Movies: Dubbing and foley artists

This thread reminded me of foley artists and re-dubbing dialogue in movies. I didn’t want to steal his first post, so I present it here, hoping Johnny LA or someone in the know responds.

What percentage of the original sounds and dialogue in a movie or T.V. show are actually used in the final product? I recall hearing something to the effect that 90% percent of the original sound recording is scrapped. Possible?

More than possible, it’s probable. Depends on the project, though. There are a couple of different issues here, and I’ll cover them in order.

First of all, when thinking about big-budget productions, like network TV and Hollywood movies, remember that a big part of the revenue stream these days is foreign. In most countries, dialogue is dubbed rather than subtitled (there are exceptions). It’s a whole lot easier to recreate the professional soundtrack if most of it is fake to begin with: the gunshots, footsteps, car doors, room hum (there’s a technical term for you), crowd noise, and everything else are on separate tracks, and the dialogue is all by itself on its own stereo track. If all the background is fabricated separately, it’s an easy matter to just swap out the dialogue and retain the rich, professional overall sound. So from that standpoint, it’s actually more practical in the long run to go to the trouble of making up 90-95% of the soundtrack after wrapping on the set.

Note also that in certain production situations, it’s absolutely necessary to dub the soundtrack later. For example, consider a scene in a nightclub, with music playing in the background, or a scene in a stadium, with thousands of cheering sports fans. In both of these cases (and in similar situations), it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep the background as quiet as possible while filming the foreground action and recording that dialogue, than it is to try to match up a highly variable background sound later during editing. With the nightclub scene, if you have people dancing to the music, you’ve probably got a production assistant on a ladder just off camera listening to music on headphones (when possible, the actual tune to be used later), and waving a baton or tapping it on the ladder to set up the rhythm, so the crowd is in sync. And in the stadium, you ask the extras in the crowd to jump up and down and wave their arms in complete silence for certain shots. Otherwise, it’s next to impossible to capture a clean recording of the foreground dialogue, and (especially for music) it would be a nightmare to get the song to match across all of the various cuts. In those cases, and in similar situations, it’s almost a requirement that the filmmakers plan to manufacture the soundtrack later.

However, this isn’t possible or practical in all circumstances. Consider location shooting, where you’ve got highway noise or a waterfall or whatever. (This was a huge problem on the set of Medicine Man, shot in the rain forest. They were constantly fighting the loud buzzing of resident insects.) In those cases, you might have to re-record even the dialogue later (it’s called “looping”), in which case 100% of the soundtrack would be faked after-the-fact. To avoid interference, in fact, when you have scenes in a moving car, often the car with the actors in it has its engine off and is being towed, so the engine noise doesn’t creep onto the recording. It is, naturally, dubbed later by an effects person.

Low-budget movies, though, don’t often have this luxury. That’s one of the reasons a low-budget film “feels” cheap, even though you can’t put your finger directly on it: because you aren’t hearing footsteps, doorknobs, and everything else the way you’re used to it. Or the voices are recorded simultaneously with everything else, meaning you get a lot of echo in the room, and the various “live” sounds (clinking ice, squeaking chairs, rustling clothes) occasionally interfere with the dialogue.

This is sometimes the case on TV, also, especially with sitcoms filmed before a live audience. There are a lot more microphones all over the set for those shows, and the sound engineers are constantly balancing and twiddling to make sure cabinets, light switches, and whatnot are correctly tuned in relation to the dialogue. Even so, often, all of this is captured on separate tracks (the actors wear body mikes to isolate their dialogue as much as possible) for foreign re-working, and there’s still some post-production tweaking.

So yeah, with a few exceptions and context-specific modifications, the idea that 10% of what you hear in a movie or a TV show was actually recorded on-site isn’t that far off at all. I would rephrase the original question, in that 90% of the original recording isn’t scrapped – it’s more that of the final product, 90% didn’t happen live. In fact, I’d actually put the number higher for most Hollywood movies.

Hope this helps.

I don’t think there’s an industry percentage, because it really all depends. If you’re a film-maker like Robert Altman, who loves to have ambient sound and actors talking over each other, you use a lot of the original sound. If you’re Sergio Leone, you shoot the whole thing MOS. Or, somewhere in between, you go out and shoot live sound, but come back and find that an airplane flew overhead during the best performance of Brad Pitt’s/Julia Roberts’/Sylvester Stallone’s career, you use what’s usable and drop in the neccesary redub’s later.

Good answer, Cervaise!

My best fiend’s first movie (Cut Up, now in distribution through was almost entirely looped. In fact, one of the characters’ lines are entirely done by another person!

One thing to add re: location sound. Usually, after a take, the sound recordist will record 30 seconds to a minute of ambient sound to throw into the mix. Having ambient sound will make the audio seem less like it was recorded in a studio.

Incidentally, Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras (also available through was shot MOS. Rather than trying to loop everything perfectly, the lines are intentionally out-of-synch to make it look like a foreign film that was dubbed in English. The director wanted to do a horror/comedy as if Jean-Luc Godard were the director, and the “bad” looping works perfectly to make it look like a French film.

Wow! Again, you people are the best.

Thanks Cervaise, you explained it better than I was expecting. It’s what I feared, but had heard was true. Is there a reason why studios what to keep this quiet? I see any number of stories on the special effects and whatnot, but rarely see stories on foley artist and ‘looping’ of dialogue. Interesting.
Johnny LA- I’m glad to see your not pissed at me over the airline crash stats that degraded to, ‘Ummm, Huhh, don’t know.’ We were all on the wrong page.

Uhh, by the way Johnny, was that suppose to be Friend or Fiend?

Just curious.

Again, I’m damn impressed at the answers to questions around here. I haven’t found a site around yet that can tackle questions the way dopers can.

CnoteChris: Don’t worry about the stats. I don’t get pissed unless it becomes personal. :slight_smile:

And yes, it’s fiend. heh heh heh.

This doesn’t answer the OP, but I never miss a chance to pimp for the boss: Cecil Adams on foley artists.

CnoteChris: Not sure what you mean by “keep it quiet,” unless you’re making a bad pun with regard to sound effects. You wouldn’t do that, now, would you? :slight_smile:

Bottom line is, movies are, by their very nature, phony and artificial. To paraphrase James Cameron: They don’t attempt to recreate reality; their sole intention is to create the illusion of reality. I mentioned this before, but I would assert that without the souped-up soundtrack, the movie would be harder to watch. (Note on that link: It’s pre-upgrade, so the quotes aren’t formatted right and the message got truncated. The important stuff is there, though.) Hollywood doesn’t call attention to the sound effects any more than they call attention to the fact that Indiana Jones is a fictional character played by an actor named Harrison Ford, or that when you see the White House explode under an Alien Death Ray, it’s a ten-foot balsa-wood model instead of the actual White House. You know it if you think about it, but when you’re in the movie, you’ve engaged your “suspension of disbelief” and you don’t worry about it.

Basically, the artifice is inherent in the medium. I don’t see why we should expect the soundtrack to be any different. It just isn’t as glamorous or visually interesting as a stuntman falling off a building or a pyrotechnician blowing stuff up, so you don’t see it that often in behind-the-scenes documentaries. That’s all.

From Cervaise

Nope. I wouldn’t. Truth is, I don’t think I could have been that witty.

I meant that studios seem to keep that aspect of the movie business less visible than their ‘amazing’ special effects. Almost like they want a certain aspect of a movie to be realistic when it’s not. Like a, 'Hey, we spent so and so on special effects, aren’t we great, but the rest of the movie is ‘real’.

Make any sense?