Learning, Localization, and 10 Lessons From Hollywood

Hollywood has been learning a valuable lesson in the last two decades: Connecting with international audiences goes far beyond mere translation, voice dubbing or subtitles. Building a global audience for a movie means adapting the film to the region of the world in more sophisticated and complex ways. In short, Hollywood needed to learn how to localize.

Technically, localization means adapting content to fit the needs of another culture, language, or region of the world. Localization, when done well, connects with a targeted audience outside of one’s own culture. It involves language, images, formatting, motivation, and worldviews. In the end, how well localization is done determines how content will be perceived and accepted by multicultural and multilingual audiences. Localization goes beyond translation because content can be accurately translated but still completely miss the audience if their culture is not considered.

Why Does Hollywood Care About Localization?

The answer is simple: profit. The world of movies, much like many businesses, has become a much more global affair in the last few decades. Adding subtitles or providing voice-over is no longer the accepted practice of large studios because the economics of the film industry have changed.

In 2019, the U.S./Canadian box office represented only 27% of the total global box office. That means $30.8 billion in movie revenue came from other markets. In recent years, China’s box office has grown to rival that of the United States: In 2020, their ticket sales exceeded those of U.S. theaters for the first time.

Consider the highest-grossing movies in the year before Covid: “Avengers: Endgame“The Lion King,” and “Frozen II.” For all three, the U.S. box office was just 30% of gross revenue.

Hollywood has, of course, taken notice and begun to act on the need for greater localization.

Some Samples of Film Localization

“Inside Out” is a charming animated children’s film focused on the emotional development of a young girl. The director, Peter Docter, made 28 changes in 45 shots in various international versions of the movie. One example has to do with vegetables. In a pivotal scene, the main character, Riley, decides she doesn’t like broccoli. That’s what theatergoers in the U.S. saw. In Japan, the offending vegetable was green bell peppers because that was a better fit for Japanese culture. Director Pete Docter explained, “We learned that some of our content wouldn’t make sense in other countries.” These efforts made a difference. Of all ticket sales, 42% of revenue was produced domestically while 58% came from international audiences.

The director and producers of Iron Man 3” also understood that to connect with international audiences, they needed to localize. Partly driven by the size of the potential Chinese audience and partly because the project was co-produced by China-based DMG films, the Chinese version has four additional minutes and includes more Chinese characters than the U.S. version. Interestingly, the Chinese version even has product placement of an Asian dairy product. The results were overwhelmingly international with 66% of revenue coming from outside the U.S.

There are many more well-known examples. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” changed the television shows its characters refer to depending on the nation where it was being released (e.g., “I Love Lucy” in the U.S. and “Sherlock” in the U.K.). The “Red Dawn” remake swapped out villains. In the U.S., the bad guys were Chinese. In the version released in China, the villains were North Korean.

All this to say that localization has become standard fare for Hollywood as studios and directors have grown increasingly successful at connecting on many levels with an international audience.

How well localization is done determines how content will be perceived and accepted by multicultural and multilingual audiences.

10 Lessons From Hollywood Localization Applied to Global Corporate Learning

1. Intentionality

Design for an international audience from the start and at every stage of the project. As producer Caleeb Pinkett put it, “You have to start taking in other cultures and things that they value and how they view the world and incorporate that into your storytelling.”

2. Diversity

Just as films are cast to suit a diverse viewing audience, those depicted in your learning experiences should reflect the makeup of your learning audience.

3. Global Scenery

Select locations, landscapes, and architecture from a variety of countries and cultures that an international audience will recognize and connect with.

4. Colors and Symbols

Pay careful attention to the color schemes, backgrounds, and symbols used to cater to a variety of audiences. What may be harmless in one market could be offensive in another.

5. Careful Scripting

Successful U.S. filmmakers know that certain kinds of dialogue do not resonate with non-U.S. audiences whether it’s a disconnect with the humor or the manner of speaking. Tread lightly with humor or idioms that will only confuse international learners.

6. Simplicity

According to BBC, complex storylines tend to be confusing to international audiences who might not understand the nuances and subtleties of a complex story because many of the references will be unfamiliar to them. So, keep narrative elements in the content simple.

7. Visual

In short, actions speak louder than words. Successful international movies emphasize visual elements and action sequences over lengthy dialogue because these elements require no translation, so they appeal to a wider audience.

8. Animation

In the past decade, animated films have grown increasingly popular. It’s easier to adapt voice-overs for animation, the visuals are often understood across cultures and the stories feature a diverse cast of characters.

9. Common Themes

Internationally successful films usually connect to common themes and experiences people share across cultures and languages. In creating learning experiences, look for themes that will resonate with your learners no matter where they are located, and connect the skills or competencies you’re teaching back to the overall training objective. Connecting microactions to macrothemes will engage your learners.

10. Causing Offense

Someone with good intentions but who lacks an understanding of the audience’s culture can unknowingly offend that audience. It is worth cross-checking with people who are part of the cultures in which you plan to deliver your learning.

Whether you are a movie buff or only occasionally spend time taking in some of what Hollywood has to offer, there are important lessons to be learned from the film industry as we continue to look for the best ways to connect with learners across the globe.

Ingenuit is a unique learning agency that combines expertise in learning, localization, and staff augmentation. We are ISO-certified in three different areas to ensure projects are on time, on budget, and on target. To view our solutions, please visit our learning solutions page CLICK HERE. If you need another set of eyes on your global learning solutions, the learning experts at Ingenuiti are ready to help. We offer a Global Learning Needs Analysis which is a session with our learning experts to review your learning challenges and consider solutions. Please click CLICK HERE to set up a time to talk.