by Alexander C Totz
By this point in time, the entire T&I field can be epitomized by the iconic, climactic scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
In this scene, Cary Grant is hunted down in broad daylight in a field by an airplane and nearly dies.
And then the truck, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is my setup to discuss subtitling, and my experiences thus far with it, with an inkling of how I intend to pursue it in the future, hopefully to be discussed in a future article. There is something
distinctly exciting from a T&I perspective about this aspect of our profession, given its relationship with cinema, and how this communicative art and medium essentially arose and flourished during the twentieth century.
What was a uniquely modern and global artform has now been commodified, pulverized, and marginalized as simply another form of what’s become known almost degradingly as “content.”
This, alas, is where we fit in. I began subtitling not long after starting to translate full time after the 2008 financial collapse. I had kind of a lucky break with a renowned subtitling unit, where in very short order I was able to learn the basics of the trade and even get paid to do some very simple and rudimentary work.
The most essential thing for anybody looking to break into this kind of work is that unlike actual translation, subtitling is extremely interpretive and highly subjective and influenced most strongly by the needs and demands of the particular project you happened to be involved in. It’s also worth mentioning at this point the term “spotting,” which refers to where in the frame the subtitle text will go, but more importantly the number of frames in the film (at this point most certainly the digital video) in which text will appear. Because spotting relates to subtitling the way a solid story structure provides a sturdy foundation for what actually unfolds dramaturgically within it. Spotting must unfold in such a way that viewers can quickly and fully absorb the information in the subtitles. And accordingly, the work that we do filling those spaces must function smoothly within the timing and physical space provided.
I have heard of mostly foreign directors who work very closely and repeatedly with certain translators for their subtitles. And I have seen many foreign films, especially in my language pair, where what the actors actually say on screen has only a glancing relationship with the words that appear beneath them.
Hence the interpretive aspect, which even to any casual film student should be entirely logical. Of course original motion pictures were silent, and in so many aspects, the purest and truest expression of this medium, as everything had to be communicated simply through pictures. For anyone starting out in this work, that’s a useful thing to keep in mind. Especially if you’re doing
this on your own or even for a large company.
So how do you condense human speech, generally free-flowing and abundant, which is constricted solely if it all by the director and editor’s various cuts and in some fashion by the writer’s words? My next subtitling experience which went on for a number of months was strongly informed by certain guidelines that the post house for whom I was working provided me.
Those guidelines primarily concerned the spotting parameters, but also the style of the text. My two strongest takeaways from that experience which spanned a couple of seasons, are the primordial importance of any translators to be extremely well regimented with their time, and to have enough wherewithal about themselves and their profession to have no tolerance for disrespect.
Over those five months, I worked crazy hours and extremely hard on dozens of television programs of all varieties, and several full-length films. I developed a certain pride in my work and
appreciated and felt enlightened by a certain amount of the content I was working on. Very quickly though, it became obvious that my client did not display nearly as much professional
integrity and respect toward me. To the point that I briefly discontinued working for them awaiting past due payment.
Ultimately, I resumed work for them and received all the payment that was outstanding. In short order we mutually parted ways, and I soon learned that the company was being sued by numerous other translators who hadn’t been paid at all.
As I’ve stated previously in other articles, it’s extremely important to come into this kind of translation as soberly as possible regarding the strictly and purely interpretive aspect of it. All of that said, like Cary Grant, we T&I professionals fortunately are human, something essential that we have in common with any and all audiences for any content now and in the future.
So the truck. As long as I’ve been a part of this profession, there’s been a steady ambivalence about CAT tools and the like, and rightly so now evidenced by the growing popularization of MAT tools.
With the proliferation of post-editing work, what seemed a help can clearly be construed as a potential hindrance. But wait; I ultimately believe and hope that as long as film and TV are creative
mediums, human beings will be a fundamental, necessary component from start to finish. Unless machines somehow “decide” in their downtime to become Netflix subscribers…