Translating for Subtitles

This year is the fourth time I’ve helped translate the dialog of a Mimiverse film for subtitles and a voice dub. The first time I was asked to do this, I looked around the internet for hints and tips about this process and I found absolutely nothing of help.  It reminds me of the first time I looked for information on the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna Railroad.  There was only sparse inforation available onlne.

So this being my fourth time, I thought I’d tell others in the wide world how we do it. The process seems to have been honed down pretty well.

First and foremost, I want it clear that I am not the leader of this process.  I a merely a worker bee. George Baker is my Teamestro.

These translations are done for Christpher Mihm, who annually writes, casts, films, directs, edits, etc. a B-movie style film.  He has 8 films under his belt, but only the last 3 have subtitles and voice dubs in Esperanto. The current project is actually a double feature of two short films!

Step 1: The Translating

After Mr. Mihm finalizes the script he sends it along to George. George places the screenplay into a table which gives us room to add the translations side by side. He distributes the scenes to the team via a link to Dropbox.  There seems to be four of us translating this time.  I’m priviliged to be among movers and shakers in Esperantujo, though I’ve never met any of them face to face.

First we have to count the syllables in the english lines.  This is done to give us a target number of syllables for our translation. Closely matching the syllable count between the two languages helps avoid the ‘Godzilla Effect’ where the actors mouths either stop too soon or keep moving, not matching the spoken lines.

 

FADE IN  
SCENE 12 – Thick brush on outskirts of native village.  
The group stop on the outskirts of a native village. Hearing something in the thicket, Elijah whispers to call Thorn to him.  
1201     Elijah     4 3
Thorn, get up here. Thorn, venu,
Thorn approaches the form, making some soothing vocalizations. Shengek, seeing the native rise, gasps.  Glorin makes an observation.  
1202     Gloria     4 5
It looks human. Aspektas homa.
As Thorn tries to wave them to silence, Eloe mutters.  
1203     Elijah    3 3
Uwo Vhaim! Uvoŭ Vejm!
The native takes off for the village.  
1204     Thorn     1 2
Damn! Damne!
Elijah consults his watch.  
1205     Elijah     55 49
We’re very close to the village. Looks like we’re dealing with humans.

We’ll approach the village slowly. I’ll lead. Lt. Thorn will be right behind me. Your friend might recognize you. Mike, you bring up the rear and watch the ladies.

La vilaĝo tre proksimas. Verŝajne temas pri homoj.

Ni alproksimiĝos la vilaĝon malrapide. Mi antaŭiros.  Leŭtenanto Thorn tuj sekvos.

Via amiko eble rekonos vin. Mike, vi postsekvu kaj prizorgu la virinojn.

Above is a fictitious example of how our script is laid out. The lines are numbered by a code consisting of the scene numer (here 12) with the line number added to it (1201, 1202…)  We do not translate the scene descriptions, just the spoken lines.  Also, the names are not Esperantized.  In most cases this would add syllables and become prolematic.

When translating the lines, it’s not so important to render it word for word, but rather carry over the essence of the line in such a way that it avoids very wooden speech, and closely matches the syllable count of the English.  Sometimes the English has many ‘flavor words’ that can be discarded in the translation.  Other times there are so few syllables in the English that one has to really think to render a similar meaning.  Trying to preserve a play on words or a joke is usually all but impossible. Someties this is solved by usung a proverb from the Proverbaro.

Shorter lines I can usually do on the fly, matching the syllables fairly well. Since Esperanto is usually spoken a little less clipped than English, it’s better to come in a syllable or two short than over, but we do go over 1 or 2 as needed.  Longer lines I routinely translate on paper and then take account of the syllables.  If I’m over, I go through and see what can be rephrased or clipped.  As long as the essence of the lines remains, it’s OK.

Step 2: Proofing

We submit our work back to George and wait.  The translations get a once over by George, then we are assigned scenes to proofread.  Sometimes there are quandraries that must be worked out. There may be a stylistic error, or a convention established in an earlier scene may need to be brought forward to later ones or one from a later scene carried back to earlier ones.

Step 3: Assigning Parts

When the translation is finalized, George offers a part to the voice actors. There are more voice actors than translators and usually those willing get to voice act the same corresponding English-speaking actor.  Last time this landed me in the lead male role.  I was happy to do it, and glad I got through it.

George tells us which scenes to read (aloud).  I use Audacity to record my line. My microphone is one I bought from Walmart for about $20 and it’s surprisingly sensitive. (I once had to reread a few lines because it picked up my wife playing the piano upstairs while I was recording.)

When we record each line, we begin by stating the film name, the character name, our name and the line numer we are reading.  We then read the line at least twice with slightly different inflections. (I usually have to redo a few because I either slur something or speak too deliberately.)

The sound files are uploaded to a folder on Dropbox after being made into mp3 files, (Audacity makes them WAV files by default.)

From here the process becomes fuzzy.  I know that George and a compatriot do some sound editing before the files are sent to Mr. Mihm before being added to the film.

Step 4: Subtitles, etc.

Last year George had us go over the text for the subtitles as well. He also had us help with an Esperanto version of the fil trailer, which is cool when it appears on YouTube.

The films always premier on or before Memorial Day and I usually receive my complimentary copy of the film a day or two after the premier.  To me that compensation is enough because I also get enjoyment from the translating and recording. I also smile to myself for helping to add something that Esperantists enjoy watching.  The films are usually shown at the main Esperanto conventions around he world each summer.

 

 

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