The Bizarre, Mob-Like World Of Background Voice Actors
There’s a tiny percentage of people — mostly hailing from Hollywood — who will hear the word “donut” and, quite miraculously, not start salivating on the spot. For these people, the word simply means walking in a circle on a sound stage while chattering a kind of gibberish to create the background chatter we usually hear during crowd scenes in movies and TV shows. They’re not the background actors you see on screen. They’re only the recorded voices you hear, and they have a name in the industry: The “loopers.” If you’re immediately thinking about that movie where Joseph Gordon-Levitt somehow manages to pull off a younger-looking Bruce Willis, well, these loopers do have one thing in common with Looper: They seemingly run themselves like a mob.
See, loopers are an exclusive bunch, and there are only a few companies running the entire show. Over the years, they’ve created a specialized field for themselves and convinced studios that they needed these loopers’ skills and expertise instead of just using the background extras to record some small talk for a bar scene.
It saves studios a lot of money because while SAG extras get paid $182 just to sit and pretend to be background office cops on a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that paycheck gets bumped up to $1,056 a day the moment they open their mouths. On the other hand, Loopers get paid anywhere between $100 and $300 per recording session, and they can usually improvise up to 50 different sounds and voices. They also have a specific way of talking. Terms like “walla” and “Chomsky Pass” might sound like some layman’s opinion of philosophy over on Twitter, but for loopers, these terms mean mumbling gibberish while throwing in a real word every once in a while because apparently, that’s what works on film.
On a technical level, it’s kind of interesting; from a business point of view, it’s pretty damn cutthroat. These groups have been outed for bribing post-producers to get their loopers on a show, lying to sound coordinators about being hired for their productions, and blacklisting any looper who dare speak out against and reveal their dodgy practices. Why? Because there are just so many jobs available, believe it or not, and these individual companies want all the
jobs money for themselves. A looper who’s worked in the industry for over 20 years told The Hollywood Reporter: “It’s very competitive to get these jobs. I have an ex-boyfriend who called it ‘the Mafia of the acting world’ because no one gives up their spots and you have to kill someone to get in.”
Following the one-two-three of stories like this, these looper groups are naturally filled with nepotism hires and people not trained to do these jobs. Even production crew and execs will sometimes insist on a wife or a cousin for a looper “must-hire,” like what mobs and also so many people with power do.
What makes this industry even worse is that, when the residuals of some of these TV shows are accounted for, top loopers can walk away with around $1 million a year — way more money than what the sound engineers get for working on the same productions. Which we guess is probably Hollywood to the T: The place where engineers with expert technical knowledge and skills get less money than some executive’s “must-hire” cousin saying “walla” into a mic.
Top Image: NBCUniveral Television