How does Hollywood movie International dubbing work?

It's a whole new world - literally

Hollywood movies are probably the most popular in the world. In many countries, movie-goers skip their local cinema for Hollywood’s big budget blockbusters. It’s sad, but it’s also something that happens. Not every country speaks English though, so how does that work?

The Hollywood Reporter explores this in their latest feature. Basically, the smaller territories simply get subtitled versions of Hollywood films. It’s cheaper. But the bigger territories? The France, Spain and Germany’s of the world? They get dubbing.

Surprisingly, the process is more layered than you’d believe. There are three main avenues to dubbing for movie studios now, especially since technology has advanced to the point where lip synching is almost a non-issue. It’s also not cheap, costing an additional $100,000 to $150,000 per territory.

The Multilingual Movie Star

The first type is the one that makes the most sense. Why not just get the same actor to repeat the lines in a different language? Well, that’s exactly what studios do – when they can. See, multilingual movie stars now command a premium when doing voice work.

Antonio Banderas, for instance, had to perform his lines in Puss in Boots not only in English, but in Italian, Latin American Spanish, Castilian Spanish and Catalan. DreamWorks head of post production Jim Beshears says that at times he would say his lines in some mangled combination of the languages he knows.

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There are others too. Sandra Bullock speaks German, Jodie Foster and Helena Bonham Carter speak French and Viggo Mortensen speaks Spanish. These stars often get first right of refusal on dubbing in their contracts. So they’ll go back and dub over their own lines in a new language. The studio is actually hoping that Bullock will go and re-dub her upcoming movie The Heat.

Foreign actors, on the other hand, dub over themselves all the time. Diane Kruger and Christoph Waltz both dubbed over their roles in French and German for Inglourious Basterds. Jean Reno did the French version of The Da Vinci Code. Giancarlo Giannini did the Italian version of Casino Royale.

Of course, some people can’t do everything. Time is always an issue. Penelope Cruz wanted to do the Castilian Spanish version of Disney’s G-Force but couldn’t, so sister Monica took her place. That brings us to the second kind of dubbing.

The Substitute Star

Why now just hire local stars to take over the roles? It may be more expensive, but it also works. Plus, you get star power to bring some extra box office moolah to your film. This is what happened with Pixar’s Brave. The studio wanted a younger girl to take over the French duties for Merida, who is played by Kelly MacDonald in the English version.

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Instead, The Artist’s Oscar-nominated actress Berenice Bejo, 36, auditioned for the role and nailed it. Her husband, Artist director Michel Hazanavicius took over another role. The two went on to promote the film all over France, where they’re well known, and the movie went on to make $27 million.

But what about those unknown actors? How does it work for them?

The Parallel Star

There’s a fascinating process that happens overseas. The voice actors who dub over Hollywood’s biggest stars eventually become stars themselves. One example is Christian Bruckner, who has been the German voice of Robert De Niro for about 40 years. Him, and others like him, have even parlayed their voice dubbing success into celebrity. Here’s Bruckner explaining to THR his process:

Over time, there has become a sort of De Niro-Bruckner symbiosis in Germany. People here very closely identify my voice with his performances. When I get a new role of De Niro’s, if I can, I watch the film in English and then pore over the German script. Then I go into the studio and, working with the dialogue director, a lot gets adjusted and changed during the recording.

And a career shift for De Niro also means a shift for Bruckner, who had trouble adjusting to De Niro’s comedic turn in Analyze This. Although he feels that De Niro struggled himself. While he considers De Niro’s role in Silver Linings Playbook a “delightful” role to voice.

There are others, of course. Spain’s Constantino Romero has been voicing Clint Eastwood for decades. Japan’s Koichi Yamadera is the go-to voice for African-American stars Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and Denzel Washington, although he’s tried to break out of that type casting by voicing Charlie Sheen, Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks. In fact, he’s also the voice of both Don Draper and Walter White in the Japanese versions of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Talk about being an over-achiever!

Money Issues

This of course opens the pandora’s box of money. Do voice actors make the movie? How valuable is a good voice dubber? In France, there’s even a group of voice dubbers called The Association of Voices. Rates are about $8 a line in a film to $7 a line in a TV show. Every hour of TV results in around $970 worth of pay. Big celebrities in France can garner $30,000 to $80,000 a role.

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And then there’s the issue of what happens when a movie becomes a hit. German actor Marcus Off, who took the role of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, sued Disney subsidiaries as well as the parent company because he felt he wasn’t paid additional compensation for when the movies became hits.

Off argued that his voice contributed to the success of the films in Germany. In a series of appeals and decisions, a final decision will eventually be reached in August. But it certainly illustrates the larger question: how valuable are dubbings?

Voice actors are certainly important. If you’ve ever seen bad voice work in an animated film or video game you know it can make a difference. Similarly, a great performance can mean all the difference between a hunk of pixels and something human. And there’s plenty of instances in English-language films where you can actor emoting from their face but their delivery is off – it’s discouraging.

Either way, the world of voice dubbing is utterly fascinating. If you want to read more you can head over to The Hollywood Reporter. [THR]

 

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