Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Spaces Between

The other day I was listening to the sound track of one of the computer-animated TV shows that my children were watching. I usually try not to do that, because I find the voice work in these show to be annoying. But I happen to be working on a play right now, and it suddenly struck me why the TV soundtrack grated on my ear.

Since I started acting six years ago, I’ve heard directors in the theater (including myself) tell the actors again and again to pick up the pace of the show. But not by saying our lines faster, which sounds unnatural and is harder to understand, but by taking out the gaps between lines unless there is a legitimate dramatic reason to pause before we speak.

And the cartoon soundtrack was in exact opposition to this principle! The dialogue was spoken so quickly that I could hardly catch more than half of what was being said. But there was always a least a beat between lines, even when it was inappropriate for the beat to be there.

Now, bear in mind that the directors, actors, and sound editors on these shows are highly-paid professionals. But the folks in community theater around my neck of the woods have a better sense of this than the pros on these cartoons.

Right now I’m writing while my wife is watching the old TV series “Angel.” Since I’m writing and not watching, I have a chance to listen without the distraction of the visuals. Guess what I hear? Dialogue that nearly, and sometimes actually, overlaps, but never sounds unnaturally rushed. The pace is brisk, it carries you along, and despite the frenetic atmosphere of the scene I was listening to, I could clearly understand what the actors were saying, and I’m not even sitting in the room with the TV.

When you are directing, editing, or acting for video, take your cue from shows like “Angel.” Keep the spaces between the lines tight. Consider getting rid of many of them altogether. But don’t rush the actual speaking of the lines. Make sure you take the time to be understood and to give every word the dramatic expression it deserves.

Don’t take your cue from the cartoons. Even if, perhaps especially if, you’re making a cartoon.