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Copy That

1/22/2007

It''s a rule of thumb that clients often try to stuff too many words into a finite time frame. Whether or not you''re asked to prep or edit copy, confer with the client in advance on timing issues, so they don''t waste time and money rewriting on the fly during the session. Time the copy using a scratch track or a stopwatch before the session. Tell the client in advance if it''s running long, and make editing suggestions if you have a good working relationship. Determine beforehand if you will charge extra for that guidance.

Regarding the hard copy itself, ask the client to avoid breaking sentences between pages, and to provide 12-point, double-spaced copy using a sans-serif font with wide margins for the engineer''s and actor''s notes. Good layout makes it easier for the actor to read with continuity and will eliminate retakes due to page-turning noises. Clarify any unclear pronunciations or abbreviations before you record. For longer sessions, have the client provide clearly numbered chapters, sections, and pages for quick referral, and have pencils in the booth for actors to make notes or changes.

Although it may seem obvious, making sure you have final, approved copy is critical. Double-check with your client right up until the day of the session about any changes that may have been made. Make sure all parties involved have the same version of the copy. This is the client''s job, but as a project studio producer it often becomes yours. Make sure your client knows that copy omissions or mistakes on their part don''t necessarily constitute a last-minute emergency for you. Remind them before you start that time is literally (more) money. The old construction adage, “Measure twice, cut once,” can be revamped as, “Edit copy (at least) twice, record once (you hope).” It puts more of the onus on the client before your job begins. You don''t want to rely on “fixing it in the mix” for v/o any more than you do in music. It''s amazing how often the wrong “approved” copy comes into the studio, is recorded, and then must be edited or re-recorded.

No matter what type of script you have, you can help your client reduce recording and talent costs by consistently sticking to a few basic rules in preparing copy for recording. Actors, directors, marketers, PR managers, and copy editors all have an idea as to how copy should be voiced, so you don''t want anyone making assumptions on behalf of the person with final say. Ask the client to prepare copy in the clearest and most concise manner to prevent confusion on the actor''s part, especially if the recording is being done remotely. Retakes cost the client money, and are often due to unfamiliarity with the way actors work with words on paper in the studio.

For example, ask the client to avoid using abbreviations in the copy. Abbreviations create confusion about whether the client prefers, for example, “Corp.” to be read verbatim, or voiced as “Corporation.” Ditto for “Inc.” Is the client company name hard to pronounce or unfamiliar? Spell out any potentially tricky words phonetically and don''t take anything for granted. Any numbers to be read should also be spelled out. The number “150” in print might be interpreted vocally as “a hundred-fifty”, “a hundred and fifty”, “one fifty,” or “one hundred fifty.” Avoiding unnecessary assumptions is especially critical for ESL (English as a Second Language) texts. Depending on the level at which the language is being taught, how exactly does the client need numbers (for example) to be read?

In addition, ask clients to give clear, unambiguous direction about whether the copy requires careful enunciation for beginning students (as ESL texts often require), or a more colloquial, natural sound is desired for advanced learners. Clients should indicate verbally and in written form what they need from the actor. How natural do they want the copy to sound? Is clarity more important, even if it sounds a little stilted? Also, make sure they''ve indicated any words that need to be verbally spelled out for a student rather than read (“s-t-o-p” vs. “stop,” for example. Also, desired pauses or pacing can be indicated by simply inserting “pause” or “wait 2 beats” into the script. Proper inflection is also very important in conveying any message. Ask the client to give guidance as to their needs.

When writing copy with numbers or lists of items, sometimes it''s helpful to indicate whether the actor''s voice should rise or fall to give certain emphasis and meaning. Good actors will intuit this, but sometimes inflection will be indicated using an ellipsis (…). Placement of the ellipsis will tell experienced actors the inflection intention. Interactive voice response (IVR) is another area in which clients make assumptions that cost them money. Voice-to-picture scripts should also give some guidance about where the narration needs to be edited relative to the video.

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