A History of
Simultaneous Bilingual
Film Production

        I first discovered the principle of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production quite by accident. I had seen the wonderful Claude Lelouch film "And Now My Love" when it was released in 1975, in Los Angeles in a French-language, subtitled print. The movie itself is superb, an epic tale beginning around the turn of the XXth Century and across several generations, ending when the two young lovers meet at the fadeout – pure romance.
        So when it was exhibited again some years later at the New Beverly Cinema, I went to see it for a repeat of the pleasure of Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven's elegant masterwork.
        I was astonished upon realizing that the print being shown was in English – and it was not dubbed! I held that thought and enjoyed the film, later perceiving the economic benefit of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production:
        Since the greater portion of time during a feature film shoot is often spent in camera moves, the extra cost of reshooting the exact same scene or sequence with an identical cast speaking the exact same lines in a second language costs very little more, and that mostly for the exposed film.
        My seat-of-the-pants guess was that such a practice would cost only ten to fifteen percent more, producing a complete negative in the second language at minimal cost. (All purely action scenes or shots require no such duplication.)

        Later on, I found out that there is a solid history of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production, especially during the early, experimental years of sound films.
        The agent-producer Paul Kohner is generally credited with the first major feature film produced in this fashion. He promoted and developed a simultaneous Spanish-language version of Universal Pictures's 1931 "Drácula": Bela Lugosi & Helen Chandler acted in the English-language version while Carlos Villarías & Lupita Tovar were in the Spanish-language version; however, the films used different casts. (Kohner married Tovar in 1932.)
        Buster Keaton made several early sound films in both English and French and-or Spanish in 1929-32, using the same director and himself, some with different casts.
        And Hal Roach made several early talkies in five languages simultaneously. The enigmatic Greta Garbo acted in two versions of "Anna Christie" (based on the Eugene O'Neill play), speaking her lines in both English [1930] and German [1931] under two different directors. Anna May Wong starred as Hai-Tang in three versions of "The Flame of Love" in 1930, with three different leading men, the casts performing in English, German & French (combined IMDb entry).
        Writer/director Preston Sturges [1898-1959] left Hollywood in the early Fifties, making his last film in Paris in both English and French. The Mexican comic actor Cantinflas made several films in both English and Spanish, hoping to match his tremendous success south of the border by breaking into mainstream American markets.
        Because of playwright Arthur Miller's politics and of the hysterical climate fostered by Joe McCarthy and the H.U.A.C. blacklist, funding for a film of his play "A View From The Bridge" was available only in Europe. Sidney Lumet directed the film during 1961 under the principle of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production, with the same cast, in both English and French {French title "Vu du Pont"}.

        Recently, major U.S. advertisers have been filming tv commercials simultaneously in English and Spanish, due to the surge in Hispanic population and the resulting increases in radio and tv ratings and in consumer spending by Hispanics. So also, simultaneous French and English commercial production in Canada.
        And since 1997, the Ringling Brothers Circus has been using a second ringmaster in the U.S., one who speaks Spanish: in some cities, alternate shows are in English or Spanish; in other cities, some shows are bilingual, with two ringmasters; but in downtown Los Angeles, at the L.A. Sports Arena, the entire week's engagement is bilingual – and very successful.

        The principle of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production is quite simple: each camera shot or sequence is repeated with dialogue spoken in a second – or even third – language. Financing such a feature or tv production is likewise fundamentally simple: Pre-sell the second-language print for one-third of the English-language budget to a Spanish- (or other-) language network or distributor, along with distribution rights for the second-language print to language-specific territories.

        All that is needed to get the ball rolling is crossover screenplay material, which is designed to attract, for example, both English-speaking Hispanic-American moviegoers and Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and Spain and across Latin America.
        The low cost of the second-language print and the cachet of American-produced product around the world makes the use of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production economically feasible in a range of locations: The European Economic Union provides any number of combinations, especially English-French – a la Lelouche and Sturges – and English-German and English-Italian, or even English-Russian, once the former Soviet Union's economy gets back on course.

        My own response to the idea of Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production has been to write the first of several screenplays whose protagonist is an English-speaking Hispanic U.S. Marine sergeant, Robert Lopez – a persona designed to be a role model for Hispanic youth. For one thing, he speaks English, with Spanish as his second language; for another, he refuses to go along with the crowd, thus taking a stand against the cliché problems of the East Los Angeles barrios: gangs and violence and drugs, that which is termed 'la vida loca' (the crazy life).
        The titles of the planned series of feature films are "El Tigrón", "Dos Gatos", "Tres Flores", "Quatro Vatos", and "El Cuento de Nando".

        For further inquiry, contact me by email or see my Contact Page for other options.

        And whether or not my "El Tigrón" script gets produced any time soon, the use by others of the Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production principles in making their films – their or your successes – will of course make it easier for me to eventually follow suit.


Copyright 2010 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved

Credit links above are to the Internet Movie Database

In 2014, the bilingual film sets as above were coded in full on the original Simultaneous Bilingual Film Production Page
of the Magic Lantern Video & Book Store – click here to go there.

back to G.E. Nordell's Scripts page || back to G.E. Nordell's homepage