November 17, 2013

Adding Subtitles to Your Movie Will Make You More Money

vhx self distribution release audience foreign movie film sales filmmaking releaseAs the tools available to the independent filmmaker expand and improve, so do a number of services facilitating direct distribution. Several non-Louis C.K. success stories have emerged, often emphasizing the benefits of crowdfunding and the importance of social media outreach. One such service, VHX, has recently posted a tip we don't hear quite as often. It's something that seems totally obvious -- and is comparatively ancient as far as actual technology is concerned -- but can, according to VHX, greatly impact the success of directly distributed media. The tip? Adding subtitles to your film.

VHX has powered the release of films such as Indie Game: The Movie, Dave Grohl's Sound City, TPB: AFK, and Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, among others. According to a recent post on the VHX blog, the addition of something as simple as subtitles can substantially increases sales simply because they allow your film to reach a wider audience. According to VHX, 48% of sales come from outside of the US on their platform. Check it out (text is truncated, infographic appears courtesy VHX):

Your international audience is on average twice as likely to purchase your film after visiting your website when subtitles are available in their language. Check out the data for this VHX film, whose international conversion rates jumped after the creators added subtitles in extra languages:

vhx self distribution release audience foreign movie film sales filmmaking release

You might be thinking, "well, duh," and if you're deep in the process of self-distributing a film, this is likely something you've already considered. However, for those who have not yet tackled the greatest possible undertaking an indie filmmaker could attempt (aside, of course, from actually making a film,) this is great advice. That assumes that you haven't made a silent film, or cast multi-lingual actors that have signed on to handle foreign language dubbing for you.

VHX offers a link to help creators troubleshoot the subtitling process tech-wise, and indicates that it will post more data on the benefits of subtitling as it is gathered. Be sure to check out the full post as well!

Links:

Your Comment

23 Comments

Too bad that Vimeo doesn't support subtitling as Youtube does...

November 17, 2013 at 11:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Most nations do like the voiceover a lot better, even if it's just one or two semi-professional announcers reading the dialog and some of the basic on-screen info. (according to the legend, this was of the many reasons for the demise of the Soviet Union. When the first - mostly imported - VCR's began to appear in the mid-80's, a film buff attained an almost unheard of opportunity of watching the non-Eastern Bloc films. Films were, of course, uncensored and that brought a lot of knowledge about life abroad that was previously banned by the Soviet propagandists, even if there were many stupid action flicks around). Some translators like Dmitriy Puchkov, aka Goblin, became as known as the stars of these films.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Puchkov
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BTW, a great article on how Hollywood films may be translated into Russian - http://calvertjournal.com/comment/show/1318/lost-in-translation-russian-...

November 18, 2013 at 12:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

That stuff fascinates me. Thanks.

November 18, 2013 at 12:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

Of recent films, the "Identity Thief" was titled "Catch a Fatso, if You Can". These guys do allow themselves a certain leeway.

November 18, 2013 at 1:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Soviet eco-scifi film "To the Stars by Hard Ways" was originally released in States as "Robot Woman". Don't pretend it's the one-way street.

November 18, 2013 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

It's different for the following reasons - in the US, foreign films are essentially ignored. An occasional "Life is Beautiful" aside, foreign films simply do not generate much interest or revenues in the US. It's the opposite scenario globally, where Hollywood films can account for 50%-70% of the national box office annually. Most Russian film titles are translated literally into English. "Че́рез те́рнии к звёздам" (~ "Toward the Stars through Hardship") was too cumbersome of a heading and thus it became the "Humanoid Woman". I am not defending the new name. It just is what it is.

November 18, 2013 at 6:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Definitely good info, props to VHX for bringing it up.

November 18, 2013 at 12:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

Since I have a tiny bit of experience with the subject - or, at least, more than on gear talk - here's a side story.
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A few years ago, prior to the copyright holders Mosfilm and Lenfilm uploading several dozen of the classic Soviet era films via their own YouTube Channels, the same undertaking was done on an amateur level. A bunch of random Russian (speaking) guys uploaded most of the same films on YouTube, often in the 10-min intervals (remember that era?). These old films can still be found on the various torrent sites, with the original rip done off the 1980's VHS tapes or the identical DVD copies. The subtitled translation was also likely to have been done during the Cold War era and was frequently comical without an intent. In one scene, a leading actor called his leading lady "impudent" whereas "You've got some nerve" or "How dare you?" should have sufficed. At another clip, he demands to "stop being trepidated" whereas "why are you shaking me?" would be a more appropriate response. And so on and so forth.
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Having watched a few of these films, I naturally couldn't help but to leave several comments on the topic of crappy and outdated translations. That started a string of emails between me and several of the uploaders, none of whom spoke fluent English. But they were also film buffs and we ended up covering several examples of these glaring mistakes that had to have been done by the most experienced of the Soviet era Russian-to-English translators.
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At one point, we stumbled at the most interesting of examples. In the 'wild west" episode of the "Back to the Future" trilogy, there's a particular exchange. Marty McFly shoots at some bad guys and immediately asked where he acquired this type of gun expertise. (I am paraphrasing!) His reply was, "I used to work night shift at 7/11". The translators could not figure out what it meant and the line ended up as ~ "I played a lot of first-person shooter video games". Clearly, someone had to explain to these yokels the role 7/11's had in the late night crime sprees in the US. Which is what I did. Of course, then it took no time for me to realize that pretty much no one in Russia would have a clue about that and that the literal translation was off the table. And many cultural references are like that. Try to explain the "Airplane!" Hari Krishna bit of, "No, thanks. I gave at the office". And on and on.
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Finally, I volunteered to do my own version of an old Soviet era film called "The Sannikov Land". The English subtitles, including the time code, were already available. It took me close to 10 hours total to do a total rewrite for this 90 min film ... and my translation was not popular. I added too many modern words and what not. In my defense, when one of the leading character is talking about 'smacking his woman with a heavy hand", some alteration for modern sensibilities ought not be dismissed. YMMV.

November 18, 2013 at 3:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

The 7-Eleven reference has absolutely nothing to do with "late night crime sprees". Those "yokels" were entirely misinformed.

-From Futurepedia:

"7-Eleven (pronounced seven-eleven) was a convenience store chain that existed in 1985. Marty McFly frequently visited a 7-Eleven to play the video game Wild Gunman, which gave him the skill to shoot a real gun.
Back in 1885, when Marty was asked by Colt Peacemaker gun salesman Elmer H. Johnson how he learned to shoot a gun as well as he had just demonstrated, Marty cryptically replied "7-Eleven"."

November 18, 2013 at 8:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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sbsk

DLD, actually the reference to 7-11 has to do with the type of video games played there. First person shooters have a plastic gun that you hold and shoot at the screen. That type of video game was wildly popular at 7-11 and similar corner stores because kids could just walk to the corner and pop a quarter in, no ride from the parents to the mall required.

Hope this helps!

November 18, 2013 at 9:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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THAT Guy

all right ... fair enough ... I never played first shooters at 7/11 myself ... the punchline and its Russian translation was told to me a couple of decades after the film was released .... I accept that it may have been closer to the writers' intent than I thought ... IMO, my point on the difficulty of translating cultural references still stands ... heck, I went the wrong way with it ... as I had brought up in the comment, I watched the "Airplane!" in Russian recently and saw several missed bits - from the "Give me Hamm on five, hold the Mayo" to "Roger. Over. What's out vector, Victor?" to the, " It's Lieutenant Hurwitz. Severe shell-shock. Thinks he's Ethel Merman" ... they actually thought the joke was in the "Everything's coming up roses" lyrics - and voiced over that too - rather than in the fact it was the actual Ethel Merman ... I didn't really expect them to nail the "Jive Dudes" exchange anyway because most English speakers did not and, even when seen in written text, it required a complete rewrite ... now try to translate your own dialog, especially if it's slang heavy and if you don't have full command of the language ... I say it's easier said than done ... don't know if VHX is offering translator services of their own though ...

November 18, 2013 at 10:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I have to find the translator now...

November 18, 2013 at 6:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DIO

I discovered several years ago that, while some festivals will subtitle your film into their language, it's an expense for them so they're less likely to program it unless it's exceptionally good but if a film is already available in their language and is pretty good, it has a much higher chance of being selected.
Even in countries where most people have a functional command of English, they still appreciate subtitles into their language because in art, there is often a lot of cultural assumptions and idioms that they wouldn't know or their familiarity with English is from a different regional variation of the language than what the film is in.
It's easy to find someone to translate as well. Just go on Craigslist and find a foreign student who wants to make a bit of money.
Another thing to do is to modify the transcription of the film to make it easier to understand before they translate it. If a person is communicating something additional to what they say with tone of voice, than add a few words to their line in the transcription to convey that.

November 18, 2013 at 11:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Good subtitles are essential to get the message and experience of your movie as intact as possible.

I'm mainly an English-Spanish translator apart from being a filmmaker (I made the official Spanish subs for "Upstream Color", to name one piece of work) and very often I come across translation errors in "professional" subtitles made for many high-profile TV series and feature films.
I don't understand why there's no effort in transfering meaning and intent in the best possible way in order to allow people with other native languages to enjoy a particular piece of film as closely as it was meant to by their makers.
Sometimes it's subtleties in the story, sometimes it's jokes and sometimes translators turn the meaning of an entire scene upside down by losing one word in translation.

Translators hold a lot of power over the effect a film will have in other cultures and I think that going on Cragislist to find a foreign student looking to make a bit of money can be disastrous for your movie, if not simply a sign of disinterest in the experience your film will bring to the audience.
If you care about image and sound quality, why throw a piece of the narrative down the hill by not hiring a good translator?

Not to have my post come off as a rant or anything, by the way! It's just that I've seen too many bad translations made by professionals while there are even many amateurs (working on the file sharing front) that actually do very good and conscious work, and I think it's very important for filmmakers to understand the importance of having good translations.

And I too am still waiting for that electronic subtitles support on Vimeo!

November 18, 2013 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Translating "meaning and intent" is hard because the phrase also has to fit into the dialog as performed by an actor. In other words, a idiom/phrase can have its equivalent in another language (most do) but the number of words used have to match as well. Goblin just talks over everything, so he has the luxury of translating the exact meanings. The weakness of this method is that all you hear is one or two voiceover actors the entire length of the film. The current era distributors will sacrifice some of the nuances in order to keep their voiceover actors - one per role, working theatrically as if dubbing their own roles - on time with the film cuts. Colloquial English can be very curt. Add to that a quick, gunfire type of exchange between the characters and you'll have actors talking over each others lines.
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And this is how it works with a one man job.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V5iRux2KQA

November 18, 2013 at 6:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Terrible. I can't imagine how much it would detract from the experience to watch a movie like that. I remember a teacher telling us one time in a class about how "movies in (a certain festival) had no subtitles; there was an earphone through which you could hear something like an interpreter translating the movie in real time". That was in Europe, I can't remember if it was perhaps Italy.

Of course, one has to make certain compromises when translating certain things. Not everything is "translatable" so to speak, and to keep up with the rythm of the dialogue you sometimes have to find a shortcut that stays in the same spirit of the original as much as possible.

I for one am an advocate of subtitles over dubbing, since very rarely are dubbing actors up to the task (there are exceptions here and there, like some animated films and one game: Grim Fandango, which had a Spanish -from Spain- translation that I really enjoyed). Also there's the synching of dubs to mouths which further limits the accuracy of the translation.

All that said, I've made some dubbing with actors and it was a very fun experience!

November 18, 2013 at 7:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Since there's virtually no limit on imported films in Russia anymore - just don't critique Putin - every major Hollywood release has been dubbed by professional actors. The one-two actor voiceover on top of the original dialog is generally reserved for older or smaller films where the professional dub is deemed too expensive.

Which still doesn't explain this - [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uMraVc5tIE ]

November 18, 2013 at 11:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Native speakers may have a hard time understanding this, but if your movie is in English making subtitles _in English_ is a pretty good idea if you want to get to international audience. This is because catching dialogues from hearing is much more difficult than reading. If I don't have English subs for a movie, I usually don't watch it, unless it's about people speaking with good accents and the sound is done right : )

November 18, 2013 at 5:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Agree.

November 19, 2013 at 4:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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maghoxfr

No shit. Non-English market is bretty gud.

November 18, 2013 at 5:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

The best subtitles search and download engine for movies at http://www.subteller.com

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August 20, 2014 at 2:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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