Belgium…the land of dubbing

  • Many series and programs are dubbed in Belgium.
  • It costs 30% less than in France.
  • About 150 Belgian actors are specialized in dubbing.

There’s no need to go all the way to Paris to dub a television series. A handful of Belgian studios are all equally skilled, and they have been for the past 20 years!

To prove the point, you only need to walk through the Sonicville studio doors, a large structure a few streets down from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels. The studio specializes in post-production. For the past few weeks it has been wrapping an RTBF (French Belgian radio and television) new youth series:  “Sorcières mais pas trop!” (Witches but not too much). This series, aimed at adolescents, is filmed in Liège and played by British actors.  

Since early October, a dozen Belgian artists have been filing through to do the dubbing for the first season’s 26 episodes. Manuela Servais, the actress who happened to be there during our visit, is intent on her “score.” Text with annotations scroll on the screen next to the images. Intonation, sighs… all essential directions for the artist. “We’re going to redo this one. Emphasize the end of the word a little more,” instructs Marie-Line Landerwyn, the artistic director.  She’s the one who will guide the actor’s work over the entire dubbing process. “I head up the whole dubbing part. I do the casting, I set up the plan, and I determine the time and budget it will take.” On average, a 26-minute episode will take eight hours.  

The dubbing of “Sorcière mais pas trop!” is one of many projects, since Sonicville studios work year-round.  A dozen studios are located in francophone Belgium specializing in dubbing series or programs for major channels such as HBO, Nickelodeon or MTV. Three of them are sizeable: Sonicville, Dame Blanche and Dubbing Brothers are all located in Brussels. Some are part of French studios.  

How did Belgians become specialists in dubbing? Belgium has an unbeatable price to quality ratio. Dubbing a series or program in Belgium costs broadcasters 30% less than in France. “The French dubbing artists’ strike in the 90s (editor’s note: they were demanding rights on derivative products) helped get our dubbing industry off the ground,” confides Pascal Flamme, Sonicville studio manager. “In the meantime we became specialized. We train the artists. To the contrary of what some French people might still think, the Belgian artists don’t have a Belgian accent.”  

One thing should be made clear, though: dubbing in Belgium has a very good reputation, but only for “smaller” television series.  French studios continue to control the major series like “House” or “The Mentalist.” Up to 99% of movies are dubbed in France. Still, foreign channels automatically turn to Belgian suppliers for certain programs since the artists “cost” less. “For the past three or four years demand in the field has remained constant,” explains Pascal Flamme. “The goal is to raise awareness among Belgian actors. “We are presently seeking more dubbing artists in Belgium. We are making them aware of the fact that dubbing provides stability. The pay is often better than with theater contracts, and we provide work contracts by the day”.  

GÉRY BRUSSELMANS

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One Response to Belgium…the land of dubbing

  1. Paul says:

    Of course it’s quite commendable that Belgian dubbing houses are, allegedly, so much cheaper than the competition from abroad, by definition France (or would that be Switserland or the remote provice of Quebec?) Never mind, the phenomenon provides jobs, a much needed commodity in these parts. So, better to dub it, never mind learning those foreign languages! Everything in the francophone world is dubbed: that way it’s so much easier to understand those foreigners. So much more intelligable, John Wayne in the pretty language of Molière; so much more authentic, the Queen speaking French with a truly French accent: the surest way to interpret the royal words correctly is to have them pre-chewed, no?

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