This episode was adapted from the documentary Being George Clooney.
Hollywood films are huge internationally. But how are these films adapted for foreign languages? We delve into the not so talked about process of dubbing. Featuring the world's most popular voice actors, directors, and producers.
Featuring: Andre Sogliuzzo, John Ptak, Shaktee Singh, Debra Chinn, Martin Umbach, Tamer Karadagli, Francesco Pannofino, Detlef Bierstedt, Marco Antonio Costa, Paul Dergarabedian, Rajesh Khattar, Christian Brückner, Emanuela Rossi, Chiara Barzini, Irene Ranzato, Claudia Urbschat-Mingues, Alexandre Gillet, Ezra Weisz, Vanessa Beltran, Samuel Labarthe, Ashwin Mushran, Chuck Mitchell, Christoph Bregler, Gabrielle Pietermann, Luise Helm, Claudia Gvirtzman Dichter, Guilherme Briggs, Samuel Labarthe, Hester Wilcox, Malavika Shivpuri, Viraj Adhav, Mona Shetty, Sheila Dorfman
A huge thanks to Director Paul Mariano for allowing us to create this adaptation of documentary!
Thanks to APM Music for all of the music in this episode. Find out more at apmmusic.com.
If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love the full documentary. You can find it on iTunes or on Amazon.
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View Transcript ▶︎
Andre Sogliuzzo: Being George Clooney is not just a voice; it's a state of mind. Right now I may not look like George Clooney, and a lot of people would argue that I don't particularly sound exactly like George Clooney, but right now, by golly, I feel like George Clooney, and that's 50% of the battle right there.
You’re listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz, I’m Dallas Taylor.
[SFX: Jimmy Kimmel: "He's a multi-talented actor, director, movie star. Please welcome, George Clooney!" clip]
Andre Sogliuzzo: It's a kind of controlled, genuine handsomeness, with just a suppressed amount of glee that says, "I can't believe I'm George Clooney."
John Ptak: What is a star? When they come on the screen, it doesn't matter who else is on that screen, your eye looks over. George Clooney has it.
Shaktee Singh: George Clooney is the name of a person who's so handsome, such a great actor. I love him, love him, love him.
George Clooney is one of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood. He’s known for iconic roles like Dr. Doug Ross in ER. [SFX: ER Clip] He’s also Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven… [SFX:[Ocean’s Eleven Clip]
He’s also known for his immediately recognizable voice. But George Clooney… Isn’t the only one known for George Clooney’s voice.
Debra Chinn: They are what we refer to in the dubbing community as designated voice, so they are the designated voice of George Clooney.
Martin Umbach: I am George Clooney.
Shaktee Singh: I am George Clooney.
Tamer Karadagli: I am George Clooney.
Francesco Pannofino: George Clooney.
Detlef Bierstedt:George Clooney.
Marco Antonio Costa: George Clooney.
Those are the voices of George Clooney from around the world. They’re what’s known as dubbing actors, and they play a huge, often hidden role in the film industry. Like, for example, here’s a clip from Ocean’s Eleven.
[SFX: Oceans 11 clip foreign dubs montage]
This episode is an adaptation of the fantastic documentary “Being George Clooney”. The documentary features tons of talented dubbing artists, directors, writers, and all sorts of people from the dubbing community. We couldn’t credit every single one, but you’ll find a full list of the credits in the show description.
[SFX: Ocean 11 clip continues]
Paul Dergarabedian: Dubbers are like the back-up singers of the movie world. They're so vitally important, yet they don't get the credit they deserve, they don't often get the money they deserve.
Dubbing teams take a film or a television show and replace all of the dialogue with a different language. It’s a really important job.
Rajesh Khattar: When you adapt a movie in a local language you have widened the audience space.
Paul Dergarabedian: The box office internationally has gone up exponentially over the past 10 years, some of these movies are making 50, 60, 70% of their box office internationally, and who you cast in a particular role to dub a movie, that's a not a throwaway anymore, that can be as important to that movie as the original casting of the actor.
Christian Brückner: The dubbing business in my understanding is an art form, absolutely.
Dubbing was originally something done in musicals. If an actor’s voice wasn’t quite up to par, another offstage singer might perform the piece to the actor’s lips. Today, dubbing has many purposes. It plays an important role not only in simply adapting film and television shows to other countries, but it’s also critical to help bridge cultural nuances around the world.
Interviewer: Which country has the best dubbers?
Emanuela Rossi: Italy. Italy.
Francesco Pannofino: Of course, Italy.
Chiara Barzini: The real reason why Italy has such an intense dubbing tradition, is because we were forced into it.
Debra Chinn: Really, if you look in retrospect, in Europe dubbing started as far back as the 19 … late-'20s and '30s, and a lot of that was brought on because of political reasons, it was all about propaganda.
In Italy, dubbing started out as a form of control. In the 1930’s, all foreign words were banned in the country by the dictator, Mussolini. Films had all the spoken parts removed and were replaced with inaccurate, often ridiculous subtitles. But, there was one big problem.
Irene Ranzato: The Italian population at the time was one-fifth illiterate;
Chiara Barzini: They didn’t even know what was going on because they couldn’t actually read the subtitles, so the idea of being able to dub a film was conceived.
After World War II, dubbing spread to many different countries, each for its own reasons.
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues: After the World War the Americans and the French, British, wanted to show their movies in Germany, and this was only possible if they dubbed the movies.
Alexandre Gillet: In France we have a very long history of dubbing after World War II it was a way for us to protect our culture and our language.
Debra Chinn: Latin America is a little different, they started dubbing in the '40s, during that time the American movie business they were really popular with westerns, and cowboys, and they had a lot of Latin characters in that [SFX: western shooting clip]. They started to bring Latin actors into the U.S., and then all of a sudden they realized they had a Latin audience, but the audience didn’t speak English. Then they moved the dubbing studios out to Latin America, and that's how Latin America got their start.
Chiara Barzini: The people who were called in to do the dubbing were theater actors, because they were like, well, we might as well have actors do the dubbing. That's how it all started.
On its surface, dubbing might seem like a relatively straightforward process. You hire some actors, they stand around a microphone, and read the lines in front of them. But dubbing is actually a lot more complicated than that.
Ezra Weisz: The process usually is multi-tiered. The script is given to a translator, and then when you read the translated script it makes very little sense.
Irene Ranzato: All translations need a certain amount of change and manipulation in order to accommodate the target culture.
Ezra Weisz: Then that script once it's translated, it's handed over to an adaptor, that adaptor has the most tedious job in the history of the world.
Vanessa Beltran: Who spends hours and hours working on the text that the actors will say.
Ezra Weisz: Taking all the lines that have been translated and now making them fit within the mouth movements of the actors.
This is the french dub from the film Up in the Air.
[SFX: French “Up in the Air” clip]
Vanessa Beltran: This is why dubbing is the art of illusion. We have to create the illusion that the film was shot in French.
This is from The Ides of March.
[SFX: French “Ides of March” clip]
Translating a film takes a lot of finesse. English is a very precise language. You can say a lot in very few words, and that’s not the case with every language.
Samuel Labarthe: For one English word we need three French words, and they’ve got to be … to keep it synced with the mouth, with the lips.
[Clip from French The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring]
This is from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
[SFX: Clip from French The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring continued]
There’s also the unique challenge of translating local sayings to another culture.
Ashwin Mushran: You’ve got to wrack your brains, what is the closest thing you put, because there's nothing in this particular language that matches this in English.
Alexandre Gillet: We don't have the same expressions, and this is very difficult to translate.
Rajesh Khattar: I was dubbing for Gerard Butler, Angelina Jolie says that, "Did you arrange for a car?" He says, "Piece of cake." [SFX: “Piece of cake” clip]. She's asking that, "Did you arrange for a car. Why is he saying … he's talking about cake?"
Chuck Mitchell: In Poland when we worked Shrek, Donkey keeps being annoying, Shrek says, "You're going the right way for a smack bottom." Well, in Poland the dub said, "If you keep that up, I'm going to take you to the slaughterhouse." To me, I thought, "That's a little gruesome for a children's film. Don't you think?" They explained that, "Oh, in Poland it's always funny that when donkeys get too annoying we would take them to the slaughterhouse.”
[SFX: Polish Shrek clip]
Completing a properly translated script is a ton of work. When it’s finished, it’s finally time for the voice actors to step into the recording studio.
Christoph Bregler: When you have big budgets to do a movie dub, what happens usually is you get your voice talents into the studio, and the film is cut up into small snippets, like maybe just a sentence.
[SFX Dubbing session - Oceans 11 scene]
Christoph Bregler: It's looped again, and again, and again.
[SFX Dubbing session - Oceans 11 scene]
Christoph Bregler: Loop, loop, loop.
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues: It's not easy, but it's still a lot of fun, a lot of fun for me.
There are a lot of unique challenges dubbing actors face during the recording process, both technical and artistic.
Gabrielle Pietermann: There are skills involved in doing our job. We know nothing about the dialogues until we enter the studio. We just have seconds to learn all the words, and all the emotions, and the rhythm that happen on screen. That's not that easy.
That’s Gabrielle Pietermann. She’s the German voice of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films.
[SFX: German Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone clip]
There was one particularly challenging aspect of recreating Emma Watson’s voice though. Watson’s original performance of the role has a lot of breaths, which is really challenging for a voice actor to perform.
[SFX: German clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire]
Martin Umbach: All the sighs, all the sobs, all the breaths, everything, everything that comes out of the mouth is being dubbed, not only the words.
[SFX: Hermione mouth sounds]
The challenges don’t stop there though. Piracy is an increasing concern throughout the film industry. Studios are putting more and more security measures into place to avoid any leaks, and it’s having an interesting effect on the way dubbing is done.
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues: They were asking me to do a movie, and I said, "Okay, no problem, I can do it." " Yeah, but this is a little bit different because you're not to know anything about the movie, you're not supposed to talk about, you're not even supposed to see anything." I said, "Okay." I came into the studio and everything was dark, and even on the screen it was dark, and then at one point, whoops, there was a little, little hole where you could peek in and you see a mouth, and that was supposed to be my mouth, and even the script, all names are changed, and everything is top secret. I did the movie, and I really didn’t even know what I was doing.
[SFX: German The Matrix: Reloaded clip]
This is from The Matrix Reloaded.
[SFX: German The Matrix: Reloaded clip continues]
Luise Helm: With Megan Fox, with Transformers, we hadn't seen anything of the footage.
[SFX: Clip from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen]
Claudia Gvirtzman Dichter: They said they were going to just give me the mouths, because that's all we dub, which is a total misunderstanding of what we do. You need the eyes, you need the expression, you need the movement, there's a subtext which is much more important. The dialogue is the dialogue, but then there's this subtext. What are they really saying? That's what you have to capture.
Guilherme Briggs: I have directed Transformers 1, 2 and 3, I’m Optimus Prime too [SFX: Optimus Prime Brazilian clip]. Transformers had that closure, and the mouth you cannot see. I don't understand the scene. I have to ask Mr. Bay. They told me at the production of Michael Bay, "Please, are you going to talk with Mr. Bay?" No explosion jokes, no boom jokes, he doesn’t like that." "Oh, okay, I'm not going to do any boom jokes." Because Michael Bay likes to, blah, explode things [SFX: explosions]" You're joking." "No, no, it's serious. Please, no boom jokes, no explosion jokes. Okay?" "Okay."
There’s a pattern of misunderstanding and underappreciation throughout dubbing’s history. Voice actors put the same sort of physical emotion into their work as the actors on camera. Like with any acting, it’s about creating a powerful, believable performance.
Luise Helm: What I do is, I stand up when the actress stands, I will sit down when the actress sits down, because that kind of changes your voice as well. When she's running, I'll probably stand there and do like awkward little movements, and when you're kissing you're obviously kissing your hand, which always looks so ridiculous, especially when your partner is standing next to you, and you're like, "Hmm-hmm."
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues: What you see on screen is what counts, and the rest, how you get there, nobody asks.
Samuel Labarthe: I think we should know how to act before dubbing.
[SFX: Clip of Samuel in La Conquete in France]
Samuel Labarthe: When you're dubbing, it's hard work, it's a job, really.
[SFX: Clip of Samuel in dubbing session]
Samuel Labarthe: If we stick correctly to the actors, it's just magic, because he expressed, and we speak.
[SFX: French The Descendants clip]
This is from The Descendants.
[SFX: French The Descendants clip continued]
Hester Wilcox: I have evolved into being a voice artist. I don't think I ever really decided to be one. I didn’t actually know that existed, and most people don't. Do they? It's a sort of an obscure job.
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues: People look at you when you're from the dubbing industry, and you're in a movie they say like, "I'm sorry, but you're a dubbing person."
Luise Helm:"Oh, you're more the dubbing kind of actor. Are you?" Alexandre Gillet: To be a good dubbing actor you have to be a real actor.
French Male: Because it's not about the good voice or perfect diction, it's about acting. It is about becoming the particular character at a particular moment.
Claudia Gvirtzman Dichter: I personally like to cast theater actors because it's not dubbing, it's acting with a technical expertise. Malavika Shivpuri: I completely get into the character. I can feel if the character is crying, I feel it and I have tears in my eyes. This is the Portuguese dub of Interstellar.
[SFX: Portuguese Interstellar clip]
Malavika Shivpuri: People think that, do you know what, it's just a dub that you're performing.
[SFX: Portuguese Interstellar clip continued]
Malavika Shivpuri: I do feel we are not appreciated as much as we should be.
Dubbing actors are artists, but they’re craft is often overlooked. In countries around the world though, dubbing actors are beloved for bringing life to iconic roles. Their impact even goes far beyond just entertainment. We’ll hear how they’ve changed cultures around the world, and even saved some films from financial failure, in just a minute.
When a movie is dubbed to a local language, it’s not just about bringing it to another country. It’s also a cultural exchange. Styles, attitudes, and beliefs from one culture are communicated to another through that film.
Malavika Shivpuri: There's a huge audience for these American movies which are dubbed in Hindi.
[SFC: Hindi Fast and Furious 6 clip]
Viraj Adhav: A lot of people know a lot of American culture I should say. Thanks to these, all the Hollywood films that are dubbed in Hindi.
Malavika Shivpuri: Clothes and food, and everything, lots of things you get to see in the films.
Viraj Adhav: Everyone knows a lot about American culture, this happens. In America, it doesn’t here, oh, this is cool, the American way is cool.
Tamer Karadagli: If people are wearing jeans today in Turkey, that's because of the American movies, people are eating hamburgers, people are going to Starbucks. They're sitting with the laptops and everything, that's what they saw in the movies.
Mona Shetty: Definitely America is exporting its culture to other countries. I think in some countries that's very welcome, perhaps in some countries it isn't.
[SFX: French Transformers clip]
Samuel Labarthe: I ask myself, "Is it good? Is it bad?" It's your way of living, is your way of thinking, it's your way to behave, and we have to keep our specificities, and our tradition, our culture, but it's very difficult.
One of the ways a country can put their own mark on foreign films is through their dubbing artists. Audiences have strong connections with their local actors, to the point that many roles are inseparable from the performer that dubbed them.
Luise Helm: I grew up with watching Robert De Niro movies with the voice of Christian Brückner.
This is a clip from Meet the Parents.
[SFX: German Meet the Parents Clip]
Christian Brückner: In the case of De Niro, I'm connected with him, and that of course is because of the long, long time I gave him voice here in Germany.
This is Taxi Driver.
[SFX: German Taxi Driver clip]
Luise Helm: I remember the first time I watched a film with Robert De Niro in the original language, and I have to admit, I was actually maybe a little bit disappointed.
[SFX: Taxi Driver clip]
German/American Male: Well, when I grew up in Germany my favorite filmmaker was Woody Allen.
This is from Annie Hall.
[SFX: German Annie Hall]
German/American Male: I was surprised when I came to the U.S. and finally saw the original Woody Allen movies, the title changed from Der Stadtneurotiker to Annie Hall, and Woody Allen was speaking with a different pitch, like sort of dub-like or how queaky his voice is.
[SFX: Annie Hall clip]
Martin Umbach: Fans and moviegoers in general, I think, do associate stars, movie stars with certain voices.
The most successful dubbing artists are so ingrained in a culture that they can become the designated voice for a Hollywood actor.
Debra Chinn: For as long as an actor is popular in Hollywood, and they're releasing films, and then getting dubbed, and then getting released, they're going to go ahead and hire the designated artist. John Ptak: There are a number of careers where people have played the role of that actor, all the way through the entire career of the actor. That tells you the importance of that person, because the voice is part of that hero or character.
This clip is from O Brother Where Art Thou.
[SFX: German “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” clip]
Designated artists establish a deeply intimate relationship with the original actor’s voice. They may even know that voice better than the actors themselves.
Luise Helm: When I'm dubbing, let's say, Scarlett Johansson, you notice so many little details, it's like you're breathing through that person.
Claudia Urbschat-Mingues : Angelina Jolie only does a movie like every other year, and I like to do her because she's very … in my opinion she's very near to me. I did "Girl, Interrupted" and I thought that's it, that's me. I want to play this role.
Alexandre Gillet: I like Elijah Wood because he's Elijah Wood, he's a very nice actor, and very sensitive.
Sheila Dorfman: Sandra Bullock, because I dubbed all of her movies, and I know her, I know the way she breathes, the way she talks, everything about her.
Marco Antonio Costa: We have this feeling. I have this feeling of the friendship, like we are friends.
Today, dubbing has a bigger impact on the film industry than ever before. Markets around the world are growing, offering new opportunities for film distribution. These markets can even save a film that might otherwise have struggled financially.
Paul Dergarabedian: The people who are dubbing these roles, they're on a bigger stage than ever before, being heard by more people than ever before; in a marketplace that values what they do. If they don't, they should, because they're a big part of the success of these movies. It's the international that brings in two-thirds of the worldwide box office.
[SFX: German “After Earth” clip]
Paul Dergarabedian: We take a movie like "After Earth" with Will Smith, it didn’t do that well in North America, huge business overseas. Often that international box office can save the day.
[SFX: German Battleship clip]
Paul Dergarabedian: Battleship, John Carter, these are movies that if you just took their North America box office, would be totally money losers, but become money winners, because of the international marketplace.
But dubbing teams hardly ever get recognition for the massive role they play in a film’s success.
[SFX: French Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring]
Alexandre Gillet: Very often people ask me, "Oh, you did Frodo, because they recognize the main voice character, Elijah Wood. Even if they like your voice… Even if they like how you act, if they like your personality… The hero is the one you see, not really is the one you hear.
Luise Helm: People combine my voice with a different face, and that's interesting, but it's like they see the face, that's what they see, and you kind of … Yeah, sometimes maybe just want to have the whole package.
Chiara Brazini: It's kind of frustrating living your life in the shadow. Even just the idea of being in a dark room for six to eight hours, and you're just sitting in the studios, on the ground sometimes, and no one knows your face, and you feel like you're a part of this production, but you're not really in the picture.
Rajesh Khattar: The voice artist definitely needs to be recognized for their work, and which is unfortunately not happening.
It’s often worse than an artist not receiving as much recognition as they should. Most of the time, dubbing teams don’t receive any recognition at all.
Malavika Shivpuri: I mean, if your voice for a movie is released in the theater in Hindi, we don't even have our names in the credit, you don't get the credit that this character has been voiced by this character.
Rajesh Khattar: In the dubbed version the dubbing artist is never mentioned, the dubbing studio is never mentioned, the credit is never there.
Chuck Mitchell: Voice actors have it tough, they are OS, they're off screen, and because they're off screen, you think, "Oh, I can easily replace this person, because all I need is a new voice, I don't need a new face, I don't need a new anything." Well, let's just cast another, and there's lots of people who'd love to do this.
[SFX: French Star Wars Phantom Menace clip]
Samuel Labarthe: Once, I had to dub Liam Neeson in Star Wars. When first being asked to do this they proposed me the minimal fee, the minimal fee for Star Wars. They said, "Well, there's many actors who will be thrilled to do your job." They count on, we were so enthusiastic to dub Star Wars, it was like, the first Star Wars I saw I was 12 of 13 years old, so it was a dream.
[SFX: French Stars War Phantom Menace clip]
Samuel Labarthe: Okay, it was good, but it was the minimal fee.
Martin Umbach: Dubbing is an absolute necessity to market movies in this country, millions and millions and millions are being made, at least with the Blockbuster movies, but the big studios who put out the movies, they buy their entrance ticket to the German market with small change from their pocket, comparatively. It is totally ridiculous.
Rajesh Khattar: They are making the kind of money which probably they would not have been if the language of the movie was restricted to being in English.
In general, dubbing studios and artists have not earned the artistic or financial recognition they deserve. But things are starting to change. The dubbing community is slowly earning more credit for their critical role in the film industry.
Debra Chinn: I think it was true that dubbing was looked down upon, but I think it's changing. I think it's changing because the film and the entertainment world is changing, and we're becoming more international, and we're becoming more global.
Paul Dergarabedian: On a big-budget movie, every component of that movie is vitally important, and now dubbing has become a really important part of that, because that's the voice of the movie internationally.
John Ptak: These movies in the English language, they are dubbed, they are shipped out everywhere in the world, and they resonate in each one of those countries, there has to be a reason.
[SFX: Montage of dubbing sessions]
Dubbing artists are the some of unsung heroes of the film industry. Their work spreads cultural ideas, brings new life to old films, and, most importantly, they entertain audiences around the world.
Claudia Razzi: I love my job, it's a beautiful job. I've been doing it for 40 years now and I keep on loving it, and always I find it fantastic.
Gabrielle Pietermann: The job never gets boring. You get to dive into new roles every day, and you never know what to expect.
Martin Umbach: The most joyful thing in dubbing is the feeling that you are part of the big filmmaking family of the world.
Shaktee Singh: I'll keep on seeing film, I live with the film, I'll die with the film. I mean, a great art.
Sheila Dorfman: We love to do it. This is the point, we love what we do.
Christian Brückner: It was a good life I had in this business. I really liked what I did.
Debra Chinn: We're becoming a very, very small place, and we all are different tribes with different languages, and different histories, so I really, really, really believe dubbing is a good way to bridge the communication.
This episode was an audio adaptation of the documentary, Being George Clooney. If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love the full documentary. You can find it on iTunes or on Amazon.
Twenty Thousand Hertz is produced out of the studios of Defacto Sound, a sound design team that makes television, film and games sound great. Find out more at defactosound dot com.
This adaptation was written and produced by Colin DeVarney… and me, Dallas Taylor. With help from Sam Schneble. It was edited, sound designed and mixed by Colin DeVarney.
A huge thanks to Director Paul Mariano for allowing us to create this adaptation of his wonderful documentary, “Being George Clooney”. This episode featured many talented voice actors, writers, directors, and all sorts of people from the dubbing community. A special thanks to each and every one of them for the important work they do. You can find the complete credits in the show description and on our website.
Finally, you can reach out to me and the rest of the 20 kay team through our website, facebook, twitter or by writing hi at 20 kay dot org. We love hearing from our listeners, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Thanks for listening.