MultiLingual met with Ewa Zawadzka, newly appointed head of dubbing for the EMEA region for ZOO Digital, for an enlightening, thought provoking discussion about her background, what she hopes to accomplish in her new role, and one of the key challenges facing the industry today.
[editor’s note: the following conversation has been edited for length and clarity]
MultiLingual: How many languages do you speak, and what are they?
Ewa Zawadzka: Four languages. I grew up bilingual; I was born in Poland so I speak Polish as my first language, but I grew up in Germany because I’m half German and half Polish, and German was the first language I learned to read and write. English is the language that I work in, and I studied in the UK as well, it’s where I finished university. I understand Italian fully, but it wouldn’t be a language I could work in. I did study in Italy for a bit, and it’s a language I absolutely adore.
ML: What got you interested in audiovisual translation as opposed to, say, technical or literary translation?
EZ: I studied linguistics in Poland and was doing legal translation, which is a big field in Poland, and then I wanted to combine it with something creative. When I moved to the UK I wanted to go into media but I wanted to combine it with linguistics as well, so [audiovisual translation] felt like the perfect fit.
ML: In practical terms, what will your role at ZOO entail?
EZ: It’s one of those jobs where you don’t have a nine-to-five pattern; it’s basically bringing the experience [I have] from EMEA and what those regions entail — because it’s a completely different story in Latin America, it’s a completely different story in the States — so my role is to work with the territory managers, who are experts in their regions, and make sure that we’re growing in Europe. Europe is a completely different kettle of fish [when it comes to dubbing], it’s a very old dubbing region; German is one of the [first] dubbing languages that was ever done. All of these regions function in a completely different way, so I’m the person who is combining all of that knowledge and making it happen for Europe, so that it’s not so fragmented per territory, to make that growth happen. So, in one sentence, I’m the link that makes sure that what we’re doing in EMEA stays true to ZOO’s strategy but at the same time is very true to what happens in each region.
ML: Over the last few months there have been controversies arising about white voice actors being used for the dubbing of Black characters in movies, especially when the character’s ethnic identity forms a large part of the story. Pixar’s Soul being one example. What does ZOO do to ensure its dubbing talent pool is as diverse and inclusive as possible, and that dubbing choices are as culturally responsive as possible?
EZ: This is a question that every vendor and every studio is working on, and it’s big. The whole of concept of ZOO — in other words going out there and trying to not only train, but give options to talents and creatives all over and make it more accessible so that they’re not strictly linked to one studio or one town — this is the first thing that ZOO’s trying to achieve.
[We’re] working also on training and working with universities and building the talent pool; obviously they’re all young, so it’s not diverse in that sense, but it is creating a much larger pool for the industry in general. We need a larger pool; the industry has blown up, but we’re still working with the same talent, and that leads to a lack of diversity, because you hear the same people over and over again, and it’s a tight industry. Diversity is an issue that cuts across the industry, and by building that pool, by expanding and giving more accessible tools and more accessible training, that’s where ZOO is going out of its way to bridge the gap that we have at the moment.
In general in the industry it’s very much country by country, it’s a very difficult subject, and the truth is that there are countries where it’s very hard to find a diverse pool of talent because it’s just not a diverse country, in which case, how can diversity be reflected? It’s very much working with the talent and the content owners to say, maybe we can show diversity by using someone of a different background — but not necessarily what you would expect, because in a given country you might not have voice talent that matches perfectly. And then the question becomes are we picking the best voice talent, or the one who fits the image? So it’s very delicate ground, and I must say ZOO is very, very careful with this and [we’re] always discussing how we can reflect diversity in a region where it’s potentially very hard to find that talent, and it’s also on the client as well to have that conversation.
ML: What attracted you to ZOO?
EZ: The people, and what I mentioned before: the concept of going out there and growing the industry, that’s something I’m very passionate about. I’ve been part of various companies in the past, and it was an amazing experience, but I think ZOO stands out in that their focus is on talent internally and externally, and they value it very much. Also the creative approach to the industry; it’s grown so much in the past few years, you’ve never had so much content going across the globe from various languages. The language combinations we have now, ten years ago we would never have thought of. Now any language can go into any language. Growing this, and appreciating that there’s not enough talent for something that has grown so much, is something that definitely attracted me to be part of it and help grow it and have lots of projects that support it as well.
ML: What will success look like for you in this role?
EZ: Making sure the end audience receives what they expect, and knowing that whatever ZOO creates will reach the end audience and be well received. We’re not just creating a program, that program has to achieve the same success wherever it goes. Once I’ve achieved that I think I’ll be very happy.
And I love the industry; it’s one of those roles that [works with people] all around the globe. I love having the world clock on my phone and looking at it and thinking “OK, who will be awake now? Oh, this person will be awake so I’ll send this email and they can follow up.” I absolutely love it. [ML]