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I. Transferts intersémiotiques et "transport des sens"

Cinema skopos: Strategic Layering and Kaleidoscopic Functionality in Screenplay Translation

Samuel Trainor
p. 15-46


Le scénario de film est peu analysé dans la littérature traductologique. Il s’agit d’un type de texte modulaire (Price, 2013) dont le caractère précurseur, transformable et multifonctionnel pose des problèmes majeurs aux théories fonctionnalistes de la traduction. Pourtant, le concept fondamental de la théorie du skopos de Vermeer étant l’activité ciblée, celle-ci reste foncièrement pertinente pour un texte dont la fonction de base est d’initier sa propre traduction intersémiotique. Cet article méthodologique propose la fusion de la théorie du skopos avec celle de l’auteur – la théorie synoptique des calques stratégiques, déjà développée par rapport à la poésie et au journalisme – afin de formuler une théorie de la traduction applicable au scénario, en l’illustrant par des exemples tirés de la traduction, par l’auteur, d’un scénario franco-indien.

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The screenplay: a challenge to skopos theory

1Among the arguments against skopos theory dealt with by Vermeer and Nord (Nord, 1997: 109-122), the unworkability of the system when applied to translations with complex multiple skopoi (purposes) is notably absent. Coincidentally, at no point in the work of Reiss, Nord or any of the other analysts of text typology is there any mention of the screenplay, nor does it appear to fit comfortably into the general categories they espouse.

  • 1 The inauguration in 2010 of the Journal of Screenwriting (ISSN 17597137) is evidence of a recent su (...)

2No doubt this omission is the result of an oversight. Film specialists tend to agree that genuine shooting scripts (even untranslated ones) are hard to come by. They have therefore garnered little scholarly attention1. Historically, screenplays have been overlooked partly because they are considered disposable working documents (textes martyrs, as it were) or, as Price puts it, “industrial waste products” (2013: 219). Carrière, France’s most eminent practitioner and teacher of screenwriting, has noted that they are texts designed to “disparaître, à se fondre en une autre forme […] à la fin des tournages on retrouve généralement les scénarios dans les poubelles des studios” (1996: 144-146).

3And this is more than just a throwaway remark. Serceau points out that the screenplay “n’est jamais qu’un intermédiaire programmant sa propre disparition” (preface to Belaubre, 2016: 16). Most radically, Dellisse considers the form so self-effacing that he channels Derrida: “le scénario, lui, est rature sur le vif” (2014: 14).

  • 2 See, for example, J. Lambert & D. Delabastita, 1996, “La traduction de textes audiovisuels : modes (...)
  • 3 See also J. J. Martinez-Sierra, 2012, On the relevance of script writing basics in audiovisual tra (...)

4It is hardly surprising, then, that genuine working screenplay translations are so scarce in the cinematic archives. By extension, there is a dearth of examples in the corpora of translation studies. In the work on audiovisual translation by Gambier and his collaborators, for example, they are extremely rare. The analyses do quite often call for the discipline to expand its horizons beyond dubbing and subtitling2. However, to our knowledge, very little of this has focused in any depth on screenplay translation. As far as we know, Gambier has collaborated on only one article (Cattrysse & Gambier, 2008) dedicated to the topic; it is a valuable but basic introduction to the field3. Despite Millard’s work on the screenplay as prototype (2010a), it is clearly not considered to be a genuine audiovisual medium.

5The translation of working screenplays is nevertheless a small but significant area of professional translation practice which deserves more scholarly attention.

Existing published screenplay translations

6The text-type under consideration here is the unpublished working screenplay translation: a document composed and used alongside the original screenplay before, during and after film production. It is not the intention of this article to offer any analysis of the various forms of published film scripts or screenplays. These fall into two basic categories: a) post-factum translations of inauthentic scripts for existing films, and b) translations of interesting screenplays that have never been filmed.

  • 4 H. Hartley, 2013, The Girl from Monday, trans. M. Germain, La Madeleine, LettMotif.
  • 5 J.-L. Godard, 1966, Alphaville, a film by Jean-Luc Godard, trans. P. Whitehead, London, Lorrimer. T (...)
  • 6 A. Goldsman, 2006, Da Vinci Code : le scénario illustré (les coulisses du film / scénario et introd (...)

7Category a) is itself highly complex, containing some texts that are translations of screenplays which have already been published as adapted reading scripts (e.g. Germain’s translation of Hartley’s The Girl from Monday4) and others which have been made directly from the film, sometimes with the aid of existing subtitles or dubbing scripts (e.g. Whitehead’s famous translation of Godard’s Alphaville5). Another increasingly common form, aimed at a more general readership, is the translation of glossy illustrated screenplay books for Hollywood blockbusters (e.g. Defert’s translation of the Da Vinci Code screenplay6).

  • 7 H. Pinter, 2003 [1978], Le scénario Proust: À la recherche du temps perdu, trans. J. Pavans, Paris, (...)
  • 8 Ph. K. Dick, 2014, Ubik : le scénario, trans. D. Calvo & S. Dabat, Montélimar, les Moutons électriq (...)

8Notable examples of category b) include Pavans’ translation of Pinter’s Proust Screenplay7, and Calvo & Dabat’s version of Philip K. Dick’s notoriously unfilmable Ubik screenplay8.

9To our knowledge, no genuine working screenplay translation has ever made it into print.

What is a (pre-production) screenplay?

  • 9 S. Field, 1982, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, New York, Dell.

10Film specialists agree that the screenplay is difficult to define. This may seem unlikely, given the extreme formal constraints scriptwriting manuals suggest apply to the narrowly defined text-type, especially those espousing Field’s structural paradigm9. However, these supposed compositional structures are neither universal nor definitive. Auteur filmmakers tend to produce a variety of screenplay formats, the content of which might be more or less elaborate than the industry standard, ranging from slightly expanded treatments to multimedia objets d’art. Price points out how important the refusal of the standard screenplay format is to this kind of filmmaker:

the auteur writer such as Carl Mayer, or the writer-director such as Ingmar Bergman, often operates in more or less explicit opposition to such an idea […] an auteur need not necessarily draw on a script that resembles the standard screenplay forms, often being able to work from his or her notes, in whatever form s/he chooses. (2013: 237)

11And Morris tells us that the Jarman screenplays in the BFI library “are in themselves beautiful objects that could be classified as works of art” (2010: 200).

12New technologies are also altering the kinds of texts that independent film makers use to pre-empt their films. Millard, for example, suggests that her own practice of creating prototype multimedia presentations, like animated storyboards—called leica reels or animatic—could soon become the dominant mode of screenplay composition (2010a). This would make the text-type genuinely audiovisual.

Cultural differences in screenplay conception

13Historically, even traditional typescript screenplays—the ways in which they have been composed, presented, edited, transformed, used and/or refused—have differed across cinematic cultures. Brik (1974) suggests that a screenplay in the Soviet cinema culture acted as a collaborative log of filmmaking activities, not only tracing the rewrites and appendices made during shooting, but even accounting for the compilation and montage of the film. In this compendious conception, any translation of screenplay content would be treated as part of the screenplay itself. On the other hand, the French Nouvelle Vague was notorious for eschewing the American screenplay altogether in favour of spontaneous composition and improvised dialogue.

14The dialectic implied, in which French cinema is conceived as Hollywood’s compositional antithesis, involves an apparent reification of American culture. A remarkable example of this is to be found in Belaubre’s recent Critique du scénario américain. He concludes thus:

La critique du scénario américain, l’analyse de son rejet historique en Europe après guerre, et le constat de son acceptation a-critique actuelle par le cinéma européen, et français en particulier, permettent de distinguer deux grandes modalités de la scénarisation. L’une par laquelle le film de fiction est dirigé par le scénario qui le met au service d’une histoire, l’autre par laquelle la fiction est déterminée par le film, c’est-à-dire par laquelle le scénario met l’histoire au service du film. (2016: 249-250)

  • 10 For a less reductive critique of the predominance of “story” in screenwriting, see Millard, 2006.

15Belaubre’s is an oversimplified, eurocentric and elitist false dichotomy10, but as such it is an expression of a cultural difference with a demonstrable importance in French cinema. It has resulted, despite the American influence Belaubre deplores, in certain minor but ingrained differences in screenplay conception, presentation and use. This is an important cultural consideration in cinematic translation between French and English, and demands the kinds of global functional modifications which skopos theory handles very well as will be seen later on in this article.

Text-type comparisons: precursory and modular texts

16There are several analogies commonly employed to illustrate the provisional, pre-textual nature of the screenplay. Dellisse likes to compare it to a musical score (2014: 14). This analogy seems quite attractive. Like the screenplay, sheet music is designed for “intersemiotic translation” (Jakobson, 1959) into a performance or recording by expert technicians. However, the analogy had already been implicitly dismissed by Brik, who pointed out that, unlike the film studios, music producers had never developed a technical version of musical notation specific to the gramophone, as distinct from that used in concerts (1974: 95). The necessity to account for the difference between the theatrical script and the cinematic screenplay is, for Brik, fundamental to the definition of the form.

  • 11 Words in bold face are used in quotations throughout the article to emphasise certain points.
  • 12 See A. Harmetz, 1972, Round up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca, New York, Hyperion, p. (...)

17A more commonly used analogy is the technical blueprint. Notwithstanding recent critiques of the comparison (Maras, 2009: 123-129; Millard, 2010a: 14–15; Price, 2010: 44-47), it is still routinely employed even by their specialist peers. O’Thomas, for example, reveals how the resulting terminology resembles that of skopos theory: “Screenplays are functional11 objects—they exist to provide a blueprint for filmmakers to construct their films.” (2010: 237). The problem with this analogy is its tendency to underplay the provisional and mutable nature of the screenplay. Script rewrites during production are so common in major studio filmmaking that a standard colour-coding system for sequential revisions was adopted around the 1930s that is only now beginning to be supplanted by technological alternatives (Haag & Cole, 1980: 111-14). The classic example of this is Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), which underwent such extensive revisions by a variety of writers that it was cited as the worst example of an out-of-control script in a memo Jack Warner sent to all his studio’s producers during shooting12. But Robertson claims that the Casablanca rewrites were nothing out of the ordinary: “Frequent script revisions and the involvement of several writers were normal at this time.” (1993: 154) In order to accommodate the functional reality of constant collaborative rewriting, Sternberg—who analyses large corpora of archived studio scripts—prefers to describe the screenplay as “literature in flux” (1991: 71–76).

18Price astutely seeks a middle position capable of accounting for the fact that even in heavily rewritten screenplays there are always elements which remain stable, while others are transformed. He calls screenplays “modular” texts:

each is a compilation of pre-existing materials that have been combined in a particular order to achieve particular effects. […] the idea of modular screenwriting captures something of the nature of celluloid films themselves, which are produced by the juxtaposition of exposed strips of footage, some of which may then be subject to later treatment or substitution. (2013: 236–237)

19It is Price’s concept of the modular screenplay that we shall adopt as the most pertinent.

Technological determinism in screenwriting and translation

20The modern screenplay is the result of two key technological advances that are now more or less obsolete: optical sound-on-film technology and the typewriter. The talking picture, as Price shows (2013), led to the establishment of a synthetic form which integrated dialogue, scene structure, “lens-based” description (Ganz, 2012), and certain technical elements, by combining aspects of the theatrical script with those of the silent continuity script. The typewriter, with its pared-down and standardized font size, horizontal and vertical line settings, and tab stops is, as Millard demonstrates (2010a), the source of the screenplay’s standard layout constraints and the one-page-per-minute model of real-time presentation. With advances in audiovisual technology, text processing and screen-based text presentation, the standard (12 pt Courier) screenplay is increasingly seen as a nostalgic throwback to the golden era of talking pictures, and practitioners like Millard and Egoyan imply that its stubborn ubiquity is related to an industry structure in which certain institutional players have a vested interest in delaying both individual film projects and their own obsolescence (ibid.: 13). But its ubiquity is very stubborn indeed, and it is principally in the composition of this kind of text that screenwriters and screenplay translators are likely to be involved for years to come. In fact, if technology has had a major impact on the composition of screenplays in the mainstream industry, it is in the use of formulaic screenwriting software, like Final Draft, which perpetuates restrictive traditional models by helping writers to structure and present normative screenplays.

21A similar trajectory of technologically influenced change can be seen in professional translation. The advent of computer assisted translation technologies, in some cases with machine translation elements, is revolutionizing the ways in which translators work, especially in technical fields. This is very obvious in the audiovisual translation technologies used in subtitling and dubbing, the digital time-coding technologies of which make the traditional screenplay look archaic. However, in terms of function, the (modular) screenplay is in fact a much more sophisticated text-type than either of these constrained post-production forms.

22The main thesis of this article is to propose the application to this modular text-type of a translation practice influenced by novel conceptions of layered, dynamic textuality which have been opened up by new technologies, and which are capable of dealing with this modular reality. A key point is that this type of translation practice is as well suited to the new technological forms of screenplay composition, conception and presentation as it is to the older, statically presented (but still modular and functionally complex) source texts. In fact, its technological origins mean that it is capable of being fully integrated into what, in the future, are likely to be open, composite, multi-version, multimedia screenplays: ars combinataria screenplays, as Millard puts it (2006).

How is a screenplay (translation) used/read?

23It is a fundamental premise of this paper that a pre-production screenplay translation can be used in at least as many ways as the original screenplay. We would therefore take issue with Gambier’s reductive summary of the functions of screenplay translations in the Routledge Handbook of Translation Studies: “Script/scenario translation is needed in order to obtain subsidies, grants and other financial support for co-production, or for searching for actors, technicians, etc.” (2012: 50)

24This description excludes the use of a screenplay translation during and after shooting. In practice, there are instances where screenplay translation verges on co-authorship, and others where the translation is used throughout location shoots and even during and after editing.

Kaleidoscopic functionality of screenplays and their translations

25Screenplays, and their translations, can be used:

  • to find a producer / studio;

  • to attract subsidies and investment;

  • to attract collaborators: actors, directors, production staff, technicians etc.;

  • in pre-production administrative activities: script coverage, location scouting, casting, budgeting;

  • in pre-production artistic activities: storyboarding, audition, rehearsal, costume design, etc.;

  • in technical shooting contexts: shot planning, sound recording, etc.;

  • in administrative shooting contexts: logistics, actor management, props, etc.;

  • in performative artistic shooting contexts: e.g. by actors;

  • in rewrites during shooting;

  • in post-production contexts: montage, sound effects, CGI (computer-generated imagery), etc.;

  • in post-editing contexts: e.g. as an aid in subtitling and dubbing;

  • in post-distribution contexts: e.g. in the preparation of published screenplays…

26Vermeer would call all of these skopoi… however, it is clear that skopos theory never envisaged text-types with so many diverse functions.

“Target text receiver” versus “target text user”

27Holz-Mänttäri’s distinction of target text, receiver and user, in her theory of translatorial action (Schäffner, 2011), allows her, and Nord (1997: 22), to do two things. Firstly it detaches the theoretical notion of an intended reader or addressee from the real-world receivers of a text: those who actually read it, listen to it or see it. This is in keeping with functionalism’s practical approach and its desire for applicability to genuine professional translation work. Secondly, it introduces the important concept of an intermediary user function (Applikator in German), who will transmit the text to the receiver(s): a valid point in genuine translation practice which is overlooked by theories emergent from literary (predominantly prose) translation, in which these two roles are blurred. Nord concedes that one person can nevertheless have multiple agent roles:

Example: A German professor of medicine has to give a talk at an international conference where the official language will be English. The professor writes a German draft of the lecture; a translator translates it into English; the professor reads it at the conference. In this case, the professor is source text producer, initiator and target text user all in one person. (ibid.)

28Crucially, however, the professor is not the target text receiver in this case. That role is occupied by the other conference delegates. One might argue that a screenplay can never, genuinely, have any target text receivers of this sort, only target text users. That is if we assume the ultimate target text receivers to be the film’s spectators, and anybody else who reads a screenplay to be, in some sense, using it as a model from which another (audiovisual) text might be created to eventually reach those spectators, via a highly complex process of transmission. Yet this is only because the model falls down when strictly applied to this kind of precursory, modular text.

29In fact, especially in the early pre-production stages in which a project is trying to get off the ground (which Gambier implies are the only stages at which translation is relevant), a screenplay tends to be read in a prosaic way by potential producers, funders and collaborators. This prosaic response, in which the reader dramatizes the potential film in his or her own imagination—projecting the intended sensory responses and internally voicing the dialogue—resembles the experience of reading fiction. Here the roles of user and receiver—whilst theoretically distinguishable and epistemologically separable—exist all in one person. However, depending on the cinematic expertise and experience of the reader, subsequent readings and uses of a screenplay will inevitably move towards a model in which the envisaged, shooting of the film necessarily defers the act of sensory reception, thus displacing the receiver. Without wishing to unleash Derrida’s notion of différance here, the sheer multifunctional nature of the screenplay suggests to me that Holz-Mänttäri’s dichotomy would need such extensive caveats in the context of a screenplay translation as to make it of little use. Simply put, no translation brief could be expected to define and differentiate the receivers and users of a screenplay translation in any concise, clear or practically applicable way.

Intralingual and intersemiotic translation of screenplays in production

30One of the most interesting features of screenplay use is the routine adaptation of the content in production into other textual forms. In terms of what Jakobson would call intersemiotic translation (1959), the most salient process is storyboarding. Here the narrative sequence of scenes in the screenplay is transformed into a series of sketches, framed like camera shots. Often sections of the screenplay are literally cut and pasted onto the storyboard, suggesting that intersemiotic translation might be conceived an integral function of Price’s modular composition.

31The potential use of a screenplay translation by a storyboarder might be an important skopos for a specific translation brief and, in turn, the working practices of an illustrator without access to the screenplay’s original language might influence local translation decisions. Not only is it crucial that the screenplay is a modular, precursory text designed for intersemiotic translation into a film, but equally that storyboarding reveals this intersemiotic process itself to be modular, and possibly also reliant on genuine interlingual translation.

32Where intralingual translation (or re-wording) is concerned, it is worth noting that the screenplay itself is traditionally the result of a set of drafting stages, each one of which might be considered intralingual translations of the previous stage(s) (synopsis, treatment, step outline…). Again, this is part and parcel of the modular nature of the screenplay. It should also be noted that the stages are not necessarily composed in order, and that any of their drafts and redrafts might be translated at any point in the process.

33More significant than the textual adaptations carried out by the original screenwriter(s) are those of other industry professionals. These include the texts produced by the script supervisor, and various sorts of annotations and technical marginalia. The processes involved are notably different in the French and American traditions, as Baudrot and Salvini reveal:

Dans les pays anglo-saxons, la script supervisor […] tape, en face des pages volantes du script (qu’elle possède en double exemplaire), la description des plans et des prises […] [See fig. 1]. En France, on remplit à la main une feuille pour chaque plan avec tous les renseignements utiles au montage. (1989: 27)

34The traditional American method of turning a screenplay into a continuity script is therefore synthetic, involving typing over the blank space on the screenplay’s facing pages, handwriting technical marginalia and even inscribing notes and diagrams directly over the top of the screenplay’s original content (see fig. 2). This kind of palimpsestic, stratified approach is uncannily reminiscent of Clive Scott’s overwritten poetry translations (2012), which are a direct influence (however visually flawed) upon the synoptic translation practice proposed in this article (see fig. 3).

35On the other hand, the French method can be considered analytic, the scénario treated as a more concentrated kernel from which multiple appendices are derived. Here skopos theory would seem highly relevant. The conventional layout differences between French and American screenplays are clearly related to the different functions of the physical documents in the two traditions. It stands to reason that translating a screenplay between these two cultures should involve an alteration of physical layout to accommodate this functional difference.

Can skopos theory be adapted to screenplay translation?

36We have seen, then, that the screenplay is a highly complex modular text with a huge array of potential users, whose only shared function is that they are all involved in the intermediate stages necessary for the text’s adaptation into an audiovisual product. Crucially, a translation of this text:

  • might occur at any stage of its own modular construction,

  • or at any stage of the production process;

  • might be partially integrated into the original text,

  • or revised if the text is redrafted during production;

  • might be necessary for the text’s own modular construction to proceed.

37On the face of it, any functionalist theory that insists on the identification of a single overarching purpose for a translation seems unworkable in such a context. Yet this is the very definition of skopos theory. Here is Nord’s translation of Vermeer’s basic summary:

Each text is produced for a given purpose and should serve this purpose. The skopos rule thus reads as follows: translate/interpret/speak/write in a way that enables your text/translation to function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely in the way they want it to function. (1997: 29)

38One need only note the preponderance of singular nouns here to see the problem. And it would clearly not suffice to change them all to plurals. The result would either be so vague as to be worthless, or so complex as to be intractable. Furthermore, this approach suffers from the same double weakness that undermines many translation theories in such contexts; it assumes that: first, translation necessarily occurs subsequent to composition, and second, translations replace, rather than accompany, the source text in target use.

39The second part of this paper will therefore introduce the synoptic translation theory which, we will argue, can be appended to skopos theory to allow it be methodologically applied to multifunctional translation contexts and modular text-types.

Adapting skopos theory to the translation of Vatula (Fronty)13

  • 13 The author would like to express his gratitude to François Fronty for allowing him to publish copie (...)

40François Fronty’s Vatula is a French-Indian intercultural film project. Its protagonist, Vincent, is a French television sound-recording engineer and amateur guitarist who travels to the Indian state of West Bengal in search of musical and spiritual inspiration. He is a member of a blues-fusion band with an American singer and he is seeking both to find himself and to incorporate the influence of religious Bengali music into the group’s repertoire. He spends much of the first act making recordings of the sounds he encounters in India, and there is a metacinematic emphasis throughout the screenplay on the artistic interaction of the auditory and visual senses. Despite the original script having been written almost entirely in French, there is also multilingual dialogue (and singing) throughout. Even during the second (French) half of the screenplay, which follows a Bengali student called Apu who enters the country illegally on Vincent’s vague invitation and ends up having an affair with his teenage daughter, much of the dialogue is marked anglais[/bengali], sous-titré en français.

41The initial translation was commissioned by the screenwriter, with funds provided by a producer who was already on board. This is not always the case. Screenplay translations can also be commissioned by those wishing to evaluate the viability of the project. The initial impetus was to get an English version of the screenplay ready for the Cannes Film Festival, in order to broaden the pool of potential collaborators beyond those who spoke French. However, the main raison d’être for the translation was the substantially Indian nature of the project. Not only would half of the film be shot in West Bengal with a local crew (who would not have any French people), but local actors would be recruited to play Indian characters. They would all need to work from an English script.

42The analysis of the Vatula translation that follows is not primarily intended as a critical commentary on an interesting case of translation, but as an example of how a theory-based methodology might be applied to screenplay translation in general. However, the metacinematic nature of the screenplay, its multilingual elements, and its emphasis on moments of heightened sensory perception all render the specific project inherently interesting in terms of multifunctional translation practice.

What skopos theory gets right

43When skopos theory is applied to such a situation, it manages to deal well with the basic differences of initial purpose (e.g. between a translation commissioned by a project’s proponents, as with Vatula, and one designed to facilitate evaluation). The translation briefs in these two situations would clearly be different. This is closely related to Gambier’s pre-production assumption. If one limits the scope of a screenplay translation to its initial function of kickstarting or else evaluating the project, then one or other of a binary pair of teleological skopoi emerges.

44Skopos theory is also on sure ground when dealing with normative formal divergence based on conventional differences of use, such as the synthetic and analytical functional layouts mentioned above.

45In the case of Vatula, this meant a change of formatting and the addition of conventional English screenplay apparatus. (See figures 4 and 5 for the French and 6, 7 and 8 for the English.) Immediately obvious in this comparison are the differences of standard font and paragraph formats—linked to the stricter correlation in English between lines of text and screen-time—as well as the addition of conventional transitions in the English (such as (CONTINUED) and CUT TO:). Also the English use of upper case for character names and the slightly altered format of the slugline (EXT. KENDULI MELA – NIGHT) are standard differences. These elements derive from the different cultural uses of the screenplay during production. Generalising somewhat, an English screenplay is designed to be used more technically and by a larger number of people than a French screenplay, which traditionally generates a greater number of technical appendices. Such basic differences of function fall squarely within the remit of skopos theory, which is just as capable of dealing with normative cultural differences as it is of handling more specific questions of target function.

What skopos theory gets wrong

46However, in its current form, skopos theory still fails to deal satisfactorily with two key elements of the Vatula project: the integration of translations in the text’s ongoing modular construction, and the huge array of skopoi involved.

47The impossibility of creating a clear and workable translation brief in these circumstances, particularly one involving a valid functional hierarchy, seems evident. It could simply never tractably concur with the collaborative realities of filmmaking. While some kind of rhizomatic model, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille plateaux (1980: 12) might be theoretically applicable, the notion of creating a nodal mind map of interconnected functions for a practical translation contract is far-fetched. The (non exhaustive) table of skopoi for the Vatula translation(s) shown in figure 9 should suffice to illustrate this point.

The weakness of a single overarching skopos: integrated dialogue

48Dialogue is placed at the top of the table in fig. 9 only because it provides the clearest example of how the Vatula translation could not be reduced to the single pre-production skopos of targeting prosaic individual readings by potential collaborators.

49Such a skopos (i.e. one not allowing for the script’s performative or technical use in production) would not differentiate between the different languages spoken in the film, let alone the different varieties of English used. This would be somewhat understandable. Translating the screenplay into monolingual / monovarietal English would mimic the original French script, and it would have the added benefit of providing an untrammelled reading experience for busy professionals.

50On the other hand, a translation targeting this kind of prosaic reading might go completely the other way. In the absence of actors’ interpretations and voices, a translator seeking an enriched reading experience for the silent reader—one in which descriptions could be imaginatively seen and heard, and the phonic and cultural specificities of characters’ utterances could be more fully experienced—might produce an overtly oralized form of dialogue in which varietal and linguistic differences were emphasised.

51Here we might be dealing with what Antoine Berman describes as either: “l’effacement des superpositions de langues” or “la destruction ou l’exotisation des réseaux langagiers vernaculaires” (Berman, 1985: 67-81). The point, however, is not that the translator had to tread the line between these polar opposites in Vatula, but that all instances of dialogue in the screenplay, especially those in which English was supposed to be spoken, had to be dealt with according to their own sets of skopoi: actor-oriented or not, native speaker or not, and so on.

52Any dialogue in Vatula that was intended to be spoken in French was translated primarily for pre-production purposes (though its potential use to aid subtitling should not be forgotten). However, the Bengali dialogue would have to be translated by a third party (potentially using the English translation as intermediary) and the result spoken by the Indian actors. Finally, the English dialogue was intended for direct use in performance, and as such would be integrated into the (modular) shooting script itself. Two things are crucial in this context: firstly, the alternative set of skopoi is not subordinate to the pre-production skopos of kickstarting the project; secondly, the norms and ethics related to the skopoi of professional film acting mean that the lines provided are provisional, rather than constitutive of the spoken dialogue. This reality is clearly at odds with the pre-production skopos of an individual imaginative reading.

53The result, in this case, was English dialogue which subtly figured varietal differences without ever resorting to what actors would call line-reading. An example is to be found in the different levels of contraction employed when French and Indian speakers use English. In the dialogue shown in figures 6 to 8, for example, the superior fluency of the Indian speakers is portrayed by the use of contractions—“he’s going to sing here tonight. We’ll be there”—while the more stilted English of Vincent and his wife, Margot, is portrayed primarily by the absence of contraction—“My name is Vincent”; “I am trying to find someone”; “We have already been to India several times”.

54This minor differentiation of language varieties was agreed upon with the screenwriter as the most professional choice for actor-oriented content. No doubt a different solution would have been found were the screenplay only intended as a preliminary document. However, elsewhere in the same scene, other apparently incompatible skopoi dominate. The locally fluctuating salience of these different skopoi occurs even at sentence level.

55In the second paragraph of the initial scene description (in figs. 4 and 6), for example, the following French sentence describes a group of Bengali students at a music festival: “Ils discutent en riant, s’arrêtent devant le marchand de beignets, et prennent des sodas en boîte.” This was ultimately translated as “They chat and laugh, stopping at the gulab jamun salesman’s stall to buy cans of soda.”

56Specific choices here are the result of various different overlaid skopoi taking relative localized precedence within a single sentence. For example, the cohesive hypotaxis of “stopping… to buy” rather than “they stop… they buy”, favours the flow of the prosaic reading over the more technically sequential description of action. This is designed to make the sentence more evocative. It offsets the absence of an audiovisual depiction, allowing the silent reader to respond with an imaginative sensory projection of the sound and movement evoked. On the other hand, the choice to keep the Americanism “soda” is an adaptation to an international (commercial) readership who might spot a product-placement opportunity. Finally, and in complete contrast to the hypotactic syntax, the choice of “gulab jamun” (for the hyperonym beignet) favours the specificity required by the local set crew over the simplicity of a smooth evocative style.

57We fail to see how a superordinate skopos can be identified even in this single sentence.

Synoptic Translation Theory (STT) combined with functionalism

58To recap, then, what skopos theory needs to adapt to screenplay translation is some way for multiple translation functions to interact, and for translation to be integrated as a function of modular composition. Our solution is to combine skopos theory with Synoptic Translation Theory (STT). Briefly, this theory allows translation and composition to be conceived as potentially simultaneous. It is based upon the synoptic text hypothesis which states that new technologies of publication and composition will make it increasingly common for multiple versions of texts to be interactively read, modified and composed together. STT accepts neither of the usual translatological assumptions mentioned above: that translation occurs subsequent to composition, and that translations are primarily designed to replace (rather than accompany) the source text in target use. In fact, STT insists that the opposite realities are increasingly evident. The theory is well suited to any multi-version translation activity and especially to any modular text-type for which translation is in some sense integral to composition.

59Within Synoptic Theory, the practice of Strategic Layering is particularly relevant to collaborative modular text-types. It requires source texts to be separated into layers, conceived as transparencies, like the calques employed as a conceptual device in digital image editing software. These layers are treated separately with different translation strategies—based on functional, ethical, cultural and linguistic criteria—and are generally translated in an order that mimics that of original composition.

60When combined with skopos theory, a target-oriented practice of strategic layering can be employed which allows different types of target text users to be identified and attributed separate function layers. Instead of following a compositional order of translation, they are translated in order of their different stages of predicted use: e.g. pre-production, production, post-production…

61The practice can be subdivided into hard and soft models. The hard model involves literally creating a functionally layered computer document with multiple targeted translations which would ideally be passed on to target text users in an editable, multi-layered format (like a Photoshop® Document). Unfortunately, no software is currently available to make this practical.

62The soft model involves a conceptual application of strategic layering by a translator who produces multiple local translation solutions with different target text users during several drafting steps, then prioritises these solutions according to local functional importance when synoptically editing the final draft.

How does targeted strategic layering help in screenplay translation?

63Where screenplay translation is concerned, three qualities make this practice valuable:

64Firstly, before even considering (interlingual) translation, it is clear that a strategically layered approach to composition is perfectly suited to screenplay composition, the modular nature of which is discussed above (in the second section of our first part). It seems likely that the hard model of strategic layering—were the technology widely available to make it possible—would be a very useful format for both the composition and reception of screenplays. (This would be particularly true within Brik’s conception of the screenplay as the filmmakers’ log).

65Secondly, the general improvement that even the conceptual soft methodology of functional strategic layering offers to the organisation and targeting of specific user-oriented content within the translation of any sort of multi-user text is obviously pertinent to the screenplay. In particular, it helps the translator to target material that is designed to provoke sensory responses according to different contexts of use: i.e. is the reader the one who is supposed to imagine the sensory affect, or is the reader someone collaborating in the differed audiovisual stimulation of this sensory response in an audience?

66Thirdly, it allows the source text and its ongoing redrafts to be included (either literally in the hard model, or conceptually in the soft model) in the same editable, layered document. This is a particularly useful methodology for multilingual compositions (such as Vatula) in which translations not only influence source language material in redrafts, but some of their content is intended to replace it in the final synoptic text.

67Should the technology become available for layered, interactive, collaborative textual composition and translation, it is worth noting that there is nothing to stop computer software of this sort from also including interactive audiovisual content. This would potentially allow a multi-layered, multilingual, editable textual screenplay to be fully integrated into Millard’s prototype screenplay model, or indeed vice versa.

Soft functional strategic layering applied generally to Vatula

68As mentioned above, where the target-oriented skopos version of strategic layering is concerned, the order of translation imitates the general sequence of target text use. In the case of Vatula, therefore, the three basic target-user groups chosen were: 1. pre-production prosaic readers, 2. early stage production users (principally performative), 3. later stage production users (technical). As fig. 9 suggests, the latter two layers were themselves functionally complex, but for the sake of simplicity and speed the layers were reduced to three groups which, in practice, corresponded to three redrafts. The overall methodology employed was this:

  • a first draft translation was rapidly produced including multiple translation options and one or two translator’s notes, produced on the fly (see fig. 11)

  • a second draft/layer was produced specifically targeting pre-production prosaic (imaginative) readers, and specific translation decisions were taken with related skopoi in mind (see fig. 12)

  • a third draft/layer was produced oriented to early stage production users—most notably these included the actors and casting directors who would be dealing with non-French dialogue—and specific translation decisions were taken with related skopoi in mind

  • a fourth draft/layer was produced oriented to later stage technical production users of various sorts—most notably this involved the format modifications to comply with English screenplay layout conventions—and specific translation decisions were taken with related skopoi in mind

  • These layers were then themselves grouped and (as it were) overlaid into a single synoptic editorial document in which text colours were used to differentiate the sources of salient translation choices (see figs. 13. and 14)

  • The final draft was simply a flattened version of this last edit, in which all the text reverted to black

An example of an extract broken down during translation (Vatula, scene 11)

69The presentation of this extract has been tidied up for publication—for example discrepancies of scene numbers created by redrafts have been eliminated—but the basic methodology of redrafting layers in the order of target text use for later synoptic editing, and of highlighting targeted translation choices using coloured text, is genuine.

The influence of first draft translation in subsequent redrafting

70The first point to emphasise is the collaborative nature of redrafting between translator and screenwriter. Looking at the first draft translation (fig. 11) and the screenwriter’s subsequent redraft (fig. 10) it is quite obvious that the translator’s notes (highlighted in red) have instigated some of the modified content in the next rewrite (also highlighted in red). This would seem to support the argument that translation should be considered as a potential element of the broader collaborative composition of a modular screenplay.

The prosaic layer: integrated style

71Shown in figure 12, the first prosaic redraft layer includes target translation choices highlighted in blue. These reveal three common factors. The first, and most important, is the predominance of choices which favour hypotactic syntax. In the first two descriptive paragraphs, fragmentary single clause sentences, and lists of non-verbal sentences in the first draft have been made more cohesive (Halliday & Hasan, 1976), subordinating and integrated, in keeping with Biber’s basic definition of the functional characteristics of the written mode of language (1988: 42-44). This obviously shifts the style closer to that of literary prose fiction, in which both the rhythmic and semantic elements of syntax are mobilised as stylistic elements capable of producing imminent cognitive effects. This would not be a concern for an entirely technical text whose sole purpose was to pre-empt an audiovisual document, rendering much of the imaginative input of a silent reader redundant.

72The second factor is a closely related tendency to favour simple active verbs over nominal, progressive or passive constructions: “instruments hang from beams” rather than “instruments are hanging from the joists”; “a recess contains mats…” rather than “there is a recess containing mats”. Again, this effect tends to favour an active cognitive response, prompting a heightened sensory (in this case visual) awareness.

73The third factor is a subtle tendency to use more elegant, stimulating lexis: “a colourful depiction” is chosen over “a colourful picture”; “it takes Vincent some time to realise” rather than “a while to notice”. Once again, this boosts the directly evocative nature of the translation via the more active cognitive engagement of lexical sophistication.

The dialogue layer group: actor-oriented functionalism

74In figure 13 the early-stage and later-stage production layers have been grouped together because, in this instance, they did not overlap. The crucial thing to notice, in terms of the actor-oriented function of this layer, is the alteration of the English used by Vincent from that appearing in the first draft translation, which employed the natural British English of a polite but friendly oral style that would have been perfectly in keeping with the cultural context were the character a native speaker. As mentioned above, all contractions have been taken out to capture a certain stilted lack of fluency. There are other deliberate idiomatic losses, however. The tense of the first sentence “If I have understood it right” is perfectly correct, but less idiomatic than “If I understand it correctly”; and “I would like to know more about it” rather than “I’d like to know a bit more about that” is rendered less natural in terms of both lexis and deixis, without straying into caricatural exotisation. The point is that the responsibility for characterisation is shifted, in the dialogue layer, from the silent reader to the professional actor.

The technical layer group: conventional, succinct, non cohesive

75Aside from the normative formatting changes, and the addition of conventional transitions etc., the technical layer group (also fig. 13) is notable in this extract principally for its marked divergence from the cohesive and sophisticated qualities of the prosaic layer. Most of the normal sentences have only one clause, and there are strings of non-verbal sentences that read like lists of props or staging prompts. In almost every targeted translation, lexical choice favours clarity over any evocative quality: “Musical instruments hanging from the joists. A colourful picture of Radha and Krishna together on a swing attached to a tree branch” is much more functional in semantic terms, than the more poetic “Musical instruments hang from beams. There is a colourful depiction of Radha and Krishna sitting together on a swing beneath the branch of a tree.” It is assumed here that the intended technical users of this extract will assemble and film the scene depicted, shifting the function of the visual description from an imaginative one—designed to prompt a direct cognitive projection of the sensory experience—to a vehicular one—designed to aid the creation of an audiovisual product that can transfer the sensory experience to a displaced audience.

Synoptic editing of the Vatula translation(s)

76The purpose of considering these functionally targeted redrafts not as iterations but as layers is to facilitate the crucial synoptic quality of the final edit. The visualisation provided in figure 14 broadly fails to capture the dynamic interactivity of what, in the hard model of strategic layering, might have been a collection of superimposed, fully editable and orderable function-layers. It does, however, make a reasonable fist of representing the modular nature of the final product, with its collage of elements from locally prioritized skopos layers.

77The first two descriptive paragraphs are shown to integrate elements of both the prosaic and technical function layers. As for the multilingual dialogue, the use of colour most obviously captures the functional disparity between words intended to be spoken in English by an actor, and those intended for retranslation into Bengali.

78At the very least, this depiction of modularity reveals the methodologies of strategic layering and synoptic editing to be highly appropriate in the translation of what is demonstrably a modular text-type. Going a little further, this example plausibly demonstrates that it is only by incorporating a synoptic element that any functionalist translation theory can be applied to a multifunctional text-type with a capacity to integrate translation(s) into its own modular composition.

‘Hard’ synoptic translation and the interactive future of audiovisual composition

  • 14 See S. Trainor, 2011, Synoptic Translation Prototype, for a restricted example of some of the techn (...)

79To conclude, while synoptic translation remains a largely conceptual theory14, the technological possibilities are such that the increasing importance of interactive multi-version forms of textual (and audiovisual) communication may soon radically alter the basic assumptions and working practices of translators. In the case of the screenplay these advances seem both highly pertinent and (because of entrenched industry conservatism) peculiarly distant. This intransigence has not stopped Pallant and Price from imagining a more novel and technically sophisticated future for the hybrid screenplay-storyboard even than Millard’s prototype. Describing the “profound modularity of the digital domain” which they cogently argue represents an imminent challenge to traditional models of audiovisual precursory texts, they say:

With the graphical capabilities of modern computer technology it is easy to imagine a near future where films are visually designed through an interactive digital space […] movement through this space could remain dynamic, allowing the implied camera to move from shot to shot, but at the same time allowing visual designers to manipulate the mise-en-scène, framing, lighting and potential lens selection on the fly. (2015: 174)

80Even if the textual elements of cinematic pre-composition were not directly assimilated into such a digital space, a hard computer-assisted synoptic practice of functionally targeted multi-version composition would still allow for a more successful adaptation of screenplay translation to digital methods of pre-production. This synoptic adaptation, we would suggest, is the only way functionalism can continue to have any practical application to audiovisual translation as ongoing technological advances render its modes of composition and reception increasingly interactive.

Table of figures

1. Script supervisor’s shot descriptions for Frantic (Polanski, 1987): scene 17, shot setups 4 and 5. (Baudrot & Salvini, 1989: 119)

2. Screenplay for Frantic (Polanski, 1987), with script supervisor’s notes. (ibid.: 35)

3. C. Scott, “Overwritten translation of Baudelaire’s ‘Causerie’” (Scott, 2013: 121)

4. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Second draft. Scene 2 (1).

5. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Second draft. Scene 2 (2).

6. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Trans. S. Trainor. Second draft. Scene 2 (1).

7. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Trans. S. Trainor. Second draft. Scene 2 (2).

8. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Trans. S. Trainor. Second draft. Scene 2 (3).

9. Table of textual subtypes and skopoi for Vatula by Fronty (2014)

10. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014). Scene 11. Second draft.

11. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014), trans. S. Trainor. Scene 11. First draft.

12. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014), trans. S. Trainor. Scene 11. Prosaic reading layer.

13. F. Fronty, Vatula (2014), trans. S. Trainor. Scene 11. ‘Grouped’ technical and actor-oriented dialogue layers.

14. Vatula by Fronty (2014), trans. S. Trainor. Scene 11. ‘Synoptic’ version.

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Baudrot, Sylvette & Salvini, Isabel, 1989, La script-girl, Paris, FEMIS15.

Belaubre, Yves, 2016, Critique du scénario américain, Paris, Téraèdre.

Berman, Antoine, 1985, “La traduction comme épreuve de l’étranger”, Texte 4, p. 67-81.

Biber, Douglas, 1988, Variation across Speech and Writing, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Brik, Osip, 1974, “From the Theory and Practice of a Script Writer”, trans. D. Matias, Screen 15 (3), p. 95-103.

Carrière, Jean-Claude, 1996, Le film qu’on ne voit pas, Paris, Plon.

Cattrysse, Patrick & Gambier, Yves, 2008, “Screenwriting and translating screenplays”, in J. Díaz-Cintas (ed.), The Didactics of Audiovisual Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, p. 39-55.

Darke, Chris, 2005, Alphaville, Champaign, University of Illinois Press.

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, 1980, Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2 : Mille plateaux, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

Dellisse, Luc, 2014, L’Invention du scénario : créer et structurer son récit, Paris, Les impressions nouvelles.

Gambier, Yves (éd.), 1996, Les Transferts linguistiques dans les médias audiovisuels, Lille, Presses universitaires du Septentrion.

, 2012, “The position of audiovisual translation studies”, in C. Millán & F. Bartrina (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Translation Studies, Abingdon, Routledge, p. 45-59.

Ganz, Adam, 2012, “‘To make you see’: Screenwriting, description and the ‘lens-based’ tradition”, Journal of Screenwriting 4 (1), p. 7-24.

Haag, Judith H., & Cole, Hillis R. Jr. (eds.), 1980, The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats, part 1: The Screenplay, Los Angeles, CMC.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Hasan, Ruqaiya, 1976, Cohesion in English, London, Longman.

Jakobson, Roman, 1959, “On linguistic aspects of translation”, in RA. Brower (ed.), On Translation, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 232-239.

Maras, Steven, 2009, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice, London, Wallflower Press.

Millard, Kathryn, 2006, “Writing for the Screen: Beyond the Gospel of Story”, Scan 3.2:

, 2010, “After the Typewriter: The Screenplay in a Digital Era”, Journal of Screenwriting 1 (1), p. 11-25.

, 2010a, “The Screenplay as Prototype”, in J. Nelmes (ed.), Analysing the Screenplay, Abingdon, Routledge, p. 142-157.

Morris, Nathalie, 2010, “Unpublished Scripts in BFI Special Collections: A Few Highlights”, Journal of Screenwriting 1 (1), p. 197-202.

Nord, Christiane, 1997, Translating as Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained, Manchester, St. Jerome.

, 2005, Text Analysis in Translation: Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis, 2nd ed., Amsterdam, Rodopi.

O’Thomas, Mark, 2010, “Analysing the screenplay: a comparative approach”, in J. Nelmes (ed.), Analysing the Screenplay, Abingdon, Routledge, p. 237-250.

Pallant, Chris & Price, Steven, 2015, Storyboarding: a Critical History, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Price, Steven, 2010, The Screenplay: Authorship, Theory and Criticism, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

, 2013, A History of the Screenplay, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Reiß, Katharina & Vermeer, Hans J., 2013 [1984], Towards a general theory of translational action: skopos theory explained, trans. C. Nord, Manchester, St. Jerome.

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1 The inauguration in 2010 of the Journal of Screenwriting (ISSN 17597137) is evidence of a recent surge of interest in the field.

2 See, for example, J. Lambert & D. Delabastita, 1996, “La traduction de textes audiovisuels : modes et enjeux culturels” (in Gambier, 1996: 33): “On a tendance à diviser les textes audiovisuels […] en doublage et sous-titrage. Cela revient à ignorer les autres modes de traduction audiovisuelle.”

3 See also J. J. Martinez-Sierra, 2012, On the relevance of script writing basics in audiovisual translation practice and writing”, Cadernos de Tradução 29, p. 145-163.

4 H. Hartley, 2013, The Girl from Monday, trans. M. Germain, La Madeleine, LettMotif.

5 J.-L. Godard, 1966, Alphaville, a film by Jean-Luc Godard, trans. P. Whitehead, London, Lorrimer. This was the first time a screenplay had been composed for Alphaville, and Whitehead wrote it at the same time as he produced the English subtitles.

6 A. Goldsman, 2006, Da Vinci Code : le scénario illustré (les coulisses du film / scénario et introduction d’Akiva Goldsman; préfaces D. Brown, R. Howard & B. Grazer; postface J. Calley), trans. D. Defert, Paris, J.-C. Lattès.

7 H. Pinter, 2003 [1978], Le scénario Proust: À la recherche du temps perdu, trans. J. Pavans, Paris, Gallimard. This begs the question of whether it can be considered a “back translation”.

8 Ph. K. Dick, 2014, Ubik : le scénario, trans. D. Calvo & S. Dabat, Montélimar, les Moutons électriques.

9 S. Field, 1982, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, New York, Dell.

10 For a less reductive critique of the predominance of “story” in screenwriting, see Millard, 2006.

11 Words in bold face are used in quotations throughout the article to emphasise certain points.

12 See A. Harmetz, 1972, Round up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca, New York, Hyperion, p. 172. For a gossipy account of the Casablanca script revisions and infighting, see H. Lebo, 1992, Casablanca: Behind the Scenes, New York, Simon & Schuster, p. 149-153.

13 The author would like to express his gratitude to François Fronty for allowing him to publish copies of extracts from his original screenplay, and their translations.

14 See S. Trainor, 2011, Synoptic Translation Prototype, for a restricted example of some of the technological possibilities of dynamic layered translation, (all URLs referred to in this chapter were accessed on 13 August, 2017).

15 The author would like to thank the FEMIS for granting permission for the reproduction of two screenplay facsimiles from S. Baudrot & I. Salvini, 1989, La script-girl, Paris, FEMIS.

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Samuel Trainor, « Cinema skopos: Strategic Layering and Kaleidoscopic Functionality in Screenplay Translation », Palimpsestes [En ligne], 30 | 2017, mis en ligne le 20 septembre 2017, consulté le 22 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/palimpsestes.2393

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Samuel Trainor

Écrivain et traducteur d’origine britannique, Samuel Trainor est adepte d’une incorporation de la traduction littéraire et de l’écriture créative (Creative Writing). Il intègre souvent des traductions dans sa poésie et certains de ses poèmes ont eux-mêmes été traduits. Maître de conférences en traductologie à l’université de Lille (EA CECILLE), il est également animateur web et traducteur technique, démarche qui conduit à brouiller les frontières entre « technique » et « littéraire ». Il a conçu et codé le Synoptic Translation Project, qui met en œuvre certains aspects de ses théories traductologiques : stratification fonctionnelle (functional layering), calque créateur (creative calque) et hypothèse synoptique (synoptic hypothesis).

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