Tag Archives: Descriptive Video Works

Descriptive Video Works Visits A Strange Empire

Over the years Descriptive Video Works has provided its fair share of described video for period dramas, from Anne of Green Gables and The Road To Avonlea to Titanic: Blood and SteelBringing to life these richly realized past eras is always a challenging but rewarding endeavor for our describers and narrators and CBCs new 9-part feminist Western drama series, Strange Empire is no exception.


Set in 1869 Alberta, Strange Empire centers on a group of once-helpless women in a small frontier camp who are forced to take control of their situation when the men are mysteriously murdered. For CBC, the show is an attempt to stand shoulder to shoulder with the darker in tone shows more common to premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. Featuring brothels, sex and violence and morally ambiguous characters, Strange Empire is a long way from more familiar CBC drama programming such as Heartland and Murdoch Mysteries that’s for sure!

Capturing the richly produced period details and dusty cinematography of the series is an important priority for our descriptive video writer, Joel, but equally challenging has been the aspects of the show that are less obvious. Joel says, “Perhaps the most intriguing and challenging aspect of Strange Empire from an audio description perspective is the way in which the creators have tried to suggest the supernatural or otherworldly through the use of religious imagery, symbolism, or other visual imagery. Obviously, I don’t want to play spoiler here, so let’s just say there’s a lot of subtle hints and allusions that can be tricky to convey.”

Though it makes our job at Descriptive Video Works more challenging, we are delighted that CBC are not only willing to take on more complex material with shows such as Strange Empire and The Honorable Woman (read about our work on that show here) but that they are keen to make these terrific TV dramas accessible to the blind and partially sighted. Strange Empire is Orange Is The New Black meets Deadwood, a fascinating female dystopia and we’re sure it will generate its fair share of ‘water-cooler talk’. By commissioning us to provide described video, CBC has ensured that more than a million blind people across Canada can now contribute to those discussions about the show.

Starring Melissa Farman, Tattiawna Jones, Cara Gee and Aaron Poole, and created by Laurie Finstad-KnizhnikStrange Empire airs on Mondays on CBC at 9pm.



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Descriptive Video Works on The Simi Sara Show with Shawn Marsolais of Blind Beginnings


Recently, Diane Johnson, Descriptive Video Works President and CEO was a guest on The Simi Sara Show on Vancouver radio station CKNW. Joining Diane was Blind Beginnings founder and Paralympian, Shawn Marsolais.

In the interview, Diane and Shawn talk about the importance of making television and movies accessible to the blind, the work that we do at Descriptive Video Works and the need to raise awareness of the massive non-sighted audience that is being ignored by TV networks, movie studios and broadcasters around the world.

Here’s the interview:


We’d like to extend our thanks to Simi Sara and CKNW for having us on the show and highlighting the need for greater media accessibility and described video services. The Simi Sara Show can be found on CKNW AM980 Monday to Friday from noon to 3pm.

About Blind Beginnings

Founded by in 2008, Blind Beginnings offer British Columbia children and youth who are visually impaired opportunities to develop skills, confidence and independence. A family-centered organisation, Blind Beginnings promotes a ‘no limits’ philosophy which challenges pervasive misconceptions about blindness by demonstrating that there is no limit to what children and youth who blind or visually impaired can accomplish.

Here’s a terrific video about the organisation:


As founder of Blind Beginnings, Shawn Marsolais truly embodies the ‘no limits’ philosophy of the organization. Born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare eye condition that caused her vision to deteriorate through her childhood, Shawn has had less than two percent of her vision since the age of 18 but this has not stopped her from leading an exceptionally active life. A former competitive swimmer who still holds three Canadian records, Shawn represented Canada at the Paralympic Games in Athens in tandem cycling and has won several medals in Goalball, a team sport designed specifically for blind athletes. Over the years she has worked for CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), the Western Association for Persons With Vision Impairment, Canadian Blind Sports Association & Recreation Association and Access for Sight Impaired Consumers.

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Crossing Lines takes Descriptive Video to Europe

Crossing Lines, is a unique, global action/crime series we encourage you to check out and when it premieres June 23, as part of NBC’s summer line up of new programming. Descriptive Video Works was delighted when Tandem Communications  (who we previously worked with on the series Titanic: Blood & Steelasked to provide the audio description for all 10 episodes of the thrilling new series.


Crossing Lines follows a diverse, skilled team of investigators as they track down and attempt to bring to justice a variety of despicable criminals. What makes this fresh and so different from other similar tv show concepts is the stunning backdrop international backdrop.

In a world increasingly driven by global trade and economics, borders between countries have vanished, especially in Europe. With fewer restrictions for travelers and those doing business in the international marketplace, there have been many benefits but it has also brought with it a serious increase in international crime. Compounding the issue are police and investigative authorities that have been slow to adapt to the new world and who lack the ability to easily share information with one another. In Crossing Lines Major Louis Daniel, empowered by the International Criminal Court, is tasked with setting up a special crime unit to investigate cross-border criminals and bring them to justice. Aiding Major Daniel Louis are a team of investigators from across Europe and beyond. All of them have their own unique ways of doing things, their own cultural idiosyncrasies and their own troubled pasts and they must put all of these things aside as they find a way to work together.

For Descriptive Video Works describing Crossing Lines became a journey through a multitude of gorgeous European locales stretching from the canals of Amsterdam to the sun, sea and sand of the French Riviera. With all our shows we try very hard to capture the look and feel of the world the story is set in and Crossing Lines was no different. In this particular case, we went to great to lengths to ensure we were accurately describing the various European locales, vehicles, costumes and props and paying special attention to correct pronunciation of the many European character names in the show. For us, it is not just about ensuring the audience understands what is happening in the story but about honoring the authenticity of the show and the intentions of the filmmakers.


Crossing Lines  comes from executive producer/writer Edward Allen Bernero (Criminal Minds, Third Watch) and Rola Bauer (Pillars of the Earth, World Without End) and Jonas Bauer (Impact, The Company). The series features a terrific cast of international names including William Fichtner (Prison Break, The Dark Knight and soon to be seen this summer in both Elysium and The Lone Ranger), French actor/singer Marc Lavoine (The Good Thief), Italian star Gabriella Pession (Capri), French actress Moon Dailly (OSS 17 – Lost In Rio), Irish actor Richard Flood (Titanic: Blood & Steel), German actor Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones) and Canadian icon Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, Six Degrees of Separation, Ordinary People). The series is produced by Tandem Communications in association with Bernero Productions in co-production with TF1 Production in association with Sony Pictures Television Networks.

For us at Descriptive Video Works it was refreshing for us to see such a well-trodden genre take creative risks in a new setting with a wonderful and talented international cast. The show premieres on NBC in a 2-hour special on Sunday, June 23 at 9/8c. It will also air on CBC in Canada as part of their Fall line up.

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Descriptive Video Works Brings a Silent Classic To Life


This month marks another historic first for Descriptive Video Works as we were tasked with providing audio description for the classic Charlie Chaplin film The Gold Rush. The challenge? Describing a film that had zero dialogue and sound effects, the only audio being the music track!

Released in 1925, The Gold Rush tells the tale of Chaplin’s most iconic character, The Tramp, as he travels to the Yukon in search of gold. The victim of bad weather, The Tramp ends up stranded in a small log cabin with a burly prospector named Big Jim and escaped convict Black Larsen. Eventually, The Tramp finds himself in a gold rush town and gets a job taking care of another prospector’s cabin where he falls for a lonely saloon girl whom he mistakenly thinks is also in love with him.

Chaplin004 copy.tif

Written, produced, directed and starring Chaplin, The Gold Rush was hugely successful around the world and is the fifth highest grossing silent movie of all time. At the time of its release and in interviews over the years, Chaplin said that of all his films, The Gold Rush was the one he most wanted to be remembered for.

We are proud of the work we do on every project that comes to us at Descriptive Video Works. We strive for excellence no matter what show we are working on, but when a much-loved classic such as The Gold Rush comes in the door we all feel the pressure to raise the bar even further.

Charlie Chaplin in the Shoe-Eating Scene from .

The task of writing the audio description script for The Gold Rush became the responsibility of Describer, Shaindle Minuk who said, “It’s not too different from describing any other type of movie… Just a lot more of it! You have to describe literally everything that happens, with no dialogue or even sound effects to help out”. Other than the sheer volume of described video needing to be written Shaindle said that in terms of The Gold Rush “The biggest challenge going in was the fact that Charlie Chaplin is a film legend and getting across his humor and charm in written description was pretty intimidating for me. He had such great body language and was the forerunner for so many visual gags that have become commonplace in film, that describing it was really fun but also kind of difficult. Chaplin’s appeal is entirely visual and I was delighted to be able to allow the sight impaired viewer to enjoy his charm and appeal in my description.”

Here’s a short sample of Shaindle’s work on The Gold Rush:

Though it’s a lot more work than the usual movie, it brings us great pride to be able to make classics like The Gold Rush accessible to the blind and vision impaired.

An accomplished artist and writer, Shaindle and her husband, Dave, write and produce their own original comics which can be found here.

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Descriptive Video Works Dines In The Dark

This week the Descriptive Video Works team hit the town for an adventure that was part celebration of all our accomplishments in the past year and part field trip. We spent the evening at Dark Table, a fabulous new dining experience that just opened its doors to the public in Vancouver, B.C.

Dark Table invites its patrons to embrace an extremely unique experience as they dine in the dark, giving them a taste not just of their delectable menu but also what it’s like to be blind. Owned by Moe Alameddine, founder of O.Noir, Canada’s only blind dining restaurants in Montreal and Toronto, Dark Table recently opened its doors to the public in what was formerly “Quattro On Fourth” restaurant in Kitsilano.

When arriving at the restaurant, guests make their menu selections outside and are then welcomed and escorted inside by a blind server. It’s an exercise in trust as one slowly shuffles forward into pitch darkness towards ones table. Once seated, one is immediately struck by how vulnerable one feels when lacking sight. We really do take for granted something as simple as sitting at a table and eating a meal.

Lazare, our attentive server for the evening who has been blind since age 9, was certainly kept busy, far more so than a server would be required to be at any other restaurant. In addition to bringing us our food, re-filling drinks etc., he was also required to patiently guide each of us through such normally simple tasks as finding a bread bun in a basket, exchanging empty plates between courses and even escorting us safely to the washroom and back. Yes, even the washrooms are dark!

It’s a strange experience at first. Upon sitting at the table one is immediately aware of how as sighted people we take simple spatial elements for granted, such as where the table is in relation to one’s chair, where the cutlery is, what else may or may not be on the table. One of the first challenges was buttering a bread roll – many of us spread more butter on our thumbs than on the bread on our first attempt!

As time passed our active senses of smell, touch, hearing and taste were slowly forced into the forefront. The smell of the food arriving at the table wafted closer until Lazare’s soft, reassuring voice reached out from the darkness nearby and directed our hands to find the edges of the plate. Using a knife and fork is an exceptionally odd experience in complete darkness. One is forced to use one’s fingertips to navigate around one’s plate with every bite becoming a surprise of flavor not to mention size of morsel – You never quite know whether you have a tiny chunk of potato, a deliciously grilled vegetable or a large piece of succulent chicken breast on the end of your fork.

For the Descriptive Video Works team it was great to get together and celebrate our recent achievements but most of all, by experiencing Dark Table, we were all reminded of why it is so important that we all continue to do what we do making television and movies accessible to the blind and vision impaired. Though we were only in darkness for a couple of hours it was a humbling experience that none of us will soon forget.

Dark Table is open 7 days a week (5.15pm-10pm Sunday to Thursday with two sittings on Friday and Saturday at 5.45pm and 8.45pm) and is located at 2611 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver. Call 604-739-3275 to make a reservation.

Team DVW before embarking on their Dark Table adventure

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ITU Focus Group on Audio Visual Media Accessibility

Last week Descriptive Video Works President and CEO, Diane Johnson, attended the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Focus Group on Audio Visual Media Accessibility which was held in Toronto, Canada.

ITU is the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technology and is committed to connecting  all the world’s people wherever they live and whatever their means. Conferences and focus groups are held all around the world throughout the year.

As an industry leader in Canada it was important that Descriptive Video Works attend the conference in Toronto especially in regards to sharing with the rest of the world our experience in describing Live Television broadcasts. We are extremely proud to be the first company in the world to offer the service and the only company offering training for news anchors and reporters that provides guidance in how to make their content more accessible. The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for Descriptive Video Works to stress the importance of, as Diane said, “thinking outside of the regular Described Video TV box”.

“The conference was a great opportunity for us to share with international attendees our descriptive video guidelines that we have developed over the last decade in conjunction with the visually impaired audience in Canada. It is so important to ensure that we are always meeting the needs of the end user. These guidelines, together with the high level of skill and craft that we demand from all of our writers and narrators are what makes Descriptive Video Works stand out in a rapidly growing market”.

Diane also stressed the importance of maintaining high quality described video, “Poor description that misses the mark not only alienates the audience already tuned in but makes it very difficult to attract a new audience. Another challenging aspect in growing the service in all countries around the world is how to get governments to take notice and assist in getting the word out to the blind and vision impaired organizations and communities”.

Highlighting this need to grow awareness for descriptive video services are the statistics from a recent awareness campaign launched in the United Kingdom. Prior to the campaign, only 37% of the general public and 43% of the visually impaired had knowledge of audio description services compared to 60% of the general public and 72% of the visually impaired following completion of the public awareness campaign.

The ITU conferences around the world are important in developing future standard guidelines and best practices for audio description services on an international level. “One example of how we are working together in Canada, are the listings that AMI (Accessible Media Inc.) have put together of all programming on all stations that is described. Instead of looking at it as competition, they see the value of sharing this valuable listing service”.

“The ITU conferences are a great way to get people around the world with the same goals to share their knowledge, their challenges and their aspirations regarding where we can all take descriptive video in the future. Though it was felt by the entire group that we are just at the beginning stages, it is clear that we are sure to see huge growth in audio description in the next few years with levels approaching the current reach of Closed Captioning services. This underlines the importance of continued cooperation, sharing of ideas, increased awareness and the maintaining of high quality DV”.

Descriptive Video Works will continue to be “thinking outside of the DV box” as we take the next steps into what is an incredibly exciting time in the audio description world!

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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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