E.g., 09/24/2020
E.g., 09/24/2020

Collateral Beauty: Navigating Movie Translation and Subtitling

By: Wafaa Mohiy, General Manager - Egypt Office - Saudisoft Co. Ltd.

26 September 2017

Movie translation and subtitling have always been challenging localization tasks. This is not only because of the intense process and the numerous tools involved in the process, but also because of how tricky it can be for a translator to accurately transfer the director’s and actor’s messages from one cultural context into another.

On my way home from a recent business trip I decided to watch a movie on the airplane. I switched my screen’s language to Arabic and started to scan the options. A movie with an Arabic title of "The Side Effect of Beauty" attracted my attention. I could not resist reading the movie subtitles to see how the translation linked to the message behind the movie which is called "Collateral Beauty" in English. Being bilingual helped me get the idea, but I would not have been able to relate the movie with the title if I had not been fluent in both languages. The problem was that the movie had been "subtitled" into Arabic, but was not properly localized. We have witnessed this problem not only in movie translation, but also in video games and eLearning video translation as well. You’ve likely expenoterienced similar phenomenon.

Subtitling projects are not only about the text/culture, but also about the picture, video, and sound. At Saudisoft, we made some mistakes when we first began our subtitling services. It took some time to turn this service into success. The path was a long one, but here are some high-level tips that may help to shorten yours!

Focus on the Script, not the Text

Before you start translating make sure that you comprehend the overarching idea of the movie and how each scene delivers on the theme to ensure complete comprehension of the narrative, as well as the character’s personality and style. This allows you to convey the ideas appropriately from start to finish.

Quotes vs. Jokes

Pay special attention to the difference between quotes and jokes. While the quotes of public figures should be translated faithfully, jokes are culturally sensitive and may require some adaptation or even re-writing to be appropriate for the target culture.

Sound Management

Sound management may not be necessary in all subtitling projects; this depends entirely on the client request. In some projects, adding labels or sound captions may be necessary to add meaning to the scene. For example, if the speech is not clearly heard or there is a need to express a background noise or show the source of the sound.

Timing and Display

It is important to display captions at the exact time when the words are spoken. This displays when the scene starts. It is also important that they disappear with the appropriate timing.

Another display issue you may have to deal with is the screen width. Make sure that the translation does not go out of screen and/or wrap right.

Keeping the text length and speaking it out loud will help with the syncing part of the subtitling process.

Deliverables and Tools

Client requirements are always the key here. Make sure you understand if you are delivering SRT files which are time coded documents that can be imported into the subtitling software or if the client will embed the translation into the video. If the embedded translation is required, a multimedia/localization engineer is required to handle the task.

BiDi Challenges

Last but not least, if you are handling subtitling projects for bidirectional (BiDi) languages (e.g., Arabic), you need to pay attention to the BiDi features that may not be supported by all tools. These features could include reading orders, neutral characters, and alignments.

The below screenshots show the display/reading issues and the alignment issues

Fig 1: Below shows left aligned text (1) that has neutral character issues (2,3).

Fig 2: After fixing the issues.

Fig. 3: Wrong alignment and reading order due to bilingual text (1,2) and a neutral character issue (3).

Fig 4: After fixing the issues.

In summary, subtitling projects are full of challenges and do not follow the normal cycle of translating, editing and proofreading (TEP). It is not only about the text to translate or the CAT to use, it is the story, the characters, the visuals, and sound effects that you need to worry about.

However, such projects can also be educational and fun! Our team enjoys subtitling projects; they think it’s a great treat to watch movies or play video games during working hours.

Wafaa Mohiy

I started my career more than 25 years ago in the international and localization industry as a software engineer. I then moved to localization in 1994 and since that time I managed and helped to manage many localization projects for clients across the world.

My main areas of expertise cover management (account management, project management and resources management); automation and process enhancements; internationalization and localization; and translation automation and tools. I am now a member of Saudisoft’s board and am helping to set the company’s strategic directions and goals.

It was an an honor to be selcted by my colleagues in the localization industry to be a GALA Board member for the 2016-2017 period and I look forward to cooperating with everybody.