When People Talk (To Each Other)


Talk about ever-changing. The advent of our electronic age has influenced our lives and has certainly placed a variety of new pressures on today’s voice over talent. But guess what? The voice is definitely secondary to the performance, and voice over as we know it remains an acting craft. As a matter of fact, there are more inherent acting requirement skills on today’s competitive actor then ever before.

Contrary to what has become an accepted belief, the advertising agencies don’t control what the public likes to hear — they provide it. The general public always shows their likes and dislikes by the way a commercial is accepted. The agency pundits refer to this phenomenon as a “trend.” The same has applied to theatrical films since their inception.

The interesting thing about trends is they might come and go, but never entirely disappear. Often the public treats a conceptual return as one might treat an old friend returning after being away for a while.

From 1960 on commercials used almost every form of communication in order to sell product. Every fancy electronic connivance has been tried, but thankfully, the wizards of innovation have not been able to replace the human instrument (voice). God knows it’s not because they haven’t tried — everything from talking toys, to the most sophisticated forms of science fiction delivered by computerized animation. The public stays constant with their preference for the truth. It may be a talking toilet complaining about being mistreated by it’s owner, but the voice coming at you is that of a real live human being delivering the lines while following any number of possible directions: bad, sad, glad, mad, sick, upset, bright, dull, big, small, blue collar, or upscale.

And what follows is the most consistent trend the commercial advertisement industry has experienced to date:

“Laid back and conversational.”

And yes, you’ve heard this direction before, but it bears repeating:

“No announcers.”

And the wonderful people putting out those directions by and large have never been in front of the camera, or a microphone. In other words… they’re asking the actors to do something they themselves have never been successful at professionally. We find non-performers responsible for writing most of the commercial scripts we receive from the advertising agencies. The written directions are not theatrically driven. Some of the blame must be placed on the sponsors who indiscriminately over load the commercials with facts and numbers, which translate into a pushy type of sales approach. When this happens, we (the casting company) can also expect as part of the directions, the instructions for us not to let the actors become too much of a salesman or saleswoman. And invariably, when we get our hot little hands on the script, there it is right smack up at the top, a word none of us would ever use conversationally: “Introducing.”

“Accomplished actors book more jobs.”

Our responsibility as actors is to make it work. If we make it work, they pay us — the same people who furnished the seemingly contradictory directions.

“Conversationally Speaking”

Make it real — what a concept. Like actual human beings in a conversation. At a glance, your first thought might be, “Are these people stark raving mad?”

I can advise actors until I’m blue in the face, of how counter-productive an un-positive attitude is. Yet there still remain a number of folks who don’t get it. If you bring an attitude into the recording booth with you, it will be hard to shake loose of it during your performance.

“Be a listening type observer.”

There are many questions about the every day occurrences of people having, or attempting to have a conversation.

“Rely on your past in order to get and keep a handle on today and tomorrow.”

About conversation:
* Is it general (in nature)?
* Is it casual?
* Is it polite?
* Is it off the cuff?
* Spiritual?
* Meaningful?
* Of importance?
* Of great importance?
* Of no importance at all?
* Is the person doing the talking speaking at the other person with the singular intent of hearing him, or herself talking?

Note: The more an actor listens to him or herself while attempting to perform conversationally, the less chance there is of accomplishing a creative portrayal of any kind or type.

Be aware of people holding conversations. It doesn’t really matter where or when. You may notice the person doing the talking doesn’t have to be an actor in order to be enraptured with themselves.

My concern is always improvement, whether it is self or another’s improvement as a person, or improvement in order to enhance one’s income. Improvement means individual growth. Growth and success are not necessarily synonymous in the immediate future, but without personal growth, success becomes problematical. Learning some guidelines about conversation spells growth.

For the time being force yourself to discern some basic conversational differences. What kind of conversation are you observing?

* Polite and cordial?
* Passionate?
* Concerned?
* Matter of fact or off the cuff?
* Sarcastic?
* Imperative?
* Deliberate advice?
* Who are you conversing with?
* Where are you?
* What time of day is it?
* Why are you in conversation with this person?

The above are only a short list of conversational possibilities. In reality, the list is endless. If you get nothing from this offering other than the following two advisements, you’re well on the road to improving your conversational skills.

“At the audition”

1. Don’t be afraid of asking your imaginary conversation partner a question, either verbally or by doing your own subconscious degree of wonderment.

2. Be genuinely responsive to the person you’re attempting to have a conversation with.

The above items are excerpts from a syllabus first presented at the University Of Southern California by Harvey Kalmenson, and is currently used as an application within our current Kalmenson & Kalmenson educational curriculum.

… and speaking of income,

When it comes to an actor’s possible income, my professional mentoring remains, of course, in the field of voice over.

As a director, educator, and casting director, I find myself in the admirable position of being able to offer salient points to actors which are necessary for them to compete in today’s highly charged marketplace.

And certainly a key word in the preceding paragraph is definitely today’s market place. What changes tomorrow will bring are unknown. The actors who have developed a strong basic repertoire of emotional deliveries will always meet our industries nuances with confidence; which breeds success.

The ball is in your acting court. As we say at the beginning of our Level Two workshop: “How badly do you want it?”

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