How Does Voice-Over Work in Movies?

Imagine gazing out over the golden plains of the African bushveld, feeling mesmerized by the breathtaking landscapes, when an epic David Attenborough style voice booms out of nowhere: “Welcome to Africa…the land of the wild and free….”

What you just imaged is what we call voice-over, a term often abbreviated as V.O, one of the most famous film tricks in the book. Whether it’s used for narration or a shorthand tool for advertisements, we’re all familiar with voice-over, thanks to its use in media and pop culture. 

But while many people know what a voice-over is, not many are aware of how it’s done and when it works best.

So, what goes into a great voice over and how should you plan your film around it, or is it the other way around? Here’s a look at how voice-over works in movies and why it’s a great tool within the film industry!


What Is Voice Over?

Off-camera or off-stage commentary – two terms often used interchangeably with voice-over – is a production technique that uses a voice (not part of the narrative) reading from a script.

The most common voice-over technique is a synchronous dialogue which sees the voice-over narrating the action that’s taking place at the same time. But there’s also an asynchronous voice-over, which is often used in cinema.

It’s important to note that voice-overs are not the same as translations, which essentially replace dialogue with another language and is called dubbing or re-voicing.


What Does a Good Movie Voice Over Sound Like?

First and foremost, the best voice-overs communicate with the audience on an emotional level and give a back story on what the film is about. Voice-overs must therefore be passionate, clear, concise, and aligned with the narrative of the story.

Voice-overs that merely describe what’s happening on screen without adding any extra context or details don’t have any business featuring in movies. Simply describing what the audience can already see rarely provides any kind of value to the video.

In essence, voice-overs cover the WHY of films. Just like the movie’s purpose, there should be a purpose for the voice-over to exist in the film. So, if the film’s most important aspects are the visuals, the voice-over should emphasize and add more context or extra details to whatever is displayed on the screen.


How is Voice Over Used in Movies?

Virtually every film genre uses voice-over, and filmmakers often use it to provide quick expositions, narrate, and provide a deeper look into the mind of characters. The reason why voice-over works so well for movies is that it creates an opportunity to communicate directly with the audience, acting as the liaison between the action on screen and the viewers.

Voice-over is used to give personalities to fictional characters in movies (characterization) and to create the effect of storytelling by a character or omniscient narrator.

But a fundamental reason for voice-over in movies is for the purpose of translation. In Russia and Poland, for example, voice-over is used as a language localization technique as an alternative to full dubbing.


Need Help Finding the Right Voice to Chime in?

Here at Day Translations, we create videos with fantastic voice-overs all the time. From writing and casting to recording and editing, our voice-over artists are some of the most reputable in the industry, making our voice-over services one of the best in the world.

We’d love to help you with your voice-over needs, regardless of which stage you’re in with your video production. Schedule a call with us to see how we can help you get heard in any language!


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