Choosing a script for the reels where you’re showcasing your character voices (i.e. your character, animation, and gaming reels) can seem like an impossible task – especially if your two best voices are a French Femme Fatale and a Nerdy Glaswegian Gamer, and weirdly you cannot seem to find an off-the-peg script that features both anywhere…
Sometimes there really is nothing else for it but to write a bespoke script. But where on earth would you even start with such an endeavour?
Well, some writers start with the plot, some start with the setting, and some start with the characters. As the sole purpose of this script is to showcase your characters, it makes sense to start with them.
Get really clear on who your characters are
You should always pick the voices that you can do best, the ones you can just flawlessly break into mid-sentence when cooking dinner. There is always a temptation to throw in a new character simply because you think they’d sound great alongside the characters you’ve already got – try to resist said temptation. It’s always better to use the voices you are most familiar with for your reels.
Have a think about who each character is. Remember that you have limited time to convey them to the casting director, so (non-offensive) stereotypes are your friends. If one of your voices sounds like a New York Gangster, let them be a New York Gangster, don’t make them into a priest who has developed amnesia and is leaving the clergy to pursue a passion for bagels but due to a half-remembered childhood trauma is having a crisis of confidence. By the time you’ve explained all that, the casting director will have moved on, be two or three reels down the line, and you’ll have missed out on the job.
Decide on your setting
Play around with different scenarios for your characters. You could trap your Femme Fatale and your Gamer in a lift with the New York Gangster and – why not? – the Amnesiac Priest. You could have them all doing community service on a city allotment. They could be sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. The setting doesn’t necessarily need to be the natural habitat for any of your characters, in fact it often makes for a more fun script if it isn’t!
Do keep in mind, though, that you have limited time. Similarly to the characters, the setting needs to be instantly recognisable – if we take the lift as an example:
Gangster: Gee, the lift’s stopped. Johnny Two Hats will be most displeased.
Femme: Argh, zees cannot be ‘appening! I am goeeeng to ‘ave a cigarette.
Gamer: I’m very claustrophobic, I have nightmares aboot being stuck in a lift with a smoker!
Priest: Say, what’s a lift?
Beginning, middle, end
It sounds obvious but all stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even if you’re starting your script when the narrative is already in motion and finishing while the action’s still in progress, you still need to find a good point to join the story and a good place at which to leave it.
You want to start with a bang. As casting directors are busy people, there’s a good chance that most will only listen to the first few seconds of your reel so make sure you hit the ground running. You ideally want to present your characters with a problem and have each one react to it, as we did in the lift scenario above.
Although it’s true that a lot of the time only the first few seconds of your reel will be listened to, that doesn’t mean that the rest doesn’t matter – you wouldn’t want to disappoint the occasional casting director who stays on to find out what happens! So make sure you give them a complete story.
The rules for reels
As I’ve mentioned, we don’t have much time. Your reel should be around one minute in length, and certainly no more than two. This translates to a maximum of two pages if written out in script format* which really isn’t very much at all. Therefore, try to keep the story as simple as you can – and don’t let any of your characters waffle on for too long.
Have four to six distinct voices to use and make the ones you feel most confident with speak first. Give them wildly differing emotional responses to the scenario – one’s hysterical, one’s bored, one’s delighted, etc – as this will also showcase your range as an actor. This has the added bonus that it’ll make the script easier to write if they’re all bouncing off each other; and winding each other up.
Finally, remember that the script needs to focus on the dialogue so avoid having too many sound effects. Explosions are always fun, but they’re not what the casting director is listening to your reel for. The casting director wants to hear you.
Script writing really not your bag?
Does that all sound time consuming, tedious, and quite some way outside your wheelhouse? Would you prefer to hire a professional script writer to do it for you? Well, you’re in luck because I am a professional script writer and I offer a voice reel script writing service! Pop over to my website and book a chat with me: https://debswardle.co.uk/voice-reel-scripts
For formatting examples, check out some radio scripts in the BBC Writersroom Script Library.
Debs is a copywriter and voiceover and works with Helen on website copy. This is where you can find her online.