“I concern myself with the characters” – a conversation with Katalin Dezsőffy-Rajz

Delivering a story as a director is always a tough job, but it can be even harder when it comes to dubbing. Katalin Dezsőffy-Rajz is one of Hungary’s most appreciated dubbing directors, currently working at SDI Media Studios. She is majorly known for her works with the series Misfits (U.K., 2009), Scandal (2012), Vikings (2013), How to Get Away with Murder (2014). She is not one to sugar-coat her opinion, not even when it comes to her colleagues, films, or even to the Ukrainian mafia; despite her bluntness, she is a very laid-back person, with great taste and an admirable devotion. Since she is very busy with her work, our chat took place at the studio, where I got to meet one of her colleagues as well.

What does your average day look like?

My average day…? I usually get d1up at six, have a coffee, skim through the work from the day before, leave home around eight, practically fall through the door of the studio where the sound engineer is already waiting for me, we start at 8:30 and usually finish around six, seven, sometimes eight. We have an hour lunch break. When I get home, I spend some time with my family, fortunately, my sons can manage on their own. One of them is eleven, the other twenty-one. Then I work a bit more. I edit, I assign the roles, such things. I usually work until I fall asleep.

How did you become a dubbing director?

I’ve been István Vajda’s (dubbings for The Wizard of Oz, Monthy Python and the Holy Grail, Home Alone) assistant at Pannónia, for whom I have tremendous respect. It was around that time that MAFILM Audió was founded, he left Pannónia Studios to produce cine-films there. We started off with cine-films but later moved on to VHS films. We had very few technological resources, so one of the guys working there came up with one that would make things easier. My husband and I paved a new way. Office love, you know. That’s how it all began.

Do you remember your first impressions of MAFILM?
Back then, when we started it wasn’t even MAFILM Audió, it was only the sound department of MAFILM Studió that dealt with Hungarian dubs. The first film we worked on with Mr Vajda was Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987). The atmosphere was especially nice, that I remember. I stayed for a long time, we were like a family. Of course, MAFILM was a small company back then, today not so much.

When it comes to (dub-)directing, which genre do you prefer most?

I like everything that concerns itself with the depths of the human soul, irrespective of genre. I worked with a pretty good horror once, Feardotcom (2002). I enjoyed it, because it was exploring the darkness of the soul. Nevertheless, I was still pretty terrified when I was working on it alone in the dark hallway.

Was there ever one that represented a challenge?

I took part in the touch-up process of János Szász’s Sóhajok hídja at MAFILM, that was challenging. Here, I am my own woman, but with that film, the director was there with us, and he made a lot of comments.

On what basis do you assign the voices?

I concern myself with the characters. There are some who try to find a resemblance either in looks or in tone, I don’t. It may not sound or look the same, but there is something to it. Plus, I don’t like working with dub-machines. I respect the voice-actors and I like working with them, but it’s good to be adventurous sometimes and take the path less walked.

Which do you prefer more when it comes to dubbing them: films or series?

This is a very strange thing. If I have the time, I rather watch TV-series, I lack the patience that a one-and-a-half-hour film requires. Films are a whole: the story lines must be developed during that one and a half hour, so you don’t have much time to work with the characters.

I enjoy working more with series, but I can get bored of them, I think there are but few ones that really need a second, third, even fifth season. I would start to itch after the sixth, for sure.

Are there any series that you would be interested in directing?

I got to work on Mr Robot (2015-). I was thrilled. I would like to get my hands on Sense8 (2015-), even if I don’t like American series that much, I don’t think that they are so exciting character-wise. I enjoy English, Scandinavian series. Despite all of this, I started watching Good Behavior (US, 2016-) and This Is Us (US, 2016-). The latter might be dubbed here.

What do you think about the anti-dubbing movement?

The era of the new generation is upon us. I still have a job and will have for quite some time. I like to say, that if the world is ending, you should move to Hungary, everything happens here 40 years later. What I don’t understand, are the cinemas. People might watch series and films with subtitles at home, but you go to the cinema to relax. If you don’t understand the original language, you will have to decide either to watch without knowing what is happening or to read. If you choose the latter, you will miss out on the main happenings.

I have to be honest with you: generally, I don’t like Hungarian dubs, but still, there are some films and series from my teenage years that I watched with Hungarian dubbing and enjoyed. Those are, funnily, your works, my favourite being Misfits (UK version, 2009-2013).


Lauren Socha as Kelly

Glad to hear that. It was a tough cherry, Misfits. Our hands are tied to some extent. One of the main characters, Kelly (Lauren Socha) gave me quite a headache. She speaks in a very strange way, it’s hard even for her peers to understand her. English has a variety of dialects; we can’t do that in Hungarian. However, Éva Dögei, who voices her, came up with an idea: there are those people who don’t speak with a particular dialect, but you still have a hard time making out what they are saying. Kind of like hooligans.

Of course, after the screening of the pilot, people became grumpy about it, and Évi told me that they are whining on the Internet. Now, I don’t usually get involved with such things, but I felt like telling my side of the story. I was really polite, really nice. Silence followed, then comments such as: “it must’ve been tough”, “we wish you the best”, “great job” etc.

Does this happen a lot? The actors getting their feelings hurt?

Actors are sensitive. Same thing happened with Ballers (2015-).

At this point, one of her colleagues popped by, we had a brief chat with her as well, discussing how actors usually blame play readers when they are not at their best. They revealed that there are, indeed, instances where the play reader is at fault.

Does the relationship between play readers and actors make things harder or more exciting?

We’re all friends here. The actor comes in, makes a fuss, but you don’t have to take them seriously.

I suppose you have to take off your gloves when it comes to handling them.

Everyone has their own methods, mine is not to handle them with kid gloves. Still, you need some sensitivity to be able to differentiate between a fuss and a real issue, this is hard to do when it comes to actors. I am a polite person, but when they are acting up, my patience only goes so far. You can throw a tantrum between two takes, but I won’t allow it during recording. This is not why we’re here. If I see that they truly have a problem, that is different. I’m not talking about the instances where the script is bad, they will try to correct it or fill it with meaning. If there is something serious going on, you have to soothe their problems so that it will build into their work. It is like taming a nervous, noble stallion. It could break out any given second, so you have to be very gentle.

Back to the question of translation: it is quite a task to translate in such a way to keep the original meaning, but still to make sense. (ed. note: this interview is a prime example for this)

This is easy in Hungarian, as we don’t have a strict order of words. You can move the important things within a sentence. Play readers usually commit the mistake of writing things down in the simplest manner and put a break somewhere where it has no justification.

Is there a piece of work that stands out from the others?

d6The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991). It came at the perfect time. The message, working with the voice-actors, it was brilliant. I also liked Misfits, that was an absolute professional challenge. I liked its atmosphere, it’s hard to put into words. I also worked on EDtv (Ron Howard, 1999), that was a bit harder, because someone’s already done it, and I was requested to work with the same voice-actors. I also directed Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of Senses. It makes the hair on your back stand up, I’m curious how would they make it today. There’s a Japanese director, Take Shikitano, I really like his films. I actually got to work on his Achilles and the Tortoise. The way he illustrates the artistic devotion made my jaw drop. He can talk about the most complicated things in a very simple, yet poetic way.

You’ve mentioned that you had to re-dub several works.
I had to redo some of my own as well. For example, I worked twice on All of me (1984), with Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), once I was assisting, once I made it myself, worked twice with the third part, and once with the fourth.

What are the reasons for the redos?

Technical changes, mostly: the first versions were usually stereo, the second ones 5.1.

What are the differences between the situation from 20 years ago and today?

When I started, we used good old fashioned tapes. Cutting them and the like. Then, the first big change came: we switched to VHS. No, sorry, it wasn’t VHS yet, but I really don’t remember what was it called. Still, it was better than VHS, we had programs for it. This was around 1987-88, sound was already digitalized.

Are there any changes regarding the actors?

The actor stays the same. After coming back from New York where he conducted Meryl Streep’s and Jeremy Irons’ audition, Róbert Alföldi said that the actor is the same everywhere you go. They’re in a vulnerable position, they are willing to fight for the role. Being an actor is about the want for appreciation.

You’ve been in this field for a really long time, you’ve seen the trends come and go. Do you have any predictions for the future?

Films are losing their essence, actors become objects that you can put into any position you like. Films are all about directors, so if the actors want to do their real job, they’ll be willing to play in TV-series as well. In the USA there is a clear-cut distinction between film actors and TV actors, nowadays, the boundaries are getting blurred, which means that there is both a need for quality series. I feel like the era of the CSI series is over; mainstream and abstract series are ruling the scene. That is, if they are good, like Mr. Robot.

Yes, this is becoming more and more fashionable. For instance, Matthew McConaughey (True Detective, 2014), Anthony Hopkins (Westworld, 2016) are the latest examples.


Poster for the 5th season of Orphan Black

Oh, I did the dubbing for the original, 1973 Westworld. I didn’t like it, and I’m not interested in the series either. Though, if the professionals see potential in it, they will pay good money. Initially, big names only appeared in series for fun, because they were friends with one of the crew members.

Series actors are underappreciated if you ask me. Now, I’m really happy that Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, 2013) won an Emmy. She’s brilliant. I think that series is funded by the Canadian-Ukrainian mob.

Finally, what would your reaction be if your kids decided to follow in your footsteps?

It hasn’t come up yet. Both of them are interested in one form or the other of film-making. The older one is doing voice-over translations, but is more into animation; the younger could make a great sound engineer. We’ll see.

Kovács Zsóka



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