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Do you think voice over flasbacks are considered bad form?

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  • Do you think voice over flasbacks are considered bad form?

    For my script basically, a character who you think is good, and think is the main character's ally, turns out to be bad all along.

    But when my friends read it, they were completely out to lunch and lost and cannot figure out why the ally was bad, or what was motivating her to do this the whole time.

    I cannot really write what the characters are thinking and write their motives. All I can write is what the audience will see.

    The fake ally villain has no real reason to tell the MC her motives, as she doesn't want the MC to know everything, and she has no reason to discuss her motives with anyone, since she's committing crimes and doesn't want anyone to know.

    So if that's the case, how do you make the audience understand a twist, after it happens, since they cannot read her mind, and she has no reason to tell any of other characters? She has reason to discuss her involvement with one other character, but that time has passed long ago in the story.

    I was thinking of maybe after the twist is revealed where she does something that says she's a villain, she could have flashbacks to explain things.

    However, flashbacks mean I would have to shoot more scenes, get more locations, more money, etc. So I was wondering if a voice over flashback would be considered bad form, or cheesy?

    Basically movies are visual mediums overall, but what if after she revealed herself to be a villain, she then had flashbacks where you just hear her having a conversation with another character, who would be her co-conspirator? However, that co-conspirator, was only in one scene before, so the audience would have to remember that voice from about 45 minutes ago. So would a voice over flashback work?

    Also how would one write a flashback if it's just a voiceover? I couldn't find any screenwriting site that talks about that cause every example, is always a visual scene change. Like if a character has a flashback and it's just a voice over of her talking to someone, would it be formatted like this?


    The only movie I can think of that used the voice over flashback method was The Usual Suspects at the end. So I looked up the script for the movie online, but the script does not have a voice over flashback in it.
    Last edited by ironpony; 01-16-2018, 04:39 PM.

  • #2


    • #3
      I don't understand the question - are you asking if the main character can simply explain what happened?

      The Usual Suspects used voice over on top of clips that the audience had already seen but not focused on.

      Like most things, it depends on good writing.
      Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com


      • #4
        Oh I just meant to show no visual flashbacks at all, and after the audience finds out who the villain is, the audience is going to want an explanation as to why this character is the culprit and what was in it for them. But instead of providing a visual flashback, I thought maybe I should just do an audio flashback only and just voice over only to explain the character's motives, unless that sounds bad.


        • #5
          I'm not a real fan of that, but I think it's a matter of taste.

          If you do decide to go that route, I think you'll need to establish the v.o. earlier so that it fits in.
          Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com


          • #6
            Oh okay. Well in The Usual Suspects, all the lines you hear in the voice over flashback were said before in the interrogation. But if I have voice over lines, that were not said before, in order to keep the surprise a surprise, would that be distracting to an audience, if they have not heard this conversation before, and it's done as a voice over flashback to explain the surprise?


            • #7
              Personally, I don't think it will work if that's the first time the v.o. shows up. Who is it? Why is this person suddenly narrating?
              Wouldn't work for me.
              Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com


              • #8
                Well basically the character who you think is good but then reveals herself to be the villain, has a voice over flashback and the voice overs that the audience would hear is a brief conversation between her and another character that was also introduced before. This would explain her motives and what is in it for her, for the audience to understand. It's not narration but just a voice over flashback to a conversation like in The Usual Suspects.

                But how come it worked in The Usual Suspects, but wouldn't work here? Cause it was the first time the v.o. showed up in the Usual Suspects as well, so what did they do differently?


                • #9
                  I'm 95% sure you're wrong about that - the narrator in The Usual Suspects is there at the beginning as well. It's only what he's telling the viewer that changes.
                  Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com


                  • #10
                    Well he was narrating before in the movie, but it was the first time that the v.o. showed up on other character's voices. Here is the clip of the v.o flashback. At 2:06 into the clip, you hear voice over's from conversations that the protagonist had with other people. So it's the first time you are hearing voice overs from them:


                    You don't just hear the narrator's voice, you hear other voices from other conversations as well. So since what is it that The Usual Suspects did differently in a voice over flashback of conversations that make it work?


                    • #11
                      Great writing :)
                      Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com


                      • #12
                        Okay thanks. Well it's just the reader tells me they are lost when they are hearing a voice over conversation that they are not seeing. Does it just come off as more confusing on the page, compared to hearing it in a finished movie?