This is an excerpt from my book The Indian Indie Film (or Make Your Film for rest of the world). It was written from the experience of making my debut feature film on an iPhone for ₹5 lakhs ($7,000). Now available as an eBook on Amazon.
For years it was only films that went to festivals that needed a subtitle. With the ever increasing global penetration of YouTube and Over-The-Top (OTT) Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, having subtitles for your film is soon becoming a necessity.
Right now the number of people watching films with subtitles is limited; mainly hardcore film buffs. But if you are looking to release your film on OTT platforms, then having subtitles is a must.
Subtitles open up your film to a wider audience, beyond the language your film is made in. This is of particular interest to us Indians as we have 22 working regional film industries. No one speaks all the 22 languages. Not even 3 of these. Okay some might. My point is, on average an educated Indian knows English alongside their mother tongue. By having English subtitles if you are reaching just one additional person, it counts!
Once your film has English subtitles, now it can be converted into any of the 22 regional languages. Then it can reach an even wider audience.
What You Need to Make Subtitles
If you feel it is worth creating subtitles for your film, what you need to go ahead are the following two things:
- A software to time subtitle appropriately
- Knowledge of both languages to translate effectively
Let us look at two softwares that can help you with timing the text.
Subtitle Edit is a freeware that you can use to create subtitles for videos of any length, be it a 10 minute video, a 3 hour feature film (If you are making a feature film you would not of course have such a long file, but many cut into reels. We talked about it before in this article.) or even a 48 hour web series.
It is a fairly easy to use and a self-evident software. There are a lot of tutorials online to guide you through the whole process. You can export the subtitle as an SRT file—a widely supported format.
YouTube has a web application that lets you create subtitles.
The advantage of using this over Subtitle Edit is that it automatically identifies all the spots where human voice is present and places a text accordingly. It makes your work easier. It even automatically transcribes the text for you. But this is far from being reliable as of now. Especially so if the language is not English.
I would not suggest using YouTube’s subtitle creator if you are making a feature film. It can come in handy in placing texts. But beyond that it is very limited. For example, when working in reels, it does not let you combine the subtitle files.
Subtitle Creator in Editing Softwares
Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve and all have their own inbuilt subtitle creators. I have only used this once and never liked it. My mind kept wandering to the edits instead of concentrating on the translation. I prefer to use a dedicated software meant for making subtitles.
This can be a challenge for some, and a breeze for others. Not everyone is skilled in translating the nuances of one language to another.
Translating a book requires proficiency in both the languages. In addition to that, one who is creating subtitles need to know the colloquial usages in both the languages, the meaning of certain usages per territory and so on.
These are more advanced topics. Professional subtitle creators are experts in various languages and hence expensive to hire. But if you already wrote the dialogues for your film, and if you are reading this, then translating your dialogues to good English can be easily done.
Future Proofing Your Film
Have you ever watched a video on YouTube in a language you don’t know? Nonetheless you watched it because you really needed to know how to do something and that was the only video available on that topic.
More and more people are now getting used to watching videos in languages that they don’t understand. Right now it might be because they have a strong need to learn something. Slowly, but surely, we will get accustomed to reading subtitles.
It is only natural that over the course of years, a significant portion of the population would go beyond informative videos. It could be possible that they start enjoying films too with subtitles.
Create subtitles for your film, and reach a wider audience today and tomorrow.