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Diversity in Localization: Entertainment Localization

 

Loy Searle is a Board Member and VP of Women in Localization and has worked in the localization industry for 20+ years. Loy has led content and globalization teams at JD Edwards, Mincom, Google, and Intuit. Most recently, Loy served as VP of Localization Operations at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group in Burbank, California.

I connected with Loy to talk about her recent experience in entertainment localization, to learn more about this part of the industry, and to see how it’s different from technical or traditional localization.

What attracted you to moving to Los Angeles and working at Deluxe?

I’m a movie lover and one of those people who sit and watch the credits roll by wondering what all of those people do. I was curious about the people who work in the entertainment localization space.  While I had exposure to subtitling at Google, the focus was more technical. Making a move to Deluxe was a great opportunity to learn about a different side of the business and try something new.

I knew localization subtitling and dubbing was going on in the movie industry, but in my 20+ years in the localization industry, I never ran into these people at conferences or industry events. Entertainment localization is such a separate community from the rest of the localization industry, which includes many domains including software, IT, retail, medical, manufacturing, and marketing content from Fortune 500 clients. The entertainment localization professionals rarely present or share in our localization industry events.

What did you enjoy about working at Deluxe?

I loved learning about this part of the localization industry – it was a lot of fun. Deluxe provides great training in entertainment localization and the post-production industry. Working there allows for foundational skills to grow and progress in the industry, and the subject matter was compelling and fun.  

I landed in this space just as it is starting to see an interesting transition. They have more work than anyone can do and a tremendous backlog because of the mammoth size of streaming content available now across multiple platforms.

How is entertainment localization different than technical localization?

People who work in entertainment localization look at the localization industry differently, and as a result the mindset is different than technical or traditional localization.  They view themselves as post-production, and localization is just a component of this work.

For example, even the relationship with source content is different. In traditional localization, the content team is our upstream partner, which in a handful of companies is optimized and tightly integrated with localization. There is great synergy in pulling these departments together since there is a co-dependency in our work, even though one team writes the content and the other team does the language work. Yet these functions are still often separate teams in traditional localization.

In entertainment localization, the content and localization teams are much more integrated and have a tighter relationship. Their work starts with creating the English source. The client rarely provides the English source that dubbing, subtitling, closed captions and audio descriptions require. This means an editor will watch a movie several times to capture all the text and action accurately. English content source is where the process begins in entertainment. This is because English deliverables are also part of the process (for example, for closed captioning and audio descriptions) and localization can seem like too narrow of a focus. Entertainment doesn’t just focus on the other language or locale deliverables, but the source as well.  

Source creation is very much part of the entertainment industry localization process and starts further upstream versus traditional localization where we are handed the final English content for localization. This is one of many reasons why the entertainment side of our industry sees itself differently.  

There are also some components that transcend traditional localization. For example, entertainment localization teams must do specialized video graphics work, which goes beyond transcreation. An example is the opening credits of Fantastic Beasts and where to Find Them, where the letters turn into creatures. The “F” might turn into a dragon or another creature. This letter and graphic must change based on whether it fits with the translation, what is culturally appropriate, and a new graphic video may need to be created that is unique to each language.

How are technology or tools used in entertainment localization?

In Silicon Valley, localization leads heavily with technical solutions, automating to scale, and efficiencies. CAT tools, machine translation, TMS and CMS systems and other tech supports this work.

Entertainment localization is just starting to build innovative technology. One reason the demand for innovation and CAT tools has lagged is because entertainment vendors do not expect to repeatedly translate the same content as the traditional industry does for marketing, UI, or help systems. For example, a scene in a movie might be reused as a flashback in a later film, but post-production doesn’t plan for this since it’s unknown if the scene will be reused. In comparison, the automation that grew out of traditional localization was premised on the certainty that most content (such as help and UI) will be updated regularly so automation must solve for this.   

How does voice over or dubbing fit into the picture?

Dubbing and voice-over work for localized entertainment (films, TV, streaming, etc.) is more complicated than marketing videos. A marketing video may use a voice talent once and then a different voice talent on subsequent videos.

For films, TV, or streaming content, the dubbing voices are considered artistic talent – like actors – and you need the same voice to play Tom Cruise in all movies for consistency. Voice talent actors and most dubbing studios are also unionized which is very different than using a linguist at a recording studio for a one-off marketing video. Schedules, strikes, and studio availability add a unique complexity to this work.  

What kinds of roles exist in entertainment localization?

People who work in entertainment localization see themselves as part of the post-production world; not technical localization. Consequently, even the jobs that get posted don’t use the same terminology. When traditional localization companies post a job description, entertainment localization people don’t recognize what they do in that role. Similarly, technical localization people don’t see themselves in entertainment localization job descriptions. The leadership, technical, and program management recruiting pools are largely different.

One similarity in both industries is relationships. In entertainment localization, when people are looking for new opportunities, they know the company they’re applying to. Similarly, when hiring managers are reviewing resumes, they know the companies where the candidate worked and feel they can trust the candidate’s skills and experience. Traditional localization does the same thing, but we also have a very strong support network, for example, specific recruiters, conferences, and technology like TMS systems and CAT tools that focus exclusively in the localization space.

Over the years, traditional localization organizations have worked to help build standards and share best-practices. This means the traditional industry typically has service providers, technology providers, and customers. I didn’t find a rich technology sector in entertainment – instead the customers and the service providers have their own internal solutions. In both industry sectors, people bounce from different companies and back and forth from clients to vendors.   

If someone is interested in working in entertainment localization, what advice do you have for them?

Linguistic talent would face the same challenges as technical localization. It takes time to build expertise and terminology in your domain, and experience is key, whether you are working on IT translations, medical, marketing, or children’s cartoons and songs. The first step would be to try to get added to vendor databases, start getting translation work and being assessed. If your work meets quality expectations, then you will get more work. For production or operational positions, learning post-production skills such as subtitling, editorial, or dubbing would be key.

Entertainment localization tends not to recruit from the localization world, instead they focus on film or entertainment education and students studying film production. If traditional localization people want to get a position, they should consider adding post-production film courses to their education plan.  

Where do you see entertainment localization headed?

The entertainment localization industry tends not to think tech first, they think relationship first. Because of this, there is a subtle disconnect between the two industry sectors.  Technology is important in both – but in traditional localization – tech leads. This subtle difference means problems are solved differently in the two spaces. Traditional localization automates wherever possible and leverages people where automation fails. Entertainment leverages people and supports with automation.  

I think we’re entering an interesting nexus because the customers that are driving much of the growth in the entertainment space, such as Netflix, Apple, Amazon and Google, are in their heart tech companies. These companies view themselves as tech companies first and are now stretching into entertainment. Most of these companies have two localization departments, one for traditional localization and one for post-production. Each team has different people and processes, working in different locations (Silicon Valley versus Los Angeles) with different technology. As long as getting content out is the priority for these companies, the two-team system will remain.

However, I think there will soon come a time when entertainment localization also becomes a commodity and these companies will want to better manage their cost structure and find efficiencies. When this happens, they will ask – why do I have two teams doing this work? What’s so different? I would expect these companies to consider merging the two localization departments just as we have seen happen for UI, Marketing, and Content over the last 20+ years.   

When the merging starts, interesting things will happen. I believe technology will become a higher priority within entertainment localization, which will really benefit from richer automation and data. An engineering mindset drives traditional localization. This mindset craves work to be standardized, systematized, and efficient, which is a bit at odds with the creative responsiveness in entertainment localization. The traditional localization industry has always been a unique marriage between the technical and the creative.

I think it’s an interesting time to be in either sector as the lines start to blur and we see more cross-pollinating between the two sectors. For young folks looking at career options – don’t forget to also look south to LA at post-production jobs – you may be surprised to see localization roles hiding there.    

Overall, I think entertainment localization is a very cool space and we should be trying to shake hands better across the industry.