Thursday, September 16, 2010

Adding sound and subtitles: The trouble with meaning

Today is Malaysia Day. After 47 years of formation, this year is the first that it is declared as a public holiday and I was working.

Why only now? I made the mistake of stirring the hornets' nest and Sheridan went into lengthy detail on the political logic behind it. (A year ago, his article on the subject appeared in Aliran)

After work, we were at the Editor's suite making final checks on visual, sound an subtitle. It wasn't quite as simple as we thought it would be.

Timecode editor Joe, fresh from his balik kampung trip last night, had laid out the final sound mix (the audio post-production was done by Christopher Higgs of Higgs Asia) and were pasting on the subtitles to the visual.

At this point, no changes should be made to the duration. Or risk having to repeat another audio post-production. Changes can only be made on minor footage switch, saturation, colour, superimpose text and stuff like that.

Once the final sound mix was laid out on the visual, we previewed the film. I had a funny feeling watching it with enhanced sound effects. The music and sound significantly evoked the mood and gave a certain depth to its meaning. Now I understood the impact of every layer of the process. The writing, the footage, the sound and the effects.

The subtitling, which was the next process, caught us in a nasty tangle.

Both of us had worked on the subtitle and completed it before Hari Raya. We split the film right in the middle, while I took the beginning, Sheridan took the other half to subtitled it. Then we swapped and checked each other's work before handing it to Joe.

Previewing it now at Joe's studio, the subtitle has somehow altered the meaning.

Sheridan and I began our epic disagreement on semantics. Did the professor mean create, draft or craft? What did he mean when he said etnosentris agama dan etnik? Was it extremists? In what context does the pronouns – dia, benda tu, perkara itu, applies to?

While the bickering went on at every other quotes, Joe, who was used to it by now, fiddled with his iPhone and resumed work after we reached a consensus. It was tedious.

When all the subtitles were laid out, we reviewed the film again. The subtitles had added another dimension of meaning to the film. If the audience understands the Malaysian spoken lingo, they will decipher the meaning at the primary layer. If the audience are not familiar with the lingo, they will rely on the subtitles, which offers a translated, paraphrased and contextualised secondary meaning. If they understand both the lingo and English, they will be able to have a deeper understanding of contextual and primary meaning.

Next came the end credit; choosing the right type of font, adding the logos of the organisations involved with the project and making sure all the names were correctly spelt and no persons were left out.

It was past midnight when we finally finished the three processes, and previewed the film again. Today we worked for 11 hours. The film is still unfinished. Joe still have to work on the colour and graphics.

We are coming back to the studio on Saturday.

Note: I deliberately posted this entry on Sept 16, even when the actual event moved past midnight and therefore should fall on the following day.

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