Voice over loop group or walla group: another good VO acting job
Another good voice acting job within the TV/film industry comes in the form of the loop group or walla group (usually a team of five to eight actors hired to record all the extra or background dialogue necessary in film, TV, or games). These groups join the project after a film/TV show has been shot, to fill in the audio soundscape (sounds that make up the environment). That generally means creating crowd or ambient noises that weren’t recorded during filming.
Typically there is little to no scripted dialogue: the walla group actors simply make up lines based on research they’ve done about the location of the scene. But occasionally, a member of the loop group will be asked to match or replace a small character with scripted lines.
You see, in order to get the best quality sound on set when a movie or show is originally shot, the only people who are allowed to actually speak and make noise are the principal actors. This means that everyone you see in the background of any scene (in the coffee shop, hospital, or sports arena) is simply miming speaking and is not actually saying anything. So it is often necessary to have a loop group come in to the recording studio and fill in the voices that are missing.
Sometimes doing loop group or walla group work means adding in efforts (those non-dialogue vocal sounds) and possibly dialogue (ADR) that was somehow missed or perhaps left until later. Or it could involve replacing dialogue that didn’t work out. Say, for example, that the film was shot in Romania, but the story is supposed to be set in New Jersey. Some of the actors who were hired locally may not have sounded Jersey enough, so the loop group may be asked to replace the dialogue with a more authentic accent.
These looping sessions can be some of the most sought-after work in the VO business. The prestige is low, but the pay is high, and the work can be profitable if you become associated with a group that works frequently.
Also, contrary to how we’ve described the workspace for most VO work, if you are working as part of a loop group, you’ll have plenty of room to move around. The microphone is often set up fairly high in a larger-than-average room so that the actors can walk and move around and create different depths of background sound.
These different depths of sound are achieved through a number of techniques that have their own specialized vocabulary. One example is the pass-by, where people in conversation stroll across the pick-up area of the mic to give the illusion of movement. Another technique is the similar donut, where the group circles like a wagon train in front of the mic, and actors converse while continuing to circle. Sometimes it’s just a stationary line-up of the group in front of the mic, with every member taking a turn shouting callouts (shouts) that may be used to break up the walla bed (a continuous layer of background dialogue). The first time we worked with a loop group, it was as if we had traveled to a foreign country and had to learn a whole new language.
As a member of the loop group, you are responsible for doing your own research so that you can bring in terms and vocabulary specific to certain settings or locales that are featured in the film/show. For example, if the movie you’re looping is about the crew of a submarine, you’d better ask the Internet (or your favorite uncle) a lot about submarines before you come in to work. You must be prepared to improvise dialogue realistically and within the specific context of the project. But don’t worry; a good loop group director will go over what you’ll need to know for a specific project enough in advance that there will be time for you to do some research.
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