Filmmaking / Directing : Dubbed to Death by Neville Steenson

Neville Steenson

Dubbed to Death

This is something that refuses to go away, the debate whether Subtitles or Dubbing is best for foreign markets. I am from the UK and one of my short films is being produced and shot in South Korea, it's my ode to Asian Horror entitled "The Hummingbird Effect". I have always been a massive fan of film and world cinema has a big part of that as it should. Hell some of my favourite films (Battle Royal, Infernal Affairs, Switchblade Romance, Mesrine) and TV shows (Romanzo Criminale, Braquo) are from abroad. The quandary however I found is the debate as to Subtitle or Dub? Now I myself am a fan of Subtitles as I find dubbing a little distracting as the calibre of voiceover artist does not match up with the actor on screen. So myself and the Director and Producer acknowledged this as obviously we want the film to get a wide an audience as possible. So our solution is to shoot the film in both Korean and English with the same actors. That way we can have both versions and not have to worry about matching the dubbing for home audiences. It leads me however to question are subtitles really that off putting to a large audience? For me they add more authenticity but hey I am just one person. I would love to hear your views on this.

James Durward

I like subtitles as they can be used effectively to put a different spin on the performance - even humour

Jan Naft

I prefer dubbing. I do not like reading a movie.

Doug Gallob

I can't speak to what the masses like, but as an audio engineer, I can tell you hands down that I HATE dubbing. There is no such thing as a "well-dubbed" movie. There are subtle inflections and emotions conveyed in the original actors' voices that cannot be re-created by even the most skilled ADR artist. If you are watching a "dubbed" movie, you are watching an "different" movie (and 99% of dubbing cases, "different"="worse"). On top of that, there are subtle, natural, desirable sounds recorded with the original dialog (rustles, squeaks, etc.), that cannot be separated completely from the dialog stem. Those sounds are therefore lost from the dub and either remain missing, or must be re-created with Foley (rarely as convincing as the original recorded rustles and squeaks). Either solution leaves your film with an unnatural sound. The typical audience member may not be able to identify what the problem is with a dubbed film, but can easily recognize that something is just "off" - or they are simply not pulled into the story as deeply as they should be. Now, having said that, marketing will very, very often demand that the final audio tracks be delivered "dub-stemmed". As far as what the masses want, I would trust a marketer more than an audio engineer, so maybe there really are a lot of hyper-visual people in the market that just don't care what a film sounds like. That thought makes me queasy.

Neville Steenson

Very insightful Doug and it raised a line of thought I never considered before. So for the sake of sound teams everywhere we should stick with the Subtitles ;-)

Patrick Freeman

Personally I prefer subtitles. My first experiences with dubbing, as with many people, were the old Japanese monster movies. The dubbing was just one more aspect of the films that we laughed at. I don't know if that was intentional then but I certainly don't want anyone laughing at my film unless it's a comedy. When I watch a film with subtitles I quickly forget that I'm even reading them. By the time the movie is half over my brain is convinced that I'm somehow fluent in that "foreign" language. Having said that, I realize that there are parts of the world where much of the population isn't 100% literate. In such a case dubbing might be the only suitable option.

Regina Lee

Agree with Doug Gallob. For a short film, almost certainly use subtitles. Big budget studio movies must be dubbed to make money in international territories. It's actually an added opportunity for studio movies. For example, in the US, Bill Murray played Garfield in Fox's GARFIELD movie. For the Japanese release, Fox can cast the "Japanese Bill Murray," market the movie on that star's name, and make a lot of money because they paid a local comic star for that territory's release of Garfield.

Regina Lee

And there are other situations that require dubbing. For example, for a family film or kids' film, you'd want to dub because your target audience can't read subtitles. :-)

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