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on audiovisual and literary translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries

VR: The New Talkies

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Like some indestructible colossus, structured narrative has triumphed over all other storytelling vehicles and methods as never before.  The real heart of stories—themes, ideas, emotions, imagery— its genuine “content,” has been jackbooted into submissive obscurity by an over-glorification of the predictability, safety, and feats of its engineering.  After the world recovered from the last global conflict, bold, adventurous filmmakers, many of who acquired their chops during the conflict, rigorously and unrelentingly pushed their medium’s inherent bounds and limitations  As “story”‘s  gospel seems to wane, an upstart medium is literally waiting in the wings.

Though its tech is nascent, VR seems destined to become the 21st century artform bar none.  Content’s resurgence and reaction against form’s constrictions seems to be inevitable.  The smackdown between artificial frames—produced by expert professionals—and experience—produced with seeming novices/laypersons—began at the turn of the last century, as reality TV sounded the death knell of scripted content.  The latter clearly rebounded, but among the wonders of any new artform is its parentage.  VR’s promise—and perils—explode rectangular confines to plunge participants, no longer passive “viewers,” headlong into experience itself, that literally messes with their heads.  Makers’ powers are exponentially greater and more dangerous.  The option of looking away or shielding one’s eyes is impossible.

What’s more is the remarkableness of VR’s déjà vu factorStereoscopes and kinetoscopes were once solitary and somewhat klunky, yet nevertheless popular solo pastimes. Shortly before the first talkie appeared, film executives balked at sound’s inevitability and the value of adjusting their infrastructure to accommodate it.  Once talkies broke though, silents were almost immediately consigned to history’s archives, to be glimpsed fleetingly by enthusiasts and historians alone.

VR is currently at a juncture similar to those nascent sound films, with little if any headway within or saturation among either the general public or the audiovisual industry itself.  But concurrently, the cinema seems bound for that same fate as the small frame has mostly trounced the large one.  The current standoff between the two hinges almost entirely on the debt-fueled frenzy of the so-called “content providers” to outproduce one another.  When, not if, that house of cards collapses, anything goes and the future will be up for grabs . . .

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Filed under: divers, French film industry, US film industry, , , , , , ,

Is Online Killing Movies?

lune

. . . Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.
— Werner Herzog

From all appearances, the opposite of the above seems to have come to pass.  What was once “programming,” now morphed into “content,” has rapaciously proliferated like whatever your preferred metaphor might be.  Now I readily admit, as “A Writer who Translates,” that I’ve immersed myself in “must-see TV” stories that submerged its audiences into fantasies or history to brilliantly illuminate the present.

But on some level, whether it’s a pendulum swing or some type of karmatic comeuppance, a shift is underway.  So-called “content’s” accumulation via multiple “platforms” etc. seems to have reached a breaking point. Did we actually ask for all of this . . . information/story worship/making?

In olden times, i.e. pre-2007, there was some separation of media artistic appraisal/criticism and business analysis on all things audiovisual. Now, the critical pile on of praise and worshipful adoration is contextualized by what exactly?  That, save for narrative features reduced to two genres and precious few exceptions, there’s absolutely nothing else out there?  The past, i.e., a prior half century of utter TV dreck in terms of “content” antecedents, and a century of cinema?

The cheerleading justifies “more,” but of what exactly?  The absolutist publisher/”content provider,” instead of curating or nurturing individual voices, has created a self-mirroring kingdom where the business model is all, and the actual story or project is a trivial, detailed afterthought.  This devout, holy cynicism, in which “creatives” fully participate, pollutes the entire landscape, snuffing out and stifling actual trailblazing and risk-taking.

How much more can we take without cultural indigestion or worse? Like some ridiculous sedative, we have become anesthetized by stories where the ultimate goal is simply to get lost. Are we hastening our extinction by bending our heads in prayer like to our screens, ignoring not only the manifold and manifest problems around us but one another? There’s no hint of catharsis, much less a desire to be more awake or alive afterwards. Instead, we’re venturing further off trail from our own lives and any semblance of bonding or deeper connection with those around us and those far beyond.  Of course, there’s endless virtual “watercooler” activity, but whose existence merely perpetrates the content-saturated ecosystem itself.

In all of this submergence, we’re fast losing something critical: the cinema. Almost undetectably, while we were asleep in front of our devices, the business of movies has disappeared. And possibly the most frightening thing about online’s algae-like monopolization is its dominion and domination over all dramatic forms.

So what if or when the dam bursts, and the theaters simply are gone, how will we come together for entertainment?  Never before, to my knowledge as someone with a theatre background, has humanity shirked collective aesthetic gatherings. What’s ultimately at stake is the one mass cultural enterprise where everyone comes together—the masses, the elite, and everyone in between.

Like any bubble or “sure thing,” push eventually comes to shove, and “reality,” in this case something more measured, retrospective, or completely different, asserts its dominion. But what exactly that will look, sound, and feel like is anyone’s guess  . . .

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, US film industry, VOD, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

At the Beginning . . . Reaching the End (For Now)

With some regret but great relief, I’ve decided to set this aside blog for now, and heartily encourage my “readership” and “followers” to join me a my two new blogs, started last summer.

One covers my preoccupations with all things economic related to daily life, the other the presence and more often lack thereof, of gay men in film and TV.

In the future, I hope to bring French and/or francophile/phone film professionals here in Los Angeles for potential vlog discussions about audiovisual translation.

Filed under: French film industry, French translation, translation, US film industry, ,

Un mariage pas très gai

The most exciting news coming out of Cannes this year was on police blotters despite the hullaballo that reigned down when the Palmaires were announced (and after apparently, from the author of the graphic novel which sparked the film.)  Though Cannes endorses artistic achievement and little else, in film, excellence and success can be mutually exclusive, and they rarely translate fluidly and identically, especially from France to the US.

That no major film with LGBT content has ever screened till now is unsurprising, as Spike Lee, flashing back to 1989, might have been one of the first filmmakers of any African descent to screen in competition.  This disconnect between popular media and social issues can also explain the domestic umbrage about the “foreign” laurels flung on the film, revealing the true colors of the anti-marriage crowd.

Unlike the American right which smartly realized that social progress is a one-way street, the French extreme-right, seems to be going after something it can gallantly lose merely to gain attention.  Would that this political contortionism could work to make real LGBT stories successfully visible to more people.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, French film industry, , , , , ,

Actors as Translators (and Interpreters)

Kristin Scott Thomas

Another testament that so much is knitting our world closer; this lovely article only confirms what I’ve noticed for some time.

By necessity, national film market borders are disappearing faster than polar ice floes.  But as formats get smaller and more personalized, and guaranteeing revenue trickier, consolidation is even more critical, all in a search for more “green.”

And along the way to all of that, I’m really happy to see Kristin Scott-Thomas getting much deserved critical attention for the wonderful work she does and has done.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, French film industry, French translation, US film industry, , ,

To Err

still from the film "Inception"Translation is hard work, requiring sharp organizational skills, linguistic dexterity, and stimulants.  And for anyone who does it professionally, the latter can be a big part of the job, as penetrating below the surface of language and really messing around linguistic sub-basements, under often unruly time constraints, can make the film Inception seem like an inspirational human interest tale.  (And I’m not even going into the whole human v. MT conundrum here.)

It was then with embarassing recognition and not a little shame that I read this sober yet ironic posting recently.  I liken translation to shattering some kind of object, and meticulously piecing it back together.  And getting cut up quite a bit in the process, so that our linguistic serum enters into it.

Myself, I make mistakes (something the author and I’d venture most translators are averse to admitting), strive for perfection, and learn to be humble.  But since the space between languages and cultures is never finite, always fluctuating, and extremely human, translation requires much more than good linguisitc “engineering” skills.  Rather, a greater parity between the right and left brains.

Filed under: divers, French translation, translation, , ,

Looking back . . .

Exactly a year later (mostly), my ongoing business resolutions are still works in progress.  But hey, so aren’t we all.

As carried forward from last year:

  • Investing myself in my TM tools:  2012 was a descent year for my translation business, but a major step forward came with my beginning to harvest terminology from past bumper crop years, regarding ranslation projects in my specializations (financial, legal and audiovisual).
  • Revisiting my business plan:  I peeked at it last year, and found little to adjust, but best of all I was able to attend the ATA in San Diego.
  • Working to become a “CT” (certified translator):  Progress firmly, in that I took a practice test with . . . unflattering results.  But knowing the hurdle is kept high on this, I feel encouraged to persist.
  • Revising and updating my website:  More progress here from last, and I hope to move ahead with an reintro soon.

Wishing all of my followers, readers, clients, and anyone simply looking for a solid translation out of or into French from English, a joyous 2013!

Filed under: divers, French translation, translation, ,

Film Finance Update

Last week’s Beverly Hills Bar Association film finance seminar laid out the landscape for indie film finance, and the news . . . was not as bad as some might expect.

While certain elements–like investment funding–are lagging, soft money in the form of state film credits  and crowdsourcing are quite steady, depending on the location involved.   Most of the panel felt slate financing and pre-sales are definitively gone, but (legitimate) hedge funds have actually made a comeback, driven by American equity.

Without slates or cherry-picking therein, financing tends to be more random.  The types of content are unlimited though, excepting westerns and musicals, the province of studios.  But trustworthy sales agents are also key as structural differences aside,  little has changed from 2007 in terms of quality content and professional relationships holding sway.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, US film industry, , , , , ,

Personal Sidebar: ‘Any Day Now’

Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming in "Any Day Now"As awards season starts in earnest, this is possibly the best movie most people won’t see.  Because it’s an honest and vivid LGBT filmidiotically rated “R” as if to equate gay male sexuality with extreme violence (more than entire blog’s worth of suggestive content, that)–made with a miniscule budget, and has a timely, heartfelt story with no tentpoley gimmicks.

This terrific, warm and entertaining movie, though it miraculously escaped direct-to-Netflix obscurity, is nevertheless bound for nowhere, fame-wise.  That is, unless people take notice, and more importantly award voters and related trendalistas (OK I just made that word up, in English anyway).

Even major talent is venting about the dearth of risky, story-driven content.  Can the day be far off when, like winter and unextreme weather, human and humane films are something from another era?

Filed under: divers, US film industry, , , ,

The Trouble with “Globish”

Perhaps because I’m a) a French translator, b) getting older, and/or c) ever less culturally pliable, non-native English speakers professing linguistic skill or expertise they don’t have neutralize my patience like no one else.  Anyone who’s spent any time on a customer service line lately will understand perfectly.

Accordingly, my curiosity was piqued by an article in the current ATA Chronicle by Jeana Clark and Esma A. Gregor on “Globish,” or “Global English.”  Most Chronicle articles seesaw/skew between the academic and the technical, and while their logic only jumps one shark (whose household familarity with Globish?), the authors have made a thorough presentation of something native speakers often experience as a linguistic APM.

Unfortunately, being messengers (like me) in the endless skirmish that is language, Clark and Gregor pussy foot around taking stakes for either “side” linguistically.   For instance , is this the death knell for the English we know and (love? hate? despise? tolerate? endlessly mangle?)  (Happily I’m not the first person to rhyme Globish with rubbish.)  Is it a linguistic mutation more zombie than real?

Professionally, when clients and editors alike resort to it through ignorance or inexperience, I find Euro English the most exasperating manifestation.  At the end of the day (the business one, anyway), this all reminds me (and hopefully my clients!) that it’s essential to pay a professional when an amateur only creates more confusion.

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