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 Will you be ready when it comes your way? 

Picture this. Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are having their now famous exchange in Die Hard. Alan Rickman, as awesome bad guy Hans Gruber, asks, “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?” To which Willis’ John McClane says, “Yippee-ki-yay, pork cheeks.” No wonder Rickman looks confused.

That’s how it was translated for international dubbing in Germany. Sometimes, Americanisms just don’t work in a foreign language.

However, what is working is the voice over industry. It’s cashing in on Hollywood and American television producer’s international expansion to Europe and Asia.

Hollywood Reporter has an excellent story about international dubbing. It details Hollywood’s increased commitment to foreign reproductions, noting: “…As international box office has become increasingly important, especially for animated and family-oriented films, the studios are making ever-bigger investments in dubbed versions at a cost of up to $100,000 to $150,000 per territory.” Tidbits like this, as well as some amusing anecdotes like the pork cheeks reference above, makes this article a must-read for anyone curious about this market. For voice actors, it opens up an interesting question.

How can I get voice over work in the foreign market?

Right now, blockbuster movie makers are finding talent in one of three ways.

  1. They’re giving first right of refusal for foreign films to the actual actors. This works for multilingual stars like Sandra Bullock, Jodi Foster, and Antonio Banderas. Would you believe he did five separate languages for Puss In Boots?
  2. They’re using local big name actors to dub the film. In France, the starring role in Brave went to Berenice Bejo, who even went on press junkets for the movie.
  3. They’re using voice over actors, normally from that country.

In some cases, local voice talent becomes synonymous with the actor they are portraying. Take Christian Bruckner. He has dubbed Robert De Niro for nearly forty years in Germany, and according to the Hollywood Reporter article, he has gained fame in that country for his work.

So what does it take to break into the market? Acting talent, for starters. Tone is as important as dialogue for keeping a foreign translation consistent with the original.

“Voice acting is a special talent that not everyone has. You have to remember the text, the gaps and the expression all at the same time,” says Norbert Gastell, a German voice over artist, in an article on Germany’s voice over market. Germany has a firm handle on this market and is without a doubt a world leader in dubbing. They have nearly 40 dubbing companies that made $125 million in 2013!

For voice over actors, an agent is likely the best way to find work. Of course, a fluency in the language is a given. There’s not much chance of breaking into the Chinese market if your only familiarity with Mandarin is when it comes with chicken. But it’s a market worth considering because it pays well.

In France, members of the Association of Voice Actors make almost a thousand dollars for one hour of television. Per line of film read, they are averaging over $8. And that’s for lesser known actors. Bigger names make more money.

In China, Koichi Yamadera has voiced nearly one hundred actors. His voice has stood in for everyone from Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks to Eddie Murphy and Will Smith. It’s a wonder he can speak with all the voice over work he does. Animation. TV. Films. Video games. The man is a dubbing force of nature.

But I failed Spanish. How does this affect me?

So what does this mean if you’re an English speaking voice artist? No one can predict the future, but let’s think about where this international expansion might go, and what it can mean for English speaking voice over actors. With the rise of internet viewing, foreign television shows in particular are gaining attention. While American producers are creating English re-imaginings of shows like The Killing and Homeland, there are plenty more series that are only available in their original language or with clunky subtitles. The British Broadcasting Corporation has thought of dubbing popular European series (despite public debate), and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes an American business practice as well.

The truth is; the entertainment industry is going global. It’s already impacted the types of films Hollywood is making. But it’s a two-way street. Dubbing is coming to America. Anime seems to be leading the pack right now, with English dubbing becoming a common practice. Just this week Funimation announced the dub cast of one of their hit shows. Anime might be leading the charge because of its popularity in North America (Thank you Sailor Moon!) but how much do you want to bet the big wigs at Netflix and other entertainment groups are watching those downloads increase and wondering how they can make money?

If you want to explore dubbing, put yourself out there. Start looking for small jobs and build your portfolio. Pay attention to the shows that are popular outside of America. When dubbing comes this way, you’ll be ahead of the pack.