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Orson Wells and ADR

A story by James G Stewart, head of post production at RKO Studios. He worked with Welles on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons in 1949. 

In one sequence in The Magnificent Ambersons, where the cast is riding in the park in an early horseless carriage, a problem of real magnitude was presented due to the manner in which Welles had photographed the sequence.

I was busy on other pictures and knew nothing of how the scenes were being shot until I received a call from Mr Welles' secretary saying that he wished to see me downtown on the refrigerated stage where he was shooting. At this time the Union Ice Company maintained a stage at their plant in downtown Los Angeles which could be iced over to represent an exterior, snow-covered scene. Orson had a park set constructed an this stage. 

With the techniques available at that time, it would have been extremely difficult to record dialogue in the horseless carriage, and even if hidden microphones had been used, the stage itself was so reverberant that no sense of being outdoors would have been achieved. 

Orson's approach to this problem was to make a temporary recording of all the dialogue of the scene in his office on a disc recorder, then play this back to the actors on the stage. Unfortunately it was difficult for the actors to hear the dialogue clearly and to mouth it, and the original track was of no particular use since the quality of the recording was typical of home acetate recorders at that time. 

When I showed up downtown and observed how this was being done, I was considerably taken aback. Orson's only comment was "Jimmy, you're going to have quite a bit of trouble with this sequence". And I did. 

There were six principals involved in the dialogue, and I recorded each one separately to the picture. This was done without Orson being on the stage. I then combined these tracks and rerecorded them with the necessary motor noise of the old-type automobile. 

On running the result with Orson, he said "It's all right technically, but it's no good from the standpoint of realism. I don't feel that the people are in the automobile. There's no sense of movement in their voices; they're not responding to the movements of the car. The voices are much too static." 

So I went back to the recording stage and redid all of the lines. This time they were done with the actor or actress and myself seated on a twelve inch plank suspended between saw-horses. As we watched the picture I simulated the movement of the car by bouncing the performer and myself up and down on the plank. After a week of bumping, I had a track which I then rerecorded and ran for Welles. His only comment was "That's very good". Orson was not given to exaggerated praise of anyone's efforts. 

Perhaps if more ADR was done with this attention to detail it may sound as natural as sound recorded on the set with a good microphone on a boom 

retold by
in AMPS Newsletter

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Orson Wells   
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