Creative control of subtitles

An article published by the International Herald Tribune: it should be a must read for any budding multimedia producer

Why (number 1)?

  • the article discusses the rationale adopted by Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director of “Night Watch” when deciding to release the movie for foreign distribution;
  • instead of allowing dubbing the movie (except in countries, like Italy, where dubbing is basically mandatory), he opted for a subtitled edition but, for English-speaking countries, he asked creative control of subtitles.

Why (number 2)?

  • subtitles are coming from the past;
  • subtitles used to be added to movies- and the physical process involved was such that way too often subtitles were unreadable.

Interestingly, an innovation that I saw years ago was delivered in Riga from Soviet Union right before Latvia left Soviet Union: in order to release the movie at the same time, bypassing the physical subtitling process, they added rows of huge LED at the bottom on the screen

But the basic weakness of subtitles is that they are decoupled from the creative process: the dialogue embedded in subtitles sometimes is conflicting with the original dialogue

Moreover, they are dull, boring.

What the Russian directory did is considering subtitles as part of his director’s creative control duty- he has the style, typeface, position, coloring, effects of the subtitles reflect both the creative freedom given by technology and his own idea of what is relevant to a specific frame.

Think about it- he is using technology to deliver in mainstream movies what was experimented in early 1900s by, say, Futurists or Suprematists, with they typeface changes, or in movies like Citizen Kane, Birth of a Nation, Le Chien Andalou

Frankly, this is one of the few recents “lateral thinking” ideas about movie distribution that I believe could have a long-term consequence on movie production.

Nowadays, nobody will accept a movie whose soundtrack is out of tune with the movie creative idea, so why not include everything that is perceived by the viewer?

Last, but not least: I saw widescreen movies with subtitles in 1280 witdh and small typeface

Please- try the subtitles: a wide-screen does not convert ourselves into wide-screen viewers; if you widen your subtitles, viewers will need to “scan” the rows, instead of focusing on the movie 🙂

The original article

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