Monday, August 22, 2011

Choosing My Words Carefully

Right now, the 'rough cut' of my documentary is 1 hour and 50 minutes. While normally one would save putting the subtitles on it for the end (since scenes will still be changed throughout the 'fine cut' stage) I decided to spend three days (!) last week subtitling the film in English so that my producer in the UK could have a look at it and give me some help with getting the story right.

And, yes, it really did take three FULL days (and not the wimpy 8 hour kind, but the lots of coffee 14 hour kind) in order to subtitle a 2-hour film.

Yesterday, I asked a native Japanese-speaking colleague to come to my studio to help me go through the English subtitles one by one. I did this because as I was writing the subtitles, I became suddenly more aware of the personal responsibility I had to be accurate. In a scene where a town official was discussing radioactive water being released in to the ocean and ruining the local fishing industry, I could not afford to make a single word mistake. Mistranslating the word 'leak' could mean the difference between an assertion that the water was 'intentionally' rather than 'accidentally' leaked.

Although I do of course speak Japanese, I would feel challenged having these discussions about radiation, nuclear energy and the federal policies that govern them even in my native language.

I am sure I never thought about how much work and thought goes into writing each subtitle before I started making films myself. A person's personality, level of expertise and trustworthiness comes through in the words they choose. If this isn't taken into account in the subtitles, then entire layers and subtexts of the film will be lost. Perhaps this might not be as important for a Hollywood blockbuster, but for a human interest documentary built on interviews, if you couldn't trust what the subtitles say, there wouldn't be much left.

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