Anaïs Duchet: Behind the scenes of series subtitling

Anaïs Duchet, an audiovisual translator, shares with us in this interview what’s behind the scenes on TV series subtitling.

As the daughter of English speakers fans of cinema, Anaïs Duchet was introduced to foreign languages and films in their original version from a very young age. Intrigued by the way films and series were translated, she decided to make a career of subtitling. She first studied translation in English and Italian and then entered the DESS (a postgraduate diploma) in Translation and Cinematographic Adaptation at the university Lille III. As of today, Anaïs Duchet has translated about ten feature films and series, the best known ones being “The Walking Dead”, or even “The Impossible” (2012) directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

Passionate about her profession, she is also a member of the Association of Translators Audiovisual Adapters (ATAA) in which she defends quality work and promotes her profession which receives unfortunately little recognition.

In this interview, this subtitling expert shares her experience as a translator of TV series and more specifically the phenomenon of fansubbers. Note that fansub is a contraction of “fan” and “subtitles”. Fansubbers are fans of series, who illegally subtitle them in order to make available to the public the episodes, almost at the same time as their release in the United States.

– Today, we are witnessing an almost worldwide craze for TV series. Since fans are getting impatient, a lot of them are fine with subtitles made by fansubbers. According to you, what are the common mistakes made by the latter?

– The major problem is that they want to translate everything. The aim, when you subtitle, is not to transcribe everything, but to adapt the translation and make choices. When we want to explain everything, the subtitles invade the screen and the viewer can no longer enjoy the image. The translator must go with the work discreetly and try to respect as much as possible the intentions that have been given.

The second mistake is that they work together on an episode in 24 hours. Therefore there is no harmonization or style consistency. Sometimes we are two working together on a series but we each do an episode and we reread each other’s translation. I am currently working on the series The Walking Dead in pairs with another translator. I translate the even numbered episodes and she does the odd numbered episodes. Then, we’ll reread each other’s so as to use consistently the recurrent terms, choose to use the informal “tu” form rather than the formal “vous” form when characters talk… We set up a lexicon, as in literary translation, for a script.

Then, as it is young people who really like American culture, or British culture, they are too attached to the original terms. When you translate, you have to agree to give up. I too often hear: “This idea is not translatable into French so we are going to leave the English word”. This laziness shows that you are not a translator. When you´re a translator, you have to deal with concepts or ideas that seem untranslatable.

– What impact does this phenomenon have on your profession?

– Fansubbers do not compete directly with professionals. They won´t sell directly their work to subtitling labs or TV networks. The danger is that people get used to poor quality and that, therefore, we have a hard time promoting our skills, our translator’s craft needs time and needs to be well paid.

On the other hand, this phenomenon made the TV networks realize that they must do something about it. In France, TV networks used to broadcast series very late. They have therefore set up broadcasting systems, US+24. This does not mean that it is translated in 24 hours. These are agreements that are passed beforehand with the series distributors. Laboratories receive the videos three weeks in advance. It allows us to have time to refine the text, let it rest, return to it and offer the viewer the subtitled series the day after the release in the United States. And then, to fight against fansubbing, we find that it’s a good solution since the main argument from fansubbers is that the series arrived far too late in France, and that they had decided, out of activism, to take care of subtitling.

The aim of subtitling is not to translate everything, but to adapt the translation and make choices.

– When you translate series such as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, how do you translate terms from this imaginary universe?

– Very often, for the Marvel’s worlds, we follow what is done for films, because we feel that people who are going to watch this series already know about Marvel’s and they went to see the films in theaters. Above all, there are a lot of crossovers made between the films and the series. We’ll have a reference to one of the films, a character in the series and vice versa. We generally conform to the choices that were made in the films by the authors and subtitlers. For example, for the translation from English to French of the acronym SHIELD. In English, it means: Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division. In French, we have taken the translation prepared by the subtitles author of the Avengers film, Thomas Murat: Stratégie Habileté Intervention Exécution et Logistique Défensive.

– Was fansubbing the trigger for your involvement in the Audiovisual Translator Adapters Association?

– No, fansubbing arrived some time after the creation of the ATAA but it’s something we’ve had to react to pretty quickly. But, unfortunately, we can’t really fight against this phenomenon. Since these websites are created abroad or opened under .eu domain names, it is very difficult to fight them and close them. Our way of fighting against the popularity of fansubbing is to raise public awareness, to show the difference between the two and to promote professional subtitling.

Laziness is a sign that you are not a translator. When you´re a translator, you have to deal with concepts or ideas that seem untranslatable.

– How do you see the future of translators specialized in subtitling TV series?

– I am rather an optimist so I want to stay optimistic. More and more series are broadcast in France. So there is more work than before. However, we must remain very vigilant about the conditions under which this work will be carried out. Firstly, with the opening up to the masses, there’s always a little risk of cost lowering. Secondly, there is the problem of volume that could be detrimental to quality. Indeed, if we don’t spend enough time on a translation, it won’t be refined enough. Money is always the sinews of war. In order to have time, translators need to get paid enough for projects so they don’t chain them up and slaughter them.

Regarding fansubbers, with the arrival of US+24, some of them stopped subtitling the series. Unfortunately, their aim is not to offer legal subtitling but rather to hack the subtitles that are made by professionals and then put them on the internet. So, they no longer bother subtitling, they steal the subtitles! I found some of my subtitles on the internet and fansubbers still hack, although at least they are no longer translators therefore they no longer make subtitling errors. To marginalize fansubbing, we need people to turn to the legal offer. You have to pay, but it’s by agreeing to pay that you can get a quality offer. It is like legal streaming compared to illegal streaming. Now, with Deezer, people are willing to pay 10 euros per month for an unlimited music library.

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This article has been written by Lara

Lara studied photojournalism at IHECS in Liège (Belgium). After travelling in Asia and New-Zealand she now lives in Buenos Aires and works at Cultures Connection.