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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.