ADR Audio for Filmmakers

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ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. It is the process of re-recording dialogue by an actor after the filming process to improve or replace audio quality or reflect dialogue changes. Most low budget and no budget filmmakers see ADR as an awful process to go through. It’s something they want to avoid like the plague.

Why?

Because having to do ADR usually means getting all your talent together again, in a controlled recording environment, playing the video and slowly re-recording all the dialogue required by the scene. This is sometimes called “looping”, “dubbing”, “post-synchronization” or something that I would never want to [bleep!] do because it’s a waste of my [bleep!] time and just proves that the [bleep!] production wasn’t able to get good audio on set!

But did you know that most big budget feature length movies use ADR on 80%-100?

The Technical Reasons

Let’s look at it from a technical standpoint. As we’ve said before in our video (https://youtu.be/zM-wDYZEDgA) “What Mic to Buy” the key to getting good audio is getting the mic as close to the source as possible. But this isn’t always possible in the field. Even if you mic your talent with hidden wireless mics, there will probably be extra noise like rustling of clothes or ambient sound that will negatively affect it. You ever watch a scene in a movie where the actors are in a wide or extreme wide shot outdoors but the audio is still clean as Mister Rogers criminal record?

 Lots of ADR done in the Harry Potter movies

Lots of ADR done in the Harry Potter movies

That’s ADR at work.

Let’s talk quickly about what happens with most indie films. Money is spent, cameras are rented, talent is hired, craft services are organized, locations are arranged, there is editing, visual effects, color and also sound.

But sound is usually left to cleaning up what was recorded on the set. On the day of the shoot. It’s cleaned up as best as it can be, and music and sound fx are added, mixed and done.

 We still make sure to get great sound at the time of production.

We still make sure to get great sound at the time of production.

Now don’t get me wrong, recording quality sound on set is essential. Especially if you don’t have the budget or time to do an ADR session after. Also, most short productions, like this one, don’t have the time or need for ADR.

But I’ve seen enough independent films where real time and money is spent, and the end result is great visuals, camera moves, story but the audio isn’t up to par. Something just isn’t right.

We’ve often said that if you have poor audio, then you lose a large part of your audience. It seems obvious but one reason you lose them is because when the dialogue isn’t clear, you are creating fatigue on your audience.

The viewer doesn’t want to work really hard to hear that moment in your dialogue where the main character whispers something important to his love interest. You can get away with this for a few minutes, but over the span of an hour or more… If still have to work to hear your dialogue it creates more ear fatigue. Eventually I’m going to get tired, stop paying attention and will probably miss some important message you are trying to deliver.

ADR is usually part of an actor’s contract in the bigger budget films. It’s a tool to get the best possible quality audio as opposed to being an annoying process that they avoid at all costs. When ADR is seen as part of the necessary process, it can free up the director to focus on getting great camera moves and performances, and worry less about whether that random airplane passing by ruined the best take.

Now the sketch we did at the top of the show is an example of blatant ADR use. We specifically wrote part of the scene to emphasize the use of ADR. But what you might not have noticed is that the ENTIRE scene was using the ADR process.

How I did ADR for this project

First, we shot the scene, doing Micah’s parts first and then doing mine in the reverse shot. I used the R0de Videomic for sound since I knew we were doing ADR. In this case, it’s considered reference sound since we will be replacing it later. Which is good since my 10 month old was really interested in getting his say while we shot.

Next I created an assembly edit. It was close enough so I can move on to the ADR portion of the process.

Now comes the actual ADR session. I used my condenser mic, connected to my digital recorder in my office. It’s a controlled environment with acoustic padding, etc. I set up A-B loops of each section of dialogue on my computer so Micah and I can listen and try to match the vocal performance a bunch of times. This is called Audio ADR. Side note, that back in the days of film, this loop was created using actual film stock from the scene. Since computers can do the looping much easier, we now get the “Automated” part of Automated Dialogue Replacement.

After a few versions of dialogue replacement, I go back to my editor and synch the new dialogue with the video. I can now add some post effects like reverb and eq to match the new clean dialogue with the scene. Here is a place where it’s also important to add that room tone that you definitely recorded on the set, right?

Since the audio was so clean, in post I also had to alter the volume for a more natural sound. After adding some foley of walking and some music, we have our scene.

I’m dropping links to other articles and videos about ADR in the description below. So remember, ADR is not the evil monster that most people make it out to be. If you have it in your production workflow, it could keep your production sound from having to be saved at the last minute.

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