There’s an important scene in the upcoming feature film The King of New Orleans in which the two lead characters sit down in a bar to talk. As is usually the case, the production rented out the bar for that day so the cast and crew could have the quiet and control necessary to complete their task.
(Full disclosure: The King of New Orleans was written by the author of this article.)
But when audiences watch the movie, the random, ambient chatter of the other patrons in the bar would be noticeably absent.
And that’s where a loop group comes in.
“Looping,” or Additional Dialog Recording (ADR), can mean a couple different things. Principal ADR is the process of recording the lead actors as they deliver lines that were either obscured by other noise or that weren’t delivered properly during filming. Group ADR is the recording of multiple voices and conversations to be used for background characters, says Jon Vogl, owner and re-recording mixer at APEX Post Production. But it’s all considered looping, a term that comes from the early days of cinema when a scene was just played on a loop for the actor and he tried to match it, adds Vogl. The technology has changed, but the term stuck.
For group ADR, you need a loop group – a group of professional actors specifically trained for the task. “You may have a great on-camera actor,” said Ed De Harp, a partner in Loop South, New Orleans’ only professional loop group, “but when it comes to actually hitting your mark on the voiceover, they can miss it and it could be hours of doing it, so there’s definitely a technique and strategy in voiceover work.”
Group ADR is like being in a choir, says Yvonne Welch, an actor and also a partner in Loop South, “It’s about blending, and it’s more about creating an atmosphere than sticking out.”
“What we try to do is enhance [a scene] and fill it up and breathe life into it to give it that real kind of texture,” adds De Harp.
According to DeHarp, research is an important part of what a loop group does. For example, to provide the background conversations in the bible blockbuster Noah, Loop South actors kept the topics of conversation limited to things like family trees or crops.
But as for the specifics of the conversations, it’s a lot of improv, points out Welch.
Not surprisingly, Welch also adds that her time in a loop group has made her a better actor overall. “When you reduce your acting just to the voice, that’s where acting begins — in the voice, so when you’re working with just the voice and the colors and flavors and accents and languages, it’s going to feed the rest of your acting.”
And practically, it’s simply another job that you can do, says Welch. “It gives you more options. It also doesn’t matter how you look. What matters is that you’re professional and that you’re good at what you do.”
Loop South is the first professional loop group in New Orleans. Until they arrived on the scene this year, group ADR for New Orleans-shot films had to be done in Los Angeles or New York, says Vogl.
They have a database of dozens of trained actors — many of whom they trained themselves through workshops with Vogl – and choose among them depending on the needs of the film.
“We have younger voices, older voices, seasoned voices, specialized voices, deep voices…” says De Harp, “and based on what the director or the producer wants, we try to give them exactly what they want, and then give them a little bit more.”
For The King of New Orleans, authentic New Orleans dialects were a must, so Loop South brought in about ten of its best Nola speakers.
With the bar scene cued up on a big screen in the front of the main studio at APEX, half of the group stood in front of a microphone to the left and the other half is in front of the right microphone. Le Harp stood in the middle, awaiting the start of the scene.
After Vogl called out the “voice slate” for that particular take, a series of three beeps were heard before the scene rolled and Le Harp and his performers sprung into vocal action.
Both groups then began chattering about drinks and food and any other subjects you might hear discussed at a bar.
Looking very much like a conductor, De Harp moved from side to side, signaling one group to pick up their chatter at times or to quiet down at other times. Instead of a baton, however, he used a laser pointer to identify areas on screen where the volume level may need to rise or a specific voice is needed.
The action on screen moved to the next scene, and the group fell silent just as suddenly as they began.
“Really good,” Vogl said. “Now let’s do another take just to have options.”
For more information about looping and Loop South, visit www.loopsouth.net.