Timing to shot and audio are key aspects of the subtitling process which contribute to the ease at which subtitles are consumed by members.
Netflix expects subtitles which are neatly timed, sit comfortably within the edit of the content and which provide an effortless viewing experience. We want our members to feel like they are watching our content, not reading it.
Always exercise good judgement when timing subtitles and ensure the file is watched back in full during the origination stage to ensure timings are even and any flashy sections are corrected.
These guidelines are written for content in 24 fps, where "half a second" is 12 frames. For other frame rates, these rules still apply but please adapt the parameters as needed, i.e. If you are working on 30 fps content, follow this guide and change any rules which stipulate 12 frames/half a second to 15 frames/half a second and so on. The minimum frame gap remains as 2 frames for all frame rates.
Subtitles should be in sync with both the image and the audio
Subtitles should sit neatly within shots creating an effortless viewing experience which is easy on the eye
- These guidelines are the overarching parameters which subtitlers should consider and work within when timing subtitles
- These rules are applicable to all timed text files produced for Netflix
Avoid spoilers: always avoid revealing punchlines or major plot-points early where there is a visible reaction on screen
1: Timing to audio
- Subtitles should have an in-time which is on the first frame of audio or as close to it as possible (within 1-2 frames of the first frame of audio is acceptable), using the waveform as reference, unless the scenario falls into the timing to shot change rules in section 2).
- The out-time can be extended up to half a second past the timecode at which the audio ends.
- When timing a sequence of subtitles, create a run of subtitles with even gaps by bumping up the out-time of the previous subtitle to two frames before the in-time of the new subtitle where any gaps of fewer than half a second exist. This is sometimes known as “chaining” or “closing gaps”. This is described further below.
2: Timing to the shot change
- Where dialogue starts on the shot change or within half a second past the shot change, please set the in-time to the first frame of the shot change.
- If an out-time is within half a second of the last frame before the shot change, extend the out-time to the shot change, respecting the two-frame gap from the shot change.
- That is to say, in-times and out-times may be brought forward or extended to be in sync with shot changes within the half-second parameter in order to create an even viewing experience and to allow the subtitles to fit neatly within the edit of the content.
- If dialogue ends before a shot change and there is no subtitle after the shot change, you should still set the out-time to two frames before the shot change.
- These rules can be applied when the out-time has already been extended by half a second past the audio but apply good judgement when determining if a subtitle looks like it is hanging on-screen for too long and apply timing adjustments accordingly.
3: Dialogue that crosses shot changes
- Subtitles may cross shot changes when the dialogue they represent also crosses the shot change.
- When dialogue starts before a shot change, the in-time must be at least half a second before the shot change following the time to audio rules.
- To accommodate this, the in-time should either be brought forward to half a second before the shot change (e.g. when the dialogue starts 9, 10 or 11 frames before the shot change in 24 fps content), or moved up to the first frame of the new shot.
- When dialogue crosses the shot change and if reading speed permits, the out-time may be adjusted to either be two frames before the shot change or at least half a second after it.
- When dialogue does not fall within these shot change parameters, follow the time to audio guidelines as set out in section 1.
- Apply good judgement as many timing decisions may feel subjective.
- Subtitles may not cross scene changes except in cases where a character/speaker starts speaking before the shot change but the dialogue features in a subsequent scene. In these instances, ensure the italics and segmentation rules are applied correctly.
4: Gaps between subtitles
- Subtitles must have a minimum of 2 frames between them. This parameter is applicable to any frame rate of content.
- In 24fps content, any gaps between subtitles of 3-11 frames inclusive must be closed to 2 frames.
- No gaps of 3-11 frames should be seen between subtitles in 24 fps content.
- Gaps between subtitles should either be 2 frames or half a second or more.
- Close gaps by extending the out-time of the previous subtitle, taking care to follow the rules about timing around shot changes and remaining in sync with the audio.
- If an out-time has been extended by half a second beyond the end of the audio, avoid extending this further to close gaps. Instead, consider either re-segmenting or merging subtitles, or ensuring that the gap is half a second or more. Exercise good judgement.
- Closing gaps between subtitles is sometimes known as “chaining”.
5: Borrowing time
- When uneven reading speeds present themselves, merging with previous or subsequent subtitles is encouraged in order to borrow time and aid an even rhythm in the file.
- Take care to ensure that any merged subtitles follow standard formatting for single speaker or dual speaker subtitles as appropriate.
- You may need to re-segment and re-time subtitles and their neighbouring subtitles when employing the borrowing time strategy, following timing to shot and audio rules, and taking care to not break the guidelines about spoilers given above.
6: Forced narratives for on-screen text
- Forced narratives which translate on-screen text should mimic the timing of the on-screen text and be perfectly in sync. Apply these timings as far as the maximum duration and minimum duration rules permit.
- To ensure synchronicity when timing in and out with on-screen text which fades in and out, aim to set the in-time and out-time halfway through the fade and watch the section back to check for sync.
- If on-screen text remains on screen for the duration of a shot, you should maintain the standard rule for the out-time: fix the out-time two frames before the shot change.
- These rules for timing FNs for on-screen text override advice given relating to timing to shot and audio when subtitling dialogue.
- FN subtitles representing on-screen text may be brought out early where dialogue is present and takes precedence.
- Introduction adapted to confirm that this article is aimed at 24 fps content but that rules should be adapted for other frame rates
- "12-frame rule" rephrased as "half a second" throughout
- Copy on page bulleted
- Dialogue that crosses shot changes - wording about moving in-times clarified and simplified, rule remains the same
- Timing rules - 3rd and 4th bullets added
- Timing to audio - tolerance for 1-2 frames within first frame of audio added
- Timing to shot change - wording about already-extended out-times added
- Dialogue that crosses shot changes - clarification of in-times for dialogue which starts just before a shot change, clarification of scene change scenarios
- Forced narratives for on-screen text - adjustment of advice about maximum and minimum durations