I know. It's hard to keep track of all the different things I do on YouTube. The newest one is all about day jobs in Hollywood, in the entertainment industry, which don't involve becoming rich and famous. Here's the video:
Dialogue list creation
Hello. Today I’m launching a new series of videos where I’m going to talk about some of the non-glamourous, nine-to-five kind of jobs available to people who want to work in the entertainment industry. Maybe you want to be an actor or a writer, but you need income until it happens (used to be health insurance), or you just love TV and movies and will do anything to work on them.
I’m going to start the series with jobs I’ve actually had.
Today I’m going to talk about the job of Dialogue List Transcriptionist, which is often called an “English Editor,” “Script Editor,” “Master English Transcriber,” or part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department. Lots of companies like to have a slightly different name for the department.
I did this as part of my job for about 8 years. Basically, you watch a tv show or movie and you write down exactly what each character says. You put a starting time (sometimes an ending time - if you are handing your work over to someone who does audio description) to when they speak, put their name, and then write what they say. For a dialogue list, this is very thorough. You’ll include filler words like “um,” or you might write “grunts.” You’ll include if they clear their throat or cough or giggle. Basically, if you hear the character make a noise with their mouth/throat/voice, you write it down. And you need to be as precise as possible. So, like, if a character goes “no-no-no-no-no!” part of your job is to actually count how may times they said “no” and write it down.
You’ll also need to break up long sections of dialogue into smaller groups. So if someone has a long speech that lasts for several minutes, you’ll make a few entries at naturally breath points to help the page not look overwhelming.
If a character speaks in a foreign language, you usually have to include that also, but in most instances you report back to whoever you are working for, alert them to the foreign language area, and they’ll provide you with a transcription of the dialogue in that section. You aren’t required to also know every foreign language which might pop up.
Although, I have worked on two different movies where the foreign language was Martian. In one, the Martian was provided to us by the client and we just had to make sure we were putting it in the right place. In the other, we were asked to do our best to phonetically transcribe the Martian.
If a character mouths something, you need to include that. And, although it isn’t actually dialogue, you include anything on screen that the viewer will be expected to read. Signs, letters, subtitles.
You also need to include all the background dialogue. So if a scene is set in a bar, you’ll add an entry for the walla. I’ve worked on at least one project where the editing room supplied a track of just the walla to help pick it out and transcribe it. Sometimes you can say “overlapping chatter,” other times you’ll created a new character and write down their shoutout line, which is distinct from the crowd.
You’ll also frequently encounter dialogue which is difficult to understand. You’ll need to be able to admit you don’t understand something and let other people know. Sometimes, a shooting script (the version of the script the actors used when they learned their lines) will be provided. It can often help solve mysteries of garbled words.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Jack Sparrow gives a speech about cuttlefish which included the word “flippercanoriuos.” Well, we had no idea what he was saying. We asked our contact at Disney. He asked the sound editors and… no one knew what the word was. We unfortunately had to deliver our DL with that word as “indistinct.” Years later, the internet helped us figure it out, but it was too late. I have no idea what the dubbed versions of the movie went with.
You will often have to include if a character is off camera or on camera when they are speaking. The translator uses this as a way to know how much they might have to match lip flap when they do their translation.
Turnaround times and Number of versions - TV maybe 2. A movie, maybe 10. (Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives)
What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a dialogue list, gets sent to a translator for dubbing. That way every translator is given the same record of the dialogue in a movie 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.
Most dialogue lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.
If you work at a company that has a large English department, this list might also get sent around to people who do closed captions and spotting lists, so they don’t have to always also start from scratch.
Example: Here’s a little example of what a dialogue list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.
Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. If you are working from home, you’ll need a computer with a fast video processor and probably some basic software like Word and Excel. Many companies have their own software they want you to use, often web based, so you need to be good at learning new programs. Oh, the space bar makes the video play in this player, but the 5 on the number pad does it in this software. Be flexible. You won’t get paid for not understanding how to use the programs.
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 have a good attention to detail and can get obsessive about things can do well in this job. A lot of writers get into it, or people who majored in English in college. A degree is often required, but the testing is the most important determining factor on hiring someone.
If you are the kind of person who knows that when you say “the back yard of my house,” back yard is two words, but when you say “I’m having a backyard barbeque,” that backyard is one work, this might be a good job for you. And if you are the kind of person who can be told “this is how we spell ok in these parts” and you’ll remember it and stick with it, you should do fine.
The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.
Starting on the dialogue list is dependent on the editing room getting copies of the latest version out, it is not at all uncommon for a dialogue editor to receive files the afternoon before a three-day weekend and then to be expected to work over that three-day weekend. During the eight years or so when I worked in this field, I think I had to work most Thanksgivings, and if not the actual day then the Friday and weekend after.
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.
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 spotting 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 an 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.
I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Dialogue Transcriptionist 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.