Podcast Transcript – Episode 3: ADR with Louis Elman

 

The third episode of our podcast is here, and we're talking to industry professional and 'Don of ADR' Louis Elman about Automated Dialogue Replacement.

In order to ensure accessibility for all, we have provided a transcript of the episode below. If you would prefer to listen to the episode, visit our podcast page here.


Episode Three: ADR with Louis Elman

David John:
So hi everyone, again. If you're coming back to us and listening to the Squadcast again, welcome back. If you're new, this is the podcast of London voice agent, Voice Squad. Whatever your connection is to the voice over world, to audio. This is here really to give you an insight into the workings of a voice agency and also lots of different areas of the audio industry.

David John:
We focus on different areas on each podcast - today it's going to be ADR. We'll come to that in a minute. My name is David John. I'm professional voice over and audio artist. Also a dubbing director these days, and the Equity Audio Counsellor.

David John:
This week we're absolutely delighted to have the Don of ADR, Mr Louis Elman. Welcome! Of course, we've worked together for many years ourselves, but Louis goes back an awful long way in this industry. He's been casting, producing, directing - directing dubbing and ADR, and of course now training. He's decorated has worked on many award-winning productions including getting an international Emmy award for Das Boot, which was dubbed into English from the German. He's also worked on lots of top movies. Most recently, I guess Dunkirk is a big one. The Imitation Game and many top TV series including Game of Thrones. So you name it, Louis's worked on it! So welcome - and good to see you Louis!

Louis Elman:
Thank you Dave. Nice to be here.

David John:
You've been, well you've been working for at least 40 years -

Louis Elman:
Does make me feel very old! Started uh, in the 60s at a company called De Lane Lea.

David John:
Ah yeah. Famous company.

Louis Elman:
And I got the job as a runner and assistant to the founder of the company, William De Lane Lea, who was known in those days in the industry as the Major 'cause he was still active as an officer in military intelligence.

David John:
Wow. And what year was that? More or less Louis?

Louis Elman:
Sixty? Sixty-one? And he was basically an engineer, a mechanical engineer, not a sound engineer.

David John:
Right.

Louis Elman:
He was the first man to synchronise a gramophone record to film. How he did it, I don't know.

David John:
Incredible.

Louis Elman:
Then he invented the Rhythmo-Band System when he worked in France under the name of Lingua Syncro and the Band System was projected under the main screen and showed the dialogue written in sync to the picture so that the actor didn't have to look at picture or have to read a script. You just read the band.

David John:
So this is specifically for dubbing?

Louis Elman:
Yeah.

David John:
So is that kind of going back to the beginning? Is that how you then moved into what we call ADR?

Louis Elman:
Well he introduced me to actors. I'm writing a book at the moment called Living with Actors, 'cause - my whole life has been involved with actors and I have the highest respect for actors. I really do. So I got the job as a trainee with him and learned all about working with actors and the synchronisation of dialogue.

David John:
So what we now often call Automated Dialogue Replacement. When did that start becoming a big thing?

Louis Elman:
Well, in the old days we called it post synchronisation - post sync. And there was no such thing as a computer. It was all done on 35 millimetre film or 16 millimetre film. So when an actor had to come in and redo his dialogues because of bad sound, we had to chop up the film into loops. Thus where Loop Group comes from and together with the picture loop, we had to make a magnetic tape the same length and they used to run together.

Louis Elman:
So you would record onto the magnetic. And then years later the Americans invented what we call Rock & Roll. And you didn't have to chop up the film anymore. You left it in real form and you just ran the whole reel and just picked out the scenes you wanted. You would mark up, with cues, the scenes that you wanted to record, so it became much easier. They would have their text on a sheet - an ADR sheet - well then it was a post-sync sheet - and they would listen to their voice on earphones from the film and they would then repeat the line in sync. And in many cases, good actors would use the opportunity to improve their performance or they thought, oh that's good, I'll just do it again the same. Or they complained that, why did I say that line so quickly? 'Cause it was difficult to post-sync or to ADR it.

David John:
Yeah. So your company now, you obviously still work in ADR, automated dialogue replacement and also the lip sync -

Louis Elman:
We should explain the ADR is just another term for post sync.

David John:
Yeah, absolutely.

Louis Elman:
You know, post synchronisation or looping.

David John:
There's basically the post-production thing of which most members of the public are not aware of, is all the sound is put on after the day of recording.

Louis Elman:
That's right. The footsteps and the movements and the atmospheres and what have you. Because in the end, uh, what post-production houses achieve is what we call an international soundtrack with everything on it, your footsteps, your atmospheres, your music, your dialogues. Everything separate so that when you hand over to a French company to make a French version or a German version or Italian version, they have all the elements. All they have to do is take out the English dialogue and replace it with their own language. That's why it's done.

Louis Elman:
But we in fact have been busy supplying actors to form loop groups as you know. And you're one of them. Thank goodness you are 'cause you're one of the best!

David John:
Always a [pleasure]!

Louis Elman:
And we create additional dialogue for scenes lacking in ambience known as automated dialogue replacement. We in fact have been running an Academy for the last six years training actors who are interested in this type of work.

David John:
Yeah, that's interesting because you obviously want actors to come in when you hire them for a session, to come in and know what they're doing.

Louis Elman:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

David John:
What does the training involve? What is the day like for actors?

Louis Elman:
Well we actually put them through a proper recording session that any professional would have to have to do. And from that we can see whether they are creative - their enthusiasm, their talent as an actor. 'Cause I think that the most difficult type of acting has got to be voice work. An actor doesn't have the advantage of his face to create a facial expression or body movement. You have to act solely with your voice. And I think that is the most difficult part of [voice] acting. You're an actor, you tell me! But that's what I believe.

Louis Elman:
So the course teaches them the art of synchronising dialogue to fit a particular situation in a scene. It may entail creating appropriate dialogue for police chat, forensic ambulance crews, doctors, nurses, or we might be adding battle cries or market call-outs for something like Game of Thrones, which we've worked on for several years as you know. And all this without a script!

David John:
Yeah.

Louis Elman:
[The] actor has not only to be a damn good actor, but also to be very creative. And improv is so, so important. They have to write the dialogue and they don't get paid for that.

David John:
Yeah, that's an added extra! Yeah, yeah. That's a very good point. That the improvisational skill is, is right up there.

Louis Elman:
If you can't think of something to say - if it's a barman serving a pint of beer in a pub and we need to put something in his mouth. Someone's got to come up with a relevant line and make it believable -

David John:
And you want three or four versions or options. They want people to come up with new stuff all the time.

Louis Elman:
Absolutely.

David John:
You've got to think quick, haven't you! What are you looking for in an ADR actor?

Louis Elman:
Confidence I think is number one.

David John:
Very important.

Louis Elman:
Enthusiasm. Creative skill. And of course to be a very good actor.

David John:
So let's think about some recent projects that you've worked on.

Louis Elman:
You mentioned, you mentioned in your introduction, Dunkirk.

David John:
Yeah. Which was, which was won, a couple of Oscars, didn't it, for sound?

Louis Elman:
It did win an Oscar. They even filmed us doing some stuff - some of the work was done on HMS Belfast. Because Richard King, Oscar-award-winning Richard King, the sound editor, Wanted the real, real sound of the interior of a boat. And we had actors running up and down the boat shouting and screaming. And it was really, it was beautifully recorded. And in the end, the soundtrack won an Oscar.

David John:
I did go and see that it did sound absolutely fantastic.

Louis Elman:
Brilliantly done. And recently Peter Jackson's documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. Absolutely brilliant! They came to me and asked for voices. I think you play one of the soldiers.

David John:
I did, I did do a bit of that.

Louis Elman:
And we did that. Nobody ever knew - again - that we'd added voices to it. So that, that was an honour to work on.

David John:
It was, and it was extraordinary to work on because it was, unusually, it was real people and it was history.

Louis Elman:
It was real people. That's why we had to have damn good actors who give a natural performance and not make it sound like a, like a performance.

David John:
Yeah. And that's key, isn't it? It's got to sound natural. Got to be authentic.

David John:
So you kind of briefly mentioned the voice tests on the phone. Yeah. Um, what are the other major changes that you've noticed since you started back in the sixties to now? I mean, it's been an incredible journey for you.

Louis Elman:
Incredible journey, to go from film to what is known as protal computers. I'll tell you, when I woke up and knew the industry had changed. I was working on 1492 directed by Ridley Scott. And I always did the Post-Sync or ADR for Ridley. Ridley didn't like going into the studio with the actors, and he said, you do it Louis and I'll come and see at the end of the day what you've done.

Louis Elman:
And in 1492, he had a scene in a monastery and he asked me to - he said, Louis, I'd like to hear, a monks choir in the background rehearsing, and making mistakes and stopping and starting. And I said, Oh my God. I said, okay, okay. We'd love to, I'll see what I can do. Anyway, to cut a long story short. We found a soundtrack of a monks' choir. It's a beautiful, beautiful sound. And, digitally, this engineer, Robin and I sat there. He made the track stop. He made the choir make a mistake. He made the choir sing out of tune. He made them start up again. All on the computer. Now had we attempted that on film? It would have taken weeks. He did it in about four hours. And then we overdubbed with the late John Ball who spoke Spanish as the Maestro, as the choir master tapping his bat on the podium and shouting at them in Spanish that they were doing something wrong or were out of tune and we completed the whole track and I really just couldn't believe, I couldn't believe the results.

Louis Elman:
But you couldn't have done that on film. I mean, you could have, but it would taken weeks.

David John:
Yeah. And when was that? 1492... that was kind of nineties, wasn't it? Yeah. Yeah.

Louis Elman:
And that's when I knew.

David John:
By then. It had changed. Everything had moved on.

Louis Elman:
[Now] when an actor turns up to work for me, he doesn't turn up with a paper script, he turns up with an iPad. I know. Things have changed a great deal.

David John:
Great. So I think we've got a really good picture of the loop ADR world. What we usually do at this point, we ask a few quick-fire questions just to -

Louis Elman:
Nothing about my wife, I hope!

David John:
Only if you decide to choose to mention your wife! So first one is, are you a cat person or a dog person?

Louis Elman:
Definitely a dog person.

David John:
Dog. And you own a dog?

Louis Elman:
Oh yes. Sydney's our Labrador retriever. A rescue from Ireland and he's a lovely dog. Beautiful dog. Love him. Love him dearly.

David John:
Lovely. And what's your favourite ice cream?

Louis Elman:
Choc-ice every time!

David John:
We'll order one of those for you! Okay. Here's a good one. Favorite movie of all time?

Louis Elman:
That's difficult. Because there's so many! I'd like to say any James Cagney film, and probably some of your listeners won't even know who James Cagney is! But a wonderful film called White Heat. I was a great fan of Spencer Tracy and a wonderful script called Who's Coming to Dinner with Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. And - not because I worked on it - but Four Weddings and a Funeral. I loved that movie. I thought it was fantastic.

David John:
But you did work on it?

Louis Elman:
Yes, we do. Yeah. Yeah.

David John:
Okay. Have you been to the theatre lately? If so, what have you seen?

Louis Elman:
Well, I have to say, Dave, that the last production I saw was an amateur group. I like to support the local amateur drama group. And the last show we saw was Fiddler on the Roof and it was brilliantly done. And also, I look out for new talent and if I think they're good enough, I'll always approach them afterwards and say, look, if you're interested in, uh, being a professional actor -

David John:
You can point them in the right way.

Louis Elman:
I can point them in the right direction. If they'd like to join the Academy and learn about voice recording, they can. But I like to support local groups.

David John:
Where's that? Where's your local group?

Louis Elman:
Chesham and High Wickham.

David John:
Great. Yeah. Okay. So London, what's your favourite place in London?

Louis Elman:
Because I love fish and chips, I have to say Muswell Hill.

David John:
Okay. Muswell Hill!

Louis Elman:
Muswell Hill.

David John:
Because there's fish and chips.

Louis Elman:
You must go to Toff's.

David John:
I've been there. Yeah.

Louis Elman:
There's number one fish and chips. And I like Muswell Hill. I like the ambience of Muswell Hill. A lot of actors live in Muswell Hill.

David John:
I'm not too far from there myself. Only a mile up the road. Okay. Brilliant! Thank you Louis.

Louis Elman:
Well, I hope I've been of some help!

David John:
Definitely. Very interesting stuff. Thank you. We know it's a very niche world, but it's a very interesting world that people don't often hear a lot about. A secret part of the industry.

Louis Elman:
If you can get into that world, it can be - if business is busy - it's quite a lucrative way of earning money.

David John:
And there's always work. There's ADR on everything these days.

David John:
Yes there is. Yup. Yup.

David John:
We'll be back next week with another Squadcast and we'll be talking about radio - audio drama, radio drama. We will have the wonderful actress who Louis knows very well, and has worked with a lot, Alison Dowling.

Louis Elman:
Oh God yes - she's wonderful.

David John:
She's fantastic. She's best known as a Elizabeth Archer in The Archers, but also she is, well, I among others call her the Queen of ADR because she's absolutely brilliant at ADR as well. So we'll get her perspective on radio, drama, audio drama, as well as a bit more ADR as well.

David John:
Do subscribe to the podcast if you've enjoyed this and you're interested in hearing more about the audio world. And rate us wherever you listen to your podcasts.

David John:
So this was the Squadcast. It's a Voice Squad Ltd production hosted by me, David John, devised by Neil Conrich. It's produced and edited by Emma Samuel. If you've got any questions at all about the show, the podcast you've just listened to, or any of the others, please visit our website. If you have any specific questions, please drop us an email. Thank you.


The transcript from our previous episode, an interview with James Faulkner, is available here.

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