One of my roles as a subtitler is to keep our programme notes updated. My family often ask me why on earth a database of programme information is necessary. Surely we just subtitle whatever gets said? Well, yes, but transcribing any programme requires a certain level of knowledge, and in the Ericsson Access Services department, we aim to pool that knowledge.
We actually have a vast database of programme information. After all, Ericsson subtitles more than 500 hours of TV every day. In the UK alone at any given moment our subtitlers will be producing captions for Sky News, Dave, BBC Two, CBeebies, 5STAR, E4 and BT Sport, to mention just a few. And having useful information for each programme is crucial.
The most important piece of information a live subtitler needs is how to access the audio and the media for the programme they’re covering, and then how to send the right subtitles to the right channel. Different channels are accessed in different ways…but you’ll have to ask our tech department if you want more info on that one. I just do what I’m told and those magic words appear on the screen through the power of the internet!
Many live programmes have some sections that are scripted or filmed in advance. Subtitlers have access to newsroom running orders, production scripts and sometimes VT databases, which is of course crucial for preparing the best possible live subtitles. The subtitle files which we create then also need to be stored correctly so they can be accessed by other subtitlers later that day or week.
The next thing we need is the right vocab. The majority of Question Time isn’t scripted, so I need to be confident that it’s Theresa May, not Teresa and Misrata, not Misurata. We have reams of wordlists for different topics that help us keep all of this straight. This is most useful for live sports output, of course. If I’m covering an NFL match, it’s great to have their squad lists all ready and waiting for me to prep from.
The same issues apply to pre-recorded subtitling. As different subtitlers cover different episodes of a programme, we need to pool our Tiddlytubbies knowledge. It’s Mi-Mi, RuRu, Nin and Duggle Dee, OK? And it’s nice to use the same label to indicate the noise the Ninky Nonk makes in the Night Garden.
With all this crucial information floating round in our heads, I sometimes think we should find a wider use for it. Obviously subtitlers are amazing in pub quizzes. I just wish Noel would quit the dream factory and make Telly Addicts again. We’d nail it!
Rachel Thorn, Subtitler