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Chris Reynolds

Exporting Dreams

Birthplace: Westlake Village, California
Universities: Utah Valley University and Full Sail University
Proudest achievement: My kids
Favorite place visited: Iceland
Fun fact: I have 10 siblings: 7 sisters and 2 brothers

W

ith the dawn of streaming entertainment, the world became a little smaller. Suddenly, accessing foreign films and television became significantly easier, and with that ease of access came a greater need for localization. As streaming services have expanded to new regions, the number of required subtitling and dubbing languages has increased dramatically. 

Meeting those needs is all in a day’s work for Chris Reynolds. As the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Localization and Fulfillment at Deluxe, his job is to make entertainment comprehensible in foreign languages while preserving the original content’s emotion, narrative cohesion, and overall impact. That’s easier said than done, but Reynolds’ team has a wealth of experience to ensure your favorite show hits just as hard in Spanish as it does in its original language. If dreams fuel the film and TV industry, you can thank folks like Reynolds and his team for exporting those dreams to a global audience.

You were promoted to your executive role at the end of 2020. What did you learn about your position during the pandemic, and how do those lessons inform your work today?

With people stuck at home during the pandemic, a rapidly growing demand for content was intertwined with major new streaming service launches as the industry streaming wars heated up. Like many people, I learned to work effectively in a remote environment. We had to master new technology, adjust how we communicate, and train new employees without ever meeting them in person. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing how we pivoted much of what we were doing quickly. We immediately reprioritized certain development initiatives to add or enhance functionality across our teams. It was an amazing team effort that reinforced how important clear communication, flexibility, openness to change, and teamwork are.

Those lessons continue to inform our work today as we work in a hybrid mode in most locations. On a personal level, it helped me learn how to listen better and to be more aware of how my work intersects with other aspects of my life. While communicating with staff in other time zones wasn’t new, it changed during the pandemic. Video conferencing improved dramatically, and it was great to see my international colleagues on a full screen instead of sitting around a conference room table where you can’t read their facial expressions or body language.

Your appointment coincided with a structural change at Deluxe that combined localization and fulfillment operations. What was it like overseeing this transition?

Yes, it was a period of massive change. Before taking on that role, I was Senior Vice President of Localization, and Deluxe was going through a transformation after a recent change of ownership. New streaming services were launching, content licensing was accelerating, and we decided to combine our Localization and Fulfillment (non-theatrical video/audio mastering and distribution) divisions into one unit. The services that we provide are so intertwined. While our customers tended to order them separately or even through different departments in years past, most were also consolidating their teams, so it was a natural evolution for us.

Overseeing it was challenging but also incredibly rewarding. As with everything, I didn’t do it alone and can’t thank my manager, colleagues, and direct leadership team enough for their dedication to the integration. We began by merging our customer-facing Client Services teams and our Product Management teams so that we could cross-train those managing titles and projects to be able to broaden the scope of what they were doing while also consolidating our technology teams to deprecate some stand-alone platforms and integrate our two primary workflow platforms for the two groups. We then integrated some operational teams with similar or complementary responsibilities, skills, and tools. While going through this transition, we were hiring almost a hundred employees per month at one point. It felt like everything, everywhere, all at once!

In reality, we were kicking off a multi-year journey. Our technology roadmap needed to be updated to support the integration, and cross-training of staff is a journey that takes time and experience. We’re over the hump at this point and have major software releases coming out over the next 12 months that are allowing us to refine the organization further. It’s been great seeing many efforts come together over the past few years. We are operating more effectively because it supports faster turn-around times and more complex workflows than ever before.

What is the entertainment localization process like? Have you had any particularly memorable experiences?

It’s a much more nuanced process than many people know. It’s important to recognize that the entertainment content we work on is inherently creative and complex in nature. Whether it’s a fictional story, a biopic, a documentary, or anything else, a lot of time and care goes into the script, performances, picture, sound, pacing, and so on. Each film or episode in a series represents the culmination of so many talented artists and technicians. To effectively localize the content, you must translate the original director’s intent as best as possible so that viewers in other countries and languages can experience the emotional impact of the content as intended. They should laugh, cry, ache, or cringe like the original-language audience does.

The audio/visual medium of film and television presents challenges you don’t encounter in other mediums because it’s time-constrained. You must be able to continue to watch and listen to the content if you’re reading the subtitles or have the dubbed audio accurately represent the character and performances of the original actors as best as possible. This means that dialog has to be summarized and contextualized. It starts to become transcreation at times; you have to come up with translations that aren’t exactly what was said in one language translated into another — they have to be modified to convey the original performance, intent, nuance, and subtext. All while making you forget that you’re reading or listening to a dub. It’s a high bar!

As far as memorable experiences, there are so many it’s hard to pick, but I do have a recent one I can share. I had the opportunity to attend a special theatrical screening of the American Sign Language (ASL) version of Barbie last year with a hard-of-hearing audience. Seeing and hearing the audience’s reaction was amazing. Some were brought to tears simply because there are only a few films available in ASL, and they aren’t generally screened theatrically.

I’ve been fortunate to have had many amazing experiences with audiences, customers, and linguists. My localization career began as a sound mixer for foreign-language versions of theatrical films. I often had a client linguist pair up with me to ensure that the final dubbed mix captured the emotion and intent of the original. Getting their direct feedback was always an educational experience. Much care is put into the localized versions of these films and episodes under incredibly tight timelines.

How do you envision entertainment localization changing in the coming years, and what are you doing to prepare?

I feel it will change in a few ways. First, there will be more localized content. There is a time and cost barrier to localization, and content owners can’t always justify the expense to sub or dub all of their content in every language they would like to. Technology will allow us to localize in more languages faster and more affordably. The quality of those outputs might vary based on how much they can spend, but it gives them options they didn’t have before. From a pure accessibility standpoint, we’re already seeing platforms release accessibility features that allow subtitles to be created on the fly if there isn’t an existing subtitle file. The quality isn’t the same, but it’s better than nothing if you don’t speak the original language.

New technology will help translators and dubbing studios work faster and more efficiently for higher-quality localization outputs. The improved efficiency will mean lower prices but should be offset by higher volume, allowing content owners to monetize their content in more markets with the same budget.

Further, hyper-localization isn’t very far away, and that’s exciting. An example of what I mean is Latin American Spanish (LAS). The industry generally releases content in Latin and South American countries in LAS, designed to be “neutral” Spanish. Audiences are used to it, but it isn’t how most people speak in those countries. There are differences in how people speak Spanish in Mexico versus Argentina or Chile. This new technology allows you to output different dialects from a high-quality neutral master. As distribution platforms expand their capabilities, I see a future in which each of those dialects is offered, allowing content to be consumed in the true native language of the audience.

Deluxe recently formed a partnership with AppTek for AI-powered localization solutions. How did that come about?

Deluxe was looking for a solution to some of the limitations we saw in the various AI-enabled solutions. We’ve been using automated speech recognition (ASR), machine translation (MT), and text-to-speech (TTS) in some of our workflows for many years. Still, we weren’t getting the quality outputs necessary to improve timelines. Our technology teams had clear thoughts on what they thought was possible, but we needed specific scientific expertise to ideate and test those theories.

Trying to do that from scratch would be very difficult, and we already know some of the AppTek team from using some of their products. We learned that they were looking to expand more into entertainment but had the inverse challenge. They had a lot of ideas but didn’t know if their theories resonated with people in our industry, and they didn’t have the deep relationships in the industry that are required to succeed. From there, investing in and partnering with them was a natural strategic choice. We combine our team’s expertise, supply chain tools, and web apps with the technology and talented scientists at AppTek.

Why did you choose AppTek from all the AI specialists available on the market? What made them stand out?

It came down to the fact that they have solutions for all three areas — ASR, MT, and TTS — as well as their deep bench of scientists and how well our teams communicate and collaborate. Finding a company with as many scientists focused specifically on localization technology is hard. AppTek has over 30 PhDs specializing in this area and has worked with the world’s major technology providers on consumer-facing and specialized AI solutions for years.

How do you see this partnership expanding Deluxe’s opportunities and business potential in the short and long term?

In the short term, we can immediately offer our customers more specific AI-enabled solutions and workflows. We can also offer custom AI solutions and model development, something that we couldn’t do without AppTek. We’ve already released over 40 new ASR, MT, and TTS models through AppTek and integrated them into our web applications for translators and linguists to leverage for hybrid post-edit workflows. We will continue adding more languages and refining our models over time. We receive new or updated models from AppTek every few weeks, and we’ve improved the quality of some of our MT results by 30 to 40 percent in less than six months.

We’re also releasing news, sports, and other live content solutions. We can provide live subtitle translation and even live voice-over dubbing — an exciting new capability for live audiences. There is so much possibility there as news outlets and sports leagues explore how to provide live localization to their audiences.

In the long term, we’re looking forward to being able to subtitle and dub more content in more languages and on faster timelines than ever. This will only help more people enjoy more content all over the world. There are challenges to overcome as the localization workforce adapts to these new technologies, with some resisting the technology and others embracing it. We’ve been creating entirely new roles over the past few months, which also means training a workforce on new processes and technologies.

Given the increasing popularity of foreign-originating entertainment worldwide, what excites you the most about the future of entertainment localization? On the other hand, what are the biggest challenges you foresee?

I love stories from around the world. There is so much great content that audiences are discovering from all over the globe. Our teams have been working on some amazing European titles, and we’ve launched in six more Asian countries to support the growth of Asian original content. Localization is what enables this content to begin traveling around the world. For decades, it’s been created and only seen in one or two markets, and now you have amazing films and series being localized in 30+ languages with growing audiences. My mom has recently been watching a lot of Korean dramas after my sister recommended one to her, and now she’s watched over a dozen Korean original titles. It opens up a whole new perspective and brand-new stories — it’s great to see.

As for challenges, there are the technical hurdles that come with more localized content. Some of that is on the technical mastering and distribution side of things. Many platforms have to adapt their applications better to support localized versions, artwork, and so on, and they have to be able to serve up different languages in different parts of the world, which can get very complicated.

There’s also a workforce challenge. With the addition of new languages and content from around the world, there is a need for more multilingual staff with the right level of expertise to create and distribute this content. Building up and training that workforce takes time, but it’s a great challenge, and it’s been fun to see how quickly our teams have been growing to support this need around the world.

On a lighter note, what are some of your favorite titles in foreign-language entertainment (irrespective of whether you worked on them)? And, what are some of the hobbies and activities you enjoy to relax and recharge outside of work?

It’s always a difficult question — it’s hard to pick just a few titles or series! Some titles that I enjoyed are Anatomy of a Fall (French), The Zone of Interest (German), Shogun (Japanese), and Past Lives (Korean/English). I also really like mixed-language originals such as Narcos, which has as much Spanish as English in many episodes. It creates a much more authentic- feeling experience.

Outside work, I like to get outdoors: hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, and spending time at the beach. I’m also a musician and enjoy both playing music (guitar, bass, and drums) and going to concerts. I probably go to 10 to 20 concerts yearly and enjoy live music.

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