Wow! What a great response I’ve gotten, since asking for your questions and tips on working in the world of voiceovers and ADR! In fact, I’ve gotten so much material that I will be presenting the information in two parts. This week: I’ll help demystify the heavily-guarded secrets to working in a loop group. Next week: voiceover basics (classes, production facilities, online resources, and tips from the pros).

Defining Looping

Looping (also known as “walla” and, most correctly, as ADR: Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording) is a post-production process conducted for almost every on-camera production “out there.” You’ve experienced the results of looping as a consumer of films, television programs, and commercials all your life! So, why is this very essential part of our industry’s output cloaked in such mystery? Basically, it’s due to the fact that it is a seriously cushy gig!

Where else can you earn SAG scale (yes, at the same rate of the on-camera day-players, including residuals) in your jammies?!? Well… not so fast! You actually do have to get dressed for this job, so let’s start with a little ADR myth-busting.

What Do Loopers Voice?

Pretty much everything. A small group of actors (anywhere from two to ten people, usually) will produce the voices of on-camera featured extras, assigned faces in the crowd, radio or television broadcasts within the scene, drivethru restaurant speaker boxes, the other side of a telephone conversation — almost anything you could imagine!

What Are Loopers’ Hours?

Most loop groups are run by a looping coordinator who sets a calltime of 8am. The day’s work is anywhere from four to eight hours. In that amount of time, a loop group can complete ADR on a one-hour television show. Feature films tend to take two days. Note: nonunion productions will not have the same limits on your time at work and the rate of pay usually caps at about $100 a day.

What Skills Do Loopers Have?

Loopers are generally also accomplished on-camera and/or stage actors with plenty of credits and training under their belts. Improv skills are well-used in ADR due to the fact that, despite what you’ve heard, loopers are not simply mumbling “walla walla” to mimic crowd sounds.

In addition to improvisation abilities, most loopers maintain significant “jargon files.” Since the dialogue loopers must improvise often is very location-specific, they need to research the dialogue (and jargon) most-often used in such locations. Examples of jargon-rich locales include police stations, hospitals, sporting events, even restaurants! Knowing how to correctly order cuisine from a fancy French restaurant could contribute to your ability to improvise well in that type of looping situation.

What Is an ADR Session Like?

Depends on the scenes being looped! If folks on-screen are walking by the principal performers, the loopers will be asked to walk around and do “pass-bys” during ADR. They’ll talk while walking around (or jogging, running, whatever the scene requires) in the studio, passing the mic in order to get the necessary audio tracks.

Sometimes, loopers are recording the general crowd sounds. That’s pretty much exactly what you think it is! Loopers are chatting about whatever folks in the background would be chatting about in a situation as depicted on the screen in the recording studio. Depending on how identifiable certain people are, loopers are sometimes assigned on-screen actors to match, during the looping session.

Loopers will also do “call-outs,” which are the lines that tend to stick out among the murmur of the crowd. Crowd sounds, call-outs, and pass-bys will all be blended (or “mixed”) by the sound editor later, creating what is called a “soundscape” to match the on-camera scene.

“Cans” (headphones) may or may not be used in every looping session. Depending on the importance of your ability to hear the production audio (in terms of picking up a cue or matching a tone), you will need to be prepared to use headphones and tune out the other loopers in the room.

An imaginary “fourth beep” is what loopers listen for, when looping a section of dialogue. There are three timed beeps that you’ll hear aloud. Where that fourth beep would be is where you begin recording. If you’ve seen the film Postcards from the Edge, you may recall the scene in which Meryl Streep goes into the studio to do looping. You can hear the three beeps in that scene, several times.

Tips from Experienced Loopers

  • Speak at a normal, conversational level and adjust that level based on whether you are voicing a scene that takes place indoors or outdoors. Due to the soundproofing inside the studio, many people find their instincts telling them to whisper. Of course, a whisper isn’t appropriate, when you’re voicing a day at the beach, tossing the frisbee! Also, keep your levels consistent unless directed otherwise. Remember that there are many people who will get their hands on your material after you’ve recorded the vocals. If a special effect is needed, the sound editors will cover that. Your job is to deliver the realistic voice depiction of the on-screen action.
  • Dress for success! That means: no jangling jewelry, no loose clothing, no flip-flops, nothing that might disturb the mics during your session. Yes, you can dress in comfortable clothes, but watch out for zippers on hoodies and things like that.
  • If you tend to express yourself with your hands when you speak, train yourself to stop doing that, during the ADR session. Something as simple as a tendency to make a fist in a manner that causes your knuckles to quietly crack could throw off a whole take!

How To Get Involved with a Loop Group

Oh, don’t you wish that were an easy task? I’ve been told that we’d all be shocked at who, exactly, is “out there” looping (series regulars, recognizable actors, soap stars, etc.). ADR work is quite lucrative and enjoyable, however it is not so easy to “break in.”

Loop group coordinators typically organize the sessions, cast the actors, and maintain a pool of loopers from which to pull at all times. I’m told that many looping coordinators also work as actors in theatre, film, and television (rarely revealing that they are, in fact, running loop groups). When these folks hear a voice they like (or need, due to the fact that a similar voice isn’t already in their stable), they’ll invite the actor with that voice to join in the loop group. It’s seriously that simple — yet that “invitation only” in nature.

So, don’t go looking for casting notices in order to submit a demo to a loop group coordinator. It’s just not likely to happen. That said, if you know someone who is in a loop group, that person is likely to become a loop group coordinator in the future. Stay in touch! You never know when your voice may be needed!

Next week: voiceovers! Where to train, how to produce your demo, websites and other resources for getting started in voiceovers, and tips from the pros!

Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!

Let’s DO this!

Bonnie Gillespie autographed the internet

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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