Monday, November 24, 2008

Dubbing vs. subtitles

A nun leads me through a 10,000 square meter shelter, which lies within a grid of red-sanded roads. Juicy tropical plants surround this fenced-off miniature village outside Ho Chi Minh City. She introduces me to the AIDS patients who live here, points to the 15 orphaned children who spend their days here going to school, painting the little metal carousel and ripping the weeds out of the front courtyard while awaiting their nearing death. 

The nun  shows me the ad hoc operating room. A faded baby blue statue of Maria stands guard as volunteer doctors come here to perform surgery on patients who suffer from AIDS-related sicknesses. Then she points to the crematorium where the remains of patients are burnt if they have no relatives that could take care of them.

She lifts her hand, her finger wandering from urn to another in the glass cabinet that is embedded into the crematorium wall. 

"This one died after a year."
"This is the mother of the girl you saw earlier."
"Look at the date here. She came in one day and died the next one,"
she said. 

In Vietnamese. 

This is where my problem begins. 

The colors were rich. The children's eyes large and dark brown. The male patients skin and bones. Fifteen kids chanting a song together. The grommet of the metal playground swing squeaks faintly in the background. 

And then a tonal language that makes no sense to most people who might see this video. 
Subtitles are like yet another element.

There are interviews, sound, visuals and now text. As someone who grew up bilingual and was forced to learn three more languages in her life, I tend to think that subtitles are friendlier, less intrusive and leave in the voice of the character. 

But subtitles are running commentaries, slight interpretations because there is no such thing as a translation. They are another factor, they are content. An additional, intellectual content that imposes itself on top of other visual and aural information. Full immersion in a story cannot be interrupted by white text trickling down on a screen, can it? 

And then dubbing? Dubbing brings in a whole other element. You need to find a different voice to add on top of the original voice of your interviewee, corresponding in gender and - to create the illusion of authenticity - in ethnicity. It's a way of making a story flow, of getting the audience to stay on the topic. 

So comprehension of a story, flow of a story therefore overrules authenticity?
There's no one rule (and looking for answers from other news media like the Washington Post or even on our own site seems to confuse me even further). 

But in a story where the content of the speeches is as important as the visual and aural understanding of a place, I guess, I'd go for dubbing. 

Any comments much appreciated. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008


My job is to be a videographer. Translated from jargon-heavy web lingo to everyday speech this means I shoot, edit and script videos and one day possibly even slideshows. 

Whenever I pitch a story package, however, I extend my job description. 


The problem with this is not that you have to suddenly present a story in three different formats. That's just having to juggle different software and taking into account a lot of production time. What killed me was that I realized (possibly too late) I had to report on three stories about the same theme with slightly different angles. You see, components have to complement not re-iterate. And that's where it got icky. 

So here are a few lessons I've learned from this and I hope some of you will find it useful:

  1. Preparations: The key to all of this seems to be pre-reporting. Finding your story angle for the print piece in advance will help loads. So once you've got that pinned you can see what's missing or under-explored. The misconception I had was that I could predict which part would play which role. I thought I knew in advance what I would need for each component. But interviews always change your angle on the story, ever so slightly. Hence, figure out the print component. Then the additional components will crystalize when you realize which parts you weren't able to explore in the print story and are important to get the whole picture.  
  2. Material: That's a biggie. Not only does the article need a still image. The video needs about 10 images of what you couldn't get on tape while filming the office of your interviewee or visiting a space where an event took place. And the best graphics have great visualizations of data you need to get from your source or have crisp and beautiful images that are cut out or processed in one or another way. So a grocery list while reporting multimedia-style might be: a few photos (for article), images from things your interviewee talking about (for video) and illustrations/3D models/powerpoint presentations/stills/data (for graphic). 
  3. Time: Unless you have a team of people working with you, you might want to do this sort of reporting only for enterprise stories.

Suggestions and comments welcome!