Film Dubbing Work Flow Process
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Our Process - More detail
From bid to contract
The first stage in the dubbing process is the decision of a film company to distribute a foreign language film in a foreign language. Following that decision, the film or television company issues a call for bids to a number of dubbing companies.
As we are invited to submit a bid, the production managers put together a detailed costing of the project in question, which typically takes a day or two. Typically, a decision as to which dubbing company receives the contract is reached and communicated to the bidders within one week.
Preparing for dubbing: rough translation, dialogue script and takes
The client's representative(s) then meet with the representatives of the our dubbing division to discuss details of the client's requirements; they may include aspects of language to be used, e.g., avoidance of phrases relating to violence or death, and aspects of casting. The production managers will already have done their bid with specific speakers in mind, but the client has to approve.
Sometimes the client also has specific requirements as to the author of the script and the director. Once the cast is agreed, the dubbing division schedulers can set about developing a dubbing schedule in line with the availability of speakers and director. At the same time, the production manager commissions a raw translation of the original text into the selected language. This raw translation serves as the blueprint from which the script authors work. Their task is complex: the text has to sound genuinely local rather than following grammatical patterns of the original language. Moreover, and even more important, the language has to be such that it matches the original actor's lip movements as closely as possible. It must not be too long, so as to avoid the dubbed voice starting before the original actor opens his or her mouth, and the dubbed voice should, equally, not continue after the actor has finished talking. Once the dialogue authors have finished their work, the script, divided up into individual takes, each consisting of a line or two of text, is typed. The takes are numbered, consecutively, and a feature film might end up with some 1,000 takes. The schedulers schedule the recording itself by takes, and ask speakers to attend for a given number of hours enabling them to do a reasonable amount of takes that involves them.
Aspects of Recording
Dubbing studios may also be used for music or radio recording. They typically consist of a recording room and a control room. In the recoding room, soundproof to noises from outside, there are two recording areas, one for indoor scenes, and a space separated off and enclosed by a full size heavy plastic curtain, used for outdoor scenes. Each space has a large television monitor on which the takes appear and a stand with the script, with microphones in front of it. The recording room is darkened, so that the speakers can concentrate on the screens to see clearly when the actor starts speaking: they have to match that second as closely as possible with starting to say their own corresponding lines.
The actors usually stand while recording. If they are unable to stand for longer periods of time, they may use high bar chairs. They need to keep their distance to the microphone always the same, but need to otherwise imitate the posture of actor they are speaking, because the voice sounds different if the actor stands relaxed or tense, with arms straight down from the shoulders, or one arm crouched over the head, and so on. Dialogues are not necessarily recorded with all speakers present who will ultimately be heard in a given scene. According to dubbing director Benedikt Rabanus, the partner of the dubbing speaker is the original actor and not fellow speakers (2004). With no other speakers present, focus on the original actor can be more complete, while of course speakers may miss the pleasant benefits of the company of other speakers.
Speakers do not have a chance of much rehearsal for their speaking parts, because they do not receive the scripts of their roles in advance. This practice saves costs and might be due to the client’s confidentiality concerns. Dubbing actors are invited to attend the studio for a certain amount of hours on a given day, and read the lines they have to speak from the page. Dubbing speakers are usually trained stage actors, many of whom also have experience of acting for film and television. Their training will have included voice training, which will be helpful if they develop into dubbing speakers. A “good” voice is necessary for an actor to be successful in dubbing; “good” here means several things: the actors need to be able to use their voice effortlessly, and to a much greater extent, for many more hours per day than if they were predominantly stage, film or television actors, let alone in comparison with non-actors. Dubbing actors have to adapt their voices to different original actors, making sure there are differences. Thus, Michael Chevalier (1933 -), for example, who has been in the dubbing business since 1951 and is one of the most frequently employed speakers, sounds different when he dubs Omar Sharif or Charles Bronson. In questions of doubt, the dubbing voice tends to match the appearance of the original actor more than the original actor’s voice: for example, in the television series Magnum, lead actor Tom Selleck’s voice is unexpectedly and uncharacteristically high in pitch compared with the actor’s masculine appearance, while the German voice of Norbert Langer is much lower in pitch and thus fits the actor’s outward appearance better (Wehn 1996: 11). The dubbing voice thus has to be both appropriate for the original actor and it has to appeal to a wide range of listeners—even if the character portrayed by the original actor is unpleasant, the dubbing voice must convey unpleasantness without being revolting to the listener. In all aspects of voice quality, it is open to debate how much of those qualities are inborn and how many are trainable, and to what extent.
With the actors in the recording room is one cutter who keeps an eye on whether the speaker starts and ends speaking about in time with the actor on screen, and whether there are any, sometimes minute, unwanted characteristics on the take just recorded, such as a lisp, an inappropriate hesitation, or a mispronunciation of some sort. In the recording control room, a sound engineer records each take, at times giving hints to the director as to sound quality, occasionally also pointing to speech errors that may necessitate repeating a take. In the past, achieving 80 takes per day was considered quite an achievement  (Wolff 2004).
Today, some 220 takes a day seems to be the expected norm—a film is expected to be dubbed in about five days. The director initially briefs the dubbing actor of the context of the takes: the film or television series, the episode within the series, the character, and the character’s situation. Then the take is shown in the original. The actor reads through the line of the take once or twice, trying out different intonations. At this stage the actor or the director may suggest a different version of the text, which may sound better or be more in line, as far as meaning is concerned, with the original. The suitability of such changes needs to be checked with the help of the cutter in relation to the original actor’s lip movements. If the dubbing script contains phrases in a language other than the dubbed language or if a character tries to put on, in the original, a dubbed accent, and the dialogue author has changed this, say, into another accent, the director makes sure that, if necessary, expert advice is available to ensure that the foreign language phrases or the accent are spoken as accurately as the original suggests. The director listens closely to the recording of the takes and may ask for takes to be repeated if language is blurred, not sufficiently in sync with the original actor’s lip movements, or to suggest different intonations in line with his or her knowledge of the entire script and film or television episode, knowledge not shared by the speaker. In some cases, representatives of the client company are present throughout the entire recording process; in those cases, the director may ask for a speaker to repeat a take if the client representative suggests a different intonation or emphasis. Such client involvement may turn problematic when the client’s representative changes half way through the dubbing process and that change of person implies a change of attitude and requirements. To avoid any danger of unlawful duplication of high profile film or broadcast material, such original tapes may have been blackened, or be devoid of sounds and music, leaving only the bare voices of the original actors. Similarly, for crime plots, actors may be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The phases of editing
The cutter present at the actual recordings will later, once all dubbing work is done on a given film or television series episode, compile original sound, music, and spoken dialogues into one sound track. In pre-digital days, this was a very time- consuming and labour-intensive process, implying literally cutting and pasting tape. Digital technology allows much faster and much more efficient processing of the cutting process. The better the cutter’s ability to master the technology, the better will be the end product. The appropriately edited version of the dubbing is then finally mixed with original sound and music, in the presence of a client representative.
Update: December 2021