Priceless in Uxbridge Synthesised Speech

Writing realistic dialogue is a definite, specialist skill. Since January 2009 we have been using a screenwriting application called Final Draft. It ensures text formatting is done to industry requirements, leaving the writer's mind free to concentrate on the actual words.

Hearing is believing

Final Draft is a robust script-writing tool. But to hone our skills – and to test our dialogue – we needed to hear it read out loud. We tried using the 'Assign Voices' function in Final Draft. It utilises the text-to-speech voice synthesis on the Mac. A good idea but at the moment too basic to be really effective and useful.

Assign voices

So, we did readings. Occasionally roping in family members to add extra voices … fine on a wet Sunday afternoon when everyone is together and willing. But impossible at 3am when alone and struggling to perfect a scene. Our screenplay has fourteen main characters with several different accents. Plus another ten smaller roles, all essential to fulfill the complex plot, which also need to be voiced. In total there are 34 speaking parts!

The human to digital solution

So we found two versatile, willing and enthusiastic actors to read for us. We bought a couple of good quality USB microphones, recording software and set about the task. The rehearsals were really fun and enlightening. The recording sessions were stressful and problematic. Ultimately, two talented performers can only do two or three good voices each – that still left a cast of twenty characters on the page in silence. A big problem in terms of cost, time, logistics … only now does it occur to me that perhaps Priceless in Uxbridge has too many characters in it to be practical.

Virgin territory

To overcome these obstacles we made another attempt to use text-to-speech technology. OSX Lion contains some new high quality voices which demonstrated what might be possible. My first thought was to use it as a rehearsal/recording tool – a voice for the actors to read against. I recorded two full parts using two of the voices in Lion. Then went on a search for more. I tried and tested as many vendors as I could find and they all seemed to be at much the same level. Good, impressive but still a bit mechanical.

A breakthrough

The breakthrough came with the discovery of two truly exceptional character voices and a company with a stunningly effective and smooth voice synthesis engine. It was a revelation to hear the characters we had invented come to life.