The Actor with the 3-D Name
Interview by Michael Barnum
VideoWatcHDog No. 143 Sep 2008
How did you get involved in the dubbing end of the business?
While working on CLEOPATRA, somebody heard my voice and said, "Boy, you ought to look into dubbing." A gal-pal from Australia insisted I go along to a test for a new project a few days later, and I scored the lead antagonist, played on film by Jacques Sernas, in a Steve Reeves sword and sandal film. I seemed to have a knack for "sync" and had fun doing it. That was the start; over the next ten years, I dubbed over 360 Italian, Spanish, German, French, Japanese and Indian films. By 1967, Dan Sturkie and I were being touted as being the highest-paid "dubbers" in Europe. I don't know if this was so, but I made some good money at it and met a lot of great people.
How does the whole process of dubbing a film unfold? For instance, how do they cast the voices? And how many times must the voice actor watch the movie as it is being dubbed?
First of all, there are what are called "voice tests," when dozens of people try-out for different characters by standing before a podium, watching a small strip of film called a "loop," until they think they have the sync, or synchronization with the actor's mouth, labials, fricatives, etc. - and hopefully the inflections that portray what it looks like the actor is attempting to depict. Then you try it; sometimes many, many times. Getting the synchronization of lip movements and vowel sounds, especially fricatives - where the lips and teeth can be seen coming into contact - was damn near impossible on Japanese films, where the movement of the lips hardly lends itself to English. The Japanese don't move their mouths like we in the occidental do at all, and they have so few fricatives or "M" (as in mother) sounds to lip shapes - very difficult if not impossible to dub convincingly.
Some people find syncing next to impossible and others adept with ease. You have undoubtedly seen dubbed films in which the "M"s, "P"s and "B"s don't even come close to matching the lip movements of the original. Sometimes you have a director like the late, great Nick Alexander, who would actually spend the time (sometimes 50 to 60 takes) to get a line letter-perfect, then others who take anything they can just to get it into the can and move on to the next job. Gene Luotto was one of those directors I loved to work with, because he would not settle for anything mediocore. It was either right or you just didn't get out of the sala doppiaggio [dubbing salon] until it was.