Movies are enjoyed by a wide audience base around the world, with many films produced by English-speaking countries and distributed worldwide, which necessitates movie translation. Movie production is huge business and several cities and countries claim to be the movie capital. Aside from Los Angeles, where Hollywood is located, New York is a cheaper alternative. Canada and London are in the running as well, aside from India.
It’s often said that English is a universal language, but for a wider audience reach, it is better for films to be in the language spoken in the target territories. This is now something that film producers and distributors consider seriously – preparing their movie releases for global audiences.
Globalizing audiovisual content
Filmmakers and producers of TV shows look for more effective methods to globalize their audiovisual content. Foreign film viewers are able to enjoy films from different countries with the help of movie translation, so films will be available in different languages without incurring astronomical costs. It is almost impossible to produce a movie in other languages to satisfy the demands of different audiences. Producing a movie in one language costs millions, so just thinking of producing one movie in different languages for distribution to other territories is out of the question.
Setting aside budget constraints for movie production, one of the best ways to have movies in different languages is through audiovisual translation. This is done by language services providers (LSPs) with the professional capacity and training to provide movie translation services. Different tactics are involved in movie translations, including subtitling, voice-overs or lip-sync dubbing. These methods are the most common.
Choosing the right methods is very critical. Making the right choice also involves various factors – political, economic and cultural.
This is part of our Localization series. To learn more about localization, please read our Ultimate Guide toLocalization.
Audio dubbing is another term for subtitling. Often using subtitles is the preferred method for smaller territories. Some countries that prefer to see subtitles are Sweden, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece, Finland, Denmark and Belgium. These countries are considered small, with a population that does not go beyond 12 million. This method is more cost-effective for the producers, as subtitling costs less than the other methods of movie translations.
Subtitles are also used for foreign TV programs. Subtitling is popular in these countries because many of the local viewers are able to understand the original language of the movie or TV program they are watching.
Another thing that makes movie subtitles work in these territories is the fact that several languages are officially recognized.
Benefits of using subtitles
For most film and TV show producers using subtitles is a movie translation choice for the following reasons:
- The cost is relatively low. At one point, subtitling is about 15x cheaper than dubbing.
- It provides authenticity to the film. This is because the viewers can still hear the dialogue in the original language and understand what is being said through the subtitles that appear on screen in their own language. Subtitling helps the viewer follow the film’s plot in their native language and still hear the original audio without any alteration.
- The delivery of the film’s plot is better. With the subtitles appearing almost simultaneously with the original dialogue, the film’s intended meaning despite the complex dialogue is effectively delivered. Synchronization between the movements of the actors’ mouths and the dialogue is not top priority when putting subtitles, so the production can add more information.
Where do subtitles fail?
Although subtitling is cost effective, it also has its shortcomings, so there is always a challenge when it comes to choosing between subtitling and dubbing.
- Subtitles slow down the viewer. Reading the subtitles is not ideal when you are watching an action film or a thriller with fast-paced scenes. If you are new to subtitles, you will understand how difficult it is to read them while keeping time with the action happening on screen. If you are a slow reader, the condition is more distracting than entertaining.
- Subtitles have to work on limited space. Subtitles have to meet stringent conditions. It can only remain on screen for about six seconds at the most. One line of subtitles should only have 64 characters and this includes the spaces between words. Only two lines of subtitles are allowed. When there are scenes with heavy dialogue, some of the original message is lost due to the limitations. These restrictions apply to all languages.
- The production time increases. This is because the process of adding subtitles is done after the movie has been edited and all post-production works are completed. Some subtitles are ”burned” into the movie, which means that they cannot be removed. Some producers choose to have the subtitles overlaid onto the film. For many producers, this is a better option because the captions can be turned off.
- The overlapping colors in a particular scene are a concern in creating subtitles. This is because the text may look invisible over certain colors.
Lip-sync dubbing or simply dubbing (also called voice-overs in other countries), is another way to do movie translations. It involves the replacement of the original or source audio track with recorded audio (dialogue) in another language. Spain, Italy, Germany and France are territories where dubbing is favored. Dubbing is more popular in bigger countries where the population is about 50 million or more. In each of these specific locations, one language is officially recognized, so the investment in dubbing a movie becomes more economical as nearly all of the viewers can understand the translated dialogue.
Still, the producers have to contend with other factors such as politics and censorship. In the past, some countries, such as Spain, introduced censorship on foreign films as government officials do not want foreign languages to influence the citizens. The movie translation method likewise has its benefits and shortcomings.
Benefits of dubbing
Producers can recoup their investment in dubbing due to the following reasons:
- Dubbing increases a movie’s appeal to mainstream audiences. It gives a sense of comfort and relevance when the viewers watch the actors speak in a language they can understand. There were expert suggestions that watching a dubbed movie gives a sense of autonomy and national identity. Many viewers say that that can understand the plot better when the movie is dubbed in their native language. Other researchers suggest that subtitles appeal more to audiences who like to watch artistic films. Producers distributing films in larger countries believe that adding subtitles is a better movie localization method that enables local audiences to enjoy the movie more.
- Movie localization is vital to the acceptance of the target audience of dubbed content. Producers seek to ensure the proper localization of their product, so that audiences will enjoy the context of the film based on their cultural preferences and find the humor in unexpected ways. For example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Terminator 2 said, “Hasta la vista, baby” viewers in the United States found it funny, but they also understood the now famous line, because many are exposed to Spanish. But in Spanish, the line blandly translates into, “See you later, baby,” which does not bring out the comedic effect that the original line aims for. Therefore, in the Spanish dubbed version, the producers injected the intended comedic flair by having the dubber say, “Sayonara, baby.”
- In any form humor is difficult to translate. Dubbing however makes it easier for the viewers to comprehend the jokes because some of the contextual details can be made culturally relevant to the target audience.
While dubbing may be the better option for movie translation, it does have its share of shortcomings. Many details and aspects have to be considered when using dubbing for movie translation.
- Choice of voice over actors. In some cases, one actor will be used to dub a particular actor in all the movies he or she is featured. Thus the voice of the dubber becomes familiar to the viewers and they start to associate it with the specific actor. This is fine as it is a one-on-one association. In Italy however, it was the usual practice in the past to use only one voice actor to dub the voices of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But the audience got confused when the two actors were cast in the same movie and the producer had to use another voice actor to do the voice of Al Pacino. Since the audience had already associated the voice to the actors, they were confused to hear a different voice for one of the actors. This could be a major dilemma in Poland, where only one voice actor is used to provide the voice for all the characters in one movie.
- Synching of the voices of actors. Most producers are concerned with the proper synching of the voices of the voice actors with the mouth movements of the original actors in a movie. Often the voices of the dubbers are delayed, which can distract audiences.
Process of movie translation
Just like any translation project, the process of translating a movie is complex and tedious. The client may want to use subtitles or they want the movie dubbed into several languages.
The main considerations when translating a movie are the political, economic, ideological and cultural preferences of the target countries.
Each movie translation option undergoes several steps to complete. When adding subtitles, here are the things the movie translation team does:
- Gather the requirements. This is done by defining the nature and scope of the project, the languages the client requested and how you are going to present the subtitles. The type of exchange is determined (formal or informal). The grammatical structure is also checked.
- Create the assets for the translation. You need a transcript of the source video and create a source subtitle-timing framework.
- The translator translates the dialogue. The transcript should be reconstructed into the target language. The translator has to ensure that the dialogue flows smoothly while ensuring that it is grammatically correct.
- The sentence and timing format are adjusted. This is called subtitle engineering. In some languages, the words and phrases can take more time to be expressed than in other languages. Because of the space and time limitations and to give time for the viewers to read the subtitles, the team does the translation and adjustment at this part of the process. It is to ensure a balance between the timing and the maintenance of the intended meaning of the original.
- Quality assurance testing follows. Native speakers will check the translation to ensure that the subtitles are easy to read and understand. They also check the adherence to the translation to the source material.
- Final engineering. This ensures that everything works properly and the preparation of the subtitles according to the format requested by client. Subtitles can either be prepared to display during run time, like what you see when you watch videos online or embedded into the video directly. The latter is applied to DVD movies.
Dubbing the movie
This process of movie translation is much easier to accomplish. The most difficult part is hiring the voice actors for the job. The team that will handle the dubbing will view the film in its entirety. The project manager will do a review of the source materials and choose the translators the best fit the job.
- As soon as the transcript of the audio is finished, it is adapted or localized and timed for the recording phase. A dubbing stem script is prepared and used as a guide for the frame-by-frame analysis, taking note of the pauses, general tenor and tonal inflections.
- The transcript is sent to the translators who will have to match the dubbing script to the length of each dialogue line in the source video.
- Localization experts use tools to count the original script’s syllables in order to properly adapt the translation to the exact tempo and timing of the original file.
- Voice actors are cast while the script translation is ongoing.
- The directors and translators work with the voice talents as they record the translated script to ensure proper intonation, expression and linguistic accuracy.
- Quality control editors will check the translated dialogue to ensure the accuracy and proper timing of the video and the lip-syncing. Some technical adjustments may be made at this stage, such as speeding up or slowing down the video to improve the lip synchronization.
- Sound engineers will prepare the translated audio track so it can be mixed with source video.
Whether you choose to dub or add subtitles to a movie, it is essential to ensure that the method fits the preferences of your target audience.
Make your target audiences enjoy your great work
While the overseas success of a movie or TV show depends on several factors, movie translation will guarantee that your target viewers will definitely understand the show and the message you are trying to convey. You can never go wrong when you work with Day Translations, Inc. for movie translation services. Our expert translators, dubbers and subtitlers will see to it that your script is presented accurately in the target languages. They will ensure that the translation is highly appropriate to the culture of your target territories. Movie translation is part of movie localization services, which means adapting your script to the preferences and sensibilities of the local audience. Our translators and subject matter experts are native speakers. They live in-country so they fully understand the culture and the nuances of the language. We are always ready to discuss your translation requirements. Send us an email through Contact us or give us a call at 1-800-969-6853. We are available 24/7, every day of the year, so you can get in touch with us at your convenience.
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