Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Polish Dubbing: No emotions attached

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On Polish TV, Desperate Wives Sound Like Guys



When Walt Disney Co. brought the hit ABC TV series "Desperate Housewives" to Poland, producers found just the right local actor to do the voices of the show's sexy, tempestuous female stars: Andrzej Matul, a 59-year-old guy with a deep voice and a flat delivery.
Mr. Matul is a lektor. In Poland, American shows aren't dubbed by actors mimicking the original, English-speaking actors. A lektor, the Polish term for voice-over artist, simply reads all the dialogue in Polish. While the lektor drones on, viewers hear the original English soundtrack faintly in the background.

The approach is popular in Poland, where viewers still feel comfortable with a style deeply rooted in the country's communist past. Lektors, traditionally men with husky voices, pride themselves on their utterly emotionless delivery, a craft honed through thousands of hours in recording studios. Fans appreciate the timbre of their voices, often tempered by years of cigarette smoking.
Jan Wilkans, 49, who got his first lektoring job narrating a pirated version of the movie "Dead Poets Society," says he has his own rule: "Interpretation, yes; expression, no."
Lektoring is also popular among American TV distributors. It offers them a low-budget way to get their programming into a market with a young population and strong economy.
As a result, lektoring is booming, just when it should be dying out as viewers all over the world are coming to expect higher production values.

About 45 foreign channels started up in Poland in the past five years, including the Discovery Channel, ESPN and HBO Polska. Last week, the British Broadcasting Corp. said it is starting three channels with lektored programming in Poland. The Disney Channel began broadcasting in December. On the main networks there are often more than eight hours a day of lektors reading in Polish what is being said in English and other languages.
"It doesn't seem right to Westerners," says Costa Kotsianis, managing director of Hippeis Media Ltd., which translates shows throughout Europe from its headquarters in London. "But the very good lektors can record a whole show in one take. It saves a lot of money."
One little problem is that Polish words are generally longer than English words, and they're rich in consonants. A lektor can't fall behind the action and he needs to read in a steady, slow, low voice. So, the dialogue is simplified.

In "Desperate Housewives," for example, a seven-word apology from prim Bree Van De Kamp to her husband at his hospital bedside becomes three, with Mr. Matul saying, "Mam wyrzuty sumienia." ("I have pangs of remorse.")
When Mr. Wilkans did his bit for the popular Australian police drama, "Blue Heelers," at HBO's studios in central Warsaw one afternoon recently, translator Olga Latek cut out some of the back and forth because Mr. Wilkans speaks so slowly. "Lektors don't like too much text," Ms. Latek said. Lektoring began during the Cold War, when few Western shows were on Polish TV. When the Berlin Wall fell and TV imports became more common, conventional dubbing became popular in other former communist countries but never caught on in Poland. In 2001, French network Canal Plus used six different voices for the main characters on the hit TV sitcom "Friends" to see whether high-quality dubbing would attract more viewers in Poland. The experiment bombed, and the network quickly reverted to lektors.
"We had a lot of phone calls" from unhappy viewers, says a Canal Plus spokeswoman, Marta Jozwiak. "It just didn't work."

Disney's research found even Polish children like lektoring. But the broadcaster plans to gradually start dubbing shows on the Polish Disney channel, believing children will prefer a variety of voices once they get used to them. "We are confident we can introduce a greater level of dubbing over time, but we can't just rush in," says Robert Gilby, managing director of the Disney Channel in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Emerging Markets, which includes Poland. When Disney's hit teenage movie, "High School Musical," appeared on Poland's main network in December, all parts were read by a man in deadpan.
Some younger lektors such as Daniel Zaluski, 31, want to make lektoring more entertaining. "When Arnold Schwarzenegger is killing people, I like to modulate the tone," he says.
But lektors must be sparing with the dramatics. One of Warsaw's main voice-over studios, Start International Polska Sp. Z.o.o., has hired six new lektors in recent months, but lektors who sound like they're acting aren't invited back, says studio chief Malgorzata Kazmierska. "It's the most horrible thing when a lektor starts to play the emotion," she says.

About 100 lektors are working today in Poland, up from just a handful a decade ago. They also do announcing and read commercials. The work doesn't require special training, though most lektors have radio or TV experience. Few speak English fluently, and the studios rely on freelance translators to churn out scripts. The voice-over people rarely have time to read the scripts before they record them, though.
When Warsaw limousine driver Pavel Szulc watches TV, he says he recognizes his two favorite lektors, Tomasz Knapik and Maciej Gudowski. "My wife and I just like the quality of their voices," he says.

As the boom in imported TV is creating more work, Discovery's History Channel uses a sound studio in a two-room apartment opposite Warsaw's main cemetery for some of its lektoring. The studio is run by 27-year-old Konrad Ganzke, who sleeps in a bed next to the padded sound booth.
An influx of young lektors has upset veterans, who feel the newcomers don't really understand the secret of lektoring: speaking so smoothly that viewers forget that Paris Hilton sounds like a Polish Johnny Cash.
"A good lektor is better than an actor -- a lektor can read anything," says Krystyna Czubowna, 53, who has been a lektor for 22 years and is one of the best-known women in Poland. "The new people come from the street and just start reading. They are very limited in what they can do."
Sun Poland Studios in Warsaw operates 10 or 12 hours a day. Lektors sit around a small kitchen drinking coffee while they wait for their recording sessions to start.

Mr. Zaluski, the Warsaw lektor, says he often doesn't remember the shows' names or plots because he reads so many scripts. One afternoon at Sun Poland, Mr. Zaluski sat in a soundproof room, wearing large headphones so he could hear the original English soundtrack, and recorded a documentary on the fashion designer Christian Dior. Sound engineer Kuba Szumowski, 25 years old, worked a bank of computer screens and a pair of speakers, mixing Mr. Zaluski's session. In 34 minutes of taping, Mr. Zaluski made just nine mistakes, mainly stumbling over words. The engineer marked the mistakes on the computer for correction later.
His 10-hour days are exhausting, Mr. Zaluski says, but generally not as tough as the time he taped nine episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in one day.

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  1. Anonymous2:08 PM

    I don't know what to say. I come from Poland(I'm 20 years old) and I CAN NOT watch polish televizion because of lectors everywhere. I prefer well made polish dubbing instead of oryginal version. The situation in polish telewizions is sick! They lector everything, from animations for kids, to erotic movies, and not because polish people want it, but to save money. The polish channels such as POLSAT(owner is one of the richer people in Poland) or TVN have big profits from advertisements, and popular programs which are wathed by milion of viewers, and, even so they lector films which even had polish dubbing in cinemas in the past years, to have(or save) more money. Polish people like well made dubbing(not every one, but 30-40 %). In the past polish dubbing was one of the best in the world. We had an excelend versions of such movies as 12 angry people, and Anatomy of a murder. During comunist period(we had 2 channels) televizion as same as cinemas dubbed many films and serials. In the 90s C+ started dubbing normal films and serials, but the made one big mistake. If f.ex Michelle Pfeiffer was badly dubbed(the polish voice was wrong) by Ewa Kania, they did not hange it! It appeard in the another films with this actor/actress. But even C+ has made a perfect dubbing to "Parker Lewis: I can't lost"(polish title "Parker Lewis Nigdy nie przegrywa) which in my opinion is better than oryginal. Polish dubbing to Parker Lewis has many fans which do not imagine to watch it in another version! I got used to well made dubbing thanks to Parker Lewis, "Friends"(polish title "Przyjaciele") and perfect all dubbing made by not existing enymore channel Wizja Jeden. Theirs versions of Celebrity deathmatch("Zapasy na śmierc i zycie"), Europa bez spodnii(I do not know the oryginal title), The League of gentelmen(polish title Pcin Dolny, the most popular dubbing which is "an exception" to people who prefer lectors), and The man behave badly("Niegrzeczni Panowie"). I'm not the only one who got used to dubbing thanks to Wizja Jeden. They knew how to do it. The translation, voices even a polish made titles of the series etc. Everything was perfect. They dubbed all programs for kids, some comedy series and programs 18+ like Europa bez spodnii(sth "Europe without pans"). Now the only channels which offer dubbing programs are those for kids: Cartoon Network, Zig Zap, Jetix(they made offul dubbing) and occasionally Disney Channel. DC what is suprasing dubbes all animations, but such series with living actors as "Hannah Montana" "Wizards of Waverly Place" "The Suite life of Zack and Cody" were at first showed for 1 year with lector in order to made after that period a polish dubbing, which in my opinion is very stupid. They used to some of the kids to watch lector version of that serials instead of dubbing(the first impresion). After one year they dubbed the first seazon of HM and second of Zack and Cody(the other epizodes were showed with lector). Now the mentioned serials are all dubbed, but all films except HSM 1,2,3 Camp Rock and Cheetah Girls 3 : One World are showed with lectors + 3 or more actors serials. I thought that when Disney comes to Poland everything will be dubbed, but it's not. Disney produced many normal films such as Pirates of the Caribbean I hoped to see it on Disney Channel some time with polish dubbing I hope so. Sorry for my English.

  2. In your article you're writing only about polish TV - it is true that every TV show is produced as cheap as possible and there is no dubbing..

    But what you are actually missing are the feature-length disney animations with polish dubbing. Please check out polish versions of:
    Toy Story
    Mulan, Mulan 2
    Monsters, Inc.
    The Incredibles
    Emperors New Groove
    Lion King
    ... etc (i mean all disney full lenght animations in polish)
    And of course DreamWorks animations like Shrek ;p

    In my opinion these productions with polish voices are absolutely genius :), often better than originals Watch them and convince yourself.

    I'm posting here, because your article's title is a lie - polish dubbing is full of emotions in all of the titles placed in this comment. It should sound : Polish Lektoring: No emotions attached!

  3. Dominik6:11 AM

    I prefer voice-over rather than a dubbing. I've extended my vocabulary and language skills by listening both languages at the same time.