Cinema-skopos: strategic layering and kaleidoscopic functionality in screenplay translation

Abstract : Drawing on the author’s experience of translating a French scenario de film for multiple uses – from ‘pitching’ at Cannes to location shoots in India – this paper examines how an overlooked field challenges functionalist translation theories. Skopos theory, in particular, (Vermeer, Reiss, Nord etc.) is stretched to the limit by such a multifunctional text type.

While skopos can be criticized for a reductive intentionality – limiting a text’s flexibility and transferability in reception, and excluding the scriptible (Barthes) – such concerns are relevant mostly to literary translation. Functionalist theory is well established in specialised technical translation and its teaching.

The translation of pre-production film scripts is notable for its absence in functionalist work on text typology. Like other cinematic translation types, it calls into question the dichotomy of technical and literary translation (and the implicitly correlative division of ‘documentary’ and ‘instrumental’ translation). Unlike subtitling or dubbing, however, it involves producing a TT designed to function simultaneously in a vast array of specialised reading contexts: from ‘grabbing’ a prospective investor (silent reading) to technical production uses.

Even a monolingual script is both an advertisement and a blueprint for its own ‘intersemiotic’ translation, designed for use by the various specialists involved in producing such an adaptation. A translated script in a multilingual/multicultural production can serve many of the same functions – replacing some of those in the ST – whilst also performing concomitant intercultural ‘documentary’ functions in relation to the ST, as it is used (for instance) in performance by actors...

While skopos theory seems well equipped to deal with global concerns of function – such as adaptation to different norms of presentation based on different uses of a script across cinematic cultures (France, Hollywood, Bollywood) – and even particular skopoi in a ‘granularised’ ST, it is poorly equipped to deal practically with a form of meta-intersemiotic translation for which the TT is both simultaneously multi-functional and designed to augment, rather than to replace, the ST.

The author therefore suggests that his model of synoptic strategic layering (described elsewhere in relation to poetry and journalism) might be applied to the translation of film scripts, as part of a modified functionalist approach. Metaphorically founded on Disney’s multi-plane animation, and integrating Tophoven’s theory of Transparenz, strategic layering is capable of overlaying and tracing instrumental function layers in both ST and TT and therefore improving the practical applicability of skopos theory to the translation of simultaneously multifunctional (meta)texts.
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Contributor : Samuel Trainor <>
Submitted on : Monday, February 13, 2017 - 6:08:54 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 1:21:20 AM

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Samuel Trainor. Cinema-skopos: strategic layering and kaleidoscopic functionality in screenplay translation. Les sens dans la traduction du « texte » filmique / The Senses in Motion: Translating the «Cinematic» Text, PRISMES EA 4398 (TRACT); Bruno Poncharal; CECILLE EA 4074; Frédérique Brisset, Oct 2016, Paris, France. ⟨hal-01465648⟩

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