Imagine you’re watching a key episode in your favorite series, on the edge of your seat, desperate to know what happens next.
Now imagine all of the characters were speaking a language you didn’t understand.
That’s precisely what happened to many Italian viewers last week when Sky aired the seventh episode of HBO’s smash hit The Last of Us in its original language, English. Dubbers across the nation had stopped working, leaving audiences disoriented.
“It was a tough decision to make,” said Daniele Giuliani, President of the National Association of Dubbing Actors (ANAD). “Us dubbers have a passion for what we do, but to get people to listen, we had no other choice.”
The strike, helmed by Giuliani’s ANAD, began on February 21 and was put on pause earlier this week, though the situation in the industry remains fraught.
Giuliani himself is part of dubbing royalty. He’s been the Italian voice of fantasy heartthrob Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in Game of Thrones and of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) in the popular Maze Runner trilogy. His father, Massimo Giuliani, voiced Mel Gibson and Dudley Moore characters and won an award for best dubbing director for the 2013 film Hitchcock.
Why then, with all this recognition, did Giuliani decide to strike?
“The first reason is our contract,” Giuliani explained. “Our national contract expired 12 years ago, which is a very long time when you consider the average for a contract update is three years. It was created in 2008 and a lot has changed since then.”
Giuliani claims the National Association for Cinematography (ANICA), which oversees the national contract, initially failed to respond to requests about a contract update. This wouldn’t be the first time dubbers have gone on strike for this reason; their last national strike in 2014 lasted for 15 days.
“It's not even that our conditions are bad to work in. It’s just that if they were, we wouldn’t even be able to talk about them as there is no security in place,” he added.
His second reason for striking is even more era-specific: artificial intelligence.
“AI poses a great threat to us,” Giuliani said. “There is no law yet that protects us from AI. Our voices can be used and modified by it without our permission. It’s a nightmare and a disaster that no one saw coming.”
Giuliani’s sentiments echo those of fellow dubber Rudolfo Bianchi, who told Variety that dehumanization is taking place in the dubbing world. Dubbers are facing higher demands than ever due to the proliferation of streaming platforms and their need to churn out more content.
A question of quality
Fillippo Cellini, who directs the Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiaggio — the International Grand Prize of Dubbing, which this year takes place March 27 at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome — says that the past two years have been particularly challenging in this regard.
“So much content has come in from these streaming giants abroad and with the number of dubbers we have, there doesn’t seem to be enough time taken to cover it all correctly,” Cellini said.
Cellini has been organizing the Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiaggio — sometimes referred to as the industry’s “Oscars” — since its inception in 2007. Institutional weight is given to both the dubbing profession and the ceremony itself, as high-profile guests over the years have demonstrated; former Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, for example, has attended numerous times.
Cellini wants to keep the standards high, pushing back against the “content churn.” “What this ceremony [aims to do] is to focus on quality,” he said, explaining that the caliber of the craft is under threat “due to this external reason” — the revolving door-like demands of streaming platforms.
In 2018 alone, a grand total of 570,000 minutes were dubbed by professionals around Italy. Though the current number of minutes is unknown, the increase in content would suggest the number is higher. Netflix’s investment in the sector has an average growth rate of around 25% to 35% annually, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The streaming giant has even set up Netflix dubbing-approved studios, known as NP3 studios, around Italy; six of these locations are in Rome and one is in Milan.
When asked whether the strikes would have an impact on the usually joyful ceremony, Cellini paused to reflect for a moment before responding. “For the competition, no,” he offered. “But for the feeling, absolutely yes. I think something will change, especially as dubbing is a community of tight-knit professionals. It’s something very important to consider when planning the night, but I hope it sticks to celebrating good dubbers.”
What’s in store for Italian dubbers?
Daniele Giuliani says that these “good dubbers’” main hopes are for an updated contract and proper recognition of their work. His own wish is for outsiders to eventually recognize and defend the integrity of Italian dubbing; he calls it an “excellence” comparable to “Chianti wine.”
“To defend this excellence, there must be better laws,” Giuliani said. “At the moment, there [aren’t]. But I have hope that the right thing will be done, and ANICA are taking note.”
In the days since Giuliani spoke for this story, ANICA released a statement saying it had had discussions with national secretaries and dubbing sector representatives.
“Until the approval of a new agreement, the parties have agreed to keep the legislation unchanged concerning releases already envisaged in the Collective National Contract Agreement (CCNL) of 2008 in force,” the statement outlines.
Meetings between the parties are due to take place on March 21 and 29.
“Three weeks were enough for us to strike because now ANICA are at their meeting table, so something good has to come from this, right?” Giuliani wondered aloud. “I hope we won’t have to strike anymore.”