Suzanne Rietveld writes:
On 26 March 2022, I attended the online AGM to see what was happening at SENSE and to meet some of my colleagues. Someone mentioned that the new members seemed less active than expected. This was the moment that I wanted to contribute to the discussion. I explained that this reduced activity should be reviewed within the context of the Covid situation. I told the other members that I registered with SENSE in January 2020 and was eager to see what kind of people I would meet, and what options there would be to learn and interact with mindlike colleagues. All this was disturbed by several lockdowns and restrictions. So, the new members were not less active by choice but by the circumstances of the last two years.
I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and volunteered to host the Zuid Holland SIG on 31 May 2022, advertising the event with the great views from my apartment in De Rotterdam! The event needed a theme, so I decided to give the attendees some tips and tricks on subtitling. That was quite scary, I must confess. Providing the view and the catering was something I was used to, but preparing a talk about subtitling was a challenge because I am not used to speaking in public and I was not 100% sure that I was the right person to share my knowledge.
So, after the invitation was posted online and the first attendees started to sign up, I started to prepare my presentation. I assumed that most of the colleagues would not be experienced with subtitling, other than an odd job in Word, and that some of them would be familiar with the discussion about the specialized skills involved. I wanted to explain more about the technical side of the profession and started my presentation by explaining that my training consisted of a 10-week course of 2 hours per week at ITV Utrecht. So not something I could share within half an hour.
The main issue with subtitling is the fact that reading a sentence takes longer than listening to a sentence, leading to restrictions in reading speed and the number of characters per second. This, combined with a limit in characters per line, often leads to the need to compact the title's content without losing the conveyed message. I use Subtitle Edit myself and showed its settings such as characters per second (around 14–16) and the title's length (between 1 and 8 seconds and with a maximum of 40 characters per line).
I also explained that I prefer to 'spot' the titles by eye instead of by ear. I use the waveform that comes with every MP4 file to do so. The waveform is a graph that shows the speaker's volume and therefore is very useful to mark the start and end of a spoken sentence. Depending on the length and structure of the sentence, you decide how many titles you will need for this particular sentence.
We discussed the ways to shorten the titles, such as leaving out repetitions, stop words, adjectives, adverbials, quantifiers and introductory phrases. The conclusion was that we should only compact the title if this is really necessary. In the end, the afternoon went very well. We all fitted around my table (11 people) and enjoyed the cakes from the local bakery. We got to know each other better, and everyone seemed happy with the shared information.
The overall message was that a subtitle has to convey the right message, and the reader should be able to finish reading the title before it disappears off-screen. Yes, subtitling involves special skills, but don't be afraid to give it a go if a task comes up and offers some flexibility on time spent, and in the worst case, to ask a friend. I proofread and subtitle in English and Dutch 😊