Hidden Voiceover Work

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Scenarios and Research Narratives

You may have heard these terms before, but what do they mean in voiceover terms? How are they created and for what purpose are they used…and how can you get this kind of voiceover work?  If you’re a natural story-teller, with great sight-reading skills, then this work could be right up your alley.

One of the best things about working as a voiceover artist today is the endless variety of work that’s out there.  When I first started voice over in the 1970’s there was little else but radio and television and a tiny but of narrative work for the corporate sector.

These days, in a typical week, a voiceover artist could add to those, narration for website navigation or website content, Interactive Voice Response (IVR’s) or voice prompts for telephone systems.  There are literally thousands of corporate narratives, as well as instructional and informational programs recorded every month.

There’s animation series and foreign film dubbing, single location event advertising, cinema advertising and on-hold or courtesy messages.  There’s narration for cable networks and documentary, not to mention in-store and in-flight radio, as well as in-flight safety messages.  There’s narration for installations at museums and tourist attractions and scenarios and research narratives, and it’s these that I want to talk to you about.

When an advertising agency wants to create a new television campaign, one of the first things they do on behalf of their client, is research ideas for advertising that will be ‘stand-out’ and ‘memorable’ enough to lift market share for their client.

Often an ad agency will have several different creative groups consisting of a writer or writers and an art director, who will put their heads together and come up with ideas for television campaigns, which they will then write up into scenarios or narratives, which are really just ‘the story of the ad’.  They often read something like this;

‘In this ad, we see a young man dressed in a smart suit approaching the front door of a large mansion house.  The young man rings the doorbell and steps back.  We notice that the man, looking sheepish, is holding something behind his back.  The front door opens and a rather serious looking older man looks across his reading glasses at him.

Then a voiceover says ‘if you’ve ever wanted to make an impression but weren’t sure how’. Then the young man quickly pushes a bunch of red roses towards the man …etc etc.’

So, as you can see, this is basically the story of the ad, shot by shot.  A voiceover artist will be booked to read the narrative.  The skill of this kind of work is in really ‘telling’ the story of the ad, by moving from one shot to the next, giving plenty of time for the visual of what we will be seeing in the ad to ‘land’ with the listening audience…and I’ll say again, this skill is the skill of creating strong visuals by the way the voice artist uses the language of what is both a ‘shot-list’ and a ‘story’ with a particular kind of emotion or attitude.

Often, the voiceover artist will be booked to read all the characters in the scenario, so those who are chosen are done so because they have these skills, versatility, great sight reading techniques and a really great grasp of language and ability to create strong visuals.

Sometimes, the audio component of the ad, is accompanied by a series of very basically rendered images, sometimes just line drawings, to ‘show’ what happens in the ad, but more often, they are just simple ‘audio tracks’.

Then, one of the many ‘market research’ groups in their city will be given a brief to gather together either a cross-section or a targeted group of participants, who would then listen to the ideas presented and give their opinions. This information is gathered and reviewed and, of course, it goes without saying that the ads which are most popularly received are more often the one’s that get made.

Scenarios and Research Narratives!  Most of the great ad campaigns in Australia and globally were made because they were great ideas that researched really well.

Some of you may well remember this ad for the Yellow Pages, titled ‘Not Happy Jan’.  I happen to know that this ad was one of a series or narratives which researched so well, that the ad was created ‘to the letter’ from the orginal scenario script.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2akt3P8ltLM