Screengates Consulting: It's an Honor Just to be Nominated....

Screengates, the "Story and Film Development Consultants," with offices in Dubai, Berlin, and (natch) Hollywood (though they use a UK email address and are registered in Cardiff, Wales), makes this promise to clients:
Screengates will sculpt your story into a compelling cinematic concept, then develop this concept into a captivating screenplay tailored to your budget. We'll then find a production company for your film.... We'll present the screenplay along with production specs to the producers you choose, then help you engage the right one.... Our business model is simple: first develop a concept and script, then source the right production company.
Now, I don't know how much Screengates' clients are accustomed to paying for all that high-end, fancy-sounding "developing" and "tailoring" and "sourcing," but I have news for anyone who intends to use Screengates to commission a translation:

They haven't got the vaguest idea what translations cost or how to work effectively with a translator. (And that's despite their promise
that "All of our script translators are professional screenwriters
translating into their mother tongues").

Recently, Jonathan Gainer of Screengates posted an announcement on seeking an IT>EN translator for a "dramatic screenplay." In the exchange of emails that followed, he took pains to specify that
I’m expecting a very elegant translation. By elegant I mean that the translation should be completely free of grammatical, spelling and formatting errors, and feature dialogs which rhetorically re-create the characters in English. The characters should ‘feel’ authentic, and use language that is a near equivalent, both rhythmically and colloquially, to their speech in the original.... I’ve attached a paragraph expressing my thoughts on dramatic translation.... If we work together, it is quite important that you be extremely careful in your final checking of the screenplay. You work will not be going to an editor, so it has to be error-free. If working according to these specifications might be problematic, please refrain from taking the job. This may sound rather severe, but I like to be very upfront about expectations in new relationships so that there are no misunderstandings.
The message edges right up on presumptuousness, but it's still within the limits of acceptability. Besides, a client who recognizes quality and knows precisely what he wants is a very good thing. Naturally, when the requirements are as stringent as that and when the product must be ultra-perfect, the translator can rest easy, right? He won't need to remind the client that prime quality commands prime rates, right?

And especially not when (as Gainer revealed) the screenplay in question is based on a novel by one of Italy's best known post-war writers and critics--one known for his dense and demanding prose, right?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Screengates' offer for 100 pages? €1000.

Actually, "offer" is a misleading word, as it always is in these cases. Screengates' take-it-or-leave-it demand was that the translator perform his services for €1000. And deliver within 10 days (weekends included). Oh, and submit an unpaid test first.

Let's do a little easy math. If "pages" means typescript pages, we can calculate a price of about €0.04/word, but that's assuming a "normal," single-spaced page of Italian in 12-point type. Obviously, you can get more than 850 words on a page if you reduce the font by just one point and change to single-spacing.

Or perhaps "page" means cartella, which is a measure widely used in Italy (but probably not in very many other places). A cartella is usually of 1500 or of 2000 characters, with spaces included. Ten euros for a cartella of 1500 is insulting; €10 for a cartella of 2000 is fightin' words.

But here's the real point (and evidently this mantra needs to be repeated at least daily): Clients do not set prices or working conditions for freelancers. They make requests, which the translator may do his or her best to accommodate (assuming the requests are reasonable and/or humanly possible). It is, moreover, at least polite to ask your potential translator how busy he is in the near future, rather than assume he's just sitting around waiting for your job and would be delighted to block out weekends and evenings to get it done on your schedule.

(Or, to put it another way: If you haven't left enough time for the translation to be done properly, remind me again how that becomes my problem?)

This increasingly common approach to finding a translation professional is a distortion of supply-demand in the marketplace. More than that, it's just plain rude.

To get these points across, I was thinking of writing a captivating screenplay about translation, full of compelling cinematic concepts. I wonder if Screengates would represent me....

1 comment:

  1. I've done a fair bit of screenplay translation, and if by 'page' they mean a page of script, it does work out at about €0.04 a word or €10 a cartella. It's not an attractive rate by any means, but on the other hand, if you've got even half an ear for dialogue and use Dragon, it can be got through very quickly and usually requires minimal revision. The rate at which I produce final versions for my screenplays is much faster than that of my legal translations, for example. OK, with screenplays I have to produce more text per hour to make it pay, but my final hourly rate is probably pretty similar (I'm comparing agency with agency, here, obviously - hourly earnings on legal translations for private customers would be higher).

    That doesn't change the fact that in absolute terms, the rate is insultingly low, especially for such a high-profile business. The reason I do it on occasion is because I am quick enough to make it pay, and, to be honest, because the names of well-known films look good on my profile and help drum up other work.

    I get the feeling that these low rates are unfortunately all part of a wider problem in the arts/literary translation field. Publishers are infamous for their low rates, made worse by the fact that many work on the basis of a cartella of 1800 characters, as opposed to 1500. The seductive power of big names and the chance to work on literature (the dream of many translators) serve to perpetuate this vicious circle.

    But how do we educate customers to value quality over price, when they seem so oblivious to the former and so obsessed with the latter? The problem is industry-wide, but particularly evident in film/literaure for the reasons I mentioned above - it is such an attractive field that many are prepared to accept substandard rates.


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