Boom! When On-Camera and Voice Over Worlds Collide

Different genres, common ground. Like a performance Venn diagram for actors.


Remember those overlapping circles you learned about in school? Venn diagrams graphically show relationships among different things, specifically how some objects belonging to one group can also belong to another.

Or in mother-speak: sharing. As in: "Susie has her toys. Mikey has his. Both of you can play with the boardgames we have stored in the family way, which by the way, take at least two people to play. Now, no fighting or I'll have to go over there and then no one will be playing with anything." That's called "disjointed sets" in mathematics. And in mother-speak: time out.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram for actors, I'd make the different genres (on-camera, voice over, theater) my sets and the many skills within each genre would be my objects. There'd be a lot of overlap, because after all, they all require acting, but there'd be some exclusionary skills, too. Voice actors don't use dance in their work and theater actors aren't concerned with how they're framed on camera. Voice actors generally don't have to get all gussied up with hair, makeup, and wardrobe, while those things play an important part in on-camera and theatrical work. You get the idea.

I get a big kick whenever I hear a client or casting director ask for something that's less prevalent in their world, but a mainstay in another. This is where it pays off for an actor to be skilled in more than one media. Hello, crossover! Convergence! Collision! Or intersection amongst sets for you mathematically-inclined types.

Active in more than one field?
Cultivate common skills for a stronger foundation.


Crossover skills

I've run into on-camera jobs and auditions lately that draw neatly from the voice over world. That's when I do my happy dance. Not that non-voice actors couldn't handle these things, but I love it when I have the extra experience to draw on.

My last couple of jobs, plus a recent audition, had me using a teleprompter. Oh happy day! Tap, tap, shimmy, shimmy. I love the teleprompter. Mainly because it means that no memorization is needed. The actor's dream! The nightmare? Getting up on stage to perform and suddenly, totally forgetting all your lines. Thank goodness that's not an issue when there's a teleprompter to, well, prompt you.

I don't like to depend totally on the 'prompter, though. If anything can go wrong, it usually does, and I don't want to be caught looking less than fully professional. I actually prefer to memorize, or at least greatly familiarize myself with the script, and use the teleprompter more as a backup.

Perhaps It's the old stage actor deep inside of me that's just more comfortable knowing exactly what to say when the lights go up. Or in this case, when the cameras start rolling and the director is calling, "Action!" (Yes, they really do that. It's very helpful knowing when to to start talking when you have the first line.) I can focus more intently on the message and any physical actions that I need to take. The added confidence of really knowing the script makes it easier to have more fun with the material, too. And strangely enough, it opens the door to a little improvisation when the director is up for it, 'cause you can always go back to the script when it's right there in front of you in big block letters.


Familiar, comfortable territory

Another reason I love reading off the teleprompter is because ... well, it's pretty much what we voice actors do every day. Teleprompter work is essentially voice over! There is that matter of a camera recording your every move, not that it should concern us much if we just focus on the material. After all, as voice actors, we bring our whole selves to our work, including hand, body, and facial gestures that translate as natural performances on camera, too.

Teleprompter work is familiar territory. Just with a few extra lights, a camera, and some guy (or gal) calling "Action!" - thought we may get something like that in client-directed voiceover sessions, too. Throw in a little additional fuss about your hair, makeup, and wardrobe, but that's about it. The essential work is the same: Connect with the message within the script. Though knowing something about how to play to the camera is a definite plus.

On-camera actors with voiceover experience have another advantage: we're used to performing alone, without a scene partner. Sometimes, the teleprompter work finds us in character, talking to the camera as part of a scene with other actors speaking their lines off camera. On other occasions, we're delivering long monologues to the camera, either as a character or as a spokesperson. Most on-camera actors are used to working with other actors in their scenes, and some are visibly uncomfortable without other people to play off of. Usually these are the less experienced actors, but occasionally even a seasoned pro may feel a bit adrift in these circumstances.

Give yourself plenty of opportunities to do your happy dance. The more skills you acquire, the easier it is to navigate new or unexpected challenges.