The eerie audio playing in the opening scene in “Joker,” where muffled newsreels are heard as the protagonist, played by Joaquin Phoenix, puts on clown makeup, is thanks in part to Susan Boyajian.
The Scotia-native has had a hand in some of the most popular films and TV series in recent years, both the post-production process and on-screen. She’s carved out a career not only in voice-overs, and running a voice-over school, but in Automated Dialogue Replacement, or looping, a part of the industry that many aren’t even aware of.
“After a movie or a TV show is in post [production] we go in as actors and we fill all the background. All the people you see sitting at a cafe or being in combat, that’s all actors, that’s all me casting that,” Boyajian said.
She runs her own company called Loop Out Loud and has cast for films like “Joker,” “Freaky,” “Space Jam Two,” and more.
While in recent years her work has included a lot of looping, she began her acting career with theater. From the time she was around 8 years old, she would join in the plays at summer camp
“I’m a theater person; that’s where I really started and then all through high school I did all the plays,” Boyajian said.
After graduating from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School in 1981, she attended New York University and received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
“I did a lot of theater there, but then I started getting into on-camera commercials and things like that,” Boyajian said.
In 1986, just a few years out of high school, she was able to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
“I got my SAG card and that was my official ‘Oh, you could maybe do this for a living,’ ” Boyajian said.
She spent the next few years in New York City doing on-camera work and theater work, even touring with “Godspell,” which made a stop at Proctors. Then in the mid-1990s, she auditioned for a TV show pilot in California.
“I never thought I would come out to California, ever. I mean, I’m a New Yorker, and that’s where I grew up,” Boyajian said.
Yet, she fell in love with California and, though she didn’t get the part, decided to move out there. It proved to be a challenging transition.
“Those days there were no iPhones, there really [weren’t] any computers. It was so different. I did a lot of on-camera [work] when I first came out here so I had to run around with a map. The first two years were crazy,” Boyajian said. “It was very hard and then little by little I met wonderful people at The Groundlings that became very good friends.”
The Groundlings Theatre and School is an improvisational troupe that boasts alumni like Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell and other stars. She auditioned soon after moving out to California and got in.
“I worked my way up and that really changed everything out here for me. From there, some casting person was in the audience and that’s how I got into voice-overs. It kind of plays into everything,” Boyajian said.
Began with ‘Titanic’
As far as voice-over work goes, she’s done everything from “Spongebob Squarepants” episodes to “The Angry Birds Movie 2.” She’s also been on several TV shows like “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The thing that’s got the most attention recently is looping, for which she was featured in the New York Times last year.
“I got into looping probably 28 years ago. The first looping job I did was ‘Titanic.’ But it was really just a fluke. It was out of the blue, somebody knew me, somebody recommended me,” Boyajian said. “I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I liked it. It really involved improv, you have to be quick on your feet, and I liked it.”
Thus, a few years ago, she started her own ADR casting business.
“I love casting actors because I’m an actor . . . And I love performing and I love directing,” Boyajian said.
It’s a complex side of the business. Her work begins when a movie or TV show is in post-production. She is usually sent a copy of it before she meets with the sound supervisor and the dialogue editor to go over what’s needed for each scene. Then, she works with the production team to cast actors, the number depending on the needs of the scenes and the production budget.
“You have to cast what is appropriate for what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s a teen movie, like I just did the movie ‘Freaky’ with Vince Vaughn and that was all teens,” Boyajian said.
Then for the TV series “Marco Polo,” she had to cast Mongolian actors.
For horror films and series, she has to cast actors who can match the screams and sounds of the terrified characters on-screen. These sounds are usually recorded in a studio and sometimes not even by the stars of the show but by voice-matched actors, and it’s part of Boyajian’s job to cast them.
As she told the New York Times back in October, she might listen to 15 screams a day, trying to find the right one for a project.
In recent years, she’s worked on movies like “Get Out,” “Doctor Sleep,” “The Invisible Man,” and “Fantasy Island.”
“It’s funny because I’m more of a comedy person but I do a lot of horror,” Boyajian said.
During the pandemic, work has changed to a certain extent. She now has a microphone and a sound booth of sorts at home so she can do voice-over work from there rather than depending on studios.
“But work was pretty good last year,” Boyajian said. “Right now it’s a little quiet because production had stopped for a little while so now they’re figuring it out, but I’m waiting to hear what’s going on with some shows that I’m doing and the movies that I’m supposed to be doing.”
She’s also able to run The Voiceover Connection, a voice-over school that she took over more than a decade ago, through Zoom.
While she’s loving the career she’s created, Boyajian said it didn’t happen overnight.
“I absolutely love what I do; I’m very lucky. But I always say this to my students, you don’t know where you’re going to land. I never thought I would teach, and that opened up so many doors for me, running my voice-over school and then. It’s just who you meet along the way and I love helping and it just all comes back around. I’m very lucky, but it’s also been a lot of work too,” Boyajian said.
Her advice for others who want to do what she does?
“I think you have to love what you do. I really feel, if this is what you want to do, however you land, go for it. I started before I was a teenager and I’m in my late 50s now and I still love it. I still have a passion for it . . . But you have to be patient. Have fun, and try different things.”