Over the years of work, I have noticed an alarming trend — many otherwise capable subtitlers will often follow their client’s guidelines too strictly, almost dogmatically, without a real understanding of why those guidelines are the way they are and not knowing when to deviate from them to ensure the audience’s viewing comfort. This leads to countless subtitling errors, because no matter how robust and well-thought-out a style guide is, there will always be gaps in it, and so there’ll be moments when you need to make a judgement call based on your expertise rather than a written prescription.
In this new article series, I’d like to stress the importance of a thoughtful, intelligent approach to subtitling and to highlight some of those gaps, starting with arguably the biggest one.
At the same time, when given creative freedom, the most skilled and experienced subtitlers don't obsess over that number as much everyone else seems to believe, because they know just how unreliable it can be, for multiple reasons.
First of all, as I wrote in one of my previous articles, CPS and WPM consider only the volume of subtitle text but not its other properties, such as complexity or format. Unfamiliar words, tricky syntax, puzzling dialogue, italics and some other things will slow down your reading, and these two metrics simply do not reflect that.
Max Deryagin’s Subtitling Studio
I’m Max Deryagin, a veteran Russian subtitler, chair of the British Subtitlers’ Association SUBTLE, vice president at AudioVisual Translators Europe (AVTE), co-organizer of Languages & the Media, Russian language lead at Plint, as well as frequent conference speaker, independent researcher, tech consultant and writer.
Having learned the best subtitling practices from specialized academic literature and many years of hands-on experience, I’ve fruitfully collaborated with corporate clients, translation agencies, video publishers, content distributors, broadcasters and universities, and have subtitled over 1,000 videos for TV, Web, SVoD and DVD/Blu-ray throughout my decade-long career, including Oscar-winning films and record-breaking productions.
On the technical side of things, I have a solid grasp of some of the latest standards, technologies and software products in the field . Familiar with the FCC, Ofcom, BBC, DCMP and Netflix TTSG guidelines, I deliver compliant, accurate, readable subtitles and captions for various audiences. Over the years, I’ve used numerous subtitle preparation tools, such as Softel Swift, FAB Subtitler, WinCAPS Qu4ntum, TitleVision, Spot, SubtitleNEXT, Subtitle Workshop, Subtitle Edit and Aegisub. Currently, I work in EZTitles Enterprise — one of the best professional tools on the market.
Besides creating and proofreading subtitles, I have also
▪ Consulted companies on subtitling technologies and file format specifications;
▪ Helped develop several proprietary tools and interfaces for captioning;
▪ Researched timed-text standards for several different languages;
▪ Assisted in training an advanced auto-captioner AI system;
▪ Co-authored the AVTE Machine Translation Manifesto;
▪ Compiled subtitling and captioning style guides;
▪ Advised on setting up subtitle production;
▪ Managed a pool of translators.
I’m also a registered trainer and mentor at ProZ.com, the world’s largest network for translators. My courses cover a range of topics related to the craft of subtitling.
Finally, as an activist, I work towards improving the working conditions of audiovisual translators, help promote the visibility, understanding and status of our profession, and take part in cultivating good subtitling practices in Europe and beyond.