The defining element of subtitling is ultimately on-screen

“Timing the subtitles to the media, may be viewed in itself as a profession akin to video editing”

In our 8th blog of the series, we received invaluable feedback from Serban Dudau who is an AVT and transcreation professional who specialises in subtitling.  Armed with an impressive and vast portfolio of high-end titles behind his name, such as `The Crown`, `Black Mirror`, `Mad Men` among  many others, he says he encourages content creators to integrate subtitling as much as possible.

His catchphrase “Subtitling is at most 50% translationhas raised many eyebrows over the years.  He says the reason is simple and explains further, “The discipline is surrounded by an aura of mystery and confusion both within the conglomerate of translation-related professions that are known as the “localization industry” and, more severely, within the filmmaking sphere, which heavily relies on it the era of globalization and its inherent accessibility demands. But I have always found it a good conversation starter on the particulars of the media / subtitling dynamic.”

Serban claims that subtitling in its basic form should ideally be as close to invisible as possible, in that the text which interprets the media for the audience must be so well blended into the experience that nothing important on-screen is missed and the viewer never has to feel as if they are reading instead of watching.

He further notes, “The defining element of subtitling is ultimately on-screen, which encompasses both its transformative limitations and creative potential and gives it its unique complexity and character. Spotting, or in laymen’s terms, timing the subtitles to the media, may be viewed in itself as a profession akin to video editing, whereby the containers of the adapted text have to adhere to the creative intention as displayed in the direction and editing of the media, in an interpretative fashion.”

Serban says that this is all achieved while also having to adhere to highly specific technical and linguistic requirements such as limited reading speed that viewers are able to handle, while still observing the action, and continuing with a number of characters per line, number of lines, line breaks, formatting, continuity, character sets, fonts, text size, screen positioning and a whole range of other aspects.

“These are the objects of heavily principled practices that have been developed over decades in different schools of thought and locales, and also of sustained research from the fields of film studies to eye-tracking and to linguistics. The majority of these are, very importantly, open to further interpretative processes and integration into the process of filmmaking, for those content creators willing to open up to the complexities of this complementary profession which makes media functional, but also transforms it, and as such must always be taken into proper consideration as early in the creative process as possible.”