Sunday, October 17, 2021

Perfume Ranking - Fragonard's Garden


Here I rank the fragrances in Fragonard’s Garden line. And for those who don’t want to watch the video (although it helps me if you play through the whole video), here’s the list, in order:

1.     1.  Bigarade Jasmin

2.      2. Tilleul Cédrat

3.      3. Jasmin Perle de The

4.     4.  Grenade Pivoine

5.      5. Rose Lavande

5. (joint) Encens Fève Tonka

6. Héliotrope Gingembre

7. Rose Ambre

7. (joint) Santal Cardamome

I’m not sure if that’s how they should be numbered, with two ties in the ranking. It doesn’t match up with what I say in the video, either. Sorry.

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Friday, October 15, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #7 Assistant Editor

 Here's the video:

Here's the script I wrote with what I thought I'd say:

Assistant Editor

Today I’m talking about editing video and film and not editing words, specifically being an Assistant Editor.

Job Description:

An assistant editor’s job might vary from project to project, but basically anything the editor doesn’t want to spend time doing, the assistant editor will have to do. Since I did this in the “olden days,” most of my knowledge has to do with working on film and not necessarily remaining all digital. The workflow on an all-digital show will likely be different.

On a movie, after the shoot day the “dailies,” the video or film transfer (version of the film on tape or digital format) of everything that was shot that day will be sent to the editing room. Depending on the schedule, this material could arrive late at night and it is usually expected that an assistant editor will be available to load everything into the computer and make sure that everything looks correct before the editor arrives at 9 am the next morning to start the first assembly of the film. Part of making sure that everything looks correct is making sure that the time code/footage numbers on the dailies are being correctly read by the editing computer.

The film editor will start working on the first assembly of the film the second day of the shoot, once the material from the first day is available in the editing room. During this first few weeks of production, while the movie is still being shot, the editor will work days and the assistant will work when the editor doesn’t - which means nights. There might be more than one assistant editor, depending on the needs of the production.

Once the shoot is over, the assistant editor should be able to transition to a better schedule of not just working nights. The duties of the assistant while the editor is working on the assembly could be significantly reduced. They might be asked to not come back until the editor has his first cut done or close to done, or they might be asked to hang around to just do whatever the editor tells them to do.

Some editors might ask the assistant to sort the digital film clips a certain way or to do some of the rough assembling of scenes so the editor can focus on making more nuanced choices.

Once the first cut is done, the assistant will be responsible for making sure that whoever needs to view the cut of the film is able to. This could mean setting up screenings in the editing room, making DVDs to send around to producers, or maybe nowadays setting up a secure on-line viewing experience.

The assistant might also be asked to provide materials to different actors who would like something for their reel. So an assistant might sit with the film and just pull out scenes that a specific actor appears in and then create a file or tape for that actor.

On projects which finish on film, there might be some special effects which will be created per the editor’s instructions and which the assistant will then need to replace in the cut of the movie on the editing system so that the effect film is referenced on the edit decision lists instead of the dailies numbers.

Once the final cut of a film is determined to be locked, the assistant editor really takes over and makes sure that all of the instructions for the negative cutter are correct. This could mean watching back a cut of the movie and verifying the in and out time of every shot on the edit decision list. It is tedious work and one mistake could end up costing a lot of time and money. Luckily, it is rare that the EDL will have a mistake, and if one does show up, it means something at the start was done incorrectly.

You might also be asked to sit in and make some changes to a cut if like the editor and director get into a fight. You’ll be a button pusher for the director while the director explores their ideas the editor refuses to entertain.

How do you get this work and what does it lead to:

I got this work by interning (working for no money) at a post-production company where I told them specifically I wanted to get into editing. I did a lot of different things at the company and they started paying me after about a month of working for free, but I was a little surprised to find out I was an assistant editor on a project. I was doing something for a particularly grumpy editor and asked to not work with him. That’s when I was told I didn’t have a choice but to work with him because I was actually his assistant editor on the project in question. I just had to deal with him.

If you know someone who is an editor, you can ask them if they’d be willing to let you assist them on a project. You should also get some editing software and work on building your skills on your own so if you see an ad which requires some basic understanding of editing software, you are able to apply knowing it isn’t a total bluff.

Some editors will also be encouraging of their assistants and let them edit segments on their projects, helping get them on their way to being an editor and not an assistant.

You should also consider working on some low or no-pay student films to get some experience.

What kind of person is this good for:

Night owls! If you don’t mind working long hours, alone, in the dark, then you’ll be prepared for the first part of the job of making sure the work is all loaded into the editing computer. You’ll need to organize the files also, so you’ll need to be organized. And when I was the assistant I also had to do a fair amount of tech support. If something malfunctions with the editing computer or software, the assistant gets to troubleshoot it and maybe spend hours on the phone with tech support instead of the editor doing it. Eventually I knew a lot about how to troubleshoot AVID problems and for the most part no longer needed to call tech support to solve the problems which would pop up.

You should also have an easygoing personality and not take it too personally when an editor is rude to you, because they will be rude to you. It’s easier to blame an assistant editor for a mistake than to accept responsibility.

The downsides:

You’re sort of down on the list of important people, so are likely to be treated poorly or overlooked, even if you have good ideas on what is or isn’t working in a particular scene.

The pay:

This can vary from literally nothing to really good. If you can get into the union and work on union jobs, you’ll be doing great. A quick internet search shows that the union salary for an assistant editor on a big studio movie is over $2000/week. And because it will be in the union, there will be protections that non-union projects won’t have as far as abusing your time.

If you can get yourself booked most of the year, you’ll earn a good living as an assistant editor. You’ll most likely be working project to project, so you might go for long stretches without work. But you could also get booked onto a project that lasts several years.

If you can get a job at a post-production company, like I did, it will be a regular full-time job. Otherwise, you’ll be a freelancer going from one long-term assignment to another.

If you have any questions about what else I did as an assistant editor or what movies I’ve worked on, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos, about all the different things.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

October Book Report - The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal by Lilian Jackson Braun


Since I enjoy a good mystery, I decided to try out one of the “cat who” series books by Lilian Jackson Braun. I had no idea how to select a “good” book from the series, so I just picked one that had a good rating on Audible.

The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal was published in 1991, something I didn’t realize until just now. The first “cat who” book was published in 1966 and the one I read was the 12th in the series. There was a big gap between the first three novels and the next, from 1968 to 1986. For some reason, probably because I’ve spent so much time with Agatha Christie in the past two months, as I listened to this book I imagined it was set in a much more distant past than the 1990s. The setting of a small town helped with that illusion. I don’t recall there being any talk of computers or mobile phones. The internet wasn’t really a thing yet and mobile phones didn’t really become a regular thing until the late 1990s. As a result, it didn’t matter that I pictured the story being in “the past,” like anywhere between 1950 and 1970.

I don’t know what I expected of the titular cat, but I was a little disappointed in the cats and their involvement in the crime solving. I know cats can’t solve crime, but the little hype I had heard about these novels led me to believe the cats would be more integral.

Once again, I listened to this story and didn’t read it. It was read to me by George Guidall. I did not enjoy his narration. The lead character in the story, Qwill, is a man. The reading for the men in the story was fine. It was each time the narrator had to voice a woman that I would drop out of the story. He voiced all the women as snippy and short, and I can’t believe they would all have been written that way.

By this time in the continuing story of Qwill, he has two cats, not just one. The original cat Koko is still with him, but now has a companion Yum Yum. The story reminded me in many ways of Murder, She Wrote. It is set in a small town and the focus is just as much on the quirky cast of characters as it is on the murder which has taken place. Perhaps after reading several books I might be more invested in the characters, but with just one I didn’t find them all that likeable.

It isn’t even worth talking too much about the plot, which was fine but not compelling. I’m not saying to avoid the series, but this one wasn’t that great and certainly not the best introduction to the series. I don’t think all of the titles were available on Audible, which limited my options when picking which one to listen to. And some of the comments indicated that on the 2 for 1 offers on Audible the books were abridged versions, which I didn’t want.

Anyway, another one done and two more to go for my year of books!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #6 Writing Audio Description


If you wondered what I thought I'd say, here it is.

Audio Description:


Today I’m going to talk about writing audio description. This is something required since 2010 for a set number of hours of broadcast material on the major networks. Meaning that lots of TV shows and movies have to include AD whether they want to or not. Details of the law can be found by searching for the 21 Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Since this is required by law and not something TV shows and movies elect to do, it often has very low budgets and the quality standards can vary. Some larger companies will include AD in their budgets as an incentive to get more higher paying work from clients. So like if you hire us to do all of the dubbing and subtitling, we’ll throw in AD on your project for practically nothing.

What is it?

AD is a spoken track on a TV show or movie which provides audible information to explain action for visually impaired consumers. Just like with closed captions for hearing impaired, there is another track you can access on your TV which will play the AD alongside the original program. Since this hasn’t been a requirement for very long, there are still some variations in how companies approach the writing of the AD.

Basically, you go through a TV show or movie and create placeholders between the dialogue where a narrator will have time to talk. Then you go back through and put in descriptions of the action in these gaps between dialogue and sound effects. After you write the AD, you need to go back through and actually speak the words, since it doesn’t really matter how great your writing is if no one could reasonably say it in the time allowed. Because you have to speak out loud, or at least mumble the words quietly, this can be annoying to your coworkers if you are in an office and not working from home, but there’s no way around it.


Here’s a brief audio description of some video shot around my house.

Orange feral cat Trapper and grey tuxedo feral cat O’Keefe sit on a table chomping on cat treats. House cat Hot Lips plays with a rock on the ground and then scratches herself. A pink hibiscus flower sways in a gentle breeze.


The companies I know that do this work are looking for writers - meaning they are looking for people who identify as “writers” and they are probably actively hiring right now. Since I haven’t been on the hiring end of this, I’m not sure how they determine someone’s writing skills. Also, since the written document is eventually going to be read, I would imagine they wouldn’t be sticklers for things like exactly correct grammar which are needed in some of the other English jobs, like DL and SL creation. And since this is targeted to native English speakers and not going to be translated, there is more leeway on writing informally and using slang terms than there would be in documents given to translators.

Tests and Training:

I trained to do this for one company. They required 4 days of tests, including reading of guidelines documents and watching examples. Since the four days didn’t have to be sequential and you had to wait for feedback after each day of testing, for me this spanned about a month of going back and forth to get ready to be hired for my first project.

I was recommended to the head of that department by a former coworker, but I imagine you can find job listings for AD writers and just apply.

The pay:

So. I did one episode of one TV show - still as sort of a test, but this time I was getting paid and then getting feedback on my work. For me, the pay was atrocious. It didn’t even matter how good or bad my work was, there is no way for that pay rate that I could justify accepting a second episode. This was pre-pandemic, but I think even with the loss of steady work during the pandemic, I couldn’t afford to do this.

Part of me feels like I let the company down or left them thinking I couldn’t handle the notes or adapt my writing style, when really I just couldn’t do this and afford to feed myself and my cats. If that was my only choice of work, I’d go back to answering phones at a temp job, pretty much anything else I could figure out.

Now, I’m not saying this will be the same experience for everyone. If you can afford to get through the training - for no money - and can hold out with the extremely low-paying work long enough to get really fast at writing the AD, this might be a good job for you. As with all freelance jobs, you are paid for the project and not based on how long it takes you to do. If you can devote a whole week to making $200 for several months at a time, you might be able to eventually get your speed up to the point where you can do that amount of work in a day instead of a week, even though there might not be enough work to then keep you busy for the whole week. At least it won’t be a tremendous waste of your time. Or, if you can get a staff job writing AD it might work out better where you would then be paid hourly.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: I’m going to go on a little tangent now, though. In California, there was a law called AB5 which went into effect in 2019 which has really messed up a lot of freelance work vs. full-time work. The law was meant to target companies like Uber and Lyft, to force them to give better pay and benefits to drivers, but it has ruined the lives of many other freelancers. It left a lot of companies with two choices about freelancers - either everyone who does a certain job, like writing AD, needs to be freelance, or they all have to be staff with no freelancers doing that job. Or, maybe, if there are a few staff people they can hire freelancers as long as the freelancers don’t reside in California. So I’m not sure if there are many staff writing jobs for AD left and if there are, they might be limited to part-time only. I really don’t know, I just know that AB5 has not helped anyone.

So, my advice, if you can find a full-time staff job doing this, it might be worth it. Otherwise, it is a lot of work and training for, at least in the beginning, a non-living wage.


The downside for me was the pay. Just not worth it for me to do more than the one job. I should have asked the pay during my training time, but didn’t and got stuck having to do a job that made me feel cheap and unappreciated.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: And, I just have to add this rant, one of the notes repeated during training was to not use the verb “to be.” If you’ve taken a screenwriting class, you know this usually means “don’t write in passive voice, avoid verbs ending in -ing.” This turned out to not be what they meant. The person who proofread (and changed every line I wrote) on my one and only assignment, added lots of words which ended in “-ing,” but literally didn’t put the “to be” conjugation with them. So instead of saying something like “The rabbit is jumping and grooming its ears,” it would say “Jumping, the rabbit grooms its ears.” I found this note to be contradictory and it really bothered me. I will always have a problem with this and hold a grudge.

Wrap up:

So, AD writing is out there, and because it’s the law, it will continue to be out there. And it might be something you would excel at, it just wasn’t a fast enough fit for me for the money.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - episode #5 Writing Creative Letters

 Here's the latest video on writing Creative Letters. Below the video, I'll post the script I wrote if you want the highlights without watching the video or if you want to see how different the actual video turned out from what I thought I was going to say.

Creative Letter Writing

Hi. I just wanted to start by saying that if you notice I’ve been a while between posts, I will often put something on my community page to let you know what’s been going on with me and why I haven’t been posting much.

 Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about writing something called a “creative letter.” This is another job in the International Versioning Department, and is used for dubbing.

The name is a little bit misleading. When you write a creative letter, you aren’t being very creative. You’re writing a technical document which assists in the casting of voice actors in foreign countries for the dubbed versions of the film.

A creative letter is an aggregate of a lot of information taken from the dialogue lists which have already been created with the addition of other items. If you are hired to write a creative letter, you should request a previous one to use as a template of how that client wants the information presented, so you aren’t starting from scratch.

The creative letter will include some basic information about the film - like how long it is, the main cast from the end credits, and links to the IMDb page and any official sites for the movie. There might also be some technical information, but that will be supplied by the client - like how they want the dubbed files returned to them and what casting approval might need to happen before voice actors are hired.

The most creative part the creative letter writer needs to write is a synopsis of the film. On some projects, this can be surprisingly difficult. The synopsis doesn’t need to go into all of the details of a movie, but it should cover important plot and character points. A synopsis can range between one paragraph and two pages.

 After that, the creative letter is divided into sections which include things like a list of the characters in a movie, the actor playing them, the actor’s credits, the actor’s age and the character’s age and then a description of the character and a description of the character’s voice.

The most difficult part of creative letter writing is describing the vocal qualities of the character. The description needs to include those vocal qualities which have to do with the character and differentiate them from the vocal qualities inherent in the actor.

For instance, is it important that a female character has a deep voice? Is she mistaken for a man over the phone? Or is it just that Emma Stone is the actress and she happens to have a deep voice?

So in a role like Emma Stone in Cruella, the creative letter would include a note that when Estella is acting like Cruella she intentionally lowers the tone of her voice, as if they are two different people. You wouldn’t necessarily need to note that Estella has a deep voice, but rather that there is a tonal change when she is in one persona or the other.

These character and voice descriptions are written for each character thought of as a “main” character. Sometimes that means even if a character only appears for five minutes, they need to have a section dedicated to them. Other times, a character who appears more frequently might be a side character and not require this information. The client can help guide the writer about which characters they expect to get this detailed treatment.

The CL then goes on to include word counts of how many words each character speaks - so the dubbing supervisor can estimate how long to book each actor into the dubbing studio. Every character who speaks in a movie will be included in the word count list, whether they speak 2000 words or just grunt one time.

The creative letter will also then include a section detailing any words or phrases which require special attention when the move it translated and dubbed. This might be something like a catch phrase that needs to be said the same way each time a character says it, or it could be alliterations which should be preserved during the translation. This is up to the discretion of the CL writer, although the client will often weigh in if they feel something has been overlooked.

The CL will also include a list of all of the on-screen text in a movie, because some territories might decide to have a character say the text rather than putting up a written translation of it. Like if someone is reading a letter and in the OV it is just shown as the letter, it might be read in a dubbed version instead of having text added to the picture.

There will be a list of songs and something called “ditties” which will have specific instructions from the client. Often if a song is by someone famous, that person has agreed to sing the song with the understanding it will not be replaced in the foreign dubs. So if someone like Selena Gomez stars in a movie and sings, you might have permission to dub all of her speaking but be contractually obligated to subtitle when she sings, leaving her voice and vocal performance in. This is information the client will give you but it needs to be in the creative letter.

A ditty is a song which doesn’t require full lead sheets. Maybe someone improvised something sing-songy and it doesn’t matter if the person dubbing it sings the same notes or key or anything, just that they sing those words or lines.

 That’s the basics of what goes into it.


Let me put up a little example of what some pages of a creative letter might look like.


The best creative letter writings I’ve worked with are professional singers. They are more in tune with hearing different vocal qualities and describing them. You don’t have to be a professional singer, but you need to have a good ear.


We didn’t test anyone in this job.


As far as training goes, it seems like there are two paths to learning this. If you find someone who writes creative letters, you can try to offer to help them out in exchange for them teaching you how to write one, or if you are in an English Department and have the opportunity to proofread CLs, if you are self-directed in your learning ability, you can figure out how to write them and then offer your services to the department.

The pay:

This is definitely a freelance thing and not enough money to pay your bills like a full-time job. Think of it as an enhancement. The CL writers I’ve known were also something else, like a dubbing supervisor, voice teacher or a loop group lead. Or they might be a member of the English department who gets to do this in addition to other things, like DL and SL creation. On the plus side, you will sometimes luck out with a very easy assignment.

There are sort of three categories of jobs.

The first is short things, like a trailer, TV spot or Interstitial will all pay the same. An interstitial would be something short which appears like on commercial bumpers or DVD bonus feature, so if you get an interstitial which has one line, you will get a good payday.

Then there are short films. They require almost as much work as a feature or TV show, because they will have a full run of characters. For instance, there are a few short films based on the characters from Frozen and Tangled. Luckily, the features were already done so a lot of information could be reused from those CLs, but had they not been done already, the labor involved in creating the CL would have been similar to a feature, for less pay.

And then there are features and TV series. Features and TV series pay better, but they require more work and have tight deadlines.

Features will also usually require a first version, for higher pay, and then revisions when new versions of the edit are done. The revisions are usually pretty easy and mostly just require updating word counts and text lists, since it is rare that new characters would be added between edits of a film, but they will have a very fast turnaround, of like one or two days.

TV series are usually very involved for the first episode, but after that the dialogue list editors will probably handle making any updates themselves, so the CL writer will not be hired for more than the first episode and maybe a few updates as characters are added or removed from the series.

I asked my friend who wrote CLs for a long time what she liked best about the work and here’s what she said.

1. Got to see new movies early

2. I found the input pleasant.

3. It allows you to use your ears, and training to describe voices, i.e. pitch, timbre, intent.

4. the Synopses were hard, but taught me to be a better writer.

5. I liked working with my boss!!!!


I didn't like to intense deadlines. I didn't like picky (client).  It got hard having to do all the subtitles as well.  I didn't like the grind, but LOVED the money!

Wrap up:

So, writing CLs is something you might be interested in adding to your arsenal of skills, but don’t expect this to be your exclusive full-time job. I don’t know of any companies that have someone on staff who just writes creative letters.

 If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

MAC 2021 Lunar New Year Lipstick Collection and Beauty Blog Rant

 Ross currently has MAC lipsticks which were part of the special-edition release for Lunar New Year 2021. I don’t know how your Ross handles cosmetics, but here’s what mine does… They used to keep them in the jewelry counter, but I guess that got to be a little annoying for employees, so they started putting them in locked clear boxes. You can see what they have and what it costs, but for things like lipstick, which is in an opaque box, you might not have any clue what the color actually is. At least this gives you confidence as a buyer that no one has tried on the makeup or accidentally left the lipstick extended while putting the cap back on. I guess maybe you can ask someone who works at the store to open the box so you can check the colors, but if you’re like me, you don’t want any interaction with people while you are out, even if it saves you some trouble and money by having a better idea of what you might buy.

 But this is the modern age! I saw these lipsticks and knew I was interested in them and took out my phone. Surely I should be able to quickly determine what colors they were by searching through beauty blogs. Surely…

 A few videos popped up at the top of the search, but I didn’t want to start watching potentially long-winded vlogs in the middle of Ross. The information I needed was just a list of color names, a picture of the color and maybe a description of the color to help me assess how good the pictures/my phone screen were representing things. A few blogs popped up, but they were so overrun with ads and pop-ups I struggled to even find if they really were about the lipstick I was looking at. Seriously, I understand wanting to make money from a blog, but at the point where you have an ad for every sentence or picture, you’ve lost readers and are NOT HELPFUL!

 One blog, which had the most useful information (which I only found after leaving the store and searching again when I wasn’t pressed for time) looks like it was Google translated from another language. The names of the lipsticks are all slightly off, but since I did do a blind buy on two of the lipsticks on my first outing, I could confirm that they were sort of accurate in their descriptions with a fairly simple puzzle of what the names of the colors were.


Turn Up Your Luck was listed as “Turn Up Your Rack,” a vibrant bright red.

Luck Be a Lady was listed as “Luck Bee Lady,” a smoky brown red.

Brickthrough was correct, but spelled as two words, a dusty rose.

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving was listed at “Healthy, Wealthy and Sliving,” a true red.

And Playing Koi was mistranslated as “Playing Carp,” losing the pun in the name, a vibrant orange coral.


Despite all the words I’ve used to express my dismay at how bad beauty blogs are, my thought here was to present a better version of the beauty blog about these lipsticks. Starting now.

MAC Cosmetics has released a limited edition set of colors for 2021 Lunar New Year. Packaged in vibrant boxes with graphics of goldfish on the colorful tubes, the lipsticks are available in five colors in the “powder kiss lipstick” formulation. The packages on all of the colors are identical.


Brickthrough is a dusty pink:

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a traditional blue-red:

Luck Be a Lady is a brownish red:

Playing Koi is a bright orange coral:

Turn Up Your Luck is a bright pink-red. (I’m listing them in alphabetical order and they appear in this order in the pictures.)


The powder kiss lipstick formulation has a sweetener in it, so when you lick your lips you get a rush of sugar. They are also infused with a sugary vanilla fragrance. They glide on smooth and are weightless to wear. The color intensity deepens as you swipe back over your lips each time. Here I’ve swiped the colors on my arm. Each one has been applied twice - once lightly and once going back over it several times - so you can see how they darken with repeat application.


For my personal preference, I’ll be wearing Brickthrough the most, as a solid everyday color. I’ll wear Luck Be a Lady the second most, when I want something a little more intense, although the brown in it does lean a little bit to the orange side. For some reason, when I allow the girls at cosmetics counters to put makeup on me, putting me in an orange coral color is their favorite thing to do, but I’m unlikely to wear the orange/coral Playing Koi. I’m also unlikely to wear Turn Up Your Luck, since it is just a little too bright pink for me. Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a solid blue-red. For those out there who like a red lip, I think it is a winner. Maybe if the pandemic ever gets under control enough that I go out again, I’ll wear Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving for that extra drama of a red lip.


MAC no longer carries these limited-edition lipsticks, but you can currently (September 2021) find them at some Ross stores, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find them on websites like eBay for a while.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - September Book Report

 If there’s one thing I love, it’s a cozy mystery -- British preferred. I have seen every episode of Murder, She Wrote several times. I can watch Columbo episodes again and again. Agatha Raisin? Loved it. I’ve seen all of Poirot, Father Brown, Miss Fisher, Shakespeare & Hathaway, Rosemary & Thyme, Queens of Mystery and others. Not all of them work for me, but many do. So for my next book, I decided to not go for another memoir but to try a mystery novel instead.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a Poirot story by Agatha Christie, published in 1926. I got the audiobook version, read by Hugh Fraser, who happens to play Captain Hastings on Poirot. He did a terrific job of reading/performing this story, including doing a good Poirot voice.

A couple of things stuck out to me in this novel. First, I must have read it before. Actually read it. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. I’ve only read maybe three Agatha Christie novels, millions of years ago, so I thought it would be unlikely that I would select an audiobook of one of those that I’ve read, but that’s what happened.

If you’ve ever read any Agatha Christie, then you will know that guessing the murderer is nearly impossible. She withholds vital information until the very end, or introduces a new character at the very end. One of my favorite movies, Murder by Death, has a speech near the end about the frustration of reading stories by a writer like Christie. I found a copy of the speech online, which might not be accurate, but you get the point:

“You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.” -- Lionel Twain

That sums up my experience. So when I watch an episode of Poirot or Marple, I don’t try to figure out who did it. That is an impossible task. I just enjoy seeing the detective at work. Christie is a good writer and reading or listening to her work is enjoyable.

The second thing that stuck out to me was how easy her stories are to adapt to TVs and movies, which is probably why they remain so popular. The novel sounded almost like someone reading a screenplay. The dialogue was complete. The characters were complete. The locations were visual and the story was engaging.

I tried to find the TV version of this story, but for some reason it isn’t available on the subscription services I have, and I don’t want to pay extra just to watch it. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now that’s where I’m at.

Overall, this was a great title to listen to while pulling up crabgrass in my yard, and I’m leaving the door open to listening to more stories written by Agatha Christie.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Gina Yashere: Cack-Handed: A Memoir - August (Audio) Book Report

The past few months I’ve been listening to a lot of the podcase RHLSP (Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theater Podcast), where comedian Richard Herring interviews other (mainly British) comedians. Part of the appeal of that podcast is how terrible Richard Herring is at interviewing people. Another part of the appeal is that a lot of the episodes have video with them, not just audio, and can be watched on YouTube. A few of the interviews I’ve watched have been Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, David Baddiel, John Oliver, Alex Horne, Robert Webb. All men. All very successful in comedy. All graduates of Cambridge.

Looking at the list of Cambridge graduates you will also find Richard Ayoade, Jimmy Carr, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Peter Cook, Hugh Dennis, Simon Bird, Hugh Laurie, Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Sandi Toksvig, Olivia Colman and Sacha Baron Cohen. It seems like if you want to get into TV comedy in England, the fastest way to do it is by attending Cambridge and joining Footlights. Privilege and money seem like a shortcut to success.

After hearing so many of these identical stories, I was looking for something different. Didn’t anyone struggle? Didn’t anyone have to really claw their way up based only on their talent and not their luck? Sure, these people don’t have perfect lives, but not everyone starts at the same place. The Cambridge people started ahead and it isn’t too surprising they stayed ahead and will finish ahead.

Gina Yashere started behind. Her parents were from Nigeria and there was no free ride. As soon as she started working, in her mid-teens, she had to start giving part of her income to her mother (her father was gone by then) to help with the household expenses. Her mother hustled to keep the family together and to provide the best she could for her kids. And part of that meant her kids were going to be professionals.

Gina Yashere was slated to be the doctor in the family, but dissecting a frog ended that dream. She had to pass the doctor job onto a younger brother and became an engineer instead. But her heart wasn’t in it. A fortunate turn of events with work, leading to a few months of no work but with pay, allowed Gina to explore her creative side and that’s all it took for her to not go back to being an engineer.

Her memoir, Cack-Handed: A Memoir, tells the story of her life and how difficult it was to break into comedy in the UK. The racism and exclusion she experienced there led her to move to the USA where she has become a success with the TV series she writes and stars in, Bob Abishola.

But that’s the happy ending, where she is now. The book is about how she got there. An abusive step-father, a half-hearted suicide attempt, fights at school, moving around a lot, and being the outsider.

The chapter headings are all based on Nigerian sayings, and they are a delight. Here are a few:

A snake can only give birth to long things.
Going to church doesn’t make you a holy person any more than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.
If you sleep with an itching anus, you will definitely wake up with your hand smelling.
However hard a lizard does a push-up, it will never have an alligator’s chest.

It was a refreshing change to hear the story of someone normal, without the access and connections of a white man from a good family, who was able to make their dreams come true. Gina shows the outcomes that are possible through hard work, talent, determination and never questioning your own worth.

If you don’t know who Gina Yashere is, there are lots of clips of her on YouTube and as of this writing, two of her stand-up specials are available to stream on Netflix.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - episode #4 Writing Continuity

Here's the video:

And here's what I thought I was going to say:

Job Description: Today I’m going to talk about writing continuity. This is the job I currently have!

If you work in an English department, this might be part of your job, but most companies like to hire freelancers to do this. Even if you don’t have to write the continuity itself, you will still need to know what it is. You will probably have to assemble a CCSL (combined continuity and spotting list) at some point. Most English departments hire outside freelancers for the continuity writing because it is time consuming and the members of the team will have other tasks which are more pressing with tighter deadlines.

I use the job title “continuity writer.”

 What is continuity?

Continuity is a shot-by-shot description of the complete action of a movie. Occasionally a trailer will also require continuity. And yes, every shot. Most movies average around fifteen hundred shots, but I’ve worked on a few movies which have had over 4000 shots and some with under 500 shots. It just depends on the editing style and genre. Action movies, superhero movies and some comedies will have higher shot counts while dramas and actual horror films, not slasher, but like suspenseful horror films, will be on the lower end of shot counts. Although you never know for sure.

Though the continuity focuses on the main action, it will include any text which appears on screen, including details about signs even if they are in the background and more atmospheric than something the viewer needs to read, as well as including descriptions of action in the background or information about new locations to help set the scene. Once background action is described, it can be left out of subsequent entries in the same scene so that the entries can just focus on main action.

Since the continuity will be placed with the dialogue and spotting lists, no mention of dialogue gets included in it. You might occasionally include notes about sounds, like if a doorbell rings or something, but in general you could write the continuity with the picture muted and still include the majority of what needs to go into the it, because it’s just based on what you can see.

Why continuity: The CCSL document gets sent to the library of congress as part of the official paper record of a film. It can also get sent to some territories where the translator technologically can’t access the film as easily as some other places. So the translator can read the CCSL and have a more complete understanding of the film than they would otherwise have just from the dialogue list or spotting list with annotations if they can’t easily access picture.

On independent films, they might not even know why they are writing a CCSL with continuity, they will just have been told it is a “delivery requirement,” meaning that a larger company will not consider buying the small film unless this document has already been created and paid for by the original production company. Usually, these are not as thorough as one created by an English department.

Example: Here’s an example of some continuity I’ve written for a short documentary a friend and I have been working on. Usually the client will provide a list of shot in-times, which can then just be spot checked while working, so you are only responsible for the writing part.

Or, here’s a sample of some continuity I’ve written for some shots around my house.

For the actual writing part, the entries contain a screenplay-like slug line each time the location changes. The slug line includes whether the scene takes place inside or outside (INT. or EXT.), where the location is, usually from large to small. Like a scene of me sitting here might start with INT. Tujunga / Camille’s House / Main Room. Then the slug line includes a general term for time of day, usually either day or night, although dusk and dawn are sometimes used if it is important to the plot. Then normally the shot framing is given- which is a description of how close to the subject of the shot the camera is, I’ll explain a little bit more about this later -  and finally a description is written about what action happens in the scene. It could be as short as MCS - Camille, or more involved, like MCS - Camille. She sits in front of a scarf-draped piano which has vases of flowers and various knickknacks on it.

Then repeat with the next shot until you reach the end of the movie.

If you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, imagine the big fight scene near the end when all of the Ultron drones fight with the Avengers. That’s what continuity writing can feel like. You are an Avenger fighting a seemingly never-ending parade of killer robots. And working on that movie gave me one of my mottos for continuity writing which is “fight the robot in front of you.” You can’t spend your time thinking about how many shots there are still to write in a movie. It becomes overwhelming. You just write one entry at a time, chugging along, until eventually you will reach the end.

Qualifications and Tests: Just like with other jobs in or for an English department, you will probably have to take some kind of English test, although if you worked with one company as a freelancer and someone from that company moves to a new company, you might not have to take the tests and will get the work just based on your work history and past relationship.

I’ve never had to take a test specific to continuity writing. If there is a test, it will be the same general English proficiency test used for the rest of the English department.

Training: As with most things, you are unlikely to get a lot of training. You’ll will be given an example document, mostly for formatting, and probably there will be some kind of guidelines document detailing how to write continuity. I have written some of these guidelines documents and always include a page with stick figures to show what different shot framings look like for my preference.

At the first company I worked for in Hollywood, which was literally in Hollywood, I spent one Christmas span writing continuity on an independent film called Palmer’s Pick-Up. This was in the before times when digital storage was outrageously expensive and 2-gig drives were the size of shoeboxes, so I had to use a ¾ inch u-matic machine to play the video, with a TV monitor attached and then write the continuity, inputting time codes by hand, on a computer in Word. I don’t think I ended up doing the whole movie, just as much as I could get done as the only person in the office during that slow time of year.

What kind of person is this good for: The hardest part of the job is that it is repetitive and tedious. If you are the kind of person who likes to do intricate hobbies, like beading or painting, or assembling jigsaw puzzles, you are starting off with a good temperament for it. When I worked in an English department and hired the freelancers to write the continuity, it wasn’t uncommon to have people get hired for one or two projects and decide it wasn’t for them.

The reason I learned how to write continuity for real was that our freelancer (Hi, John!) decided he had had enough of continuity writing. We didn’t have another person lined up who could take over, so I jumped in. The first project I did in this more professional capacity was Shark Boy and Lava Girl, and I put in way too much detail, which John then had to proofread and critique. It can take a while to figure out just how much detail to include and when it is too much and really distracting from the important information of the scene. So there is a little bit of a learning curve to figure out how much is the right amount of detail to include.

The downsides: The biggest downside is how tedious this is. If you can get past that, then the next obstacle you might encounter is the turnaround time. If you are very slow at this, or just can’t handle doing maybe 500 or more shots in a day, then you could run into trouble with the deadlines. Usually there is at least one day per reel on a project. A trailer, which is short, but probably 200 shots, will also have about a day turnaround time. On some projects, that might not be enough time. Animation is particularly difficult and time-consuming, so extra time on animated features is always welcome. I recently finished an animated project which ended up with over 80,000 words of continuity. That’s the size of a short novel, in case you didn’t know. And on action films, one reel might have more than 1000 cuts, so getting through that quantity of entries in a day can be difficult to manage, so extra time on action films is also helpful and should be considered when accepting a job.

The other downside is that each year it seems like more companies decide they don’t need continuity anymore. So the pool of available work is dwindling and I do worry about what will happen when all the companies decide they no longer require full CCSLs on their movies.

The pay: I’ve managed to work as a freelancer who primarily writes continuity since late 2013, so for me it is enough money to live on. Again, the pay can vary greatly from client to client and often isn’t enough for me to accept a job, especially from smaller companies without big studio projects. I’ll occasionally take one of those jobs if I have free time on my schedule, but if that was the only level of work available, I couldn’t make a living doing this. Also, there are only enough projects for maybe 2 or 3 full-time continuity writers, so there’s a small pool of people who do this work and who can do enough to make it their primary source of income. In other words, the work is not abundant enough for a bunch of new people to get into this line of work.

Wrap Up:

So, to wrap up continuity writing isn’t hard, but it is tedious. Perfect for me! And I don’t need any more competition from you.

For the people who just nod when I tell them what I do for a living, I hope this has helped explain it a little better than when I try to give a quick explanation in casual conversation.

 Just one more thing you probably didn’t know was happening behind the scenes in the movies.

Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re here, if you made it this far to the end of the video! Thanks for watching! 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Nordstrom’s Return Policy Isn’t as Good as Advertised

 Nordstrom’s is almost as well known for its return policy as it is for being a luxury shopping store. There are unbelievable stories all over the internet covering how wonderful and unexpected the return policy is.

Several years ago, they did change part of the policy, no longer accepting special-occasion dresses if the tags had been removed. No problem. We all know from sitcoms that those dresses are bought, worn to the event and returned to the store whenever possible, so stores need to protect themselves. The remainder of their policy is vague, at best.

It clearly says there is no time limit for returns or exchanges, but it also says they don’t really promise to accept any returns.

They also only refund in the way the original purchase was made, or with a Nordstrom’s gift card. You can’t bring in something which was purchased with a credit card and walk out with cash. Fine. No big deal. I’m sure I could find something to buy at Nordstrom’s - especially if I could get the credit for Nordstrom’s Rack instead.

It’s a different story of how I got the things I tried to return, but lets just say I know of a lot of things with the potential to return and have a couple. I took in two things as a test. I wanted to see if the return policy lived up to the hype.

I brought in a pair of earrings, with the original price tag still attached and the original receipt. The receipt verifies things like the earrings were purchased at Nordstrom’s in Topanga, July 15, 2014. The cashier was named Doris. The method of payment was a Nordstrom’s credit card. They were on sale, although no discounts were handwritten on the price tag or calculated by the cash register. The price tag was for the sale price, with the original price also printed on it.

I also brought in a watch, which was in the original packaging, clearly never used (not a scratch on it) and with the original price tag, although it had been removed from the watch and was just in the box. The hands on the watch hadn’t even been moved. They were in the factory setting of 7:25 with the second hand perfectly aligned over the hour hand.

I went to the special “returns” section of the store, thinking they might be more helpful with this unusual case than any regular cashier, even though store cashiers are able to take basic returns. The young man who helped me first tried to scan in the bar code on the receipt for the earrings. Even though I have the receipt, it is worn out and the bar code wouldn’t scan. He didn’t try typing the numbers in. Instead, he scanned the special little return tag that places like Nordstrom’s and Macy’s attach to items when you buy them. Theoretically, scanning the return tag will bring up all of the details of the shopping purchased during the same trip.

The scan turned up nothing in their computer system. I was really confused why the earring return wasn’t going well. I asked if there was anything we could do. He had his manager come over. She did the same thing - scanned the return tag. It didn’t bring up anything in the computer. She scanned the return tag on the watch. It also didn’t bring up anything.

I felt like I was talking to a character from Little Britain. “Computer says, ‘no.’”

“We can’t accept these returns.”

But you have the receipt, the price tag, the return tag and the obviously never worn item. “Computer says, ‘no.’”

And here comes the not great part of the return policy which Nordstrom’s doesn’t publicize. I was told this. I’m not making it up. “See on the tag where it says ‘anniversary?’ That means it was part of a special sale.” They don’t accept returns on those items once the special sale ends. Oh. But this doesn’t seem to match the on-line information which is someone shrugging like, “We’ll probably take it back?”

Apparently they don’t accept returns on “anniversary” items, things which are seasonal, things from brands they no longer carry, or only carry occasionally. “But you carry the watch brand?” “Yes, but that was a limited-edition watch. We can’t take it. Computer says, ‘no.’”

I asked if there was an easy way to determine if something was eligible to return without coming into the store. Yes. You look on the Nordstrom’s website. If they still sell it, you can return it. But if the item has gone on sale, you will probably only get the sale price returned, not the full purchase price. So anything you bought which sold out or was seasonal in any way, you probably can’t return. I wasn’t clear on if it has to actually be still available for sale, or if it could be something which shows up on their website as “sold out,” as long as it was still showing up on the website. Bottom line, if the computer can’t scan it, nothing will make the return happen. A person is not able to use their eyes and verify that the receipt, price tag, return tag and item all match up and are in perfect condition.

I left Nordstrom’s with the watch and earrings and the advice from the manager of “just sell them on eBay.” Like I didn’t already think of that myself! What brilliant advice! It would have saved me a lot of hassle if Nordstrom’s did what they brag about, but all that brag is is hot air.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #3 - Writing Annotations


Annotations creation

Job Description: Today I’m going to talk about writing annotations. You will have this job either as part of creating a dialogue list or spotting list, or as a member of a team in an English department. If you work in an English department, the work is often divided depending on the strengths of each person. So you might be asked to write annotations and not ever create a spotting list, just depending on deadlines and skills of the people in the department. When you freelance, you could be expected to provide annotations in addition to a DL or SL. But you are unlikely to be hired just to write annotations.

Some of the job titles which could include writing annotations are English Editor, Master English Transcriber, or just a member of the English department or international versioning department.


What are annotations?

Annotations are notes for translators which accompany the document they are going to be translating.

If you’ve ever gone to a country where a different language is spoken, you might have had the experience of opening a translation dictionary and seeing three or four different words to choose from. How do you know which one has the same meaning you want to use? Like if you are in a hotel looking for your booking, how can you be sure you aren’t telling the concierge that you are looking for some reading material? This is where annotations come into play.

After a dialogue list is completed, you’ll go through it looking for any words or phrases which could be mistranslated or which might not appear in a dictionary, like slang or informal words. You will provide context or suggestions on what the words mean.

You’ll explain what idioms mean. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Other countries might not use that expression, so a literal translation of it could seem nonsensical. An annotation would need to be added to explain that it is an idiom, meaning it is raining a lot, and that if there is a similar idiom in whatever language being translated into it should be used here instead of using a literal translation to keep the flavor of the character and dialogue in tact.

Other things like humor, double entendres, words with one or more possible meaning in a dictionary or even things which are just said to be silly should be annotated to help ensure that the correct context remains in the translation.

You also might be asked to include relationships between people - like if someone is an older or younger brother or sister to another character, and you always need to include measurement conversions - like from Fahrenheit to Celsius or Miles to Kilometers.

We even once had to add an annotation to explain that when a character said “good night,” it was ok even though it was still light outside because it was late enough in the day and the character was going home from work for the night, to say “night” instead of “day.” So, there are some cultural things which might not even occur to you, but when those questions come back, you just add another annotation to make sure everything is clear.

Humor is an especially important thing to annotate because it can be so different from country to country.

Some companies will also require that you include an internal note of where you sourced your research. Did the spelling of an actor’s name come from an article in Variety or the actor’s IMDb page? Did you just look at Wikipedia and think that was good enough?

Ok, another story. When we were working on MI3, there is a scene where Tom Cruise’s character is climbing the Vatican wall. We couldn’t find anything on-line (again, years ago) about how tall the Vatican wall was, and we were specifically asked to include that information in a revision of the DL. So we had to call the Vatican to ask them about the wall, although I was find measuring how many Tom Cruise’s tall it was, the client wanted something more precise.

I also got really mad when we were working on Nanny McPhee and were asked to include an annotation for the word “stock pot.” There is only one definition for stock pot and it really bothered me to have to include a definition of it in the dialogue list. But, the client is always right. You add what they want and then you hold a grudge about it for 16 years.

Example: Here’s a transcription of part of the video I did on dialogue list creation. I’ve added some annotations to it, including one where I correct the spelling in a title I put up on the screen. Oops!

You can see that the annotations are included with each entry of transcription or spotting. This is a good reason to keep dialogue entries short, so that if a lot of annotations are required the translator doesn’t have to look too far to find them.

Qualifications: English proficiency. A lot of writers and English majors go into jobs in the English department. Although most jobs in an English department can be done by someone without a bachelor’s degree, getting past the HR gatekeepers without one can be hard.

Tests: As with all of the jobs in an English department, you will have to take a basic test which will include some proofreading skills and will probably have some of those annoying errors which are so common in English, like it’s and its or two, to and too. You might also be asked to write an annotation or two, just to prove you understand what they are.

Training: But as with most things, you are unlikely to get a lot of training. You’ll will be given an example document, mostly for formatting, and probably there will be some kind of guidelines document with lots of examples of what kinds of things to annotate in it. However, it is pretty common when you first start doing this that someone with more experience will review your work and provide you with notes. So you’ll benefit from being fast at picking up what the notes are correcting in your work, and not taking the criticism too personally.

What kind of person is this good for: I really think it is helpful for someone interested in writing annotations to have studied a foreign language at some point. I’m terrible at French, but it was my minor in college and I love it. Having studied a foreign language helps you realize just how easy it is to pull the wrong word out of a dictionary, so you better understand why annotations are helpful.

Peu coûteux.

You also have to be interested in researching things and then able to distill that research into a short, easy to understand summary. Being clear when explaining things is vitally important. If you are the kind of person who often gets asked what your social media posts mean, or just get comments with question marks in them, this is probably not something you would excel at.

The downsides: You can’t really start annotations until the dialogue list is completed. You’ll need to be careful when scheduling that you keep in mind just because a project comes in on Friday and is due Monday that doesn’t mean you can start on the annotations on Friday. You’ll probably start on Saturday. Tight deadlines can be a drag when you need to do a lot of research for a specific project, so being a fast reader and fast typist are helpful skills to have.

Like everything in the English department, working nights, weekends and holidays is more the rule than the exception.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay: If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. It will be rolled into a job in the English department, so it is also unlikely that you will just have a job of writing annotations. But with work distributed within the department based on the strengths of the employees, you might be able to only do a little bit of transcription and spend most of your time writing annotations.

As far as freelancing, this is unlikely to be a specific standalone job. If you take work either creating dialogue lists or spotting lists, you might be expected to include annotations with your files. The amount of detail in the annotations varies, usually depending on the kind of project you are working on. TV shows can get by with fewer annotations because the same people work on them week after week and have probably already created their own personal translation dictionaries for things which reoccur week after week. Independent films which are just getting the DL or SL as part of a delivery requirement won’t require as many annotations as a studio film, like for Disney or Marvel or something. Don’t be surprised if a big studio comes back and says there aren’t enough annotations in a file or that a translator has requested more explanation of something.

Wrap Up:

I really enjoy writing annotations, provided there is enough time in the schedule to do the research. I hate when they are rushed, but it can be really interesting and a way to learn about all sorts of different topics and engage different though processes about what words mean and how they are used.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

July Book Report - Susan Calman “Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate”

 If you don’t know who Susan Calman is, then you must not watch a lot of British panel shows. She’s the very short Scottish comedian who started out as a lawyer. She can stand up inside of a red post box with no problem. She loves Doctor Who and names her cats after strong fictional female characters. And she seems like a happy person.

But looks can be deceiving. Cheer Up Love is a memoir which follows Susan’s (I feel like I can call her Susan since I know her so well from seeing her on tv) life story framed around her depression. It is a book about how she deals with depression and what she wishes people without depression understood about people with depression and how to interact with them. Hint: It doesn’t involve telling people with depression to “cheer up, love.”

As a person who has struggled with depression for as long as I could remember, there was a lot in Susan’s story I could relate to. For Susan, and for me, depression has been a lifelong companion. Susan has personified her depression into something she calls the crab of hate. The crab of hate visits Susan, but also goes away sometimes. And it isn’t something she can control. It is external to her. External to logic.

I listened to this as an audiobook, read by the author. It took me several chapters to get used to the way Susan reads. She doesn’t have the natural “acting” quality to her voice. You can definitely hear that she’s reading. But I don’t think the book could have been read or performed by anyone else.

I highly recommend Cheer Up Love to people who are depressed, looking for commiseration and maybe some tips on how to cope, and I recommend it to people aren’t depressed. Her portrayal of what it is like to actually be depressed can maybe help the non-depressed people of the world understand depression a little better. Or, if nothing else, provide them with a list of things which they should never say to a depressed person.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode 2 - Spotting List Creation

 As always (or soon to be always), here's the video followed by the original script I wrote for myself which may or may not be what I actually ended up saying.

Spotting list creation

Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about the job of Spotting List creation. The job title for this could be “English Editor,” “Spotting Editor,” “Spotter,” or more generically part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department.

When I worked in an English department, I didn’t have to really do much spotting, but I am aware of the basics of it. This is mostly a job for the theatrical team and not the TV team. You can start with the dialogue list as a template, but the spotting list doesn’t include every little thing that the dialogue list does.

You will mark an in-time and an out-time for each entry, hopefully the software you are using will calculate the duration and you write down not only who is speaking, but who they are speaking to.

The spotting entries are ultimately used as a template for subtitles. If you have seen a movie that has been subtitled, you have seen some of the constraints of a spotting list.

The spotting entries are restricted by how many characters they can have which will fit on a screen in the average font size, and the duration of an entry is restricted by good old-fashioned film. If I recall correctly, a spotting entry can only be eight seconds long and should always be at least one second long. Different companies will probably have their own rules about subtitle duration. As for characters, I think a subtitle can have 80 characters (smaller than a tweet) on two lines.

The spotting editor has to make a lot of decisions about what should be included in the subtitles and what shouldn’t be included. If someone coughs, that isn’t included. Think of it this way: for a dialogue list/dubbing, the entire English part of the soundtrack is removed and replaced. For spotting, the soundtrack is left in the original version and subtitles are added to enhance the experience for someone who doesn’t speak the original language. The film still has the coughs, the burps, the heavy breathing, so none of that needs to be included in the subtitles.

The spotting editor also needs to decide if a line of dialogue should be re-worded to either make it shorter to fit in the subtitle or to get the point across a lot faster. If someone says “no-no-no-no-no-no!” the subtitle file might just say “no-no!” Keep it simple and enhance what is already happening.

Likewise, the walla isn’t generally included in the subtitles, but call out lines will be.

You’ll also have to watch the subtitles back and make any adjustments to their placement on screen. The subtitle file needs to include notes about when a standard subtitle might fall right over a sign on the screen, which the viewer should be reading. And most of the time, the subtitle file will also include these text items which are important to the story so that they are included in the translated subtitle file.

Because subtitles are meant to be read, the reading speed also needs to be considered while writing them. You don’t want people to panic because the subtitles are too short, or spending too much time staring at them when important things are happening in the action.


What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a spotting list, gets sent to a translator for subtitling. That way every translator is given the same record of the spotting, including timings, and it isn’t up to them to try and figure out the English version before translating it into whatever language they specialize in.

It also gets included in something called a combined continuity and spotting list, or CCSL, which I’ll talk about more in a different video, when I talk about what continuity is. But the biggie, is that it gets sent to a translator.

Many spotting lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.

Example: Here’s a little example of what a spotting list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.

Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. More so than on a dialogue list, you will probably have to use software supplied by the client, which will have the ability to calculate the durations of the subtitles, saving you a lot of awkward math. Their software should also superimpose the text on the movie as you write it, so you can sit back and watch it, checking for errors in placement or speed.

Tests: You will, most likely, have to take an English test to get this job. The tests are almost always “open book,” meaning you can look up things on-line or in the style guide the company you are testing for uses (Chicago/AP). And a house dictionary.

The test will probably also include some proofreading items - finding spelling errors or when the wrong character is identified as the speaker of a line.

Training: This job isn’t given a lot of training, unfortunately. If you freelance, you are kind of on your own and expected to already know the basics of how to find the in-time for an entry and how to match the format in a sample they will supply. If you work at a company, they usually say they will train you, but everyone is too busy to really do it, so again, you’re on your own. The faster you are at figuring things out and self-directing, they better off you’ll be.

What kind of person is this good for:

People who are a little bit more freewheeling than the dialogue list people. You need to be confident to make changes to the text as needed to enhance the experience, without changing the meaning. That’s a confidence I don’t have. I have no trouble writing down exactly what I hear, but second guess myself too much even just changing a word from “gonna” to “going to.”

You also need to not get too offended if changes are made to your files.

The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.

In an English department workflow, the dialogue list usually happens first and then the spotting list happens. This is true on the first pass of a project and on the revisions. So while a dialogue list editor might have to go into the office on Thanksgiving, the spotter can usually wait until the day after. And the spotting list is usually given a little bit more time to complete than the dialogue list is.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay:

If you are part of an English department, your job will not only be creating spotting lists. You will need to be able to do some of the other jobs within the department, like dialogue list creation, annotating and proofreading.

If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. I was salaried when I did this for a company, and that is a bad deal. If you have a choice, stay hourly. My mistake was accepting a promotion to supervisor, which they would not pay hourly.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I don’t accept freelance work of this kind because it isn’t financially viable for me. Even though I type very quickly, my level of attention to detail kills me in the number of hours/pay ratio department. Most freelance work will either pay you a flat fee for a reel or TV show, or give you a price per run-time minute. So a 22 minute reel could pay anything! But you should be told the rate of pay in advance and then can decide if you can fit it in to your schedule, if it is worth it to try or not.



Wrap up:

I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Spotting Editor is something you would be interested in pursuing. Or that at least it helps you get a little bit better understanding of this job. Things people do from nine-to-five in Hollywood.


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.