Like other major innovations such as the automobile, electricity and the airplane, cinema emerged and changed the world forever. The movie industry has changed lifestyles, fashion trends, has born stars that shone and set, has created both divine comedies and human tragedies that left the whole world in awe.

The primary purpose of movies is to please the public, to create large communities of fans around movies, actors and directors. However, we should not forget that the movie industry is a gigantic one and, in the end, it is a business. According to the statistics and facts available on Statista, the United States leads the film market worldwide, with an amazing box office revenue of 11.32bn USD from 1980 to 2019.

The Grief Surrounding the Death of an Actor Mid-production

More often than not, friendships and even love stories bloom on the set. When you are with your team for months for filming, it is difficult to maintain a strictly cold and professional relationship. You become attached to those you work with, eat and travel with during the production of a film. Actors, producers, screenwriters, technicians and other employees are human beings and develop emotional attachments.

That’s why everyone involved in producing a film feels devastated when they face the death of an actor mid-production. Most of the time, it feels the same as losing a dear friend, not just a coworker. Be it a tragic death or a natural one, it is an event that leaves families, friends, co-workers and, of course, fans in tears.

Beyond the background of grief, however, solutions must be found to continue the production of that movie, even if only to the satisfaction of the fans who are waiting for it or to transform the project in the final tribute for the passed away actor.

Movie Producers’ Dealing with the Passing of an Actor

Unfortunately, the passing of an actor mid-production did not happen only once or twice. Here is a short list of actors who didn’t get to finish their last project:

  • Paul Walker, Fast & Furious 7
  • John Candy, Wagon’s East
  • Heath Ledger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  • Natalie Wood, Brainstorm
  • Brandon Lee, The Crow
  • Roy Scheider, Iron Cross
  • Marilyn Monroe, Something’s Gotta Give
  • Aaliyah, The Matrix Sequels
  • Oliver Reed, Gladiator
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hunger Games series
  • Heather O’Rourke, Poltergeist III
  • Vic Morrow, Twilight Zone: The Movie
  • Chris Farley, Shrek
  • River Phoenix, Dark Blood
  • Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon
  • Richard Harris, Harry Potter franchise
  • John Ritter, 8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter
  • Carol Ann Susi, The Big Bang Theory
  • Freddie Prinze, Chico and the Man
  • Phil Hartman, The Simpsons
  • Jerry Orbach, Law & Order: Trial by Jury
  • Cory Monteith, Glee
  • Anton Yelchin, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia
  • Carrie Fisher, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Bill Paxton, Training Day
  • Miguel Ferrer, NCIS: Los Angeles
  • Luke Perry, Riverdale
  • John Spencer, The West Wing
  • James Dean, Giant
  • Jean Harlow, Saratoga
  • Bela Lugosi, Plan 9 From Outer Space
  • Don Rickles, Toy Story 4
  • Redd Foxx, The Royal Family

How did the movie producers deal with the actors’ disappearance mid-production? Well, there were not very many options:

  1. They replaced the passed away actor and reshot the sequences in which that actor appeared. This solution was viable when the filming was closer to the beginning than the finish (The Matrix Sequels).

Also, in other cases they hired a stand-in and continued to shoot, when the filming was closer to the finish (Fast & Furious 7, Wagon’s East, Brainstorm, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Brainstorm, Saratoga, Plan 9, Poltergeist III). Very often, the result was not well-received by fans and critics.

  1. They used some CGI computer work to recreate the actor’s face in the sequences he should have appeared. The results were remarkably good for those times, but cost tremendous sums of money (Iron Cross, The Cross, Gladiator, The Hunger Games II).
  2. They stopped the production in order to cut their losses (Something’s Gotta Give, Dark Blood).

Voice Cloning: A Huge Help for Movie Producers

When facing the passing of an actor mid-production, movie producers can also receive a huge help from voice cloning technology.

It’s relatively easy to bring a stand-in who looks similar with the passed away actor and use some smart camera angles, but what about the voice?

What are the chances that the replacing actor has a similar look and a similar voice?

Or what are the chances to find an actor with a similar voice and way of speaking to do the voice-over for the remaining part of the movie?

Near zero. Not with hundreds of thousands of fans that would harshly sanction such sin against their idol, as it happened so many times (Wagon’s East, for instance).

That’s why voice cloning is so useful in such cases: with only a voice sample of the passed-away actor and the Respeecher technology, the movie producers can generate discourses and dialogues in that actor’s voice. The quality will be so good that the human ear cannot distinguish between the real voice and the generated one. Of course, Respeecher does its magic only with permission from the passed away actor’s estate.

Have you ever seen the deepfake short movie called In Event of Moon Disaster? This is the perfect example of what voice cloning can do. In this famous project made for MIT, Respeecher used a voice actor. The voice conversion system that was used to synthesize Richard Nixon’s voice made it sound authentic. In this way, we could have a glimpse of what Nixon’s discourse would have sounded like if the Apollo 11 mission had failed.

Of course, this raises the question of ethics: what if the voice cloning technology gets into the wrong hands and leads to mass misinformation? Well, Respeecher assures us that this can’t happen, as they only work with those voices they have approval for.

Without this fear, we are free to embrace the voice cloning potential and possibilities and go with an open heart towards a brave and evolved new digital world.