A Day in the Life of a Subtitler
“I admire my parents’ strict discipline.”
“If anything, I eat too little beetroot.”
“When I grow up, I want to be a subtitler.”
There’s three statements you’re unlikely to hear from a child, and perhaps why Red Bee’s subtitlers come from such varied backgrounds. Even as a former weatherman, it’s my current role I have to explain most when asked, “what do you do?”, so here’s a brief glimpse into a typical day.
0500: Today I’m in early, so I leave the house on my bike in time to arrive and set up properly. Our live output is round the clock (although our Australian office takes over at night), so we work shifts. While getting up early can be tough, it does balance out with other shifts.
0600: Once in the building, I find my booth, set up my microphone and check what I’m covering. Contrary to most preconceptions, live subtitles are mainly produced by speech recognition and not by typing. We listen to a broadcast and repeat it live (or “respeak” it) in a flat, toneless voice, as well as enunciating any punctuation marks. It’s much quicker than typing, but also demanding, so we only do 15 minutes at a time. It can sound robotic [comma] but speech recognition systems pick up this way of speaking much more accurately than conversational speech [full stop]
As I’m covering BBC local news, I prepare by looking for tricky content that’s likely to crop up, using lists made by our Live Assistant team and material direct from the newsroom. The respeaking recognition technology is great with everyday language but often struggles with names, so I’m especially vigilant for these.
0627: Having donned my headphones, I go on air and start respeaking, checking the booth TV to make sure my subs are going out correctly. We strive for perfection but inevitably there’ll be occasional mistakes with live work: where we can, we correct them but not at the expense of making them difficult to read. We also use colours to distinguish who’s speaking.
0915: Having finished my morning programmes, I store a copy of my subtitles, tick it off my list and grab a cuppa before checking what else I’ll be working on. Later today, I’m covering the snooker.
1015: Having had a break, I begin work on some pre-recorded programmes - The Apprentice, as it goes - although we’ve split the episode between a group of us so we can complete it by the deadline. These subs have to be perfect: one can only imagine the wrath you’d incur by masking a classic Nick Hewer frown with the text “Lord Sugger”.
1200: Time for the snooker, which presents its own challenges: for instance, “to put” and “to pot” sound similar and we want to avoid the wrong phrase being transmitted, as well as competitors’ names.
1400: Final stint done, the day is now mine and I can go home - avoiding rush hour. There’s a lot of variety in my work and being on-air is exciting, but the main job satisfaction comes from providing millions of people access to content unobtainable without us.
With the rise of the second screen, watermarking, and increasing amounts of online video, how will subtitling be affected? What will future audiences demand of subtitling, eg 3D subtitles?
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Benn Cordrey, Subtitler
This post is part of our on-going blog series about access services