And so the story goes, round 0

Cristina Bettencourt, founder of Cristbet

This time around, I went to Parede to have a coffee with Cristina Bettencourt, CEO, founder of Cristbet, one of Portugal’s leading translation and localization companies. This is what I wrote and what we talked about.

[SPOILER ALERT] one couldn’t be prepared for what was about to happen. Me, a noob translator and subtitler, curious and craving for crumbs of movies, shows and conferences, and Cristina: a veteran, a true grandmaster of the craft.

Pretty soon into the conversation I learned I could add absolutely zilch to Cristbet. And now the story goes like this…

old phone, sorry for the pic quality. But these were the rough notes!

Cristina Bettencourt (CB): “ ‘Twas the late 80s, I was working as a kindergarten teacher, and I met somebody, by chance, Carlos Viseras, director of CCI, a Spanish video company, I don’t know what’s happened to them…

He heard me speaking English with a common friend — my father owned a travel agency and my mother was a tour guide, English being spoken at home constantly — and challenged me to translate one film.

Oh! And I was a single mother of two to boot. So… I had to say yes, even though I didn’t have any experience with professional translation!

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

I basically had to write it all down and note down the time-codes using pen and paper, had it typed, send it to the transcribers so they could insert my translation and time-codes. I had no computer then.

My first computer and word processor had Wordperfect and little more. So, that was my first official job and first pay as a translator, back in 1988. As a kindergarten teacher, I earned 15 contos (74€)/month. My first translation gig? Almost 126€. Just like that. They loved my work. And they kept asking for more!

WHICH TRANSLATOR ARE YOU?

Portuguese translation market is dominated by women. In CB’s view there are two types of translators: the “faithful” ones, the ones that stick to the words; and the creative ones. She loves the creative ones.

Translation is not about words, but ideas. You’ve got Sara David Lopes, doing movies, she’s the whole package. And you’ve got amazing faithful translators too, I mean, if you want to grab a medical translation, you have to follow the words and terms. You can’t be creative. But I like the creative translators, those are the ones I favor. Also, one has to be cultured and sophisticated when translating. But you can’t be excessively complicated, you see what I mean? Know and own your thing. But don’t think you know more than you actually do. Rookie mistake!

THE BIZ

Portugal is not welcoming for translators. I hear people are paying 1€/minute for subtitling work. That just doesn’t cut it.

I’d love to pay more to my team, but my fixed costs don’t allow me to. You’ve got SPOT, POLISCRIPT/Screen Subtitling Systems, Vantage, Edius, licenses, etc. Our current portfolio is composed by network TV stations and many institutional clients.

We also have a mix of simultaneous interpretation, written translations and audiovisuals.

AD. SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION. TA-DA. HELLO THERE!

I’m not a believer in audiodescription as I think that you can’t really convey images to someone who can’t see.

We do something else called tradaptação: translating and subtitling for the hearing impaired. Dialogue and emotions, etc.

SO

long story short, late 80s, my first tape and my first cheque as a translator. I loved it. I did it again, and again and again. And, of course, life kept throwing stuff at me and I just grabbed and worked my ass off; one day Lisbon’s Catholic University challenged me for simultaneous conferences. Marketing and finance gurus. I knew little of it all. What happened then was life changing. Then I founded Cristbet, in 1999, and clients just kept saying: “Here comes Cristbet, the interpreter”.

Oh, and back in the day, in the 80s I also told my own stories for children on RTP 1, in a show called Histórias Contadas Pela Cristina, with stories that I later published. Not on youtube! I also had a radio show for kids on TSF called Turma da UM. Kids recognized me on the street and shouted: “Mom, that’s the lady from my TV stories!”. Good times!

MY TURN!

I can’t thank this woman enough for her time and patience and (shall I say) respect for the ones “coming in hot”.

Cristina told me immediately she needed me for 0: “my team is amazing, I’m happy; I’m also happy with my social media managers, they’re a great bunch”.

Sure. That’s cool. A woman that shares with me, a John Doe in the biz, info this engaing and entertaining, should be an influencer on IG, not someone with less than 200 followers.

Of course I had my scripted questions:

  1. Why is translation contrary to tech, f.i, where less than 7% of the workforce is female? Cristina, Cristbet. Rosário, Sintagma. She told me the CEOs from Solegendas, Moviola… all women. That’s amazing!
  2. Another uncanny thing is the fact that most translation agencies are located in the outskirts of Lisbon. They’re close to Nova SBE, St. Julian’s School and Casino Estoril, not downtown Lisbon or near Ribeira, in Oporto.

I guess that also happens with a few of my other clients: they’re based in the outskirts of London, because rents are lower and they can be on the same map as the big ones because of pricing and the classic “personal attention and care”.

Cristina and CristBet are just one and the same.

A proud and passionate brand, an accomplished and ambitious woman that carped the shit out of that diem, even if it was the late 80s/90s. If Cristina was 19-years old right now, in the 2020s… she would’ve kickstarted not one, but probably six Netflixes and Hulus and Rakutens, etc. et al.

Kind, generous and, above all, not afraid to share her knowledge with the ones starting to cross the path that she helped to carve.

Although she warned me:

“The best age to start working in translation is 24, 25. You’re too old.”

Ahah! Let us pray, then!

many thanks to Cristina Bettencourt for the words of knowledge, praise, kindness and, most importantly, for the proper revision of this text!

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news, views, interviews, stories and studies on translation and subtitles

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