Why Subtitles are important to the film industry

Subtitles are ubiquitous. We come across them daily when watching videos on phones or tablets, laptops or television, including the big cinematic screen when we can get to a cinema.  Subtitles are used in virtually everything now from video games and apps, corporate promos, You Tube videos, demos, educational and training videos, titles for live performances, such as opera or bilingual theatre, online tutorials, reported speech on TV, museum or art exhibits and “ad infinitum”.  

No longer are subtitles only deemed to be necessary for those with impaired hearing but are perceived as imperative to anyone wanting to watch content when in noisy places or with the sound off.  Subtitles assume an audience can hear the audio, but need the dialogue provided in text form as well. Whereas closed captioning assumes an audience cannot hear the audio and needs a text description of what they would otherwise be hearing.  

It is evident that subtitles are now beginning to finally play a key role in international movies gaining global recognition and even helps them win awards.  Subtitles support upcoming filmmakers by providing accuracy and fluency in order to help directors receive the recognition they deserve on the regional and international stage.

At long last, Subtitles are being accepted and acknowledged as being hugely important and relevant to filmmakers. This was recently highlighted after multi Oscar award-winning South Korean black-comedy thriller “Parasite” made cinema history by winning best picture, a feat that no other subtitled film has achieved in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards.

Parasite” movie Director Bong Joon-ho used his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes to champion subtitles and encouraged audiences not to be put off by foreign language films. He said once audiences “overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” they will be introduced to so many amazing films, further noting that we use only one language: –  “the cinema.”

Critics have praised the quality of the “Parasite’s” subtitles, saying they allow foreign audiences “to laugh in all the right places.” Darcy Paquet received media attention as translator of the English subtitles for director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”. In an interview with Korea.net last year, Paquet was quoted that he was happy that the art of subtitle translation was in the news and that a close partnership with the director, combined with good planning and ample time for subtitle revision, ultimately led to a better result.

In addition, localisation goes hand in hand with subtitling and entails adapting cultural references in a movie or series to local standards or expressions. Right from the synopsis phase through to pre-production and post-production, lip-sync dubbing and voice-over screenplays, – these localisation and subtitling skillsets are involved in making programmes and movies coherent for all audiences.

Netflix and Amazon productions are also making use of subtitles, with examples such as “Roma” and many Amazon series. Riccardo Mimmi is a skilled localisation specialist and subtitler based in Italy and has been translating and subtitling literally hundreds of well-known movies, TV series, and documentaries from major Hollywood studios, broadcast networks and online streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon over the course of his entire career. Some of the many titles he has worked on include the likes of, ‘Klaus’, ‘Salvation’, ‘The Man in the High Castle’, ‘Vikings’, ‘American Hustle’, ‘The Americans’, ‘The Office’ and others. Passionate about his work, Riccardo said, “The goal of any filmmaker is to convey messages and emotions by transposing stories and characters to the screen. Localised versions are only as good if they are faithful to the creative intent that sparked their creation.”  (https://auvitranslator.pro)

Universities and colleges are on board with gearing subtitling students for the film industry and make an impact. A great example is the Hellenic American College in Athens, which is offering subtitling courses in leading subtitling software platforms in its Masters in Translation (MAT) Program and Audio-visual Translation Lab.  Students in the MAT program acquire the credentials to begin a career in translation, audio-visual translation and editing. They have the option of specialising in the creative industries and entering the world of audio-visual translation, gaming localisation or translation for museums or advertising companies.

Dr. Vasilis Manousakis, who teaches Literary and Audio-visual Translation at Hellenic American College, is an artist in his own right, having subtitled and translated a broad range of genres, series and films produced by Disney, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and Netflix, including “House of Cards”, “Lost”, “The Good Place”, “Star Wars” and “Game of Thrones”. His diverse professional and creative background has provided him with well-informed teaching material. He noted,  “Our industry is made up of companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney; they all require Accessibility Functions (Audio Description and SDH).” (http://haec.gr/en/master-translation)  

Coordinator of the MAT Program and Associate Director of the Ph.D. in Language and Communication at Hellenic American University, Dr. Themis Kaniklidou has observed the growing segmentation of the market, with the emergence of new fields such as localising video games and subtitling for streaming services and the immense progress that has been made in machine translation bring new opportunities. She believes that advances in artificial intelligence will repurpose the work of professional translators, with a lot more post-translation editing demands, a task, she confirms, students in the MAT program are already adept at handling. She added, “We’re providing our students with what the market demands, both in content, with the program’s courses in specialisation translation, translation technology and audio-visual translation, and in technology.” (http://www.hauniv.edu)

Another researcher in Audiovisual Translation, Stavroula Sokoli, who  has been working as a professional freelance subtitler, translator and conference interpreter since 1995 and authored over 20 publications on the subject of subtitling shared her views on why subtitling is important to filmmakers, “When you think about all the care and attention that has been put into crafting a show’s authentic, sparkling, emotionally impactful dialogue, it’s a no brainer that the same care and attention needs to be put into the subtitles for viewers with other languages. It’s through subtitles that you can access not just the story of a foreign film, but also each character’s own personality traits, communication style and nuances of speech. International success depends on quality localization and this is something that producers and directors like Alfonso Cuarón and Bong Joon-ho are very much aware of.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sokoli/)

Another major advantage that subtitling brings to filmmakers is that it does not add any large expense to the budget. Both filmmakers and broadcasters need to view subtitling as an affordable “add-on” that increases product value, adheres to accessibility rights, and gives a competitive edge.

Furthermore, Subtitles play an essential role in helping to improve communication – a fact verified by our current times during the present Covid-19 global pandemic.  The United Nations and World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) along with governments across the globe are relying on using videos with subtitling to demonstrate urgent and emergency messaging to populations. Ranging from instructional and practical advice from washing hands to providing educational and instructional details on facts and figures and lockdowns surrounding the coronavirus contagion, subtitles have provided an invaluable resource and communications device across phones and television to convey messaging across entire countries and continents concisely with clarity.

Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading –  Vanessa Wells, who has edited captions and subtitles for producers of documentary and indie films, streaming, and TV programming and is a subtitle, caption, fiction editor commented on what she feels subtitling brings, “Normally when we talk about the benefits of subtitling, a list of reasons is easily produced: it enables the sharing of film with other countries and cultures; it helps people learn new languages; it brings text alive, such as through opera supertitles; it provides services to the deaf and hard of hearing; and so on. These are all uses with merit and importance.”

She further elaborated regarding Covid-19, “I think what we’ve learned during this pandemic is that, aside from being able to stream more shows and movies while we stew, bored, at home, subtitling brings people together. We may be diverse and divided—literally isolated from each other—but now perhaps we’ll better appreciate our commonalities. By sharing our experiences, be they reports of coronavirus or simply attempts at escapism via entertainment, we’re reinforcing what Covid-19 has taught us: that no matter who or where we are, we are remarkably similar, especially in our need for connection and communication.”  (https://reelwords.ca/ https://wellsreadediting.ca)

Solutions Architect and Support Engineer Pedro Jervis from broadcast and media solutions reseller Pantalha based in Portugal shared his views on why he thinks that subtitling is so valid. “While most of our customers are not using, or even need, a subtitle system yet, I foresee that they may do so very soon. One cannot ignore the globalisation of the world, and as customers work towards reaching more and more consumers, they will have to adapt to the reality that they will have viewers from different nationalities. This demands a good subtitling system behind it to ensure maximum quality. Especially once we get into streaming, and the customer wants to provide different languages as subtitles. They will need a quick and easy system, that can empower their content.” Further adding, “Portugal, to the contrary of fellow European Countries as Spain and Germany, has very little tradition of dubbing international content other than children’s television shows. As such, we are quite used to subtitling imported content. Having a platform that allows subtitling companies to quickly and easily create and add subtitles to their customer’s content, proves itself to be an invaluable tool.” (http://pantalha-spi.pt/)

CEO of PBT EU Ivanka Vassileva who heads the distribution of the SubtitleNEXT system which has been adopted by the likes of Belgium’s production company Videohouse and has been used on series such as “Sirens”, “Viking” and “Big Little Lies”, says, “The team behind SubtitleNEXT, firmly believe in opening audiences up to a whole new world. By creating a subtitling application to help surpass language barriers, our aim is to make subtitling more widely accessible and user friendly. From the very beginning, the platform was created to be made available to everyone at every level. To achieve this, it has familiar text-editing application tools that are user-friendly.” (www.pbteu.com)

Ivanka expands further on the creative elements SubtitleNEXT can bring to the screen, “SubtitleNEXT provides  filmmakers with the tools that makes their films more accessible to absolutely everybody. With remarkable toolsets that can make really creative subtitling, SubtitleNEXT has the ability to design subtitles that look as if they are a natural part of the film. Subtitles can be made so that they never appear to look as if they are merely an add-on or after-thought, but as an integral element of the film itself, right from the start. The creative capabilities within SubtitleNEXT provide dynamic tools for creating styles, effects, colours, shapes and positioning which are far from the boring standard look that has been used within the film industry for decades.  So, there certainly is a vast amount of scope in SubtitleNEXT to help filmmakers think out-of-the-box with subtitles and make them an interesting element for the final aesthetic look of a film.” (www.subtitleNEXT.com)

Ivanka’s words provide an optimistic point about subtitling and the future ahead, “In these difficult times where sharing vital information with everyone is crucial, it is apparent how important subtitles and captions have become.  The current global health crisis has demonstrated how essential subtitles are for critical information exchange. On a filmmaking note, subtitling is being used to enhance entertainment and helps embrace wider audiences to enjoy a wider variety of film, television and social media footage. Subtitles are informative, helpful, and a great communication tool and enhance a movie.  Our message to filmmakers out there is to use them where you can and have fun with them.  Happy subtitling!”