Creating and Exporting Subtitles in Final Cut 7 and Premiere Pro

When to use subtitles

Sometimes the most difficult challenge regarding subtitles is deciding whether to use them or not.

Subtitles present obvious aesthetic challenges—from inevitably covering the most important part of an image to turning a visual experience into a written one. If at all possible, avoid them; the obvious exception being when someone speaks a language other than that of the intended audience. Then subtitles are essential.

So how do you know if you need English subtitles for someone speaking English? It’s often difficult for an editor or producer to make this call. After listening to the same clips again and again, we learn a speaker’s cadence and nuances and they become clearer to us. Probably the best method to make this determination is to play your film for a group of people who haven’t seen it yet and see if they can understand the narration without subtitles.

With fresh ears, they’ll quickly let you know if they’re able to follow along. If there’s any confusion, use subtitles; the most captivating visuals are useless if your audience can’t understand what’s going on.

At MediaStorm we add subtitles to all of our films so that we have a base language with timecode that can be used to add additional languages via the MediaStorm Platform.

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The Basic Workflow

The first thing you need in order to create subtitles is a written transcript of your film. We use Google Docs at MediaStorm but you can use a text editor of choice. 

The basic workflow to subtitle a project for our platform is as follows:

With your project and transcript open, press play to begin the film. When a subject or character begins to speak, look for a natural breaking point in their speech or cadence to press the spacebar and stop the film. Create a title with the dialogue you just heard, and place it over the section of the film that corresponds to the appropriate dialogue. Use the stopped playhead as a guide for where the subtitle should be placed. In the timeline, make sure all subtitles are on one track.

Make sure that the content of the subtitle is short enough to be read, but on-screen long enough that the viewer has time to read it. It’s a bit of an art to find the right balance, but one rule of thumb is to never create subtitles that go beyond title safe lines. Additionally, keep the subtitle on one line, don’t stagger your subtitles one on top of the other.  Finally, a single subtitle should appear on a single piece of video. In other words, subtitles should not extend past an edit mark when at all possible.

At MediaStorm, we have a standard for how and when we use fades on subtitles. If narrative is more than 15 frames from the end or beginning of a cut, we set the subtitle to start 10 frames before the start or end of narrative, then place an 8 frame fade on the subtitle.

The MediaStorm Platform will recognize these fades in the XML and place them accordingly.

Once your subtitling is complete, duplicate your sequence, delete everything except the subtitles and export an XML of that sequence to the MediaStorm platform.

How to create subtitles in Final Cut Pro 7

In the Viewer window click on the Generator button, then scroll down to and select Text, then Text again. It’s critical to use the Text generator and not one of the other options.

Generator button - Screen_Shot_2015-03-17_at_3.54.29_PM.png




In the Viewer pane, click on the Controls tab to edit the content of the subtitle.




Enter the subtitle content into the Text window.

Format that text to 18pt Arial bold using the Font drop down, and the Size slider.

Then, in the Motion tab, change the placement of that subtitle by following the parameters in the image below. This will center the subtitle and place it just above the bottom title safe line.




The first subtitle you create in this way will act as a template for the rest of your subtitles.

To create new subtitles with these same parameters option-drag the formatted subtitle to the location of the next bit of dialogue which needs to be subtitled. Double-click the new subtitle to load it into the Viewer window. Then, using your transcript, paste in the appropriate text. Continue this process.


How to create subtitles in Premiere Pro CC 8.1

There’s a critical difference between the title tool in Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro CC. In FCP, one can slice a title that’s already in the timeline, open it in the Viewer window, then change the contents so that you now had two distinct titles.

This does not work in Premiere Pro.

In Premiere Pro each title is a distinct instance. So, if you splice a title in the timeline then change its content with the title tool, you will also change the content of the first title as well. Both titles will say the same thing.

The only way around this is to create a new title instance (Command-T) for every subtitle. It’s a cumbersome process and one that we wish Adobe would change.

Setting Up a Title Template

In the Project window create a new bin (Command – /). Name it Subtitles, then select it.

Open the title tool (Command-T).

In the New Title window, name the title instance the exact same phrase that you are using for the subtitle. The title size will default to your current sequence size.




When the title tool opens, press T for the Type Tool, then click inside the rectangle. Use 38 pt Arial, then type out the content of your subtitle.

Next, click the Selection tool (arrow icon) and move the title so that it rests on top of the title-safe line.




Use the Horizontal Center tool to align the title in the middle of the screen.



Close the title tool.

Drag the newly created title from Project window to your Timeline, above the corresponding dialogue.

To create a new title, simply click the New Title Based on Current Style button at the top left of the Title tool (If the title tool is closed, go to Window > Title Tools). This will create a new unique title instance.




IMPORTANT* - Each time you paste a phrase from your transcript into a subtitle, you must also name the subtitle instance with the exact same phrase.

If the contents of the subtitle is “I went home” the name of the subtitle instance must also be “I went home”; the names must match identically.

That’s because XML in Premiere Pro reads the name of the title, not its contents.

Expand your timeline to make sure that subtitle instance name matches what you see on screen.





To rename the title instance of a subtitle, right-click or control-click the subtitle in the timeline, then select “Reveal in Project.”



This will open the Project pane and highlight the corresponding title instance. Simply click the name of the title instance and rename it with the subtitle content.

Premiere Pro will NOT dynamically change the subtitle name in the timeline. You have to give the subtitle instance it’s proper name BEFORE dragging it into the timeline, or REPLACE the timeline subtitle with the newly named title instance by re-dragging into the timeline and replacing the old one.  

Here too, we wish Adobe would change this behavior so that XML functioned as it does in Final Cut Pro 7, reading the content of the subtitle, not the name of the title file – the opposite of how it works now.

It’s obviously more expedient to avoid this extra step.


Exporting subtitles for the MediaStorm Platform

To add subtitles to the MediaStorm Platform you will export an XML file from one of the editors above and import that file to create a base language in the MediaStorm Platform. The MediaStorm Platform uses this information to overlay subtitles on top of your film. In order to get your subtitles out of Premiere or Final Cut, follow these steps:

Premiere Pro CC 8.1

1. Duplicate your sequence.

2. Delete everything but subtitles.

3. Make sure subtitles are all on one track, with no other elements.

4. Make sure the subtitle track is enabled.

5. Make sure the sequence in the project window is selected, not the project window itself.

6. Choose File > Export > Final Cut Pro XML...

Premiere Pro 6

1. Duplicate your sequence.

2. Delete everything but subtitles.

3. Make sure subtitles are all on one track, with no other elements.

4. Make sure the subtitle track is enabled.

6. Create a New Project (Option-Command-N).

7. Select File > Import (Command-I) and choose the project file that contains your subtitle sequence.

8. In the Import Project popup window select Import Selected Sequences. Premiere Pro will launch the Dynamic Link Server. This may take a moment.

9. Select your subtitle only sequence.

10. Save your new project (Command-S).

11. Choose File > Export > Final Cut Pro XML...

Final Cut Pro 7

1. Make sure subtitles are all on one track, with no other elements.

2. Make sure the subtitle track is enabled.

3. Make sure your sequence is selected, a grey bar will appear at the top.

4. Choose File > Export > XML...  

5. Select the default Format, version 5.


Once a base language is in the MediaStorm Platform you can add additional languages as well by following this process.


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