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Native Sound Production Company Dubs Lakota Language for Disney+ Marvel Studios Film

by Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, Buffalo's Fire

A group of four people sit in a half circle. One person with a low bun looks at a laptop. In the foreground a video camera records them.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Archambault
Ray Taken Alive, left, 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 CREDIT/Lawrence Archambault

Grey Willow Music Studio & Productions worked with area Lakota-Dakota language speakers to dub "The Avengers" 2012 film, expected release is in April.

This story was originally published by Buffalo’s Fire, the independent news platform run by the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance, a Native-led, Native-woman founded non-profit. Their focus is to raise the visibility of Native peoples through storytelling that reflects the beauty of Indigenous language, arts, culture. 

Grey Willow Music Studios & Production is quickly rising as a leading studio sound production company that works directly with major studios across the nation. Located on Standing Rock Sioux Nation land, Grey Willow’s business leaders produce sound and music in the entertainment world.

One day, the Grey Willow sound production team sat in their studios in Fort Yates, N.D. and thought aloud about what could be. “It would be cool to have “The Avengers” in Lakota,” Lawrence “Larz” Archambault told Buffalo’s Fire. “It was a joke.” Initially said in jest, it’s now a reality with the Lakota version scheduled for release in April.

“Mark Ruffalo was a huge help in introducing us to Disney-Marvel Studios,” said Archambault, founder and president of Grey Willow. “When we started talking, we said we wanted everything — our language recordings, translations and our actors – to be ‘By Natives, For Natives.’ That’s our motto.”

It took about 15 months for the Grey Willow team to dub 2012’s “The Avengers” from English to the Lakota-Dakota language. The local sound creatives hired 62 Lakota-Dakota language speakers to help translate and record the script.

Archambault, Hunkpapa Lakota, was born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, treaty land that straddles both the North Dakota and South Dakota border. He carries the name Seven Elk, Hehaka Sakowin. After high school, his passion for music led him to attend the Musicians Institute of Technology, MIT, now named the College of Contemporary Music in Hollywood, California.

He later returned home to Standing Rock in 2017 and realized there were no job opportunities for someone who wanted to do studio production work. “I know music. I know business. I know production,” he said. “I am going to start a studio.”

He founded Grey Willow in April 2017. He has since achieved film industry recognition as a leading ADR, or Automated Dialogue Replacement, company. “Funny title actually, there is nothing really ‘automated’ about it at all,” said Archambault. “A great actor helps tremendously in the ADR world. The actor must not only recreate their performance on the set but also get near-perfect lip sync with the film.”

Archambault gives all credit to his younger brother Cyril “Chuck” Archambault for making the connection with Ruffalo. He also gives props to Ray Taken Alive and Dallas Nelson – men Lawrence Archambault takes as his brothers — for the idea of making ADR film dubs in Lakota.

The Grey Willow production team includes Archambault’s son and brother, respectively. Xavier L. Archambault serves as head engineer and Chuck Archambault leads marketing and public relations. “You don’t see any studios that are 100% Native-family owned and operated throughout the country and Canada in the ADR-Film world,” said Archambault. “We are the first of its kind that’s all Native and we’re proud of our work.”

Archambault’s team perfected their skills by shadowing the legendary Disney Studio sound engineer Doc Kane, a 30-plus-year industry veteran with more than 500 film credits in his portfolio. “Lawrence and Xavier at Grey Willow Studios, absolutely great to work with,” Kane wrote in an email.

“Mark Ruffalo was a huge help in introducing us to Disney-Marvel Studios. When we started talking, we said we wanted everything — our language recordings, translations and our actors – to be ‘By Natives, For Natives.’ That’s our motto.”

Lawrence Archambault (Hunkpapa Lakota), Founder and President of Grey Willow

“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,” he wrote.

For Archambault, “It was a dream come true meeting and working directly with Doc, the knowledge he shared with Xavier and I cannot be measured. Plus the stories of his experiences over the years being at Disney Studio B and working with Brett Voss. The history of Studio B was such a beautiful vibe.”

Archambault said the most rewarding and satisfying aspect of his work centers on helping talented musicians in the community create something extraordinary. He’s worked closely with the local organizations on audio projects, including the Lakota Language Reclamation Project.

Four people standing in a recording studio lounge.
Photo Credit: Dawn Biro
Left to right, Lawrence Archambault, founder of Grey Willow Studios, Brett M. Voss, Doc Kane, audio engineers Disney Studio B, and Xavier Archambault in Fort Yates, N.D. sound studio on Dec. 14, 2023. PHOTO CREDIT/Dawn Biro

“The amount of care and detail they put into the translation to remain true to the Lakota language was amazing to see,” said Alan Hayslip, Deluxe Studios senior sound editor, English dubbing. “We look forward to working with them on future projects.”

Grey Willow operates in a 1,800-square-foot studio in Fort Yates, N.D. attributes its audio post-production and ‘voice-over’ success to open communication with clients and creating workflows that meet the specific needs of each project. “When we do that, we become a partner that delivers predictable and consistent results on time and on budget,” said Archambault.

The Standing Rock-based company offers its services in North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as the film industry at large, including post houses, film companies, and video producers. Grey Willow has also 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.