a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Kind of Thing that Gives Voiceover a Bad Name

Voiceover is one of those tools that should be used wisely.

I'm not one of those who doesn't think it should never be used; if it works for your story, and you can wield it with the skill of a swordsman, go for it.

Just know that it's true that there is a lot of bad voiceover out there.

The following is an example from a particularly pretentious, superficial script I read last night (submitted to a prodco from a producer).

To set the context, Jasmine (the name has been changed) is working as a Parisian escort, though she doesn't actually seem to have needed to sleep with anyone. Sexy Marcus, who has hired her, suspects her amateur status. She wishes she had met him under different circumstances.

He unveiled a feeling within me I hadn't
discovered, I hadn't known. I soon felt a
vacuum of uncertainty emerge like a storm
causing me to question where I stood within
my own gamut of truth and lies.

Italics the author's.

Headache the reader's.


At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Scott. That voiceover unveiled a feeling within me I hadn't discovered, I hadn't known.

I soon felt a vacuum of vomit emerge like a storm causing me to question where I stood within
my own puke.

-danny boy

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Martine said...


At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 1:46 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Holy Christ. I hate when I get a vacuum of uncertainty, but it's usually after I eat tacos.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Brett said...

But I think I speak for most all of us when I say there's few things I like more than a good gamut.

Actually, a "gamut" would be a good name for a big sandwich at a fast food place.

"Gimme a double gamut meal, extra cheese, please."

"You want horseradish on that gamut?"

"You better believe it."


At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do most (or the majority) of scripts you cover actually read like this (or have similar terrible stuff)?

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I wouldn't say most. But given that the vast majority of stuff I read comes from agents or producers, I'm always amazed how bad some of it is.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Alicia said...

Can a vacuum emerge? Well, I suppose it can... If it's the upright in my closet. Emerge just isn't the first verb I think of when I think of a vacuum. Then again, I've never had anything emerge from me like a storm either - with the exception of my second twin. But that's ANOTHER story altogether.

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous cwmagee said...

Scott, I agree that it is a shocker, but is it necessarily worse as a voiceover? I mean, if this had been dialogue between her and her hairdresser, would that have redeemed it at all? Seems to me that bad writing is bad independent of the form.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous George said...

The italics is the only thing that writer got right.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

CW -- Well, it's sort of classic bad voiceover, in that the character is telling us about what is going on in her head, badly.

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

That is seriously Mills and Boon, man.

I can't imagine a "vaccuum of uncertainty" within anyone, least if all me, since my internal organs have been pushed up around my rib cage for months now.

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Random Brandon said...

I think I heard that on Dawson's Creek once.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Whaledawg said...

The best voiceover ever was from The Jerk

Navin is dragging his dog who is pulling on the leash as hard as he can in the opposite direction.

Navin R. Johnson(V.O.)
And with my faithful dog leading the way

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Oh,'s...just dreadful.

Yeah, I've worked as a reader as well and the piss poor quality of some scripts from major, major agencies and prod. co's never ceased to amaze me.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger writergurl said...

Oh, c'mon. No one would submit that dreck! You totally made that up!

Er, right?

Actually, I'm delighted whne you post garbage like this. Know why? Cause I KNOW I don't write like that... I does it most betterer! ;)

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I wish I could make up stuff like that. Sort of.

No, not really.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Philip Morton said...

Voiceover, tricky dammit. Really, it is the modern soliloquy, the actor stepping to the edge of the stage and looking into the eyes of the audience and saying - "check this shit out, this is how I really feel, but I'm going to play it another way" That's the point, it's supposed to create dramatic tension. And now that the actor has set that up, the audience knows they're in for some fun. It's the genre device of the crime story when the VO says "i knew she/it/the job/the heist was trouble, but I did it anyway." Again - you know trouble is coming. As for "The Jerk" - same tension - though comic - you pretty much got a clear sense that his view of reality was 180 degrees incorrect, which was hysterical. Not really sure how an emerging vacuum generates a lot of tension - though it's probably a good way to suck the air out of a cabin at high altitudes. Hope she had her seat belt on.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Julie O. said...

Hm... If she's using poorly-written voice-over to describe poorly-written emotions...

If you apply the Rule of Double Negatives: this is actually a very well-written piece.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

This just follows my own personal rule - don't use V.O.

If you have to use it - use it after the movie has been assembled and in post and you're doing the sound mix.

At 6:42 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

So I guess voiceover bookends suck too then, huh?

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

If you can make it work, give it a shot. But only if it is necessary and makes your script better (a slippery slope, I know).

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

There's nothing wrong with voiceovers, it's kind of annoying that it gets this "stigma" as bad writing, it's not, if it's done correctly. If it adds to the script, the story, the characters, how is that bad writing?

Now this example? Yes, it's horrible. But I doubt it's not just the VO that's bad, I'd wager the whole script sucks ass.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Maybe comedies are the best place for voice-over.

From Naked Gun:

"Her hair was the color of gold in old paintings. She had a full set of curves, and legs you'd like to suck on for a day."

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous kristen said...



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