What is ADR and why is it important to my film?
ADR stands for “Automatic” or “Automated” Dialogue Replacement. Before the digital age recording actors in movies and even TV shows after they were shot, was quite a different process. For various reason, which I’ll get into later, actors may need to be brought into a studio and re-record their dialogue that was captured during the original shooting of the film or TV show. How this was done back then, was a physical loop of a section of the film was loaded into a film projector for the actors to watch over and over in a “Looping Studio.” The actor would watch the loop and say his/her lines over and over until they achieved a recording that was as close to being in sync with the image as possible. Then sometime later that audio recording was edited to match the lips sync as much as possible. This could take hours and hours as the film had to be loaded on to the projectors. Not to mention there was a machine room operator, mixer and recordist. The process became know as “Automated” when the mixers could record to an audio tape format and rewind quickly to do another take. Now because of computers, it’s even more “Automated.”
ADR is also known as Looping or Background Walla. There are two types of ADR, the first being principal ADR and the second being Background Walla, or Walla for short. Principal ADR is when the actor comes to a sound facility to redo or replace his/her lines for a film, TV show, etc. This is done because either the production sound has problems, making it difficult to understand what the actor is saying, or the sound is distorted technically. It could also be done because the producer or director want to improve or change the reading the actor did on the original shoot.
Background Walla is when a group of people are cast to add background dialogue in various scenes. For example, a scene where people are fighting in a bar, or a group of people walking in the city. The name “Walla” comes from the fact the group used to say “walla, walla, walla, walla” over and over again, which was recorded and then edited into the picture as background murmurings. Walla was also done in live theater productions.
But what’s the difference between Voice Over/Narration and ADR? To clarify, a voiceover is dialogue is not synched to the picture. A great example of this is a narrator in a documentary or movie trailer, you never see the person speaking on screen you just hear his or her voice. This is done in the news, documentaries and in some feature films and TV and of course radio.
When your film finally makes it to the big screen, you don’t want your audience asking, “What did she say?” Sometimes a filmmaker will know their film so well, they fully understand every line of dialogue in the movie, despite how inaudible the original recordings are to others. In a worse case scenario it might be completely unreal the production audio is unintelligible to the filmmakers. This can occur because the filmmaker knows their film so well and understandably so since they accentually live, breath and sleep their move or TV show.
The original sound recordings are full of issues that require careful handling. It’s just the nature of recording on set or in the field. There are planes, the crew accidentally makes noise, air conditioners, cars and sometimes explosions. At least us sound folks wonder if there was an explosion. In the case where the anomaly in the original recording is distracting or causes the audience to resort to lip reading, that could cause your audience to “check out.” Keep in mind, I’m not talking about completely unintelligible sound to the filmmaker. A filmmaker knows what was said. It’s hard for them to not know because they know the film. They’ve gone through multiple drafts of the script and know where every ‘and,’ ‘if’ or ‘but,’ is located.
If your post sound expert says, “This is the first time I’m hearing your production sound and I don’t understand that line right there. Then your sound expert says, “Oh, he says, ‘Give me’, not ‘Jimmy’ I get it now.” Trust your sound expert. If you don’t, get one you do trust! In the real world, if someone says, “You know Joe…. It’s so important to me that you never d;fdaf.” You would ask Joe, “What did you say?” But in the case where it’s a film, to your audience, it may seems obvious what was said. Your audience will “make up something” to fill in what they didn’t hear. And now ‘Jimmy’ instead of ‘Give me’ hangs up their attention. Unfortunately, your audience has not read your script and they might just “checks out” if they don’t get what’s being said. If they check-out enough, they may loose interest in your movie and check all the way out of the theater.
Do test screenings with people who do not know the script and preferably who aren’t your friends or family. Watch the audience. Sometimes you can see them “check-out.” From there, you may become more aware of where the sound issues are. Or you could hire professional sound experts, but also, wear head phones on set. Listen to your recordings whenever possible. As a filmmaker, you wouldn’t dare make an entire movie without looking at some of the footage! The same applies with the sound. You have to listen to it and hopefully with professional speakers. It’s a lot of work. Trust me, I know! But it could safe your movie.
If you have a 50 million dollar film or if you have a 500 thousand dollar film, each project requires a different workflow. If planned correctly, you can achieve a good sounding film with either of these budgets. Rather than list out all the different possibilities of preparation regarding sound, we generally meet during the preproduction phase to coordinate and discuss details relating to your project. Every project has different needs. We are happy to offer sound consultation for your film during any stage of the process.
We have mixed in many different size Dolby certified studios, and can recommend what is best for your project depending on the budget and type of film, TV show or documentary. It’s our job to look at your specific needs and recommend the best workflow, keeping in mind the content and budget. For more information, click the link.
The above excerpts were taken from the articles KEEPING THE AUDIENCE INTERESTED IN MY MOVIE and HOW CAN I MIX MY FILM WITH AN AWARD-WINNING SOUND TEAM IN A WONDERFUL MIX STAGE? written by David Kitchens.
Juniper Post provides Sound Design & Editing, Foley, Voice Over, and Mixing. To receive a bid for a great sounding mix from the award-winning Juniper Post Sound team, call David Kitchens at (818) 841-1244, ext. 1.