What Is ADR in Film?

ADR, or Additional Dialogue Replacement, is a filmmaking technique with pros and cons, but any aspiring videographer would benefit from becoming proficient in the art. It’s important to know when it’s advantageous to use ADR to be mindful of moviemaking budget concerns and the quality of the final product. While the technique has other applications, such as video game technology and sometimes music, ADR is most often used in the film and television industries.

So, what is ADR in film?

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Formerly known as “looping,” and sometimes called “Automatic Dialogue Replacement,” ADR is re-recording cinematic dialogue in a sound booth after a scene has already been filmed.

ADR is sometimes confused for “dubbing,” which involves replacing one language’s dialogue with another. Rather, ADR has the talent reenacting the spoken elements of the film. They watch the silent footage in the sound booth and replicate their own original tone, inflection, and affect in a controlled environment. The director usually sits with the actor as they re-record, allowing for quick dialog modifications and retakes.

The blog No Film School has excellent content explaining the ADR process. And, you can watch a fun video about the process broadcasted from UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television here. In that video, the “actor” replaces the famous “Night of the Living Dead” line: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” with his own take, with silly results.

Benefits of ADR

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There are no truly controlled environments in which one can make a film. Even studio sets have ambient noise like the buzzing of cell phones and the clatter of a boom microphone, or perhaps a wind machine is being used. Movies filmed on location have even more noise to deal with, like traffic, crowds, and overhead airplanes.

Sometimes directors decide in post-production to change the dialogue in its entirety for artful purposes. Either they don’t like the vocal effect that came out of the filming, or they literally decide to change the verbiage, perhaps adding a line or accommodating an actor’s perfect improvisation. All this is possible using ADR.

While sound editors are magical people and have some serious tricks up their sleeves when it comes to intrusive noise, sometimes a director just has to re-record dialogue – especially when the scene is otherwise perfect and cannot be re-shot.

ADR’s challenges

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ADR is a highly specialized technology that requires talented mixers and editors to match recorded dialogue perfectly with the video. It’s expensive and time-consuming. Not unlike Photoshopping an image, it’s best to have the excellent raw material, so fewer tweaks are needed. It’s important to factor in the projected costs of ADR when setting a budget before filming.

Further, film acting is a talent that is separate from voiceover work. You can compare ADR with it if ADR is anticipated, such as if filming is to take place in noisy naturalistic settings like New York that might factor into casting decisions.

Nitty-gritty of ADR in film

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At the beginning of a session, the sound mixer cues the video up to a frame where the actors can prepare to get back into the role. The sound mixer records – and re-records – the actor’s voiceover.

After the new dialogue is recorded, it must be integrated into the video, post-production. Sound editors generally use Avid software’s Pro Tools to begin a project. Adobe Premiere also has a simple-to-use ADR feature for those with a lower budget.

There is a difference between ADR used in live-action films versus animated films. When actors do voiceover work for animation, they perform the initial takes in a sound studio with a perfect microphone and acoustics. Replacing errors or recapturing their dialogue for whatever reason is simpler, as the raw piece is already so crisp. Also, the same actor is in the same soundstage for the edits, using the same high-quality equipment and talented mixers, so the audio quality matches perfectly with the initial recording. This video expands upon the nuances of ADR in animated versus feature films and pre-recorded television.

To sum up

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ADR is a misunderstood but vital component of any filming production working with even a moderate budget. It makes all the difference in the overall sound quality, enhances an actor’s delivery, and even gives directors a chance to make post-production story changes.

It’s costly, time-consuming, and requires specialized talent to do a good ADR job, which is why there are those Emmy and Oscar awards for the most euphonic sound mixing (you know, the ones we all are guilty of skimming through waiting for Best Leading). Hopefully, after learning the basic ins and outs of ADR in film, you’ll be attuned to the art and craft – but you won’t even be able to tell that finely executed ADR ever happened.

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