Monthly Archives: September 2012

Descriptive Video Works takes on a Titanic task!

All of us at Descriptive Video Works are proud to be working with CBC and providing the audio description for their new TV series Titanic: Blood & Steel.

Now before you exclaim, “What?! Yet another Titanic story?!” this particular story is very different than those seen previously involving an iceberg and the sinking of what is arguably the most famous ship in the world.

Titanic: Blood & Steel tells a story most will not know very much about – namely the events surrounding the construction of the ship. Though there are a number of fictional characters included for the sake of great television drama, the show is still a history buffs dream.  It features such historical figures as JP Morgan (played by Sex and the City hunk, Chris Noth), Joseph Bruce Ismay (Gray O’Brien), the former Chairman of White Star Lines, survivor of the the Titanic sinking and once named “the most cowardly man alive” and William James Pirrie (Derek Jacobi), a Canadian who became one of the most highly regarded shipbuilders of the time.

We take great pride in the work we do providing audio descriptions for television and movies and a show such as Titanic: Blood & Steel provides us with a terrific platform to showcase the quality of our work. We are among the top companies that deliver descriptive video services and our level of excellence comes from over a decade of experience in the industry, a close working relationship with our vision impaired audience and our attention to detail in the descriptive writing, narration recording and final audio mix.

In the case of Titanic: Blood & Steel there are a number of descriptive challenges. Firstly, the show has a large cast of characters, all of whom must be correctly identified in order to assist our vision impaired viewers in following the story. Secondly, there are many period details that are an intrinsic element of the world of the story from settings (various shipyards, poverty-stricken streets as well as grand, elegant mansions), costumes and props.  In order to describe these details our writers go to great lengths to ensure accuracy. For example, in one scene from the show two characters take a walk in a park passing by an ornate structure and from a Google image search our writers were able to identify it specifically as the Royal Belfast Botanical Gardens.

Finally, a central element of the show is the construction of the Titanic herself. In order to describe these details we try to avoid generic terms and instead use the correct nautical terms. An audio description that describes specific elements (such as the keel, the bulkhead, the starboard-side hull, etc.) complements the efforts made by the show’s filmmakers and, more importantly, adds to the richness of the experience for our vision impaired audience.

This is what the actual construction site looked like.

And this is how the Titanic: Blood & Steel crew were able to recreate it with amazing set design and special effects from Windmill Lane VFX. Lots of details to be described!

With a wonderful cast led by Kevin Zegers, the aforementioned Derek JacobiNeve CampbellOphelia Lovibond as well as Italian stars Alessandra Mastronardi and Massimo Ghini, Titanic: Blood & Steel offers something for everyone. Set in Belfast in 1909 there was a lot happening at this point in history: The beginnings of workers fighting for their rights and the establishment of Trade Unions, the rise of of The Women’s Suffrage movement, the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army. All of this in addition to Class struggles and religious intolerance between the predominantly poor, Catholic, work force and their wealthy, Protestant masters. For the romantics among you the show even has several cross-class love stories, something we all come to expect from such epically sumptuous, big-budget period TV series.

All of us at Descriptive Video Works are grateful to the filmmakers and to CBC for providing us with such wonderful material to make accessible to the vision impaired.

Neve Campbell as Joanne Yeagher, Chris Noth as JP Morgan and Kevin Zegers as Dr. Mark Muir

Catch the big premiere on CBC at 9pm on Wednesday, September 19th.

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ZULU: Making A Classic Accessible

A Guest Blog by Descriptive Video Works writer/describer Neil Every

In my role as a writer/describer with Descriptive Video Works I’ve had the opportunity to help make a staggering variety of shows accessible to the blind and vision-impaired. Of these shows, the feature length movies are often the most challenging. However, when a movie comes along that is regarded as a classic, the challenge becomes so much more than meeting the delivery deadline and making it accessible to the vision impaired – it becomes a responsibility to do it right and honor the respect the movie has achieved with audiences worldwide.

Released in 1964, Zulu depicts the infamous Battle of Rorke’s Drift when British soldiers suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of thousands of Zulu warriors in January 1879. In an historical context, The Battle of Rorke’s Drift can be considered the British equivalent of The Alamo or The Battle of Little Bighorn.

As a film, Zulu is up there with the best historical war movies ever made – it’s truly cinema on an epic scale. Considering the movie was made more than 50 years ago, well before the anti-war movement of a Post-Vietnam era world, one might expect the film to revel in colonialism, patriotism and the glorification and honor of battle but the film has a surprising perspective on the matter for the time. Even the most patriotic and dutiful of characters, Lt. Bromhead (played by a young Michael Caine in one of his first starring roles) is devastated at the senseless loss of life come the end of the movie.

Michael Caine as Lt. Bromhead cradles Stanley Baker as Lt. Chard

Unlike many Westerns of yesteryear, where the antagonistic Natives are portrayed as stereotypical, one-dimensional violent savages, writer-director Cy Endfield gives the Zulus an air of mystery, majesty and empathy and he does it with barely a single line of dialogue.

Preserving the intent of the filmmakers and communicating the story, its tone and sweep in as truthful a manner as possible quickly became apparent to me in describing the film. The process began with a viewing of the film from start to finish, taking notes as I went. The first challenge is always identifying each of the characters. With modern films there is usually a plethora of actor details to be found online through the IMDB (International Movie Data Base) and Google image search. Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to track down a copy of the screenplay. However, when a film is decades old as was the case with Zulu, it’s not so easy. There were few pictures identifying the characters other than the main stars and the screenplay has never been made public. Making matters worse in this case was the fact that 99% of the cast were all wearing red and white British Army uniforms and many had period mustaches. Patience and perseverance are the order of the day.

Uniforms and facial hair. Stanley Baker as Lt. Chard and Nigel Greene as Color Sgt. Bourne

What makes Zulu really stand out is the depiction of the battle that forms the centerpiece of the movie. The battle is a masterclass in action directing with a slow building of tension that increases inexorably until the Zulus finally attack. From this point on it is a war of attrition that keeps the viewer engaged and wondering how on earth any of the characters will survive the situation. Indeed, the battle scenes are so well staged that many contemporary filmmakers have found inspiration in them. One only has to look at Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (which even re-purposed the Zulu chant in the opening Roman Legion battle) or Peter Jackson’s Battle of Helms Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to see homages aplenty.

Capturing the pacing, intensity, tone and atmosphere of the battle scenes was a unique challenge in describing Zulu. When describing action sequences, one strives to paint as vivid and authentic a picture as possible whilst still timing the description so that various elements line up with the appropriate sound effects.

For example the description for one sequence was:

His men returning fire, Chard hunkers down, revolver clutched in one hand as he slowly moves along the edge of the barricade. He fires off a shot.

The word “fires” was timed to land at the point in the action when the viewer hears the sound of the revolver firing.

Following five days of work, the descriptive script for Zulu was completed. Totaling 18 pages and including 356 separate events for a sum of 8,324 words our voice talent and post production wizards at the studio were certainly kept busy bringing it all together and completing the movie in time for delivery!

Here’s a sample sequence of the finished audio described film:

Zulu is well worth the moniker of “Classic Movie” and is well worth your time. The audio described version of the film will be airing as part of “Saturday Night At The Movies” on TVO at 8pm on September 8. I hope our hard work making Zulu accessible helps a new audience of vision impaired viewers re-discover the film.

In addition to working as a describer at Descriptive Video Works, Neil Every is an accomplished Writer, Director and Story Consultant. Check out his website here or visit his blog here.

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