Subtitling for Screenwriters

Emmanuel Denizot works as a translator in Paris, subtitling US and UK films and TV series for release in France. Here he explains the process of subtitling movies in a foreign language.

As a teenager growing up in France, I fell in love with both cinema and the English language. I used to videotape subtitled versions of British and American classics broadcast very late at night. Everything else on television was dubbed — the dialogue replaced.

At the time, I couldn’t have agreed more with Gena Rowlands when she said, “I like subtitles. Sometimes I wish all movies had subtitles.”

It used to be very difficult to find theatres showing subtitled films in France, but they’ve become much more popular. Today, most Parisian cinemas show subtitled films, and it’s almost a challenge to find dubbed versions of foreign films in the city.

Getting the words right

In this day of technology, when subtitles are all the rage and anyone can have a go at amateur subtitling, it’s easy to overlook how complex it is to subtitle a feature film. It takes rigorous, creative professionals to provide quality subtitles.

The subtitling process goes as follows:

  1. Time-cueing. This involves creating the captions (in English) along with time-codes. This part is fairly straightforward, but you need to respect shot changes and other constraints.
  2. Translation. This is my job.
  3. Simulation. The subtitles are checked in the lab with a proofreader and the client. In the event of a theatrical release, the distributor will pick their own translator, whereas in the video world it is most often the subtitling company which will subcontract a subtitler and handle the job.

Translating a film is just a long series of solutions to be found and traps to be avoided.

John August | Read the Full Article