Mysterious Cities Of Gold: Howard Rysphan interview

As the dubbing director for Mysterious Cities Of Gold, Howard Rysphan was already kept busy - but then he got the task of voicing Mendoza too. Here he tells us all about it...

Howard Rysphan had worked on dubbing programmes into English for some time before The Mysterious Cities Of Gold entered his life. Over two decades later, people are still talking about it, too….Dubbed imported programmes into the English language, particularly in childrens’ television, haven’t got the best of reputations. Were you conscious of that when you approached the English dub?

I was always aware of the fact that English dubbed versions of features, live series and children’s animated series were always suspect and were not as well received as they might have been, that’s why I always approached every project with the desire to do the very best that I could, no matter what the circumstances or constraints were. By the time that I was asked to direct Mysterious Cities Of Gold, I had been directing dubbing for nearly 20 years so I was very much aware of the pitfalls.Mysterious Cities Of Gold isn’t a short project, of course. How long did the dubbing process take, and what challenges did you face?

There were 39 episodes so, in a week we would record two episode, edit all the sound tracks, enrich the foleys when needed and then do a final mix of the tracks and send to the lab for broadcast copies… so the recording of the series alone took place over a period of about five months.

How patient were the actors you used? Did their age work in their favour?

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As I remember we always had a good time and the actors worked very hard. I would say that the age of the children worked in favour of the series. I always used children to play the children’s roles since it’s the rare adult that can read lines the way a child can. Only in extreme circumstances did I ever use an adult to do a child’s voice. Or if there was a stray line here or there I might give it to a woman actor to do in order to save some time. I say this because as much as possible I always tried to book the young actors after school hours.

Were you always going to dub Mendoza yourself?

How I got to play Mendoza came about in a strange way. After two or three days of auditions and after Doug Parry, my recording engineer and I were ready to wrap up and send the auditions off to DIC and the producers in France, Doug said “I think we are short a voice for the Mendoza character”.

It was already 2am in the morning. I said “I am sure we have enough voices to send. Besides we have some great voices that would be terrific and I don’t know about you but I’m pooped.” Doug persisted and said he wouldn’t feel comfortable without sending another voice. You have to realise we always sent the voices without names. The voices were always numbered and the client always made their choices based on what numbers they were without knowing who the actors were. I hauled my weary bones up to the mike and laid a voice track down. It was made part of the package and they were all sent off to Europe in the morning. I must tell you that Doug and I were very surprised when the answer came back from Europe that I was chosen to play Mendoza.

Was there ever any pressure to dilute some of the harsher moments in the story for the English version?

Yes, but not what you might expect. There were actually three forms of pressure that were brought to bear. One was from the BBC who was always particular in the use of language. We were to avoid contractions as much as possible. Two was Nickleodeon, who sent a supervisor up from Boston to be with us during the recordings -that young supervisor has now become the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry today! We also sent the scripts, in advance, to Nickleodeon. They wanted to evaluate the language and if need be to use more restrained language in cases of violence and to make sure that they did not contain any language that might upset their viewers. Three, the toughest and harshest critics were ourselves. As a parent myself I was always thinking in terms of what I would allow my own children to watch. I have a second family and my current children areabsolutely engrossed in the series. They just adore it. I am amazed at how well it holds up after all these years.

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How long did you get to complete the dub?

When we got the final go a head and got ahead on a few scripts, I would say it was probably something like six months to do the 39 episodes. And that was really moving in those days. We worked very hard to be consistent and to maintain a level of quality in the writing, in the performances and in the recordings.

Howard Rysphan, thank you very much!