Q: We currently have a guest from Germany. He says almost all major movies shown in Germany are from the U.S. When I asked him about sound quality, he responded that it was very good. You could hardly tell that the lips are out of sync with the German dubbing. Don’t other countries make many movies? The only one I’ve heard of that comes close would be the Bollywood movies from India. Are James Bond movies American or British made? Finally, do the major studios release their movies to foreign markets with the various languages already available or is that the responsibility of each country?
F.G., of Edwardsville
A: If you think Hollywood is one of the few places in the world cranking out movies, I may have a statistical blockbuster for you.
In 2013, 86 countries produced 7,610 feature films, according to a comprehensive study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Of those, only 738 — fewer than 10 percent — were produced in the United States.
In fact, the United States had been third the year before for the first time when China outproduced us 745-738, according to U.N. Institute for Statistics estimates. Not only that, but in 2009, the UIS.stat service reported that Nigeria (“Nollywood”) had taken over as the number-two film producer with 872. However, those numbers do not figure into the more recent UNESCO totals because a lack of theaters forces Nigerian film companies to shoot almost all of their movies straight to video, which is then shown in home theaters. (The same is generally true for Cambodia, Gabon and Cameroon.)
According to the latest UNESCO numbers for 2013, India was still far ahead of the pack with an estimated 1,724 movies followed by the U.S. with 738, China with 638, and Japan with 591. Just as your guest noted, Europe lagged far behind with France at 270, the United Kingdom and Spain at 241 and Germany at 223.
And the disparity has been growing for years. In 2005, for example, 95 countries produced only 4,642 films, of which the United States contributed 872 or about 18 percent. Now not only have the sheer number of U.S. films been declining but the percentage of all feature films has been cut in half. Meanwhile, India’s efforts have continued to skyrocket, climbing from 1,041 in 2005 to the 1,724 figure in 2013, up 65 percent.
The one piece of good news if you’re rooting for American films is that nobody is close to us in box office take. In 2012, for example, U.S. studios raked in $10.8 billion, far surpassing the $2.7 billion in China and $2.4 billion in Japan. For all those movies, India took in only $1.4 billion because it has some of the world’s cheapest ticket prices. Around the world, theaters took in $34.7 billion that year, so the U.S. gobbled up nearly a third.
I must admit I have not seen any recent dubbed foreign films, so I can’t speak to whether foreign countries have improved their techniques. However, U.S. studios, in an effort to win over foreign audiences and improve their bottom line, are light years ahead of the time when Godzilla battled Mothra 50 years ago.
Here’s why: Hollywood studios always dub their major films into French, German and not only one but usually two forms of Spanish — one for Spain and one for Latin America — because of the popularity of U.S. films in countries speaking those languages, according to a 2010 report in Slate. But it doesn’t stop there. Since children often cannot read subtitles, animated movies are sometimes dubbed into dozens of languages. Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” reportedly was issued in 38 different tongues.
The studios hire translators who live in the various countries to produce a word-by-word translation. Then, these translations are modified so that the words fit the mouth movements you see on the screen. For example, the translators will try to make the foreign “labials” —letters that cause the mouth to close such as m, b and p — match the English labials.
Then, the studio will hire voice actors who can match the age, voice quality and comedic timing of the American star. Sometimes that actor will be called in for every film featuring that particular star. You’ve likely never heard of him, but Koichi Yamadera is reportedly the Jim Carrey of Japan.
The actors read the script while watching the film. Although there are several methods of doing it, the standard way is that the actor will hear three beeps before his or her next line. When the fourth beep should sound (but doesn’t), the actor starts the line. After all of the dubs are recorded, the studio strips away the English voices and then mixes the foreign track with the music and special effects tracks. The studio hopes the result is so seamless that the audience will hardly notice.
As for the James Bond movies, I’ll let you be the judge. Almost all of the films have been produced by Eon Productions of London but distributed by American studios, including UA and MGM.
What are the only two non-James Bond films produced by Eon Productions?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: In 1924, Rudolf and Adolf “Adi” Dassler opened the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in Herzogenaurach, Germany. At first, 10 employees turned out 40 handmade shoes a day, but by 1936 they had convinced even Jessie Owens to wear their product for the Berlin Olympics. Things, however, turned nasty during WWII when Rudolf thought Adolf had sold out Germany to the Allies. In 1948, Rudolf split away to found Puma before his brother started Adidas (short for Adi Dassler) the following year.