Post Production

First time Filmmaker F-Up #59 – Dialogue Is Recorded on Set

fuck up blog posts

What looping is and why it will save your movie!

The F-Up

Discovering looping is like finding a fairy godmother who has come to grant many of your wishes about what you would like changed in your movie. However, the f-up many new filmmakers make is not appreciating what looping is and its capabilities.

Through looping, you can replace poorly recorded or poorly acted sound, and you can change the tone of dialogue or put in new dialogue entirely. By understanding looping, you may be able to radically alter a great deal in your movie (without costly reshoots).

How to Do It Right

Looping, also called Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR), is a system in post-production by which an actor replaces dialogue from production or records new dialogue entirely. During a looping session, an actor watches part of the movie on-screen and speaks into a microphone, trying to line up the lip motions of the new audio to the existing picture. An engineer, aided by computer technology can help subtly manipulate the sound to further match it to the pre-existing lip motions. Looping has become so popular that many of the movies made in Hong Kong have stopped recording any location sound at all and rely solely on looping to put in all the movie’s dialogue.

Frequently, while watching a movie or TV show, you will see a wide shot of a car driving down the street. You don’t see the actors, but you hear them talking, giving a plot point such as “This is the hideout,” “I think Joey is the killer,” or some other little bit of exposition. If you are hearing dialogue over a long shot, an establishing shot of a location, on acharacter’s back, or off-camera in another fashion, there is an excellent chance the filmmakers are trying to fix a story problem by adding new dialogue that was not recorded during shooting.

The Coen brothers praised Sam Elliot’s mustache in The Big Lebowski because the manner in which it obscured his mouth made it particularly easy to change his dialogue in looping. And hey, if you can rewrite your narrator’s lines, well, possibilities are limitless. However, looping isn’t just for adding in dialogue when you cannot see the actors’ mouths. Looping technology has evolved to make it possible to put new words into characters’ mouths with near-perfect lip sync—and that is a powerful thing.

If you get creative, looping can provide a much cheaper alternative for fixing problems than reshoots. Have a confusing plot point? You can sneak in a line that clears it up. Want to change a line or even just the line’s delivery? You can make something serious that was sarcastic, sarcastic that was serious, happy that was sad, or even give a character an entire new accent he didn’t have while shooting.

Looping is a great tool, but there are cautionary reasons why you should not over rely on it. Many talented actors find looping difficult. In those cases, having lengthy looping sessions in which actors struggle to match the timing of their own mouth is an excruciating process. We have all seen examples of movies where the dialogue does not quite seem to match the lips of the actors speaking. This lack of synchronization immediately makes your movie laughable (and not necessarily in a good way).

Furthermore, recapturing the emotion that was present on set may prove difficult, resulting in a poorer performance during looping. The other actors, sets, and wardrobe all aid an actor in creating a performance. This can be difficult to re-create when locked in a box with only a microphone for company. This is why, as with most of filmmaking, you are better off if you can getwhat you really want while shooting.

One example of intensive looping is Tom Hanks’s performance in Cast Away. The film shot mostly on real beaches where the near-constant sound of crashing waves made the production sound largely unusable. Approximately an hour and a half of that movie’s sound had to be replaced in post-production. This means that nearly half of Tom Hanks’s entire Oscar nominated performance was looped. If you can get quality sound during production, do so. And if you realize during your own shooting that you will absolutely have to loop a scene later, embrace your limitations and get your scene shot—knowing that looping is there to save you.

Excerpted from First-Time Filmmaker F*&^ Ups by Daryl Bob Goldberg ©2011 Elsevier Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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