Monday, October 24, 2005


I did my voice-over job (mentioned here) today. Because of the hurricane hitting the state a lot of things were closed, including the organization for which I do some volunteer work, so I called the producer of the video project I'd be narrating to see if we were still on.

"I'm up for it if you are," he said. I was and we were.

Driving to the production company's offices in St. Petersburg entails crossing Tampa Bay over the Howard Frankland Bridge. Though the eye of Hurricane Wilma had passed well south of us several hours ago, the winds were still strong enough to bounce my car around the road. Whitecaps rolled everywhere on the water. The bay looked as if it were confused, frantically sending waves in so many directions at once.

Water splashed on my windshield. I thought I had driven into a rain squall until I realized that it could not have fallen from the cloudless sky. It had blown off the bay onto my car. Come to think of it, I better get the car washed. Salt water can't be good for it, especially in such large doses.

But it survived the trip without apparent effect. It was cool enough outside that I could eschew my usual strategy of looking for the shadiest parking spot rather than the one closest to the door and I parked directly in front of the office.

Doing voice-over work can be tricky when it's work someone else has written. One of the byproducts of my broadcasting career is that when I read anything I hear the words in my head.* But the voice inside my head might not sound like the one the producer has in mind. My job is to try to read the words the way the producer hears them in his head -- even if I don't particularly like how they sound there.

I was narrating three stories about the Katrina recovery effort in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They weren't vastly different from what you'd expect to see in a normal TV news story except they were a lot longer so I should not have been too far out of my comfort zone.

Once we'd set up and started recording, I'd read a section and look over at him. At first he often asked for another take. It took awhile to understand how he wanted it to sound. He said he wanted "conversational," but as we went along I realized that what he meant was that he wanted a delivery like you'd hear on NPR. I can do that but the imperious drone you hear on public radio is no more conversational than the affected news voice Brian Williams uses as he poses for you on NBC.

After a take, A head nod meant "close enough." An emphatic head nod meant that I had read it exactly as he had hoped to hear it. And the one time he nodded and tilted his head at the same time he told me he hadn't thought of it sounding that way but liked it better than what he had imagined. Words work funny that way.

The whole thing took about 90 minutes and I was back in my car braving the wind after making profitable use of my windpipe.

*It will hearten you to hear that after much practice I have conquered the need to move my lips while reading.

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