Gosh, I really hate voiceovers. I don’t know if they are happening more frequently or my patience with them is just thinning but their presence has become oppressive. Why do I hate them so much? What does it make me feel? What part of it am I so averse to? And I’ve come to realize that what I believe to be the number one cardinal sin, in all art, is treating your audience like they’re stupid. I hate children’s books that talk down to the reader. I hate things that tell you, not show you. And I hate things that preach. And that’s why the voice over is the most detestable form of screenwriting.
I can only imagine that the origin of voiceovers is the first-person narration of novels, which I, for the record, don’t find problematic. Sure, it relies on the same assumption of a lack of analytical intuition but at least it doesn’t take away from the artistry of the rhetoric. In film, forcibly overriding or neglecting the visual capabilities that cinema as a medium presents, is just plain dumb. To not understand the benefits of the palate you’re working with, makes you seem inept, so no wonder you have to, or feel obligated to, spell it out for the viewers. Of course, I’m not going to bother covering that yes, there are some instances of good voice overs because, obviously. But, and I don’t know if this sounds ridiculous, I feel like one in five movies I see in theaters has some form of voice over. Fortunately, we’re approaching the new year guys, so no time like the present to stop.
I’m not so indulgent to call myself a writer, but as someone who aspires to write, whenever I find myself considering a voiceover, I take myself through a series of questions. What does this accomplish? Can I show it instead? Am I trusting my audience? Am I benefiting them? The thing that’s perhaps the most insidious of the didacticism in children’s books akin to a cinematic voiceover, is that the author is actually hindering growth. Works that push you a little outside of your intellectual comfort zone make you aspire to knowledge, whereas a work that dumbs down what you already know creates a kind of cerebral stasis. If I walk away from this checklist convinced the voiceover is the only way, than okay. But I think we should all encourage ourselves to push beyond the first response, which is what voiceovers often seem like: lazy. As a millennial, I’m sure the amount of ways people will call me apathetic are many. This isn’t going to be one of them. And, ha, I said I hate preachiness. Sorry everybody.
Author: Madeline Meyer
Madeline recently graduated from Oberlin College where she studied Cinema Studies. She writes screenplays and ill-received dad jokes. She likes board games and olives.