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Odd Hollywood Jobs: Inside the life of a looper

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A loop group records audio.
Jacob Margolis/KPCC
A loop group records audio.

We take a look at the job of a looper, the nickname given to voice over actors who help flesh out scenes in film and television.

Now for the latest installment of our series "Odd Hollywood Jobs." 

Today we take a look at the job of a looper, the nickname given to voice over actors who help flesh out scenes in film and television.

For example, fans of the CBS show "Under the Dome" may recall a scene in a recent episode where a grief stricken man shoots his neighbor. Soon after, two of the show's main characters, a guy named Dale, and a sheriff named Linda show up.

In addition to the voices of Dale and Linda, there were other voices in the background, little murmurs. If you really listen carefully, you can hear someone say "I just wanna make sure he's okay."

That voice and those other murmurs were recorded by loopers.

On a recent afternoon on the Warner Brothers lot, three loopers,  Dave Michie, Peggy Flood and Dave Randolph, take their spots in front of a microphone and a large screen. They take turns picking out who will voice which characters.  The loopers review the raw tape of the scene a few times, and then they do their thing.

Those lines eventually get mixed into the sound so that the scene seems more realistic. Without them, you'd see a big crowd of people, but hear only the main actors.

So what does it take to do this sort of thing for a living? 

To find out, we sat down with one of these loopers, a guy named Dave Mickey whose credits include "No Country for Old Men," "Lions for Lambs," and last year's Oscar winning film "Lincoln."

Mickey says he was an aspiring actor, waiting tables and doing a lot of improv, when he met a woman named Barbara Harris, who manages an outfit called the Looping Group. One day, Harris called Mickey to his very first looping audition. 

"it was nervewrackingly fun at first, because you're sitting there, the director can be there, the pressure's on, producer's there and you're watching somebody's mouth and you need to match that mouth." said Mickey. "Then after a while it kept coming, so I kept it rolling."

Mickey's process begins with research, depending on what his next project is. For example, when we was preparing to loop for the film "Lincoln," he studied the dialogue of that time to make sure his accent and the words he used fit with the era. 

Once he has the time period and location understood, it's all about making sure his dialogue matches the extra's voice. 

"More importantly its watching the screen and then you start reading their lips, so that way when I'm up I can already be ahead of the game and try to match the lips quickly so we can move on to the next cue," said Mickey. 

It's easy to see how it can be tough work crafting dialogue on the fly and trying to get it to time just right with the action seen fleetingly onscreen. 

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