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Friday, February 18, 2011

Narration Tests and Rehearsals

Had an interesting phone discussion with a veteran local narrator about “rehearsals” or “tests” (as they call  them in Japanese). 
“I don’t do them” says he.  “Not necessary”.
This, in the context of PR Video voice overs.
“Furthermore, I won’t do them” he continued.  A flat rejection of the whole idea.
Now, I have to admit I don’t like doing “tests” either.  They’re tiring – that’s one thing. I’m not an amateur – and my first take is usually my best.  “Tests” often lead to endless discussions in the studio about the meaning of this or that minor thing in the text. Since the people doing the “discussing” are all Japanese – it is blind men with the elephant -- it all takes time.  And the results?   Oh…never mind…..
On the other hand, if I refused to do these test readings – I would quickly be out of a job. 
People here don’t hire “narrators” ( voice over artists ) just for their voices – although (granted)  that is the main thing in the beginning.  You will notice that some companies stick with a narrator whose voice or reading skills may be so-so mediocre – but who is cooperative.  That’s the thing – PR stuff is a group thing here – and you are expected to sing in tune with the rest. Which maybe is why ad companies just love karaoke.
Japanese directors do “tests” for lots of reasons. They they don’t understand English very well and they can’t intuitively and quickly grasp how the words fit the images until they actually see it done in the studio –or – at the very least –they think they can’t.  There is also the question of not really understanding the script – which is often simply a translation of a Japanese original which wasn’t very well-written in the first place.  I am not saying these people are incompetent – rather, they are doing the best they can in a foreign language.
Think: what if you were the director and you have to do a Japanese video based on an English original you have done?
Yeah, you could simply refuse to do it – and look for a native English/ American director.  But – besides the problem of finding a qualified person you would be a.) giving up your video baby for adoption  b.) not making any money.
In any case, it isn’t just you calling the shots here -- it’s your bosses in the production company, the ad company – and a bunch of middle management people on the Client side, who have just been transferred willy-nilly to their current jobs and don’t know what they are doing.  They are all there in the studio.
So – do “rehearsals”.  As though you were giving the “narrator” a chance to do …um… rehearse? That allows you to checking timing, cue points, etc – and get confirmation from the Sponsor that the script is OK – and to get feedback from the narrator, who is (after all) the only native speaker in the room.  You can hide the real issue – that the script and the narration are in a different language from yours  – and from that of everybody but the guy at the microphone – the lowest guy on the totem pole.
That’s also something to remember.  If you are a narrator in Tokyo – you are just another pretty voice.

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