From: “Rethinking the Art of Subtitles” by Grant Rosenburg, Time

If subtitles “aren’t invisible, you fail,” says Henri Béhar, subtitler of notable films such as Brokeback Mountain, Boyz in the Hood and Good Will Hunting. “The titles should subtly give people the impression that they are understanding the characters speaking, not reading words on the screen.” Trying to translate one language to another in the course of a film has challenges and limitations that apply to dubbing as well as subtitling — unlike literature which has the safety net of footnotes, film subtitlers have to make it work in the moment, all while trying to adapt wordplay and cultural references.

Once in a while, subtitlers do get their due. Jacqueline Cohen, responsible for all of Woody Allen’s films since 1989’s Alice, says that “whenever Woody comes to town, he always mentions that the reason his films are so successful in France is thanks to the person who does the subtitles.” No quick task, considering the talky nature of the prolific filmmaker’s almost annual releases. “Action movies average about 700 subtitles — Woody’s, between 1,500 to 2,000,” says Claude Dupuy, the director of subtitling at LVT Laser Subtitling, which handles more than 600 films per year.

At LVT and other companies, a person watches the film scene by scene, doing what’s known as spotting — marking time according to the timecode, the film’s official clock — the start and end point of each spoken line of dialogue. Then the subtitler goes to work, balancing the challenge of conveying meaning accurately within the confines of space and the roughly 1.5-second-long display allotted per subtitle. The reality is that despite the reputation of subtitling over dubbing as a form of cultural purity, the eye reads slower than the ear hears, meaning that more than a third of a film’s dialogue is sacrificed for what is most essential. The general rule is no more than 45 characters per line, even though widescreen movies could fit longer sentences (says Dupuy, “it shouldn’t be like watching tennis”).

There are logical rules as well, such as finishing a subtitle when a character stops speaking and not extending it over a cut, which can be disorienting. Good subtitles work with the rhythm of the scene, based on accurate spotting that captures that timing.


Kyoiku Eikaiwa Mid-Term Conferences

Sign up for a time next week.

Be prepared to talk about the books you have read.

Also, pick one documentary from the playlist below and be prepared to discus it using the ideas we have read about in “Visual Storytelling”. (What makes it an effective documentary? What filmmaking techniques are used? What can you say about the film? etc.)

Films to Inspire!

For this class, we may refer to certain documentaries. Here they are in one place, but in no particular order:

From the “Nyorkers” Series

Documentary Films in Action

Welcome to “Kyoiku Eikai…Eigo!”

No one explained to me what this class is supposed to be about, so I’m making it up myself. Because you are all such bright, creative and high-level English users, we’re going to push into new experiences: Short Documentary filmmaking!

Every student will have to hand in a 3 to 5-minute documentary film by the end of the class for a final semester project. The subject of the film will be determined by each student in coordination with me. (I mostly just want to make sure you don’t take on too much work.)

Throughout the class, I’ll give you lots of practical, low-budget filmmaking tips and techniques. There will be plenty of time for editing in class, don’t worry!

Because this is an “Eikaiwa” Eigo class, students should use English most of the time in the class and during project work, even,–hey! why not?– when it occurs outside of class time. This gives you an excuse to speak English all the time, even in public, without having to feel like a weirdo. It’s for your class!

There is also a Free Reading part of the class. Every Thursday morning, for 30 minutes, we will all read English. Even me. It may seem like a waste of class time, but I strongly believe that developing the habit of reading in English for fun will pay off over your lifetime.