I had ideas of getting into automotive design. It is still an interest of mine, but I realised it was not the right career path. After graduation from Imperial College, I started a degree in languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which pivoted me further towards my eventual career. Nevertheless, my engineering studies were not wasted as my grounding in technology certainly helped me during the growth of VSI.
After working for the British Council in Cairo as an English teacher, I started translating into English and doing some interpreting. I also produced graphics in non-Latin languages, both by hand, and by using the groundbreaking DTP capabilities of the latest Apple Macs at the time.
My passion for foreign-language movies and my early experiences sitting in on recording sessions drew me to media localisation and so VSI was born. I started alone, and the company grew gradually. Back then, we worked mainly on localising TV commercials, corporate productions and what was known as home video, VHS followed by DVD, voice-over or subtitling. In the early days, we all multitasked. The personal hands-on experience - managing projects, translating, subtitling, video editing, directing recordings, etc, proved invaluable to me in developing VSI.
When major US broadcasters such as Viacom, Turner and Discovery sought to extend their reach internationally, we were in the right place at the right time since they chose to base their European operations in London. Our performance and our readiness to the follow them into new territories helped accelerate our growth internationally. Most of our EMEA studios were built in response to pressing client demand as we strove to offer a consistent, high-quality solution, rather than pursuing a sub-contracting model, which we considered less reliable.
I am still crazy about foreign-language cinema and TV, which gives us a unique window into other cultures and which can be as vividly immersive as physical travel. I have to thank our OTT clients, not only for their trust in VSI, but also for making foreign-language content mainstream and easily accessible for the first time to enthusiasts like me.
I feel lucky that my work allows me to travel frequently, including to many places that are not classic vacation destinations.
My father advised me to some extent after I started VSI. However, there was minimal media localisation industry in the UK at that time so there was no alternative but to work by instinct, doing what looked and sounded right. On the business side, I just had to learn from my mistakes.
Along the way, I have had the privilege of collaborating with countless inspirational colleagues and creative talents, to whom I am grateful for their insights and advice.
Much has been discussed lately questioning the necessity for business travel, now that it has essentially been superseded by video conferencing. I don’t expect to be jumping on planes as frequently as I did, but I have no doubt that face-to-face interaction, whether with colleagues or clients, is far more effective in building lasting relationships and promoting mutual understanding. Also, there is no substitute for an in-person studio visit to accurately gauge its standards and capabilities.
Siberia (in the summer) – it would be a natural next step following my extensive travels throughout Central Asia.
I can get by in several languages, but the fluency of my colleagues who are translation professionals has always eluded me. I studied languages at university, but picked up the others through travel, friendships and self-tuition, not to mention through my work at VSI and having to navigate my way through countless multilingual meetings.
Thanks to the growing number of VOD platforms, there was a true industry shift which enhanced the value and profile of localisation at a time when it was unfortunately sometimes becoming commoditised. It also brought large volumes of work and encouraged positive growth, as well as making localisation more attractive to new talent.
Initiatives by all content owners and new content pipelines in multiple language directions create an interesting environment for localisation companies like ours, one in which we can fully exploit our wide-ranging capabilities and global footprint. Content is easily accessible now on all devices, and these new consumer habits and the presence of multiple platforms create a demand in content which then has to be localised.
I think localisation was considered by the TV industry as something of an afterthought until a few years ago. Many important shows, particularly from the US, were not even available with a separate M&E track. That long period was followed by a gradual realisation that content could only be fully exploited by making it available internationally. Now of course, localisation is an integral part of the post-production process for almost any content provider.
We would hope that in 5 years’ time there will still be a diverse client landscape. I personally hope that people will still enjoy the cinema. We hope that many more amazing stories will be told to audiences, and VSI will help tell these stories around the globe.
We aim for technology to further assist processes even further to enable our skilled teams to focus on creative, linguistic and editorial issues and nuances.
This depends on the territory and scenario.
Dubbing is a highly collaborative process which needs the right team, technical framework and acoustic setting to reach a high quality level. Having all contributors present in the same location undoubtedly benefits the creative process and enables the most efficient and fast production pace and workflows.
Remote dubbing has been used by all established studios long before Covid in specific situations as a fallback solution such as an actor being unable to travel to the studio.
As a certain highly-respected industry professional once told me – remote dubbing is like the space-saver spare wheel that some cars carry. It’s great for getting you home in an emergency, but you wouldn’t choose to drive around in it all day.
If there is a technical need for such a backup solution, or in the context of a pandemic, it is certainly very helpful. Please note that despite Covid, in many of our studios in the big dubbing countries, actors, directors and engineers have preferred to work in the studio setting although it would have been possible to record remotely. In Berlin, for example, the studios were prepared to switch to a remote workflow if needed, however, it was not necessary in all these months apart from in a few isolated cases. All talent wanted to work on-site. We concentrated on making the studios Covid-proof, and creating an environment for people to work safely.
In other locations, such as Latin America, remote recording has become a routine necessity, but we expect to return to primarily in-studio recording in those locations as the Covid situation improves.
We foresee more consolidation in our industry in the coming years. There continues to be a huge volume of content to be localised and ultimately consumed by viewers, and most importantly, localisation providers need to provide scale, quality and expertise in a vast range of languages to content creators in the market.
There are several individuals that have stood out among our clients over the years, not just inspirational leaders in senior management roles, but also many others at more junior levels who show a deep passion for localisation and understanding of the creative challenges involved. I prefer not to mention any names, as I would certainly make inadvertent omissions.
Visiting my colleagues and business partners overseas after such a long time. Seeing actors interact in all our studios again. Attending personal meetings where you can see peoples’ faces and smiles again.