Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Permission To Add Seasoning!

Don’t just read words- add seasoning!

When baking, you pretty much need to do exactly what the recipe says. Exact ingredients, exact measurements, exact timing. It’s an exacting process, not an improv.

But, with cooking, now you’re talking! With cooking there is much more freedom and room to experiment, modify and invent. You add your own special spin to flavor up the dish. Love that!

Voice acting in animation and games is definitely like cooking- there is improv and seasoning you add– that you are expected to add– on the fly. It may take a while to get the knack, but you need to add more than is listed in the recipe (your script) and apply it with panache.

So: When you look at your recipe, I mean script, I hearby and hence forth give you permission to: 

Add pre-life (and post-life) -Leading in with an unscripted chuckle, a sigh, a skeptical “um,” a gasp, etc. is called pre-life. None of these were written into your script, but any one of a thousand utterances of expression can be added to give life, emphasis and extended meaning to your performance. Same goes for the end of sentences, the in-between too!

Add spaces A good actor can fill space with meaning. You have the freedom to add pauses, hesitation, even silence- if the scene painted by the script warrants it. If you are acting well, you fill this space meaningfully. If you are off- the space will fell empty and awkward. There is an art to bringing meaning to silence.

Ignore punctuation (ellipsis or all caps or exclamation points, for instance) Sure, you can give a take honoring every ellipsis or exclamation point or ALL CAPS words, but on subsequent takes, feel free to ignore or rearrange, if it feels right. The best result doesn’t always flow from the writer trying to control every breath or emphasis. Your living performance may well produce something way better than s/he imagined, if you let it breath and live free. 

Change words -Same as above. If it improves or varies the meaning appropriately or adds better emphasis, change those words up! If they need it exactly as written, fine, they’ll let you know. Your job is to actively try to make this even better than they imagined.

Switch up any direction you are given – Honor the adjectives they give you to shape your performance, treat them like springboards or roadsigns that point the way to what they want, what works. Don’t take specific direction to be a cage. It shouldn’t be a prohibition from using your own ideas, testing other avenues that can serve the idea of the script. Lean on a particular word. Make it a different one each time. Vary the vocal presence and who the performance is directed to in the scene, etc. 

Improvise – This should go without saying. Not to show how clever you are, not to distract from the script, but to liven it up, add choices, make it all more authentic and relevant. Each time you read a line, it is a living thing, never the same. In some instances they want these exact words read exactly this way- in which case, fine give them that. But otherwise, presume you have permission to improv (or improve) things.

So there you have it: You have permission hence forth to actively add seasoning to the brew! Just don’t forget that, like a good cook, you always have an eye towards the final result and who is enjoying it! It must suit the dish and the ingredients at hand.

Remember, your job is to be an active collaborator, not merely read just the words as written.

© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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