Abridging and Actors

In my last post about abridging I wrote about the business of cutting a full length book down to five or ten episodes, each episode ending on a cliffhanger, and a good mix of prose and dialogue. Otherwise the poor actor is spouting And then . . . and then . . . and then, or (even worse) ‘So what did he say?’ ‘I don’t know’ ‘But surely you heard something?’ ‘No I didn’t’. A bad abridgement is like a plateful of gristly stew – hard for the listener to swallow and the poor actor choking on the words.
Of course like anything taking some skill, a real professional makes it look easy. Properly read, it’s like the actor is reading to one person – you. It turned out that Michael Maloney did the reading and he was astonishingly good. He made it sound so easy. There are several points of view in the book, and the central character is a woman. There are also many scenes where a whole host of police types have chewy conversations about murder. The actor has to subtly delineate between each voice but not in a silly high pitched way. A cock up costs studio time so the more seamless the reading, then the more the producer can get done in one take.
Michael Maloney does a lot of audio books and clearly he puts in some welly before he gets to the studio. He was brilliant and the whole book – all 22,500 words was in the can in one day. I also got to hear about a certain pop star whose management decided that pop star’s autobiography would sell much better if she read it herself! Oh what a good idea. Because how hard can it be to read a book eh? Especially one that you’ve ghosted written yourself – every word.
By the end of the first day, there were teeth marks in the recording booth from the sound engineer biting the table in frustration. The Producer resigned. It took six weeks to record twenty thousand words. Six weeks. Any profit that might have been made was swallowed up in the amount of studio time it took to record the book.
It’s not just pop stars with no experience of reading. Ever. Probably. It’s also about actors who show up, thinking it’s just reading a book. It’s not. It’s your brain working on about five different levels, elegantly pitching the line, eyes and brain scanning ahead for a bump in the road – pace, pause, knowing when to stop, knowing when a natural break occurs. All this going on at the same time. Getting the emphasis right. Subtle delineation between voices. We hear so much mockery of actors – some of it deserved – you know, actors blithering on about their political opinions – or the state of the world, that sometimes I forget there are some cracking actors out there who deserve every penny they get because they show up, on time, prepared, and they get on with it and do a brilliant job.

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