How Movie Translation is Made?

Movies are a global phenomenon. Many film production titans, such as Hollywood, that make English-speaking content run their works far beyond North America and the UK. It, of course, requires translation to reach maximum audience. Cinema industry, in general, is huge and powerful. It’s great cultural force able to motivate, educate, provoke thoughts, illuminate issues, and produce numerous feelings. Most widely known films are created in Hollywood, which requires movie translation from English to other languages. But recent example of the film Parasite (2019) demonstrates that worldwide hits may require translation from other languages, which poses a challenge for specialists in this area.

What are movie translation goals?

Filmmakers always look for ways to reach a broader audience worldwide to gain maximum profits. However, here comes language barrier that may prevent most viewers from watching a movie because it requires decent level of foreign language mastery. At the same time, it’s not possible to produce a film in different languages as it would increase production costs tremendously and make the entire process of making it last for long years. So video content is first produced and then is sent to movie translation services for further work. Typically,  it’s done by local language service providers in countries where movie is about to be run. 

They conduct both content translation and localization and pass it further on for future production. There are several techniques in this regard, each with its benefits and cost-effectiveness. When script in local language is completed, producers have two choices for integration of local text in the film. These two main types of movie translations are dubbing and subtitling. Apart from that, filmmakers want their work to be understandable for their audiences and be able to create certain effect in each moment. Thus, not only translation but adaptation or localization is required to fit viewers’ cultural setting. Also, different countries may have different censorship requirements. So during translation, some explicit words or provocative expressions may be replaced with more neutral ones.


Dubbing is a type of translation when an original voice recording is replaced with corresponding actor’s speech. It’s further divided into two major types: lip-sync dubbing or and voice-over. The difference between them is that in lip-sync dubbing original voices are absent, and viewers hear only dubbing actors. But in a voice-over, translated and recorded dubbing is put on top of the original audio track. It follows that voice-over is a cheaper and faster method of translation of movies. But instead, lip-sync dubbing is more favored as it is of higher quality and more pleasing to listen to and enjoy video.

Dubbing is a more popular type in bigger countries where the population is about 40 million people or more. For example, in Europe, Germany, Spain, Italy, France typically have movies dubbed. The same is true about Slavic countries and Asia. In each of these areas, one language is either predominant or officially recognized. So, investment in dubbing a movie can pay back filmmakers several times from cinema tickets sold.

Dubbing Benefits

  • Dubbing helps to attract more viewers who do not speak the original movie language
    This benefit is rather obvious as the number of native speakers of movie language is not expected to be big. Even if one is a language learner, they might not feel comfortable watching a video and being too focused on understanding a characters’ speech. Overall, dubbing improves viewers’ experience enabling them to engage with audio and video content fully.
  • It allows localization and adaptation for foreign target audience
    This factor is probably the most important in terms of jokes, especially on those that are constructed over some wordplay. One example of such translations for movies can be found in iconic Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). In the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character says a well-known phrase “Hasta la vista, baby” in Spanish, it does not produce needed humorous effect, so in Spanish version, phrase was changed to “Sayonara, baby” to fit in the original concept.
  • It allows translation of connotations It’s true for local brands mentions, some geographical locations, or some other specific pieces of information that only native speakers or people from a specific cultural environment would be able to understand. Dubbing, however, makes it easier for viewers to comprehend jokes because some contextual details can be made culturally relevant to a target audience.

Dubbing Shortcomings

Although dubbing allows attracting a wider audience and presents a movie in a comfortable and comprehensible form, it still has its disadvantages.

  • The original acting in speech is lost
    When playing their role, actors work not only on their gestures as well as facial expression but on voice too. Their speech is an integral component that ties the entire acting together. Unfortunately, with dubbing, it is not possible to express full range of actors’ work.
  • Mismatch in lip-sync Sounds and words in original language may significantly differ in target tongue. So it will produce a mismatch between the actors’ lips movement in video and sounds pronounced by dubbers that may create an awkward effect.


This translation method consists of placing a translated actors speech as short text lines at the bottom of a screen. This translation type is typical for countries with a smaller population, such as Greece, Finland, Portugal, Denmark, Belgium as well as Luxembourg. Since the number of potential viewers is much smaller in these countries, subtitling is a more cost-effective option as it requires less time and fewer people.

Also, it is often used for areas where more than one language is officially recognized. This method is also often used for educational purposes allowing viewers to both hear speech and, if needed, translate movie subtitles that serve as a visual help for learners at the bottom of a video screen. So subtitling greatly facilitates edutainment where learners are studying and also enjoy movie watching.

Benefits of using subtitles

  • The more original meaning is preserved
    Audience hears original voices that produce another layer of meaning in terms of emotions and atmosphere. Also, they can read information needed in subtitles. 
  • Additional information can be added
    In dubbing, time matters critically. So some phrases might be shortened to fit into actor’s speech. But subtitles do not have this limitation. So, it’s possible to insert in them some extra information.
  • Less expensive and time-consuming Subtitling is over 80% cheaper than dubbing. Besides, translation for movies takes much less time to be produced and set.

Drawbacks of subtitles

Although for filmmakers, subtitles are the easiest way to translate movies for larger audiences, dubbing is still preferred due to several reasons.

  • They can distract
    For some, it might be extremely challenging to follow the text and, at the same time, to look at the action taking place in video on the screen. That is especially true for viewers who have little knowledge of movie’s language. It also depends on genre as thrillers and horror movies require more attention to visual details – it makes subtitles not the best choice.
  • Subtitles are limited on the screen’s space
    They have to meet some strict requirements, which might cause obstacles in scenes with very fast dialogues. In some languages, where words are long, for example, French, it can cause a real issue in translating movies that requires changing precise original meaning. It is because the maximum space for subtitles is two lines.
  • The text may merge with the background colors in a scene which makes it hardly visible Typically in movies, subtitles are white and have black edges, which maximize their visibility. However, in certain backgrounds, it’s extremely difficult to read them.

How Does Movie Translation Process Take Place?

Just like filming, it’s a massive project that involves many people, time, and resources. Even with subtitles, the number of people needed includes professional movie translator, editors as well as specialists in video content. Depending on a film, such teams may consist of dozens to hundreds of people. 

Adding subtitles

This is tedious work consisting of several steps:

  1. Clarifying requirements
    This is the preliminary stage needed for establishing the scope of work and its specific features.
  2. Working on original script and timing framework
    At this stage, team is working on dividing a transcript of an original movie into specific subtitles lines that will appear at a certain time on screen.
  3. Translation process
    The team of language specialists translate movie and make corrections in terms of localization to create overall coherence between scenes.
  4. Adjusting the translation to fit the timing
    At this stage, specialists ensure that a text appearing on screen both fits dialogues in an actual video and lasts for enough time so that readers can grasp every piece of information.
  5. Checking the quality
    To ensure qualified work, movies are shown to native speakers of a target language to collect feedback and make adjustments if necessary.
  6. Final touches
    The technical team ensures compatibility of formats, correct spend, and position of subtitles on screen.

Dubbing a movie

In dubbing, the first three steps of creating subtitles are shared, but there are slight differences. In this type of movie language translation, the hardest part lies not in technical difficulties but rather in finding and hiring actors whose voice would best fit a character. 

  1. Watching an original movie, planning and setting goals
    The team or their manager is watching a full movie video to understand how to build entire process and what actors to hire. They also decide on adjustments, set deadlines, count budgets as well as choose specialists’ team. It includes translators and editors for translating a movie into target language.
  2. Creating a dubbing script
    After a translated script is finished, it’s divided into frames and checked for phrases duration in an original movie to fit it as much as possible. This requires extreme precision to the extent that even the number of syllables in words in two scripts are compared to ensure the same tempo as in an original movie.
  3. Casting actors for dubbing
    At the same time, a team is looking for actors who would best fit characters in a movie. This process takes place while language professions translate movies and scripts are not yet finalized. 
  4. Recording a dubbing
    The entire team is involved during a script recording by actors to make sure their speech fits in a video perfectly.
  5. Quality check and sound engineering The final step is when a technical team puts records into one audio track and double-checks a final result.

It’s impossible to tell whether subtitles or dubbing are better means for translation of movies. This rather depends on a movie and an intended audience. It’s better to be extremely careful with choice. By picking cheaper option only for cost-effectiveness may end up not bringing profit at all as chosen type would not be suitable for audience. It’s only thorough analysis and a unique mixture of relevant parameters that will help to decide between dubbing or using subtitles.

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