The Role of Translation in the Film Industry

el papel de los subtitulos y el doblaje de los traductores en el mundo del cine

At Tatutrad, we’re still buzzing after the 33rd edition of the Goya Awards, Spain’s annual film awards, held here in Seville. That’s why we want to say a few words about cinema, a highly appealing industry that is full of opportunities and that our translation agency is no stranger to.

In a previous post we talked about films in which translation became another member of the cast, and here we want to talk about the long-standing link between cinema and translation. 

Cinema, which was originally limited to what is known as “silent films” (absence of spoken language), has always had an informative nature. Audiovisual translation, which aimed to increase the size of the audience watching the productions, was born shortly after the emergence of the film industry.

The first cinematographic works had so-called intertitles.

These intertitles are short texts that appear between the frames to explain a scene or provide additional information about the current or the following scene.

Although there wasn’t any spoken language in these films that required translating, the intertitles did become a new market niche for translators. They quickly began to be translated into the languages of the countries in which the films would be shown.

However, the great audiovisual translation revolution came with the birth of sound films in the early 20th century. Consequently, intertitles started to disappear and spoken language began to be heard in the auditoriums.

But there was an unexpected problem in the industry: although these films were very appealing to English speakers (the main language they were filmed in), demand from other spectators declined; they didn’t understand anything!

Exports of American film material to Europe dropped. They tried to solve this problem by doing two versions of each scene in which a Spanish-speaking actor, for example, played the role in question. However, these secondary actors didn’t draw in as many people as internationally renowned actors. What’s more, the cost of funding more than one cast, as well as a director and various film scenes were excessive.

Thus, adapting the visual content to the culture and language of the target countries became a necessity. After many attempts, subtitling and dubbing were born (driven by the well-known film studio Paramount). These two branches of translation mainly focused on American industry productions.

The choice between the two modes was clearly influenced by one factor: the budget. Dubbing required a greater financial and technological commitment which, at first, was not within the means of all projects.

Subtitling was less arduous and easier to implement, but it wasn’t as well received as dubbing. Suffice it to say that the forgotten intertitles were recovered, remodelled and given a new use.

On the other hand, dubbing required the video and soundtracks to be separated. The original soundtrack would then have to be extracted and replaced by the dubbed version.

More preparation was needed, as well as a new figure in the film industry: a voice actor. The first European dubbing schools were founded in Paris (Paramount converted its Joinville Studios into a dubbing studio). They began to train voice actors there. Over time, schools also sprung up in Madrid and Barcelona, which are currently the main hub for film and short film translation projects, cinema dubbing projects and Spanish subtitling projects.

Although subtitling was relegated to the back seat (particularly in Spain), these two branches have coexisted until now. Subtitles have been gaining ground in recent years, partly thanks to audiovisual platforms such as Netflix, HBO and YouTube.

The audiovisual translation market doesn’t stop growing. More and more content must be adapted to a global, multi-lingual audience. Marketing material, video games, television series and films are, in our experience, some of the most in-demand products.

That said, it continues to expand. A professional audiovisual translator is faced with a wide variety of work; this figure is becoming ever more present during the production stage. With technological development come new tools and disciplines, which are applied according to the target audience, budget and time frames.

This has also given rise to voice-over and audiovisual accessibility, techniques that reduce production times and ensure that the audiovisual product reaches a wider audience.

A clear example of this was at the 33rd edition of the Goya Awards that we mentioned at the beginning of this article. There were subtitles for the hard of hearing and audio description for the visually impaired (both services offered in real time) for the first time ever.

All this points to the fact that this market will continue to expand in the coming years. There will still be translators to translate film scripts, do the voice-over for audiovisual content (whether marketing, feature films, short films, etc.), subtitle videos and more. 

Spain, for example, is very linguistically diverse, meaning that there is also the opportunity to translate, subtitle or dub content in the country’s other official languages. This has increased significantly in recent years, with more material available in Catalan.

Production companies and advertising agencies are aware of the high demand and need to make their content accessible to a multi-lingual audience and adapt it for those people who have an impairment.

Tatutrad has collaborated with market agents in the audiovisual world for years. We’ve translated and adapted audiovisual content into Peninsular Spanish, Standard Spanish and Latin American Spanish. That’s why we want to encourage you to continue training so that you’re prepared for what we think lies ahead: a world that revolves around audiovisual content. In the meantime, prepare some popcorn and keep enjoying what you love!

Author: José Antonio Buzón Carbajo

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/joseabuzoncarbajo