NEILSON’S COLUMN (August 14, 2014): Dark studio provides an entrance into Middle-earth

The final part of The Hobbit is in cinemas on December 12
The final part of The Hobbit is in cinemas on December 12
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Actors often do many different jobs. I don’t mean waiting at tables or working at a call centre until an acting job comes along, I mean the varied jobs we’re asked to do within the realm of acting.

These can cover, TV, theatre, film, radio, adverts or voice work. I get asked to do a lot of voice work, sometimes for adverts on the radio and TV, sometimes for audio books or films.

This month I have worked on the new Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies and narrated the new Dick Francis novel Damage. Although Dick Francis passed away in 2010, his son Felix was co-writing the books with his father from 2007 and he continues to write the Dick Francis novels to this day.

Working on the Hobbit film found me in a dark studio west of London trying to synchronise my voice with various actors on the screen.

Post dubbing of this kind is often needed if an actor’s line hasn’t been picked up clearly by the microphone or additional voices are needed to enhance a scene. It is quite hilarious to see actors standing around a microphone, shouting Elvish words of aggression or mumbling in small groups as if they are in a tavern somewhere in Middle-earth.

At the end of the recording session, when the last words had been spoken and we were all thanked, I couldn’t help remarking as I exited that “Elvish has left the building”. Well, I had to!

Narrating an audio book is a totally different experience. Your day is spent in an incredibly small studio, usually the size of a broom cupboard, with a desk, a microphone and the book.

The feeling is one of high pressure, the cramped space, the close proximity of the mic, the inability to move lest the mic picks it up and the dreadful fear that your breakfast will make a guest appearance as an unwanted sound effect. This last point is all to frequent and the sensitive microphones used in these studios can pick up a tummy rumble from a thousand yards.

I had to record two versions, one of which was for the American market.

Having to say “sidewalk” instead of “pavement” or “trash” instead of “rubbish” in an English accent is a little weird, but so be it.

As George Bernard Shaw observed: “Two countries divided by a common language.”