Many newbie’s to the film industry ask, what is ADR? The answer is simple. ADR is an abbreviation for Automated Dialog Replacement. ADR, or looping, as it is sometimes known, usually comes toward the end of the Post Production process. There are several reasons that a film or television project might need to do ADR. They include a need to change a line, the original dialog recording was poor or had noise on the line used, a different performance is needed than shot in production. There are of course other reasons to shoot ADR outside the normal scope of traditional film and television post production, they include different versions of the original show, such as foreign language versions, plane and hotel versions or online versions such as iTunes.
Process of ADR
This is going to be the ideal version of the ADR process for an episode of series television. Unfortunately, it is increasingly not like the idealized version.
After locking picture there is a sound spotting session (to be discussed in another Post), one of things that you will discuss is potential ADR. There are several reasons you will spot ADR for an episode.
1) Poor Production recording. This can occur for various reasons many of which are not the production sound mixer’s fault. The Production Sound Mixer has one of the toughest jobs on a crew; they need your support not animosity.
- There are ambient sounds you don’t want in the show. On Lost it would often happen because we were shooting in a Jungle that happened to be next to the H1 in Oahu. Clearly on a deserted island you couldn’t have rush hour traffic sounds, so sometimes we would have too loop the lines to create the right sonic environment.
- Sounds that render lines unintelligible. This can be a crew person in the background dropping a loud metal object (happens all the time) or an actor making too much noise with a prop on the set.
- Airplanes- Really the same as A, but such a pervasive problem in most productions it deserves its own category.
- Music recorded- Any time pre-recorded music overlaps with lines the dialog will need to be looped.
2) Low Recording level- this is often not the fault of the production sound mixer. A popular acting style is whisper, where it is extremely difficult to pick up enough level to record the lines properly.
3) Line Change- Often during the editorial process it will become clear that a line needs to change. Sometimes it is because it is not working creatively. It may also be that a section of the show was edited out and a line needs to change to help the story make sense.
The Spotted lines are prepared by the Sound Department and who will issue spotting notes. These notes tell the Post Production department on a show which actors to schedule, how long you will need each actor and how large the loop group needs to be.
The individual actors and loop group are scheduled separately. The reason actors are brought in individually is for efficiency. Scheduling major actors or series regulars can be a difficult enough process on its own. Getting the actors to work as a group can be nearly impossible to coordinate, although when it can be done the results can be superior.
The Post Producer (Director in Feature films) will signify which the selected and alternate takes for each line. The ADR editor cuts the selected takes and prepares them for the re-recording mix stage.
The actors will usually balk at doing some of the lines and there will be discussions about alternate versions of lines or dropping them entirely. Sometimes a conversation with the Executive Producer (or Director in Feature Films) will need to take place to determine whether or not a line will be performed.
Actors can often not recreate the performance they had in production. It is very difficult for many actors to perform with the other actors they had in the scene. They can be hostile. In unskilled hands the ADR performances can be very different and can really affect the final result of the mixed show.
But ADR problems will be its own separate post. Yes it can be that difficult. It is one of my least favorite parts of the Post Production Process.
The goal of ADR is not to be noticed. It should match the vocal quality and performance of the lines around it. If the Post Production is done with excellence most audiences won’t realize that ADR occurred.