Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Nothing lost in the translation

Laura Sturza

Susan Bliss is accustomed to taking the words right out of people’s


Her Burbank company, Spot-On Scripts, prepares scripts used by


translators for subtitled and dubbed versions of films for

foreign-language distribution.

Screenplays and shooting scripts typically run 100 to 200 pages,

Bliss said, but they do not detail what appears in a film’s final


cut. By transcribing word-for-word and action-for- action what is

heard and seen in a finished movie, the scripts prepared by her staff

of 10 can run up to 1,000 pages.

“It’s very exacting work,” Bliss said. “You have to be very

careful not to alter the director’s creative intent.”

Her company is among those that make it their business to give

audiences a dubbed or subtitled film that is as close as possible to

the original. Which means her scripts include notes of every time an


actor stutters or says “um,” and when a dog that is central to the

story wags its tail.

Timing is everything, so the company’s script also tells

translators how much time they have to fit a subtitle on the screen.

Burbank resident Terra Abroms is a post-production supervisor who

has hired Bliss to work on films including “Basic,” starring John

Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, scheduled to open in April.

“She really helps out and is very realistic and has never missed a


deadline,” Abroms said.

“Her work is accepted by all the studios that I’ve worked.”

Those studios include Warner Bros. and Fox, which have lists of

approved vendors. Bliss is among three or four people providing

similar services who make the cut, because “if you go some place

else, you’ll end up paying twice as much” to pay for having Bliss

redo it, Abroms said.

When airlines show movies, they also rely on Bliss’ documentation

to “clean up the script” and turn an R-rated film into a PG-rating,

she said.

“If there’s nudity, they can go right to that point in the script

... editors know exactly where to go to dub or cut it,” Bliss said.