Films: from audiovisual translation to becoming a screenwriter

 

SOM creatives post - filmThe second post in this series is about films – translating them through subtitles and also getting your own screenplay commissioned.

1) FILM (AUDIOVISUAL) TRANSLATION

WATCH FILMS (LOTS OF FILMS!) AND READ LOTS OF FILM SCRIPTS

If you want to translate films, then it’s essential that you are familiar and very comfortable with authentic film dialogue in your target language. Film translation is essentially audiovisual translation (unless you are asked to translate a whole film script) and thus involves the succinct translation of dialogue into space restricted subtitles. You therefore need to be an expert in colloquial language in your mother tongue(s).

If you are asked to translate an entire film transcript, then make sure you are familiar with the format in your target language by reading lots of them. These can be found online in places such as http://filmscriptsonline.com/

READ A BIT OF THEORYtheory

With subtitling come rules – and quite a lot of them, despite there being no internationally accepted industry standards. You can learn a huge amount about these by simply reading a book written by an expert. Anything by Jorge Díaz Cintas is usually fabulous and ‘Audiovisual Translation, Subtitling (Translation Practices Explained) is one I would definitely recommend. I still refer to it myself after many years (https://amzn.to/2L1veDu).

GET SOME EXPERIENCE

As with books, you will very rarely be given a (paid) opportunity to translate a film if you have had no prior experience. So, however little, get some. You can do this entirely on your own by doing something as simple as downloading a short film from YouTube in your source language – using a tool such as ‘Freemake Video Converter (www.freemake.com) – and then translating it in a free tool such as Aegisub (www.aegisub.org/) using the rules learnt from your previous reading. Software, for obvious reasons, is pretty much always used in audiovisual translation and there are similarities in the functionality across all tools. Familiarising yourself with one enables you to pick up another very quickly. Some of the most popular tools in the industry include Wincaps, Swift and EZTitles. Once you have practised a little, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t include your subtitled films in your own portfolio. This can only be of help when trying to get paid film translation work.

TAKE AN AUDIOVISUAL TRANSLATION COURSE

Grand Bain - Making ofMany agencies/direct clients like their translators to provide evidence of formal learning. So, something such as this online course run by Imperial College, London, can be an invaluable addition to your CV:

 

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/centras/study/professional/online/subtitling.

Otherwise, many masters courses now include audiovisual translation options.

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

There are agencies all over the world which specialise in film translation – for example, VSI in the UK (http://www.vsi.tv/). However, anybody who produces audiovisual film material in your source language(s) is also a potential client. So, find out about events where such people gather and go along. You may often find you’re the only translator there. If you’re doing this in your source language country, so much the better.

BE PREPARED TO COMPETE AND ESTABLISH A MINIMUM RATE

As with books, film translation work is highly sought after and there is LOTS of competition. Consequently, there are lots of ridiculous rates offered, as agencies and direct clients know translators want to do this kind of work (it is extremely enjoyable and interesting and most of us would do it for free if we could afford to!) Whilst it’s OK to accept any rate when you first start out and have pretty much no experience,  at some point, you need to live. So, get ready to reject a lot of offers and target agencies and clients in the countries you know pay better (e.g. Europe/Canada/US/Australia). If you are an English into another language translator, then you are fortunate. Internationally, there is more work in this language direction.

Once you get a feel for the industry, set yourself a baseline rate, quickly. This can be a price per subtitle or per minute (clients tend to use both, and one can be used to calculate an approximation of the other depending on the quantity of dialogue in a film).

In my own experience, I am often offered work at €2/minute for translation alone (i.e. not including spotting, which is where you create the time synchronised subtitles yourself). My baseline rate, however, after 8 years of working fairly consistently in the industry, is €9-10/minute. There are many forums online which discuss the pricing of subtitles. Do some research for your particular language combination and country(-ies).

DON’T FORGET FILM TRANSCRIPT EDITINGTranscription_Editing

There is a market for proofreading and editing other people’s film transcripts. Sites such as www.upwork.com can sometimes include such jobs and you can of course tailor your website/Proz.com profile and so on to specify that this is something you are interested in or do regularly. Editing other people’s screenplays is also a brilliant way of honing your own screenwriting skills, which leads us on to…

2) GETTING YOUR OWN FILM SCRIPT COMMISSIONED

TAKE A COURSE

Filmscript writing is a specialist writing form, with many well-established rules in terms of format/story development. Learning these rules in as consolidated a way as possible, from professionals, is a worthwhile investment. There are many courses around, from those costing a fortune at prestigious colleges, such as UC Berkley (US) to those which are more affordable, for example the one-day course by Industrial Scripts ® (UK) https://screenplayscripts.com/product/screenwriting-course/

There are even free courses, for example the one run by the University of East Anglia (UK) https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/screenwriting.

Such courses will more than likely introduce you to what is now almost the industry accepted standard for producing a film script in the right format – Final Draft software (https://www.finaldraft.com/). This isn’t exorbitantly priced, so could well be worth the investment early on if you know that screenplay writing is what you want to focus on.

READ LOTS OF SCRIPTS AND PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Screenplay formatTo better improve your own scriptwriting, make sure you’ve read lots of film scripts by the very best writers. As mentioned previously, you can access these online in places such as http://filmscriptsonline.com/

 

 

HAVE ORIGINAL IDEAS, AND PLENTY OF THEM!

One of the first things people in the film industry will tell you is that it is the idea which often sells a film/gets it commissioned – even before a script has been written. So, have lots of them and in order to test how good they are (no – asking family and friends really doesn’t count!) it can be helpful to:

BE PART OF A COMMUNITY AND GET FEEDBACK

There are plenty of Facebook forums for screenwriters, but joining a more ‘professional’ community/association often has the benefit of enabling you get feedback on your work, which is vital. One such association is The International Screenwriters’ Association https://www.networkisa.org/

Alternatively, industry-based professional entities, such as Industry Scripts in the UK, offer fee-based feedback on everything from your concepts through to your final screenplay.

GETTING YOUR SCREENPLAY COMMISSIONED

Pitching a screenplay is pretty much the only way to get it commissioned and eventually turned into a fully produced film. There is lots of advice online for how to go about successful pitching – Google, as always, is a great source of information written by those who are really in the know in the film industry. For example:

https://www.finaldraft.com/learn/final-draft-blog/five-steps-successful-pitching/

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

Networking is invaluable if you want to get to know the people who can actually do something with your screenplay. Events such as those organised by companies like Industrial Scripts ® in London (https://screenplayscripts.com/) can be great ones to attend. Or anything by your own national film association/commission. ‘Who you know’ is of huge benefit in the film industry and having people know who you are and what you are hoping to achieve makes it much easier when you eventually start to make calls/write emails asking to be able to pitch your screenplay.

Warning signTHINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:

The sad reality of the film industry is that it is a cut-throat as it comes. You should therefore:

– Not share your marvellous ideas with people in a much better position than you to make a film out of them, until you have a full script written and have sent it out to lots of people in the industry (preferably at a similar time.) This ensures you can sue the heck out of anyone who may try and steal your idea!

– Build up a network of credible, trustworthy industry professionals (the vast majority of them are) who can support you in gaining knowledge and experience, but not at the expense of you also obtaining success as a result of your talent and hard work.

 

Books: from creative translation to becoming an author

 

I specialise and lecture in creative translation and have also made the crossover to becoming a published author. As a result, I am often asked for advice on how break into the Creative Industries. This is the first in a series of 3 posts on translating books, films and songs along with key information for those looking to move into these industries as original authors, screenplay writers and lyricists. I hope it proves useful for all those aspiring creatives out there.

This first post focuses on books – their translation and also getting your own published.

1) BOOK TRANSLATION

KNOW YOUR GENREBooks genres

If translating books is what you’re interested in, then the first thing to decide is what kind of books. A book on social-psychology requires entirely different skills and knowledge to translating a fast-paced thriller. Know what you love, make sure you read a lot of it in your target language already, and then focus on that.

GET SOME EXPERIENCE

No matter how little (even if only a few paragraphs), you need to have some kind of experience/evidence to show people that you are a capable book translator. Unfortunately, there aren’t many authors or publishers who want to entrust a book translation to someone who has never done it before. One place where you can cut your teeth is http://www.babelcube.com/ . This website allows you to sign up and offer to translate books (for free), with a share in the royalties of any sales of your translation.

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

Networking creative industries

Authors themselves can choose translators when a book is self-published, so you can contact them directly. (If you can’t find their contact details online, contact one of their self-publishing companies or online stories and ask if a message can be passed on containing your own contact details). For traditionally published books, however, publishers, literary agents and foreign rights are the people who employ book translators. A simple Google search on the topic is invaluable to learn more about the process and to find out who might be looking for translators (any publisher or literary agent with a ‘foreign rights’ department should be your first port of call). In brief, translations can be organised either by a) translators making a targeted approach and saying ‘I’d like to translate this book for this reason’ or b) publishers and literary agents thinking a certain book is well-suited to a new market, and thus selling the foreign rights via a foreign rights agent and requiring a translation.

If you want to find out more about how to get paid book translation work (i.e. work where you are paid some kind of fee rather than just a share of royalties), then I would highly recommend visiting one of the many national book fairs held worldwide. For example, London Book Fair (http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/) in the spring, Beijing Book Fair (http://www.bibf.net/en/) in late summer and Frankfurt Book Fair (https://www.buchmesse.de/en/fbf/) in the autumn.

At these events you are surrounded by publishers and agents. It pays to arrange meetings beforehand as everyone goes there specifically to buy and sell book rights and their diaries are always very full. There are very useful seminars on book translation and associated topics, where you can meet fellow book translators and industry experts, exchanging notes and contacts. Catalogues of publishers/literary and foreign rights agents who require translators can sometimes be obtained at these events as well, which can be a huge time-saver.

BE PREPARED TO COMPETE

As and when you are first offered the opportunity to translate a book (for a share of royalties and/or a fee), it is quite common for a number of translators to be ‘tested’ simultaneously at the outset. This involves translating anything from a few paragraphs to a chapter of a book so that the author and/or publisher can make an informed choice. This work is often unpaid, with the ‘winning’ translator then being paid for their work in retrospect. As in all the creative industries, competition is extremely stiff so you need to be prepared to evidence your talent when you are starting out.

After you have translated at least one book, you are in a much better position to negotiate payment for any test. Providing samples of your previous work may even make completing a test unnecessary. Once you’re really established, you will tend to be approached by authors/publishers more. You need to have a name as a book translator before you’re really in the driving seat when it comes to obtaining book translation projects.

2) GETTING YOUR OWN BOOK PUBLISHED

Self-publishing

SELF-PUBLISHING

Self-publishing has become a huge industry over the last decade, the result being anyone who wants to write and get their writing out there is now free to do so, at very little cost/risk. Here are some tips I’ve picked up in the last 6 years.

GET MAXIMUM EXPOSURE FOR MINIMUM EFFORT

Whether you choose to publish ‘print-on-demand’ hard copies or ‘e-books’, or both, you want to find a self-publishing company that distributes to as many online stores as possible. E-books tend to be the cheapest option but demand for print books continues to rise (it increased by 7% globally in 2017, according to Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey, whilst e-book sales dropped by 4%). After lots of trial and error, including self-publishing through renowned companies such as lulu.com (https://www.lulu.com/) and Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/) – and there are many others, such as CreateSpace, Book Baby and Kobo – I was fortunate enough to come across PublishDrive (https://publishdrive.com/). They’re relatively new to the industry but making huge waves and in my experience, they provide the best service out there. It’s free to publish with them, if you format your books according to their requirements, and they take a flat 10% cut of your digital list price. If you need your book formatted or converted, they charge a very reasonable one-off fee (fees vary among self-publishing companies for this task but they all offer this option). PublishDrive distribute to the greatest number of online stores. They also offer up a huge number of language possibilities (whilst Amazon Kindle, for example, still doesn’t support many major world languages, including Chinese!)

GET USED TO MARKETING YOURSELF

The reality in the new digital world is that it isn’t now just quality which sells, it’s your brand. So, you need to have a USP, whatever your book, and you need to advertise what that is on social media – or pay someone else to do it for you. Having a profile as an author is vital for book sales.

One of the best ways to work out how to market yourself is to have a look at what other authors are doing via their social media channels – to get some inspiration – and then…DO NOT DO THE SAME THING! 🙂 You’re a creative, so copying another, more established, creative is unlikely to get you very far. It certainly won’t hone your creative skills. But you can always take other people’s ideas and give them a new twist or just come up with something that you’ve noticed other people aren’t doing.

BE PART OF A COMMUNITY

Getting together with other self-published authors can be extremely helpful for learning more about how to optimise your book’s sales potential. The Alliance of Independent Authors (https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/) is a great international organisation for this purpose. There are also lots of Facebook groups around as well.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

What-Makes-A-Good-Writer

BE A GREAT WRITER!

Unlike with self-publishing, when you are looking to have your book published via the traditional route, the quality of your writing is everything. You will be competing against the best of the best and therefore being exceptional at your craft (within your preferred genre) as well as coming up with ingenious new ideas is what matters. So, get plenty of practice and lots of feedback (preferably from other published writers or publishers themselves.)

JOIN A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION

There are a number of these out there for writers and they can be hugely beneficial for support, advice and finding out about important industry events. Two good examples (and I mention only those in the UK here, of course) include The Society of Authors (http://www.societyofauthors.org/) and The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (https://www.scbwi.org/).

GETTING A CONTRACT

I don’t currently have a publishing contract with a major publisher. I have been offered two in the last 6 months but did not feel they were right for me – based on advice from a number of other publishers and literary agents. I am now in talks with two more publishers. I hope this puts me in a good position to explain how you can go about getting a contract and what you should look out for when you are offered one. Above all, be prepared to show a huge amount of patience and tenacity (‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before it was published!)

There are two routes to getting a traditional publishing contract. ROUTE 1 – you apply direct to publishers, ensuring that you adhere strictly to the instructions on their website for submissions. ROUTE 2 – you find yourself a literary agent who will act on behalf of you and your book and approach publishers for you. Again, instructions on submissions to literary agents are to be found on their websites and must be adhered to. To determine who to aim your book at, make sure you study the publisher or literary agent’s website carefully, as they will tell you what genres they are currently looking for (thrillers, sci-fi, young adult fiction etc) and indeed whether they are accepting submissions from new writers at all. The advantage of finding a literary agent to represent you is that they will negotiate contract deals with publishers and you as an author can tend to benefit from better conditions.

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS (AGAIN!)

Just as for book translation, networking is invaluable if you want to obtain a traditional publishing contract. Attending book fairs, as well as other events where you know publishers and agents will be in attendance is invaluable for getting advice, meeting people who may be interested in your book and basically ‘making a noise’ (which was a piece of advice I was given in person by a very prominent member of the book industry). Again, Google can be fabulous for searching for such events as they take place in all sorts of locations in most major cities.

Warning sign

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:

As and when you do get that elusive publishing deal, take time to consider the following before accepting it:

– SCAM publishers/literary agents offering a ‘contribution-based’ contract. These are widespread these days and many new authors pay thousands of pounds to enter into a contract on the basis that they are not established and thus are more of a ‘risk’. Some publishers offering these contracts are ‘named and shamed’ online. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting such offers. A reputable publisher or literary agent will not ask you for any money if they want to take your book on.

– Make sure you are happy with the conditions for what can often be a tie-in period of 2-5 years. Ensure the royalties you will get are something you can live with as you will be legally bound by the contract, even if a better offer then comes along. There are no specific rules, but seeking advice from other publishers if you are acting on your own behalf (without an agent) can be extremely helpful.

– Other things to bear in mind are: how long your tie-in period is; whether the contract includes global rights to your book(s) and such things as merchandise; and whether someone wants to publish one or all of your books if you have written a series.