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Company Town : 3 Companies Link Up in Effort to Land Film Subtitling Work : Movies: They'll pool their resources to compete for business, most of which is now done overseas.

March 28, 1995|KAREN KAPLAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three companies have announced an alliance designed to make Hollywood a place where American movies bound for foreign countries--especially in Asia--can be fitted with subtitles.

A Burbank post-production studio, a Pittsburgh closed-captioning firm and an Israeli translation company with strong ties to Hollywood hope that by pooling their resources, they can compete for work now done almost exclusively overseas.

The cornerstone of the plan, announced Monday, is a strategy to break into the market for the subtitles that run along the bottom of American movies sold as videocassettes in countries from Japan to Indonesia. Since the alphabets for Asian languages are different from that of the West, subtitling work is rarely done in the United States.

"We're talking into the millions of dollars of business that's going out of this country," said Joseph Karlovits, president of Vitac, a closed-captioning firm that counts NBC, CBS and CNN among its clients.

The three companies are still calculating the exact size of the market, but Ami Bachar, general manager of the Tel Aviv-based subtitling firm Videofilm International, believes the troika can attract $100 million worth of subtitling work a year.

They plan to initially target American movies being converted into home video because the three companies are most familiar working in the television format. Producing subtitles for a film-turned-video costs between $3,000 and $5,000 and takes about two weeks. The companies could then begin subtitling American television programs bound for foreign markets, using closed-captioning techniques to make subtitling easier. Eventually, they would like to do subtitles for theatrical release as well, said Deborah Schuster, general manager of the Burbank office of Pittsburgh-based Vitac.

U.S. studios commonly hire foreign companies to write subtitles for their movies because people who live in the countries to which the films are being exported are best able to condense English dialogue into understandable subtitles. But when subtitling is done overseas, other post-production work often goes with it, said Moshe Barkat, president of Modern Videofilm in Burbank.

It also means that studios are paying to have the same post-production work repeated in each of the countries where subtitles are made. Barkat said the studios can save time and money by using the Hollywood alliance, since post-production work for a film can be done all at once, no matter how many versions of subtitles are added.

Under the joint venture, translators in foreign countries will write subtitles for American films and transmit them to Los Angeles in minutes over worldwide computer networks such as the Internet.

"Then we could load the subtitles here directly into the original master," Barkat said. "Then the technical qualities are maintained and the translations are done by the people who know their language best."

Though the strategy is designed to work for subtitling in any language, the allied companies are concentrating on breaking into Asian markets because of the lack of competition from U.S. firms there.

The alliance has already acquired the software for Asian characters and expects the price of hardware to drop to affordable levels later this year.

"We hope to be ready by the fall of 1995," Barkat said.

Although the three companies are spread around the world, Vitac and Videofilm International have offices in the Los Angeles area, and the venture will be based in Burbank.

Representatives of major studios--which require subtitling of dozens of feature films a year--said they currently have the work done around the world. The studios recognize that having the work done in one place would be more convenient and cost-effective, particularly with a weak dollar raising the cost of subtitling done abroad.

The allied companies are talking with all the major studios about taking over some of their subtitling work, although no firm commitments have yet been made, Schuster said. The three companies have previously worked with Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal Studios, and those ties should help them drum up business, she said.

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Inside Hollywood

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