Film Post Production on “The Equalizer”

I need to preface this paraphrased excerpt from Circumstances Beyond My Control with an explanation for my readers who are not knowledgeable about

Film Post Production.

ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement aka “Looping”) is the post production process by which dialogue recorded on the shoot is re-recorded by the actors for cleaner (or corrected) dialog sound. It also includes the recording of additional background chatter of various sorts. There is nothing “automatic” about it so how it got that moniker is a mystery. Looping is done in a small sound studio with the actors, director and engineer in a soundproof booth with a large glass window facing a screen upon which is projected a (usually) black & white work print repetitive loop of the scene(s) being rerecorded. When looping synchronous dialog four seconds before the previously recorded lines are spoken there is a series of three beeps with silence one second before the looping actor speaks. In the case of background chatter the scene is projected and the actors either improvise small talk or read lines provided by the production.

My friend Stephaney Lloyd became the ADR coordinator on CBS’s The Equalizer. In ‘86 or ‘87 when she got that gig I was finding myself with more and more free time, hence less and less income. Steph called one day inquiring if I was still in Screen Actors’ Guild. I told her that I was on “honorable withdrawal” but with the payment of dues for the current quarter I could be immediately reinstated. She was casting for some looping and wanted to find out if I was interested. At the time SAG scale was around $300 per day (per session) and although this was less than half my AD rate the looping sessions rarely took more than an hour and residual payments were also part of the deal. I was very much interested.

The Equalizer

The Equalizer

I hadn’t done any looping since my actor days so I was a tad precautious at the first session which came the day after my conversation with Steph. But once in the studio I felt completely at ease. We were doing a restaurant scene where some “rubba” was needed. This is the term for general conversation in a crowd scene. The way I heard it was that in the early days of movies extras would be told to mutter “rubba, rubba, rubba” and this would, when mixed with the other ambient sound, provide the illusion of general crowd noise. I have no way to verify this apocryphal story but it seems reasonable and I like it.

I was the only member of the loop group who was not a working actor. One thing you need to know about actors is that they all love to “act”. This is not necessarily a bad thing except, generally, in a looping session. The way I learned to think of looping was being a human sound effects machine. With a few extremely rare exceptions (I’ll get to one) ADR editors were not looking for a performance. They had a very specific list of human noises they needed and neither Marlon Brando nor Meryl Streep was required. Unfortunately this desire to act created many headaches and delays for the editors. For example they might need a grunt or a cough and instead get an excruciating cry of pain or a paroxysm of hacking tuberculosis. Therein lay the key to my quick popularity as a looper. I understood the editors’ needs and gave them what they wanted without theatrical excess.

So what started as an occasional maybe monthly gig evolved into a much more frequent source of both fun and income. And speaking of fun, here’s the aforementioned rare instance of performance.

It was a scene for Equalizer in which a homeless black man – photographed from a rooftop across the street – was picking through a trash barrel for soda cans and bottles. It had been shot without sound but you could see the guy’s lips moving as he muttered to himself. My assignment was to mumble stream-of-consciousness in an urban black patois representing this fellow. I laid down two or three takes of “mutha-fuggas cain git no money ain got no cans an shit…” etc., etc., ad infinitum. As I was doing this I could see the editor and engineer in the booth grinning and nodding. As I said, it was fun.

My best gig on that show was on a lunch hour while I was ADing a shoot in midtown. I told Steph I had forty-five minutes and she said that would work. When I arrived I learned that I had to do five scenes, five different people. We did no more that three takes on each, two on one and one on another. I was out in twenty minutes. The engineer said he thought it was a record.

There will be Vlogs with more looping tales, stay tuned. Click here to get Circumstances Beyond My Control.

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