By Kelly O’Donovan
Subtitles were always a part of post-production, but the demand wasn’t so intense until recently. For the most part, subtitled movies and documentaries travelled to film festivals or were distributed abroad.
However, in the last five years, global content streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have exploded the subtitling scene. It’s important to understand just how much these streaming services have changed subtitling.
Making entire media catalogues accessible to worldwide audiences has erupted into a huge increase in demand for foreign language subtitles for films and TV.
A third of the entertainment industry is consumed by the US; but not only does the US send media out into the world, its consumption of internationally produced content is booming. Some of the most popular recent non-English shows on Netflix are: La Casa de Papel (Spanish), Dark (German), 3% (Portuguese), Cable Girls (Spanish), Suburra (Italian), Marseille (French) and Devilman Crybaby (Japanese).
Not only has the streaming giant’s relentless growth forever changed TV watching in the US, it started to generate this same craze across Europe in recent years.
The popularity of foreign language shows has helped the industry see the global potential of non-English language content, and the demand has prompted LSPs (Language Service Providers) to develop scalable subtitling workflows to simultaneously process large quantities of content, in multiple languages, for rapid internationalization.
One major challenge encountered by LSPs is subtitling between non-English source and target languages. There is a lack of foreign language speakers to meet the increasing demand for foreign language content in non-English speaking countries, and LSPs are struggling to find the necessary talent.
For instance, Spain and Latin America are experiencing a boom in Turkish television series. There are only a few qualified and available native Spanish speakers who speak Turkish fluently enough to subtitle all the content from Turkish to Spanish.
Most likely, the series needs to be subtitled first into English and then into Castilian or Latin Spanish. In such a workflow, a timed-English template would be created from the Turkish proxy. The English template is then translated into Spanish, and the in and out times are altered to accommodate the different syntax and idiosyncrasies of Spanish.
A subtitler normally translates and formulates subtitles in accordance with the visual rhythm of the film as defined by the scenes and shot changes, the rhythm of the actors’ speech and the reading rhythm of the target audience.
It would be exceedingly unusual to have the same in and out cues for the subtitles in English and Spanish due to the intrinsic disparity between these languages and their varying sentence structures.
This workflow consists of quality and understanding of the content. Not only that, it adds additional steps to the subtitling workflow process which results in more hours needed to complete the project (possibly quite unfavourable when working against a tight deadline). Additionally, there are extra costs.
As mentioned earlier, the shortage of qualified subtitling resources between non-English language pairs has left LSPs with the disadvantage of having to produce subtitles using this workflow.
That said, with the increase in foreign language subtitling, the demand for qualified subtitles is growing expeditiously and LSPs are in need.
This trend is not only changing the subtitling industry, but also subtitling as a career and profession. Judging from the surge in subtitling, I am confident we will see a rise in available qualified subtitlers, and more specifically for non-English language combinations.
Subtitling is an art form on its own. When it is done well, all the distractions of film seem to fade, and results in an incredibly well-told story.