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Two new ‘how to’ books: TV acting and voiceovers

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If you need to know about something in real depth you probably can’t, even in this high-tech world, do better than a book. Enter two new ones which take you through the detail of skills which drama school may have glossed over too quickly – acting for camera and doing a voiceover. Both are written by practitioners with decades of experience to share. And I’m a glutton for upbeat celebrity forewords – Ewan McGregor in the former and Miriam Margolyes in the latter.

Denis Lawson’s Acting for Camera (Nick Hern Books) is partly the reflections of a man who’s been at the top of his game for forty years (Bleak House, Holby City, Sensitive Skin, Marchlands and Inside No 9 on TV and films including Local Hero, Broken and The Machine) and partly advice for actors, based on Lawson’s extensive experience.

It’s very practical and busts a lot of jargon. If you’re going to act for camera you need to be able to “do the banana”, hit marks and deal with wild scenes – which are not quite what you might think. You also need to know how film works with some basic information about cameras, angles and shots.

You won’t get far if you don’t understand who does what in the production of film and what is expected of you, from getting up early enough to food provided on set and health and safety issues along with lots of dos and don’ts. It is all there in Lawson’s book. The style is pithy and the information invaluable, although the low budget matte black and white photographs are poor – and feel a bit odd in a book which is, in essence, about pictures.

The other book which has caught my eye this week is The Voiceover Book: Don’t Eat Toast by David Hodge and Stephen Kemble (Oberon). It’s a good read even for someone who is simply curious about what a voiceover is and what’s involved.

There’s a lot of down to earth advice for drama school students who expect (hope?) to do this sort of work in the future or for actors who could do with paying a few more bills and would like to break into this area.

The book opens with basic information about different sorts of voice, followed by the skills you need to develop to make the best use of it. But this is a business-like book mostly about getting work, doing it well and managing yourself.

It only talks about the mechanics of the voice and techniques for improving it in a brief section at the end. It’s mostly written in pleasingly accessible short bites with plenty of quotes from experienced people in the know and it’s especially strong on accents and how you can get them right simply by listening, although as audio book director Tamsin Collinson says, “never offer to do an accent you’re not 100% sure of. You’ll be caught out at some point.”

The best part of this book is the detailed account of what happens in a recording studio when it all comes together because if you’re new to all this there is simply no way you will know about things such as studio etiquette and that it’s a good idea to take water only in small sips because gulping it tends to make your stomach rumble.

Happy reading. Happy learning.

Read more education and training columns from Susan Elkin

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