Having done the Louis Elman Academy's ADR training course (in central London) on Saturday, I can safely say I will never watch a film or TV programme in the same way again.
I knew that a lot of voice work was done in post-production - I understood that lead actors, for example, would dub any dialogue filmed in a noisy environment, or not captured well on set, or changed, but I didn't realise just how much other voice work is done in studio... and by whom.
ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement and is a catch-all term for voice effects added in post-production. Apart from lead actors re-voicing themselves, almost everything else you hear is recorded by what is known as a "loop group". A loop group is a group of around 8 - 12 actors, who - I know now - use every ounce of talent, skill and energy they possess to make the finished programme or film sound amazing. This small number of people can produce the "atmosphere" of any given scene - a riot, a ballroom, a football match. They voice the lines of the background players - a waiter serving a drink, a police voice issuing instructions over the radio, an
old lady calling from a crowd - matching their mouth movements where necessary. They make breathing noises, sex noises, punching noises, stabbing noises, and scream their heads off. Sometimes for hours on end.
A good ADR actor is not only good at accents and voices, they must be able to improvise any kind of dialogue at the drop of a hat. It pays to be well-researched - and fit, as they need energy and stamina. One of the scenarios for our training course was a TV movie about the sinking of the Titanic. Over several hours I played a small child marveling at the big ship, an aristocrat dancing on the upper decks, an Irish mother pushing her child through a crowd, a woman desperately seeking a lifeboat and a drowning passenger calling for her husband. It was pretty intense. (I also had to make the noises of a terrified, running woman treading on a nail, falling over, pulling the nail out of her sole and limping on... but that's another story.)
The course tutors - director Louis Elman, mixer Nick Kray and actor David John - gave us the benefit of their years of experience, encouraging, cajoling and hurling directions at us until we got it just right. We learned so many techniques and tricks of the trade, plus all the all the jargon that goes with the job. I would highly recommend this course for anyone wanting to learn about this unusual and highly-skilled craft. Or indeed anyone who wants to find out just how loudly they can scream.