‘My voice fits on their face’

Written By Unknown on Senin, 13 April 2015 | 20.01

Meet some of the dubbers who become the voice of Hollywood stars in Germany, Italy and Spain.

A country mourned the death of Constantino Romero. Picture: Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

WHEN 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' died in 2013, an entire country went into mourning — not for the Hollywood actor, but for the man who had been his 'voice' for almost 30 years.

While dubbing is a bit of a joke to many Aussies – whose exposure is likely limited to the clumsy efforts on shows like Monkey Magic - in countries like France, Italy, Spain and Germany, the practice of inserting new voices over a movie's original soundtrack is so common, it has become an art in itself.

Constantino Romero is one of a small number of voice actors in non-English speaking countries who have become so closely linked to the actors that they dub, their deaths or retirement can cause huge uproar in their home countries.

For years audiences were comforted, frightened and entertained by Romero's rich, masculine voice which delivered Schwarzenegger's classic Terminator line "I'll be back", as well as nailing Clint Eastwood's tough persona, delivering a menacing performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars and reassuring them with Mufasa's wisdom in The Lion King.

No wonder many Spaniards were in tears at learning of Romero's death and that a "legend movie voice ... had disappeared forever".

When a voice actor can match the rhythm and unique mannerisms of a particular Hollywood star closely, they can become that actor's "designated voice" for decades, even inspiring loyalty among fans.

"You need to really follow the performance of the actor on the screen to remain believable," the German voice of Daniel Craig told BBC.

"That means mimicking his movements so that they become your own. The goal is that the audience thinks that Daniel Craig actually speaks German."

The German 007, Dietmar Wunder, is so closely associated with the role that strangers often ask him to repeat some of the secret agent's catchphrases.

"It can get tiring," he told the New York Times.

Paul Mariano, who has travelled around the world meeting the 'voices' of George Clooney for his crowd-funded documentary Being George Clooney, said there was an outcry when the actor's German voice was changed.

Audiences had become familiar with Detlef Bierstedt as the voice of Clooney in ER and many of the star's earlier films but he was dumped after director Steven Soderbergh decided he wanted someone different for the Ocean's Eleven films. Soderbergh selected Martin Umbach to be Clooney's new German voice as he thought his voice was closer to the actor's actual voice.

Detlef Bierstedt was replaced as the German Voice of George Clooney. Picture: Jorn Tomter, www.tomter.net. Source: Supplied

"There was an outcry on social media, on web forums, debating which was the better voice," Mariano told news.com.au.

"Audiences get accustomed to a voice so when they change the voice they get very angry about it.

"Just imagine if Hugh Jackman was talking in a film and my American voice came out, people in Australia would be outraged and upset because they wouldn't want to hear my voice."

He said that suddenly seeing a favourite actor with a different voice could be disorientating for audiences and eventually Bierstedt was reinstated as the German voice of Clooney.

Mariano said that after meeting many different 'voices' of Clooney around the world, he thought there was one thing they all had in common.

"Some countries chose someone with a similar voice, while others ... want to hear something in that voice.

"All the George Clooneys had deep voices, they all had smooth voices, they may not sound like George Clooney but they have a similar timbre in their voice, they are not trying to replicate or imitate his voice, it's more about the quality of their voice."

"As the Italian (Clooney) said 'I don't have the voice of a little boy, I have a deep voice ... my voice fits on their face'."

Delivering a masterful dub also requires technical expertise and a good translation. It usually takes more words to say something in German than in English, but to be believable in imitating English speakers, voice actors have to keep the same amount of syllables, and mimic the rhythm of the screen actor's open and closed lips. This is one reason why a general translation is used, rather than a word-for-word translation.

Finding a local phrase to convey the meaning of American slang is also a painstaking task as a strict translation may not make sense. One famous example of how it can go terribly wrong appeared in Casablanca, when the famous phrase "Here's looking at you, kid", was translated to "Look into my eyes, babe" in German.

Look into my eyes babe: Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in a scene from the film Casablanca. Picture: AP Photo/Warner Bros Source: AP

Meanwhile for those who have always wanted to know what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson in the last scene of Lost in Translation, which is unclear in the English version, you can just grab a copy of the Spanish version, where he whispers that she is the best thing that has ever happened to him, a change that has flabbergasted some moviegoers.

Lost in translation, but not in Spanish: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Source: News Corp Australia

In fact the best compliment you can give a voice artist is that no one notices the dubbing. Unfortunately in some cases this has also led to them being treated as if they are invisible. Mariano said many were not well paid for their performances despite dubbing being a billion dollar industry.

"They are very much under recognised and unappreciated in the industry, considering the movies sometimes make millions, they get paid a pittance," Mariano said.

Some have estimated that top performers can make US$15,000 to $20,000 per movie, and Mariano said rates varied from country to country. Those who became the "designated voice" of a famous star like Clooney got more than those voicing secondary actors, still, very few could live off their dubbing work. Many were also actors, or did other voice work such as reading audio books, or narrating documentaries and video games.

"As one subject said, 'this is unfair', an actor in a movie gets a few million dollars, they may get a few hundred or a few thousand," Mariano said.

Mariano said good dubbing could also make a substantial difference to the financial success of a film. It was crucial for movies like Battleship or John Carter, which in the US domestic market both failed to generate over $100 million, the figure used by many in the industry as the benchmark of success. But after the two movies were released overseas they went on to make more than $200 million overall, Mariano said.

"That's because of dubbing ... that's a lot more money, a lot of these movies when they go abroad may make 60 or 70 per cent of their worldwide box office."

Despite this valuable contribution, voice artists are often not even listed in the credits, invited to opening nights or if they are, they are ignored.

Luckily the lack of recognition among the industry has not prevented some from becoming celebrities themselves among audiences in their home countries.

"They are recognised in their country and loved, some of them are visually recognised, others are recognised by their voice," Mariano said.

"For a lot of these actors their voices are very famous but their faces are not."

When Sex and the City ended, Germany, like many other countries around the world mourned the loss of the television show's familiar characters. But shortly after the show ended, the reassuring voice of Carrie made a reappearance on German radio, and the voice artist continued to make a career out of giving listeners advice on love and lovemaking. Others use their famous voices to sell products on radio commercials.

And the work of voice artists is not always ignored by their famous counterparts. When Robin Williams won an Oscar in 1998 for his performance in Good Will Hunting, he reportedly sent a note to his German voice, Peer Augustinski: "Thank you for making me famous in Germany," it said.

Many film lovers turn their noses up at dubbing and especially among young people in countries with good English literacy, they increasingly want to watch the original version of a film. But Mariano said he did not think the practice would stop. In fact it is gaining popularity in huge markets like China, Russia and Brazil.

Mariano said countries with a lower English literary rate still enjoyed dubbed movies, while others were just accustomed to watching movies in their own language.

"I don't think dubbing is dying, I still think it is very popular and people still enjoy seeing Hollywood actors speaking their own language whether it's German, Spanish or Turkish ... they just love their own language."

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