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What's the Thai word?

Well-known movie translator Thanatcha takes us behind the scenes

What's the Thai word?

Photo by Konthee Laungararm/ The Nation

She has translated more than 500 movie subtitles in her career. The subtitles of Oscar-winning movies like "Chicago" and "Million Dollar Baby" or blockbuster films like "The Da Vinci Code" and "Bridget Jones's Diary" also came from her brain. Her role really helps Thais enjoy watching movies.

But Thanatcha Saksiamkul, a movie translator, remains humble and says she does not do as great a job as many would think.

"What I do is only typing what the character says [translating from English to Thai] for movie-goers to read. I'm just being a conversation interpreter, that's all," she says.

"Probably, it's my name being shown in the credits on the screen that makes people think a translator has an important role in a movie."

Thanatcha's career began in 1994 at the age of 26, when she translated "The Paper", starring Michael Keyton, for CVD International.

"The film was first planned to be released only on video, but the company finally sent it to screen, although only to a very limited number of theatres," she recalls.

However, Thanatcha, 40, says her dream career when she started of was not that of a movie translator.

After graduating from the Faculty of Communication Arts at Chulalongkorn University, she tried dubbing movies at Thai Sky Cable Operation.

But lack of certain physical qualities came in the way of her achieving her ambition.

"To be a good dubber, you need a big and powerful voice. But I have quite a feeble and sharp tone," she says.

Nevertheless, because of her good command of English, she was handed the job of doing the subtitles for foreign films instead. Her major task was still not that of a translator, but rather a person who types the translated script in the movie.

Thanatcha's first translation for a mass movie came in 1995 with "Operation Dumbo Drop".

Since then, she has become the name many Thai movie fans are familiar with when watching foreign-soundtrack movies in theatre.

Currently, Thanatcha is working as an independent translator. Amazingly, she spends only one or two days completing the translation for an entire movie.

However, she explains that the process of writing Thai subtitles does not end with the translation.

"After finishing the translation, it takes at least another week for further processing, such as footage marking, keying subtitle script into the film, dubbing, censoring and delivery to the theatre."

Each process must be finished on time, keeping in mind the deadline; otherwise, it may delay the release of the film.

But those are cases requiring urgent work.

For those movies that do not have to be released at the same time as in the US, Thanatcha first gets a preliminary film in DVD form with a draft script for translation about a month before the final script arrives. Then she has one or two days to finish the final translated script.

"A film translator is like a joint in a chain: only a part in several processes going into the making of the subtitles," she says.

Some translators may watch the movie before doing the translation or they may do it vice versa. But Thanatcha works differently. She prefers to translate while watching the film.

"This method helps me to become absorbed in the movie, and then sometimes the right word just pops up into my mind without my having to think about it."

After 14 years on the job, Thanatcha says the fun of her position has changed from "being the first person to watch a movie", to being able to learn and explore new knowledge while translating.

"One time, I learned that Market Street is not actually a street named Market, but rather a market named Market Street," she says.

For those who want to be like Thanatcha, her suggestion is to go out and apply for a job.

"You must go out and find one for yourself. There is no way to get a job if you just sit and wait for a chance to come your way," she says.

"It's not as difficult to get into this business as many people think. There are 30-40 foreign films showing in Thai theatres each year. The film company does need to recruit new people to work for them."

The most challenging aspect of this job, says Thanatcha, is how to keep up the work and continually be hired.

"You have to take a lot of responsibility and be accurate in this kind work. You'll be pressured not only by the deadline, but also the completeness of the work," she says.

"There are new faces coming into this industry all of the time, but they're simply not able to keep working and stay long enough for people to remember their names."


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