A Guide to Writing Subtitles
A subtitle is a textual version of what is said onscreen; often used in foreign movies to translate languages or in science fiction films to translate a lost or imaginary language to real language. To begin, the subtitler should have the film on media (VHS, DVD, etc.), a copy of the production and, if possible, a copy of the dialogue list. Everything in the film should be subtitled. Even road signs, billboards, and anything else written on-screen that is relevant to the story and will help the viewer understand the plot.
The translated subtitle must not exceed the length and duration of the time that is available (for example, the number of frames). This means that subtitling could involve a good amount of paraphrasing.
The basic format of the subtitle should follow the following:
three seconds are needed to read a line,
a single subtitle showing should not exceed two lines, and
a line of subtitles should not exceed 37 characters.
Translating/paraphrasing/summarizing the text to fit in the parameters and restrictions of subtitles can be one of the most important and difficult aspects of writing subtitles. The goal of the subtitles is not to translate word for word. Instead, it is to make the viewer understand the plot and what is being said in order to understand the film. The subtitler must be faithful to the sense of the content, which in most cases is very difficult because we have a limit of 2 lines per single subtitle and 37 characters per line. The key is to remember that the subtitler must summarize and paraphrase the words of the film in such a way that the viewer will still understand the plot, and comedic/dramatic/etc. value of the scene. The subtitler should give the most accurate translation and interpretation of the original text into the target language in the fewest number of words possible. The subtitler should know and decide what to deliver to the audience in order to carry out and insure...
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