The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Wolfgang Achtner

Dearest Darla,

People like you drive me nuts – no offense meant :-) – because you ask for advice (sometimes on different boards), you don't take it and then you ask the same questions again!

Re your translation dilemma, check the hidden section, I reprinted my previous answers (you could have looked them up in mentoring room yourself).

Next, when you decide to ask more questions about editing, check the answers Chris Wong and I already gave you (in the Mentoring Room) on that subject! :-)

Wed, 30 Jan
re translation Boyd wrote:
"Some additional thoughts. You may want to have more than one translator look at your footage. There are subtleties in language that are really important in editing. What a person says and what a person means can be two different things and a straight translation often doesn't help you with that. Speaking only for myself, I base a lot of editing decisions, and story development, on the meaning and subtext of the words, not only on the words themselves.
The other part of this equation is that a verbatim translation may be disjointed in English, so there is a trick to constructing the English phrasing, that sounds good, with good word choices, that is faithful to what was actually said. It depends how good the translator is, and how fluent they are in both languages."
Translation is a vey important item. Working in Italian and/or English I don't have any problem because I'm fluent in both (I write books in both languages). If your grasp of a language is not this good you need to get the best translator you can; it may cost you but it's definitely worth every cent. Unfortuneatly in Italy they always try to save money – but you get what you pay for – so I've heard terrible translations even on important channels like Dicovery or History channel in Italian where the translation completely missed the point.
You need a great translator and this person also needs to know how to write extremely well in English so your English dialoge will be perfect.
What I mean is, one doesn't take liberties with the meanings but you need to render dialogue exacly as if those people were speaking in English themselves.
That means understanding complex sentence constructions that might be the opposite of English, with the verb at the end or vicevresa and it also means understanding complex techncial verbiage (medical or legal) if need be, and last but not least, the abilty to render in proper English the correct equivalent of Italian idiomatic expressions, proverbs, syaings, etc.
Your dialogue in English must be perfect, exactly as if the people had been speaking in English. Get the best, most competent, professional translator you can find!!!

Fri Feb 1
If he is willing, you could ask your DP to do the transcriptions and translations for you. There is no need for him to log the tapes to do this. Otherwise, you might find someone else in Italy.
As I explained in a previous post, you should do the logging of all the tapes WITH the editor with whom you are going to edit your documentary because you BOTH need to be aware of all the video.
This way you'd only need to copy onto VHS tapes or a DVD with burnt in timecode (in order to be able to transcribe beginning end ending times for each sentence/paragraph) the tapes (or sections there of) with the interviews. You'd still need to capture this material onto a computer – and this takes place in real time – but you could return home with the tapes and your DP or whoever will be doing the transcription and translation could work at it over here and then e-mail you the finished transcripts.

Sat Feb 2
You need to transcribe the dialogues first in Italian so you have a record of what was really said and also to allow another translator to check the translation (if necessary).

Darla Bruno

Mr. Brauer, as far as I know, I am wearing a shirt, albeit strapless . . . but I might consider your offer to walk the streets of Astoria with my footage needing translation.

Wolfgang, I will not bypass your hidden content. I'm sorry to have overlooked it. And, if it's any comfort, I even annoy myself sometimes.

Peter Brauer

I assumed it was strapless. But part of the d-word is having fun. No-offense intended.

Seriously half of my neighbors are native Italian speakers. I live on the same block as George Costanza's parents live on Seinfeld. No joke their house has a unique look that could only be my block. I know one old guy down the street who only speaks Italian. We say hi and wave, but that is about it.

Christopher Wong

darla, if it makes you feel any better, peter's not wearing any pants...

Darla Bruno

Hahahaha . . . oh, you boys!

All right, well, I'm taking heed (Wolfgang) and I think I'm going to find myself a good translator. Ideally, it would be one of the italians I worked with – they were there. They know the nuances of the language and got the wacky proverbs.

I understand why many people recommended that I just go in (with or without a pro editor) and start cutting – but I think this is an opportunity for me to really sit with what I shot, get to know my characters (and finally learn what was said!) and get a better grasp on my story. And being a Capricorn, an editor, and a writer . . . I think I'm interested in learning myself, first, what my story is, before someone sits and tells me (though I do enjoy collaboration).

So I think that's how I'll move.

Thanks, all!

Wolfgang Achtner

Carissima Darla,

You'll find that you won't regret having a real pro do it. In reality, it has to be someone really good, it's not enough to know the language.

All the more, if your documentary is going to be based on these interviews, you can't afford to loose the nuances.

I have done some translations of the sound track of documentaries (same issue except on finished products) and I speak Italian perfectly, so you'd be surprised to find out how many shitty jobs are out there. Sometimes, minor misunderstandings leadot translations that are actually saying the contrary of what was said.

Translating from English, the most common problems regard the mis-translation of American idioms or expressions. When you can't translate literally you need to know how to adapt the sentence to the other langauge and or culture, etc.

getting back to your stuff, you need someone who understands the language and the culture, so they can transalte the fine points without loosing any of the texture, if you know what I mean.

Good luck!

When you've done this part, before you start editing, re-read my posts on the editing phase.

Enjoy!!! :-)

Darla Bruno

Yes, Wolfgang. I know . . . the problem is, how to find this person who is going to do this. Ideally, it would be my DP – he knew the people, loved them, got their proverbs, and has an excellent command of English. But he's not terribly excited by the prospect.

Wolfgang Achtner


Tony is right.

If you offer to pay him enough he'll probably accept the job.

Furthermore, it would probably be much easier for him (in Italy, if I remember correctly) to find people to transcribe – with time code references – your interviews.