rates: subtitling documentary footage
Thread poster: Katharine Halls
Katharine Halls
Arabic to English
Nov 18, 2014

Dear all,

I'm hoping for your advice on what to charge for a specific kind of subtitling.

I subtitle a lot of Arabic films into English. These films are usually documentaries about social issues, broadly speaking. As such there is usually lots of footage of unstaged outdoor/home scenes, and the characters are often from working-class and/or rural backgrounds. There is sometimes a focus on a specific milieu such as workers or farmers.

What this means from a subtitler's point of view is:
- a LOT of background noise and overlapping speech
- accents/dialects which are harder to understand than the urban/middle class speech I am most familiar with (arguably it shouldn't make much difference to rates what dialect something is in, because no dialect is intrinsically harder than another, but in my experience, a) foreigners who study Arabic, like myself, will usually learn one dialect, almost certainly an urban one, and b) it's harder to research non-urban, working-class, rural dialects because these groups are less likely to have an online presence in the kind of places which are usually helpful for finding examples of colloquial Arabic usage, such as chat forums, google ejabat and so on)
- sometimes quite specialised terms eg to do with a factory or agriculture etc.

Additionally, I often get asked subtitle this footage in 'rough cut' format, which is when the director sticks a load of footage together to produce a kind of rough draft, ready to show some potential funders, for example, or to assist a non-Arabic-speaking editor who is going to work on the film subsequently. As such there's usually no "plot" to speak of, because this cut isn't really designed to provide a clear and comprehensible narrative to viewers. Sometimes I then also get to do the subtitles for the final cut, and work is of course substantially easier at that point thanks to all the time I spent slaving over the rough cut.

Like I said, I do quite a lot of this, but I got into doing it through friends and through voluntary stuff, so I've never really attempted to work out a real rate for doing it professionally. Now, however, it's getting to the point where I have enough of it that I want to start charging properly rather than doing it as a favour to friends or asking the director what they've budgeted for because I know it's for a good cause and their money is tight. But it's worth bearing in mind that the filmmakers in question are usually independent--I'm not talking about lavishly-funded documentaries for the UN or the Ford Foundation, sadly

I'd be grateful to hear any thoughts anyone has about what to charge for this kind of work per minute, or even just what people charge for something analogous (because this example is so specific I'm guessing there won't be many other people who do exactly this kind of thing).

Thanks very much and best to all,

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Max Deryagin  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 01:15
Member (2013)
English to Russian
it varies Nov 18, 2014

Katharine Halls wrote:


Usually your rate per minute is calculated as [video's average wpm]*[your rate per word]. So, for example, if the video averages at ~160 wpm (=mid-paced uninterrupted speech) and you rate per word is $0.10, then the rate per minute will amount to $16. Please note that here $0.10 is your rate not per word translated but per word subtitled, which means it includes transcription, translation, timecoding and formatting.

Now, in documentaries there are usually many segments without any speech, which makes counting the average wpm quite tricky — and it will normally be much less than 160. Now, some subtitling tools have a function of displaying the total word count of your script, but to use it you need to first transcribe the video. If your software is capable of doing that then you can calculate the pay this way. The obvious con is that you cannot tell the rate beforehand.

Ultimately, though, it is up to you to figure how quickly you work (i.e. how many minutes you can subtitle per hour of work on the average) and what your comfortable hourly pay is, and then add 2 and 2 to find the best rate per minute. Say, if on the average you can subtitle 4 minutes per hour and your comfortable hourly rate is $30, then the comfortable rate per minute of subtitles will be $7.5.


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