Oscars Adventure 2014

March 7, 2014 in Best Of, Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Reviews

The pre-planned surprise selfie

The pre-planned surprise selfie

It’s been a while since I posted and I’m still kinda tired (with you know, stuff), but it’s time to recap my Oscars adventures for 2014.

Like last year, I served as a consultant to one of the subtitling teams for the TV stations in Taiwan, which is a long day but always tons of fun. The Oscars screen in Taiwan during the day and are broadcast live, but only with live commentators doing their best to interpret whatever they can. The subtitling team (which does loads of preparation in advance) will frantically start translating the dialogue starting from the red carpet show so that the subtitles can be applied and ready for the prime time rerun later that evening.

It sounds relatively simple but is actually a lot of work because translations of names of films and nominees need to be uniform and consistent, and there are always plenty of things that don’t go according to script. People can talk really fast and mumble, acceptance speeches can be long and rambling (not to mention include a whole bunch of names that need to be verified), there might be short clips (or even long clips) they play throughout the evening which will have to be translated, and the jokes are always difficult especially if they use puns or touch on obscure cultural references. And of course, everything needs to be cross-checked and double-checked before the subtitles are placed onto the screen and synced to match the dialogue.

It’s quite incredible watching the team, which is packed with the country’s best (and trust me, they are, because I’ve seen some of its worst), power through like a well-oiled machine. On top of that everyone is incredibly nice, professional, and simply a lot of fun. I enjoyed the camaraderie we had, one fostered by a collegiate environment where everyone was working towards a common goal, and that’s to deliver the best product possible for the audience. Most viewers wouldn’t even have picked up on the little things that the team fretted over, but we challenged ourselves to get everything right, and if not, as close as we could.

This was about as far as Ellen would go

This was about as far as Ellen would go

This year’s production was much easier to subtitle than last year’s thanks to Ellen, who was a fairly “no frills” host in comparison to Seth MacFarlane, who filled his show with glitzy extravaganzas galore. Ellen’s opening monologue did not contain any prepared video footage, there were no singing and dancing numbers in the opening monologue or subsequently from the host, and even the majority of presenters stuck largely to the scripts we received in advance. Even the red carpet, which usually presents plenty of headaches, was relatively straightforward, with few mentions of those difficult-to-pronounce designer names. So apart from a couple of rambling, semi-incoherent acceptance speeches (Steve McQueen in particular for Best Picture), the night was a subtitler’s dream.

I haven’t really read up much on what people thought of the ceremony, though the sentiment among some of the people I spoke to was that it was a fairly boring night. Not that there was anything wrong with Ellen’s hosting, it was just that there were no spectacular set pieces and, more importantly, there were zero surprises. Apparently, according to the experts I spoke to, every single category was captured by the favourite.

I had a look at the predictions I put together a couple of days out before the ceremony and it turns out I didn’t do too badly. Considering I guessed the short/foreign film and documentary categories and went for a few upsets when I should have just stuck with the favourites, a total of 14/24 is I suppose passable.

As for the night itself, I actually really enjoyed it despite its supposed predictability and notable lack of flair. The red carpet was, as usual, filled with bad hosts (Tyson Beckford in particular) and painfully awkward and uncomfortable moments, though this year’s felt slightly better than last year’s for some reason. Maybe it was Jennifer Lawrence falling over again.

Ellen was her usual wry, funny self, but still maintained an air of formality and delivered a classy performance that Hollywood’s night of nights deserved. Sure, there was probably too much product placement (Samsung) and the pizza thing, while funny at first, went on for far too long, but I’d give Ellen a solid B+ for what is widely considered to be the toughest hosting gig there is.

I've let it go. Have you?

I’ve let it go. Have you?

I loved the music performances, in particular Pink’s surprising rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Karen O’s The Moon Song, though Adele Dazeem’s (sorry, I mean Idina Menzel’s) Let It Go had to be let go after she struggled from the very first note. The moving In Memoriam section was particular painful this year with the likes of Paul Walker, James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman all unexpectedly making the list, and Bette Midler’s ensuing Wind Beneath My Wings was arguably the most powerful moment of the evening.

jim carrey

The presenters were largely forgettable, with only Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx really standing out at all for me. Actually, Harrison Ford stood out as well, but for the wrong reasons. I was telling one of my colleagues during the day that it’s rather amazing, given how many ridiculously talented writers there are in Hollywood, that the dialogue they come up with for Oscars presenters is almost always lame. My clever colleague speculated, probably correctly, that the writers felt they couldn’t be too clever or witty because they were pitching to such a wide audience, meaning they were likely targeting the pedestrian middle crowd. On top of that, there’s always the fear of being controversial or politically incorrect, so in the end we’re left with dialogue that’s effectively benign but also uninteresting.

And if you think about it, who can really blame them? Every idiot with a Twitter account has got an opinion these days. I mean, seriously, criticizing Jared Leto’s win because he’s not a real transsexual and for not thanking the transgender community in his speech, or labelling Ellen as “transphobic” for her Liza Minnelli impersonator joke? Come on.

lupita

As for the acceptance speeches, the highlight has to be the elegant and moving speech from Lupita Nyong’o, with the lowlight of course coming from the insufferable Matthew McConaughey, whose victory will surely take his Texan smugness to a whole new level. That said, I have to give credit where it’s due — Mr “Alright Alright Alright” is having a killer of a time as of late with a slate of great performances in solid-to-great films such as The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street, and of course, Dallas Buyers Club.

I predicted correctly that 12 Years a Slave would win Best Picture, but let’s face it, Gravity should have won, especially after Alfonso Cuaron rightfully took home the Best Director gong. What is it about sci-fi flicks that scares off voters? And one other thing — Spike Jones, won for Best Original Screenplay, really should have gotten a nomination for directing as well for his phenomenal work in Her. But unfortunately, he was squeezed out because the decision to nominate 9 films for Best Picture instead of 5 means 4 very deserving directors will miss out every year. And that’s just wrong.

In all, one of the better Oscar nights in the last few years, and a great, albeit exhausting, day for me as well. I hope to do it again next year.

The Beijing Diaries, Day 8: In Awe of the Translators

November 17, 2012 in China, Travel

The young lady on the right

November 13

I’ve pretty much settled into a daily routine in Beijing, though it hasn’t been particularly fun with all the shrinkage and itchy skin caused the freezing weather (though locals tell me this is nothing compared to the ‘real winter’). There hasn’t been much except a lot of writing, a lot of researching and a lot of conferences and travelling. I’ve also attended a function or two for journalists, but it’s not exactly my idea of a good night out. I prefer to spend my free time resting or on Skype with my family.

My post today is about the translators at the 18th National Congress, who have continued to blow my mind every day thus far. All the sessions open to the press are of course in Chinese, but most of them have an English translator who does immediate translations all the way through without missing half a step.

I’ve done a little translation work myself so I know how hard it is, but these Chinese-English translators are like machines. Actually, I doubt there are machines that can do what they do. Even if I had the script and a dictionary in front of me with all the time in the world I doubt I could translate it as well as they do, and they do it on the spot and under pressure!

What is even more impressive is that most of these people look really young, but they are all so poised. The party official can ramble on for a couple of minutes before they get a chance to translate, and yet they don’t even break a sweat. They just listen intently, jot down a few notes (I assume in shorthand), and provide seamless translations whenever they need to.

I know what you’re thinking — perhaps they had the official’s script in advance and had already translated it. Yes, I have no doubt that is the case with the opening speeches, but that’s not possible during question time, when reporters ask multi-part questions and the officials give long, winding answers that can sometimes go for 10 minutes or more (all up). Yet, there are no long pauses, no stutters, no “ums” and no mistakes. None. Not a single word out of place.

How is it possible that so many of these young people can get so good at both languages? What is amazing to me is that most of them don’t sound very fluent in English because of their pronunciation and accents, and yet their vocabulary, comprehension and ability to articulate sentences are better than most native speakers. Are they, like those Chinese gymnasts, forced into training from infancy? Have they been told that their entire family will “disappear” if they make a mistake? Are they secret Chinese government experiments?

I don’t know how they do it, but I am in awe.

PS: Also kudos to all the foreign journalists who ask questions in Chinese. Takes a lot of skill and guts.

 
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