Voice over vs voice off; a lot of brands and artists use these terms interchangeably. But they have slightly different applications. If you know anything about voice-over and narration techniques, then you know that it is a production process that involves adding an artist’s voice over an audiovisual project.
We use the voice-off or off-screen notation when a character does not appear in the camera view.
Anything said by an unseen narrator or someone on the other end of a phone call can be marked as either off-screen or voice-over speech.
So what is the real difference between these two techniques? It seems that they describe the same thing.
Well, not quite.
While both techniques indicate that dialogue is coming from outside the camera view, the difference lies in the exact location of the speaker.
Read on to find out more differences between voice-over vs voice-off:
What is the Difference Between Narration and Voice Over?
The off-screen notation is used when a character is present in the physical scene location but isn’t visible on the screen.
If a character walks into a room and speaks without appearing in the camera view then it is okay to use the off-screen notation.
In voice-over, the audience can hear a speaker’s voice but they do not appear anywhere in the camera view and neither are they present in the physical scene.
The speaker, therefore, could be on the other end of a telephone line or radio or they could be an unseen narrator.
It is also appropriate to use a voice-over instead of an off-screen extension to describe a character’s inner monologue or thought process.
The idea is that voice-over is a post-production technique that is applied on top of the existing content. Voice-off or off-screen simply implies that a speaker was present in the scene although they may or may not appear in the camera view.
Let us examine the differences between various terms used in the voice-over industry:
This term is used when a character physically appears at the scene location but does not appear in the camera view.
When a character is off-screen, therefore, the audience will hear their voice but not see them even though they are at the primary scene location.
Let’s look at an example of this:
Suppose there is a scene taking place in a restaurant and character A is cooking in the kitchen while character B is ordering food on the counter.
If the camera is on character A, anything that character B says is off-screen because they appear in the primary location which is the restaurant but not in the camera view.
Voice-off extensions only apply to characters who are within a scene.
Think of a policeman who speaks from the other side of the door. Or a conversation between two friends where the camera keeps switching from one character to the other.
In this instance, the character is within the scene even if they’re not within the frame. An actor may be far away from the main action but as long as they are present in the scene, then it is appropriate to use an off-screen extension.
This term is often used interchangeably with off-screen. Multicam sitcoms are especially notorious for using off-camera notations instead of off-screen although they mean the same thing.
Narrators usually have an unknown omniscient voice. It could be the voice of one of the characters in the film and sometimes the narrator can be present in the current scene.
Narration is a form of voice-over that comes with its own set of unique rules.
One thing to keep in mind is that narration can easily be redundant. It’s therefore not advisable for a narrator to say or repeat something that the audience can already see with their eyes.
You often hear critics in the film industry disagreeing with the use of voice-over narration at all costs.
This is for good reason as it is easy to overuse and even rely on narration to tell a story.
In the worst-case scenarios, film creators will use narration as a crutch to fill in the gaps of the story that don’t make sense to the audience. Other narrators simply repeat the actions on the screen and never contribute anything new to the story.
But there have been successful films that have used voice-over narration.
This tells us that there’s a right and a wrong way to use narration in screenplays and film.
The voice-over technique can be used in multiple ways. Using voice-over in a screenplay or film implies that the voice is coming from outside the primary scene location.
Here are the instances when it is appropriate to use a voice-over:
- When a voice is originating from an outside source through an electronic device like a mobile phone radio or walkie talkie
- If a character in a scene has a flashback of a speech that they had earlier in the play.
- When a character explains past events. Usually, the screen cuts to the flashback but we still hear the character’s voice in the background.
- It is also appropriate to use a voice-over when the sound originates from a disembodied voice. In horror movies and thrillers, whisperings from another dimension would be considered as a voice-over.
- When voicing a character’s thoughts.
In this instance, the audience would hear the voice of the character but would not see their lips moving. The speech, therefore, originates from another location.
- When a character narrates a story.
Voice over is a post-production technique that is applied on top of the existing content. Voice-off or off-screen simply implies that a speaker was present in the scene although they may or may not appear in the camera view.
Exceptions in Voice-Over vs Voice-Off Extensions
There are several exceptions to the use of off-screen and voice-over techniques.
Suppose a character is watching TV and the screen is within the camera frame.
In this case, the person on the TV screen is present at the primary scene location. The speaker may not be physically present in the room, but the audience can see where the voice is coming from so we mark this as voice-over speech.
However, if the TV screen is turned away from the camera view, then the speech is considered off-screen because the audience cannot see the speaker uttering the words.
This logic also applies in the case where two characters are having a Skype conversation. When an audience can see the speaker on the phone then it is not considered off-screen speech.
It can get a bit confusing, so let’s break it down some more:
Telephone Conversations: Voice-Over vs Voice-Off?
When the speaker on the other end of the line is audible but not visible, we use a voice-over (V.O.) extension.
Even if the speaker is within the scene’s physical location, we still use a V.O. extension to mark telephone conversations as long as the dialogue is filtered through the phone.
If the characters were having a conversation through the phone but we could hear their unfiltered voices in the room, then it would be appropriate to mark the dialogue with a voice-off extension.
The same goes for television scenes where the audience can hear the reporter but not see their face.
The rule of thumb here is to:
Use a voice-over extension whenever the dialogue is coming from an electronic device. This includes televisions, radios, answering machines, or walkie-talkies.
The V.O extension is appropriate when:
- The speaker does not appear on the camera frame.
- The dialogue is filtered through the electronic device.
In the case of a disembodied voice, the off-screen rule does not apply when the voice is coming from a projection such as a hologram.
As long as a speaker image is present in the room and the audience can see them speaking, then the off-screen and voice-over special notations don’t apply.
When an audience hears an on-screen character’s thoughts, should it be considered voice-over vs voice-off?
The appropriate notation would be V.O.
This seems a bit counterintuitive as the speaker is present in the scene location. However, the thoughts are coming from a disembodied voice and the audience cannot point to the source.
When a character hears something in their head as they type or read from a book, it is also appropriate to include the voice-over extension.
This lets the director know that the line should come from the character’s thoughts rather than their mouth.
What if a character is having a dream and they hear someone else’s voice? Voice-over vs voice-off; which is the appropriate extension to use?
Well, if the speaker is not a character in the dream then we use a voice-over extension. If they are a character in the dream, however, we use an off-screen extension.
Writing a Voice-Over Script
We have multiple guides that can help you come up with the perfect script to sell to your audience.
Check out these awesome guides:
- The Secret of Crafting a Voice Over Script: Radio, Educational Video, And Documentary.
- Video Game Voice Over Scripts: Bringing the Script to Life.
- How to Read Voice-over Scripts the Right Way.
And remember that you don’t have to struggle to come up with a great voice-over script. At Bunny Studio, we specialize in providing the best results and service possible.
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Voice-over vs voice-off – they are both extensions that make it easier for film directors to do their job.
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