Voice Over in Movies & Video. Meaning and Examples.

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Definition: A voice-over (Voice-over (VO)) is off-screen narration or dialogue that provides additional information or commentary, enhances the narrative, or provides context. It deepens the audience’s understanding, conveys characters’ thoughts, or narrates events.

Voiceovers are used in many genres, from video games and audiobooks to documentaries and animated explainer videos to commercials and Hollywood movies.

This article provides insights into how, why, and for what voiceovers are used within movies and video productions.

Voice Over in Movies

Voice-over in film can offer insight into a character’s thoughts, provide a backstory, or set the movie’s tone.

VO can be diegetic, originating within the story world, or non-diegetic, coming from outside, thus directly influencing how viewers perceive and connect with the diegesis.

Read more about diegetic and non-diegetic sound in film.

Common ways and reasons Voice Over is used in movies

Voice-overs can serve multiple roles within a narrative, such as:

Narrator: A common use where the voice-over provides a first-person or third-person perspective to guide the audience through the story, often offering insights, additional context, or a summary of events.

Character Thoughts: Sometimes, filmmakers use voice-overs to express a character’s internal thoughts, providing a deeper understanding of their feelings, motivations, and conflicts.

Exposition: Voice-overs can efficiently deliver background information or set the scene for the audience, quickly introducing them to necessary details to understand the unfolding story. Read more about exposition in movies.

Commentary: In documentaries or non-fiction videos, voice-overs often provide facts, explain concepts, or offer the filmmaker’s commentary on the subject matter.

Instructional Content: In educational and training videos, voice-overs guide viewers through the content, explaining what is shown on screen and providing additional information.

You use voice-over when you record narration that is not present in the live-action production. This lets you add context or storytelling elements outside the visual frame.

Think of it as a tool to enhance your narrative and guide your audience deeper into the story.

Examples of Voice Over from famous movies

Voice Over movie

Here are examples and analyses of voice-over in the film.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, narrates much of the film, giving viewers insights into Andy Dufresne’s life and transformation.

  • Why? It builds a deep emotional connection between the audience and the characters.
  • How? By using Red’s perspective, the film adds layers to the story, making complex themes of hope and redemption digestible.

Goodfellas (1990)

Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, guides us through his life in the mob with a mix of excitement and regret.

  • Why? The voice-over pulls you into the allure of mob life and its eventual downfall.
  • How? Speaking directly to you feels personal, like a confession, enhancing the film’s gritty realism.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Alec Baldwin’s voice-over introduces the eccentric Tenenbaum family, providing background and context.

  • Why? It quickly and efficiently sets up the film’s unique world.
  • How? Baldwin’s calm, omniscient narration contrasts with the characters’ chaotic lives, creating a whimsical tone.

Fight Club (1999)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2f6fjMJrG0

Edward Norton’s unnamed narrator reveals his disillusionment with consumer culture and his complex relationship with Tyler Durden.

  • Why? The voice-over explores the protagonist’s psychological state, making the film’s critique of society more impactful.
  • How? The casual, conversational style pulls you into the narrator’s world, making the twist more shocking.

Blade Runner (1982) – The Final Cut

Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, initially had a voice-over that was later removed in The Final Cut version.

  • Why? The original voice-over aimed to mimic the film noir style, offering exposition and insight into Deckard’s thoughts.
  • How? Though it provided clarity, the decision to remove it in later versions allowed for a more open interpretation of the film, proving that sometimes the absence of voice-over can be just as powerful.

See tips if you want to dip your toes in voice acting as a career.

Voice Over in Video

Voice acting

Voice-over (VO) in video is often used a bit differently than it is in film.

VO in a video refers to using off-camera or off-screen vocal narration to provide additional information, context, or commentary. This technique involves a voice actor who reads from a script and is heard over the video’s primary audio track but never seen.

Examples of video genres where voice over is typically used include:

Documentaries: Voice overs often provide context, narrate historical events, or introduce key themes and ideas.

Educational Videos and Tutorials: These videos use voiceovers to explain concepts, guide viewers through instructional content, and describe processes step by step.

Commercials and Advertising: Voiceovers in commercials can introduce products, highlight features and benefits, and persuasively appeal to the audience.

Animated Videos: In animated works, such as explainer videos, voiceovers give characters voices and narrate storylines that might not be fully expressed through visuals alone.

Corporate Videos: Companies use voice overs in promotional materials, training videos, and presentations to convey information about their brand, products, or services.

Conclusion

In your work, consider the role voice-over can play. It’s not just about telling the story; it’s about how you choose to tell it.

Use voice-over to deepen character understanding, set a tone, or provide necessary exposition.

Remember, less is often more. Please keep your film simple and direct and ensure it serves your story’s purpose. Following these guidelines will help make your films more engaging and impactful.

Up Next: What Is ADR in Movies? Dubbing in Hollywood explained.

Author

  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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