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dialogue Thoughts on VO narration?

I've gotten a lot of feedback on one of my short scripts and the one consistent theme is that nobody likes the voice-over narration.

Modern audiences seem programmed against VO narration, especially the third-person omnipresent narration that I chose to use. This I can understand. Plenty of writers use it like concrete to fill in the gaps generated by their lazy writing. There are also poorly made films that consist almost entirely of VO in the place of a story. See Neil Breen's infamous Double Down. Repeat exposure to this kind of terrible writing has put a bad taste in people's mouths.

But I think VO narration can be used well. When it does more than tell us what we're seeing. When it gives us special insight into the inner workings of the story. And, needless to say, when it's well-written.

Most examples of good VOs come straight from characters. Bateman's in American Psycho. Alex's in A Clockwork Orange. The various characters in The Tree of Life. These work because they do more than tell us what's happening; they give us insight into the character's state of mind beyond that which would read through subtext alone.

I argue that the same can be done with third-person omnipresent VO narration. And, despite all the backlash, I'm still married to the VO narration in my script. It's very functional. It reaffirms the protagonist. It gives special insight into her troubled state, something I can otherwise only hint at through subtext. It sets the mood and establishes the genre. And, in the end, it delivers the film's moral.

Sorry to go on a personal rant, but I've been thinking a lot about this and I wanted to get my thoughts out there.

What do you think about VO narration?
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
It's a funny thing, people say they hate voice over narration and then in the same breath they'll say shawshank redemption is one of the greatest films ever made lol

Tons of voice over narration in that film.

IDK why it gets all the hate, some of my favorite movies of all time have voice over narration

Fight Club is a brilliant film.
usual suspects was written by my favorite contemporary film maker

It can be used lazily to tell things instead of show - ANYTHING can be misused if you ask me
Voice over narration when used properly produces amazing films and i don't think anyone can argue otherwise
 
I'm considering using it for one of my projects. It's not out of laziness though, I'm just trying to tell a semi realistic story about animals, and obviously, they don't talk. Also, I can't afford voice actors, so that's a hard stop on a full cast production. There's a workaround being considered, courtesy of Sean.

I agree with the thoughts above, and was going to post the same thing until I read them. You can call country music a dull and repetitive artform with minimal innovation, and for the most part, that's true, but there were people who worked in that medium and delivered works that were neither dull nor repetitive, proving that the genre itself was not the limiting factor. Still not my kind of music, I'm just making the point that it's more about the execution that it is about genre.

If you saw Krull and Supernova, you might think that sci fi generated dim, forgettable movies, but at the same time, we have Star Wars and The Matrix, which managed to be highly memorable, despite coming from a similar core design concept.
 
in the same breath they'll say shawshank redemption is one of the greatest films ever made lol

Tons of voice over narration in that film.
Better to have Red give a straightforward narration to explain what's happened over several long periods of time than try to write endlessly repetitive scenes describing the events.

Stranger Than Fiction is a great use of third-party narration, but not really suitable for repeated use! I'd be more inclined to consider first-person narration as "part of the character" and somewhat more legitimate than third-party narration, but it also depends a lot on whether that narration is filling in real, important, gaps in the story line, or just trying to make stock video footage look like it has a purpose.
 
Stranger Than Fiction is a great use of third-party narration, but not really suitable for repeated use! I'd be more inclined to consider first-person narration as "part of the character" and somewhat more legitimate than third-party narration, but it also depends a lot on whether that narration is filling in real, important, gaps in the story line, or just trying to make stock video footage look like it has a purpose.

I wouldn't consider the voice that Harold hears to be a voice over, as it actually interacts with the Harold. One of my favorite films, BTW.
 
You mean third person omniscient?

Most all of the examples cited in this thread are first-person. I’ll add “A Christmas Story”, “Forrest Gump”, and “Big Fish” to the list of good use of first-person narration. “Big Fish“ wrecks me every time I watch it.

Third-person omniscient is an odd style choice, and I can only think of a few examples of films that use it at all, much less effectively.

One of my favorites is “Moonrise Kingdom”. Bob Balaban‘s narrator is such a great character, just as quirky as the main characters, and literally sitting on the sidelines as he tells the story. This is probably my top pick for examples of third-person omniscient narration, especially as he narrates on camera, not strictly through VO.

Also from Wes Anderson, narrated third-person: “The Royal Tenenbaums”.

”Pan’s Labyrinth”, another brilliant film with third-person omniscient narration.

”The Dark Crystal” is also narrated. Another of my favorites.

Peter Falk in “The Princess Bride” is, within the story of Buttercup and Wesley, a third-person omnicient narrator. Even though he appears in the film, it’s in context of being the storyteller. This is an extremely successful use of that tool.

”500 Days of Summer”. Paul isn’t actually involved in the lives of the characters, if I recall. Correct me if I’m wrong.

And ”Neverending Story“ is quite fascinating in that Bastian actually starts as a third-person but becomes first-person before the story’s done.

So, as I write this out, there are actually quite a few good films out there that have effective use of third-person omniscient narration.

Not a film, but “Arrested Development” uses third-person omniscient quite well. And the original animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”… have to throw that one in.

Or you could take a cue from “Dune” (1984) and move the story along with inner thoughts of story characters as needed.
 
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I love films with VO narrations. Mostly first person but third person works too. I haven't seen a second person narration but that could be interesting..

I don't think VO is lazy at all. It allows the film maker to bridge the gap between literary story telling and cinematic. It puts you in the position of being able to offer greater depth to the characters and the story itself. No, I can't imagine the Godfather or the Exorcist with a VO, but on the other hand, they were not written that way. You can't just throw in a VO. It's a major part of the story structure.

A little off subject the the rock opera Operation MindCrime by QueensRyche begins with a voice over. The protagonist, Nikki, tells us "

"i remember now, i remember how it started.
I can't remember yesterday,
I just remember doing what they told me…"​

That little piece tells us that what we are about to experience through the musical telling of the story is past tense. Nikki survived the ordeal. In my opinion, it changes the feel of the entire album. Plus, the added insight that the story is being told from Nikki's point of view, rather than the assumed third person, makes all the difference in the world.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
I've gotten a lot of feedback on one of my short scripts and the one consistent theme is that nobody likes the voice-over narration.
This might be because you are getting feedback on the script not the film. We know if it truly works when we see the film. Try reading Goodfellas and see what you think of the script. See if you agree that it might be a hard read/lazy storytelling and then watch the film.
 
I've gotten a lot of feedback on one of my short scripts and the one consistent theme is that nobody likes the voice-over narration.

Did any of them say why they didn't like it?
I think VOs require a little extra concentration from the reader, can seem to interrupt the flow of the visible characters' dialog, and can seem abrupt until you see the film. The reader will hopefully make the effort to figure out why there are VOs, and VOs are hard to visualize (since they're audio only, lol). So VOs have the deck stacked against them!
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
indiePRO
IDK why it gets all the hate, some of my favorite movies of all time have voice over narration
The reason narration gets "all the hate" is because unproduced writers pitching
their first scripts almost always use narration badly.

"All the hate" comes from screenplay books and writers blogs, not from completed
films. When used well VO narration is terrific - some great examples here already.
Since most unproduced writers use is badly it's actually very good advice to NOT
use it until the writer is established.
 
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