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Ok, we've all heard jokes and stabs at "how bad the ADR was" in some movies,

but, I want to get to the bottom and real cause of ADR dialogue being off and low-quality.

I honestly don't believe some of the edits I see/hear in some movies, and I think something else is to blame.

Maybe the audio is off a bit throughout the whole movie?

Maybe someone was using a wrong frame-rate session?

Maybe someone wasn't locked to Video Ref while running it off, thereby getting to hour 3 it's off by a couple frames.

Maybe the picture editor failed to give the information on those last-minute time changes and edit clean-ups/tightenings.

Maybe after the final listen-back after everyone leaves the producer takes matters into his own hands and tries to "fix" something in SHUFFLE MODE and throws the ADR track out of whack.

What really is the cause of bad ADR in some movies? Is it really the Audio Editor at fault? Or can there be other factors involved?

Sometimes it's the actor... I've had actors come in who are so disinterested to be there working on a movie they've since forgotten and not getting paid for a session of ADR that they just put half the effort in it and the ADR turns out hopeless and useless.

What are your thoughts?

Just a thought I had tonight ;)

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I could answer this but want to leave it open to others for now. –  Jay Jennings Sep 19 '10 at 5:22
    
Thanks for letting us mortals take a swing @Jay! ;) –  Steve Urban Sep 19 '10 at 15:59
    
I think there was a discussion of sorts on this topic a while back, I'll see if I can find it. –  Mark C Sep 20 '10 at 1:45
    
It looks harder to find that I thought. –  Mark C Sep 20 '10 at 1:47
    
My most common problem is the actor, and that's why I'm trying to avoid ADR like the plague in my thesis. It's really difficult to pull a genuine re-performance from the actor AND get them to deliver it close to sync. Unless I work hard with the director to draw out the performance, the ADR I end up with sounds very flat and emotionless. –  Miles B. Sep 20 '10 at 18:17
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I've had two bad experiences all thanks to the producer. Both the same problem actually. The producer suddenly thought that they didn't like the performance of an actor so decided to redo the voice. Sadly this was done not to picture and on a lovely crisp and clear VO mic, instead of a boom. I did the best I could in the time but it's not the best. The worst bit was getting the lip sync right and ignoring the fact that the performance sounded rather odd as I'd drastically altered the timing.

It's not always the editor/mixers fault as we have to deal with a situation beyond our control.

This reminds of discussions I've read about Public Enemies. I watched and thought how bad the dialogue was (mainly how noisy it was). However I then discovered that at the last minute Mann decided to ditch all the ADR and go with the location sound, evidently not leaving enough time for much work to be done on cleaning before the film was mastered.

It's easy to criticise, but much harder to find out reasons behind why things happen. I think people sometimes forget how many people are involved in film/tv and how little control most of them actually have.

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I do wonder how much of it comes down to time. I saw a film over the weekend that had some high-profile folks in it, had to be a modest-to-big budget. Some of the ADR seemed well performed (emotion and lip flap were both fine, I thought) and recorded, but room reverbs didn't match, so reflections would vanish completely on certain lines (the ones I took to be ADR). Don't think you'd pin that on the ADR recordist so much as the mixer, but perhaps the deadline or budget didn't allow for fine-tuning, as you suggest on "Public enemies." –  Joe Griffin Sep 20 '10 at 5:37
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Having little to no ADR experience, here's my take on the situation.

Bad ADR is bad ADR, no matter who wears the blame.

We could blame the location scout for picking too noisy a location to shoot in the first place. We could blame the writer for writing in that dramatic dialog exchange in a scene that needed a wind machine. How about the boom-op? Nah, too easy. The actor/actress was out of town on a bender the day that ADR needed to be recorded, so they went to a local studio that isn't properly set up to record ADR. We can blame all of them too. Or we could just blame the studio for short changing the budget (those bastards).

Sadly, sound is voodoo to most non-sound people. It's a truth that I keep finding more and more lately. They have no idea what goes into getting it right. I had an executive producer inform me just the other day that he doesn't see the need for audio post because he can hear what they're saying and that's all he cares about! When you have people with that opinion listen to the difference, all they notice are the things you add or the things that are "wrong".

Problem is, the ADR editor is the one getting paid because they have the witch doctor wisdom to make it right, right? But it's not right. It's not going to be right. It's bad ADR. So is it the ADR editor's fault? It could be, but no, not necessarily. Is it the ADR editor's problem? Absolutely

As the ADR editor you're getting paid to be responsible for that problem with the movie. If you fix the problem, you're magical. If you don't, you take the fall. Or at least find the reason why it failed and do everything in your power (limited as it may be in the scope of a film's production) to ensure it doesn't happen again next time.

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In my experience (I've done a fair share of ADR recording, editing and mixing), it's a combination of things, but it begins with the most obvious: performance. I'm not blaming the actors, ADR IS HARD!, but the fact that we're recreating an artificial (scripted) performance in a recording studio, without other actors, the set, or natural room / location acoustics. The human voice adapts to the environment we're in. In a studio the actor will hear his/her voice clearly with headphones, and I find myself telling them (90% of the time) to speak as if they're in THAT room. Other reasons are, obviously, different room acoustics, microphones and the difficulty of matching lips perfectly. But sometimes it just happens that an ADR performance is better than the original one, and that moment is almost magical. On those rare occasions, not only will the ADR be unnoticeable, but you've actually made the scene (and therefore the movie) better. I have been fortunate enough to experience a few of those.

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@Andres, excellent answer. –  Jay Jennings Sep 20 '10 at 7:38
    
@Andres, regarding the voice adapting to the environment: would it be beneficial to feed the actor's phones a verb similar to the environment? Or would that be a distraction? –  Steve Urban Sep 20 '10 at 14:36
    
That might help, give it a shot, but they would still hear their voice through the cans which can throw them off a bit. There's no hiding it - ADR is just a separate skill. But I guess they get better with practice. Example: I recorded ADR with Michael Madsen yesterday - amazing, the guy got it right pretty much every time! He's done a lot of ADR in his time, and he had no trouble getting back in character and "in the scene". –  Andres Boulton Sep 22 '10 at 16:10
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I don't have much pro experience with ADR, but i can speculate...

Firstly, i've never noticed any obviously out of sync ADR before; when it's bad it just feels to me like the performance is off or the perspective/eq is wrong. I agree that there is a bit of ADR out there that jumps out, but i also think that there are a lot of people who nitpick and listen out for it so they can feel smart when they go "LOL ADR".

To me, the main problem with obvious ADR is performance; the actor lacks the tension in their voice that they had on set because, rather than being surrounded by a crew all working to get the job done and being barked at by a 1st AD, they've rolled in at 11am after sleeping in and taking their dog for a walk.

So i'm going to take a stab in the dark and say tight budgets and tighter schedules not leaving enough time to get it right.

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Bingo. Nice answer. Now, I think it's sad when the ADR editor gets the blame when it's the actor who does 90% of it.. –  Utopia Sep 19 '10 at 6:17
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I find that most movie actors are horrible voice overs, which explains most of the bad ADR to me. But the only really really bad ADR I heard was for a film called the Oxford Murders or something like that. One of the actors there did a horrid job behind the mic but a wonderful job infront of the camera. So Yeah, I am willing to say that actors sometimes just don't really care.

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This all too often the case. I was recently on set and talking with one actress who felt that the reason she had to do ADR was because the sound mixer wasn't doing his or her job. I let her know that yes, every once in a while that is the case but usually it has far more to do with the locations, the editing, the framing, and many other things completely out of the sound mixers control. –  Matthew Freed Audio Sep 21 '10 at 18:43
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ADR issues can be everything described in this post. Ultimately it comes down to the producers and director; they are the final word on locations, crew, actors, budget, etc. Unfortunately, too many producers and directors don't understand audio nearly as well as they should to be in the position they're in. Yes, kudos to them for putting the movie together but more of them should defer audio decisions to a more experienced person rather than think they know what they're talking about.

Some times the location or look of a shot trumps the audio needs on location so ADR is about the only option for a scene. Action scenes are like this, wide beauty shots of actors walking along in front of a city skyline, and many other shots along those lines. ADR is both a necessary evil and luxury in the movie making business. Everyone from the actor to the producer to the sound engineers should understand the pros and cons of replacing production dialogue.

My time is pretty evenly split between production sound mixing and post production sound design. I definitely see the issues on both ends of the shoot. While I much prefer to get good, solid, clean, usable dialogue on set I realize that it's not always a reality. So, I'm glad I also have the skills and setup needed for post production.

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@Matt thanks for the answer. I constantly tell people that a huge part of the reason Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture was that they kept 99% of the original dialogue in it. –  Utopia Sep 20 '10 at 19:55
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This answer is from personal experience. The ADR in my short had problems for two reasons:

  1. The ADR was recorded in a small studio with a studio mic. This was an instance of getting what I paid for, unfortunately. I attempted to fix the audio differences with reverb and heavy EQing. All dialog was ADRd, so in the end, this wasn't really such a big issue. It's not "bad", persay, just not entirely accurate.
  2. Poor ADR acting. This is something actors should take classes in (maybe they do...), since it's not as easy as it seems, apparently. We got dialog that was reaaally close, but in many case just could not force it to line up and went with the best fit. This is something I toiled over since it was a 6 minute short, but I figure if I had the same problem on a feature, I'd leave dialog a lot faster and end up with that poorly synced look.

Looking back, it wasn't that bad. I notice it, but most people do not. Being a huge fan of terrible 80s action flicks, I see this all the time - bad mic choice, bad ADR acting, and half an attempt to line it up. My favorite are lines that are obviously not even close to what the actor is really saying.

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