Translating Hollywood films into German

Hollywood is one of the epicentres of the film industry (if not ‘the’ only one). Some might consider this unfortunate as the quality of films churned out can sometimes be diabolical. But that’s the way it is. Of course, the spotlight shifts annually to famous film festivals such as Cannes, but when all is said and done, it almost always comes back to Hollywood.

translating film

When doing a of a Hollywood film, one might consider one of two options: either the film uses German subtitles, or German voiceovers are used. The latter is obviously more expensive as you’d need to hire voiceovers for almost every character (that speaks) – whereas for subtitling, you might only need a handful of people.

If German subtitles are used, they could prove to be distracting for some viewers as they could potentially miss out on some of the visuals of the film while they’re staring down the bottom of the screen trying to read the accompanying text. It also wouldn’t be of help to people who might be visually impaired or for people who can speak fluent German but are limited in the reading of it or for those who are dyslexic.

Whereas with the lingual translation of a book, one is dealing with one medium (words), with a film that’s translated with the use of voiceovers, one is faced with the task of making a literal as well as visual translation. For instance, the visual timing of what an actor is saying in English has to be as much in synch with the German voiceover as possible. The less they match, the more unprofessional it may look and sound (and the funnier it may look too – a fit of giggles might not be an appropriate reaction for a really serious film).

If the actor’s lips are still moving and yet the voiceover is still carrying on for more than a few seconds, then it certainly won’t look too good regardless of the strength of the plot.

Actors in animated films do not take any less energy to play the characters they adopt, and one would imagine that neither would the individuals who partake in the German translation of a Hollywood film (or any other non-English language for that matter). These German-speaking voiceovers are voice actors who have to prepare for the part, study and convey the same emotion in German as the physical ‘English’ character is expressing in the film.

To some extent, the voiceover option would be like making a film in itself as it would involve rewriting the script in German, holding auditions for voice actors, hiring, holding meetings, rehearsing, recording, sending the translated version to production for editing, etc.

And then there are website translations to consider as well. A German-translated version of a Hollywood blockbuster, for instance, would need its accompanying site for the promotion of the film along with posters, trailers and previews – all in German.

And that’s just for one language! Multiply that by film translations for the Chinese, French, Italian markets, for instance, and one might be able to appreciate what’s involved in the distribution of one Hollywood film.