Screenwriting : Translating a script - pros and cons by Michael Mehring

Michael Mehring

Translating a script - pros and cons

Hi there

I am currently working on a script in the style of Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs", in which the problems of the smartphone generation play an important role. I wrote the story in German and think about whether it would make sense (also for market reasons) to have the whole thing translated into English, as soon as everything is revised and finished. What are the reasons for this and which are against it? Of course, different details would also have to be adapted... What do you think?

Thank you!

Jamie Sadler

Unfortunately English looms large internationally. I imagine wordplay would need reviewing to help humour land more smoothly...

Rutger Oosterhoff

Just my feel -- non against it.

I would translate myself.

Possible steps:

(1) Translate through Google Translate or other translate program;

(2) make revisions yourself;

(3) let "Grammary" check your writing;

(4) do a paid check by (minimum) two differend people; for no more then $200 a person;

(5) to get a better feel for the language, read five different screenplays in a week;

(6) you both do extra revisions;

(7) do three script swaps with an Englisjh native speaker, and ask for a honest opinion about sentence construction and flow; hope they can give a few pointers/do a few revisions.

If not satisfied, lick your wounds and focus on finding a German speaking producer; which will probably be one living in Europe, but not necessarily.

Phil Clarke

This is something I am frequently asked to do for non-English writers. Personally, you can't rely on Google translate, Grammarly etc. to ensure you convey the nuances and subtleties required to make sure both your dialogue and description pops. By all means come have a chat with me any time, Michael, either via private message or my site:

Anthony Moore

I've also had to translate a script from a different language, Italian to English. The real issue is that some of the cultural significance of certain statements, especially slang, gets lost in the translation or have very little meaning or value when translated into English. When I did it, I had to completely change a couple of scenes and redo a lot of the dialogue to "Americanize" it. My advice, don't do it yourself. Have someone who understands the cultural idioms of both languages to help you with the transition. I know for a fact that there are certain words and phrases in German that have no English equivalence and some phrases in English sound stupid in German. Good luck.

Dan MaxXx

So what's wrong with Germany Film industry that makes you think you can't do it there versus another English language movie concept about gangsters?

Personally, I watch lots of foreign movies with Eng subtitles, study Talent outside of USA.

Lindbergh E Hollingsworth

If you have a budget, $2M - 4M euros, and raise half of it, then go approach WB Germany. They invest in German films, up to 50% of the budget . Plus you'll have distribution.

Vasco Saraiva

In my humble opinion, the language of the script is more than simply "a superficial code" that only the initiated understand. I think it's part of the DNA of the film, it shapes the characters, places and so on... So if it is a market reason (Germany has a great film scene thought no?) I would make a new one form scratch to be honest.

If not, once everything is 100% translated, I would approach it has a different movie and really see what personality it needs from the new english re writes.

Bill Costantini

Hi Michael,

Why limit your chances? If you plan on pitching to Americans, you probably should have an English version, too. I don't think too many American producers - or non-German producers from any country - Deutsch sprechen. I'd use the same reasoning elsewhere, too.

Best fortunes in your creative endeavors, Michael!

Michael Mehring

Thanks guys for your recommendations.

Of course, I would work with professional translators, as my English skills are good for conversation, but they are simply too bad for translating an entire story with all the nuances, local customs and slang. And as Vasco Saraiva wrote, a lot will probably be lost in a translation.

@Dan MaxXx, of course you're right, there are many good non-English (gangster) movies. What makes me think that it is more difficult to produce this kind of story in the German-speaking world is this: we have a film funding system in Switzerland that mainly prefers dramas and historical stories, with a clear connection to the country (Current examples: Platzspitzbaby or Bruno Manser). Very, very rarely are films produced here that do not have these characteristics and only outside the state support system, which makes it particularly difficult in such a small country with such a small industry to raise money for a gangster story.

Kiril Maksimoski

I'm totally cons. If you need the script to be in English, or any other language, for that matter, better re-write it into respective setting, than translate it. Script talk often uses colloquial speech unique for each culture and language, so If it get's translated word for's like robots speaking....looses sense, totally.

Michael L. Burris

Americans have always loved Germanating idea's.

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