By: Jessie Pickworth  

When images can’t tell the whole story, narration adds depth and completes the picture. If narration isn’t executed well, it can kill a documentary. Below are 10 tips from the 16:9 Post team for making sure your VO elevates your project instead of dragging it down.

1.    Know how you plan to use narration before you shoot. Common uses include: introducing subjects or featured talent, imparting info that is not obvious to the viewer, bridging segments of the story, highlighting what is important, and summarizing key points.

2.    Don’t let preconceived notions dictate your direction. Plan for how to use narration at the onset, but not what to say. Theories created during pre-production may get altered by the reality you shoot. Watch and listen to the edits to make sure you are narrating the truth of your project.

3.    Know when NOT to narrate. If your scene says all that needs to be said, don’t ruin it by talking too much. No one wants to be told what they already know.

4.    Narration should match the tone of your project. If your subject is comedic, then light, funny, casual narration is appropriate. If your subject is about a murder, then a more serious, respectful narration is required. And so on.

5.    A documentary is created to inform, but no one will listen if they are not entertained. Use the narration to not only share information, but to engage the audience and enrich the storytelling.

6.    Read your script aloud to make sure written word translates well into spoken word. What looks right on paper may be all sorts of wrong when said out loud.

7.    Write for your target audience. What do they want to hear? How do they talk? What do they likely already know, not know, or feel about the subject? 

8.    Make sure timing of each narration fits appropriately for the space it is needed (remember to pace yourself appropriately for the tone and audience of the project).

9.    Take care in prepping your voice over artist. Give them your script in a format that is readable for them. And let them know what kind of tone you are going for, as well as any pronunciations that should be confirmed. See our previous blog on directing voice over talent:

10. Be flexible and willing to change your script when you hear it come to life by your voice over talent. A fresh perspective or input from your talent and crew can improve even an already fantastic script.


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