”It’s not a deepfake,“ Darryl Marks tells TheWrap of Holocaust drama ”The Champion,“ which he believes represents a new lifeline for global films
When Adapt Entertainment CEO Darryl Marks bought the domestic rights to the Polish Holocaust drama “The Champion,” he hoped that he could help the film’s story reach a wider, English-language audience. But he told the film’s director that his plan would involve using visual effects and A.I. to seamlessly convert the movie into the English language.
“He said, ‘I think it would be great because I wanted to do the movie in English and had no money to do it,” Marks recalled director Maciej Barczewski telling him. “Just don’t make my guys look like monkeys.”
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While “Parasite” and “Squid Game” have changed the landscape for how English-language audiences consume international content, Marks believes the digital technique they utilized on “The Champion” could become a template for how to take international cinema to the next level.
Adapt now trumpets the “The Champion” as the first complete feature film ever to be digitally converted into another language. The original film, spoken in Polish and German, was released internationally in 2020, but the same film in its entirety now also exists in English, with the actors’ mouths each digitally manipulated word to make it look as though they’re speaking in a different language.
Marks insists that the process “The Champion” went through is “not a deepfake,” or something like the infamous Tom Cruise clips that use machine learning and A.I. to digitally manipulate video or audio. And it’s certainly not a shoddy voiceover dub either.
You can watch a demo above — as well as a behind-the-scenes look at Adapt’s “sync” of “The Champion” into English, which TheWrap shares exclusively. While the footage may look similar to common face-swapping apps, Adapt has used an A.I. neural-rendering process called PLATO to better match the facial and mouth movements of the film’s actors speaking other languages, even when different lighting and angles make that process difficult.
The illusion created for the film is impressive, but the main difference between Adapt’s method and your average deepfake is that the company recruited much of the film’s primary cast to effectively do reshoots of their own dialogue, this time in English. Each actor learned their lines in English and reread them in front of a series of cameras capturing their face and performance from multiple angles. So the actors aren’t being “deepfaked,” but employing technology to digitally redo their own performance. In the video, “The Champion’s” director Barczewski even described the new version of the film as still the original but “enhanced” and now accessible for a much wider audience.
“Do we need the original actors? No. Can we have them? It’s great, because it leaves the authenticity of having the director there, the original cast there, and not taking anybody out of context,” Marks said. “What we’re trying to do is promote this content in the original format in the best light without having to do anything weird.”
Rather than do costly reshoots on location in another language during filming, Adapt’s reshoots with the actors on “The Champion” took approximately a week in a studio, and Marks said the digital conversion process in postproduction is now inexpensive and quick enough to make it feasible for an entire feature.
Adapt’s test run on “The Champion” continues a long line of Hollywood using technology and artificial intelligence to bend reality, sometimes with controversial and ethically dubious results. Video game designers have used AI voice models to develop game narratives, documentary filmmakers have used AI models to sub in for subjects who have passed away or are unable to speak (as Morgan Neville infamously did with the late Anthony Bourdain’s voice for his 2021 documentary “Roadrunner“). And it stands to reason that perhaps someday, technology like Adapt’s can be used to help convert older TV shows into other languages for international markets rather than simply rely on clunky voice dubbing.
Marks believes that the use of the tech on “The Champion” — a film based on a true story of a man who boxed while in the concentration camps and managed to survive — could become a model for other international filmmakers hoping to reach overseas markets. And he points to multilingual actors like Noomi Rapace and Mads Mikkelsen as examples of people who could theoretically use this technology to convert their own acclaimed foreign language performances into English.
“Maybe there’s no more reason to have remakes. Two weeks ago, Sony says, we bought ‘A Man Called Ove,’ the original Swedish movie for $60 million to remake with Tom Hanks. What was wrong with the original?” Marks asked. “What was wrong with ‘Another Round’ with Mads Mikkelsen that Leonardo DiCaprio says, ‘We’re going to buy it and remake it?’ Why? Mads was great! Let’s just keep it with Mads and put it in English!”
Waving off any ethical objections, Marks noted that Adapt didn’t try to bring people back from the dead or use the tech in a way inconsistent with the creators’ intentions. In fact, he’s a fan of international cinema, but recognizes that there will always be a limited market — or even dialogue that quite literally gets lost in translation — when trying to appeal to English-speaking audiences.
As he looks to find a U.S. distributor for “The Champion” as well as other examples on which to use the PLATO model, he believes that not having to worry about subtitles or dubbing will be appealing to both distributors who can make their film more marketable at the box office and to streamers who might be willing to pay a premium to avoid having poorly dubbed international content.
“Why not all the filmmakers that are trying to get their films into a big market, all these films that never get picked up because it’s a great story but who cares about a story from Ethiopia or a story from Vietnam, but maybe now with the technology I can sell it to a distributor,” Marks said. “We’re hoping we can help broaden the audience for these films and not be deterred by subtitles or dubbing.”