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What is a voice over?

A voice over is the voice of a person who is out of the screen; it's a voice broadcasted by a speaker who does not appear on the screen or is invisible as a matter of fact in the case of radio broadcasting.

This denomination is very common in the world of audiovisual, movie and radio productions and generally in the media business.

A voice over is heard mostly in three typical cases :

1. The speaker is out of the screen but is part of the story.

2. The narrator is on the screen but does not talk (his or her lips are not moving)

3. The speaker is not part of the story.

Those three typical cases meet the voice-over needs of three situations:

1. A movie is based on "a story told by..." : the entire movie or only part of it illustrates what a character is telling : either it's own story (autobiography)
or the story of someone else.

2. The narrator appears one the screen by does not seem to be pronouncing the words that are being said, personnal thoughts are being told or it is, once again, an autobiography :
the voice and the image do not relate to the same moment, there is a time
difference between the two of them

3. The speaker has no link with the story told. The voice over has solely an informative function. It's of course the case of documentaries and also the case of fairy tale movies in which the narrator explains the situation by "telling".

When does a voice-over interact?

- Simply at the begining, to set up the context (very common with tale movies).
- In a discontinued manner : it is used to add informations from time to time, to express opinions, to announce events...

What is the function of a voice over?

To influence the meaning of the image with two possibilities : either it reinforces the meaning of the image and the voiceover agrees with the image, or on the contrary, it discords with the image and creates a distance toward the image.

A voice over can then reinforce what is shown on the screen by adding informations, explaining what is going on on the screen

It can also introduce a discordance : for example, as a definite comedy effect we see a character who fails in everything he tries on the screen while his voiceover tells about his multiple successes.


Remarks :

There can also be several voiceovers in the same movie, then the function of each of them is to express one point of view and help us understand and grasp the characteristics of each character, his or her way of thinking, seing, judging...

The discordance between a voiceover and an image can raise the issue of thuth in movies : is the image or the sound telling the truth ?

The Off-the-screen character voice : it is considered a voiceover since it's the voice of a character who takes part in the situation that is talked about on the screen but is not seen.

Several interpretations are possible :

-surprise effect : a character is called, he turns his back, the narrator of a voiceover is identified.

- "focusing" or" isolation" effect : characters are heard around the one or the ones that are shown on the screen but those don't matter : what matters is the character present on the screen and his perception of what is going on around him or her.

The idea behind the off-the-screen character voice is to suggest a space outside the screen
and then, depending on the context, that opening outside the screen is left to interpretation.

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