Foreign film and TV dubbing

The latest string to my bow is the dubbing of foreign language film and TV series into English.

Now let me start by saying that English is not only my first language – it’s my only language. Many people have been unfairly impressed at my ability to speak both Chinese and Farsi but the fact is that the translation is provided for me and the team by the client.

And that’s where the fun begins.

The first thing that we need to do is to take the script and transfer it into the software that we use – in this case, Cappella, although there are a number of dubbing packages available. Sounds like a simple process, but it isn’t, because each line needs to be input separately. Not only that, but the start and end points of the line in question need to marry up perfectly with the start and end points of the original on screen. Then, if there are any pauses, we have to work out how we can factor them into the dialogue without the whole thing sounding contrived.

This can be a challenge in and of itself. Some studios will allow us a little more latitude when it comes to adapting the script – we’ll be allowed to change some simple words or paraphrase to let everything fit. Others prefer us to work to the letter, and that can be tricky because the English translation of a sentence can run either much shorter or much longer than the other language.

Once everything is in, it’s then up to the team to assign characters; and my ability to mould my voice means that I will voice a lot of people within any given feature, which is always fun.

We watch the scene to get a feel for how the original lines were delivered, then we go back and press record. As the scene plays in front of us, the dialogue scrolls along the bottom like a karaoke track, and we aim to get the start and end points to sync up with a red vertical line that they’re scrolling past. It’s OK if we don’t get it exactly right, as our dialogue is moved around in post production.

It’s a weird process, because even though I’ll be having a conversation, there’s nobody else in the booth. The character with whom I’m speaking may well be voiced by me too, or another actor or actress who’s booked to come in on another day. It reminds me of how they filmed Peep Show, as the actors only ever spoke to camera, rather than to each other on set. Daunting, but fun.

After one character’s entire dialogue for the feature is done, it’s back to the beginning to start all over again as another character. And again, and again, and again until everyone is done. Then it’s up to the engineers to work their magic by setting ambience and ‘position’ so that the audience is mildly tricked into believing that we were actually there, rather than in the studio.

Dubbing, particularly for the Far East market, is becoming more and more in demand, as studios can get grants from the government by exporting their productions overseas. The studios there are overworked and, perhaps more importantly, don’t have enough genuine British actors on site to do the work. We’re incredibly busy meeting deadlines but though it all, we are having tremendous fun, and I personally became so vested in our current series – Fu Qi Na Xie Shi – that I was genuinely sad when it ended.

Below is a snippet from one episode and all characters on screen have been voiced by me: