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When The Commercial VO Script Wants
'Wry And Knowing' - Where And How?
June 29, 2016

By Hugh Klitzke
Casting Director and Coach

Wry. Merriam Webster - cleverly and often ironically or grimly humorous.  

Simplest examples I can find? Ecards. Google them. I’ll still be here …  

When you look at them you know the words are supposed to be funny because they're captions to cartoons. But without context, the joke can be lost. Or worse; too serious.

For example ...
Caption:  "You had me at your impeccable spelling and use of grammar.”    
Image: A beautiful woman craning her neck to rest her head on the shoulder of her beau. Result: Her posture and smile with the caption make the whole picture funny.    

Caption: "Ask me again to share my bacon and I will set you on fire.”
Image: An adorable little girl with huge eyes and her mouth stuffed full of a white bread sandwich. 
Result: The context that the image provides makes the text funny.    

In voice over we are asked to be "wry and knowing” and yet so very often we are not provided with any kind of context at all.  

The challenge is usually two-fold: 
1. Where to be wry, and
2. How to be wry.    
In a commercial, when asked for "wry,” it is usually performed on the first line or the line before the recapitulation of the product and product tag.    

The how? When there is no context - we have to make it up ourselves.    
Script: "The story of my life…  More complicated than particle physics. Fortunately there’s the Amazon Dash Button.”    
"Wry” really can’t go on the product because we want the product to sound like a solution, not a part of the problem. And the "particle physics” image can generate a context in our imagination.  
Script:  "You don’t have to be a genius to keep your laundry clean. Amazon Dash. Shopping made simple.”   
So, always put the "wry” in the right place and imagine its context. 

Remember - you don’t need to be right about the context, but you have to know what it is that you are playing. Only then will a listener hear it.
Hugh P. Klitzke is studio manager and voice casting director for a leading bi-coastal talent agency, who has directed more than 85,000 auditions for all voice over genres. Based in New York City, he is also a coach specializing in teaching voice over for actors, and writes VO4TA, a twice-weekly blog with helpful voice acting tips.


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Comments (1)
Rick Lance
6/29/2016 at 12:46 PM
Yes, another specific example of "creating your own backstory" when you're not given one to work from.
This is always true for actors and discussed in most acting workshops. Even if your backstory is not correct ... that is... what the copywriter, producer, etc intended. You made a choice that shows a definite direction you're taking that can be heard in your read.

I was once chastised by a very well known casting director at an on-camera audition because I made a "choice," a commitment to the character based on very little "backstory." She didn't like my choice and was upset about it! I also believe she was DEAD wrong treating me that way! I've never forgotten that audition and to this day... I remain committed to creating a backstory where there is none... for the sake of an honest portrayal of the character. It may not be the "right" choice but you've just shown your humanity. What can be better than that!?
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