Step into the booth of a recording studio with John DeMita and you’ll realize that great dubbing is not as easy as it seems. In fact, to execute this type of voiceover work is an art form.
“The dubber must not only honor the choices of the actor on screen, but also create a completely natural and personal performance of their own. It is very much the balance of intuition and technique, just like any form of acting on stage or screen,” the associate professor of theatre practice explained.
A stage and screen actor and director, DeMita has voice acted in hundreds of television series, films and video games during his almost 40-year career. He also teaches core acting curriculum in the School’s Bachelor of Arts program and has taught voice directing for animation in cooperation with the School of Cinematic Arts. His most recent role, however, is serving as a voice director for Netflix International Originals.
“Successful voice acting involves breath and articulation control, textual and rhetorical analysis, rigorous focus, and fearless improvisation,” said DeMita, citing that all of these are invaluable skills students learn at the School of Dramatic Arts.
That’s why the professor looks to SDA students and alumni when he is casting for voiceover work.
“It is such a pleasure to give them the opportunity to apply the tools and techniques from the classroom in a real-world situation,” said DeMita, who has taught college level acting since 1986 and came to USC in 2012. “It’s very common for an acting student to believe that working professionals have some ‘magical knowledge’ that they do not yet possess. This helps them see that successful careers are directly connected to the training they are getting at USC.”
For Netflix, DeMita works with original talent and local voice actors to create English language dubs for films and television shows worldwide. Projects include films My Happy Family (Georgia), The Resistance Banker (Netherlands); and television shows The Mechanism (Brazil), Elite (Spain), Bordertown (Finland), Dark (Germany), My Holo Love (Korea); among others.
When Netflix asked DeMita to recruit new talent for these projects, he suggested bringing on students, alumni and faculty — to which, Netflix excitedly agreed to facilitate opportunities. In the last two years, the professor has cast more than a dozen current and former students.
Classroom to real world
Among them include recent alumna Angie Sarkisyan BA ’19 — who went from acting and animation-directing classes with DeMita to landing a lead voice acting role in one of Netflix’s most popular shows, We Are the Wave.
“My degree set a high standard of what was expected of me as an actor, not only in the professional realm, but for myself as well…” Sarkisyan said. “And, of course, it’s not the degree itself that paved wonderful opportunities for me. It’s all the things I learned at USC and the people I met there who have made the transition from college to the ‘inferno’ a bit easier.”
Sarkisyan auditioned for the show by DeMita’s invitation and was cast as the English dub for the lead character Zazie, a member of a ragtag group of teen vigilantes who are set on rectifying corrupt German politics and society. The alumna is also working on dubbing voices for an anime called Welcome to Demon School, in which she was cast on her own.
“John really is one of the best live-action voiceover directors out there. Going in, I knew I was in good hands even though I was really nervous. It was John’s talent as a director and the love he has for the art that really helped me to get out of my head and do my best,” Sarkisyan said.
The Trojan network
For alumna Connor Kelly-Eiding BFA ’11, who met DeMita after graduating from USC, the Trojan connection still proved to be valuable. The two first worked together on stage in Antaeus Company’s production of Picnic and she was later invited by DeMita to sit in on a dubbing session and audition for We Are the Wave. She landed the role as the English dub of the lead character Lea, which would mark the beginning of their collaboration on Netflix projects together.
“[John’s] energy in the booth — in my experience — is super grounded, relaxed, casual but sharp and on point. He’s got a terrific sense of humor and made me feel safe to ask for what I needed in the booth,” Kelly-Eiding said.
With both stage and screen experience — including most recently shooting an episode of FOX’s 9-1-1, recording an audiobook and performing with the theatre company Four Clowns, Kelly-Eiding has found her theatre training helpful in this line of work.
At USC, she not only refined her ability to cold read, and maintain focus and presence, but also found that “there is a bodily awareness instilled by theatrical training that definitely comes in handy [with dubbing].”
“While the job is matching someone else’s voice, there’s so much more than just the voice that goes into creating any performance. So being able to feel out another actor’s physical experience while voicing the English words is helpful,” the alumna said.
It is this physicality in the scene that is essential, DeMita said, which is why he encourages actors to move around to mimic the onscreen actor, but to be mindful of staying on mic while recording.
“It’s an interesting challenge to make the dub sound like the original in this way, but with proper breath control it can be done,” he said.
Answering the call
During a typical recording session, DeMita shows the voice actor the entire scene in the original language and their lines will scroll at the bottom in English. He then discusses major events of the scene, with a particular attention to transitions and beat changes, and other details like the distance between actors and background noises. Some actors choose to hear the original voice in their headset when they speak, while others prefer to work in silence.
“Ideally, we record the scene in its entirety without stopping for the conversational flow — this is more efficient, and often leads to a more spontaneous performance. I then go back and check line by line and re-record if necessary,” DeMita said.
Through working with DeMita on two Netflix shows so far, BA student Evan Macedo learned about audition opportunities for both projects even before the start of his class with the professor.
“Through a lot of luck and being willing to take opportunities,” Macedo said, he was able to secure voice acting roles in the Spanish melodrama Elite as a principal character named Ander and We Are the Wave as additional voices and in a loop group.
“John always said, ‘volunteers work more,’ and I had been lucky enough to have that lesson,” Macedo said.
He added: “Because of the dubbing, [as well as] taking advantage of internship connections, I am SAG-AFTRA, have an agent, a reel that gets me auditions, professional connects, and a paying job in the industry. This is not to mention all the amazing opportunities I have taken at School: the Suspenders Sketch Comedy Group, stand up, minors, student theatre, films (including a pilot), and many more.”