For decades, movie magic has brought to life countless stories in ways previously never thought possible—from visual effects to incredible makeup, and many visual trickeries conveying actions or images that never actually happened. When audiences see somebody shot on screen, or stabbed, maybe even maimed—none of it actually happened in real life. The final product can make it seem like it absolutely did happen by using a combination of practical trickery, optical illusions, and special effects.
That magic has continued to evolve the storytelling capabilities of films and televisions. A movie like Avengers: Endgame could never have been made at the same quality level a decade ago. The possibilities continue to expand to an almost overwhelming degree.
Now, ADR voice casting director Terri Douglas has opened up about one secret of moviemaking that has slipped under the radar of many Marvel movie fans.
Meet Marvel Studios' Terri Douglas
In an exclusive interview, The Direct sat down with automated dialogue replacement (ADR) casting director Terri Douglas to discuss her work across over 200 different projects, alongside big-time studios like Marvel Studios, Disney, Pixar, and Warner Bros.
Douglas' work on feature films and series primarily consists of casting and creating the background voices and sounds for unnamed characters (ie people sitting at other tables talking in the background during a restaurant scene), environmental objects (such as radios or hospital PA’s), and even for certain creatures.
Douglas shared that she does it across nearly all mediums, listing “feature film, animation, tv… and [video games]” and that she’ll be the one “who will be texting and calling actors at night and on the weekends:”
“I do a feature film, animation, tv… and I do video games. I’m the voice casting director on Apex Legends. So I have a lot that comes in at the same time generally… A day in my life is extremely busy. When I am casting or setting up loop groups, or doing voice casting, it all hits at once usually… I’m the one who will be texting and calling actors at night and on the weekends…”
Out of all the work she does, there is one aspect of Douglas' workload that is extra secretive: replacing the voices of big-name actors.
She revealed that if a principal actor isn’t available for post-production voicework to do a line replacement, “[she’ll] have to have a voice match talent come in and fix the line:”
“Let’s say your principal actor is not available for some reason… we need to get a few lines that weren’t clean because production was noisy, or maybe they’re missing or they need to change the words, or add a line to it. So then I'll have to have a voice match talent come in and fix the line.”
This occurs more often on big blockbusters like Marvel movies, which cast A-list talent who have busy schedules.
Douglas commented on how “it’s a very secretive process,” one that all studios “don’t want you to know [is in there]:”
“Usually, it's a very secretive process that a lot of people—we don’t want you to know that a line might have been changed if we have to leave it if the principal is not available to come back and fix it. So it's my job to make it seamless with talent that can really sound like those people, and make those adjustments.”
When asked if she could give any examples, even for projects which have already been released, Douglas opted out of revealing anything, noting that “[there are] some movie magic secrets” the studios prefer not to reveal even long after the product's release.
“Nooo. Unfortunately. Sometimes there’s some movie magic secrets that go on that we like to let things look for seamless and that things weren’t adjusted. So it’s important not to say some of that sometimes.”
Secrecy is a concept that studios such as Marvel take to heart in a big way. So did that ever blowback on Douglas’ process and get in the way of her work? She made it clear that she can “pretty much… do what [she] need[s] to do,” but there are times when they’ve “had to loop or do [their] voice-over to a blank screen:”
“No, pretty much I can do what I need to do. I have had scenes in the past where we’ve had to loop or do our voice-over to a blank screen because we didn’t want people to see things or we’ll record for time. But generally, we’re watching everything and putting the voices in. And everybody signs NDAs that’s working on it… but I can tell you the upcoming shows are really fun, and you’re gonna want to keep watching them. They’re fun.”
When it comes to replacing the lines of the principal actors with completely different sound-a-likes, does that process occur with everyone? Douglas explained that “it doesn’t happen with every actor,” but it most often occurs at test screenings:
“[It doesn’t happen with] every actor. A lot of actors are available and they can do their lines… [this can happen a lot] for [test] screenings. If they’re doing a screening and they want an audience to take a look at something for a feature, then you don’t want the lines missing because then it will really throw off the audience. So a lot of times we’ll have voice-match talent in there and they’ll be replaced with the principal ones when [they] are ready to do the lines.”
She continued to elaborate that studios “only get a certain amount of time with the principal actors,” and sometimes “it’s easier to have a voice match come in” to fill those spaces in temporarily until the star themselves can come in:
“They only get a certain amount of time with the principal actors. You don’t want to use [that] time on just temp lines. It’s easier to have a voice match come in and take care of that and then replace it with a principal actor once the dialogue is figured out and everything’s ready to go. And so then they’ll have the principal then come in and take care of it.”
The MCU Secrecy Never Stops
Isn't it odd to think about the fact that some of the most famous quoted lines throughout all of cinema may not have even been the actor or actress themselves? Imagine if Robert Downey Jr. never said “I am Iron Man.”
While in that case it was almost certainly the man himself, the level of secrecy which Terri Douglas enforces remains quite intriguing. Will there ever be a day when some of these instances can be revealed?
Recently, Marvel Studios released a book cataloging its first ten years in detail with a behind-the-scenes story—plenty of secrets were revealed. Maybe the twenty-year celebration will uncover even more untold stories
Marvel Studios' most recent project, Moon Knight, is now streaming on Disney+, and its next film is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which releases in theaters on May 6.