When talking about audio sound post-production, we cannot simply forget about automated dialogue replacement, or ADR —the process of re recording dialogue in a studio to replace the dialogue lines that were recorded on set during the production of a film or an audiovisual project.

This can be done for a number of different reasons. First, there may have been a technical problem with the location audio, for example, an airplane flew overhead during the best take, or maybe an actor wasn’t really on access with the mic during another take.

In other cases, ADR is used to replace an actor’s vocal performance, which is especially done in musicals where a professional singer replaces an actor’s voice. Like when Marni Nixon would supply her singing voice to double over Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, and Natalie Wood.

Additionally, you may also have to ADR a scene to replace some of the words used in an audiovisual project to make a more television-friendly cut out of it. An example of this is Snakes on a Plane (2006), starring Samuel L. Jackson, where some of his lines were changed altogether, removing all of his swearwords, so that it could fit TV standards.

And sometimes ADR is used for creative purposes. Marlon Brando said once that he mumbled his way through his lines in The Godfather (1972) in order to force producers to ADR his scenes, although that process was known as looping at that time. During the ADR sessions, he was able to truly craft his performance based on the context of every scene and every situation.

In the world of low-budget and independent filmmaking, ADR is traditionally seen as some sort of boogeyman —something to be avoided at all costs. But it shouldn’t necessarily be. In fact, post-production sound, if carried out with purpose, can actually be a crucial tool for the low-budget filmmaker.

ADR in the Historical Context

At the beginning of the sound era, around the 1930s, there was no technology for recording sound separately from the moving images in a visual film. There was no way of dubbing audio, the sound effects, or even the music. When the studios started to transform into master sounds, the brought in hundreds of radio broadcast and telephone engineers, many whom never had shot a film in their lives.

As sound started to become this ‘new thing’, these new engineers started to get more involved in the shooting process, however, their participation altered the stylistic advances gained in silent films in the late 1920s.

Selling sound then became a whole new line of business. Given the impossibility for film producers to have soundtracks separately from the moving images, Paramount took over Joinville Studios in France for the specific purpose of taking the same script of a film and then remaking it up to 12 or 13 times in different languages. They would keep the same sets, props, and costumes and then rotate the actors for each different language version of the script; however, it didn’t work out so well, and Paramount gave up on the idea of multi-language films.

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By 1932, and after having given up on the idea of remaking scripts using different actors in hopes of achieving versions of a film in different languages, Paramount kept the technology of dubbing, just when the technology of post-synchronization was just around the corner. By 1935 the position of supervising dubbing engineer was about the same rank as the film editor. By the late ’30s, most of the audio in a studio film was actually done in the post-production process.

This freed up directors from the confines of producing audio, allowing them to focus on the intricate art form that we enjoy today. When dialogue replacement was first introduced, each line had to be re-recorded using a loop of film that would play over and over again, often called looping. Modern technologies use computers to loop a specific section of a film so that actors can deliver the best of their performance.

ADR in Practice (For the Independent Filmmaker)

If you talk to most independent filmmakers they would all agree that ADR is, essentially, something evil. And yes, perhaps, if you’re on a tight budget, having one more unexpected expense, especially because of sloppy locations, is, by all means, a bad thing; however, there are several tricks that allow filmmakers to harness, to some extent, the benefits of ADR.

Using the same mics, the same mic placement, and recreating the environmental conditions of a scene in their digital audio workstations, enables audio professionals to use partial ADR, which ultimately allows them to achieve a much better take of a particular scene that maybe wasn’t as good as it should have been given a number of aspects the production was not able to control during the filming process.

*The images used on this post are taken from Pexels.com