye in order to stay on mic. Pretend you have to share the microphone with 3 people and develop a sense for how you might do that. Practice holding the mic in your hand. Write down action weorsds that directors use and practice reading scripts where you change your intent on each line or paragraph to match a different form of direction. Practice your mic technique. How do you shout properly? How do you whisper? Zdo you know what proximity effect is and how to use it or not use it? If you get hired to do characters or accents, live in the character for a day – BE the character.

    Preparation and practice will get you to the place where you will be able to survive even the most absurd v.o. session. Try recording in a garage in California in the summer under an army blanket reading a script on the floor, while crouched down holding a flashlight in one hand and the microphone in the other. (True Story)

    I certainly made a few mistakes early in my career. WE all do. Today however, it seems that mroe and more people hang up that v.o. shingle well in advance of developing any true skills set. I also think that today, depending upon the actual job, there is more at stake. The competitive nature of this business, coupled with the changes in how we audition and work, hiring proactices, scope of work, rate structures and so forth mean that talent have a much tougher job of becomeing prepared and increasing their skills.

    Comment by J.S. Gilbert — April 27, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  2. Connie – Thank you for taking the time to read the article I posted on our website at Babble-On Recording. And, too, for sharing it with your readers here. I have empathy for those in the booth due to my years in broadcasting and long term friendships with VO Talent who, for years, have wondered how it is few know how to direct them. I will, hopefully, have some further insights to publish regarding the views of engineers, writers and producers as well – might well balance all of our perspectives.

    And, in reference to J.S. Gilbert’s response here – some wonderful points. I’ve often suggested to writers that they should read their scripts into their voicemail and listen back – they will then have a sense for timing, rhythm and feel that a simple piece of paper can’t reveal. I imagine if VO talent did the same just to practice, it might be wise.

    As it pertains to the many (the far too many) who think they can do VO Work simply because they were blessed with great pipes, etc. I have a an expression -“Just because you own a Stradivarius doesn’t mean you have an idea of how to play it.”

    I hope we cross paths again soon.

    André Bergeron
    Babble-On Recording

    Comment by André Bergeron — April 28, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

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