Top five things to consider when shooting a film that will be translated

There is a vast array of things to consider when shooting a film. And when you know that film is going to be translated after you’ve shot it, the list of considerations grows even longer. This will be a daunting prospect for some, while others will no doubt relish the challenge. However you feel about it, if the world of audio translation, transcription services and subtitling is new to you, here are five things to think about before you start shooting.

1. Globalise the content where possible

Globalising content means making it appeal to as broad an audience as possible. While localisation services will focus a film on a particular culture and audience (more on that below), globalisation seeks to eliminate (or at least reduce) any references that will only mean something to certain audiences. The idea is to convey the culture being filmed in a way that foreign audiences will understand, even when they come from very different cultural, religious or political backgrounds. 

While some of this will need to be addressed through the scripting and translation of the movie, it’s also something to bear in mind while filming, as small adjustments can help to globalise the film at this stage of the production process. Simply stay alert for anything that is very specific to one country or culture while filming and consider how the shoot could be adjusted in response to it.

2. Avoid idioms and cultural references

When you’re shooting a film that is set to undergo professional translation, try to cut out idioms and cultural references that foreigners won’t understand. Jokes about current politicians in one country will fall flat in another and idioms can be utterly lost in translation. 

The key is to try and view the film through foreign eyes. What will only make sense to those with knowledge of popular culture from a certain country? Which references will leave those who have to translate movie dialogue scrabbling to make the scene understandable to overseas audiences, without the need for a lengthy contextual explanation? The more that can be addressed while shooting, the better.

3. Leave pauses for subtitles

Fast-paced dialogue can make for a great movie viewing experience but doesn’t necessarily work well when it comes to transcription and translation services. If you plan to use transcription services for your film in order to add foreign subtitles to it, remember that it will take viewers longer to read the captions than it likely will for them to listen to the dialogue. As such, you need to build in sufficient time when shooting for viewers to read the subtitles, as well as to appreciate everything that is occurring on the screen. Leaving insufficient time for either activity will significantly reduce the pleasure of the viewing experience, as viewers will either fall behind with following the dialogue or keep up with the subtitles but miss much of what occurs on the screen.

4. Think about where the subtitles will be

Another consideration for those shooting movies with video translation in mind is the placement of the subtitles on the screen. Subtitles are usually shown at the bottom of the screen and centrally aligned. As such, before you even engage translation services to begin transcribing the movie’s content and translating it, it’s important to have an awareness of the fact that the lower portion of the shot is going to be largely obscured by the captioned text. 

This can vary in importance depending on what you are filming but has to be kept in mind throughout the process. If there are any elements of a scene that are key to the viewing experience, be sure that they don’t appear at the very bottom of the shot, or else they may get lost during the subtitling process.

5. Localise as you film

While it’s important to globalise the content that you are filming so far as possible, as described above, there will also be parts of the project that would benefit from localisation. Most decent translation services will offer localisation as part of their work, so you can engage an expert to advise and guide you as you film. 

A localisation expert will have a finely tuned sense of what will and won’t be acceptable or appropriate to an audience from a particular country or culture. One of the reasons that Netflix has been able to achieve such global success is its awareness of this and its focus on localisation in the programs that it provides. As the company specifies in its current Localisation Project Manager recruitment drive, “it is about providing our users with an experience that feels local.”

Part of what you want to achieve when shooting a film is to connect with the audience. If you’re shooting a film that’s going to be translated, that means incorporating adjustments based on local cultural considerations. That could mean shooting certain scenes in different ways for different audiences, based on the guidance of those who translate films for a living and are able to provide local contexts from other countries. It might also mean using the audio transcription process to alter elements of the dialogue, so that between the transcription service and the translation, subtle changes are made in order to adjust to particular audiences’ cultural quirks or expectations. 

Final thoughts

Shooting a film that is going to be translated introduces various layers of complication. However, it’s also an exciting opportunity to connect with new audiences around the world. This can mean additional planning and some extra time spent both filming and post-production. Having a translation company on hand to provide advice on globalisation, localisation and matters pertaining to transcription and subtitling is essential and can save plenty of time during the post-production phase of your project. Overall, try not to be put off by the added complexity and remember that this is an interesting opportunity to showcase your skills in new ways. Good luck!



Ofer Tirosh is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation company that offers localization and transcription services.