Training in accessible film-making

Training in accessible film-making[1]

Pablo Romero-Fresco

Universidade de Vigo (Spain), University of Roehampton (United Kingdom) and


Accessible filmmaking (AFM), that is, the integration of audiovisual translation (AVT) and media accessibility (MA) into the filmmaking process through collaboration between filmmakers and translators/MA experts, has developed significantly over the past few years. It has been endorsed by filmmakers such as Ken Loach and institutions such as the British Film Institute (BFI), which has decided to embrace it as a key element in the production of films and the training of future filmmakers. However, current training in AFM is at best anecdotal. This article aims to address this gap by proposing two different courses on AFM. By way of introduction, section 2 sets the background with an analysis of the reasons behind the division between film and AVT/MA. Special attention is paid to the invisibility of AVT/MA in Film Studies and to the new AVT/MA-aware notion of film that underpins the current proposal for AFM training. Sections 3 and 4 provide an overview of the training currently available in AVT/MA and film(-making). Finally, section 5 offers an account of the first pioneering attempts to provide AFM training and, most importantly, a proposed outline for two different courses designed to equip accessible filmmakers and translators/MA experts with the required skills and competences to apply the AFM model.

Keywords: accessible filmmaking, training course, Film Studies

1. Introduction

Film and audiovisual translation (AVT) and media accessibility (MA) are as related and interdependent as they are disconnected. More than half of the revenue obtained by the top-grossing and Best Picture Oscar-winning films from the beginning of the 21st century comes from foreign markets (Romero-Fresco, 2019), but only around 0.01% of their budget is devoted to translation and accessibility (Lambourne, 2012; Simonton, 2005). Films are often translated or made accessible in three days, for little remuneration and without access to the creative team, and this makes it difficult to convey the original vision of the film-maker (Romero-Fresco, 2019). This great divide between film and AVT/MA is evident not only in professional film-making practice but also in theory, because, with a few notable exceptions, Film Studies and AVT/MA Studies have ignored each other for decades. More importantly for the purposes of this article, this gulf has also been reflected in the area of training.

First introduced a few years ago as an attempt to build bridges between film and AVT/MA (Romero-Fresco, 2013), accessible filmmaking (AFM) may be defined as:

the consideration of translation and/or accessibility during the production of audiovisual media (normally through the collaboration between the creative team and the translator) in order to provide access to content for people that cannot, or cannot properly, access it in its original form (Romero-Fresco, 2019, pp. 5–6).

AFM does not aim to constrain the film-makers’ freedom. Instead, it reveals to them often unknown aspects of the ways in which their films are changed in their translated and accessible versions. It also presents them with different options so that they can make choices which determine the nature of these translated or accessible versions. Until now, these choices were made exclusively by the translator or the distributor. Rather than compromising the film-makers’ vision, AFM helps to preserve it across different audiences. This not only improves the experience of the majority of viewers but also helps filmmakers to see their films through different eyes.

AFM has so far been developed both from a theoretical and a practical point of view (Branson, 2017; Cerezo Merchán, de Higes Andino, Galán, & Arnau Roselló, 2017; Fox, 2016, 2018; Romero-Fresco, 2013, 2017, 2018a, 2019; Romero-Fresco & Fryer, 2018; Spinney & Middleton, 2016). The latter point of view advocates the introduction of a new professional figure, the director of accessibility and translation (DAT), to work alongside the (accessible) filmmaker and the rest of the creative team.[2] This model features in the AFM guide (Romero-Fresco & Fryer, 2018) produced by the British Film Institute (BFI) and it has been implemented successfully in award-winning films such as Notes on Blindness (Spinney & Middleton, 2016). Yet the crucial issue of training is still to be resolved. How does one learn AFM? What are the skills and competences required to become an accessible filmmaker, a DAT or a translator or an MA professional working in this collaborative way?

This article aims to provide answers to these questions by putting forward a proposal for the first training programme in AFM. Section 2 sets the background to this proposal by analysing the reasons behind the division between film and AVT/MA. Special attention is paid to the invisibility of AVT/MA in Film Studies and to the new AVT/MA-aware notion of film that underpins the current proposal for AFM training. Sections 3 and 4 provide an overview of the training available in AVT/MA and film(making), respectively, highlighting any potential overlaps, cross-overs and occasional examples of integrated training that could help to lay the basis for AFM training. This is followed, in section 5, by an account of the first pioneering attempts to provide AFM training and by a proposal for two different courses designed to equip accessible filmmakers and translators or media access experts with the required skills and competences to apply the AFM model.

2. Background: A new AVT- and MA-aware notion of film

Despite being a very prolific and interdisciplinary field, in over a hundred years of its existence, Film Studies has largely failed to engage thoroughly and consistently with translation and accessibility, showing little interest in what happens when films are translated and made accessible or in analysing the experience of foreign and sensory-impaired viewers.[3] When considering this gap, the handful of film scholars who have focused on translation have often started by expressing their surprise at the little attention paid to this topic despite its being the main means of access to foreign cinema (Flynn, 2016, p. 1) and despite the fundamental role it plays in mediating the foreign (Nornes, 2007, p. 4). As noted by Dwyer (Longo, 2017), film has been surrounded by translation since its very origins, and not only for linguistic reasons. Fiction films often involve the translation of dialogue in a script into on-screen images whereas, to name but one example, ethnographic documentaries may require a triple case of translation (Barbash, 1997): rendering aspects of one culture intelligible to another, transforming cultural elements into the film medium and transferring meaning from one language into another.

At least three different explanations may be considered as to why the practicalities and risks posed by translation have been largely ignored in film. First, despite the film-as-language metaphor often used in this area (Nornes, 2007, p. 18), Dwyer (Longo, 2017) notes that there is still a “primacy of the visual”, which may be linked to an ocularcentric view of film (Elsaesser & Hagener, 2015) and a “misguided notion of film as Esperanto” (Longo, 2017). A second reason to explain the invisibility of translation in Film Studies is precisely translation’s long-standing vocation for invisibility; in other words, the traditional notion that the translation of a film is good when it is not noticed. Nornes (2007) criticizes the cultural appropriation involved in what he considers a corrupt and colonial approach that “domesticates all otherness while it pretends to bring the audience to an experience of the foreign” (p. 155). At any rate, there is little doubt that the invisibility of translation (and accessibility) in Film Studies is a reflection of the place it occupies in the industry as a necessary evil (Marleau, 1982) or an afterthought (Serban, 2012) that is “added post-filmically and without aesthetic intention” (Flynn, 2016, p. 22). In this industrialized model, translators are “relegated to a sub-species below the tea assistant within the filmmaking hierarchy” (Fozooni, 2006, p. 194) and, as is the case with football referees, they are normally never praised and only noticed when an error occurs. As pointed out by Crow (2005), this results in translation and MA being shoe-horned into existing templates that bear no relation to the film, which may undermine not only its aesthetics but also the vision that the filmmaker has worked so hard to create and communicate. This makes the absence of literature on translation in Film Studies more glaring and the few contributions available all the more compelling.

Finally, a third reason that may account for the invisibility of AVT/MA in Film Studies may be related to the apparatus theory, a dominant school of thought in Cinema Studies during the 1970s that was based on the denial of difference (Baudry & Williams, 1974), which is precisely what translation provides to film. As shown by recent reception research in AVT/MA (Di Giovanni & Gambier, 2018), foreign audiences may have a very different experience from that of the original audience or even from that of foreign audiences from other countries, depending on whether a film is shown with different types of subtitle, dubbed or with a voice-over narration. Eleftheriotis (2010) notes, for example, that subtitles must have been an integral part of the filmic experience of the French theorists who analysed this apparatus so thoroughly. Yet, they never acknowledged (let alone analysed) the presence of subtitles, which would have posed a threat to the perceived objectivity and universality of their claims. For Eleftheriotis (2010), this has two implications:

The first is a logical extension of the apparatus theory rationale and suggests that films operate by constructing universal positions that transcend difference, in other words, that the cinematic apparatus and its effects are universal and immune to national/cultural variations. The second is the apparatus theorists’ inability to acknowledge the specificity of their own position as one of necessarily partial and limited understanding rather than perfect mastery over the “foreign” text. Ultimately, such a position resides in the realm of a politically suspect fantasy and typifies modern sensibilities […] that value the possibility and desirability of universal knowledge that transcends national and cultural specificity. It is profoundly elitist as it elevates the theorist to a level of immense cultural and epistemological power. (p. 187)

AFM goes in the opposite direction. The intention here is to tackle head on, and even embrace, the difference brought about by translation, which includes (a) acknowledging the disparity between original and translated or accessible film versions, (b) identifying the effect the disparity may have on the viewers’ experience, (c) promoting a notion of Film Studies that can account for this difference in the analysis of film and (d) introducing a new collaborative filmmaking model that can consider translation early on in the process, with the aim of bridging the gap between the experience of the different audiences. This requires a new, translation-aware notion of film that is not far from the consideration of subtitling put forward by Eleftheriotis (2010):

An embracement of incompleteness, imperfection, limits and limitations, but not of impossibility in the encounter between spectators and “foreign” texts. This position is marked by awareness of one’s own relation to the foreign text/culture and of the limitations and imperfect understandings that it entails. It is also characterised by an active reading both of the subtitles and of the formal codes of the film and by a constant oscillation between familiar and strange that cuts across the domestic/foreign binary. It is a form of engagement that accepts gaps and lacunae in the experience while at the same time strives to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers by a semiotic reading of the filmic text alongside the literal reading of the subtitles. A cross-cultural critical practice that corresponds to such model would be one of modest and limited claims, acute awareness of the position from which the critic analyses and speaks, openness to the possibility of errors and misunderstandings, painstaking attention to textual and contextual detail but also a determination in the pursuit and acknowledgement of the value of such partial knowledge. (p. 188)

In an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and practice, AFM operationalizes this view of film by integrating translation and accessibility into the filmmaking process through the collaboration of translators and filmmakers and also through the introduction of a new professional figure: the DAT. Largely based on the work carried out by Branson (2018, 2019), the DAT advises on and manages the production of all translated and accessible versions of a film, therefore ensuring that they inform, complement and are coherent with one another and that the filmmaker’s creative vision is preserved for foreign and sensory-impaired viewers (Romero-Fresco, 2019).

Figure 1 shows the different steps involved in the AFM workflow depending on whether translation and accessibility are considered in the pre-production, production or post-production stages.


Figure 1: Accessible filmmaking workflow (Romero-Fresco & Fryer, 2018).

This model has been applied in several productions to date, including The Progression of Love (Rodgers, 2010), Joining the Dots (Romero-Fresco, 2012), Colours of the Alphabet (Cole, 2016), Acquario (Puntoni, 2018) and, most notably, Notes on Blindness (Spinney & Middleton, 2016) and Chaplin (Spinney & Middleton, 2019). However, in all of these productions, the filmmakers, translators/MA experts and the DATs were self-taught. They applied the AFM model based on a combination of intuition, research findings and prior experience, but they did not receive formal training on AFM. This has proved effective for the initial implementation of AFM, but as interest in this model grows among relevant stakeholders in the film industry, such as Netflix, the BFI, national film schools and international film festivals, it becomes increasingly evident that formal training is needed.

3. Training in MA and AVT

In her informative chapter ’Audiovisual Translator Training’ for the Routledge Handbook on Audiovisual Translation, Cerezo Merchán (2019) explains that AVT training was not introduced in higher education until just over 20 years ago. Before then, universities did not have the means and resources to cater for the needs and technological requirements of the market (Díaz Cintas, 2008), which meant that most companies had to train their professionals in-house (Martínez Sierra, 2008). Since then and especially over the past 15 years, AVT has grown considerably, becoming a mature research field (Chaume, 2018) with a vibrant body of publications and even a dedicated journal (Jankowska et al., 2018). MA has traditionally been regarded as a subfield in AVT that is focused on audiences with sensory disabilities, mostly persons with a hearing or a visual impairment. Yet this approach is now being contested, as new international standards in subtitling (AFNOR, 2017) and recent publications (Greco, 2016; Romero-Fresco, 2018b) refer to MA as concerning audiences with and without disabilities. This means that MA may be seen to include AVT and to be just as close to Translation Studies as it is to Film Studies or to the broader area of Accessibility Studies (Greco, 2018).

However, despite this significant growth, publications on AVT and MA training are still relatively scarce and many of them are based on proposals for (non-audiovisual) translation training. Cerezo Merchán (2019) identifies the following pedagogical approaches to translation training:

the objective-based approach (Delisle, 1980), the early profession- and learner-centred approach (Nord, 1991), the process-centred approach (Gile, 1995), the cognitive and psycholinguistic approaches (Kiraly, 1995), the situational approach (Vienne, 1994; Gouadec, 2003), the task-based approach (Hurtado Albir, 1999; González Davies, 2003, 2004), the induction-deduction-abduction approach (Robinson, 1997, 2003), and the socio-constructive approach (Kiraly, 2000; Kelly, 2010). (p. 469)

Of these, the socio-constructivist approach, based on the notion of translation competence (Hurtado Albir, 2015, p. 61), seems to be favoured these days by most specialists. From a methodological point of view, the current literature advocates a combination of task- and project-based learning (González Davies, 2004; Hurtado Albir, 2015), with tasks guided by the teacher followed by project-based work based on the previously determined competences, learning objectives, contents and assessment methods and with less intervention from the teacher. Several scholars have applied the notion of competence-based training to AVT (Agost, Chaume, & Hurtado Albir, 1999;  Bartrina, 2001; Cerezo Merchán, 2012; Díaz Cintas, 2008; Díaz Cintas, Mas López, & Orero, 2006; Espasa, 2001; Gambier, 2001; James, 1998; Matamala, 2008; Neves, 2008; Zabalbeascoa, 2001). They identify five main types of competence: (1) contrastive competences (mastery of source and target language), (2) extralinguistic competences (knowledge of film, including film genres and film language, and of the cultures and audiences involved), (3) methodological and strategic competences (theoretical knowledge of AVT modalities), (4) instrumental competences (mostly related to mastery of AVT software) and (5) translation problem-solving competences (knowledge of translation strategies and techniques). Regarding content design, Díaz Cintas (2008, p. 92) recommends the following structure: general considerations, technical considerations, linguistic considerations, and professional considerations. Drawing on the above-mentioned competences and proposals for content design, Cerezo Merchán (2019) and the research group TRAMA suggest the courses, contents and competences for AVT training included in Table 1:


Table 1: AVT courses suggested by Cerezo Merchán (2019) and the research group TRAMA.

AVT modality




general considerations, dubbing process, text segmentation (takes), use of symbols, types of synchronization, orality, software and professional aspects



general considerations, text segmentation (takes), use of symbols, types of synchronization, orality, vulnerable translation, audiovisual genres characteristics, software and tools, and professional aspects



general considerations, the process, types of subtitles, spotting and speed, formatting and segmentation, text reduction: strategies to synthesize information, ortho-typographic conventions, subtitling with templates, software and professional aspects


Audio description (AD)

general considerations, people with visual loss, relevant legislation, industry standards, description of images, description of sounds, description of on-screen text, AD styles, AD scripts and professional aspects

Subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH)

general considerations, viewers with hearing loss, relevant legislation and industry standards, formatting and positioning, spotting and speed, linguistic code, identification of characters, paralinguistic code (emotions and sounds), sound effects, music and songs, software and professional aspects

According to Cerezo Merchán (2019), following this structure, the tasks included in the course are typically organized around four phases: (1) introduction to AVT (which may consist of reading support texts, organizing discussions, etc.), (2) pre-translation practice (analysis of source texts, familiarization with specialized software and professional guidelines, preparation of glossaries, identification of key terms, correction of translations, etc.), (3) AVT project management (from translation to reception by the users) and (4) the profession (identifying companies and prospective employers, providing quotes for potential commissions, etc.). Finally, the remaining elements usually considered in the literature on AVT training are resources and assessment. Resources refer mostly to software and materials. Nowadays, trainers can choose between free applications (such as Windows Movie Maker for dubbing or Subtitle Workshop and Aegisub for subtitling) or fee-paying subtitling software such as Wincaps and SubtitleNext, which often offer demos and student licences. Although some scholars point out that real-life material is easier to come by now, thanks to the advent of digitization (Cerezo Merchán, 2019), copyright remains an issue, as it is often difficult to obtain permission to use official clips. This is not so much of a problem in AFM training, as filmmakers who are applying this model are allowing the use of their films for research and training purposes.

As for assessment, the usual recommendation is that it should be in line with the intended outcomes of the course (Biggs, 2003, p. 99) and a distinction is normally made between formative and summative assessments. The former is often described as particularly suitable for AVT training (Granell, 2011; Kajzer-Wietrzny & Tymczyńska, 2015), but institutional requirements in higher education often lead to “analytical translation assessment methods” (Waddington, 2000, p. 233) based on the evaluation of translation errors. As an alternative approach, De Higes Andino and Cerezo Merchán (2018) propose a more holistic translation assessment method (specifically for SDH) that links assessment tasks and competences and includes translation tasks, questionnaires, reflective diaries, reports, student portfolios and rubrics.

Apart from higher-education courses, an interesting development in MA training has been brought about by a series of recent EU-funded Erasmus+ projects focused on developing new professional profiles (including competences and skills) and training materials for audio describers (ADLAB PRO), accessibility managers (Accessible Culture & Training, ACT), producers of easy-to-understand audiovisual content (Easy Access for Social Inclusion Training, EASIT) and interlingual respeakers (Interlingual Live Subtitling for Access, ILSA). Since these projects do not have to abide by many of the institutional constraints of the above-mentioned courses, the training they propose is more flexible and it is often organized into several modules that can be used for online training in programmes of varying duration and by both students and professionals.

However, what is particularly relevant for the purposes of the present article is that, despite identifying knowledge of film (film language, genres, etc.) as one of the key extralinguistic competences required in AVT training, this is largely absent in most of the university courses and EU-funded projects mentioned in this section. An analysis of 16 postgraduate courses on AVT currently taught in the United Kingdom and Spain shows that there are no modules dedicated to film(-making) and its relationship to AVT/MA, with the exception of a four-hour class on “Film narrative for translators” at the MA in AVT at Universidad Europea de Valencia in Spain and a subcomponent of the module “Theory of AVT” from the MA in AVT at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, that aims to equip students with an understanding of the basic mechanisms, structures and concepts of audiovisual narratives and scriptwriting. In contrast to this absence, many of these courses offer alternative options that are seemingly less related to the profession of audiovisual translators, such as “International Organizations”, “Literary Translation”, “Poetry, Music and Translation” or “Contemporary Chinese Literature”.

It would seem that, just as the above-mentioned “primacy of the visual” (Longo, 2017) may at least partially explain why film(-making) has neglected the importance of AVT and MA, in the latter areas there may be a certain primacy of the textual or literary, perhaps because they originated in the larger field of Translation Studies. Training in AFM must overcome these limitations, acting as a bridge that can enable filmmakers and translators/MA experts to develop the required skills to become familiar with one another’s areas of expertise and speak one another’s language, thus creating a framework where the visual and the textual are not exclusive but rather complementary dimensions. Before this, though, it is necessary to provide an overview of current film training and the extent to which it already approaches issues of translation and MA.


4. Training in film

Unlike training in AVT, which is relatively recent and still traceable, film training around the world is vast and very varied when it comes to approaches, methodology, duration, etc. A good starting point to obtain an accurate picture of film training in Europe is the project “Screening Literacy”, led by the BFI and funded by the European Commission in 2012–2013 with the aim of assessing the state of film education in Europe. Covering 32 countries, the project found a rich and wide range of practices and approaches across Europe but also a lack of coherence or sense of common purpose (BFI, 2015). The researchers described film training in Europe as “disparate, often invisible, and fragmented” (2015, p. 5), that is, in need of agreed standards and a set of outcomes that can lead to a more coherent approach to film education in the continent. One of the 12 recommendations of the “Screening Literacy” project was “to draft a model of film education for Europe” (BFI, 2015, p. 5), which laid the basis for the follow-up project, “A Framework for Film Education”. Also funded by the EU Commission between 2014 and 2015, this project was again led by the BFI with the participation of 25 film education institutions (schools, universities, NGOs, industry-funded bodies) from 20 countries across Europe. The aim was to draft a model of film education for Europe that could “inspire and equip people across Europe to be able to enjoy, understand, create, explore and share film in all its forms throughout their lives” (2015, p. 3). The researchers identified, first of all, three key dimensions of film education: the Critical (understanding, analysing and enjoying film); the Creative (making and participating in film culture across different platforms) and the Cultural (the intellectual, aesthetic and emotional development exemplified in choosing, discovering and exploring film in all its varied forms). A series of goals, presented in Figure 2 below as areas of learning, were then established so as to support the development of the three dimensions:

understanding what is specific and distinctive about film;

knowing that film is produced and consumed both collectively and collaboratively, as well as individually;

personally engaging with film from a critical, aesthetic, emotional, cultural and creative perspective;

regularly accessing a wide variety of film and film forms;

developing an awareness of the social and historical context to film and being able to reflect upon the different ways of experiencing, exploring and learning about film.

Finally, since the project is based on a competence- and outcomes-based approach, it links the overarching aim, the three key dimensions and the areas of learning to the outcomes that film trainers may expect from film education and to the competences, skills, knowledge and experience that are regarded as essential to be film literate, as summarized in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Aim, key dimensions, areas of learning, outcomes and competences for film education in Europe
(BFI, 2015).

Although this project is very useful in providing a clearer picture of what film education looks like in Europe according to learning outcomes and competences, it does not identify specific pedagogies. In other words, it does not include examples of teaching and learning approaches or what an actual film course should look like. The training provided by the top film training institutions around the world – such as, for example, the American Film Institute in the United States, the National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Czechia (Czech Republic), La Fémis in France or Lodz Film School in Poland – usually includes graduate, postgraduate or shorter vocational courses devoted to specific areas of filmmaking, such as screenwriting, direction (be it for fiction or documentary), cinematography, editing, sound design and production, or even more focused courses on special effects, music composition or location management. This training is far too specialized for the purposes of the professionals involved in AFM, who would need only an introduction to the practice and theory of filmmaking. A more suitable example is the MA in aking at Kingston University in London, United Kingdom, and, more specifically, the module “Making Films”, which covers the basic principles of filmmaking through the three phases of pre-production, production and post-production and which is particularly aimed at students with limited filmmaking experience. Table 2 includes the aims and learning outcomes, as well as the teaching and assessment strategies, as stated in the module booklet.


Table 2: Aims, learning outcomes and teaching and assessment strategies for the module “Making Films” towards the MA in Filmmaking at Kingston University (London, United Kingdom).


Learning outcomes



To enable students with limited practical experience to participate in filmmaking

To introduce and develop practical skills in image and sound recording, editing and post-production

To encourage students to combine their personal experience, critical faculties and practical skills in order to produce a short film on digital video

To use a range of digital video camcorders and digital sound recording equipment

To arrange and organize material using non-linear editing software

To complete a coherent short narrative film, mastered and submitted on DVD

To appreciate more clearly the relationships between theory and practice


Clip-illustrated classes on film theory and film history

Practical production workshops introducing camera technique and sound-recording skills

Short, intensive introduction to digital post-production

Weekly clinics prior to an assessment and evaluation of the film produced and the production experience

Seminars: 30 h

Independent study: 120 h

Total: 150 h

Film: 70%

Research and development of idea (10%)

Image and sound capture (10%)

Script and story (10%)

Art direction (10%)

Actors and direction of performance (10%)

Post-production (10%)

Group work and communication (10%)

Critical analysis: 30%

Detailing of research and development of idea (10%)

Reflection on process (10%)

Self-critical evaluation of finished film (10%)


This module provides a relevant template for a potential filmmaking component in the AFM course presented in this article. Yet, what is striking is that neither the MA in Filmmaking at Kingston University nor any of the above-mentioned top film training schools nor any of the 14 film training institutions consulted in Spain (Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya, Escuela de Cinematografía y del Audiovisual de la Comunidad de Madrid, Septima Ars, Escuela Metropolis, Instituto de cine de Madrid, Escuela de Cine de Barcelona, Bande apart, Estudio de cine, El plató de cinema, La casa del cine, Nucine, Un perro andaluz, Kinema and ImvaL) include modules on film translation or accessibility.[4] Interestingly, many of these institutions specify that the bulk of their students are multicultural, which means that many of them will need to screen their films with subtitles. These subtitles are typically produced by the filmmakers themselves, who, given the limited access to translation budgets and the little time and knowledge available, are unlikely to abide by professional subtitling standards that can guarantee minimum requirements of quality.

The invisibility of translation and accessibility is also noticeable in the two EU-funded BFI-led projects on film education mentioned above. Accessing film is the first element highlighted in the overall aim of the latest project: “To inspire and equip people across Europe to be able to access, enjoy, understand, create, explore, and share film in all its forms throughout their lives” (BFI, 2015, p. 3). Given the multicultural and multilingual composition of the team, all the partners and target users are bound to watch most of the films in the dubbed or subtitled version, or with SDH/AD in the case of viewers with sensory disabilities. However, no mention is made of the impact this may have on the nature and reception of the films, which gives the false impression that everyone is watching original versions of films, unmediated by translation. In other words, just as happens in the case of Film Studies and research into film in general, film training also seems to deny the difference (Baudry & Williams, 1974) between original and translated or accessible versions, thus refusing to embrace the translation-aware notion of film proposed here and further contributing to the invisibility of AVT and MA in the film industry.

Once again, the above-mentioned primacy of the visual (Longo, 2017) may be one of the reasons accounting for this neglect of translation or accessibility. In this sense, the following lines from the filmmaking module of the MA in Filmmaking at Kingston University (Kennedy, 2011) are particularly illustrative:

The module will encourage the application of knowledge and experience to the filmmaking process and enable students to convert their ideas into moving pictures. This will be done by forbidding the use of dialogue for narrative purposes in order to foreground the development of skills in telling stories with moving pictures. (p. 3)

This focus on image versus words as a means to develop film literacy is a common occurrence among film trainers, who often strive to steer students away from their natural drive to produce wordy dialogue by repeating the old adage “show, don’t tell”. This is in line with Alexander Mackendrick’s description of students’ scripts as normally being available in three sizes: “too long, much too long, and very much too long” (Green, 2004). However, films still need to be translated and made accessible, and film training should perhaps incorporate this, if only to consider the impact that it has on the audience which, in some cases, may provide up to half of the film revenue.

Now that a more or less detailed picture has been provided of the current state of film and AVT/MA training, and of the significant gap between them, the next section attempts to draw a framework that can enable filmmakers and translators to learn basic skills from one another’s areas of expertise with a view to their working together at integrating AVT and MA in the filmmaking process, as per the AFM model.


5. Training in AFM

Drawing on the content and proposals outlined so far, this section presents, first of all, some of the pioneering initiatives of AFM training and, secondly, proposals for two different AFM courses.

5.1 Pioneering initiatives

Despite the meagree connection between film and AVT/MA training, it is possible to identify some initiatives that could serve as the basis for a more developed framework of AFM training. In some cases, AFM is promoted through the exchange of content and modules between programmes and the collaboration between film students and AVT students. Some of these initiatives concern films that were already completed when the translation or accessibility was provided, but they involved collaboration between the translators and the creative team of the films. This is the case of a project set up by five students studying towards the MA in Translation at the University of Antwerp. They produced SDH in Flemish and Italian subtitles for the award-winning film, De Weg van Alle Vlees (2013), in collaboration with and under the supervision of the Belgian filmmaker Deben Van Dam. The film was broadcast by the Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT), the main public broadcaster in Flemish Belgium, on 7 December 2014, with the SDH produced by the students and with their names included in the credits. A similar project was set up at the University of Roehampton, London, in 2014 to produce French subtitles for Alvaro Longoria’s film, Hijos de las Nubes (2012), produced by Javier Bardem. The subtitles were created in collaboration with the filmmaker and were broadcast by the French TV channel Arte in February 2014. Following this project, the University of Roehampton launched the first MA in Accessibility and Filmmaking, where students learnt not only how to make films but also how to make them accessible to viewers in other languages and also to viewers with hearing and sight loss.


Training in AFM has also been made available to professionals in the film and AVT/MA industry through workshops and special courses. Such workshops have taken place mainly at film festivals such as the International Edinburgh Film Festival (United Kingdom, 2013), the Venice Film Festival (Italy, 2012 and 2013) and the Torino Film Festival (Italy, 2018) or at specialized AVT/MA conferences such as Media for All 5 (Dubrovnik, Croatia, 2013), Languages & The Media 12 (Berlin, Germany, 2018) and Media for All 8 (Stockholm, Sweden, 2019). As for the special courses, some examples are the first two official courses on AFM in Italy, one funded by the Apulia Film Commission and organized by POIESIS (Italy, 2015) and another organized by the Fondazione Carlo Molo, the Torino Film Commission and Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Italy, 2016 and 2018), as well as other courses taught by the author of this article in Brasil (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Sao Paulo and III Encontro Alumiar, Recife), Qatar (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha), Perú (Universidad César Vallejo, Lima), Finland (University of Helsinki) and Russia (Moscow School of Audiovisual Translation). However, most of these courses can be regarded only as short, informative introductions to AFM and they are almost invariably delivered to one participant profile only: either filmmakers or translators/MA experts, hence the need for more substantial and inclusive training in AFM.


5.2 Two proposals for AFM training

In order to be effective, AFM training should cater for both filmmakers (in the wider sense of students and professionals in the area of film) and translators/MA experts (also in a wide sense). AFM training should aim to help the former become accessible filmmakers, that is, filmmakers who strive to maintain the coherence of the global film, one that encompasses the original and all the translated and accessible versions (Romero-Fresco, 2020). By trying to maintain their vision across translated and accessible versions, these accessible filmmakers embrace, rather than deny, the “incompleteness, imperfection, limits and limitations” (Eleftheriotis, 2010, p. 188) of translation and accessibility. Secondly, translators and MA experts who receive AFM training should be equipped with the required tools to work collaboratively with filmmakers or the creative team of the film and, in some cases, to become directors of accessibility and translation (DATs). Drawing on the competence-based model described in section 3, Table 3 below outlines the key skills that accessible filmmakers and DATs may be expected to have once the training has been completed.

Although AFM training can be implemented in different ways, this article proposes two types of course: a relatively short online course and a fully-fledged MA course for postgraduate students. The online course is based on a MOOC (massive online open course) that is currently being developed by the author of this article in collaboration with the BFI. In line with what may be expected of a CPD (continuing professional development) course, this AFM MOOC focuses on breadth, in terms of number of students, rather than depth of content, that is, on raising awareness about AFM as widely as possible. The aim is therefore not to train filmmakers to become translators or to train translators/MA experts to become filmmakers, but rather to enable both profiles to speak each other’s language and to know enough about the other’s area so that they can work together and apply the AFM model.

Table 3 includes more detailed information about this course (title, type of course, target participants, duration and competences), whereas Table 4 establishes a link between the different units, the competences, the target users and the level.

Table 3: Title, type of course, target participants, duration and competences of the online course on AFM.

Title of the course

An Introduction to Accessible Filmmaking

Type of course


Target participants

Professionals or graduates in film and translation/MA


10 weeks
























Specifically for (accessible) filmmakers[1]

Basic knowledge of

1. specific characteristics of the target audience of foreign and accessible versions
2. history, developments and trends of accessibility
3. history, developments and trends of AVT/MA practice and research
4. theory and practice of subtitling and SDH, dubbing/voice-over and AD, including a basic knowledge of:
4a. workflow and the actors involved in the production
4b. most common guidelines and parameters for quality assessment
4c. most challenging issues and common solutions
4d. software solutions used in the production and reception or distribution of translated and accessible versions






Specifically for translators/MA experts

Basic knowledge of

5. history, developments and main trends in the history of film
6. different roles involved in the production of a film
7. different phases involved in filmmaking:
7a. preproduction: stages and deliverables (shooting scripts, storyboards, etc.)
7b. production: direction, acting, cinematography and sound recording
7c. post-production: editing sound and image



Common to both accessible filmmakers and translators/media access experts

Basic knowledge of

8. rationale behind AFM and its notions of accessibility and film
9. impact that subtitling, dubbing/voice-over and AD have on the nature and reception of translated and accessible versions
10. implementation of AFM: workflows, cost and examples



Table 4: Units, competences, the target users and level of the online AFM course.



Target users


Unit 1: Introduction to (Media) Accessibility





1, 2 and 3


Unit 2: Subtitling and SDH




4 as applied to subtitling


Unit 3: Dubbing and Voice-over




4 as applied to dubbing and voice-over


Unit 4: AD




4 as applied to AD


Unit 5: Introduction to Film(-making)






5 and 6



Unit 6: Pre-production






Unit 7: Production






Unit 8: Post-production






Unit 9: AFM 1: the DAT and examples




Unit 10: AFM 2: the workflow and examples





The second course is a fully fledged MA based on the Accessible Filmmaking pathway of the MA in AVT designed by the author of this article at the University of Roehampton.[5] This is a one-year, face-to-face intensive course targeted at professional and BA-trained filmmakers (ideally with a strong second language) and translators or media access experts. The course should equip them with the required skills to become, on the one hand, AVT translators/MA experts/DATs and, on the other, accessible filmmakers at a beginner level. The focus is therefore placed on depth (full training) rather than breadth (limited number of students).

Table 5 includes more detailed information about this MA (i.e., title, type of course, target participants, duration and competences), whereas Table 6 establishes a link between modules, optionality, competences and level.

Table 5: Title, type of course, target participants, duration and competences of the one-year MA in AFM

Title of the course

MA in Accessible Filmmaking

Type of course


Target participants

Professionals or students with a relevant BA (film or translation)


1 year
























Specifically for (accessible) filmmakers

Advanced knowledge of

1. specific characteristics of the target audience of foreign and accessible versions

2. history, developments and trends of accessibility
3. history, developments and trends of AVT/MA practice and research
4. theory and practice of subtitling and SDH, dubbing /voice-over and AD, including basic knowledge of:
4a. workflow and the actors involved in the production
4b. most common guidelines and parameters for quality assessment
4c. most challenging issues and common solutions
4d. software solutions used in the production and reception/distribution of translated and accessible versions












Specific for translators/ media access experts

Intermediate knowledge of

5. history, developments and main trends in the history of film
6. different roles involved in the production of a film
7. different phases involved in filmmaking:
7a. preproduction: stages and deliverables (shooting scripts, storyboards, etc.)
7b. production: direction, acting, cinematography and sound recording
7c. post-production: editing sound and image

Ability to

8. produce a short film and

8a. develop a story into a screenplay

8b. use digital video and sound equipment to turn the script into images

8c. edit the film with specialized editing software

8d. critically assess the result



Common to both accessible filmmakers and translators/MA experts

Advanced knowledge of

9. rationale behind AFM and its notions of accessibility and film
10. impact that subtitling, dubbing/voice-over and AD have on the nature and reception of translated and accessible versions
11. implementation of AFM: workflow, cost and examples




Table 6: Modules titles, optionality, competences and level in the MA in AFM.





Module 1: Introduction to accessibility, AVT/MA and theory of film


1, 2, 3, 5 and 6


Module 2: Subtitling and SDH


4 as applied to subtitling


Module 3: Dubbing and voice-over



4 as applied to dubbing and voice-over


Module 4: Audio description


4 as applied to audio description


Module 5: Accessible Filmmaking – theory and practice



7, 8, 9, 10 and 11


Module 6: Dissertation




6. Final thoughts

AFM addresses an age-old gap between film(making) and AVT/MA that has proved to have a negative impact on the nature and reception of some translated and accessible films (Romero-Fresco, 2019). Over the years, AFM has grown significantly in practice and research, becoming the subject of 20 MA dissertations, four PhD theses, academic articles and chapters in the areas of AVT/MA (Branson, 2017; Cerezo Merchán et al., 2017; Fox, 2016, 2018; Romero-Fresco, 2013, 2017, 2018a, 2019; Romero-Fresco & Fryer, 2018; Spinney & Middleton, 2016) and film (Cole, 2015; Dwyer, Perkins, Redmon, & Sita, 2018) and a monograph (Romero-Fresco, 2019). However, training in AFM is still anecdotal. This is a situation that requires an urgent solution, especially now that AFM is being taken up and endorsed by filmmakers such as Ken Loach (Romero-Fresco, 2019), video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix and institutions such as the BFI, the most important film organization in the United Kingdom, which has decided to embrace it as a key element in the production of films and the training of future filmmakers.

The training in AFM available to date mostly comprises one-off workshops and courses that have been useful in raising awareness about the need to integrate AVT/MA into the filmmaking process. Indeed, AFM training should be eminently flexible, with options ranging from a one-day workshop to a one- or two-year postgraduate course, from a course targeted at both filmmakers and translators/MA experts to a specialised course on AFM for cinematographers. However, one of the key issues that is being addressed here – one that perpetuates the industrialized model that relegates AVT and MA to an afterthought in the film industry – is the gap between filmmakers and translators. This article has therefore placed the focus on courses that bring both professional profiles together. The two courses outlined here are a flexible, online ten-week course for professionals and a fully-fledged one-year-long MA for professionals and students.

The only significant previous experience, the Accessible Filmmaking pathway in the MA in AVT at the University of Roehampton, yielded very promising results, as it led to the emergence of award-winning accessible filmmakers and DATs. The short film Make the Most of It (Estrada, Bellés Chorva, Churakova, Hideg, & Allard Le-Berre, 2014), made by five students on the course, won the Compostela Group of Universities III International Film Contest for its quality and ability to cater for all audiences. The documentaries made by accessible filmmaker Kate Dangerfield in collaboration with deafblind users as part of a project funded jointly by the BFI and the deafblind charity SENSE have been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (Dangerfield, 2017, 2018). Finally, another student, Josh Branson, won in 2017 the Special Commendation from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in the Best Academic Research category for his MA dissertation on AFM (Branson, 2017), where he analysed his role as DAT for the short film The Progression of Love (Rodgers, 2010). Josh has since worked as a DAT on other projects, such as the short fiction film Acquario (Puntoni, 2018) and the feature-length documentary Chaplin (Spinney & Middleton, 2019), for which he also supervised the production of creative subtitles. The work of accessible filmmakers and DATs often results in very interesting examples of collaboration and creativity, two elements that are regarded as essential in filmmaking and that have not always been present in AVT/MA training and practice. The filmmakers who took the MA at Roehampton brought to the course their visual literacy (the primacy of the visual) and benefited from the translators’ emphasis on looking after the foreign and accessible versions and making film accessible to all. In turn, translators/MA experts learned to think visually, finding meaning beyond the words of the translated or accessible scripts and considering the impact that their work has on the filmmaker’s vision.

Needless to say, it would be naïve to expect AFM to replace the current AVT/MA-as-an-afterthought approach, but the AFM model is there for anybody to adopt if they wish. As a matter of fact, a case may actually be made for the inclusion of AFM training even in standard film and AVT/MA courses that do not envisage the use of the AFM model. After all, regardless of whether or not the model is implemented, learning AFM can only benefit filmmakers (who will become better professionals for considering the audience of their foreign and accessible versions, that is, for being accessible filmmakers) and translators/MA experts (who will gain a more thorough knowledge of film theory and practice).

It has been a long time coming, but the bridges between film(-making) and AVT/MA are now being built by professionals and researchers in both areas. All we need to do now is to start crossing them.

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[1] Graduates coming from courses other than audiovisual translation should have taken an AVT course before starting the MOOC.

[1]      This research has been conducted within the frameworks and with the support of the EU-funded projects ILSA: Interlingual Live Subtitling for Access (2017-1-ES01-KA203-037948) and EASIT: Easy Access for Social Inclusion Training (2018-1-ES01-KA203-050275) and the Spanish-government funded projects Inclusión Social, Traducción Audiovisual y Comunicación Audiovisual (FFI2016-76054-P), EU-VOS. Intangible Cultural Heritage. For a European Programme of Subtitling in Non-hegemonic Languages’ (Agencia Estatal de Investigación, ref. CSO2016-76014-R) and the Galician-government funded project Proxecto de Excelencia 2017 Observatorio Galego de Accesibilidade aos Medios (GALMA).

[2]      The origin of this figure can be traced back to the director of accessibility proposed by Udo and Fels (2009) or the producer of language and accessibility used by Cole (2015).

[3]      A few exceptions are Egoyan (2004), Nornes (2007) or Eleftheriotis (2010).

[4]      The exceptions are the Escuela Metropolis, the Instituto de cine de Madrid and ImvaL, which include dubbing modules, but which are mainly targeted at dubbing actors and are therefore focused on performance rather than on translation or on the reception of dubbed films.

[5]      Module 5 (Accessible filmmaking – theory and practice) in this proposed MA is partly based on the Making Films module of the MA in Filmmaking at Kingston University (London, United Kingdom) (Kennedy, 2011).