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Merit, quality, innovation: how the Coronavirus could help reshape the dubbing industry

The health emergency has not spared the dubbing sector, which is now trying to get back on its feet and make up for the lost ground. We talked about it with Marco Guadagno, to find out how they coped with this moment of necessary change.

«We resumed working about a month ago, taking all the due precautions and inevitably suffering some delays. Needless to say, the situation is complex, but our foremost concern is to protect the people that work with us. Every company sets and follows its own safety procedures and we are fully complying with the relevant ministerial provisions. We have invested in cleaning and disinfection products, we’re wearing face masks, gloves and face shields, we have installed plexiglass or fabric panels in the dubbing rooms, where directors and sound technicians usually work together.

Unfortunately, when there is great panic and confusion – and that goes for the news media as well – Italians all seem to become experts in something and dubbers are by no means an exception. Everyone becomes a scientist or an epidemiologist, everyone wants to have their say, unleashing a sort of race, to see who best enforces the ministry’s instructions… But what we really need is, above all, respect for health, common sense and thinking minds.

Our work is surely very particular, because we work in closed, dark rooms, which require big transformations to meet the requirements of a health emergency such as the one we are experiencing. But the emergency has also become, at times, an excuse for trade associations and unions to impose their working rules on enterprises. I, on the other hand, believe I’m free to run my business and to let my collaborators work as I deem best, clearly abiding by the laws and safety rules set forth by the relevant bodies.

On top of that, our profession is still locked on a collective labour agreement that was renewed and updated in 2008 but originally drafted in 1986 and which is completely outdated and disconnected from the market, even more so in this stagnating situation.

But this emergency has also stressed and given new momentum to a paramount aspect: the need to rethink and reshape the whole collective agreement, to assess technological innovation more promptly. We need to redevelop and modernise our work and, in my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily entail higher fees; rather, the implementation of new, quality-based principles and training of workers of all categories, including the technical ones. And, may I add, based on merit.

We have studied and tested different solutions to try remote dubbing when necessary and we have set up a system that might work. It’s complex, it’s not the best in terms of sheer quality, it’s somewhat lengthy, it’s neither simple, nor optimal, but I believe that circumstances such as this one should help us experiment and pave the way for future solutions. Alas, it’s already happening in other countries, where there are very poor dubbings made by someone who might know something about dubbing but knows nothing of Italian dubbing.

Then again, before the emergency, smart-working was a chimera, especially in Italy. But now – basically all over the world – the tertiary sector has swiftly switched to this solution.

Our category, on the other hand, has stubbornly closed itself in an old system that badly needs to be reorganised if it wants to keep up with the real market.

I truly hope this emergency can drive change in a number of ways, in order to establish the new rules we need and to professionally redevelop this trade, which – I’m sorry to say – has experienced a drop in quality over the past years.

Such a drop is due to the approach of certain dubbing companies, which resort to unfair competition to get hold of more work, and also due to some complicit dubbers.

Furthermore, a whole lot of people who still lack the basics have entered the market – actually, very generously invited, owing to the growing demand.

I want to stress once again that merit is a key factor. The only way we can modernise the trade is to adopt criteria based on merit. That could also spur the dubbers themselves to improve their work.

We currently must deal with people who are not properly fit for the job and who actually earn as much as people with an impressive background and far better skills.

Dubbers are paid an hourly rate. A rookie who works on a double shift for what we call brusio [hubbub, translator’s note] , the simplest thing there is in dubbing, might earn more than a dubbing director who works on a triple shift and has far greater responsibilities.

Suffice it to think that the lump sum for attendance and the fee per line are the same for everyone. Hence, a novice who dubs the same number of lines as an experienced actor earns just as much. Every craftsman has his own toolbox, which he uses to do his job. But some people who do our job don’t have this toolbox: they walk into the dubbing room and don’t know how to breathe, how to set their voice register, they don’t know what timbre is…

I might sound unpopular, but I believe the new collective agreement must absolutely set the due standards for these elements and introduce the need for serious professional training, refresher courses, etc. in order to step up quality.

Bottom line: we must make the most of this emergency and, using our creativity, seize the opportunities it offers.»

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Apparently we had reached a great height in the atmosphere, for the sky was a dead black, and the stars had ceased.

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