Line 21’s Office Shorthand
Some of us have been doing this captioning job really quite a long time, up to 26 years. Over that time, we’ve developed weird shorthand terminology which we’ve mixed with more accepted film/video and workflow terminology. Some of these things have become common parlance among us, with their origins sometimes forgotten… if you read in between the lines a bit, you’ll get a sense of how we do our jobs around here.
An important principle, we feel, for life, is that if something has been done once, there is no sense doing it again. Reformatting text is one of the basics of our workflows, removing information, adding information, reordering columns, swapping terms around… so one of the first things we do when captioning a show is we ask if the client has any kind of script available at all. We then strip the materials we received down to dialogue only. From there, we pull the stripped script into our captioning software and start doing our magic.
No matter how good a transcript we receive might be, it will need adjusting to the actual audio. Verbatimizing is a pass through the transcript and media to harmonize the two. You might notice that we have been talking like Dr. Doofenshmirtz for a very long time. Guilty as charged.
“Splitting” is the term we use for breaking up dialogue into meaningful segments that will later become captions or subtitles. The goal is to split the words spoken into a line or two at a time, keeping ideas together. We work to avoid leaving words dangling at the end of a line, to avoid splitting infinitives, to reduce suspense for people reading only one title at a time, and to ensure captions neither look silly or confusing. For example, the line “The people of Mars eat lots of cotton candy” would be split like this:
It would never be split as follows:
It may seem like a picky detail until… you try to read carelessly split captions or subtitles.
Those who were there will remember the actual occasion when this term was coined for a fairly wild and hilarious transcriber mishearing that got revealed during a timing pass. The actual audio was “You camped out overnight?” but the transcriber heard “Your hamster camped out overnight?” For obvious reasons, the phrase passed into infamy pretty much right away. We see a lot of goofed-up homonyms, but the inspired mishearing is an art form of its own… but these things do not belong in captioning, and must be rooted out. And saved in a clippings file.
“Timing” to us means pulling the script and media into our captioning software, watching and listening at the same time, and assigning timecodes to each caption. This process comes after stripping (and after verbatimizing, if it’s needed). Captions are positioned appropriately depending on the style of captioning the client has chosen, for instance to make it clear who is speaking, to avoid covering supers, credits, or onscreen action. We also synchronize to shot and scene changes to the frame – this gives a much better look. Depending on the mood of your colleagues at the time, we recommend singing while timing. All editors know that musicality is a big part of this job. Sing quietly if that is the preference of your peers.
One thing people may not really know about captions is that they require build time to display. When we are verifying, we are making sure that each caption has adequate build and display time. If not, we adjust timecodes discreetly to ensure that all will display as intended. This is a great time to make sure that no characters are bolded, because for reasons dating back to the very origins of captioning in teletext, a bolded caption will flash when displayed. Not a good look.
Once a file has been stripped, verbatimized, split, timed, and verified, we watch the captions as they will be displayed on broadcast, fine-tuning on every level. We think a dedicated, focused, high quality review is 100% essential. Good captioning needs a personal touch, and the shows we work on deserve that respect. At this point, your caption editor is likely also your fan. Even if the film isn’t one’s favourite genre, by this time, all the work that has gone into finishing it is totally apparent. Kudos!
We’ve got more than one world traveller in our midst! In 2015, Steffani Cameron, one of our caption editors, sold all her belongings and went Full Nomad. In her first 10 months on the road, Croatia, Portugal and its Azores Islands, and Mexico are just some of the stops she’s made. She’s got thoughtful, funny, and absorbing stories about things she’s seen and people she’s met on her journey.
Later this year, she’ll trade Mexican adventures for Eastern Europe! You can follow her on Facebook, too.
I Am JFK Jr.
Airs on Spike TV, August 1 at 9pm
Available for download on iTunes August 2
Paints an intimate portrait of the man who was born into the privileged world of Camelot and raised in the world’s spotlight. Not one to rest on his laurels, he became his own man as he worked tirelessly for the underprivileged, the disabled, and many other charitable causes.
Available for download on iTunes, August 2
The story of Tempest Storm, a world-famous exotic dancer and sex icon. Now 88 years old, she takes us through her rough childhood and early abusive marriages all the way to international stardom, affairs with Elvis and President John F. Kennedy, and the career-crippling backlash over her interracial marriage.
Ratchet & Clank
Available for download on iTunes, August 2
Ratchet is the last of his kind, a foolhardy “lombax,” and Clank is a pint-sized robot with more brains than brawn. Together, these two unlikely heroes team up to stop a vile alien from destroying every planet in the Solana Galaxy.