Grey Willow Music & Production Studio and Disney+ Marvel Studios “The Avengers” in Lakota | The Path to Partnership

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From the left, Ray Taken Alive, Grace Draskovic, Ruby Shoe String and Myron Uses Arrow translate 2012 "The Avengers" script from English to Lakota-Dakota. More than 60 people participated in Grey Willow Music & Production Studio collaboration with Disney+ Marvel Studios. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Archambault)

We recently caught up with Lawrence “Larz” Archambault from Grey Willow Studios LLC to get his thoughts on the future of work and Native American Indian groups in the production and audio post production sector. In this interview he shares a remarkable journey from musician to world class dubbing expert and what it takes to achieve authenticity, quality and sustainability for his people.

Can you describe how Grey Willow Studios was founded? 

I was born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, treaty land that straddles both the North Dakota and South Dakota border. I still carry my birth name Seven Elk, Hehaka Sakowin. Life on the Standing Rock SIoux Reservation included music on every corner and in every district. After high school, my passion for music led me to attend the Musicians Institute of Technology, MIT, now named the College of Contemporary Music in Hollywood, Calif. 

Upon returning home in 2016 and realized there were no job opportunities for studio production work. This also went against my own beliefs that music can positively change the lives of our youth and community. So I thought what do I know from lived experience?  The answer was I know music,  I know business and I know production so I’m going to start a studio. A year later In 2017 I opened a recording studio and offered music lessons. Since then it has taken off as far as helping our youth in achieving their musical talents. Today both schools on Standing Rock have music programs back in their curriculum. Grey Willow Studios is now growing as a leading studio sound production company that works directly with major studios across the nation. 

Left to Right Standing Cyril, Xavier Archambault Sitting Lawrence “Larz” Archambault

What are the primary services Grey Willow Studio delivers?

We offer full Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) production music composition services for music, TV and Film. Great ADR is achieved by the voice talent not only recreating the performance on the set but also getting near-perfect lip sync with the character on film. Having support from a creative director and sound engineer enables actor performance, efficiency and sustainability.

Recently we added Dubbing post production services for TV and Film which fulfilled a life time ambition to do voice dubs to enhance and revitalize our Lakota-Dakota language. As our elders always told us “the language starts in the home and on of the best ways to get the language in the home is through the television.’ The Grey Willow production team includes my son and brother. My son Xavier L. Archambault serves as head engineer and my brother Chuck Archambault leads marketing and public relations. You rarely see studios that are 100 percent Native-family owned and operated throughout the North America in the ADR-Film world. We are the first of its kind that’s all Native and we’re proud of our work. 

Our family and team are committed to lifetime education and training to perfect our skills. As part of thai journey we were privileged to shadow the legendary Disney Studio sound engineer Doc Kane, a 30-plus-year industry veteran with more than 500 film credits in his portfolio. It was a dream come true to meet and work directly with Doc, the knowledge he shared with us cannot be measured. The stories of his experiences over the years being at Disney Studio B and working with alongside Brett Voss another industry icon was such a beautiful vibe. 

Collectively this ongoing education and training has paid huge dividends in our confidence and ability to compete with other studios for Tier I projects. Equally it has re-inspired us to keep helping talented local musicians to create something extraordinary. This includes working closely with local organizations on audio projects, including the Lakota Language Reclamation Project with the likes of Ray Taken Alive and Dallas Nelson. The amount of care and detail they put into the translation to remain true to the Lakota language is amazing to see.

From the left: Lawrence “Larz” Archambaul, Brett Voss, Doc Kane and Xavier Archambaul ADR training at Disney Photo courtesy of Lawrence “Larz” Archambault

What trends do you see driving change in the entertainment and media sector?

Growing global consumer interest in the first peoples of North America, their culture, history and their stories. Historically indigenous languages have been taken away and shunned upon over the years. In our local area we witnessed that in boarding schools and other public agencies. Growing up in my era we were not taught the language in fear of the boarding school mentality. Thankfully we have overcome this as a first peoples nation and developed ways to revitalize the languages. 

In recent years the entertainment and media sector has finally realised consumer audiences want to experience first people stories being told authentically.  This includes sharing the local language through subtitiing, dubbing and voiceover while ensuring narrative sovereignty.

Leadership, staff and great talent often play a huge role in organizational success. Can you share any insights on who has influenced your success and your approach to business?

My home, my language, and my culture has inspired me to participate and contribute to the sector in an authentic way. As a small but growing business Grey Willow has limited resources and although we are a for-profit company we have operate like a non-profit organization. This means that we see the good that people are trying to do and accomplish and we support them to deliver on their vision whether that be Elder talks, music, audio books, film or TV. A key part of our support is to provide guidance and services for archiving IP for future generations to ensure we keep our language alive.

Can you share any insights from any recent ADR or Dubbing projects? 

Yes. We collaborated with Lionsgate Films to provide sound for the world-class motion picture and television conglomerate’s “Two Sinners and a Mule” handling all the ADR for actor Chantelle Albers now on streaming platforms. Lionsgate houses the popular franchises of John Wick, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. We also joined forces with the drum group Showtime Singers to provide the soundtrack for “Sacred Dog,” an ESPN E60 documentary about Indian Relay Racing. The film debuted on Dec. 24 2023 and was selected as “Best Showcase Documentary at the Soho International Film Festival.

However the biggest recent project was working on Disney | Marvel Studios “The Avengers.” This was dubbing the original feature from English into our local Lakota- Dakota language. Funny enough the inception of this project was surreal. One day, the sound production team and I were in the studio and I said out loud… wouldnt it would be cool to have “The Avengers” in Lakota? It was a joke, initially said in jest, however before we knew it Mark Ruffalo, who knew my brother Chuck, was introducing us to Disney | Marvel Studios. When we started talking with them, we said we wanted to do everything local — our language recordings, translations and our actors – to be ‘By Natives, For Natives.’ That’s our motto. And now this a reality with the Lakota-Dakota version scheduled for release in April 2024 This also becomes the 73rd language of the Disney |Marvel Studio franchise.

What is The Avengers basic story line ?

The Avengers is a American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a storyline the main characters Nick Fury and the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton to form a team capable of stopping Thor's brother Loki from subjugating Earth. 

What technology did you use on The Avengers project?

Adobe Premier Pro, AVID S1 and AVID ProTools and VoiceQ.

Were there any challenges in the project?

The local sound creatives hired an incredible 67 Lakota-Dakota language speakers to help translate and record the script! Ensuring we had the correct translations and adaption for the dub scripts was critical. In a few cases there were no direct Lakota-Dakota words for the english terms. To overcome this we worked closely with Lakota-Dakota experts to get quality translations, some terms and phrases changes, while ensuring any adaption of the translated script was authentic and correct. 

With our local voice actors recording we noticed that they would typically read scripts with their heads down and deliver mixed performances that we would have to redo. However once we implemented VoiceQ prompting technology our voice actors were able to look up and see their lines and prompts on the screen. This significantly helped their confidence and ability to deliver quality performances with less repetition. 

Another amazing part of this project was the original cast of Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo wanting to help us and reunite in a scene in which they speak their lines in Lakota-Dakota language. With some coaching, enthusiasm and their professionalism it went really well and speaks volumes for them as people who respect culture as part their craft.

From the left: Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., doing remote recording sessions for The Avengers Lakota Dub. Photo courtesy of Lawrence “Larz” Archambault

VoiceQ supported all talent to achieve great performances and allowed us to deliver The Avenger Lakota Dub at the same quality as the original english version. This is reflected in comments we received from Disney and Deluxe representatives. 

"Xavier & Lawrence at Grey Willow Studios, absolutely great to work with and I see the passion they have in this industry. Huge future in this industry with them as I am behind them every step of the way, I am very proud of their accomplishments and the relationship we have here at Studio B with them." Doc Kane, Disney Studio B 
“I was fortunate to spend some time with Lawrence and Xavier at Grey Willow Studios this past summer. Their professionalism and incredibly welcoming demeanor were only overshadowed by their attention to detail, beautiful studio, and understanding of the post sound process. You are in great hands with Grey Willow!” Brett Voss, Disney Studio B
“As a mixer one thing I really appreciate is working with well recorded material. The first thing I noticed when I started working with tracks from Grey Willow Music was how great the raw unmixed recordings sounded. When I met and started collaborating with Lawrence and Xavier and I realized that the level of quality of their work stems from their passion for what they do, and the care they put into the projects they work on.” Wade Chamberlain, Senior Mixer, English Dubbing, Deluxe
"For the Avengers film we worked side by side with Grey Willow Studios during the dialogue edit and mix. In addition to having great recordings, the amount of care and detail they put into the translation to remain true to the Lakota language was amazing to see. We look forward to working with them on future projects." Alan Hayslip, Senior Sound Editor, English Dubbing, Deluxe.

We all have challenges in business, be it financial, lack of talent, logistics and tight timelines but as a collective we strived to keep moving forward with what we had. Everyone on the wider team stepped up during some very long hours over 15 months to deliver a quality project we can be proud of.

Local talent from the Fort Yates region recording sessions for The Avengers Lakota Dub. Photo courtesy of Lawrence “Larz” Archambault

How did you come across VoiceQ technology?

We first witnessed VoiceQ at Deluxe Studios in Hollywood LA while training with Doc Kane and their team to deliver Tier 1 dubbing projects. Once I had seen VoiceQ in action I asked what it was and how easy was it to implement. From that moment on it was clear we needed it in our studio workflow. 

Where does VoiceQ provide the most workflow value for Grey Willow Studios? 

Having technology that enables quality adaptation and recording for creative and technical talent is huge value. Additionally VoiceQ enabled our local talent to quickly develop competency to deliver and voice our own dubs and has propelled our company to  the next level of post production.

Why did you choose VoiceQ as competitive solution and has it provided expected value? 

VoiceQ has the most complete cloud and on prem tools on the market with unbelievable support. It is easy implement and useful across a wide range of projects, huge value for money. As a boutique studio it helps us to remain relevant and competitive with the bigger studios within the sector. Without a doubt adopting VoiceQ has been a blessing on our progress. 


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