What Makes Dialogue Dance? Rhythm.

Our prediction: The winner of this weekend’s big bowl game will be the Coen Brothers. (What’s that? There are football teams playing? Who knew?)

Like you, we watch for the commercials, like this one:

That was really good. Why?

What makes the Coen brothers work unique? Well, it’s a combination of things—memorable characters, wide lenses, deep focus, camera placement, and rhythm. Serious rhythm. To get a sense of their rhythm, watch this again with the sound off. Count the beats. You could almost dance to it.

Here’s a full explanation of their techniques. If you have 7 minutes, it’s really interesting. Use it to impress your friends. We won’t tell. (Or you could just skip down to “What does all this have to do with audio?”)

What does all this have to do with audio?

Glad you asked. Plenty, when you’re Soundscapes. We’ve shown clients for years that mic placement and processing—like camera placement—can create a sense of either intimacy or distance. That’s why our first question about any dialogue script is “where are these people?”

But the level of intimacy is just one facet. The most important thing in dialogue—just like in a Coen brothers film—is rhythm. Especially if you’re doing comedy. Just listen to this spot for Advance Document Solutions.

It’s beautifully written. But when put into the hands of Tommy Sanders (who voiced both characters) and edited together rhythmically by Soundscapes’ David Greaves, it takes on a whole new life. Here’s another from that series:

Hear how the rhythm of the editing keeps the spot interesting? Of course, since one voice did all the characters, it was up to the Soundscapes editor to create the comic timing. But when you’re doing live dialogue, it’s more a question of talent direction than editing. Like in this spot for Ozone Action Days.


But how do you direct the rhythm?

Directing voice actors in a read like this requires that you spell out the beats throughout the script: where to take it easy, where to pause, where to begin building the tempo, when to use silence effectively—that’s all part of good talent direction.

We’ve been directing actors in comedy dialogue for nearly 40 years now. So next time you write a piece of humor—or anything else—send it to Soundscapes. Everyone here knows exactly how to make your script dance.

—Brent Walker

Great Writing—More than just Words

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Words matter. And when writing a TV or Radio script, the vast majority of copywriters concentrate on words alone. But your final production will contain much more than just words. Those elements—Sound Effects & Music—should be strongly considered before the words begin to hit the screen.

When you consider SFX and Music in the conceptual phase, it will have a strong effect on how you write. It opens new doors to creativity. It’s like storyboarding for the ear. This is especially true when you’re writing for Radio, because great Radio triggers the imagination.

Having SFX and Music figured out in the beginning will also have an effect on how your talent performs. For example, actors will deliver your copy one way if they know that they’re in a small coffee shop, and quite another way if they’re walking and talking on the street.

By the same token, if a single-voice announcer knows in the beginning the pacing and energy of the music she’ll be reading against, it will shape her delivery.

Simply stated, SFX and Music should never be an afterthought. But what happens when you actively make these elements a forethought? Great things, that’s what.

For example, when you write a Radio spot centering around a berserk hamster on the loose, wrecking everything in sight, then the SFX become as much a character in the spot as any human being or even the copy.

Or perhaps your ears perk up at gardening advice. Here’s a spot that was written around SFX that move the story forward and give it great mental images.

Interesting note: That spot was so effective in creating mental images that a local woman tried to start a public boycott of the garden center because of their cruelty to cows. It was that real to her. Or maybe she was drunk—who can say?

It boils down to this: The non-voice elements in your advertising can be the strongest things about a spot. But only if you include SFX and music ideas in the conceptual phase of any writing.

We help people come up with great ideas every day. Next time you sit down to write, give us a quick call and we’ll help you weave SFX into your writing. That way, your listeners will see your spot and not just hear it.


More SFX-Oriented Spots

SwordsmanWhen Sound Effects are given a starring role in a spot, great things begin to happen. Not just because Sound Effect-intensive spots (when well produced) put permanent pictures into a listener’s mind, but because the voice talent knows how to better perform the role.

In each of these spots from our archives, Soundscapes voice talent understood what the producer wanted in the final product because the copy was written very specifically around SFX. Check out these examples.

First, a spot centering around swords—one you wouldn’t want to do in video:

Then there’s this spot for Red Alert—an energy drink. The writer clearly heard the entire spot in his head before he wrote it:

Finally, a spot that could’ve been just another description of a sandwich becomes an action-packed Kung Fu adventure thanks to some elegant and subtle sound design.

Soundscapes’ SFX work has been the foundation of our reputation for more years than we care to admit. If you’re looking to add more life to your production with SFX and music, call us anytime. We have ideas, and love to collaborate on creative.


From the Archives


KidsBehindMic-300sqKids are always interesting to work with. So many of them will surprise you with just how bright they really are! Recording and editing their tracks can be challenging, but it’s always worth it. Here are some spots featuring kids that we think you’ll enjoy.

First, the precocious read—the kid who speaks with authority.

Next, a bedtime story. This is a great context for kids because the adult can act as a foil.

Kids are great at telling secrets, and that’s another fantastic format for a kid spot.

Here’s a spot in which the kid takes an adult role. It kind of breaks the rule about adult words in a kids mouth, but this little guy can really pull it off.

One of the greatest ways to write for a kid is to take into account their innocent confusion about things.

It’s great to have a child tell a story. But before you write it, you have to get into a child’s mindset.

And finally, a series of really nice kid work for the Omaha Zoo.


Writing for Kids

Session Notes squareSchools everywhere are about to set the kids free for summer. What better time to write commercial copy that includes kids? But how do you best write for the pre-pubescent set? We have several tips.

No Adult Talk

First, when writing for a kid, avoid stuffing their mouths with adult phrases. No kid would say “First Bank’s Home Equity Line of Credit lets you use the equity in your home to make home improvements, and gives you a big tax break.” Nope. When you make the mistake of putting adult words in kids’ mouths, you destroy the one thing that makes kid spots work so well: natural innocence.

Kids speak in short, simple sentences. They ask innocent questions. They should never handle the heavy lifting of mandatory copy points. Deal with that in an announce graph.

Leave Room for Surprises

Sometimes when talking to kids, hilarious things will fall out of their mouths. Keep your scripting loose enough to allow the use of those moments. When timing your kid script, aim to make it 10-20% shorter than the target length. The younger the child, the shorter it should be. Write :25 or :50 worth of copy. Then, be prepared to weave in ad-libs as they become available. These are the moments that will make your work memorable.

Don’t Try to Direct

Kids are easily intimidated by adults, and when they’re intimidated, they clam up. Over the years, we’ve developed a foolproof method of directing kids. One key part of that method is that we talk to you before recording the kid’s lines to find out what you want. Then, we sit on the floor and direct the kids face-to-face. When we have something great, we’ll call you back with it. If you need any fixes, let us know and we’ll handle them. The kids don’t leave until you’re happy.

We’ve found that this method elicits the best work from kids with the lowest level of nervousness or intimidation. It sets them free to be themselves. And when kids are free to be themselves, some wonderful things can happen.

Soundscapes has specialized in kid spots for many years, and we’ve developed a big bag of tricks to make your kid spots sound great. Call us for script collaboration, and we’ll create some award-winning kid spots for your clients.