Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

The Magic of ADR

Remember that television show I shot in Chicago last summer? The one where I got last minute lines in Cantonese, and ended up emoting REALLY HARD trying to remember the lines, and ultimately sounding like William Shatner speaking Tagalog?

It’s baaaaack!

I got a call to do an ADR session for my show. ADR, for those not in the biz that is show, stands for either Additional Dialogue Recording, or Automatic Dialogue Recording, depending on whom you ask. It’s a way for the sound supervisor to salvage a scene that has something funky going on audio-wise. An actor may be required to go into a studio and re-record their lines, if it was a really windy day, or if the mike placement was off, or if the intonation wasn’t quite right but the acting in the scene was good.

Or, perhaps, if you were speaking in tongues instead of a recognizable form of Chinese?

I happen to love doing ADR. I’ve had to do it quite a bit in cartoons. Though the pictures are almost always drawn after you record the lines (the #1 asked question about voiceover) you often have to add another line or give a different emphasis or volume, depending on how it was animated. And I’ve done some on-camera ADR as well; if you rent “Hero” and turn on the American dubbing (it’s actually pretty good) you’ll hear my voice coming out of Tony Leung’s mouth.

It’s actually ironic that I’m in the voiceover business, given what happened to me when I first started doing on-camera work. I had landed a big (for me) role in the sequel to “The Fugitive,” called “U.S. Marshals.” In the audition, the script described a “baby-faced prisoner” who’s aboard a prison plane. Said prisoner goes into the bathroom, gets a pen-gun out of the toilet paper dispenser, tries to shoot Wesley Snipes, blows a hole in the window instead, and meets an ignominious end getting sucked out of the plane. The plane, of course, goes down, and Wesley becomes the New Fugitive. My one big line was “Hey, I gotta go to the can.” My first big role—on the toilet!

Look, Ma, I’m the inciting action!

I, of course, availed myself of all that precious NU training, developed a backstory of a poor Chinese gang member undergoing his initiation, full of trepidation and fear, but determined to prove himself. Oh, the delicate layers in that character! Unfortunately, the director was not looking for layers. He was looking for someone to shoot down a plane. And, judging by his exasperation, I didn’t seem to measure up. “Can’t he look tougher?” he queried to the air, whereupon Hair and Makeup flew at me in a futile attempt to give me that worn, hardened look. He would have none of my hesitant eye flutters, my tragic stoicism as I walked, shackled, down the aisle. “Look, you’re a killer. A killer!” he said over and over again, hoping against hope that by repeating the word I would magically transform into Charles Bronson. I tried my best: I scowled; I hunched; I made beady my eyes. “Can we do something with his hair?” the director asked.

Still, it was a lot of screen time, plus a death! Very exciting. I was in Los Angeles when it came out and I went to see it with Doug and my sister at Grauman’s Chinese Theater; the perfect venue to see your Big Moment. I remember watching, excited, as the camera panned down the interior of the plane, and… there I was! The mean one in the orange jumpsuit! (We all had orange jumpsuits.) I was scowling! I was badass! I was about to say my line! On screen, I opened my mouth… and a voice came out that sounded lower than Bea Arthur. “Hey,” it rasped, “I gotta go to the can!”

They’d replaced my voice. By a Teamster, apparently. I was ADR’d. Oh, the pain, the pain…

And now I do voices for a living. Go figure.

All right, enough of a trip down bitter memory lane. Back to now. Here I was, getting a chance to revisit the summer’s Chinese language debacle. It could either be a final shot at redemption before the Lunar New Year, where I make amends for my Asian linguistic butchery, or it could be an agonizing experience, watching myself flounder and flounder again.

It was neither. I wasn’t called in to do ADR for that scene. Instead, I had to re-record all my lines in the Chinese restaurant kitchen, because it was shot with the kitchen fan running, which made us sound like we were shooting at Cape Canaveral during takeoff. The re-recording was easy. Listen once to the original track, wait for the three beeps, say the line. Rinse, repeat. It was over in less than half an hour. It’s lovely how you can have your second chance at a line, to give it a little more shading, a touch more nuance, all while fitting your syllables to your mouth on screen.

So, it was a pretty painless affair, but I still don’t know how I’ll be in the other scene. The Sound Supervisor said it looked fine, but I’m judging by different standards. So, no, I’m not telling you when it’s on. Or what it is.

Hey, maybe they got Tony Leung to redo my Chinese. That replacement I wouldn’t mind.

Happy Year of the Rabbit, y’all! Eat dumplings!

February 2nd, 2011 - Still Life Las Vegas

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