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How to deal with everything-that-could-possibly-go-wrong-will-go-wrong subtitle projects and still be a lady

Italian translator & subtitler


It happened. Everything that could possibly go wrong flew down the abyss of sh***y quality, stress, panic and useless rounds of emails.

I messed up the entire project, what am I supposed to do?

Everytime a huge issue arises from a project I work on, I have the incredible skill of being the comforting, loving professional with high problem-solving skills you’d love to have by your side in these situations. Sometimes this skill crashes, freezes and I simply panic.

What is and what should never be
As a former project manager with a possible OCD diagnosis, I hate intermediates.
No control = no responsibilities, though.
Not always.

A simple subtitling project turned out to be a reenactment of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
Basically, every single step of the process was a mistake. The whole workflow was based on very fragile premises.

Btw, one thing the really puzzles me about AV workflow is: what is the matter with numbers? I mean, people, what’s wrong with following the numeric progression? Why do we work on episode 7, than go back to episode 2, than episode 4, 1, etc.? Don’t you think we’d love to have at least a remote hint of what the story is about? Anyway.

As the project went on, some alarming signals had risen but we all ignored them. As I have learnt a very specific lesson, this time, I want to share my thoughts here.

The materials: the client basically bombed me with templates, scripts, updates, videos, final cuts, revised templates, compared scripts, anything. ALL.NAMED.WITHOUT.ANY.SENSE. It has been a huge mistake not to take a deep breath, not to take the time to write a polite email, pretending to be a little stupid (better safe then sorry, though) and asking “Could you please lead us through this psychedelic trip of yours?”. What am I supposed to do with 7 (I mean: 7) templates of the same episode? Is there a Change List? Nope. We did the same job 7 times, because the video was completely changed from one template to the other, not to mention I didn’t receive the final final final version until the day I was supposed to deliver the project.

What have I learnt?

Order and organization. It is not up to the client to be organized. As a professional, I must keep track of all the files, versions, edits and changes done to the project I am working on.
Make myself heard. Insist and highlight the fact I am not happy with this task and that we might end up missing the deadline or delivering a low-quality subtitle file.
Ask once, twice or a billion times. Some of the issues could have been avoided if I had raised some more questions during the process. Check versions, translations, glossaries and guidelines endless times (better safe than sorry, again).

– Always be keen to find a solution and not to create a new problem. Although the PM should be our beam in the dark, sometimes PMs are overwhelmed by projects, deliveries, clients’ requests etc, we can’t require their constant attention. As we are working in team, so it is central to cooperate and to be as effective as possible. Don’t mail bomb your PM.


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