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Dialogue

Contributed By Fred Ginsburg

The fourth and final major element of the soundtrack is dialogue, or speech. Audiences want to hear what the actors are saying!

Dialogue in a film takes on, ultimately, one of two forms. Either the words are spoken by an actor on screen, with the lips visible to the audience; or, the words are spoken by an actor off screen, or by an actor on screen whose face is not visible. Dialogue from an actor whose face we see is termed "lipsync", because the words must match the movement of the lips. All other dialogue is considered "wild", since it does not have to sync with any on screen source.

The recording of dialogue usually occurs on the set during filming, and this is referred to as "production dialogue". Sometimes, while actors are on the set, but without cameras rolling—the company will record additional lines of dialogue to be used later as "wild lines". Examples of wild lines that would be recorded on the set for future use include other halves of phone conversations, shouts or greetings from afar, background ambience, alternate dialogue (to cover profanity in event of television broadcast), narration, or any dialogue that talent tends to stumble over (the editor can either meticulously replace the lipsync a word at a time, or cut to a reverse angle that hides the actor’s lips and just lay in the lines).

Sometimes, for any of a multitude of reasons, production dialogue is unusable and must be replaced during post-production. Sometimes a production mixer is either incompetent or suffers an equipment malfunction. Sometimes, the problem is totally beyond the help of the mixer, such as a loud generator or continuous aircraft. Directors often shout screen directions and talk during dialogue. There are all sorts of reasons and excuses for having to replace dialogue on occasion, some of which we can control and some of which we can’t.

When a production track does need to replaced, editors use a process known as "ADR", which is short for Automated (or Automatic) Dialogue Replacement.

In the old days, dialogue replacement was done by physically cutting out short sections of the original dialogue (consisting of one or two lines) along with the appropriate picture. These sections were formed into continuous loops. That’s why the process was called "looping". A projection system would run a loop of picture along with the corresponding loop of original sound in sync with a loop of fresh stock threaded up in a recorder. The actor would watch the film clip, listen to his original track on headphones, and re-perform each line aloud.

When the process was complete for each loop of dialogue, the editor would painstakingly replace each section of picture along with the newly recorded sound.

Better technology greatly simplified the process. In the ADR process, the physical loops have been done away with. Instead, the entire reel of picture and the entire reel of original sound are threaded up in sync. An entire reel of blank audio stock is set up on a recorder. A computer is fed the start and stop footage of each "loop" that needs to be recorded. All three machines roll down, in sync, to the first "loop" and the process begins. The actor watches the projected footage and listens to the cue track on headphones. A series of three audible beeps alerts talent as the system rolls forward towards the record start point. His take is recorded on the blank stock. At the completion of each take, the computer rewinds all three machines back to the programmed start point and the process repeats itself. When the loop has been successfully recorded, the entire system moves ahead to the next programmed set of cues.

After the ADR recording process has been completed, life is considerably much easier for the editor since all three elements— picture, production sound, ADR —are already in sync with each other throughout the length of the entire reel. To replace bad original sound, all the editor would have to do is put the three elements in a gang synchronizer on his editing bench, roll down to the first cut point, and splice in his track. 550’ at the picture and 550’ on the production sound reel would correspond to 550’ on the ADR. reel.

Note that today, with the use of non-linear edit systems and digital recording formats, ADR has evolved into an even more streamlined process, completely doing away with the need for sprocketed magnetic tape. Computers and video projectors now make up the hardware systems. The process is basically the same, but without the drudgery.

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