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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Suppose you're writing foreign language dialog that the audience won't understand. My usual approach is to say it's in (German), say, and then write the dialog in English but in parentheses. (I got the idea from Doonesbury.) You don't have to write clever German dialog because the script's readership is not likely to be able to appreciate your witty bon mots. (Or whatever the German is for that.)

But what if a significant chunk of the audience may understand the dialog? E.g. you're writing a Canadian script in French and English? Or an American script in Spanish and English?

On BON COP / BAD COP, we had French dialog with English subtitles, and English dialog with French subtitles. Since a huge chunk of the audience would be bilingue, we had to write both the dialog and the subtitles into the script. (In one or two places, I think we might even have written subtitles that really didn't match the dialog. Like politicians do all the time.)

But how do you do that on the page? On BON COP, we were using Final Draft. We created a separate script element called subtitle that was 10 point Times, italics, and red. So it was easy to tell the difference from the dialog, which was 12 point Courier.

Of course, that plays hell with your page count. And it breaks up the read visually. And Screenwriter, should you be using it, won't let you create new screenplay formatting elements, so far as I can tell.

Another way to do it would be to put the translation in the action, in italics, but in regular old Courier 12.

Yet another way to do it would be to format bilingual dialog as dual dialog -- spoken dialog on the left, subtitles on the right. This would do the least damage to the page count. It ought to break up the read the least -- you just read the right column or the left column, depending on your language skillz.

Alors, qu'est-ce que vous en pensez? Also, was meinst du?



Alex, I'm not quite clear how you indicate which foreign language. Do you use a parenthetical below the character name as well?

By Blogger daveed, at 12:15 PM  

I would put a line in the action, once:

David turns to Hans. In (German):

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:17 PM  

Out of curiosity -- why would you ever need to write out dialogue as dialogue that you don't want the audience to understand?

Hans and Gunther converse in German. What they are saying, our Hero hasn't the foggiest.

Hero SLAPS Hans across the face.

English! Speak it!

I'm asking from more of a practical point of view -- If it is not subtitled, why bother writing it as dialogue at all?

I bring this up for 2 reasons.

1) As far as the read of the script is concerned, no one needs to know what they are saying.

2) If you write out the foreign dialogue, then the script READS as if the language is subtitled -- which isn't the effect you're going for.

By Blogger James, at 4:25 AM  

Good, point, James.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:48 AM  

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