Introducing Netflix Timed Text Authoring Lineage

A Script Authoring Specification
By: Bhanu Srikanth, Andy Swan, Casey Wilms, Patrick Pearson
Dubbing and subtitling are inherently creative processes. At Netflix, we strive to make shows as joyful to watch in every language as in the original language, whether a member watches with original or dubbed audio, closed captions, forced narratives, subtitles or any combination they prefer. Capturing creative vision and nuances in translation is critical to achieving this goal. Creating a dub or a subtitle is a complex, multi-step process that involves:
– Transcribing and timing the dialogue in the original language from a completed show to create a source transcription text
– Notating dialogue events with character information and other annotations
– Generating localization notes to guide further adaptation
– Translating the dialogue to a target language
– Adapting the translation to the dubbing and subtitling specifications; ex. matching the actor’s lip movements in the case of dubs and considering reading speeds and shot changes for subtitles
Script files are the essence and the driving force in the localization workflow. They carry dialogue, timecodes and other information as they travel from one tool to another to be transcribed, translated, and adapted for performance by voice artists. Dub scripts, Audio Description, Forced Narratives, Closed Captions, and Subtitles all need to be authored in complex tools that manage the timing, location, and formatting of the text on screen.
Currently, scripts get delivered to Netflix in various ways — Microsoft Word, PDF, Microsoft Excel, Rich Text files, etc., to name a few. These carry crucial information such as dialogues, timecodes, annotations, and other localization contexts. However, the variety of these file formats and inconsistent way of specifying such information across them has made efforts to streamline the localization workflow unattainable in the past.
We decided to remove this stumbling block by developing a new authoring specification called Timed Text Authoring Lineage (TTAL). It enables a seamless exchange of script files between various authoring and prompting tools in the localization pipeline. A TTAL file carries all pertinent information such as type of script, dialogues, timecode, metadata, original language text, transcribed text, language information etc. We have designed TTAL to be robust and extensible to capture all of these details.
By defining vocabulary and annotations around timed text, we strive to simplify our approach to capturing, storing, and sharing materials across the localization pipeline. The name TTAL is carefully crafted to convey its purpose and usage:
– “Timed Text” in the name means it carries the dialogue along with the corresponding timecode
– “Authoring” underscores that this is used for authoring scripts in dubbing and subtitling
– The “Lineage” part of the name speaks to how the script has evolved from the time the show was produced in one language to the time when it was performed in another language by the voice actors or subtitled in other languages.
In a nutshell, TTAL has been designed to simplify script authoring, so the creative energy is spent on the art of dubbing and subtitling rather than managing adapted and recorded script delivery.
We have been piloting the authoring and exchange of TTAL scripts as well as the associated workflow with our technology partners and English dubbing partners over the last few months. We receive adapted scripts before recording and again once recording is complete. This workflow, illustrated below, has enabled our dubbing partners to deliver more accurate scripts at crucial moments.