Nuance Titles is an LLC I have formed as the mechanism through which I solicit work as a writer and an editor.
One of my strongest skills sounds boring: quality control. But it isn't. Here's how it works. I receive the translation of a film into English, and before the subtitles are laid onto the film, I need to make sure they are perfect. Almost everyone that I tell this to responds in the same way: "But you speak all those languages?" They confuse translating the subtitles with editing the subtitles that have already been translated into English. Most people don't realize how difficult the art of translation is--in direct proportion to how different the language is from English. (Korean or Chinese, say, instead of Spanish or German.) Monolingual producers often budget for subtitling almost as an afterthought, and learn the hard way how destructive to their creative vision it can be to have non-colloquial or literal rendering of their words on the screen.
The reasons this line of work is so right up my alley are several. First, I do speak French fluently, and have extensively studied Spanish and Italian, as well as taken a semester of Portuguese and two semesters of German. On top of this--or perhaps because of this--I have a finely developed sense of when something is mistranslated. A simple example is the verb "to control" in English and "controler" in French. In French it is related to auditing, or double-checking -- we see it in the noun form in English, "controller," or "comptroller" which is a financial officer. But if you want to say "he is very controlling" in French, you would say: "il est tres directif" -- which isn't so far off from what a director is. But we just don't say: "he is very directive" in English - although that's exactly the kind of translation from French to English I often need to correct. It's not a mistake a good translator would make, but the truly bilingual translators (meaning educated in both languages) are often considered too expensive for filmmakers, many of whom think this can mostly be done by Google Translate and someone who took a few years of the language in college. This mindset is particularly toxic in the era of globalization, where telenovelas get shipped down to Mexican freelancers who deliver a sludgy English along the lines of "But what a face you make to me!" (which I would instantly know should read: "Don't look at me that way!") And don't even talk to me about Chinese. It turns out to have a completely different use of tenses, not to mention pronouns. I don't know that because I speak Chinese, but because I understand by now how variant national grammars can be, from how different the formulations come to me in English.
For example, the verb often goes at the end in German -- the kind of linguistic quirk George Lucas took full advantage of when "lines for Yoda he composed." I don't speak Russian, but I've noticed they don't use articles the way we do. "We go to hospital now" is exactly how they say it in Russian, no "the" required. All this to say that I have very good ear for when something is not quite right, and why. And as an experienced screenwriter, I can give an extra gloss of creative fluidity to any rewrite, to boot.
So what I did as a tool to market my skills is to take stills from films that have already been subtitled --even subtitled well--and show how they could be subtitled even better. For this first entry I'm going to choose an example from the movie Yves St. Laurent and explain how, exactly, a line of dialogue could have been rendered more skillfully in English. On days that follow I will offer up more examples that I've been gathering.
Film: Yves St. Laurent. Original Language: French
The preceding scene is the reading-out-loud of a lyrical passage written by Marcel Proust. He is not identified as the author, but his autobiographical paean to neurotics would be familiar to most Frenchmen, and it clearly resonates with the reader of it, Yves St. Laurent. His partner says to him, “ça chante dans tes oreilles” – literally, “it sings in your ears, ” which is just awkward enough to have been changed by the translator to “that gets your ears buzzing.” A better subtitle would be one that fills in the authorial reference for the English speaker, but still acknowledges Laurent’s emotional reaction to the passage.
Now, isn't that better?
When deciding on what kind of post-production facility to use to render your work in other languages, choose one with editors who know how to think through each subtitle to make it as faithful to the original as possible, without being too literal.