After shooting a film, the audio team occasionally finds that the dialogue captured during production isn't quite right. Sometimes it's due to environmental noise drowning out a key word; other times it's because of a flubbed line or a last-minute script change. Either way, the problem presents a difficult quandary: with filming already wrapped, it's impossible to do another on-location take. Enter the automated dialogue replacement (ADR) recordist, who works with actors in a professional studio to re-record the dialogue.
Despite the name, there's nothing automated about ADR. In these special recording sessions, the ADR recordist coaches the talent, who are watching and attempting to match a video recording, so that they give strong and seamless performances. At the same time, the recordist considers the sonic quality of the recording—including selecting and placing mics, or simulating a different acoustic environment so that the studio recording meshes with the on-location one. It’s a delicate art that requires an intimate knowledge of acoustics and recording processes. While replacing subpar dialogue is their most common gig, ADR recordists also work with voice actors to record dialogue for video games and animated features, documentary narration, dubs of foreign media, and even sound effects like background chatter—or "walla", as it's known in the industry.
ADR Recordist at a Glance
Knowing your way around a recording studio is the only major prerequisite for this career, although experience with dialogue editing or acoustics can be a boon. Many ADR technicians begin as assistant engineers or runners in recording studios, audio postproduction houses, or sound studios. The film industry has its own gravitational pull, and as a result most studios near Los Angeles inevitably wind up doing ADR sessions or other film-industry work like dubbing, voiceover, and film scoring sessions. Recording studios and engineers that capitalize on this experience and network within the film industry are well positioned to make ADR central to their livelihood. Experienced ADR engineers might progress to become senior engineers or even start their own ADR studios as studio owners.
ADR recordists are usually either freelance, employed by an audio postproduction house, or specialized members of a recording studio team. A few are employed by film studios—usually ones that specialize in dubbing or animation—and video game studios.
Getting an entry-level position at a recording studio near Los Angeles is generally the first step towards being involved in ADR sessions. To truly take advantage of the abundance of studio work from Hollywood, however, requires forming strong business relationships with dialogue editors and film production companies, as well as earning a reputation for speed, quality, and consistency.
- Studio recording
- Microphone choice and placement
- Basic acoustics
- Sound-image synchronization
- Audio production
- Familiarity with acting
- Verbal communication
ADR can be a confusing and challenging process for actors, and a good ADR recordist will be communicative, empathetic, and level-headed enough to set the talent at ease and coax out a strong performance. At the same time, ADR sessions are notoriously expensive; ADR recordists must make difficult decisions to keep the process moving, recognizing when they've gotten the best take they're likely to get and moving on. In other words, they must compartmentalize: appearing outwardly calm and reassuring while inwardly maneuvering to wrap the session as quickly as possible.
ADR recordists' schedules are usually based around sessions, which could take place during the traditional work day or at night, and often run longer than expected. Work hours are split between the sound studio and the desk, where recordists might use a DAW to do preliminary edits on the dialogue. It’s rare for this job to require travel; the majority of ADR recordists and ADR-oriented studios are based in Los Angeles and New York in order to be accessible to actors and film studios.