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Coping With Copy: Difficult ... 
Offensive? Approach It Positively
By Rodney Saulsberry
Voice Actor, Vocalist, Coach & Author
Voice-over copy can present challenges. But rather than go it alone, learn from the experiences and advice of celebrity voice talent Rodney Saulsberry, in the following excerpt – reprinted with permission – from his book, Step Up To The Mic – A Positive Approach to Succeeding in Voice-Overs.
The positive way to deal with copy that’s hard to say is, take your time.
If I look at copy and realize it’s challenging, I know I’ll have to concentrate. I spot words that might be tough, and then I go over them a number of times in my mind – aloud, if I can – so that when I get to them during a take, I don’t stumble.
If a small portion of the copy is really crazy, I will say so to the employer – in a polite way.
If the writer happens to be there, then I’ll try to be tactful by saying, “Well, this is a little hard to say.”
Sometimes I will read the copy slightly differently than how it’s written, without asking if I can. Many times when this happens, the client or director will comment, “You know, you did THIS where I had THAT, but to be honest with you, I really liked what you were doing. Can you do it again?"
Nine times out of 10, you won’t have to alter the script anyway. Professional ad writers are generally excellent at their work.
Before you suggest a change, try saying the difficult copy first. Asking to change the script should be a last resort, and you always have to be tactful about it.
Remember, everyone in the room has the same positive goal. You all want to do a great job.
The flip side to difficult copy is copy that keeps changing. It is a tough situation when a client can’t decide what words he or she wants you to record.
Here are some ways to keep your cool when this happens.
Keep a positive attitude when there are copy changes during a session, by realizing that oftentimes copywriters aren’t sure, or they are on deadline, or they have to turn in copy before they are ready.
Sometimes they will be writing copy while you’re working. Remember, you could be doing something else that you don’t like as much. Voice-over is fun!
Also remember that these people have brought you here. They are paying you a certain amount of money, and there is a certain amount of time they have with you contractually. It’s their time, and they can use it how they want.
Understand that when people are in the creative process, sometimes things change. Just put on a positive hat that says: “They are in the creative process and they are under the gun. I’m here to do a job, and I will do it.”
You have your main voice – your signature voice. Most of the time, that’s what employers want you to use.
Even if you go into a high falsetto or if you go into a low basso thing, it still has an origin, and that origin is your signature voice.
Therefore, even if you play a character with a unique voice, you’re really doing a variation of what’s already there.
This knowledge comes in handy when you’re asked to play more than one character during a session. When you work in a cartoon, you have your main role, though contractually you may have to do two, three or four other minor characters.
If this is the case, you have to say to yourself, “Okay, the main character I’m doing is about up here,” meaning your voice is at a particular high pitch. Then, you’ve got to take the next character into a lower voice.
If the higher guy spoke rapidly, the lower guy might speak more slowly and deliberately.
There will be times when you are given copy that you’re not excited about morally. It may insult you as a female or an ethnic minority, or it may be against your religious or personal beliefs.
What do you do?
You tell the client or director that it offends you, and explain why. Ask them to change the copy, and hope for the best.
When I’ve had jobs where the text has been offensive and I have taken the time to alert the director, for the most part, we have had a civil dialogue about it, and the changes were made.
One thing about the voice-over industry is that it’s a friendly community. I think the reason I love it is because it’s a happy environment.
So, when things really bother you, your employers are usually open for discussion.
Of course, this advice deals with situations where you get a job and encounter offensive copy that you never saw before.
If the copy bothered you during an audition, you shouldn’t have taken the job. There’s nothing more empowering than avoiding a situation that could be a problem, before it actually becomes a problem.
Rodney Saulsberry is the voice of choice for behind-the-scenes narration, and a voice-over coach based in the Los Angeles area. He is in demand for promos (Dancing With The Stars, networks …), announcing (Grammy and Country Music Awards …), movie trailers (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Tupac Resurrection, Finding Forrester …), commercials (Zatarain’s, Twix, Toyota Camry, Burger King …), audiobooks, animation and more. He is also a vocalist (Better Than Before), and author of two popular voice-over inspirational books, Step Up To The Mic, and You Can Bank On Your Voice.
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