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.
DAD BOLT’S VOICE (O.S.)
(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........
INT. AIRPLANE - DAY
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.
Who’s your pilot? Who’s your pilot?
They stop in mid-groan and look at Young Joshua.
HOT FLIGHT ATTENDANT
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.