Sevita Caseres on Working Conditions in French Subtitling

In my previous post, I shared the first findings of my doctoral research, which focused on clients, workflows, and collaboration in the subtitling process. The project involved interviews and observations of seven English to French subtitlers. In this blog post, I will further explore these subtitlers’ perspectives on their working conditions.

Working conditions are frequently discussed in the field of translation, and this aspect was also extensively addressed in my interviews with French subtitlers for this project. All participants stated that they love their job; most mentioned the freedom they have in terms of work schedule and remote working, others enjoyed the creative aspect of translation and the thinking process. However, they also all mentioned a negative evolution in the industry, which was mostly due to the globalisation of the subtitling process, notably for OTT streaming platforms. For these platforms, the globalisation of the subtitling process often meant hiring LSPs as intermediaries. This could create difficult conditions for the subtitlers who were rarely allowed to communicate directly with the primary client. Such a lack of collaboration places subtitlers even further down the production chain and decreases rates and the quality of their working conditions.


This globalisation also included the imposition by LSPs of non-user-friendly cloud-based platforms requiring high-speed internet connection; non-editable templates; lack of rights on their copyrighted translations; no systematic access to the full and final video content before subtitling; different shortcuts and subtitling norms; and a replacement of in-person simulations with an online quality check by project managers. Imposed subtitling software depended not on the distribution medium, but on the secondary client that the primary clients (distributors or production companies) have chosen as intermediary. When the primary client chose to go through a French post-production laboratory, subtitlers were usually able to decide which software they wished to use. However, when working for global LSPs, subtitlers could be required to work on the LSP’s cloud-based software.

These cloud platforms allow clients to globalise the content and to gather all files, languages, and stakeholders on the same platform. In theory, this seems like a good idea to centralise the processes, but in practice, subtitlers said that they usually prefer working on their own software they are used to. It has notably been mentioned that the subtitlers’ progress can be monitored in real-time on these subtitling platforms, which is ethically challenging. Among the seven participants, six opted for EZTitles while one subtitler used Ayato and Annotation Edit when given the freedom to choose their software. On the day of my observation, two participants (C and G) worked on imposed collaborative cloud-based platforms with editable templates. On the other hand, Participant B, who worked for a different VOD platform through another LSP, could use her own software, but with a non-editable template.

Many participants expressed discontent with the globalisation of the subtitling process, as it often resulted in insufficient time for project completion. Deadlines play a crucial role in determining working conditions, as inadequate time limits the subtitler’s ability to dedicate ample effort to proofreading and quality control. To expedite the subtitling process and reduce costs, clients now often skip steps like simulations, opting for online quality checks instead. Insufficient quality control can result in errors, subjecting translators to audience criticism, without considering the constraints they faced due to time and remuneration limitations. Alongside this time pressure, subtitlers also faced decreasing rates. Participant E highlighted the issue, stating that subtitlers are asked for “greater versatility and shorter deadlines”, and that their “rates are decreasing despite the cost of living increasing”. This has been mentioned as being particularly difficult when starting in the profession, because as Participant B said, “at the beginning, […] you want to say yes to everyone, but you can’t”. Participant C emphasised that even if “it is tempting to accept any price” […] “it is important to try to defend their rates in order to receive a fair rate and be able to live from this job”. Those working in cinema distribution, Participants A, C and G, still considered themselves fortunate in terms of rates and deadlines. The common element in all interviews was that the Participants highly encouraged translators to advocate for fair rates and deadlines and some recommended following ATAA guidelines to do so.

Participants also frequently expressed concerns about a lack of transparency. Briefs for projects were often unclear, leaving subtitlers in the dark about the content they were working on. They were also unaware of the processes that occurred before and after they submitted their subtitles, as they are at the bottom of the production chain. Participant D, for example, experienced uncertainty about which VOD platform would broadcast his subtitles. Similarly, it happened to Participant F that she expected her subtitles to appear on TV but discovered that someone else had redone them and that her subtitles were actually used for a streaming platform. These instances emphasised an important lack of communication, transparency, and archiving on the part of the clients, who failed to ensure continuity and follow up, which led to subtitles being broadcast in unexpected places and multiple re-translations of the same content without acknowledging previous versions. For many, all of this shows a lack of consideration for their profession and devalues their work and the creative process behind it. Therefore, working conditions hold great importance within the subtitling profession.


Gaining insight into how the profession keeps changing and evolving also helps us understand the threats and challenges that the subtitling profession is facing, and the declining quality of the subtitler’s working conditions. All subtitlers have mentioned that despite loving their job, the industry is continuously challenged, such as by bad practices, tight deadlines, decreasing rates, and new entrants to the market, that change their usual processes and require them to constantly adapt. This underlines how much of the subtitlers’ working process is in reality linked to collaboration with other agents and to the working conditions in which they produce subtitles. This is why it is important to give the subtitlers a voice to share their passion for their profession, their perception of their workflows, but also allow them to express the constraints and challenges they face daily. Subtitlers are more often than not only considered when viewers criticise the quality of subtitles, but are rarely praised for their work. However, what we need to understand is that to be able to provide audiences with the final product on screen, they have worked very hard, and sometimes in difficult and stressful conditions. Therefore, subtitlers deserve greater visibility for the work they produce despite all sorts of constraints, and a deeper understanding of the incredible contribution they make to the cultural industry.

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