After watching the latest movie with family or friends, we usually have something to say about the efforts of the actors, director and, possibly, the screenwriter. However, our attention is seldom drawn to one group of industry professionals who can also add a great deal to our enjoyment of a film. They are the dubbing professionals whose voices bring to life the adapted version of the original script.
Generally speaking, there are two forms of dubbing. One involves editing the general audio components that go with the visuals by adding, erasing or replacing certain sound effects or passages of narration. The other is to completely replace the dialogue and narration in the original language with a version for a different target audience. This latter method requires translation and cultural modifications and is used for both live action and animated productions from overseas.
As one of the few dubbing directors in Hong Kong, Paul Lo has over 30 years' experience in the industry. He says that, if done well, dubbing can significantly enhance the overall quality of a production. "It can help to make a movie more lively and interesting for a local audience," he says.
Mr Lo has worked on numerous movies including the popular Disney cartoon Finding Nemo. He also remains active as a dubbing artist and has, for example, played the role of the donkey Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. One of his favourite projects was the Japanese cartoon, Spirited Away, for which he was given a free hand and received much positive feedback. Most recently, he has been concentrating on Racing Stripes, a US import, and was very impressed by the performance of the local female singing team at17, who won praise for their performance, even though they had no previous dubbing experience.
It can help to make a movie more lively and interesting for a local audience
Though the profession is long established in Hong Kong, there is no formal career path or system of training. Mr Lo also believes it gets insufficient recognition. "We have awards for many different roles in the filmmaking business in Hong Kong, but none for dubbing," he notes.
His own career began in radio drama and, in addition to voice acting, he has also been a screenwriter, film editor and actor. Involvement in some of Stephen Chow Sing-chi's movies, such as Out of the Dark and Love is Love, has given him a new perspective on both filming and acting and helped his dubbing work.
According to Mr Lo, there are currently two ways to get into the profession — by referral or by attending training classes organised by a dubbing director. In either case, people should expect to freelance. "When learning, the income may be minimal until they have acquired the necessary skills and can meet technical standards," he explains, adding that roughly one-fifth of those who try out will end up as professional artists.
Perhaps surprisingly, quality and tone of voice are not essential for dubbing. As in acting, there are different roles for different types of voice, and pronunciation is the most important thing. Local artists must be able to speak fluent and accurate Cantonese and be good actors. Mr Lo says the challenge lies in acting with the voice only, making it match the facial expressions and physical actions of the original on-screen actor and ensuring the soundtrack is synchronised with any lip movements.
A dubbing director must be master of the techniques required for voice acting and also handle other management responsibilities. These can include casting, controlling budgets, scheduling and negotiating with distributors. Mr Lo enjoys the different aspects of the job and finds he can gain satisfaction from individual success as an artist and from team achievements as a director.
He first began directing in the 1980s and has been organising classes to train and develop voice talent for over 10 years. Besides that, he has found time to be an instructor for the Open University, the Hong Kong Institute of Education and Baptist University, teaching courses on pronunciation, communications and filming.
In future, Mr Lo plans to focus more on training and education and hopes to set up a dubbing school. This would not only train people in professional techniques, but also aim to correct the pronunciation and improve the speech of the younger generation which, he believes, is an urgent need.
Since dubbing is a localised profession, Mr Lo thinks there is little chance for work outside Hong Kong. Even in other areas where Cantonese is spoken, such as in Guangzhou, there can be substantial differences in the way people speak. These include variations in accent, meaning, idiom and slang, all of which are critical to successful dubbing and determine if the result is natural and authentic.