In a World, In a Nutshell

careers, Media, Press, Review

I finally watched In a World a few weeks ago.

If you haven’t heard of it, let me get you up to speed.

The lovely Lake Bell noticed that there are few female voice over artists for feature film trailers. As she stated in this NPR piece:

“It’s still an ambition … I get in front of this microphone right now, and I get very excited. But I was always interested in the idea that the omniscient voice was always considered male. This sound that’s telling you what to buy, what to think, how to feel about what bank to have, or what kind of car, or what movie to see — so I thought it would be an interesting protagonist to have a female vocal coach who would sort of aspire to take on this world.”

While I had wanted to get into a recording studio internship for music back in the day, I quickly fell into the world of voice overs. And it was a harsh landing at first.

My first internship, if you could call it that, was at a broadcasting company that owned a cluster of radio stations. I could only go in once a week, because I was working at a HAM radio repair shop full time as well (which I loved) and shared a car with my sister. Assigned to the Friday morning show, I also couldn’t make it in before dawn. I admit that those two factors probably already stuck me as the least favorite intern (on top of the fact that my supervisor constantly reminded me how much he despised Emerson students) but, frankly, I was trying hard and not everyone can afford to work for free and have their own car in college. That’s life.

So, I would  get in at 7 AM for the Top 40 channel’s morning show, help that wrap up (program the rest of the show), record some stuff, and then head over to the traffic department for the class rock channel, and sort through broadcast times for advertisements.

Most of the post morning show recording was for local companies and their advertisements, or public service announcements. One man, who owned a sporting good store, insisted on speaking the words to Queen’s “Bicycle Race” for his bike sale. He couldn’t remember the words, so decided to find the video on the studio computer, to everyone’s dismay (if you recall the amount of ladies not wearing clothing in this video, it’s not quite safe for work). Another man insisted on having an arena rock guitarist from the 70s do the jingle for his advertisement.

And then, one day, we received a public service announcement script for a children’s home. My supervisor decided to have me do it.

Halfway through the recording, he snatched the script and huffily announced that, “nobody can understand you with your speech impediment.”

That was it, and I was sent to the traffic department. I was hurt by how rude he was but also because I had never mentioned that I have a speech impediment! I’d gone to speech therapy as a kid, but had since done theater and improv and nobody had ever brought it up.

I thought of this incident after watching In a World, because it is true that enunciation and articulation in the voice over world is so strict. What I consider my first real internship was at a studio where I mainly assisted with voice overs for shows like Animal Planet, The Discovery Channel, or VH1, as well as press and music sessions. My last internship was at one of Boston’s largest studios, where they mostly focus on advertisements, voice overs, ADR, etc. My only time there actually participating with any voice over was when a major cruise line needed the voice of a child in the mix. That would be 21 year old me.

I have to say there were lots of women who did voice over work there, and a woman who also taught a class there after hours, much like Bell’s character in the film.

It’s often assumed that voice over work is easy. People have scoffed at me when I’ve talked about my job (later recording voice overs for ebooks and educational games) and referred to the individuals I’m recording as voice actors or voice talent. However, I wonder if they would snicker if these actors were voicing cartoons? Somehow, if you aren’t doing someone’s voice, a la Mufasa or Buzz Lightyear, people think it’s funny to call yourself an actor for doing voice over work. If you think it’s easy, try sitting in on voice over auditions for television. Ok, maybe you think you’re good at it but, by golly, there are a lot of people who can’t put emotion or personality into reading lines. It’s true! It’s hard when you can’t act with your body language and facial expression, and it’s not just silly voices and emphasizing syllables.

You have to think about tone and pacing..a lot. You have to make sure your breathing is steady. If you’re a woman, you have to make sure you don’t sound like a girl. If you’re a boy…that’s a whole other trick. We tried to cast for a young boy once, but every boy who was old enough to read the script well had an ever changing vocal timbre and tone. Every boy that sounded good was too young to sit with us for long. I ended up working with a grown woman who used to voice a little boy cartoon (scientist!) on Nickelodeon, but then our project was cancelled. Still, the process was fascinating to me.

I’ve worked with a good deal of people who are great at what they do. I know a lot of them also do voice over work for television, radio, phone services, etc. However, I see Bell’s point. I thought back on all of the advertisement or television sessions I sat in on. Outside of a health insurance advertisement and a windshield glass jingle, I only recall men coming in for these voices.  I have to say I saw a lot more diversity in the educational media I’ve recorded or edited voice overs for, and that is telling to me.

It’s an odd niche, and In a World brought to light some things I never stopped to think about. I think Bell is incredibly talented as a voice actor, too, and I also appreciated her attention to wanting women to speak confidently, not like little girls who are always asking questions, instead of making statements.

Spoiler Alert Possible Here:

In the end we are really proud of her character, but when we find out why she has been singled out it’s a bit of a groan. Unfortunately, it’s not unrealistic, in my opinion. I know a lot of women, including myself, who have worked in male dominated fields and often been afraid that we were chosen just to get a female in there, over our talent or portfolio. Is that worth it? To get the ball rolling on females in an industry, so to speak?

I guess you’ll have to watch the film and let me know what you think.

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