This Weekend I did the unthinkable.
I told a paying customer not to send me anymore work.
For a year now I’ve been “courting” this voice over agency. The owner is a nice guy… a little quirky but nothing far outside the ordinary. I contacted him back in 2008 and we’ve been emailing back and forth. He would ask me to audition for a job… I would and then something would happen and someone else would get the job.
Nothing new there, I mean this is the deal with every single voice over casting agency I deal with. You win some… you lose some.
Very often you lose more than you win.. but the wins are sufficient to keep the ball rolling and the work coming in.
About 10 days back he contacts me and tells me that he has a job for me… a nice quick 2000 some words. He asks how much Arabic will inflate the text. For those who don’t know… the copy expands and contracts from language to language.. If it was originally written in English and you want it translated to …. lets say french… there will be an increase of around 25% … that’s just how french is… it needs more words to explain something to it.
But the truth of the matter is that its not just the language itself … its the lexicon… something might make sense in English and take fewer words because it is based on a commonly understood phrase like… I reached first base this weekend… would be translated to I was able to find a female interested in me and we went to a private place and I was able to … well you know the rest. So a few words in one language might mean allot of words in another.
I gave him my estimate of how much more copy there will be … so he asked a few more questions … if I could find him a female Arabic voice over actor to do another part of the script… a few more questions were exchange and that was it…. for about a week.
The “What are you talking about” moment
The gentleman gets back to me and tells me that the job is still on but that the script would be delayed… he asks when I will be free to record… I give him my schedule and he asks if it was possible for me to do it earlier… I had a prior engagement so I said no. And so the schedule was set for recording last friday.
I tell him that I will need to review the script in case there was something dodgy in it. He answers back that he has used these translators for 20 years and they are his friends and they have a fool proof way of making sure the translation would be perfect. A double blind something or other… This itself wasn’t weird… but the tone was… He acted as if I just insulted both sides of his family.
I answered politely and told him that I was not trying to insult his friends… but that as an Arabic VO artist almost all the scripts I read (yes nearly 100% of them) are translated from one language or another. Which means that I have seen all kinds of terrible scripts and that I would need to review the script because in a script containing 2000 some words it is inevitable that something will go wrong. Compare that to the work he might do himself (as an english language vo artist) since at least 60% of his scripts are written by someone who’s first language is English. So there shouldnt be a comparison between my experience and his.
He says he will send his script as soon as it comes in from the translators and I can review it and tell him what a great job they did.
Alas when the script came in and after reviewing it I came to the conclusion that it was terrible. The translators did the following:
- Made literal translations of the English to the Arabic (which rendered the sentence meaningless).
- Did not use the appropriate technical Jargon when doing the translation so you ended up with a vagueness in the copy that will confuse the listener.
- Wrote the copy as if it were to be read… not to be read out loud so you end up with convoluted sentences that you’d run out of breath long before completing.
So I sent him an email and told him that the script didn’t make any sense. He emailed back asking me to point out where the script didn’t make any sense. I told him I will not point out all the mistakes throughout the 9 pages of the script but I will provide him with the first page with the errors highlighted. I didn’t review the whole script because that would be considered consulting and that is a payable service.
He sends the page back to the translators (who did the job in the first place) and they proceed to tell him that the job they did was flawless… well except that I was right about needing the sentence reduced so that it can be read without the vo dying from asphyxiation. And that one of the words was sorta used out of context… but overall the script was flawless.
My client is now very confused. He has the vo he chose for the job saying the script doesnt make any sense. The translators implied that the vo is not correct… that they (the writer and the editor) went through the script again with a fine tooth comb and that maybe he wants to get his translator to do it the way he likes it (at which I said… yes the way I like it would be an accurate translation bub!) anyway the client emailed me back and asked how much it would cost to fix the script (at which point I tell him that I do not translate … it is not one of my skills but that I do know a translator but he would have to deal with her directly and I will have nothing to do with the followup or payment… my job will resume once there is a script I can read from.)
I suggest to the client that he gets the opinion of another native speaker of Arabic.
In the meantime I happen to be at a gathering where one of the attendees is an Arabic Language Professor. I ask if they would be so kind as to review the script. They do so and agree with me wholeheartedly… I also get the opinion of an engineer who is familiar with the english jargon … and he mentions that the terminology is not properly translated.
So I feel vindicated and not bad for telling this guy his friends did a terrible job.
Lo & Behold
Turns out his 3rd expert had told him that I was not correct and that only 10% of what I told him was in fact correct.
Here I said a very bad word. I won’t repeat it but it pretty much summed how I felt.
So I get an email from the client telling me that he has 30 plus years in the business and that I should suck it up and that I had to be a professional about this job.
I got this at 1 am …. I got out of bed… wrote him an email and told him the following (I’m summarizing):
1. I tried to help you and not make you look like a fool in front of the Arabs that will hear the project
2. I can’t put my name on this project cause its gonna be terrible.
3. I am only going to record this job because I promised you I would and you are under a deadline. But if it wasn’t for that I would not touch it with a 10 foot pole.
Needless to say because of this I will also not accept any jobs from you because the people you use to translate scripts are not accurate.
I did the job… and a 2150 words script took me 3 Hours to record… and 3 more hours to edit.
Think about that…. I wasted 6 hours of my life on a job that shouldn’t take more than 1 hour to record (on a bad day) and another hour to clean up.
To make things worse I had refused a high paying job that had a Friday deadline because I already promised this guy I would be booked for his work. That other job paid double what this one did.
Moral of the Story
Keep good relations with your Casting Agents… but know when to draw the line. Personally I am going to make a Terms and Conditions email which I will send out to any potential client… and tell them if I don’t think the script is properly written… then I will reject the job.
I know it’s not really the client’s fault.. he doesn’t speak Arabic and he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, Do you trust the people you have worked with for 20 years or some guy you met online a year back… but that was possibly the worst recording session of my life… it almost made me hate doing VO work… and that is quite an accomplishment.