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Documentary Voiceover

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Documentary Voiceover
on Oct 30, 2007 at 4:53:49 am

If you have worked on a doc with a VO, at what stage did you write it?

We don't know whether to come up with the narration first and cut around it, or wait till we have a watchable rough cut and then do it.

I suspect we'll write it as we're going along (and decide if we need one anyway). Looking for experiences and advice...


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Eric Susch
Re: Documentary Voiceover
on Oct 30, 2007 at 5:24:48 am

If you are not sure you need narration, try to cut your show without it. Use your interviews to tell the story. It's better to hear the story told with the voice of the people in it anyway. If you end up needing narration it will become obvious later on and you can fill in the empty spaces.


Eric Susch

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Pixel Monkey
Re: Documentary Voiceover
on Oct 30, 2007 at 5:32:21 pm

Done many national PBS docs like this:

- transcribe interviews
- organize them on-paper into the best story possible
- write basic narration to fill in the holes and make transitions

In Editing:
- create an "Interview Assembly" (cut interviews together to the script)
- producer grabs the microphone and creates "scratch" narration (It's important to have the scriptwriter - usually the producer - do this because he/she uses the inflections and pacing that they hear intheir head when writing it).
- Editor places this scratch narr in proper places
- Add B-Roll and pacing
- contract your professional narrator and send him/her rough-cut script
- constantly rewrite narration and revoice it as you edit
- schedule narrator for the Monday of the week you're planning to be in picture-lock
- Picture-lock on Friday, after having laid-in new narration on Thursday.

`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey

A picture says 1000 words. Editors give them meaning.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Documentary Voiceover
on Oct 30, 2007 at 7:26:00 pm

All good advice so far. I would caution you that writing the narration first often leads to very lazy production and editing. You might get something good, usually it's at least "workmanlike", but often it can turn to "radio with pictures" if the images are just picked to go along with what is being said. I have had to work on many a project like that and it is about as fun as patching asphalt roads. You just want it to be over, as an editor and a viewer. It is really hard to achieve greatness using the fill-the-holes-method. Because you're filling holes, not building narrative structures or creating a synthesis from lesser elements.

In the ENG world, it is very common to write the story and narration first and then cover it with video cuts to match, but that style is applied to short 90-second or less pieces generally, and done under deadline pressure. it's expedient and can be very clear and prosaic, in a Joe Friday kind of way. What you want for anything longer is to maximize the creative synergy you get when sometimes the image deliberately clashes with narration. Or when the images pick up and show what the narration is leaving unsaid.

When something is edited well, you should be able to understand it by just looking at the video or just listening to the audio, alone. But when they are used together, they should each reinforce the other to generate a much more powerful effect. That's what they pay us for.

I was on a long distance drive one time with a buddy and I popped a cassette into the dashboard. I had taped the soundtrack of the Jimmy Stewart/Henry Fonda Western comedy; "The Cheyanne Social Club" off of my VCR, and I played it like it was an audiobook. At first, my friend driving was all like: "what is this $%$%?" I asked him to give it five minutes and then he could choose something else. He didn't say another word until the tape turned over and I reached to take it out; he stopped me and asked to let it continue. When it was over, he said it was one of the most pleasant things he'd heard in the car for a long time. He could picture the film quite clearly while driving. That's good writing and great performance, magnified by expert timing and effects/ music in the edit. If the soundtrack alone is so killer, you can imagine how much better it is coupled with pictures. But it wasn't written as radio drama, with pictures later cut to it. It was composed as a whole from set-piece scenes, with a narrative spine and a three-act structure.

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Re: Documentary Voiceover
on Nov 13, 2007 at 3:46:36 pm

you can use the built in mic onm your mac to record test voice overs.

a few reality shows i've worked on, we've done just this, and in ever edit refined and refined to the point where the writers had a clue.

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