Stranger Things evoked a lot of emotions this season — especially if you flipped on your subtitles setting. Those subtitles became a sensation among fans: [Tentacles undulating moistly], [wet footsteps squelch], [tense music intensifies] are as memorable as Vecna himself.
And part of the recent increase of emotive descriptors across Netflix originals is due to the company’s English Timed Text Style Guide, an ever-changing set of rules for subtitlers, Netflix’s director of globalization Kathy Rokni tells me. “Use adverbs where appropriate,” Rokni says. “Describe sounds, music, and even silence. It’s important if it adds to the emotion.” The style guide shifts and evolves as Netflix’s content grows to improve the streamer’s accessibility and subtitling, giving deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers the same immersive experience of tentacles squelching and roiling wetly as hearing mass audiences. The latest addition to the style guide, around 2020, was for subtitlers to be more detailed. “The first show we started seeing this positive feedback that encouraged us to think we were going in the right direction was Bridgerton [season one].” And thus, the sensational, nearly no-holds-barred descriptive subtitles of Stranger Things 4.
While Netflix’s recent efforts have enabled its creative writers to let as loose as they can on a 42-word-count line, all credit of the phonetic mastery ofStranger Things 4 goes to the show’s subtitle author Jeff T. (he preferred we not share his full last name) and his subtitle QA editor Karli Witkowska. When I first asked to interview them, they first thought my request was surely sent to the wrong people. “Our little corner of production is rarely seen,” Jeff quipped. Still, they opened up about their accessibility work onStranger Things, the memes they’ve spawned, and, yes, Dungeons & Dragons Easter eggs.