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Twin Arts of Translation and Adaptation Bridge Entertainment Language Barriers

June 17, 2022

Twin Arts of Translation and Adaptation Bridge Entertainment Language Barriers

You sit in the cinema and the lights go down … you’re ready to experience a story.

You turn on the television and settle in … eager to learn what happens next in your favorite series.

No matter how you watch films or television that’s been created in another language, the odds are increasing that you’re watching a dubbed version – Netflix alone says dubbed content increased by 120% in just one year. Most viewers don’t think much about how those stories metamorphose from one language to another. It’s done with such ease, that people are surprised when they stop to think about the process.

Of course, it begins with the vision of the writer, the director or the showrunner – the creative idea is core to everything. Once it’s done, though, long after the production itself is over, a huge global machine is activated that helps create “language bridges.”

The process begins with translation and adaptation, which are in many ways two sides of the same coin … but also wildly different.

A script translator takes the original screenplay or shooting script and converts the dialogue from the original language to a target language – from Korean to French, for instance. But as we all know, a single word can have many meanings and subtle interpretations. A translator’s fine art is to know, based on the original production, the best word or phrase to use.

Script translation is vitally important; the translated script serves as the blueprint for what happens next. A translator must be fluent in multiple languages, and must be able to understand both meaning and context.

Generally, however, script translators don’t worry about whether the words they’ve chosen will work within the specificity of the actual production. Think about a scene featuring a character whose face you never see, or a cutaway in which a character continues talking even while the audience can’t see their mouth. Or, conversely, think about dialogue within an action sequence, or within a deeply dramatic scene – in one, the audience may be paying attention to everything but the character’s mouth movements, while in another, the subtlest movements of mouth and expression can change the meaning of the moment. That’s where the work of the script adapter comes in to play. Taking the original translated script, a script adapter looks carefully at every single frame of a piece of film or video, whether it's a short advertisement or a feature-length film. Using the translation as a guide, the adapter examines the movement of the actors’ mouths (often called “lip flap”), the position of a character within the screen, the frame count and time code, and a host of other variables.

Ultimately, the adapted script may bear a lot of resemblance to the translation, or be changed considerably to meet the specific demands of what’s on screen, and the target language.

It's never easy: What can be expressed in a single word in one language may take multiple words in another, and vice-versa. And the best word to fit the technical needs of a moment may not be the best way to convey a thought or feeling. This elaborate process has long required enormous flexibility, patience and careful attention to logging every word, phrase and vocal sound uttered on screen. At VoiceQ, we’ve long considered the specific needs of translators and adapters into our software, which led us to introduce – and, in recent months, further refine and improve – VoiceQ Writer.

This MacOS native application integrates with all of our VoiceQ products, giving script adapters unprecedented flexibility, and offering all levels of creative professionals even more insight into the complex process of script adaptation.

Because it’s fully integrated into the entire VoiceQ technology suite, dubbing directors, project producers, audio engineers and voiceover performers can work more closely with adapters to ensure a project reaches screen faster, better and with more focus on the ultimate goal: engaging viewers around the globe. We’re proud that VoiceQ Writer has become the choice of script adapters worldwide, and we continue to pay tribute to the talented people all around the globe who translate and adapt scripts with such a remarkable attention to detail. Thanks to them, language barriers keep coming down every single day!

Photo by Kristin Klier

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