Subtitle Chats Recap – Take 4

Welcome to another Subtitle Chats recap! Our latest chat took place on Friday, 9 June, and we had a lively discussion about workflows, training, working with different kinds of clients, and so on. 

Topic: My Ideal Subtitling Workflow 

The purpose of this chat was to give everyone a chance to share their thoughts on what their ideal subtitling workflow would look like and hear others’ thoughts on the topic. We discovered that there are some variations due to local practices and differences in clients. For example, some subtitlers prefer to do their own spotting, while others prefer it to be done by someone else. However, there were also lots of similarities. It is important to have control over one’s work, such as being able to modify templates if you use them, or being able to choose which technological tools are used and how. Some new tools, such as speech recognition, seem to be getting better and more useful, and we also heard encouraging comments about how templates are better than they used to be. Still, it was interesting to hear that even with good templates, the subtitler can find themselves adjusting about 95% of the subtitles, so there certainly is still plenty of work left for the subtitler, and having the ability to adjust the timecodes is a necessity for good subtitles. 

We also talked about the nature of spotting. How much time does it take? Is it a few days or more like 1,5 times as long as the programme duration? There seem to be significant individual differences. There are also differing opinions on whether spotting is a technical task or a creative one. If subtitling is an art, is spotting art too? We’d love to hear additional comments on this! In our discussion, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that it is a creative task and can be a part of the subtitler’s vision for how a particular programme is to be subtitled. That said, opinions certainly vary, and local traditions, legislation, and administrative aspects of the work (e.g. tax issues) may influence whether a subtitler sees spotting as an integral part of the subtitling process. 

Since many of us who took part in the chat had experience of teaching subtitling, we also ended up talking about training subtitlers, and especially how and whether to include spotting on subtitling courses. Students may be hesitant to do their own spotting at first, and in fact, many of them will probably end up working with templates, so they will not do much spotting in their careers. Because of this, many good local spotting traditions may end up being lost, but it is still useful to train students to do spotting, so that they understand how it works and are able to adjust timecodes when necessary. We also discussed the potential of using poorly spotted templates as a teaching tool to demonstrate the problems it may cause. Another important point was that if a student does not learn spotting, their career options will be narrower, as they would not be able to work for direct clients who do not use templates – and who tend to pay better. It was also mentioned that students should be encouraged to discover the practices that work best for them, because there is no single correct workflow. They should also be aware that a single subtitling course does not make them competent subtitlers, and you need plenty of practice and experience to become a true subtitling expert. 

Finally, we talked about working with different kinds of clients, and educating clients about subtitling. Especially when working with direct clients, such as production companies or directors, some handholding may be necessary, if they do not know how subtitling works. But if you are able to work with the same people repeatedly, the education may pay off and result in good, long-term working relationships. Some clients may have significant misconceptions about subtitling, such as imagining that subtitling is fast and easy, and that subtitlers can easily make a lot of money. Therefore, an open dialogue may lead to better working relationships. It also seems that research on subtitling is very unfamiliar to clients, so it could be worthwhile to join forces among practitioners and researchers, and inform clients about research-based best practices in subtitling. Of course, it is also useful to educate viewers and encourage them to complain to providers about poor subtitles, because that is the only way we can pressure companies to invest in quality.

SubComm Updates

We shared some updates about SubComm’s infographics project, which is progressing nicely. We are working on four infographics, two on the subtitling process and two on subtitles and who uses them. We are hoping to have outlines for all four of them ready in the autumn. We also mentioned that the next subtitle chat is being planned for September. We have not chosen the topic yet, and anyone is welcome to suggest a topic for us. So if you have anything in mind that you would like to chat about, please let us know! 

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