5 Tips for Subtitling Foreign-Language Video Footage for Editors

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Multilingual footage – including field interviews and B-roll – can be a huge challenge for editors if they don’t know the languages spoken. Fortunately, subtitling is a cost-effective and rapid solution to this problem. The workflow for footage subtitles requires a few small adjustments from the standard process – and of course, it’s critical to know what they are for project success.

This post will list five tips that multimedia localization professionals and producers must know to subtitle footage for editors.

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International video production means multilingual footage

It’s only natural that corporate and marketing video productions are increasingly multilingual, especially as workforces and audiences become more international. That means that agency video editors can now expect to receive clips in several languages like Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish – like hours of customer testimonials and interviews. How do editors and supervising producers take on this content?

With subtitling. Why? Because most footage won’t make it into the final video so that this effort will ultimately be a sunk cost – making a cost-effective option particularly attractive. And of course, because subtitling is relatively rapid, especially when compared with dubbing and other video localization options.

So what do you need to know to subtitle your source footage properly? Let’s jump right in.

1. Cull the footage down to minimize costs.

Remember that you won’t use most of your source footage. Marketing content like client testimonials, for example, can have as much as 20 minutes of footage for every final minute of material – and sometimes much more than that. Same with B-roll and event or webinar captures. If possible at all, cull the footage. Get rid of elements that you know you won’t need. Or, if you know which sections you’ll be cutting from, just clip those out.

2. Re-think character limitations.

Subtitles have rigorous length restrictions to ensure that they’re readable. Since translations expand, that means they must be edited to adhere to these character limits – sometimes pretty drastically. Balancing readability with an accurate translation, in fact, is a key challenge to video localization in general. However, this isn’t an issue for editors – and in fact, it may be much better to have titles that are long but contain a faithful translation of what’s being said.

3. Re-think segmentation and language flows.

Again, the key is to have an accurate representation of what is being said in the footage, not necessarily to create a seamless viewing experience. To this end, it’s critical to focus the subtitles translations so that they’re helpful to your editor, who may have very specific requests. For example, some editors ask that the subtitles be segmented by full sentences. Others may ask for literal translations, especially for languages that have very different syntax structures. In short, tailor your project’s segmentation and language flow so that the subtitled footage is as usable as possible for your editor.

4. Test your workflow.

This is best practice in general for any multimedia localization, even though most dubbing and subtitling projects follow standard post-production processes. Video editing workflows are generally standardized as well, but editors often add very specific customizations to them. And of course, there isn’t really a standard practice for subtitling source footage because it’s a relatively recent innovation. In short, test your proposed delivery format to make sure your editor can integrate it and then cut the footage.

5. Update your subtitles once the final cut is done.

Don’t forget that you must re-do your subtitling once your video is finalized. If you’ve ignored character limitations and tweaked segmentation to help your editor, your subtitles won’t be usable by a wider audience. On top of that, subtitles are context-sensitive – how your video flows from one clip to another affects meaning, and that has to be reflected in the final subtitle text. Make sure to include a full subtitling step after your cut is finalized.

Subtitling source footage a work in progress

It’s good to keep in mind that this service is still in development. That means that multimedia localization professionals may be dealing with producers, directors and editors who are not familiar with subtitling, let alone how to integrate the files – whether text-based (like SRT), graphics, or even an Alpha Quicktime video – into their editing timelines. These kinds of projects will require more coordination and tighter communication with a client’s production staff to troubleshoot any issues that come up, and possibly even to familiarize them with localization practices. And of course, they’ll require testing deliverables – as well as the technical and linguistic requirements of each project – before starting production. This is the only way to ensure that your client’s editor will be able to use the subtitled footage seamlessly, ensuring your post-production budget and timeline.