language specialist

Why nothing in studio happens ‘willy nilly’

Willie Fritz - Creative Director and Language Specialist

16 / 07 / 2021
content lab dubbing
Joy Matambo
Talent Manager

Willie Fritz has spent much of his career wearing many hats, including that of an accomplished writer, Broadcasting Producer and Sound Director for all Naspers Magazines’ weekly radio spots. Most recently, he’s made Content Lab his home as a language specialist.

For the past two years, Willie has held the position of Creative Director and Language Specialist at Content Lab. We thought it might be interesting to shed some light on exactly what his role entails.

It’s important firstly to understand that when we speak of language in dubbing, we refer specifically to the spoken word, to dialogue. As such, the language we use needs to feel, sound, and look natural, colloquial, and appropriate to a specific character’s age, social status, and level of education. Willie’s role as language specialist in our dubbing studio is to make sure the language we use conforms to all the above and is adapted appropriately for lip-sync. If a sentence (or line, as we commonly refer to it) doesn’t sync to visual, i.e. fit over the “mouth moments” of the original actor, Willie and his team of dubbing script adaptors need to rearrange the words to make the line fit and ensure that the integrity of the story is maintained. Doing this requires both language and dialogue writing skills.

Over and above this, Willie also provides performance direction to voice artists in the recording studio. Not everybody realises this, but voice artists who dub are most often going into the story blind. This means that unless they are a major character, or further along in a longer project like a TV series, they don’t have a broader context of the story before they enter the studio to do a dub. One of the challenges of dubbing is therefore achieving consistency of context and story throughout a project. Sometimes, neither the voice artist nor the sound engineer is entirely aware of the context in which a certain line is said. That means they don’t always know where to place the correct emphasis. That’s when a creative director like Willie can help. He makes sure he knows the storyline, and together with the localisation team, stays ahead of context and character development. Where and when in history does the story take place? How do the characters fit into their milieu? What kind of language do they use when they speak to one another, and what are the power relations between them? It’s only with this understanding that a character can truly be brought to life.

Here’s a simple example – depending on context, the line “let’s eat mom” could mean the characters are cannibal siblings and want to eat their mother (let’s eat MOM), or it could mean they are hungry and are asking their mother for food (Let’s EAT, mom). Misinterpretations like this can often occur when there’s no creative direction present who understands the full context. Just think of all the things that could get lost in translation without context.

Willie is also on hand to give our dubbers general performance notes and inspire their best performances during the dub. Its vitally important that lines are not only synced to visual (lip-sync), but also delivered in a conversational way. Dubbers need to, as naturally as possible, match the performance of the original actor while adding – where appropriate – that bit of local flavour in the target language and culture. Dubbing is a team sport. Quality performances are the result of the engineer, director, and artist collaborating towards a consistent quality standard.

We couldn’t be more delighted to have Willie as such an integral part of the team.  We look forward to many more years of Willie’s one-of-a-kind way!

Rapid Fire Questions we put to Willie:

Favourite line from your favourite movie?

“It’s showtime, folks!” (All that Jazz)

Which actor do you think would do you justice in a biopic about your life and why?

Eish, I’m a bit past my sell-by date for this game, but if you must know: The Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal – mainly because he’s absolutely gorgeous.

What advice have you kept that has worked for you throughout your career?

Be fully present in the moment and leave your ego at the door. That’s how you bring a story to life without interference from your daily little irritations, hopes and fears.
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