STEP 1: Begin to input translations by picking your take
I always do this while I’m on location, the evening of the shoot, with the translator who helped conduct the interview. Capture the interview into FCP and lay it on the timeline. The clip I’m using to illustrate this tutorial is in Tajik, shot in 2005 for a film for the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) that ended up being in six languages. Highlight the clip by clicking it once. Note: If you don’t highlight the clip, markers will go into the timeline, not onto the clip. I turn on Audio Waveforms to make it easier to find the sentence beginnings and endings.
STEP 2: Mark stenence beginnings
With your translator, find the beginning of every sentence and mark it by moving the playhead to it and typing " M" as a keyboard shortcut. Mark every sentence in the clip.
STEP 3: Re-open markers and type int the translation for each sentence
Keep the clip highlighted and navigate to each marker via Shift M (to next marker) or Option M (previous marker). Once on the marker, type " M" again. This opens the Edit Marker window. Ignore the first field and type the English translation into the second field (called Comment). Click OK when finished. Continue to the next marker and type in all sentences. Be careful you don’t hit Command M, which will minimize your timeline. Don’t try this by hand; use the keyboard command to make sure you land exactly on the marker.
STEP 4: Check your work!
Starting at the beginning, revisit each mark, open the Edit Marker window and cut and paste each sentence into a Word or text document in proper order. Show it to your translator to make sure that it’s correct. Save this document to use when writing your script. (This is also a good time to check spelling of the interviewee’s name.) Once you’re satisfied your translation is correct, grab the video clip and drag it to the browser. Now, every time you use the clip, the markers and translation will travel with it. (The clip has a twiggle on it- that’s Apple’s word for it, not mine!)
STEP 5: Edit your film without subtitles
Check your translations as needed. When you have a cut you’re ready to show, create the subtitles by returning to your clip and highlighting it.
STEP 6: Make your first subtitle template
Get the text and highlight the clip. Using Shift M or Option M, go to the first marker and type " M." When the Edit Marker window opens, click in the second ( Comments) field. All of your text will be highlighted; type Command C (copy). Close the window (OK).
STEP 7: Input test and settings
In the text generator button in the Viewer, select Text>Text to open the text tool. Click on the Control tab at the top of the window and paste ( Control V) your text into the box. Experiment with size, etc. I’ve found that a good starting point is My Settings. These are optimized for 16:9 anamorphic. For subtitles of any kind, sans serif styles are the only way to go (for more about subtitle formatting, go to Make sure you check how the font, size and spacing look on an NTSC monitor. I like to check on more than one, such as on an 8-inch or 14-inch and on a 27-inch or 32-inch, to approximate a projector. I also advise checking your styles on a small 320 x 240 pixel exported QuickTime, so that if your film ends up on a Web site, the subtitles are still legible. Very important is to double-click on the white square in the Font Color line. Pull down the level on the right about 10%. FCP creates a white that is over 110 units. You can also change the color, possibly to yellow, but white is the least distracting.
STEP 8: Lay it down and seet your drop shadow
Select a target track (I generally put all my subtitles on video track 3 (V3), leaving room for b-roll or cover shots on V2). Overwrite the text ( F10 or click the red button in the canvas window.) Make sure the playhead hasn’t moved and that it’s still on the first marker. Looking at the audio waveform, drag the right edge of the subtitle clip in the timeline so it ends where the sentence ends, before the next marker. Double-click the subtitle clip (V3), bringing it up in the Viewer and click on the Motion tab (in the Viewer). Click the Drop Shadow box to enable and then the triangle ( twiggle) to the left and input My Settings. Feel free to experiment with settings of your own. I find these are very readable, even when the subtitles are over light or white. You can also put the subtitles over a transparent back plate, but I feel that’s more distracting. Don’t worry at this point if your text runs off the screen.
STEP 9: Create a quick fade-in
Make sure that clip overlays are turned on ( Option W), and that your track height is set high ( Shift T). Click in the timeline and type " P," which turns the cursor into the pen tool (or click on the picture of the pen in the toolbar.) Command+ will expand the timeline so you can navigate. Put the playhead at the beginning of the purple subtitle clip and hit the right arrow four times, moving four frames into the clip. Click on the opacity overlay at the playhead, creating a dot, then click on the opacity overlay at the head of the clip and pull it down, creating a fast (4-frame) fade up. Type " A" when you’re finished to return to the arrow (regular cursor); this is a good habit for whenever you change tools.
STEP 10: Tweak your layout
Double-click on the purple text clip. Return to the Control tab in the Viewer. Although the text wraps and looks normal in the text box, it won’t on the screen, so you have to insert line breaks. Somewhere between 1.5 to 1.75 lines in the box translates to a line on the screen. Pick a point that makes grammatical sense, insert the cursor, remove the space between words (otherwise the line won’t be centered), and hit Return. If the remaining text is more than two lines, repeat. Click to the right of the text box (still in the gray) to see the changes on your screen and make adjustments, if necessary, by returning to the text box.
STEP 11: Make sure your words are title safe
Highlight your subtitle clip on V3 and in the Canvas View Pop-up Menu, turn on Image + Wireframe, Show Overlays and Show Title Safe. Holding down the Shift key (to keep your titles from moving left to right) click on the intersection of the white lines in the middle of the screen and drag your titles down to where you want them, making sure you observe title safe (the inner green lines.) This is your template for all your subtitles, so the text box must include three lines of dialogue to accommodate the maximum number of words. If your first text box doesn’t include three lines of text, add more; you can always erase the added words after you set the placement of your lines.
STEP 12: Start laying down your subtitles
Drag the un-rendered subtitle clip into the browser; it will be called Text. Highlight it and rename it Subtitle Template. You will use this template to make your remaining subtitles. Double-click it to load it in the Viewer. Make sure your clip is highlighted and put the playhead over the beginning of the next sentence in the timeline and click the red overlay button. Continue laying down a subtitle at each sentence until the end of the clip. Don’t worry that new clips might cover the previous clip. You’ll clean all that up soon.
STEP 13: Trim and apply fade-outs
Look at each subtitle and drag the right side until it goes to the end of the sentence. Using the pen tool (P) make a six-frame fade-out. I make the fade-out a touch longer than the fade-in so it doesn’t pop off. When you’ve put fades on all titles, type " A" to return to the cursor.
STEP 14: Insert your translations
Highlight the clip and navigate to each marker. Type " M" to open the marker window. Click in the text field to highlight the text. Copy the translated text ( Command C) and then click OK. If you accidentally erase your text, click Cancel instead of OK and it will be there when you open it again. Double-click the subtitle clip on V3 above this marker to open it in the Viewer. Paste your text in the text box. Insert line breaks as above, checking to make sure they look good. The one thing I can’t stress enough is that you must double-click the subtitle clip you are working on to get it in the browser. And be careful that the playhead is not at the beginning or end of a fade, or you won’t see the subtitles on the screen.
STEP 15: Render
Because you’ve applied a drop shadow, even the fastest Mac will need to render your titles.
Bill Megalos
Bill Megalos is a director, cameraman and producer whose LA-based company, MegaloMedia, specializes in making documentaries for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in developing countries. He has shot or directed nearly 100 projects for British and US public television and teaches at the International Film and Television Workshops in Rockport, ME.
Bill Says Keep In Mind…
Most of the films I make for NGOs in developing countries are in languages I don’t speak. Here’s how I work without worry in Final Cut Pro. Though I live in Los Angeles and can generally find native speakers of most languages, I do as much as I can while I’m shooting, when speakers of local dialects are very handy and when the material is fresh. I use a two-tiered process of inputting the translations into FCP on location and then creating the subtitles later. When I have a cut I’m ready to show, I create the subtitles by returning to my clip and highlighting it.
To read more of Bill’s ideas and tips for creating subtitles, go to our July online exclusives at
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