What's ADR in Film and Why is it Important?

ADR in Film
Professional movies have insane budgets, so they better have the best sound. But how can you achieve the same standards for much less? The secret is ADR in film. 

Have you ever shot a scene and been unable to get around problematic noise in the background? Ever shot a complex walk-and-talk where the boom operator just couldn't keep up? Or maybe you were in a tight space and things didn't turn out the way you wanted. 

Well, when professionals run into these problems they use ADR in film. 

When asked what disqualifies contest entries, "sound quality" is the number one thing mentioned by some of the programmers we've spoken with over the years. So if you want your projects to come across as polished features, shorts, or pilots, you need to have the best sound possible. 

That's where ADR comes into play. 

Today I want to go over ADR, how to set up you own ADR sessions, and how to make your sound pop off the screen. 

Roll sounds and let's get started. 

What's ADR in Film? And Why is it Important?

ADR Definition

ADR stands for Automated Dialog Replacement. Sometimes people call it "dubbing," which makes it sound cheap, and not at all the way it's viewed in the modern context of filmmaking. ADR is a complex process where actors re-record dialogue to improve audio quality or reflect changes. This can also be done by different actors so that a movie can be translated into a different language. Actors perform this dubbing in a "looping session."

The Reasons to Use ADR 

Like we said earlier, ADR has a plethora of uses. It can correct bad sound taken on set, dub dialogue into another language, or add wild lines that might help improve the story. 

Actors have a love/hate relationship with ADR. Some don't like viewing themselves, but others take the opportunity to fine-tune what they said on screen and take chances at different line readings. 

5 Steps to ADR your film

You may not have the Hollywood budget, but I bet you have the grit and determination to ADR your film or short on a budget. So what are the steps to get it done? Let's go over some tips and tricks for ADR as well. 

Before you begin, make sure you have these all ready: 

  1. Noise-canceling headphones
  2. Microphone
  3. Digital audio recorder
  4. Monitor
  5. Preamp Interface 

1. Soundproof your room

If you have the budget to get some acoustic panels, put them up. Otherwise, grab as many thick blankets as you can and place them on every wall. You want to limit the echo and the bouncing of sound. Renting studio time is optimal, but not necessary. Ideally, you set this up with a clear view of the TV, or screen so the actor can see themselves and sync their voice to what's happening.

2. Get a great mic 

If you're going to spend money, this is where to spend it. The Shure SM7B is great as a dedicated studio mic for those on a budget, but the Neumann U87 is the pro standard. Our very own V Renee recommends the RØDE NTG-4+ and the Sennheiser MKE 600. We think the best thing to do is use the same mic you used in the field, that way everything is consistent. 

3. Pick your ADR scenes 

Chances are, you're not going to want or need to ADR every scene. So go through and cut together all the ones you think need the most help. This will help you and your talent stay focused.

4. Record with options 

The secret to great ADR is doing a ton of takes. Sorry to say it, but it's true. You want to have as many options as you can get. That way your editor can work with the director to fit the takes that sync up the best. These sessions can be draining and demanding. So make sure your talent is ready. 

5. Finalize with sound effects 

After you have all the dialogue captured, layer in some room tone and some sound effects. Bringing in the real world will make every line feel more natural, and help you edit around syncs that are not perfect. 

Can you prevent ADR? 

Not everyone uses ADR, but Hollywood uses it in almost 50% of scenes. If you're hellbent on not using it, you should plan accordingly. That means scout locations in advance with your sound recordists. Use test tracks to see if there are any potential sound issues. Make sure you always grab room tone. Shoot indoors as much as you can to maintain control. Boom as close as you can to the actors. And see if you can lav your talent as well.

This is a lot to do, and even then you may have scenes that don't work out from an audio standpoint. 

Again, the better the sound, the better the movie.

So get ready to add ADR to the mix. 

What's next? Learn ADR 101

Sometimes your audio is going to have some problems that need fixing. Learn how to set up your own ADR studio and get professional results from the start.      

Your Comment


Just to elaborate on the above post:

In Hollywood, people use the terms 'ADR', 'Looping', and 'Walla' somewhat interchangeably, with maybe ADR being the umbrella term. 

This isn't incorrect per se - but for the actors, session runners, engineers and post-production people that work in the post-voice/dialogue world (I'm speaking specifically about Los Angeles here), those terms actually mean different things.

Also known as 'Additional Dialogue Recording' as well as 'Automated Dialogue Recording', ADR means the actor goes into the sound booth to replace their OWN voice in a Live Action movie or TV show where they themselves were the on-camera actor. ADR means they have been asked to replace and/or expand on their original dialogue for technical, performance or story reasons.

Just to understand the nuance of the various types of ADR, here’s what the other terms refer to in post-production:

In Animation, if one of the actors who VOICED a character in the film or animated show comes in to replace your their OWN voice, or clean something up, or add additional dialogue - those are called ‘Pickups'. As in, on King of the Hill you would here the session runner say, “Oh, Stephen Root is coming in to do some pickups today”.

When an actor or a post person says “We have a Looping session on Thursday", that means (usually) a group of actors know as a ‘Loop Group’ will be adding all of the BACKGROUND voices to a film or TV show. 

Wait, what are ‘background voices’ you ask? When Robert De Niro and Al Pacino’s characters are sitting during their famous restaurant scene in “Heat”, there are 50 other people (background actors) also in the restaurant eating, walking around, serving customers, clearing tables, etc - it’s the Loop Group actors that will go in and lay down ALL of those voices - accounting for everyone you see on screen, and also everyone you do not, but know are there.

Looping sets tone for scenes - consider how diverse the tone from a corporate office where people might be speaking in hushed tones versus a rodeo is. Loop Group actors provide the background voices in any scene where background actors are present, and making some sort of audible, verbal noise. This includes coughing, breathing, sneezing and so on.

But sometimes in Looping sessions, Loop Group actors will also replace the original on-camera actors as well - sometimes because the director wants to change the tone of a scene, or maybe the quality of a particular performance. A friend of mine (who does a ton of Looping) was working on a film and there was an on-camera performance the director wasn’t happy with - so he replaced actor’s voice by ADRing the actor's original scripted lines, but now with the addition of an Austrian accent and a change in tone (by adding comedy to the line).

Walla is the term that itself is a niche-within-the-niche of post-production voice. It’s only used to describe the work on specific animated TV shows that instead of using Loop Groups to add background voices (Loop Groups by their nature have a rotating set of actors depending on what’s needed for each session), the animated show (usually) uses the same set of actors for each episode. And they are almost never replacing principal character voices, but just adding voices for all of the on-screen background animated characters. As an aside, sometimes Walla actors speak in gibberish due to the internationality of many shows, because often background voices poke thru in the final mix.

Dubbing is something different and very specific altogether. Dubbing is the term used when the ORIGINAL language of a film or TV show is replaced with a different language - like when an American film is dubbed from English into Portuguese, for example, by using new actors who are native speakers of the language being added to the TV show or movie.

(Disclaimer on posting this: I did 10 seasons of Walla on King of the Hill (as well as other animated shows), have worked in Loop Groups and done a ton of ADR during my acting career, as all actors do.)

January 7, 2020 at 4:16PM, Edited January 7, 4:32PM

Bru Muller
Director / Writer / Producer

How will using a lav, help avoid having to ADR? I think that is very misleading statement.

January 8, 2020 at 1:34PM

Jesse Feldberg
Writer | Director | Actor | Producer | Production Sound