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Descriptive Video Works goes to Hogwarts!

With the wave of a wand, the final two movies in the beloved Harry Potter series will air with described video during this holiday season. Canada’s CTV network will telecast “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” on Tuesday, December 30th at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT), followed by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” on New Year’s Eve, Wednesday,. December 31st, also at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

As a fan of the Harry Potter movies, as well as fantasy and magic, our descriptive video writer, Liz, would have loved to have Harry’s help. “The Harry Potter movies were wonderfully interesting, exciting, and rewarding to describe,” says Liz.

Liz has been part of the Descriptive Video Works writing team for the past six years, and loves the challenges of movies like the Harry Potter series. “For those who know the well-loved saga, my goal was the treat the story line, characters, and setting as familiar, drawing attention to details that create continuity with past adventures,” she says.

“I also wanted to describe the unusual and fantastic places, people and things in the movies, so that those who are unfamiliar with them would be able to envision how amazing and spectacular a world it is,” says Liz. With such a visually-oriented movie, Liz worked to create a highly-detailed level of descriptions that will bring the movies to life for blind and partially sighted viewers.

Our work on these two blockbuster movies builds on DVW’s 12-year long partnership with CTV and Bell Media, which includes description of the network’s flagship weekly news series, W5. Diane Johnson, CEO & President, Descriptive Video Works, says “We are pleased to provide the audio description on such popular movies. Our focus groups tell us that these are the types of shows that the blind and low vision audience is grateful to have available.”

And to all of the wizards and muggles out there, the team at DVW wishes all the very best to our clients, friends, and their families, over this holiday season!


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Descriptive Video Works CEO Diane Johnson was named a Finalist in the Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Canada category in the 11th annual Stevie® Awards for Women in Business, and will ultimately be a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Stevie Award winner in the program.

The Stevie Awards for Women in Business honor women executives, entrepreneurs, employees and the companies they run – worldwide. The Stevie Awards have been hailed as the world’s premier business awards.

Gold, Silver and Bronze Stevie Award winners will be announced during a gala event at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York on Friday, November 14. Nominated women executives and entrepreneurs from the U.S.A and several other countries are expected to attend.   The event will be broadcast live on radio in the U.S.A. (and simulcast worldwide) by Biz Talk Radio and taped for a later television broadcast.

“Every year we receive the most amazing and inspiring stories of achievement from women-owned and –run organizations around the world,” said Michael Gallagher, founder and president of the Stevie Awards. “The first-round judges have told us how delighted they are with this year’s field of Finalists. We’re looking forward to recognizing them in New York on November 14.”

Details about the Stevie Awards for Women in Business and the list of Finalists in all categories are available at


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Descriptive Video Works Makes Case For DV At CRTC Hearings


This past week, Diane Johnson, CEO and President of Descriptive Video Works, took part in the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission – the administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications) hearings discussing the future of Canadian television. Dubbed Let’s Talk TV the hearings gave Diane, who was joined by Shawn Marsolais, founder of Blind Beginnings, the chance to make the case regarding the importance of described television.

Following a submission process, Diane and Shawn were among the lucky few to be invited to the discussions pertaining to audio description (other speakers included AMI – Accessible Media Inc.).  “Over and over again I am asked why are not more programs described,” Diane said prior to Let’s Talk TV. “I don’t understand why the current mandate is only four hours a week for described video on TV, and 100% for closed captioning. I don’t understand why the blind and partially sighted are denied equal access to information and entertainment”.

During the allotted ten minute session, Diane gave the CRTC a background of her experiences with Descriptive Video Works and the kind of services the company offers, many of which are practices that we have pioneered such as Live Video Description. Also addressed were emerging worldwide trends that show availability of described video increasing, blind audiences becoming harder to ignore and how Canada has the opportunity to be a leader in the field. As a founding member of the Canadian Described Video Broadcast Committee, Diane expressed the importance of Best Practices and how these standards only have value if everyone follows them.

Shawn said to the members of the CRTC panel, “Please imagine not being able to see. We don’t know what our peers are wearing or doing leaving us at a disadvantage socially. It is difficult to make friends when can’t talk about sports, TV programs, fashion, or when you miss the action or joke because it was something visual. DV fills in these gaps”. She went on to say, “Being able to talk knowledgeably with sighted people about these things demonstrates that I am not that different from them, I just can’t see”.

Diane capped off their time speaking with the CRTC by saying, “Both entertainment and information are received via television, lack of access is socially isolating. The blind and partially sighted community deserves the same access to television as enjoyed by all viewers. Descriptive video directly contributes to a higher quality of life. We respectfully request a mandate that requires 100% described video on Canadian television programming”.

Diane and Shawn then answered questions from Stephen Simpson, CRTC Commissioner, British Columbia and Yukon who was particularly interested in Live DV and the associated costs of DV and how these costs may be reduced for broadcasters.


To watch Diane and Shawn’s full presentation to the CRTC as well as how they responded to Commissioner Simpson’s questions, CLICK HERE and jump ahead to 135:00.

It is our hope that the CRTC listens to not just Diane and Shawn’s feedback, but the feedback from the entire blind and partially sighted community across the country, a group of one million plus Canadians that is expected to increase significantly over the coming years as the baby boomers retire. The blind community is tired of being mostly ignored – a fact supported by a complete lack of media coverage during the video description portion of the CRTC hearings. Though Let’s Talk TV is now over, we can all do our part to continue pushing for increased DV. Let’s not let the importance of equality for all be overshadowed by focus on BDUs (Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings), pick ‘n pay contracts and Netflix. Let’s continue to talk TV and ensure that nobody is left out of the discussion.

For a full breakdown of the topics covered by the Let’s Talk TV CRTC hearings, CLICK HERE – Sections 20 and 21 pertain to Described Video and Media Accessibility.

We also encourage you to check out the amazing work being done in the community by Shawn and her team at Blind Beginnings.


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Audio Description Brings “The Host” To Life For Blind Audiences

Our wonderful working relationship with the folks at Open Road Films continues this month with The Host (Official Site for the movie here) – An excellent science-fiction film that will be coming to movie theaters across North America on Friday, March 29, 2013.


If The Host sounds familiar to you it’s probably because the movie is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Stephanie Meyer, the writer behind the smash-hit Twilight books which have also been turned into incredibly successful movies. We are very proud to have provided described video for the film making it accessible to more than 30 million blind and vision-impaired people across North America.

Writing video description is always a challenge but it is especially so when the TV show or feature film is of a fantasy or science-fiction nature. There are often strange gadgets and creatures to be described and sometimes even entire alien worlds that we must help our non-sighted viewers visualize. In painting vivid but succinct pictures through our descriptions we strive to transport our blind audience members to the world of the story in a way that is as close to the experience as it would be for a sighted audience member.

The Host is set in a near future Earth that has been invaded by a technologically advanced alien race that lives inside humans, turning us into host organisms. The alien parasites known as “souls” consume the memories and personalities of their host organisms but some humans manage to fight back – such is the case with the main character in the story, Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who refuses to fade away and who survives as an inner voice within the alien soul inhabiting her body. From a video description standpoint this presented a unique challenge as we had to ensure that the distinction between human characters and the alien soul inside them remained clear throughout.


Central to The Host, much like the Twilight saga, is a teen love story and this meant the video description and the voicing of the description also needed to maintain a quality of sensitivity that was in-keeping with the central themes of the film. For those of you who might be put off by science-fiction or teen romance, we urge you to go and check out the film – directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show, In Time), the film has a surprising level of depth and beauty to it.

We are very proud of our work describing The Host and whether you are a sighted or a non-sighted audience member, it is well worth your time and money. If you attend a screening of the film with the described audio track, do let us know what you think!

Watch the trailer:

Buy the book the film is adapted from here.

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DVW Brings Live Audio Description To The Canadian Screen Awards

Last night in Toronto, talent throughout the Canadian film and television industry came together to celebrate excellence at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards. The show was broadcast live on CBC and the Descriptive Video Works team was there bringing Live Audio Description to the proceedings.


President and CEO of Descriptive Video Works, Diane Johnson, says “We were thrilled that CBC and AMI (Accessible Media Inc.) approached Descriptive Video Works exclusively to do the live description of such an important awards ceremony.  Making the show accessible to everyone, not just the sighted viewer, but everyone with vision impairment or vision loss was a challenge we were delighted to take on. We have worked for both companies for many years and it was an honour to be the company they reached out to.”

The Descriptive Video Works live audio description team have previously made the Royal Wedding accessible and provide live audio description to Discovery Channel Canada’s “Daily Planet” show. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for making us proud with their skilled description of events throughout the show.


The Canadian Screen Awards are the re-imagined Genie and Gemini awards complete with a brand new sleek and elegant statuette honouring Canada’s outstanding achievements on screens everywhere: in the cinema, on TV screens or on your laptop. The new statue, with both screens symbolizing arms up in victory, is a nod to both the Genie and Gemini images.

Hosting the awards show with typical panache, was comedy genius Martin Short. Check out his fantastic opening song here.

For a complete rundown of who won what at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards click here.

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Descriptive Video Works Brings Audio Description To Soderbergh’s Final Film, “Side Effects”


There is always extra job satisfaction for our team at Descriptive Video Works when we get to provide audio description for a brand new feature film about to open in theaters worldwide. However, when it’s the latest film from an ‘A’ List director like Steven Soderbergh, there is an additional level of pride not to mention pressure!

In the case of the soon to be released movie Side Effectsthere was also a little melancholia shading the experience which we are sure many filmgoers around the world will experience too. The reason for this melancholia?  Soderbergh recently announced he is retiring from filmmaking and Side Effects will be his final theatrically released film.


Soderbergh’s career spans 26 films and 23 years. It began with Sex, Lies & Videotape which became the poster child for a new revolution in the Independent film world, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and in 2006 was added to the Library of Congress ‘ National Film Registry as film that was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

In the years following his debut feature film, Soderbergh went on to build himself a career that is amongst the most diverse of any film director and includes such critical and commercial successes as Out Of SightThe LimeyErin BrockovichTrafficOcean’s ElevenThe Good GermanThe Informant!Contagion and Magic Mike.

Side Effects, like many of Soderbergh’s past films, is impossible to pigeon-hole in one specific genre – It is a drama, a mystery thriller, a complex character study and a completely unpredictable and wholly original movie experience. The film tells the story of a psychiatrist (Jude Law) who prescribes an experimental drug to one of his patients (Rooney Mara) who is struggling with acute anxiety disorder following the release of her husband (Channing Tatum) from prison. Soon after taking the drug, the psychiatrist’s patient begins to experience some strange side effects… To say any more than that would spoil a terrific film that keeps you guessing all the way!

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

Providing audio description for a film like Side Effects that has a complex mystery story at its core and keeps the audience guessing right up until the closing credits, makes for an interesting challenge. Throughout the story there are important clues that must be highlighted in the audio description but at the same time must be highlighted without drawing attention to themselves and giving too much away. For our Describers and Narrators the entire process is all about balance.

We were honored when our friends at Open Road Films gave us the opportunity to make Side Effects accessible to blind audiences and especially proud to be trusted with bringing to life Steven Soderbergh’s final film. Soderbergh says that although he won’t be directing for the cinema any more, he does still plan on directing theater and says he would consider a TV series if something great were to come along. Whatever he does next, we’re sure it will be unique and well-worth our time.

Side Effects will be released in theaters across North America on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

To read more about Steven Soderbergh, his career and his reasons for retiring from directing movies, check out this excellent in-depth interview by Mary Kaye Schilling here.

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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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