Power of Babel is Born

A couple of years ago, a longtime colleague asked me for help with a project. He was producing a series of five travel documentaries about Japan, and had to translate, record and deliver them in six languages. Could I help? He was in Japan, a country not known for a huge expat community; I was in Toronto, home to a million immigrants and dozens of multilingual media. I had also been doing his English versioning for almost a decade. Of course I would help.

And so began my transformation from documentary filmmaker / television director to multilingual versioning producer. The project was massive — six languages spanning the entire globe: European French, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic. And every language needed a translator, a voice supervisor, and most importantly, performers. I got to work. I called every contact I had in all those communities. I found great talent in the documentary community and in multicultural television and radio; a translation agency with the right attitude and approach; and finally a studio that could accommodate our last-minute requests and odd recording times.

WHAT WE LEARNED

One by one, the videos were edited in Tokyo, and translated and voiced in Toronto (and elsewhere). Of course it wasn’t easy. Someone left a recording in a studio in Rio de Janeiro that closed for Carnival. Adding supers (on-screen text) in four different alphabets was a challenge, especially since it was done in Tokyo. Our client’s client was an exacting perfectionist. But we got it done, and in the process learned some very important things:

  • Make sure you have a trusted, fully bilingual supervisor for each language, especially the difficult ones.
  • Versioning into some languages is inherently more complicated. Arabic speakers, for example, can spend hours debating the finer points of their language’s grammar. And there are almost as many distinct Arabic accents as there are countries that speak it.
  • When working on scripts and dialogue, a trained broadcaster beats almost every other kind of translator. No other kind of experience, not even a Ph.D. in literature, can guarantee the ability to write for the ear.
  • There’s an amazing international production community in Toronto – broadcast and communication pros from all corners of the world. Working with them and their connections in their countries of origin, we can solve virtually any language problem we’re given.
  • Nothing beats experience. When you know in advance what problems are likely to arise, you can take care of them before they happen. (See “trusted supervisor,” above.)

So, what to do with all this hard-won knowledge, and the team that we’d built? Dave Boire, the DB in dbaudio, had the studio and a passion for voice recording. I had the TV-production contacts and a passion for getting the languages right. Best of all, we got along, and had similar views on creating a great experience for our clients. Of course we had to start a company together. And here we are.

Eric Geringas
Versioning producer. Documentary filmmaker. Factual TV director. Problem solver.