Before a film or series can be produced in the target language, its screenplay must first be translated. The translation of a screenplay poses many challenges, and demands a high level of focus and skill from the translator. Particularly important is the consideration of local culture, lexicology, pragmatics, discourse and syntax. Translating a screenplay means finding equivalents for dialogue, scene descriptions and stage directions for the actors, camera operators and other members of the film crew. These translations are often required to find co-producers or distributors for a film project.
Before the script is ready to be shot, several draft versions must be worked on in a continual process of improvement. Despite the fact that the first draft of a screenplay is generally not the version that is sent out to agents, companies or competitions, translations of drafts are still useful and are routinely done in the film industry. While working on screenplays, writers are often in close cooperation with production companies and individuals from different countries. They must therefore have up-to-date translations of their newest draft versions to send to collaborators or coproducers. Translators stay in regular communication with those involved in creating the screenplay, in order to keep track of and discuss certain changes made to the text.
Spec scripts, short for ‘speculative scripts’, are uncommissioned screenplays written by screenwriters hoping to have their work purchased by a producer, production company or studio. They are not written for a particular audience, but rather for a script reader who is often inundated with scripts. Therefore, the style will be tailored to catch the attention of a potential buyer. Specs need to be simple and easy to read, and tend to focus on characters, dialogue and scene descriptions; with less emphasis on acting demands, camera directions and cast lists. Overall, the importance of conveying a compelling story outweighs the need to explain the technical aspects of producing a film. A translator will take careful note of all this when translating a spec script. Furthermore, as the spec’s role is to showcase the writer’s talent, the translator must make a special effort to impart the formal and artistic choices of the writer in the target language.
A pitch is a short presentation of an idea for a film or TV show with the aim of securing funding from a production company or studio to further develop the idea from synopses, outlines and treatments, resulting in a completed screenplay. Pitches are usually verbal but can take a visual format too. They are often used at various stages of the project, including casting, distribution, and while attracting supplementary funding. As these different points often take place in multilingual, international environments, the translator’s task is to adhere to the concise and compelling style of the pitch while adapting their work to the specific purpose of the pitch.
A synopsis is a short plot summary, describing the main events and ideas of a story in a condensed and comprehensible manner. It charts the narrative arc and offers an outline of its conflicts and character developments.
An outline is a shortened version of the script which breaks down the story into its various components. For this reason, it is often called a ‘beat sheet’ in television: a document that breaks down each scene into its major beats. Stylistically, it is often written in a bullet point list, and can serve as an aid during the writing of the full-length script, as well as during the production of the film. As the outline is usually written just for the writer or producer, the translator must be aware of the specific language that has been used in order for the outline to be used as an aid to production.
A film treatment is a text in prose form, usually written before the first actual draft of a screenplay. It is longer and more detailed than an outline and sometimes includes additional directorial comments. A treatment may resemble a short story in its form, but it is written in the narrative present tense, describing events as they happen. Essentially, a film treatment is a simplified and easy-to-follow account of the story, which serves as a direction for the final narrative. Treatments are widely used as preview documents at the funding stage, in order to outline the characters and story of a planned screenplay. Outlines, on the other hand, are part of the subsequent development process.
Shooting films and series always involves many people organizing a collaboration. Each of the different parties has their own interests, and so filmmaking therefore entails a certain amount of risk. The cooperation needs to be legally secured, which is why numerous contracts and agreements are signed. They are designed to protect the individual needs of everyone involved and, if necessary, can be certified officially. Since there are a number of different contract options, all parties are recommended to hire a lawyer who advises them and protects their interests.
Below, you will find a few brief descriptions of the main types of contracts and agreements used in the filmmaking industry.
Acting contracts are written agreements of employment between actors and film productions. They regulate the duration of the commitment, the duties of both sides and the compensation rates.
When signing screenplay option agreements, producers and studios secure exclusive development and shopping rights to a writer’s screenplay. The rights are often bought with the intention of carrying out the project at a later point (e.g. when the necessary budget has been secured). In the meantime, the project is put on hold. There is always a contracted time frame for executives to retain their exclusive rights to a screenplay – this is called the “Option Period”.
Co-production agreements facilitate cultural and creative cooperation between different production companies, or between a broadcaster/streamer and a production company. They define the details of the production (writer, director, length and so on) as well as the management, financing and distribution of revenue.
Writing funding applications has become a core aspect of working life in any industry, not least in the world of cinema, in which funding is both essential and hard to come by. There are diverse sources of funding available to filmmakers, from government grants, donations by non-profit organizations, to film festivals and film institutes. Many of these are, in their essence, international, and welcome applications from across the world. The multilingual nature of these institutions is what necessitates translation – translation that can reflect the artistic complexity of the piece, while complying with the regulations and selection criteria of the funding program. In translating funding applications, translators must recreate the ‘feel’ of the original work within a constrained word count in order to stay true to what the author wishes to convey. At the same time, unlike a purely artistic text, funding applications need to be approached from a technical perspective by a translator experienced in the mechanisms of funding programs and cinematic institutions.
Proofreading is the final step in the editing cycle. During this stage, the translation’s structure and content are compared with the original text in a word-for-word manner. Various cultural considerations are taken into account, including jokes, motifs, allusions and rhymes, which have to be carefully adapted to fit the target language and culture. The text is close to its final form – the version in which it will most likely be read – and this is why proofreaders have to pay attention to the smallest detail, such as typographical or orthographical errors.
Copy editing is the process of revising a written text before proofreading it. Copy editors mostly look for potential grammatical or factual errors and improve the overall readability, flow and appearance of the writing. Their role is not to rewrite whole passages of the text, but rather to make small changes to awkward or inconsistent sections.
They also pay attention to different punctuation, spelling and usage conventions in various countries and, if necessary, edit accordingly. For instance, copy editors would need to be aware of the differences in spelling in British and American English (e.g. colour vs. color, organise vs. organize). Should copy editors come across extensive structural or semantic problems while revising a text, they notify and consult its author.
Besides the polishing or copy editing of whole original screenplays or translated screenplays production companies sometimes only need the polishing of dialogues before sending their scripts off to potential co-producers. This is done in any required language, sometimes in dual dialogue format, depending on the different languages spoken by the characters in the film.
Language assistants work on set or remote to either help to translate and adapt dialogue changes in screenplays during shooting or to train correct pronunciation and intonation with the actor. In this case the language assistant also acts as dialect coach either on set or in online meetings and can even continue accompanying the actors until the post-production process preparing them for the re-recording of certain scenes in ADR.
During production, it is not unusual for the production crew to note that specific sections of dialogue do not work and need to be changed. This can occur when the director notices that some parts of the script have a different feel to them when spoken out loud, compared to the tone of the written version. Alternatively, characters might be altered, or scenes might be swapped around, so that the script needs to be adapted to fit the new version of the film. These dialogue rewrites or changes must be translated too, in order to ensure that the original and the translation offer the same content and writing style.
The on-set dialogue coach plays an essential role in making a film’s dialogue authentic. The coach works with actors in developing the way they speak, be it approximating a native accent in a foreign language or perfecting an accent, dialect or tone of voice in their own language. A dialogue coach will research the time period and the character’s cultural, ethnic and educational background in order to develop a full-fledged, realistic character. An on-set dialogue coach will be present during rehearsals and filming in order to advise the cast on their dialogue and notify them of any changes, as well to as inform the director if the actor has not been delivering their dialogue correctly. They will also take part in one-to-one meetings and training sessions with actors in order to best fulfil the director’s creative vision.
In the last several years, the demand for remote services in the film industry has increased dramatically. With restrictions to the amount of people allowed on set, and the prohibitive logistics and expenses of international travel, many dialogue coaches now work online. A remote dialogue coach can plan meetings and training sessions with actors online to work on their dialogue. During production, an online language coach can watch recordings from set in order to advise actors on their speech within an appropriate timeframe.
It is not unusual to encounter several languages on set. Cast and crew often come from different corners of the earth, especially in international co-productions. To avoid problems in communication between the director, actors, crew and others, many production companies hire on-set interpreters.
On-set interpreters will normally be professionals with a great deal of experience working in a multilingual environment. They have to be acquainted with specialist vocabulary and industry parlance.
The unpredictability of life on set means that a clear head and excellent language skills are needed in order to quickly and effectively communicate the director’s vision, as well as avoid misunderstanding. On-set interpreters establish lines of communication and make sure that everybody knows their role.
Remote interpretation is used when the interpreter and the client cannot be in the same location at the same time. This might be the case for emergency situations where a language service is needed as quickly as possible without having the interpreter travel to the set. Remote interpretation is also used at online conferences with participants in different locations, connecting over the internet. In general, remote interpretation is usually carried out using video conferencing tools, or even over the phone.
Simultaneous interpretation occurs at the same time as the speaker is delivering a speech. This remains a popular and highly regarded interpretative method, especially at large conferences or meetings where multiple languages are spoken.
However, simultaneous interpretation can be highly demanding for the interpreter, particularly when working without pause for an extended period of time. Therefore, simultaneous interpreters work in teams, taking turns after every hour. Resourcefulness and quick-wittedness are of the essence, as there is little to no time between the original speech and the interpretation. It is incumbent upon the interpreter to follow the speaker’s pace and preserve the flow of their speech.
Simultaneous interpretation lends itself to large-scale events, where a pause in conversation may prove undesirable or counterproductive. Interpreters work in specially designed booths, which are equipped with sound insulation, microphones and headphones. As the interpreter listens to the speech, they translate it in real-time into a microphone. This rendering is transmitted wirelessly to the headphones of the event attendees.
Unlike simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation does not occur at the same time but after the speaker has finished speaking a certain part of the whole.
The speech is divided into smaller logical parts, with the interpreter taking notes and transmitting the target language after each segment. Every interpreter has their own personal note-taking technique, availing themselves of symbols, arrows and sometimes even emojis. There’s no single right way to do it; instead, the interpreter chooses the method most natural and efficient to them.
Consecutive interpretation is suited to situations where a slight pause in conversation is less disruptive than it might be at larger-scale events. It is mostly used at small business meetings, interviews, press conferences and the like.
Whisper interpretation is a technique where the message (in the target language) is whispered directly into another person’s ear by an interpreter. It represents a more personal approach and is well suited to more intimate circles, such as smaller conferences or meetings.
Also known as chuchotage, whisper interpretation often takes place in smaller rooms where speakers do not have microphones and there is only limited space available. Since the number of participants is lower, sometimes only a select few will actually require interpretative provision. This is why the words are whispered: so that the interpretation does not impact the overall course of the event and does not bother other listeners.
As an often overlooked but absolutely essential aspect of the post-production process, legal documents set up the framework that protects the rights of everyone involved in the creation of a film or series. The records of the post-production are vital, as they include details on the expenses and payments of all individuals involved, details on final distribution, and documents on any specific difficulties encountered during the three stages of production. Film sets and editing rooms are usually multilingual spaces, particularly when crews film internationally. Therefore, legal documents must be translated so that each person involved in production has a clear idea of the legal framework. Translating legal documents is a specific field of expertise vastly different to the translation of a film script, for example. Legal translators take a technical approach, which calls for a deep understanding of the legal systems of the relevant countries.
Film festivals, as an essential part of the film industry, represent an opportunity for filmmakers to have their films seen, discussed, evaluated and marketed to a large audience. Film festivals are a worldwide spectacle, with the so-called ‘Big Three’ taking place in Cannes, Berlin and Venice. Other noteworthy festivals include Hong Kong, Sundance in the US, Toronto in Canada, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and Belo Horizonte in Brazil. As these festivals represent a significant aspect of the economic side of filmmaking, access to them is of the utmost importance, especially to independent filmmakers and filmmakers from countries with less established film industries. Translation plays a vital role in making these films accessible to distributors, critics and general film festival audiences from across the globe. The translator’s work will vary depending on whether dubbing or subtitling are used to make the film accessible to the broader public.
The significance of marketing in the post-production stage of a film cannot be overstated. In order to gain publicity, production companies employ a variety of techniques, including online content, trailers, posters and flyers. Also important is the critical reaction to a film; if the film receives glowing reviews, these must be made accessible to a global audience as well. The same is true for interviews with cast and crew, backstage footage, and all the other paratextual elements that surround a film. As such, even in this late stage in the film production, the translator plays an important role.
Print media is one of the oldest forms of mass communication. The term encompasses a wide variety of formats, including newspapers, books, magazines, and other forms of printed publications.
Nowadays, as digital media is gaining traction, there has been a drop in the circulation of print media. However, it has not lost its charm – in a way, it has become even more unique. As such, the translation of media gives production companies a wide circulation of published material in different languages, allowing them to reach wider audiences.
Localization is the practice of adapting a film or television series for consumption in other parts of the world. Certain aspects of the text can be adapted in view of alignment with the target culture and specific terms. This post-production process can include the removal of culturally sensitive footage or the replacement of culturally specific references. It also usually includes the recording and dubbing of dialogue in the target language. In some instances, localization does not need to include translation from one language into another at all: for example, many British children’s television shows are localized and dubbed for release in the USA. This shows how someone performing localization will need not just a familiarity with the target language, but also a strong awareness of the specificities of the target culture. The use of slang, the meaning of certain symbols, the legal requirements of a country, these are all considerations the localizer must take into account. They are not just translating the message, but also conveying the feeling of the original text.
Website localization is the process of adapting an existing website to local language and culture in the target market. It is the process of adapting a website into a different linguistic and cultural context, involving much more than the simple translation of text. This modification process must reflect specific language and cultural preferences in the content, images and overall design and requirements of the site – all while maintaining the integrity of the website. Website localization aims to customize a website so that it seems “natural” to its viewers despite cultural differences between the creators and the audience.
In terms of communication, the internet knows few bounds; websites represent a unique way of keeping up to date and connecting with the world. In today’s increasingly globalized economy, demonstrating an international outlook is highly beneficial for companies. It is therefore important for their website to be translated into as many languages as possible. These translations must be of the highest quality in order to allow a comprehensive overview of the relevant information and services on offer. Only with content tailored to the respective language and culture will a potential customer be convinced to purchase a product or service.
A voice-over is a production technique where an extradiegetic voice is used in video or audio material. In other words, we hear a narrator speak over the film. The voice-over is usually read from a script by a voice-over artist. Synchronous dialogue – where an action is narrated as it takes place – is the most commonly used technique. Voice-overs are found in radio, television and film production, and are particularly prevalent in documentaries or news reports, where additional explanations and information are often given to complement the footage on screen. Voice-overs are also used in video games, announcements and at live events.
The difference between spoken voice-over and narration may seem minor from a formal perspective, but in terms of function, the distinction is important. A voice‑over speaker provides an off‑screen voice that is not part of the narrative, as opposed to a diegetic character with dialogue.
A narrator, on the other hand, provides spoken commentary of the entire story for the audience. The narration can be done either by a disconnected third-person voice or a lead character. Voice‑over narration is usually monophonic – involving only one speaker – or polyphonic, as in Citizen Kane (1941), where multiple speakers narrate the story. Beyond simple matters of exposition, such commentary can contribute to mood, subtext, dramatic irony and the overall structure of the movie. This technique plays a critical role in advertising, documentaries, science fiction films and more. The use of a cast of speakers for every role is most pronounced in dubbing one language over another, which is still a hugely popular method of releasing films in different countries.
A voice-over artist is a person who records off-camera narration or dialogue. These recordings can then be used for a variety of audio products, such as films or radio programs. In this day and age, voice-over artists are also increasingly in demand in the gaming industry. When it comes to voice‑overs, be it for commercials, TV series or documentaries, no two projects are the same. Correct and confident enunciation is crucial for the success of the end product, as well as the ability to use different accents in order to adopt various roles. This is why unique and professionally skilled artists are in such great demand.
Voice actors perform for film and television series by re-recording original characters’ voices and replacing them with their own. While in most cases, this is done in foreign language films, it might sometimes be necessary to re-record certain audio tracks in a quiet environment to improve the audio quality and replace segments with background noise.
Dubbers are professionals who, in most cases, have taken acting classes and dedicate a lot of time to honing their voice-acting skills. As facial expressions and gestures are lost in dubbing, voice-actors need to be skilled in expressing all their emotion through their voice. Timing, keeping the tone and feel of a dialogue and knowing the film character inside out are vital elements for successful voice acting. Experienced dubbers are strong actors who often have a voice coach to help them increase their authenticity by finding their own voice. This lets them get the most out of a dialogue.
Dubbing companies engage language advisors for any issues related to the source language of the film or series to help with pronunciation of specific terms and to make the dialogue come across as more authentic or to stay true to the original culture, e.g. Brazilian Axé Music, pronounced as “a’shey”.
The role of the dubbing author is to translate or transfer the dialogue into the target language, with particular emphasis on maintaining the meaning of the original, while making the translation feel natural and credible. However, these tasks are often done by separate people – a translator makes a rough translation of the content while a dialogue writer inserts specialized dubbing symbols and emulates natural discourse. While the translator must be proficient in the source and target language, the dialogue writer must have a strong familiarity with the target language in order to be able to rewrite the dialogue proficiently and, for example, to adapt the lip movements for the dubbing speaker when filmed in close-up image.
The importance of the dubbing director in the dubbing process cannot be overstated. The director is in charge of the script and draws the producer and voice actors’ attention to potentially problematic areas. The director makes sure the talent reads properly, with correct pronunciation, intonation and articulation. Overall, the director is there to ensure the quality of the dubbing in relation to the original and target languages.
Spotting is an important technical step in the subtitling process, in which the IN and OUT times (that is, the beginning and the end) of each subtitle is scrutinized and adjusted. The subtitler must make sure the subtitles are synchronized with the audio, and take into account the time the viewer needs to read them. This process takes precision to balance the minimum and maximum duration times within which subtitles are easily legible, so that the viewer can read them easily without detracting them from the watching experience. The duration of subtitles is strongly affected by what is happening on-screen; sometimes, in order to fully display (even shortened) what is said on-screen, subtitles are carried over to the following scene, maintaining a subtitle through a change of scene or camera angle. The overall goal of spotting is to create an experience in which the subtitles fluently blend in with the audio and other visual elements of the film.
Burn in subtitles, otherwise known as open captions or hardcoded subtitles, represent the oldest form of subtitling. In this process, videos are imported into an editing program and a subtitle track is created over the video file. As their name suggests, the subtitles are indelibly rendered onto the video after which they cannot be removed. This type of subtitling is often used for films which include a different language to the original, so that the content of the dialogue is not lost for the viewer.
A subtitle list is a list of all the subtitles in a film, providing exact information about time or duration. Subtitle lists contain a record of all spoken dialogue and utterances in a direct and strictly verbatim form. Especially for the translation of a film into foreign languages, dialogue lists are very useful as the basis for subtitling.
Subtitle translation is the process of translating video material from one language into another in the form of written text subtitles. Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite (2019), was certainly right when he said, “once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Their miniature format belies the tremendous difficulty of their production. Subtitle translators must reduce the number of words and adapt the text to a restricted number of characters per line, which can prove challenging when it comes to keeping the utterance in question as natural as possible. They must account for stylistic, syntactical, dialectal and cultural considerations as well, while maintaining focus on retention of meaning in an abridged form. Generally, the faster the dialogue is spoken, the more difficult it is to render subtitles accurately.
When creating a film, post-production ensures that images and sound are perfectly synchronized. This is of the utmost importance and is achieved by using timecodes: they represent an essential part of video editing, where particular frames are assigned specific time stamps.
Everything that happens in a video is recorded and sequenced with timecodes. This includes cuts, dialogues, sound effects and – most importantly – how and when the actions on screen take place. This means that each frame has its own timecode, making it unique and easily traceable. Timecodes are usually divided into hours, minutes, seconds and frames, as in the following example: 01:33:28:05 = 1 hour, 33 minutes, 28 seconds and 5 frames.
Timecodes are a vital tool for editors, because they give information about the “where” and “when” of each moment within a film. With the help of timecodes, it is possible to access every second of the video, select and cut scenes, and synchronize audio with video. It is therefore essential that each timecode corresponds to the moment it identifies, which demands great care and precision on the part of the timecode editor. They can then pass on that information to the producer, director, client and so on. Timecodes can thus serve as a form of communication between the editor and everyone else involved in the production of a film.
Timecodes, also known as time stamps, are very useful when it comes to transcription. They are inserted into transcripts at certain intervals, providing a marker of where the text is found in a video or audio file. They make it much easier to listen and follow any given moment of the ongoing conversation or narration.
Timecoded transcription has become increasingly common, as timecodes allow for the accurate alignment of texts in an audio. They facilitate text synchronization by identifying a specific moment in a file.
Transcription is the rendering of spoken language into written text. It is distinct from transliteration, which denotes the orthographic conversion of a text from one script to another. The transcriptive process requires accuracy and precision; paraphrasing and adding or removing information are all forbidden to the transcriber. Transcriptions are useful when making audio programs (podcasts, radio) and very helpful for people with a hearing impairment. While closed captions are encoded in the video with timecodes, transcriptions may only represent the text, without informing us when it appears.
There are two main types of transcription:
o Clean verbatim transcription (also known as intelligent verbatim or non-verbatim)
o True verbatim transcription (also known as strict verbatim, or simply verbatim)
The main difference between clean verbatim and true verbatim transcriptions is the inclusion or emission of some minor elements, such as the following:
o Filler speech, including “um”, “uh”, etc.
o Repeated words
o Speaker idiosyncrasies such as the repetitive use of “like”, “actually”, “sort of”, “kind of”, etc.
o Interjections made by an interviewer or other speakers, such as “yeah” and “mm‑hmm”
o Non-speech sounds, including coughing and throat clearing
o False starts and redirects
o Run‑on sentences
Today, it is more important than ever to capture dialogue accurately and situate it in an exact timeframe. Dialogue lists provide exactly that: a verbatim record of all occurring dialogue and sounds, noting their timecodes and duration to a certain degree. They are very useful for translation purposes and lay the groundwork for post-production services, such as captioning, subtitling and dubbing. Unlike subtitle lists dialogue lists don’t necessarily provide timecodes. As a general rule, they focus more on the content of the dialogues, rather than providing exact information about time or duration.
Closed captions are subtitles which not only represent dialogue but also all other relevant sounds heard within the video material: ambient noise, phones ringing, car horns and the like. Closed captions offer advantages over subtitles, especially to those who are learning a new language, or who may have hearing impairments or difficulties with comprehension. They cannot offer the same experience as actually hearing the audio, but remain a valuable non-invasive accompaniment. The difference between closed captions and open captions is that the former can be turned on and off at the viewer’s discretion, whereas the latter cannot.
Audio description is a type of sound commentary that gives information about a visual resource, which can be particularly helpful for the blind or visually impaired. It describes the body language, expressions, movements, scenes, settings and actions in a film. Audio description is of a supplemental nature: it is not usually played over the existing dialogue, but during pauses in the action.
In cinemas and other public venues such as theaters, audio description remains undetectable to the fully sighted members of the audience. Often transmitted via a discreet wireless headset, this secondary audio track is either provided live or pre-recorded, depending on the event. Especially in English-speaking countries, legislation has been introduced to establish a minimum percentage of audio description across television broadcasts.