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How to Write Better Casting Specs and Written Direction for Actors

So, your project is just about finished and all you need is the voice. You've got a sound in mind, but you want options, like when you were picking the right music, the right shot, or the right everything else for your project. So, you reach out to a few trustworthy VO's, or you turn to a casting site.

How do you tell voice talent what you want? Here are a few tips to getting more from a voice over artist out of written direction:

Stay Active: Use Verbs, not Adjectives

Look, we know 9/10 you want a conversational, non-announcery real person. You know, just talking to a friend, but happens to be listing all of the possible side effects? A trained VO artist will be able to pick up on clues in the script, but you'll get closer to what you need if you use active verbs.

Acting is doing. The words literally mean pretty much the same thing. So, instead of asking for someone "warm" or "friendly" or "real," as for someone to "inspire your listener" or "invite us into a conversation" or to "put the room at ease." It doesn't have to be much. Let's take a look at a sample casting call and how we can change it to be more active:

This one was from Voice123:

"We're looking for a professional and friendly voice to narrate a kickstarter video for an educational board game."

I don't know exactly what they want, but if I were to re-write this spec with my feel for the script, it'd go something like this:

"Think: your favorite teacher who motivates you to dive in and learn about a topic and trusts you enough to be real with you. We want to engage our audience to invest in our educational board game on Kickstarter."

It's a little bit longer, but isn't that just more interesting to read? Again, actors are doers. We don't need much. If you gave me even just "to motivate" in there, it would perk me up to your script more than "professional and friendly."

Process Over Product

Of course, your product matters. Especially if you're asking us to quote, your usage and what you're creating matter. That being said, giving us a glimpse into your creative process and your end client's preferences is a huge help!

As I have written before, we want to be tools in the process. Sure, you're right at the deadline and you have a million and one things to think about, but just a brief note about your process can really help. Bring us onto your team. Help us solve your problem.

And, maybe, pick up the phone!

I always love projects where my client calls me, even for maybe just five minutes, to talk through the specs. Here's a story:

I booked a job on Voice123, the client liked it, but asked for a phone call before I recorded. I asked if he wanted to listen in on the direction, he declined. He said he'd rather trust me to direct my reads after we spoke. I said cool, we scheduled a time.

On our call, we talked for no more than 5 minutes. We chatted about Baltimore and I asked about his character- it was for an airport spot in Colorado and I asked "do you want this guy to be travelling for business or is he coming to ski?"

"Great question," he replied, "give me one of both."

So I did and they loved it.

Words on a page can be interpreted so many different ways. Heck, that's why you have us audition. But if you hear something you like in the audition and it's almost right, give us a ring. Bring us into the process. We're here to help and play.

Be a GPS, not a Map

Our brains, especially now, are step by step machines. Give us the steps, not the whole map to the city. I love specs that are short, clear, and to the point. But how do you keep it short, still active, and involve us in the process? Take a look at an original example below of my ideal specs:

90 Second Animated Explainer: Website/Organic Social Media

Imagine you're walking and talking with a new employee in the warehouse. Show off the cool new gadget that makes your job easier. Joke and reassure.

Client wants to attract a younger buyer, room to play with role of a blue collar foreman or a more tech-savvy manager. Happy to play with options with selected voice.

In a short list?

  1. Break down the info into bite sized pieces.

  2. Be active, but leave room for play.

  3. Show me you're looking for a partner to find a solution, not just a product.