Sure it looks fun in the movies but try to DO it for an entire day! Screaming is something loopers fear. We lose our voice, and THAT is our rent check. I recently worked on a film. You know, one of those fun little DEMON films. Everyone is doing them nowadays so you’re bound to work on one, or two. It was the director’s first picture so he was very eager and very involved in the looping (this can sometimes be a bad thing…not that I don’t LOVE directors, because the good, knowledgeable ones can really be fun and inspiring during the session especially if they let you try out a few things and make you feel good about your work. The other ones are usually too close to the project; can’t see what really is needed in post to make it work but wont admit it kinds…they want what they want, even if it’s NOT working or NOT right)
Speed up to a particular moment during this job. The Demon Sex moment (there were LOTS of these moments in this film unfortunately. So many you just couldn’t do them at the end of the job as would normally happen with a screaming cue to save voices). This one particular Demon Sex moment was where “normal” humans suddenly turn into Demons during “the act”. I also need to add that this particular moment was a long one. About 10 minutes to be exact. Now usually an experienced director (knowing his actors will actually need their voices to actually FINISH their film) will stop a long screaming cue -or ANY cue for that matter- a few seconds into it if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing. You know, to save everyone’s voices; tell us what he’d like to hear instead, etc. Nope, not this time. We tried doing the cue as humans into goats having sex, barnyard frenzies, half dead monkeys, zombies on crack, you name it… even when we said, please stop us right away if you don’t like it so we can save our voices, he didn’t! We’d think…he must really like it this time..only to be told…”Um…OK. How about if we do it again only this time…” ARGH! Some days you get these jobs. At least it’s something funny to blog about later…
Lastly, because I always feel like I should leave you with something of knowledge, I want to advise you to always support your voice with your diaphram if you have to scream during a session and also please know that you can always ask to move that cue to the end of the day to save your voice! It’s not always possible, but it never hurts to ask (it might just hurt NOT to…LOL)
You’ve read about Loop Groups getting the jobs. What comes next? Once we are hired we usually get to spot the show. This means we watch it and figure out where looping is needed (most times this is already done by the sound designer and we are given a cue sheet with the group cues already on it, but we watch again to see how we’ll tackle each cue and it clues us in on who we need to hire to get the job done right) We then cast/hire the actors or put them on hold for when the job will take place (and tell them what to prepare), station 12 the actors (make sure they are paid up so producers aren’t fined) and get/prepare the contracts from the payroll company (sometimes the producers will bring these to the set and we wont have to). Occasionally, especially when there is a quick turn around, we actually have to “fly blind” and don’t have an opportunity to watch the show first. When this happens, we rely on what the sound team tells us we need and hire accordingly.
On the day of the job, we’ll make sure all the paper work is filled out by the actors, turn it in to the the producer or payroll company and go through cue by cue and run the show with the ADR supervisor and/or whomever else is choosing the good “takes” and lets us know what is needed ot wanted (sometimes the director is very hands on, sometimes it’s the producer, or sounds designer etc…it varies from project to project). As was said in part I, on a series you start to gell with the sound team. If there is always college hallway walla in the show for example, everyone knows how to best tackle that cue and make it sound perfect by, say the 3rd show. We make sure both sides are happy and productive. At the end of the day, it’s very rewarding when all of the actors do their best, are prepared, and it sounds great. The Sound Team/Production Team is happy and we are happy. It’s a challenging at times but also rewarding job.
Some of you may wonder what you actually do when you not only work as a looper, but also lead the loopers. There are MANY loop groups out there. Some are run by only one individual, but the majority of groups have 2 or more leaders. Why do they have more than one leader? Well, I’m sure different reasonings abound, but for us we have 4 group leaders. Any one of us have and do lead the group. With 4 of us there are more opportunities because we all know different people, and have different abilities. Usually whomever secures the job leads the group for that project (unless that person isn’t available on that day, has another job that day, or simply isn’t right for the project…like an all male war film for example).
The process, like everything in the biz, fluctuates; but this is a typical scenario. First we’ll set up meetings or phone calls with potential Films/Series. Sometimes if it’s someone we’ve worked with in the past they’ll just ask us if we are available (we love that!) If not, it can take several weeks or months of work to land the gig in the first place. (many repeat phone calls, mailings, meetings etc. until you talk to the right person and get then to hire you) With the unions, there are no “bids” because actors work for the set daily rate that the show was shot at. (SAG modified, low budget, etc) You can always negotiate up (It’s pretty hard to find loopers who will work for an entire day at $100…it’s 8 hours of straight work unlike on camera gigs where you may wait all day to shoot for 1/2 hour) Usually the producers have a set rate they can spend on the sound (looping included) and we work from there with how many actors they can hire (how many conracts they have) and how many they really NEED to do the job right ( a huge fight scene is pretty hard to do with 3 loopers. It would take MANY passes of the same scene over and over where having 8 loopers is more doable) Sometimes we can negotiate a small additional amount to add to our own contract for leading the group, but nowadays, more often than not, it’s mostly just getting to work the job and there is no extra money for leading the group. Movies can be a little more flexible. Series have more things set and once you work together on a series, all parties usually develop a “groove”.
You may have looped before, but do you know looping etiquette? As a loop group leader, you’ve worked with those divas. Those difficult political hires that you would NEVER hire again. Why you ask? Well, they show up late (always arrive at least 15 minutes early to your session) leave for the bathroom right before a huge group cue when you need them(always ask the leader if it’s a good time to use the restroom or make a phone call before you just leave the stage), and come completely unprepared (they have no notes for crime scene lingo, for example, when the whole movie is a crime scene). Sometimes I’ve even heard loopers bad mouth the project on the sound stage. (yes, I’ve looped on films that will NEVER see the light of day but it’s a paycheck and these producers/directors have spent the better half of a lifetime perhaps getting their project made so come up with SOMETHING nice about it!) You never know what their next project will be and you want them to hire YOU again! Also a pretty obvious thing to note but I’ll say it anyway…make sure you don’t walk in while the recording light is on (or talk, eat, text, etc IN the room during a cue) You will ruin the cue and annoy your fellow actor. (not to mention look like a newbie)
A few other etiquette guidelines: always ask the loop leader for guidance if you are unsure of how to tackle a cue (you will step on toes if you think you know better than them or if you ask the ADR super before you ask the leader. Like any well run group, Looping goes much smoother when there is only one cook in the kitchen and the loop leader has usually painstakingly prepared each cue with what to do), ask ahead of time if there is anything to prepare, and don’t ask if you can leave early. When you work a union gig they have you for 8 hours at the day rate like any other acting job. We all have auditions and other work that can sometimes come up on the same day as our looping gig, but the loop group leader cannot promise to have you out early to make it to an audition, etc. If it works out great, if not…hey you got a paycheck that someone else would have killed for!
It used to be you could make a pretty good living doing looping work AND get your SAG insurance to boot. Now with the state of the Unions the way they are things have changed. The majority of the new television shows are ALL AFTRA. For those of you that dont know, AFTRA and SAG have very different insurance coverage and if you’re working toward a pension this also changes things. I wont go into the logistics of the policies here but you can look it up for yourself. The sad fact is that most shows now are AFTRA and not SAG. Don’t get me wrong, I am a card carrying AFTRA member but when you are usually working/looping SAG shows and are used to SAG insurance then suddenly it changes….it can be frustrating. I know MANY loopers that have lost their insurance in the last year because they simply do not make enough money now doing SAG work.
Going into the new fall season there were 45 AFTRA scripted shows and only 38 AFTRA ones. (Note that of the 38 NEW shows 34 went AFTRA and only 4 went SAG). Also take into account that some of these shows (like most sitcoms) do not use loopers. It’s mostly the dramas that need the tools of the looper. All this combined leads to not a lot of SAG work in the series world. As a looper (and especially as a loop group) your goal is to get a weekly gig on a television show. Films are great but it’s only 1 or 2 days of work (ocassionly you’ll get a week of looping but it’s rare) and then you are unemployed again and looking for your next gig. With a series there is a little more stability. Now it’s mostly AFTRA stability.
I know I’m ready for a merger. No more worrying about if a show is AFTRA or SAG…just ONE healthy union. As long as they can figure out the insurance merging I’m all for it!
Asian sex. Conjugal trailer visits. Birthing babies. Demon attacks. Where can you have all this fun and get your nails done too? A looping session of course. Now that I have your attention, please don’t get offended. We “voice” sex in all ethnicity’s on the loop stage. It is not for the shy. I recently got to work on a film where we not only got to “get our Asian love on” (we were in an Asian brothel for a few scenes) but also got to smoke arguilla and speak Arabic in a hookah lounge, do some Hospital PA calls, Detroit Police radio calls, and lots of Internal Affairs/Crime Scene walla. This is a typical day looping a film. There are so many different cues and so few contracts available, that the loopers that get hired have to be able to be very versatile, change their voice and know multiple languages. We also had some voice matching for the Principal actors for TV lines (we replace all of the cuss words for other more “appropriate” TV words…like “freakin” in stead of the F word etc.) This was a bad cop movie so we had quite a few of those…LOL
How do you prepare to be versatile you might ask? Well confidence is a HUGE factor (improv skills are, again a heavy hitter here too) For cop radio, believe it or not, you can actually listen to it live on the internet. Try it sometime for fun on a rainy day. Look up the specific city and “police radio” and voila… at your fingertips. I just transcribe what I hear. I recently had to do some air traffic control cues and you can also listen to THAT live on the internet. Crazy huh? So a short answer to how to be prepared is “research research research!” Unless of course you are already an expert in the field. The great thing is, as all of us actors love, you can be whomever you want to be…even if you could never do it “in real life”
I just recently looped on the “perfect” loop job. What do I mean by this? The loop leaders were rooting for everyone’s success, the actors (fellow loopers) were very giving and the producers, who were IN the session, let us do our thing and let us play. Those 3 things make for not only awesome group walla for the film’s editors to use but just a great day for all involved.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up to a session with a loop leader who’s brassiness really stifles the loopers in the room. If you’re in the looping world already, you can probably think of a few times where you’ve been really uncomfortable the whole time you were working and felt a little uneasy and even threatened. Unfortunately some loop leaders don’t want you to look better than them and like that “air of authority” to be in the room. I personally feel that the more you embrace your fellow actors talents, the more talent you’ll see and therefore the better your loop group performs and looks to the producers, directors, and sound people! This ain’t brain surgery people! We aren’t saving the world either. Yet sometimes you’d think we were with the stuffiness and tension in the room!
I treat looping like improv. I think it’s so much fun to be able to play a large heavy set brazen woman in one scene and then give birth in the next or pick up on a vampire, etc. Who get’s do that everyday? When your fellow actors are giving, it’s so much fun to play during each cue just like on stage improv.
What about the producers? I love the directors and producers that treat looping as a talent. Whenever they let loopers play and do their thing, they’ll get some amazingly funny (or appropriately dramatic) stuff to use. Sometimes the Producers/Director do not even come to the session. I personally like it when they do if they treat the loopers like the actors that were on camera. If they do, they’ll get a great performance from us too!
Want to know the easiest way to tell if you’ve never looped before? In my opinion it’s your volume. Most people that have never looped (or very seldom looped) will be “very mousy” when it’s their turn to speak. Better to be too loud and told to “turn it down” than too soft I always say!
When you are doing call outs, projection is they key! If you’re in a park…yell to your dog like you really would; call to your buddy to grab the water out of the car; etc. If you’re on a street…yell to the street, “taxi”; or your date “wait for me”. Obviously the scene will set you up, but a call out is just that a CALL OUT. It’s definitely not conversational speak. I can always spot a new looper in this scenario. It’ll be…loud call, loud call, regular voice, loud call! That “regular voice” is always the newbie. Make sure to match the volume of the looper before you. It sounds easy, but for some reason even when told to do that, new loopers don’t?!
Always match the volume of those around you so you don’t stick out in the walla “everyone up” cues too. If you are in a library scene, speak as if you are in a library. If you are in a noisy mall or bar speak like you are there. They key here is though, you do need to be heard. There are times when you will be “mumbling” but when you aren’t, make your voice heard and keep up with the voices around you. If you can do that, you won’t seem like a newbie.
We’ve already tackled some things you might want to know when handling a specific cue. How about an “all skate” cue. (when the whole group or several from the group are working together) What are some of the things you may hear? Free and Clear, Give and Take, Down the line, cross by’s, donuts, etc are some of the things you’ll need to understand.
If the cue is fairly sparse, meaning you don’t see a whole lot of people in the background, you might be asked to have a lot of “give and take”, meaning don’t talk over each other. In a cafe scene for example, you may pair up in 2′s “giving and taking” so you only hear one table’s conversation at a time. They may also have you go “down the line” (literally you are standing at the mic in a horseshoe shaped LINE and speak when the person next to you is done). “Free and Clears” are also cues that are usually done “down the line” or by the loop leader pointing at who goes next with no overlapping. Make sure your volume is LOUD as these are usually placed where needed by the editor later. A street scene is a great place for “free and clears”. You might yell “My car is two blocks from here” and the next person down the line might yell “I’ll see you later” and so on. Always keep going until you are told to stop or you see the picture stop. You can always ask the Group Leader to clarify how you should tackle the cue if you are not sure.
Sometimes the scene is very busy and has lots of movement in it. To tackle that, groups will either “mull about” (meaning you can move a bit and go to different people and talk…a party scene is a good example of this) or they will do “cross by’s” or “donuts”. A “cross by” is just that. The group is divided and you take turns crossing by the mic from one side to the other (usually with a partner) making sure to always speak towards the mic. (school hallways, malls, busy streets are good examples of when you might use a cross by) A “donut” is when the group stands behind the mic in a circle (hence the term donut) and keeps walking in a circle (again making sure to face the mic when you are by it). You’ll talk when you get close to the mic and stop when you’ve crossed it. There is the rare occasion when you will continue to talk no matter where you are in the donut formation but that is RARE. A good example for when a donut would be used is a scene in an airport or hospital.
A few more things to note…”cross by’s” are also referred to as “pass by’s” and NEVER use cuss words or Proper Nouns (Coke, Toyota, Starbucks, etc) in looping unless you are told otherwise… Do you feel like an expert? Well then go get those looping jobs!!!!!
There are a few terms you’ll need to know when going into a looping session. Some of these are better described in a live class situation, but I’ll do my best to explain on paper in the next few blogs. In this blog we’ll tackle Specific vs. group (or walla walla) cues
When you loop, sometimes everyone will be up and around the microphone at the same time (usually in a horse shoe or group formation), or there may be 1-2 individuals doing a “specific” cue. A specific cue would be where there is/are a specific person/people IN the scene that you are adding dialogue for. For example, there may be a couple walking by behind the principal character(s) that you can see having a conversation. Sometimes you will even be directed to cross by the mic in the direction the couple is walking for effect (make sure you wear lose clothing and no noisy jewelry and if you are wearing a hat to turn it backwards) Maybe there is a person talking on a cell phone. The closer these people are to the principal characters, the more likely you would want to HEAR these people in the final product. These specific cues are usually done separate and you would do that same scene (cue) again to have the entire group of actors fill in the sounds of the people you don’t specifically see (walla walla)
Some loop leaders I know will pre-assign the cues to the actors (there could be over 100 cues to get through in a day so it may be quicker to just say “Paula you’re up” than to explain the cue and get a “volunteer”), other times it is your responsibility to just “jump up” to the mic when you want to take a stab at a cue. The more you get up, the better you’ll do in my experience. If it is an “effort” you are doing (swallowing, getting punched, falling down, sighing, etc), you will most likely always do that same character’s efforts throughout the show. The same goes for voicing a specific character. If that receptionist you just voiced shows up two scenes later…you’ll voice them again! Food for thought…if it’s TV series and you voice a character in the background you may get a recurring looping gig out of it…my husband was a crazy Arab neighbor heard through the wall in many episodes of a popular show.
I’ll tackle some group terms you may hear in the next blog.