Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

4 Tips For Film Narrators


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

August 14, 2012

Comments (5)

Young woman holding a black and white film clapper. She is smiling and the clapper arm is up. White text says Studios, Scene, Take, Roll.Do you narrate audiobooks, documentaries or films?

While watching some bonus material on a DVD, I happened to come across an interview with the film's narrator.

Hear insights gleaned from veteran actor and narrator Christopher Plummer on what he believes the role of the narrator is in today's VOX Daily.

Narration in Film

Christopher Plummer pictured in an interview conducted by Stratford Shakespeare Festival concerning the works of Shakespeare as Christopher Plummer (b.1929), a Canadian classical actor best known for his work as Captain Von Trap in The Sound of Music and as a mainstay at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, has one of those voices we have come to trust and allowed into our homes to teach and entertain us.

I recently heard Christopher Plummer's performance as narrator of the film The Gospel of John (2003) starring Henry Ian Cusick. The film, performed word-for-word from the American Bible Society's Good News Bible, was beautifully presented by director Philip Saville. The cast played their roles magnificently. The 180 minutes of rich storytelling and cinematography was a feast for the ears and eyes.

The Gospel of John movie poster; the role of Jesus Christ is played by actor Henry Ian Cusick. Director Philip Saville.There were three DVDs in the package, the third of which contained a wealth of information about the film's production, its cast and behind the scenes footage that included a read-through with the cast seated, script in hand at rehearsal.

One featured interview was with Plummer wherein he discussed his role as narrator in The Gospel of John at length. Much of what Plummer says applies to narration in general as this paraphrased quote demonstrates.

"The narrator must come in as if he is another disciple watching it all happen. He must not intrude as some narrators do and he mustn't be grand and use the voice of God. He's got to be modest and treat the story as slightly dispassionately so that the sentiment belongs to those who are playing it on the screen."

- Paraphrased quote from Christopher Plummer, The Gospel of John, DVD bonus material

Takeaways From Award-winning Actor Christopher Plummer

When serving as a film narrator, you must remember to:

1. Assume the role of observer
2. Be modest in how you speak
3. Tell the story objectively
4. Allow on-camera actors to deliver the emotion

What Has Worked For You?

If you have any tips you'd like to share about narrating for film, I'd love to hear them! Be sure to comment on this post and tell us what you think makes for great film narration.

Best wishes,

©iStockphoto.com/Jian Wan


    Awesome advice, for the seasoned pro and the novice!

    Posted by:

      Best advice I've heard in a long, long time. So many times I've heard VO folks say that we are "actors". I have always believed that Narrators are not actors but simply narrative observers. Like Christopher Plummer says...."the sentiment belongs to those who are playing it on the screen."

      Posted by:

        This is precisely why it is important that the filmmaker deliver the scratch video to the narrator, and not the other way around. So many producers in our new voice over Internet universe search for a narrator, find one, and then expect them to deliver without the narrator ever having seen the actual visual piece. As he states, you must be "another disciple watching it all happen" and "He must not intrude as some narrators do and he mustn't be grand and use the voice of God." When it is just you trying to tell a story with just a script in front of you, those two sentiments are hard to follow. There is tremendous difference between narrating to the film, and narrating from a script.

        Posted by:
        • Keith Michaels
        • October 27, 2012 1:27 PM

          This was absolutely one of the best, most helpful lessons you've provided. Very, very good. Exactly what I needed. When coming from the mouth of one of the greats such as Christopher Plummer, these lessons were positively "golden."

          Many thanks!

          John Sipple

          Posted by:
          • John Sipple
          • October 29, 2012 9:19 AM

            Wonderful wisdom on which to reflect - thankyou for bringing it to us here.

            Posted by:
            • Howard Ellison
            • February 2, 2013 1:09 PM

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