Over the recent months I have begun to explore a new area of voiceover which is Automated Dialogue Replacement or ADR. ADR is the process in which sound from original recordings is re-recorded in a studio after filming and is commonly used across TV and film to either replace lines that weren’t recorded on the day or, more commonly, to add background noise and additional sounds to flesh out the mix. If you ever get a chance to listen to a scene pre-ADR you’d be amazed at the difference it makes and yet ADR is very a “behind the scenes” gig as no-one will ever know it’s you. There is also ADR work for re-voicing characters from a foreign language or voice matching a celebrity voice to re-do a line here or there rather than get the A-lister back in but the bulk is most often “crowd work”.
As an example if an episode of Coronation Street has a scene in the Rovers Return all the noise you hear from people in the background casually ordering a pint or talking about the football last night is more than likely not the extra’s speaking but a small group of people that did it in a studio after filming!
ADR is an extremely unique field of voiceover and requires some very unique skills, I was fortunate enough to train in ADR at the Louis Elman Academy which is run by Louis Elman, one of the most prolific and experienced ADR director’s around and since then I have been booked for ADR gigs which, if it’s the sort of thing you enjoy, can be great fun.
So what is a typical ADR session like and what skills do you need?
Most often an ADR gig will consist of a group of around 5 – 10 people, you stand in front of a cinema screen where the scene you are providing ADR for is shown and a mic will be placed in the centre (usually but there are other techniques) to record the audio. There will then be various techniques that are used to create the sound mix and each requires a different skill from the actor.
A lot of the work will be group work (so all of you recording at once), this requires you to be able to work in a team, which is pretty uncommon for people who spend a large amount of time working alone. You need to be able to play off each other, hear where there is a gap and fill it and also learn when to be quiet so as not to unbalance the natural mix. Here it’s also important to be open to moving around the group, changing your voice tone, speech pattern etc. all to layer up the audio even more to help make it sound like more people than there is.
You then have individual work, often referred to as “free and clears”. This is when you as an individual will record something on your own (with everyone else sat watching!), it’s usually a specific line like “pint of bitter please Betty” or “here’s your change love”. This is something that might also be done in smaller groups of two or three of you. The free and clears are then used to layer the audio even more and to have the odd line spike up out of the general chatter to make it all sound more natural. Here it can be really challenging as in more dramatic scenes you may be given a line of someone on screen but have very few words with which to get the required emotion in.
There will also be times where you will fill in for particular actors on screen, you may for example be told that you are the “3rd gladiator on the right” and would then have to watch that character and provide all the appropriate sounds for what happens to him on screen. It’s important to note here that this won’t be scripted and you may only get one chance to watch the scene first before recording so you really have to be on your toes!
Last but by no means least there is the shouting… Shouting can form a large part of ADR work as often they’ll need the sound of a large battle from the voices of just 10 people! Here again various techniques are used to layer the sound but you need to be able to shout and shout well. Even more importantly you need to know how to shout without ruining your voice which is a skill in of itself. I have done ADR for Game of Thrones which is affectionately referred to as Game of Throats given the toll it can take (if you’ve not watched Game of Thrones, lots of battles, lots of death, lots of screaming). Here again you have even less to work with in terms of conveying emotion and interestingly the physicality of the voice. You may for example be asked to “give us a sound for this guy falling off here” so in just a few short seconds you need to scream, sound like you’re falling and possibly make a noise as you hit the floor. Similarly you may get “can I get a scream for the guy getting an arrow in the neck”, you can’t just scream, you have to scream in a way that the audience would know that it’s the guy with the arrow in the neck that’s screaming, so gurgles, sputters etc.
It’s a wide and varied gig which absolutely keeps you on your toes, so here’s my tips for skills to foster to work in ADR:
- Get trained
- There are some particular technical skills and knowledge you need to flourish at an ADR session
- Learn to improvise
- ADR is often totally unscripted, you’ll need to be able to come up with lines that fit off the top of your head with little to no time to prepare
- Learn to work in a team
- The key to a natural mix is to learn to work with other voices and tailor yours accordingly
- Be aware of the physicality
- If the character jumps, you jump (albeit quietly!), if they turn their head as they get hit, you turn yours (whilst staying on mic!)
- Learn to shout without trashing your voice
- This is very important as you might be shouting for a whole day, plenty of warm fluids during the session as well
- Learn accents
- The more accents you can do the more useful you can be for castings, for example a lot of the Game of Thrones ADR needs northern UK voices
- Be early!
- Never be late to an ADR session, there will be a lot of audio to get through and lots of people waiting on you if you’re late
- Be fearless
- In can be very daunting standing in the middle of a lot of other voice actors (usually very experienced) and improvising but go for it and volunteer for things that come up. Ultimately make sure you are giving the audio director what he needs!
ADR really is a great, fun, voiceover experience and if you find it suits your talents I guarantee you’re in for some fun in the studio!
If you’re interested feel free to get in touch, as always I’m happy to answer any questions.