Monthly Archives: June 2014

It’s Job Swap Time At Descriptive Video Works!

Over the many years we’ve been providing quality described video services we have maintained our position as one of the best in the business by not being afraid to learn and adapt. It is from our continued relationships with organizations in the blind community, producers, production companies and broadcasters that we have been able to see approaching trends and in some cases, even influence them! However, for any company wanting continued success, one cannot underestimate what can be learned from those already in one’s organization.

This past week Descriptive Video Works threw down the gauntlet for its staff to experience what each others jobs entail and the results provided us all with a fun evening of socializing but more importantly, an excellent learning experience and appreciation for what each of us brings to every audio description project that comes through our door.

DVW Narrators unite! Voice talent Arran Henn, Paula Hoffmann and Russ Froese try their hand with the writing side of the process

DVW Narrators unite! Voice talent Arran Henn, Paula Hoffmann and Russ Froese try their hand with the writing side of the process

Descriptive Video Works President and CEO, Diane Johnson, didn’t quite go as far as letting the staff run the company for a week (that’s work best left to the experts…) but she did have the team job-swap on two crucial elements of the video description process – the writing and the narration. With so many laptops spread out, our studio began to look like an Apple Store as our voice talent were tasked with writing a section of audio description for the TV show “The Liquidator“. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the studio, our writing staff took turns in the sound booth attempting to record perfect descriptive video for a segment of the TV drama series “Arctic Air“.

DVW staff Jamie Murrary and Shana Selwyn stretch their writing muscles on "The Liquidator"

DVW staff Jamie Murrary and Dianne Newman stretch their writing muscles on “The Liquidator”

For our professional voice talent faced with writing description, there were a couple of surprises. It goes without saying that significant writing talent is required in order to bring to life the visual elements of a TV program or movie when describing it for the blind but it also requires meticulous attention to detail, consistency and economy of language. This, even for a show with a lot of dialogue such as “The Liquidator”, can take a lot of time and patience and this was the biggest surprise for our narrators in their role-swapping experience.

DVW Head Writer and Trainer, Miranda Mackelworth, gets a taste of what its like in the sound booth for our professional voice talent

DVW Head Writer and Trainer, Miranda Mackelworth, exercises her vocal chords recording a segment of “Arctic Air”

Next door, our writers got to see what our voice talent go through when recording the completed described video scripts in our sound booth. The first thing one is struck by is the isolation of being in a sound proof environment and the awkwardness that comes from “performing” and having ones voice recorded. In terms of the specific process that we go through with descriptive video, our writers were particularly taken aback at the multi-tasking side of things – when recording, our narrators have both the script and the program itself in front of them and must split their vision between the two all the while speaking clearly and succinctly without missing a beat. For our writers, understanding first-hand how their written choices can affect the job of our narrators was an invaluable experience.

Following the writing and recording sessions the team re-convened and asked questions, shared their impressions and even a few trade secrets (several of our narrators sing on their way to the studio!). In attendance was Rosamund Van Leeuwen who has been blind since the age of two and who heads up Descriptive Video Works’ research and development team. Our job-swap experience was given a wonderful context as Rosamund shared her insights on the process as an end-user, the audience our work is focused on.

Rosamund van Leeuwen (right) giving our staff invaluable feedback

Rosamund van Leeuwen (right) giving our staff invaluable feedback

A great team-building exercise, our job-swap evening also highlighted for all of us at Descriptive Video Works how much time and dedication goes into describing movies and TV for the blind. Closed Captioning is mandatory on all programming whereas only a small percentage of descriptive video is mandatory. Whereas Closed Captioning can be produced at a rapid rate, descriptive video requires a very different set of skills and a lot more time and dedication. Since it takes more to produce, does this mean it should be any less important when there are more than 30 million people in North America alone who can benefit from described video? We think not. If you’d like to see more programming available for the blind, you can help by introducing to your friends to what we do at Descriptive Video Works because as we discovered with our job-swap this week, there’s a lot to gain from sharing one another’s experiences.

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Academy Originals Spotlights Described Video

This month The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the folks better known for The Oscars, launched a new documentary webseries, Academy Originals,  highlighting and celebrating various aspects of the movies and the movie making process. The first three short films in the series premiered last week and one of them is of particular interest all of us here at Descriptive Video Works as it focuses on something near and dear to us.

Here’s the film, it’s well worth your time checking it out.

Not Much To See – How The Blind Enjoy Movies does a great job of capturing what makes described video such an important service as well as what it means to the blind to be able to enjoy something most of us take for granted.  Every single one of us has a treasured memory of sitting in a darkened movie theater and delighting as larger than life images flickered before our eyes, inspiring, informing, entertaining and in many cases transporting us to far off places beyond our imagination. There are some who dismiss the need for greater accessibility in media (be it described video for the blind or closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing) as being a needless service that only caters to a minority. However, there are more than 20 million people affected by serious vision loss in the United States alone. According to the World Health Organization, in 2013 there were 39 million people worldwide who were legally blind and 246 million with significant low vision. That’s 285 million people around the world who cannot experience the magic of the movies.

During our many years providing descriptive video we have made more than 800 movies accessible to the blind. Here are just a FEW of those movies:

A Fish Called Wanda, Analyze This, Before Sunrise, Brazil, The Bridges Of Madison County, Castaway, Catch Me If You Can, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Die Hard, Do The Right Thing, Father Of The Bride, Fight Club, Forrest Gump, The Fugitive, Hard Days Night, JFK, Kramer vs Kramer, Leaving Las Vegas, Mississippi Burning, My Beautiful Laundrette, Rebel Without A Cause, Roxanne, Something About Mary, Speed, Stand By Me, The Color Purple, The French Connection, The Full Monty, The Thing, The Client, Twelve Angry Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, White Christmas, X-Men, Zulu…

…and many, many more!

All of these movies are generally regarded as classics in their genre and it has been both a delight and an extremely rewarding challenge for us to be able to bring these films to life for those with low vision. The power of the image, especially the moving image, has left an indelible mark on our culture over the past 100 years and nobody should be denied access to it especially when as a society we have the means to ensure that nobody is excluded. Through quality writing, voice recording and audio mixing  we remain committed to providing the very best audio description in the business. Shockingly, we still encounter people on a daily basis who are completely unaware of video description. Their reaction is much like what Melissa Hudson of says in Not Much To See – “Blind people don’t go to the movies!” As such, we also remain committed to spreading the word concerning the importance of descriptive video. We encourage you to do the same. Share, Like, Retweet, etc. Inform, illuminate and help us make a difference.

It is our hope that the day will come when all movies and television includes described video as standard. We applaud the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for launching their new online series with an episode that highlights described video services and its importance to the blind. The magic of the movies will continue to captivate the world, lets all do what we can to ensure that nobody is left out from experiencing that magic.

Crowd watching a movie

You can check out the other Academy Originals webseries episodes via their youtube channel here. Future episodes will be featuring Academy members such as writer-director Paul Haggis, producer Kathleen Kennedy and filmmaker Ava Duvernay.

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Filed under Described Shows, Industry News, Vision Impairment