Feedback from translator / subtitlers
Thread poster: diogobarroso

diogobarroso
Portugal
Local time: 07:23
English to Portuguese
+ ...
May 25, 2016

I'm finishing a Master's degree in Translation and Subtitling and I would need some feedback from professional subtitlers on some questions about the reality of the job, since I would like to include that input on my thesis. Any opinion, even if short, is highly valuable for me. Thank you!

- How does the translation/subtitling industry operates in terms of supply and demand?

- Who are the main clients for a freelance translator/subtitler?

- Ups and downs of working as a freelancer in this area? (income, deadlines, amount of work, etc.).

- What are the main difficulties for professionals in this area?

- What is your favourite working method? (in terms of working phase sequence)

- Are translator/subtitlers underpaid? Why? How to fight that?


Thank you very much for your attention!

Diogo Barroso


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 05:23
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Response May 25, 2016

diogobarroso wrote:
- How does the translation/subtitling industry operates in terms of supply and demand?


There is excessive underqualified supply.
All too often I see translators posting on forums (e.g. Proz, Facebook etc.) questions like:
  • I've been hired to subtitle a video. How do I get started?
  • I just love movies! As a translator, I'd like to get into subtitling. What software would do it for me?
  • How much do you guys charge to translate & subtitle a video? (... assuming that they don't have to learn anything to do it)

    Fansubbers abound. As they give the output from their hobby for free, make it available online for download, they don't get feedback, and consequently their quality cannot be expected to improve.

    There are two major markets I know of: movies/TV and corporate.

    Movies/TV is mostly concerned, of course, with feature films and TV series/programs distributed worldwide, in many languages at a time. The only way to make their subtitling feasible is by means of templates, i.e. transcribed and pre-spotted subtitles for translation.

    Though this compromises quality, it is the only economical solution for more than 3-4 different target languages. Translators work mostly on text, while following (and sometimes not) the video.

    Corporate video comes mostly from companies whose core business does not include video production. Most often their subsidiaries overseas will ousource subtitling of their institutional, training, product launch, etc. videos for local use.

    In this case, a script is seldom available, and the highest quality is paramount. Subtitlers work directly from the video alone.

    Of course, there is a wide gradient between one and the other, and anything may happen there.

    - Who are the main clients for a freelance translator/subtitler?


    Subtitling studios, TV networks or stations, video producers, training companies, corporations.

    - Ups and downs of working as a freelancer in this area? (income, deadlines, amount of work, etc.).


    Varying demand at decent rates vs. unlimited demand at low rates.
    Feast and famine cycles all the time.

    Sometimes absurd demands from people who have no clue on what it takes.

    Worst example ever was someone from a TV station who called me at 9:00 AM, saying "I have a 60-minute documentary in English, which must be aired today at 5:00 PM today, subtitled in Portuguese. We know it's hard to do in such a short time, but the sponsor is willing to pay any generously reasonable amount to have it done by then." I told him that it would take me AT LEAST six hours to translate, AT LEAST two hours to spot, which is enough to use all the time available. No time left for downloading and later uploading, and even if I covered my CPU with gold, it would take a quite a while to render the subtitles. So, no deal!

    Clients, of course, strive for the lowest rates. Good clients now and then take a stab at a cheaper translator, get into trouble, and then say "Never again!" A few years later they'll have forgotten the incident, and will do it again.

    - What are the main difficulties for professionals in this area?


    - Poor quality videos
    - Clients thinking "it must be easy", if there are so many fansubbers everywhere
    - People offering sloppy work for peanuts
    - TV networks accepting sloppy work because the sponsors will pay the same anyway
    - No universal standards for subtitling, in spite of some crazy "theoretical" rules
    - Abusively priced software vs. superb freeware available

    - What is your favourite working method? (in terms of working phase sequence)


    I came from the translation for dubbing realm; worked there for 17 years before venturing into subtitling. No special reason, just opportunity and demand. I specialize in corporate video, do feature films and TV series only now and then.

    So my m.o. for subtitling was adapted from translation for dubbing (where my mission ends when I have a dubbing script).
    1. Translation - using Express Scribe & the Windows Notepad, already working on conciseness and subtitle breaks.
    2. Converting TXT into SSA - using Media Subtitler; takes a snap, but solves any charset issues.
    3. Rough time spotting and line-breaking - using Subtitle Workshop; includes spell checking, reviewing, further conciseness.
    4. Fine time spotting - using Subtitle Edit.
    5. Burning - using Virtual Dub and Lee Avery's Subtitler plugin.

    - Are translator/subtitlers underpaid? Why? How to fight that?


    I'm sure they are (underpaid) from the output I often see on cable TV.

    The most likely reason IMO is that sponsors don't include in their media agreements any clause on subtitling quality. If the spectator can't understand squat because of poor translation/subtitling, moves to another channel as soon as the first intermission comes up, and therefore misses all the other ads from the sponsor there, the latter will pay the network exactly the same.

    The only way I see to fight that is with quality, but few companies see a reason for high quality in subtitles.

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  • diogobarroso
    Portugal
    Local time: 07:23
    English to Portuguese
    + ...
    TOPIC STARTER
    Thank you! May 26, 2016

    José Henrique, muito obrigado pelo seu feedback!

    I work for a dubbing/subtitling company in Portugal and I deal with pretty much the same issues you have mentioned. This job is definitely underpaid for the amount of work it takes and I'm trying to figure out if there is any possible idea on how to improve rates and quality within this field (there's obviously high demand), such as some sort of professional regulation that could establish specific standards for subtitling.

    Also, when you work for the Movies/TV market, I assume that you work for an intermediary company that provides you the scripts and videos, or is it possible to work as a freelancer directly with that industry? (provided you have good connections maybe?)
    The main TV channels in Portugal, as anywhere else, have their own subtitling crew.

    When you talk about "templates", you mean the scripts with entry times?

    Once again, thank you for your answers!


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