MOFILM 101 | Subtitles


With this post we introduce you to a few easy to follow notes on best practices for subtitles. Special thanks to seasoned director and producer, Grace Jackson for providing us with this useful insight. Grace is owner and director at Houseblend Media, in partnership with her husband, director Josh Soskin.

FILMMAKERS – Please do not hesitate to add to this list! We would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Try to cut subtitles to the image.
    • The viewers eye is looking at the subtitle. When you change the shot the viewer’s brain resets and starts reading the line again.  So it is cleaner when the subtitle changes at the same time the shot changes.
    • This may change the length of some of your shots (to accommodate the subtitle).
  2. Long subtitles all in one line can and should be avoided.
    • Lots of words on the screen at the same time overwhelms your viewer.
    • Instead of writing “I went to the market on Wednesday to buy some dried fruit.”  You should put, “I went to the market//on Wednesday” “to buy some dried fruit.”  In this example, the first part of the sentence is divided into two lines to keep the text weighted toward the center of the screen!
  3. Use a strong font, and put it in bold, or use a slight drop shadow.  You don’t want your audience to strain to read the text!
  4. When you are translating subtitles, the translations do not need to be verbatim.
    • Sometimes you have to find similar, even if not exact, phrases that will tell the story in a way that will engage your viewer.
    • Translation is an art form, and the director should know how they want the language to come across “stylistically”.  For example, if you were translating a dialogue scene of a poor chicano in East LA into French, you would use some slang, and improper French grammar to capture the colour and vibe of your character.
  5. Preserve the meaning but don’t feel like you have to always translate word-to-word.
  6. Choose simpler, shorter words when available.

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