Friday, January 06, 2006

To V.O. or not V.O....That be the question.

I'm going to say something crazy. Yeah, it's nuts. "Loco," if you speak Spanish. As in, "the cabasa!" Are we ready.......? Okay, take a breath.....Open your eyes and..........


It's okay to use Voice-Over.

AH! Run for your lives! Go! Go! Go! Women and Children first! Unless they're too slow!!!

Oh, stop. It's okay. I'm joshing. no need to panic. When I posted my last post, Robert Hogan brought up a good point with a good question. Why go with Voice-Over? And although I had a pretty easy reply, he brought up a great issue. Voice-Overs. Some people just don't like them. And Robert, or Bobby H as I like to call him, got me thinking......

I view it as a personal thing. some people like Cocoa Krispies but some others may like Cocoa Pebbles. The point? Both are correct. It's a matter of taste.

Personally, I don't mind voice-overs. Usually. I'm sure some writers use (or over-use) them as a crutch, a cheat. But not always.

Where would The Shawshank Redemption be without Red's elegant voice? Did Frank Darabont cheat? Nope. It only made his take on the story better. Were the Coen Brothers hacks to use H.I.'s voice-over for Raising Arizona? Hell, no. And Nicholas Pilleggi for Goodfellas. I love that voice-over. American Beauty is another example of when it all goes right. Platoon is another.

Can it be over-used? Yup. Like Casino. Or Sin City. Yeah, yeah, I know I just pissed off many a film geek by saying that, but although I understand they were trying to capture the graphic novel, that voice-over bored the living shit out of me. Was Sin City visually stunning? Absolutely, but it made me want to snooze.

If you're using it, it can't sound like we're HEARING a book read to us, you know? But if the writer is guiding us through the tale, enhancing the story, that's fine by me.

Here's how I like to use it. It's been more of the Raising Arizona approach for me. Enhancing the funny stuff that's going on in the story. It almost becomes another character. Could we have followed the story of Raising Arizona without the VO? Sure, but it's simply funnier with it. Which is how I like to use it.

I wrote a script called "Cricket Hill" that came in the top 3 of the Austin Film Festival back in '03 that used VO pretty heavily. In that situation, was it terribly necessary to follow the story? No. It could have survived without it. But it was better with it. I think if it's used correctly, you can really bring out more in a script. And some stories are certainly more "voice-over worthy."

I've written probably 40 scripts in my life. A good amount came in the dark ages when I wasn't terribly good at this stuff, so I wouldn't list all of those on my resume. Barely half really. But of the 40, I'd say I've used voice-overs about 8 times.

Last time I used it in a completed script was "Doing It Sideways", my epic coming-of-age/porn tale, which I wrote over a year ago. Everything else I wrote in the last year hasn't used it, but I do have 2 scripts in my handful of about 5 that I'd like to work on this coming year that I will use it on.

So if you think your story benefits from it, I say go with it. It's okay. Don't DEPEND on it, but if it's going to make the script/movie better, and you're not using it to basically SAY EXACTLY what the character is thinking, then run with it.

The following is a small excerpt from "Doing It Sideways". In a nutshell, we're learning about the life of a kid who will grow up to be a porn star:

Young Joshua continues down the hallway. He hears movement come from behind another door, and approaches it.

I always looked forward to Christmas. But that year, my parents were celebrating early.
(from behind door)
Well, now. Ho, ho, ho!

Young Joshua opens the door. Inside are Mom and Dad Bolt on their bed, in the middle of hard-core sex. Dad Bolt wears a Santa hat and has his red Santa pants around his ankles.

Now, having the boy walk into the room without any VO, I think it loses something. I feel the scene is enhanced with the VO. Again, I'm not using it to relate exactly how Joshua feels or thinks, but bascially to help build a visual punchline. Or here........

Young Joshua approaches the bathrooms.

I didn’t know what was ahead for us, for our family. Things were changing. And for me, the change began the moment I opened that bathroom door.

He turns the handle and opens it. Inside are a DASHING CO-PILOT and a HOT FLIGHT ATTENDANT - having some pretty wild sex against the sink of the small bathroom.

(between thrusts)
Who’s your pilot? Who’s your pilot?

They stop in mid-groan and look at Young Joshua.

Hey kid, take a picture, it’ll last longer!

Young Joshua takes a small, disposable camera from his pocket and CLICKS a picture.

Again, it's used as enhancement, and to back up an event that would stick with any person in that situation.

So, voice-overs. Use them if you want. We won't shoot you. And you are not a bad writer if you used them. Not at all. Many of the greats have used them.

But make them work.


Patrick J. Rodio said...
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Jeff Long said...
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Robert Hogan said...

Great points on voice over here. I've read a lot of spec scripts over the past few years and I haven't read one yet that effectively used voice over.

Voice over is just one of many tools that screenwriters have to use, but many aspiring screenwriters don't use it right. It's like they are trying to cut a piece of wood with a hammer, it just doesn't work no matter how hard you try.

I think you've got the right idea Patrick, using voice over to add humor to a comedy script is a great use of the tool. Look forward to reading more of your stuff.


oneslackmartian said...

Damn! I've wet my pants. AGAIN!!

You have REALLY earned your blog title here, haven't you.

And not one of these anonymouses have anything to do with a Nigerian bank scam.

This is the best shit I've seen in LOOOONG time.

But I'm glad it's at your site.

oneslackmartian said...

HEYYYYY, I wanted to get in on the steak dinner and beers. I hope that is still on the table.

Robert Hogan said...

Absolutely, let’s setup a scribosphere retreat. I suggest Virginia Beach, only because I want to see if I can find the place that had the all you can eat steak and shrimp for $19.99. I think it was across the street from the EconoLodge.

Set a date and we’ll make it so.


Patrick J. Rodio said...

Actually, that does sound pretty good.

ScriptWeaver said...


What did I miss?

Robert Hogan said...

This is the best time of year to go to Virginia Beach. The hotels are practically empty between Christmas and Spring Break.

I predict a Feb. road trip in the future of all scribosphere members east of the Mississippi.


taZ said...

Not to destroy your trip-plans, but I agree that (V.O) usually makes the movie more exciting. Of course when used right only.

I say it all the time when watching a movie with V.O.
"Damn, I like voice-overs in movies!"

I also agree about Sin City. (At least we will die together.)

Anonymous said...

I agree, I like to use it with comedy too. My feeling is just because some writer tells me not to use it, I am writing it for myself first, then the script reader so who the hell is he/she to tell me what I can or can't do?...Write On

oneslackmartian said...

I'm with taz. Maybe all the bad V.O.s get weeded out, but I always enjoy the ones I see.

I know the "breaking down the 4th wall" business, but I'm suspending my disbelief. I promise.

What I really, really like about V.O. is that it allows the writer to get in some deep philosophical monologue. Thoughts that wouldn't make it at all in dialogue. What comes off as preachy in dialogue often sounds cool in V.O.

It is also a GREAT way to illustrate juxtaposition. You got a visual showing one thing, but a V.O. saying another. It makes the audience feel smart too. They get to decide which is "true," the visual or the V.O. Anything that makes the audience participate improves your movie.

Those are my flawed and spec thoughts.

Have a good script day!