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dialogue and ADR

Dialogue Editing and ADR With Gwen Whittle

Dialogue Editing and ADR With Gwen Whittle

If you recall the movies Tron Legacy and Avatar, they both, aside from having received Oscar nominations, have one name in common: Gwen Whittle. Gwen is perhaps one of the top supervising sound editors working today, which is why a lot can be learned from her work.

Gwen also did the sound supervision for both Tomorrowland (starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie) and Jurassic World (starring Chris Pratt), and although she’s known for overseeing the whole sound editing process, she’s mentioned in several interviews that she’s highly fond of paying special attention to both dialogue editing and ADR sessions, as mentioned in previous articles by Enhanced Media in our blog.

Dialogue editing, as mentioned by George Lucas back in 1999 just before Star Wars: Episode 1 hit the theaters, is a crucial part of the whole sound editing landscape, and, apparently, even within this industry, nobody pays enough attention to it. In fact: dialogue editing is the most important part of the process.

So, what’s dialogue editing?

Dialogue editing, if it’s done really well, is, according to Gwen Whittle, unnoticeable —it’s completely invisible, it should not take you out of the movie, and you should pay no attention to it. Imagine taking all the sound from the set, take by take, just to take a much closer look at the dialogues captured for a specific scene.

Of course, not all dialogues recorded on the set sound the same —maybe the take was great, the acting was great, the light was great, but suddenly a truck was pulling over and an airplane happened to fly over the crew. It’s practically impossible to recreate that take as there are many aspects involved: air changes, foreign sounds, etc., and no matter how much you try to remove all those background noises, sometimes you need to resort to the ADR stage. In an ADR session, it all comes down to trying to recreate the same conditions that should apply to that particular scene.

Cutting dialogue often poses several challenges to sound editors, and it highly depends a lot on the picture department. A dialogue editor receives all the production from the picture department, everything that was originally shot on set, making sure that each mic has its own track. It’s the responsibility of the picture department to isolate each mic with its own track so dialogue editors can do their magic.

On set, the production sound mixer is recording anywhere from one microphone up to eight, usually, sometimes more, but the idea is for each actor to have their own mic and at least one or two booms. All this mix is passed onto the dialogue editing crew, isolating each track, matching the moving images just like the movie is supposed to be.

Once the dialogue editing crew has received the tracks, they listen to them and assess which parts can be used and which parts need to be recreated, organizing which tracks will make it to the next stage. Sometimes, since dialogues can be recorded using two different microphones such as the boom and the talent’s personal mic, sound editors can play with both tracks trying to make the most out of it whilst spotting which parts require an additional ADR session.

If there’s a noticeable sound, like a beep, behind someone’s voice, a dialogue editor can really get rid of that in case they need to; however, that’s not always the case. ADR sessions are quite familiar with the sound editing process. In films with a smaller budget, the dialogue process gets a bit trickier, since normally all tracks aren’t passed isolated onto the dialogue editing crew, so they need to tackle any hurdle in their tracks. Low budget films normally include more dialogue as they don’t have the resources to either afford fancy sets or include fancy visual and sound effects.

Do directors hate ADR?

Well, according to Gwen Whittle, not many directors are fond of ADR. David Fincher, for example, is. ADR is a tool. A powerful tool. And if you’re not afraid to use it, you can really elevate your film because it takes away the things that are distracting you from what’s going on.

ADR and dialogues.jpeg

Actors and actresses like Meryl Streep love ADR sessions because is another chance to perform what they just did on set. They see ADR as the opportunity go in there and try to put a different color to it, and it’s another way to approach what the picture crew just got on a couple of takes on set. Many things can be fixed, and even alter several lines. You can add a different twist to something. In fact, even by adding a breath to something, you can change the nature of a performance. It’s the opportunity for both the talent and directors to hear what they really want to hear.

*The images used on this post are taken from

The Art of Post-Production Sound: Dialogue and ADR

The Art of Post-Production Sound: Dialogue and ADR

Sound editing is composed of many stages. Theoretically, the first stage of sound editing is basically going through each second of the film alongside the sound editor in order to come up with a list of every single sound that needs to be included, edited, augmented or, simply, replaced. This stage, however, has been altered due to the increase in demands for anticipated previews, which, ultimately, have made the post-production schedule a bit hectic.

The Dialogue

When we talk about dialogue editing we basically talk about organizing and cleaning up production sound, and it can be as detailed as reusing fragments of words to complete other fragments foreign to that sequence in particular; or even removing a performer’s mouth sounds. Often, the dialogue we hear in the ultimate version of an audiovisual project was not actually recorded on location. In fact, many producers and directors prefer to shoot silent, as it happens to be much easier than achieving the perfect and quiet environment required for a sequence in particular —the crew is always noisy, there are people watching the film, birds, sirens, airplanes, car alarms, etc.

Even though some dialogues are recorded on location, they ultimately get discarded as the mics also captured weird noises such as clothing rustle, people passing, camera noises, etc. So, having the aforementioned difficulties in mind, directors prefer to produce dialogues rather than loop them (which is actually an integral part of an actor’s performance). And even though there is a trend during looping sessions towards including booms and the microphones originally used during the shoot to mimic the exact same situation on set, it results practically impossible to replicate all the condition of the original shoot.

Be that as it may, it is really difficult and tough for performers to match during a looping session the very same emotional level they achieved during the shoot. Ron Bochar, whom originally was responsible for supervising the sound on Philadelphia, always describes this scene where Tom Hanks is answering to an aria recording as a case in point. Under ideal circumstances, the dialogue and the aria would be on two different manipulable tracks so the dialogue could be kept understandable and intelligible; however, Tom Hanks demanded both be able to move around and react to the aria being played. Thus, both the dialogue and the aria were recorded on the same track, which ultimately caused this sequence, in terms of the dialogue, less than acceptable.

The team, nonetheless, actually agreed upon having both tracks recorded on the same track rather than looping the scene, as it would have been impossible, according to Bochar, to recreate the exact same environment, and they would have ended up ruining the scene had they tried.

Today, the first job of every dialogue editor is to split every spoken track and line onto different and separate tracks, By doing this, he or she makes them as controllable and independent as possible so they can afterward merge them again seamlessly. Dialogues are often edited to customize characterization. Some sequences simply portray a dominant figure, like most hero-villain films. A mixer can simply raise the volume of one of the voices and then adjust it according to other tonal qualities, achieving the desired effect.


Those dialogues that cannot be retrieved from production must be re-recorded afterward in a process we have already mentioned: looping, or simple ADR (Automated or automatic dialogue replacement). Looping involves an actor speaking lines in sync with the image being projected, whereas ADR involves an actor watching the sequence repeatedly while listening to each line so that he or she can match the original wording and lip movement afterward in a new recording session. The actor then tries to recreate each line while also trying to convey the same degree of sentiment, passion, and mood. Some performers can indeed achieve a very high level of emotion and are really good at re-capturing the original idea.


In summary, since directors and producers only got the location for a couple of hours and, as mentioned, achieving the perfect quiet moment is rather impossible, production continues in hopes the sound mixer is able to capture every line as clean as possible. ADR gives filmmakers the opportunity to recreate back those moments the initially envisioned; in fact, ADR can even improve them as the re-recordings take place in a much quieter, more controlled environment, typically an audio post-production studio. Filmmakers don’t need to worry about a car horn blaring right over the perfect take while the performer was delivering their line, now, with the help of technology, sound and dialogue can be tailored to every scene and sequence, providing and delivering the audience an engaging and convincing environment, which is a film’s ultimate goal.

*The images used on this post are taken from