Suggesting Copy Changes to Voice Over Copy- Don’t Unless…

One thing I learned very early in my voice over career was that you are a glorified “signal generator” to the clients.  I had actually written, edited and critiqued advertising copy as a marketing director for 10 years.  So, in an early voice over job, I offered some helpful hints to the client that would make the copy clearer and more effective.  Big mistake.  I got slammed in a way that would make Hulk Hogan quake with fear.  So I quietly whispered to myself, “oops, better not do that again!”  And I have continued that tradition up until today.  But…

There are some exceptions. There are some obvious writing errors that I will try to correct. I’ll point out singular subjects with plural verbs (The problem facing families are difficult), malaprops (I have an important preposition for you) and “stunt” (made-up) words (misunderestimated — sorry George W).

I always try to “third party” my suggestion, saying something like “I’m not sure this is right.  Maybe this a typo” rather than coming right out and saying “Did you make a mistake?”

A new phenomenon has appeared lately.  With the expansion of the internet and digital video, many producers have not risen through the tradition ranks of production, but have rather “ported in” from other disciplines, and so may not be trained in writing good audio copy–that is copy that is intended to be listened to and rather than read.  They may not understand the subtle differences between written English and spoken English.

One example of perfectly fine written copy that doesn’t translate to speech is “and/or”–how can you actually say that?  “Etc.” is another one.  It works in a written list but it is clumsy when spoken.  Items in quotation marks or abbreviations can also be unintelligible when spoken.

In this world of international media access, I occasionally work with many producers for whom English is a second language.  There I’ll be on the lookout for clumsy or extremely difficult to understand sentences.  Textbook English may not communicate as easily as conversational English.

Often by flipping a sentence around it can be made much clearer.  I alos watch out for expressions that are not contracted that would be contracted in normal speech: “do not” has a much stronger sound than “don’t” and shouldn’t (should not!) be used unless the stronger connotation is desired.

So in these cases, if I really feel mistakes will harm the final product, I’ll casually suggest an improvement.  Always offer these “suggestions” without any ego involved.  If the client says “no” then I’ll clam up and read it as written.  Orson Welles I’m not.  I hope this helps a bit and makes for smoother sessions with more professional results.

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