ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Subtitle Your Fucking Movie —

Hi, filmmaker. I hope you found this weblog entry in the dark depths of your film production, when you’re desperately begging someone for the rights to some music, or when you’re stressing over whether to include that sequence with that really funny girl, even though you think it runs long. My advice: cut it and make it bonus footage. You can thank me later and your audience will thank me a thousand times over. Anyway, filmmaker, let’s chat.

Because search engines are weird, you maybe found this weblog entry because you searched for How to Subtitle Your Movie, Subtitle Software for DVD, Oh My God This Rave Is Amazing, or Sure-fire Techniques for Selling Your Film to Festivals. These last two don’t apply to what I’m going to talk about in this weblog entry, but you’re here now and you better goddamn sit down anyway. You sat through who knows how many paragraphs of how-to sites and speeches while making your movie, so what’s one more.

Filmmaker, I know the difficulties you’ve encountered, believe me. I remember when I made one of my student films and I slept overnight on the floor of one of the sets, using a bookbag as a pillow and the fetid air as my only blanket. I am not even lying to you, filmmaker, this happened. I also worked on a production where we made the two nice actors who were supposed to play brother and sister suddenly play lovers and we made those nice actors get it on in a couch in a registrar’s office at a college that looked sort of like a dining room. So I know uncomfortable and the itchiness of lying to actors and standing around while sin happens. I am your friend, filmmaker.

So filmmaker, take my hard-won advice and subtitle your fucking movie.

I have popped in so many DVDs over the last few years, filmmaker… so very many. I have watched films on skateboarding, on making zines, on live action role playing, on videogames and board games and word games and something called the Lesbian Film Festival because the chicks looked hot. I have sat through films on fonts, on throat singing, even on people who love watching movies. Think about that, filmmaker… I have watched a movie about people who watch movies. That’s how many movies I’ve watched; I’ve come out the other side and am now part of the movies being watched. That’s meta-, filmmaker. You know what meta is.

And through these films, I tolerate a lot of bullshit. Maybe you got a shot that’s really pretty but anyone with a brain cell would wonder what it’s doing in here. I’ve seen shots where it looks like the camera was strapped to the back of a great dane high on ketamine. I watched a documentary where the subjects had to hold their own shitty mikes, filmmaker, making the whole thing look like some hellish version of Bowling for Dollars. But I tolerated them, just like people will tolerate your little movie and all the mistakes you made.

But please, filmmaker, subtitle your fucking movie.

I know you hate the deaf. A lot of people can’t tolerate the deaf; they can’t hear you, after all, and you love the sound of your own voice. Someone who can’t hear this magnificent instrument is fucked up, filmmaker, and they will never know the true joy of you. But subtitles are the next best thing; not every shot is so obvious with the sound turned off that you can know what’s going on. People sometimes speak off-camera. And get this, filmmaker… some people just don’t talk all that good. Even more importantly, deaf-hating filmmaker, there are even better reasons to subtitle your movie:

  • Some people answer the phone while your film is playing and that makes it easier for them to keep track of what’s going on. Yes, it’s a blasphemy that someone is going to do this during your magnificent film, but that’s what’s going to happen, and you might as well come to terms with it.
  • Some people have kids and so they leave the thing muted so the kids don’t hear the bad words. You know what kids are, filmmaker? They’re time sinks that smear peanut butter on your good stuff. If you curse at or near them the government takes them away, which isn’t so bad but then you miss them after a while.
  • Some people can hear but not so well, filmmaker. Isn’t that weird? But these folks have trouble with overlapping dialogue or weird audio effects on voices or echoes or any of a bunch of other stuff that you thought made your film better. They need help, and subtitles help.

There are many more reasons, filmmaker, so don’t worry that you’re giving into the deaf’s terrorist demands. People who can hear like you can will want to have subtitles too.

Subtitling films is easy, filmmaker. Considering what you had to do to convince that restaurant you could shoot there after hours, or what you had to sell out of your family’s assets to buy a nice camera, this will be a piece of cake. It’s so easy you could subtitle a feature film in a single day. Think of it; a complete new audience and a great feature added to this film you slaved over for weeks, with just an added day of work. It’s so simple, interns could do it. You’ll want to let it sit for a day or two afterwards and proofread it of course, but you know about going that extra mile, filmmaker; that restaurant owner had horrible breath and he kissed you like a drunk sailor. Subtitling is easy.

There’s this program called subtitle workshop, filmmaker. I know you don’t read very well, which explains that stilted dialogue in your love scene, so let’s make those letters nice and big:


It’s free, filmmaker. You love free. Free is what you’ve been mainlining the whole way through your film. When you talked about how great it would be and how hard you were working on your film, you were probably getting a free coffee from your buddy or an understanding person who was worried about the poor filmmaker. A lot of people are worried about you, filmmaker, as I am. So when I say this program is free, I mean it. It’s free and free. A popup will happen because those people are probably starving because filmmakers are taking their program for free, but you know how to kill a popup, I know you do. After all, you killed your gag reflex hanging out with the kind of people who hang out near people who make films but don’t make films themselves. You can do it, filmmaker. I know you can.

Hell, you probably have a Mac, filmmaker, because all filmmakers have Macs instead of me. Maybe you edit on Linux only. That’s just awesome, in a way that watching a house burning down the street is awesome. You can now, in the back of your mind, consider ignoring my advice, but I tell you that they make free subtitling software for your machine too, latte-sipping filmmaker, and you can find it in no time. But I use Subtitle Workshop and it works with almost any format of movie, and can output the subtitles dozens of ways. It works for me, and it’ll work for you.

Subtitle workshop is very easy to use, filmmaker. I learned it in no time, and subtitled 7 hours of film. I subtitled bonus material, introductory material, and all the actual films. I even added subtitle tracks on top of other subtitle tracks! One of my episodes has a bunch of people in it, too many to put their names under. So I made a subtitle track with their names on it, so you could watch the movie and see who was talking. Isn’t that slick, filmmaker? I did that. And you can do it too and claim it was your idea, just like you think it was your idea to have the murderer be the priest. Whoops.

Filmmaker, I haven’t wanted to insult you through this, but it’s hard not to. You somehow got all this way, before finding my weblog entry, thinking that subtitling is unnecessary or hard. It is neither, filmmaker, and now that you know the secret of subtitle workshop you can go ahead and subtitle your film, or do that special thing you do to make some poor sap do it for you.

I love you, filmmaker, like all those people you meet in the film industry love you.

Subtitle your fucking movie.

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  1. M. says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU.

    I’m one of those annoying hard of hearing folks. Without subtitles, I cannot watch your movie and WILL not attempt to watch your movie, no matter how many raves it’s gotten.

  2. Michael Kohne says:

    Two things are important:
    1) Make sure that the bloody sub-titles line up with the scene. Check it again when you are done. Please. There’s nothing wierder than getting the subs 30-60 seconds later.

    2) Make sure that the words typed are in fact the words spoken – don’t just dump in the script and hope, and don’t let someone without clues do the job! Oh, and don’t just paste the script in – your actors probably said some things differently than the script, so be careful.

    I watch a good bit of regular TV, and we leave the subtitles on all time, in the hopes that it will help the kids learn to read. I can’t begin to tell you how positively bad some of the subtitles are. They come up late. They have gross mis-spellings. They use the wrong word entirely. It’s just evil. Don’t be like that.

    You can be better! Just think – you can be better than people who get paid to do this!

    Please, Jason has shown you the way – now do it!

  3. Finite says:

    Excellent post!

    Except for the suggestion of software, which appears to require Windows. Have you tried Aegisub? I haven’t (ever edited subtitles), but from the looks of their subtitling software comparison I get the impression that it might be worth checking out (also, it is licensed under the GPL and can run on Windows, Linux, OS X, and FreeBSD).

  4. zestypete says:

    Genius. For the first year of my daughter’s life, my wife and I were forced to watched everything with subtitles for fear of waking her up (she was an unbelievably light sleeper). This meant watching DVDs of films for the most part (TV in the UK is pretty lousy for subtitles).

    Now that she’s nearly 2 years old, we have the luxury of turning the volume up, but still tend to turn on the subtitles because we’ve grown used to it and because she’s still a light sleeper. We don’t miss any dialogue and we don’t have to worry about explosions on screen followed by cries from upstairs.

    So when I come across DVDs without subtitles, I can’t be bothered watching them now. It’s that bad.

    Well done – it needed to be said. Filmmakers take note, please.

  5. Josef says:

    Am I the only one who actually enjoys subtitling video? I did tend to get a bit carried away with DVD Architect’s built in subtitler though and ended up trying to make a secret new subtitle track with a representation of the scene in ASCII art style over the top, needless to say this ended up somewhere between failed and semi-completed-and-never-to-be-looked-back-on.

  6. LateBlt says:

    I have never been diagnosed as hard-of-hearing. In fact, in terms of just hearing sounds, my hearing is excellent; I can hear especially quiet sounds or especially high-pitched sounds which some people don’t hear very well. But, for some reason, I just can’t understand what people are saying. Spoken words get garbled in my ears. “Here’s looking at you, kid” becomes “You’re looking at two skids.” So when DVDs started becoming common and subtitles came along with them, it was great for someone like me. I actually started watching more movies, because subtitles gave me a way to actually know what was being said. So, yes, as one of an apparent minority of people with some weird speech-perception condition, I have to agree with Jason: SUBTITLE YOUR FUCKING MOVIE.

    I also have to agree with Michael Kohne. Some movies use “paraphrased” subtitles, such that the actor might say “Okay, I’ll see you later, then,” but the subtitle might just say “Okay, see you.” That is NOT THE SAME FUCKING THING. Besides possibly detracting from the nuances of the dialogue by cutting out or changing words, this also makes the movie incredibly annoying to watch for someone who’s both listening to the dialogue and reading the subtitles. Please, *DO* make sure the subtitles match what’s actually being said.

  7. UKNOW HOO says:

    I used to say — I used to say Cheryl it’s not about the money, it’s
    about the mail.

  8. Flack says:

    Chalk up another fan of subtitles. I watch a lot of movies late at night while the kiddos are sleeping. I don’t mute the sound, but I do turn it down so low that it’s really hard to make out what people are saying. It’s either subtitles or headphones, and headphones get old after a while.

    And, like LateBit mentioned, my ears also tend to garble movie dialogue, especially things that are whispered. I wish movie theaters had subtitles. Actually, I wish real life had subtitles.

  9. djpmom says:

    I love it when you flex your claws in a good cause 🙂 “But these folks have trouble with overlapping dialogue or weird audio effects on voices or echoes or any of a bunch of other stuff that you thought made your film better.” describes me pretty well (too many Grateful Dead concerts), and movies without subtitles are becoming unwatchable. Thanks!

  10. Josh Renaud says:

    It’s not just the deaf. My wife is Bolivian. She speaks English very well, but at times she still has trouble understanding other people when they are talking in English. So we watch all our movies with subs… it just makes it easy for her to be certain she’s following everything that’s going on.

    And I find that I like being able to read the subs, too!

  11. Amen. Also; subtitle your fucking special features or commentaries. If you want to show off all the cool stuff you did to everyone, and you’re not an actor, subtitle that too.