IamA translator and subtitler working in-house at one of the largest subtitling companies in the world. Have you ever wondered why professional subtitles are so different from amateur ones? AMA!
Jan 10th 2018 by Birdseeding • 19 Questions • 119 Points
I work as a translator and subtitler for a large localisation company - that is, it does dubbing and subtitling in something like 41 languages, as well as SDH (subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing) and audio description (spoken segments that help blind and visually impaired people follow along in films). It's one of the market leaders and has offices in over a dozen countries, as well as many thousands of freelancers.
Personally, I do subtitles from scratch in two languages (both translated and same-language), translate existing subtitles, write audio description scripts, and to a lesser extent translate synopses, dubbing scripts and other text. I end up doing work for a huge range of clients, from the world's largest media conglomerates to small museums and everything in between. I work in-house in one of the offices of the company rather than from home.
As long as I don't break any non-disclosure agreements or reveal industry secrets, I should be answer to most things about the work and the ideas behind it. AMA!
How do professional subtitles differ from amateur ones?
One thing I think we do so differently to your average SRT-based home anime subtitler is that we're bound by a bunch of principles that constrain what we can write, like:
Reading speed - this is huge. We constantly shorten things in order to make even slow readers be able to get what's being said. A lot of people who use TV subtitles are older and often hard of hearing, and they need subtitles that keep a very moderate pace. Two full lines of text? They need to be on screen for six seconds. That's not negotiable.
Line length and line breaks - we spend a lot of time on dividing lines into easy to read units, and work to technical standards that limit how many characters each line can have.
language choices, like having a totally consistent way of writing every word and term, across entire languages and at the very least entire series of TV shows.
(And of course better QC and stuff. But you knew that.)
Hi! I'm an aspiring subtitler. I graduated as a translator an I've attended conferences and also I had the chance to subtitle some movies for a festival. I know this what I want to do for the rest of my life because I'm really passionate about it and I'm always trying to improve my work. I'm from Peru but I'm currently staying in Mexico. My plan is to eventually live here and live off of my subtitles.
The problem is that I know very little about the financial side of it. Could you please tell me how did you start and how you got to where you are? I hope this isn't too late.
Cool! It sounds like you've got your mind set and you're going for it properly. :)
Because of streaming becoming so large worldwide, the industry is currently undergoing rapid expansion and is hiring lots of new people. Personally, I just applied with one of the big worldwide subtitling companies and was made to do a test, and was then hired immediately. I have heard similar stories from friends, so it's a good time to step into the fray I think! Just write to them and see.
If you can't find one with an office in Mexico (I know e.g. SDI has an office there), consider becoming a freelancer. There are always thousands of more freelancers than people working in-house, and new ones are constantly needed. I'm sure with your degree and experience you should have no problem finding work.
Do you mean like file formats?
Do you have to know another language fluently to do subtitle work? Is there a market for closed captioning English to English?
There's definitely a market for same-language closed-captioning! My office just hired like seven new people in the past month because they got new contracts from clients. They also do templates (i.e. English subtitles that are used by translators to base their versions of, which saves a lot of time.)
are there captioning services or databases dedicated to accurate translation (or even transliteration) rather than brevity?
Yes - certainly the companies that do post-production scripts and templates will do completely word-for-word accurate captions. Some media companies (and many corporate clients) also request to have fully accurate translation or transcription done.