Posts Tagged ‘Narration’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Three – Moving Beyond Just US

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral.
– >Elaine Lillian Joseph

Today we’re going beyond the US border to hear from two international describers. Rebecca Singh of Superior Description Services in Canada. A square yellow logo reads Superior Description Services in black capitals under a black dot containing a sequence of vertical yellow lines.
And if that’s not international enough for you here in the states we have Elaine Lillian Joseph from the United Kingdom.

We hear a bit about their AD origin story or how they came to description, the importance of centering Blind people in the process and more on guidelines for describing race, color or ethnicity.

And by the way, who in the world is neutral? Just US? Hmm!

Maybe not the final episode in the Flipping the Script series, but it is the last of 2020!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Music Begins – A smooth, funky mid tempo Hip Hop beat

TR:

What’s good Reid My Mind Radio Family!

It’s me, your brother Thomas Reid. I hope you’re doing well.

Me? Why thank you for asking. I am doing well.

Today, we’re bringing you part three of the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

You know, this was never actually supposed to be a series. I originally planned for one episode but it was quickly evident that several people had something to share on the subject.

It got me thinking about Audio Description in two categories.
First, mainstream.

These are the writers and narrators creating AD for major television and film projects.

Then you have the independents – these consist of a varying degree of theater, live performance, museum and other sorts of description work.

Flipping the Script is all about promoting different voices, alternative views and Audio Description topics that are often overlooked.

As we’ve seen, this applies to both mainstream and independent.

I can’t say for sure this is the end of the Flipping the Script series but I can say it’s the last for 2020.

You know, just when I think I’m done with the topic…

Audio: “… they keep pulling me back in” Al Pacino in Godfather Part 3

Audio: “And here we go!” Slick Rick, A Children’s Story

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro
Rebecca:

My name is Rebecca Singh I am an Audio Describer also a performer. I’m the owner of Superior Description Services which is an Audio Description service which consults with the Blind and partially sighted community one hundred percent of the time. I am a cisgender woman of color and I live in Toronto Canada with my young family.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

How’d you get involved with Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I got involved with Audio Description through the theater actually. I have been a performer for a very long time and just over ten years ago I saw an audition posting for this thing I’d never really heard about, Audio Description and it was a class that I had to audition to get into. I got the part. Started training, that led to something of a building up of the industry here in Toronto.

— Music Begins – A dance track with a driving beat!

TR:

That’s right Y’all, in this third part of Flipping the Script on Audio Description we’re going international!

What’s that? Canada’s right there to the north? Ok, let’s cross the Atlantic.

Audio: Airplane in flight.

Elaine:

My name is Elaine Lillian Joseph. I’m from a city called Birmingham which is the second biggest city in the U.K. I’m a proud Birmie! I’m a Black woman. I’ve just got my hair done. I’ve got long light brown extensions with cane row on top. I’m wearing a floral long just below the knee length dress. I’m sitting in my friend’s bedroom because I’m currently quarantining with my friend’s family. I’ve been doing AD for just under two years. I work for ITV which is our second biggest channel after the BBC. I’m also a freelance Subtitler so I do subtitles for Hard of Hearing as well. A lot of accessibility going on.

TR:

Subtitling or what we know here in the states as Captioning was Elaine’s gateway to Audio Description.

A fan of film and television, she studied English and German in college — oh my bad, University

Elaine:

It always seemed like a natural thing to want to go into media. Finding out that there was this whole kind of world of accessibility and it’s not just, it’s not just transcription I guess. Not that there’s anything wrong with transcription but that you can be a bit creative with it. Doing subtitles for Hard of Hearing for example, doing a Horror film and working out how to describe the sound of of an alien creature and what words am I going to use to do that. It seemed like a natural transition from that to also thinking about how to describe things in general.

TR:

Prior to working at ITV, Elaine was Subtitling at another firm, BTI. it just so happened to be the employer of an influential colleague.,

Elaine:

Veronica Hicks, who kind of really kick started AD in the U.K., certainly. She used to sit directly behind me and she has this velvety plummy (chuckles) voice. I was sitting subtitling and thinking what is it that she does because it sounds fascinating.

TR:

Elaine asked around and learned more about Audio Description. Eventually she left BTI.

Elaine:

Everybody at my company knew that I really really wanted to do it. A position came up; they kind of said go for it! I tested and I got the job and I’ve been very very happy ever since.

TR:

Such an important thing to keep in mind — let people know you’re interested.

Today, Elaine has written AD for projects including a remake of Roswell. She’s been trained on narration so we can expect to hear her post pandemic. She also narrates live performances.

Elaine:

I usually do kind of Queer Cabaret events. There’s like dance, spoken word, lip syncing and things like that.

— Music ends with a drum solo

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

I’m wondering what was the experience from your other work that you brought to Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I liked my drama class in junior high and I decided this is the best thing ever. I made my way to a performing arts high school and got bitten by the performing bug and was doing at first some film and television. As it goes as a performer, the work opportunities change.

Instead of just sitting by the phone as they say, I shifted over to doing more theater work, clowning.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

The whole get up, the makeup and everything? Or is that something different? (Chuckles)
Rebecca:

I think that’s a certain kind of clown. I was living in Montreal, like the city of Circ De’ Sole. It was a little bit more movement, physical theater based kind of stuff. The acrobatic storytelling with the body. I went to dance school for a while. So it was really more about expressing myself through the body.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Okay, so you’re not jumping out of cars with like fifty other clowns. (Laughs)

Rebecca:

No!

TR:

She’s a creative person who found herself doing more arts administration. After moving to Toronto she moved back into the performance space gaining even more of the experience she needed for Audio Description. That physical performance for example prepared her for her first AD assignment describing physical comedy. And the administration work was quite valuable as it gave her a community of people to talk to or a network.

Rebecca:

There were people that had already worked with me in a different context and so I understood their concerns, what their fears were as producers. Everything from being afraid of touch tours because you’re potentially bringing a service animal onto a stage before the show. Rehearsal schedules, the time and space actors need. The types of conversations that are appropriate to have with directors if you’re having discussions. When is a good time to approach a designer if you have some questions? All of those things really help to mitigate any hesitancy that producers had in terms of adding something new to their palette.

TR:

Elaine’s love of reading & creative writing adds value to her description. But that merging of creativity with Audio Description has it’s challenges.

Elaine:

It’s a service and I think it’s important to remember it’s a service. There can be ego (Chuckles) in any industry and sometimes I think people forget the user and what’s most important to the user.

TR:

Rebecca has her own way of assuring Blind consumers are always centered throughout her process.

Rebecca:

Paid Blind and partially sighted consultants. I get two different kinds of feedback. I learned a long time ago it’s definitely not a one size fits all in terms of description. I have a roster of consultants with different interests as well. I also try to match the interests of the consultant. Some people like Opera, some people like dance. All of their different expertise filters into my descriptions. And they ask those really deep and probing questions that I have to find answers to.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

What kind of differences do you find between the Blind and partially sighted feedback that you get?

Rebecca:

One of the most striking differences is things like when I’m describing a set. With people who are partially sighted some people need to sit really really far up close and they want a different type of perspective in terms of what the set looks like. they may not be sitting in the same place. If they have a service animal they may be sitting further back in the theater. Maybe they’re closer to a speaker where that might cause some sound level things that need to be worked out. Sometimes light matters in a production, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I’ll get feedback from Blind consultants saying things like I really appreciated the fact that you called this thing almond shape because I know what an almond feels like. I really developed a sense of what words work better and what words are more inclusive over time working with both Blind and partially sighted consultants especially if they’re working together with me on the same show.

That’s the other benefit of having multiple consultants is that they can learn from one another and I always have a chance to bring in somebody new and widen my pool.

TR:

Inclusive language reflects all sorts of identities.

Elaine:

I’ve had conversations with people before about things like race. It’s wonderful that we’re kind of having a moment where we’re really grappling with that. And I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral. I find that a really interesting argument because I’m like what does neutral actually mean and who are we assuming is neutral?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

How do those conversations come up when writing description?

Elaine:

When I first started I remember asking questions like should I describe color? Should I describe that this rose is red or that this car is blue or whatever? And then moving from that I guess to should I describe race and the color of somebody’s skin?

So I’ll talk specifically about race rather than diversity I guess because there are other things that we can describe.

The industry standard was to not describe race unless it’s important to the plot.

TR:

By now, if you’ve been following this ongoing conversation on the podcast, you should be pretty familiar with this AD guideline.

As an example of the guideline, Elaine refers to a production of Hamlet

Elaine:

And Hamlet is Black. Then I should mention it. But that doesn’t mean I should mention the race of anybody else. We can assume that everybody else is white. I took that on board and then I kind of ignored it a little bit. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughs…)

Elaine:

Because I just found it really difficult. I was like, but why? (Laughs)

I found that I was working on shows where I just wanted to describe like the color of somebody’s skin.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Why?

Elaine:

Why!

Because I thought, what’s it mean for it to be relevant to the plot. If there’s a conversation happening between sighted users and they’re saying oh did you notice how the policeman in whatever show it is is Black? I just kind of feel that means that as a Blind user you can’t be part of that conversation because someone’s decided that that Black policeman isn’t relevant to the plot so we’re not going to mention them. Also personally I know Blind users who I’m friend’s with who definitely wanted that information to be included because they’ve definitely felt like there are conversations that they can’t be part of because people are making these decisions.

TR:

Decisions being made on behalf of Blind people without our input. How does that make you feel?

Elaine:

Initially I wasn’t bold enough to say the Black man. I would describe the texture of his hair. So I would say the man with black afro textured hair. (Laughs) I think it should be fairly clear, but I still felt like I was kind of skirting around it.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Would you get any pushback?

Elaine:

We definitely didn’t receive any pushback. When my manager kind of reached out to a community of Blind users then it was an overwhelming yes! (Chuckles) Please do include that.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Okay. So you never got pushback from management.

Elaine:

No. My immediate manager was like a resounding yes! When I went into the kind of wider Audio Describer community that’s where I definitely felt pushback.

TR:

Like the time Elaine attended a conference where for the first time she heard a discussion of race and Audio Description included in the conversation.

Elaine:

There was a lot of why do we need to do this? What terms do we use? People not feeling comfortable saying the Black man – will the terms change. We might offend somebody, so it’s better if we don’t use any terms at all and just kind of ignore race. It felt uncomfortable for me being the only Black person in the room.

TR:

That’s uncomfort when people are either looking to you for the answer. Or one that I know I’ve experienced, giving the impression that you’re doing something wrong by raising the issue. (Oh well!)

Elaine:

Maybe it’s my British politeness kicking in but I found it very difficult to sit and listen to kind of put in my two pence. Imagine if a user is Black, maybe they do want to know about race (laughs… You never know!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh, absolutely

It’s just as important for a Blind consumer who is not Black to know that there are Black people on the screen y’all, like this is real.

Elaine:

Definitely.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I’m wondering if there’s an age gap here too. Is this the old guard that we’re talking about here?

Elaine:

I guess so, yes.

I have much respect for them. I feel like I need to put that disclaimer out . (Chuckling)

I really do and I felt like almost a young usurper at that conference and in some of these conversations I’ve had. I get that they’ve been trained in a specific way. If we look at the breakdown of describers in the U.K. it’s white middle age women.

Audio: “To be or not to be. That is the question” From Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company

Music ends with beat in reverse!

Rebecca:

I feel like I owe it to the listener and the listener is not necessarily a middle class cisgender white female or a male and sometimes I feel like from some of the teaching and reading and some of the history from what I’ve seen of Audio Description and words, it’s really taking one particular perspective. That is exclusionary and also not fair to people who are Black and Indigenous or people of color.

TR:

In general, no matter what country, fairness, access, equity that should be the goal.

Rebecca, who thinks quite critically on this subject of inclusion presented at a conference in Europe.

Rebecca:

The Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description.

I, over the last, I would say five years or so, have been really been honing in on the idea of creating the Canadian accent for Audio Description. We here have had a lot of influences from England and also from the states. We haven’t had our own Audio Description culture in Canada. So I went and was the first person to present from Canada and I talked about creating the Canadian accent and describing race gender, class and recognizing our bias.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

And how was that received?

Rebecca:

people were very interested. I think that there’s not a practice of using consultants quite as much as we do here in North America and specifically what I do. The other thing that was really well received was the fact that I presented it in a way that did not require any description. I described all of the images. I tried to make the entire experience inclusive to a point where the person who was operating the CART, the real time captioning, didn’t have anything to write. That was all just part of the example of how we can be more inclusive.

TR:

The responsibility of making media inclusive and accessible includes the role of Audio Description.

Rebecca:

Everybody deserves the opportunity to see themselves in a story. We as people who are helping to tell a story have a responsibility to do everything that we can to not exclude people from seeing themselves.

TR:

So what exactly does that responsibility include?

Rebecca:

even as Describers we need to understand what our own bias is. I live in a very progressive city. And I live in a arts bubble inside that city. I try and check myself against that as well. I don’t want to use language that is so open that only a very small amount of people with very specific references will understand.

We need to have more conversations with consultants and also understanding what the history is and what the perspective is of people who are heavy users of Audio Description. We need to talk about it.

TR:

She’s talking about multiple conversations from all perspectives. Some times that just means raising the issue.

Rebecca:

It’s all of those little tiny actions that every person can do just to point out when things could be better perhaps or when things could be more inclusive.

Just being self-reflective about how we’re receiving information. I think many voices is much better as opposed to a government mandate or something like that.

Sometimes words aren’t enough.

TR:

But the words can inspire actions that lead to real change. Like getting film makers and broadcasters to include a bit more space to allow for Audio Description.

Ultimately, the change happens when our thought process becomes more inclusive.

Rebecca:

If the creator of the material no matter what it is, has the Blind and partially sighted community in mind as part of their audience from the beginning.

TR:

Having Blind people in mind translates to our access not being an afterthought. When it comes to Audio Description?, we need to be centered.
[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

So the idea that there are sighted people enjoying Audio Description?, that’s cool, that’s really cool and I get it because hopefully that means there will be more of it, right?

Rebecca:
Yeh!

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Do you see the potential for that to be a problem?

Rebecca:

I’m really in favor of Audio Description guidelines and standards being created for the needs and wants of the Blind and partially sighted community. Anyone who is putting something forward that they call Audio Description is aware of these guidelines and is providing something that is standardized. That said I think it’s also okay to create things that are not necessarily Audio Description?, but use techniques of Audio Description and as long as they’re not called Audio Description. I think more is better and so as long as it’s not called Audio Description when it doesn’t meet the standard, go for it!

TR:

From my understanding, there are conversations happening today exploring these guidelines.
I’m not sure what will end up being decided, but I do know that if these conversations do not include people of color in a real way, including decision makers, then we have to ask the question, why? Is it just fashionable right now to appear as though we’re addressing issues of diversity?

It’s a similar question I asked of all those in the Flipping the Script series;

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

It’s a simple question, so feel free to answer (laughs) because I’m asking it!

Elaine:

(Laughs) I see I have no choice. (Laughs) Okay!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughing )No, but answer it anyway you want.

My question is why, why AD?

Elaine:

Oh! That’s a lovely question.

AD has brought me into contact with people that I probably would have never have met. In terms of the Queer drag community that I’m now part of and speaking to Blind users and Blind performers as well. I think that’s enriched my life and I hope that the descriptions I give in turn enrich their experience.

Last year I remember telling someone another sighted person, that I did AD. They just laughed and were like Blind people don’t watch TV. That was just like a whole education let’s just say for that person. (Chuckles)

I think it’s a really, really beautiful service and I think that it’s having a bit of a moment over here where people are certainly from the describer point of view, people are starting to think about how we can change it and engage even further with the community who uses it and that’s really, really exciting to be part of honestly. It’s so so fun! I honestly want to keep on doing this and developing my skills and my confidence and listening to people.

— Music begins – a chill piano leads into a smooth jazz chill Hip Hop beat

Rebecca:

I am a storyteller, I was born that way (chuckles). I think it’s really important to be able to tell your story in a way that everyone can hear it, receive it. I don’t think we have any excuses to ignore that anymore. We have technology to help us out. I want to see the amazing wonderful gifts that actually like Blind and partially sighted creators present having had access to some of this more popular culture. Some kind of performance art. So I think it’s important for everybody to have those opportunities. and I really feel like access to art is as important as access to sport. I think it’s part of what makes us human. And so everybody should have this access.

I just think it’s fair!

TR:

That’s Rebecca Singh, you can call her CEO of SDS or Superior Description Services where she centers Audio Description.
Rebecca:

Also known as described Video here. I do live description, image description, I produce podcasts with the Blind and partially sighted community in mind. Consultation to help with Universal Design. My Twitter handle is @SDSDescriptions.. I’m also on Face Book Superior Description and you can always check me out at SuperiorDescription.com.

TR:

Elaine Lillian Joseph is on Twitter @@elaineLJoseph.

I’d like to thank Elaine for putting up with my attempt to include the London slang in our conversation.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Init! (Hysterical laugh)

Elaine:

(Laughs) Oh my days, you really love Top Boy don’t you?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I do!

I get in to the whole street shows and all that type of thing so, I’m sorry! it’s Hip Hop I’m going to be in there!

Elaine:

Ah, that makes you (possibly says me) really happy! I love it, I love it!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh! (Laughs)

TR:

Big shout out to Rebecca and Elaine for all they do and for openly sharing their experience and opinions for the improvement of AD for all.

So let me welcome you to the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air horn!

I’m hoping you’ll hear them back on the podcast in the future.

While this is the last official episode of 2020, you know I usually do something for the holiday season. Right now at the time of this recording, I have no idea what that is, but I’m pretty sure I’ll put something together to wrap up this incredibly challenging year.

To be sure you get that episode;
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And let me do a bit of Audio Description for you. That’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

— Music Ends

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Two – Voice matters

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

Continuing with the question; When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines?

In this episode I’m joined by some extremely talented Voice Over Artists who are also lending their voice to some of your favorite Audio Description projects.

Allyson Johnson, Bill Larson, Inger Tudor and Tansy Alexander.

Each of our guests have more to say than what’s on the script

How important is voice? Not just the quality and tone, but what else is implied by what is heard? Is the voice indicative of an entire group of people. Can a woman’s voice fit a specific genre of film? Is there really a Black voice? Let’s flip the script and find out.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript


— Music begins – pulsating bright funky beat!

TR:

Greetings! Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
The podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Audio: The beat comes to a stop after a record scratch “Hold Up!” DJ Cool from “Let Me Clear My throat”

I need to jump in with an amendment to my opening in order to acknowledge that yes, I should have posted this episode last week. However, last Tuesday was Election Day in the U.S and I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was an over analysis on my part, but if anyone actually missed the episode, I apologize. I just wasn’t in that space.

then yesterday, Saturday November 7, my wife yelled down to me, they called it for Joe!

Music: “A Brand New Day” The Wiz

So we took some time to celebrate and for a moment at least feel hopeful!

— Breathes in deep and exhales

That really does feel good!

Now back to my original opening.

Bring that beat back!

— DJ Scratch and then the pulsating bright funky music resumes!

Today we continue Flipping the Script on Audio Description and focus a bit on voices.
You can say voice matters. Or Voice Matters! Voice, matters!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

#Intros

Inger:

My name is Inger Tudor. I am an African American woman , middle age, we’ll leave it at that. And I live in Los Angeles. I am a Voice Over Actor, I also do film, theater, television. I do some hosting, announcing and all that kind of fun stuff. Is there anything else you wanted me to tell you?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Did you say Audio Description?

Inger:

I didn’t because I was like oh that’s the assumed, but you’re right, I do Audio Description and audio books too.

— Music Begins – Upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Earlier this year I had the chance to speak with several talented AD Narrators. I’ll tell you exactly where you heard them but go ahead and see if you recognize the voice or name.

Tansy:

Hi I’m Tansy Alexander. I’m a Caucasian woman. I’m five foot seven, I have Auburn hair. I’m very athletic and active. I do all variety from narration to audio books, to commercials, promos trailers, IVR phone systems. I’ve done pretty much it all.

Bill:

My name is Bill Larson I actually am a Voice Over artist. I do commercials, I do different types of announcing and so forth.
And I also do Audio Description.

Allyson:

My name is Allyson Johnson. I have been a professional Voice Artist for about 2 3 years. I’m about five foot five, a hundred and five to a hundred and seven pounds, I’m pretty thin. Now see here’s when I need an actual Audio Description writer because there so much better at this than I am. I read what they write and I think that is fantastic, but if I have to write it I’m like how do I describe my skin tone. Well, it’s kind of I would say, cafe ole. If you took coffee and you put a whole bunch of half and half in it, that’s my skin tone. I have people would say dark blonde, some people would say light brown ringlet curls. I wear glasses there like a brick red and black modeled polymer plastic frame. What else? Are there things that I’m leaving out?

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

No, no you probably did more than most did. (Laughs) That’s why I left it vague, I just want to see what you do. Laughs.

Allyson:

Laughs… So that’s me!

TR:

Well, there’s way more to her than that! And we’ll get there, but first I know what you’re thinking. Thomas, that’s messed up, you didn’t ask Bill to describe himself.

He’s sort of off on his own.

Bill was one of the earlier interviews and the idea was not presented until after. However, stay tuned I’ll be sure to ask him more about himself during our conversation.

Each of our narrators share a few things in common. They’re all experienced Voice Over Artists who have either acting backgrounds, radio and even a bit of television. Of course, they each have great voices and know how to use them.

Inger Tudor used hers as a DJ at her college radio station. After graduating Harvard Law she put it to use as a litigator.

While working at a mid-size law firm in Boston, Inger was in conversation with another attorney who side gigged as a studio musician. She asked Inger an important question.

Inger:
What is it that you like about law?

I told her what I liked and why I wanted to be a lawyer. She said,
(– Music ends.)
you like acting in a courtroom, go act. You’re not married, you don’t have kids you don’t have a mortgage do it now, because you’re going to wake up and go okay, I want to do it and you’ve got all these things that keep you from doing something you can actually do. I thought about it and I prayed about it and I was like you know what, she is absolutely right!

TR:

She began taking classes and working in the field. This included voice acting. Boston happened to be a good market for her to get her start and SAG or Screen Actors Guild card. This gave her greater access to opportunities. Moving to New York city gave her even more. By the time she moved out to LA she was acting full time and no longer doing any law related work. Staying in touch with a playwright helped lead to her first AD opportunity.

Inger:

About five years ago he contacted me and said oh, I forgot that you do voice over. Would you come in and audition for me. I work in a department where we do descriptive narration for film and television.

TR:

And today!

Inger:

I do a lot of recording for the Media Access Group which is a subsidiary of WGBH the PBS station out of Boston.

TR:

Tansy’s introduction to VO felt more like that Hollywood story.

Tansy

I was out with my friend who did Voice Over, my friend Steve. We were at lunch at a restaurant and we were chatting about Voice Over and other things and a few minutes later a gentleman came over, a very distinguished gentleman, and said, do you do radio or voice over and I said well, not yet but my friend is trying to tell me to do it. He said well when you’re ready give me a call. He’s one of the partners in Abrams Rubleoff.

I never did sign with them but things did go from there because that was the impetus I needed to take it seriously and get things going.

TR:

And indeed things started going. Tansy intro to AD came after volunteering for a radio reading service in Los Angeles.

Tansy:

AIRS LA.

They would have us reading articles out of magazines and so forth then I decided since I am an actress as well to cover the entertainment portion which was really fun. I did that for a few years and then out of the blue this other opportunity came around not related, to continue to be of service to the Blind community through doing Audio Description.

TR:

Allyson’s first AD project came through her friend who owned a post-production company. He was approached by the producers of another film who were interested in including AD on their film and wondered who would be right to narrate. Why not an audio book narrator, he thought?

Allyson:

My first Audio Description was for the movie that he was working on which was the major motion picture Arrival. I left that session and I thought this is fantastic. I sort of went on my own journey and found Audio Description Training Retreats in North Carolina, Jan and Colleen who teach this wonderful program. That’s how I learned. It was within the year of me doing that film.

TR:

Bill’s introduction to AD?

Bill:

It was by accident. I used to work at Best Buy. We had this demonstration room where you could go in and experience what a home theater would sound like.

It wasn’t working right. We actually had a Blue Ray in there to demo for people but to get the normal audio that you would hear on a Blue Ray to play you had to cycle through at that time all of the other audio channels; French German, Chinese, the whole bit. The last track was Audio Description. When I heard somebody’s voice start to speak; (in his AD Narrator delivery)

“A plane flies over head” I listened to this and I said I need to do this. This is important.

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Do you remember what movie that was?

Bill:

Yes I do, Kong, Skull Island.

TR:

Bill grabbed some more DVD’s and researched more about AD. He learned of the American Council of the Blind AD Project and headed out to the conference that year.

Bill:

That conference was in St. Louis that year. I was lucky enough to meet people who do and produce Audio Description. Did a demo for them and the rest is history.

TR:

Voice Over and AD fall into the entertainment industry which definitely has a history.

Allyson:

When I started out in this business, when I was still doing demo tapes on cassette, the sort of common acceptance was you would do a demo tape without your photo on it for the most part. Certainly in commercial voice over world which is where I started. They didn’t necessarily want to know what you looked like and you as the voice talent didn’t want people to know what you looked like either because you wanted them to make a decision about whether or not to cast you based on your voice. If you already been cast in something you wanted the listener to be able to create their own image of who you were based on what you sounded like so it sort of wasn’t relevant what you looked like. In some ways it could be either distracting or could give someone the wrong idea because sighted people tend to make very quick judgements when they look at someone. And if you don’t look like what you sound like in the voice over world that’s a whole other kind of issue.

Bill:

I have worked with different casting people and they look at my picture and have their own preconceived notions of how I sound.
[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Could you describe yourself?

Bill:

Are you of age to know Al B Sure?

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Yeah!

Bill:

(Singing)

“I can tell you how I feel about you night and day!”

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing… I’m keeping this!

Bill:

I know you are, that’s alright though.

(Singing in his Al B Sure impression)

“Oh, Girl!”

Al B Sure was the bane of my existence in high school. Oh my God you look like Al B Sure.

TR:

If you don’t know Al B Sure, well he’s an R&B singer from the 80’s. He was something of a heart throb who had lots of female fans.

In case you’re listening Al, don’t worry Bill isn’t planning on leaving his day job any time soon.

Bill:

I have worked very hard on my voice. First of all I come from Chicago. I had to work the Chicago out of my voice, but at the same time I wanted my voice to be universal. I didn’t want somebody looking at me and making an assumption about me and that actually speaks to what’s going on right now in the world. I don’t want them to say oh well he looks Black so he must sound Black so I’m only going to give him the voice work for Black actors. I know the business enough to know what sound somebody is looking for for something. I would never, never ever say to use me if my voice is not appropriate for something.

TR:

Bill recalled one particular time when he went out for a role that helped him come to an understanding.

Bill:

Because of how I looked they wanted me to sound more ethnic. They didn’t want me to be my natural self. Because my natural self sounds like this. I am a bi-racial Black man in this country. There is no denying that. So when you see me as they did, they saw a voice in their head that was counter to how I actually speak. the product I thought sounded like crap because I was trying to be something that I wasn’t based on the notion of what they wanted me to sound like. I wasn’t me I wasn’t my authentic self. But more than that, there are other actors out there especially actors of color, announcers of color who would have given them exactly what they were looking for. So I thought to myself I’m never going to do that again. When you’re in this business, you’re always looking for work , I just don’t ever want to take the work out of somebody’s hands who could deliver what somebody’s vision is.

TR:

The goal of a fair selection process is to remove pre-judgement and create a system based on merit. In Voice Over that means the best voice for the role wins. Yet that’s subjective from the start. Meanwhile we know there are many ways to pre-judge.

Inger:

Inger is Scandinavian and Tudor is Welsh. There usually not expecting someone African American. Depending on who I’m talking to and how I’m talking, they can’t necessarily tell what ethnicity I am over the phone. It can become a funny thing or sometimes a frustrating thing.

TR:

Although not specific to the sort of Voice Over acting she does today, Inger shared a story about a time when she interviewed for a telemarketing position. Let’s be honest, the best telemarketers are truly acting!

Inger:
The initial interview was over the phone because they need to see how you sound. I’m talking in my corporate voice and how I would talk if I was talking to someone for a survey or what have you. I show up for the first day of training. Actually it happened to be a fairly diverse group of people but they couldn’t figure out why I was there. I said Oh, I’m here for the job interview and they all look at me like well who are you? I said I’m Inger Tudor and then I literally see like five or six heads all turn to each other with this look like what, huh? And I went “Ya, ya, you expecting someone Swedish, ya!” (Said in accent) So they all started laughing, because they were!
My name can work for me or it can work against me. Knowing my ethnicity can work for me or against me.

TR:

If we really think about it, the impact goes beyond the individual.

Voice Over agents for example. Pre-judgements can limit opportunities not only for the clients, but also the agents as they receive percentage of the work they find.

Inger freelances with two separate agents.

Inger:

One of them only brings me in for Black Voice Overs. the other one will bring me in for things that are a lower register or someone that’s middle age or an authoritative voice. Things that fit the type of characters I would play. And they bring me in for the Black characters as well.

TR:
Casting a project is often more than just voice. A narrator familiar with the culture for example, can provide insight into a project that those outside may have never realized they were lacking.

Allyson:

I did the Audio Description for If Beale Street Could Talk. What a glorious film that was and the description was so beautiful. I think it was the description for something that Regina’s character was putting on or taking off. Something with her hair.

TR:

Here’s a culturally competent moment for you. Those in the know, heard that and paused. Those who don’t know, well, we’ll just get back to the conversation.

Allyson:

I don’t know what the word was that they used to describe it but I was like I don’t know what that word is but that is not what we would call it and I don’t think anyone who’s listening to this would understand what you mean when you say it.

— Music Begins – slow dark Hip Hop beat

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

Now you said that’s not what we call it. Who was the we; women, Black women?

Allyson:

I think in that situation it was Black people.

TR:

Issues of race and identity aren’t new, right?

Allyson:

There were no phrases like bi-racial, nontraditional casting, ethnically ambiguous. We didn’t have ethnically ambiguous back then (laughs) I mean we did because I am it but we didn’t call it anything.

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

(Laughing) Right!

TR:

A natural extension of voice acting especially for commercials is on screen acting. The casting process there often begins with the image. If you’re interested in auditioning for a specific role, well your look will need to match the casting director’s or any other decision maker’s perception of that role.

Allyson

Whatever the category was they thought I might fit in, I probably wouldn’t fit.

Voice Over made more sense to me because nobody was necessarily thinking about it.

TR:

Necessarily!

Allyson:

They would use phrases in the specs like we’re looking for an urban – urban was always buzz word. It’s like ok, so you want Black.

In terms of Audio Description, I have been hired to do Audio Description for shows that are primarily dealing with Black topics or set in a place where the majority of characters on the screen are all Black. And I know that I’m being hired because they want a person of color to do the Audio Description. So in that sense it does play a factor that I happen to be a Black Audio Describer. It’s more of them just wanting to be sensitive to the content and to the material. You and I both know everybody needs a little bit more representation.

##Tansy:

And if I may broach this subject, I do think that we need to see more inclusiveness on the narrator side.

I get plenty of work, but I still think there’s a gender bias in the industry for males to succeed.

It’s the same it’s been for the whole spectrum of Voice Over since I started over twenty years ago, the belief that a male will sell it better. For whatever reason; the voice will cut through or people listen more to a man than a woman. These are stereotypes that probably aren’t true at all. These decisions to use a man or a woman are extraordinarily subjective.

TR:

Narrating for over ten years, Tansy had the opportunity to help in the early stages of multiple AD production companies.

Tansy:

I used to do a lot of action, landing on the moon, war movies, I’ve done a few last year. I can do a romantic comedy, I can do a children’s thing, I can get in there and get gritty. But all of a sudden they decide oh well for all the Marvel we need to have men.

TR:

Tansy noted some growth in opportunities expansion with the advent of female lead characters.

Bias we know goes beyond race and gender.

Bill:

I am double the man I used to be. (Laughs) So there was a time when I lost a tremendous amount of weight. But I don’t look like that anymore. When you’re in the professional acting and voice over field it’s best if you don’t misrepresent yourself. Now a days they call it Catfishing. If you’re cast for something based on an old picture and when you get to set and they realize you are double the size or your size card is out of date or your voice changes, then they’re probably going to dismiss you and not hire you again. I know how I sound. I want people to hire me. (Pause) And I love the look on their faces when I walk in the studio too. (Laughing )

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing

TR:

Representation really is serious business.

Have you ever really considered who you expect to hear narrating action movies or thrillers versus dramas or romance films? What about those films based in or on communities of color?

. For closing arguments I’ll call the litigator.

Inger:

Yes, we should be voicing the characters of color, but don’t Ghetto-ize us and make that the only things you give us to do. Cast me also because of the quality of my voice. If you’re looking for something that has a particular quality and ethnicity is not important to what the character is then I should be considered as well as a white actress. You shouldn’t just assume that it has to be someone white if that’s not important to the story.

TR:

I know some people hear this and say, why should it matter? Shouldn’t anyone with a suitable clear voice just be able to voice characters or narrate films no matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.?

Inger:

Hold on a minute. Four hundred years, we haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff, take a seat for a moment because I guarantee you your seat for a moment will not end up being four hundred years. Then when we get to the place where everybody can do everything that’s fine, but we’re not there yet and we need to catch up so give us a minute, ok?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

There it is!

— Music ends with a base drop that pulsates and slowly fades out.

TR:

Did you recognize anyone? Here’s some of the projects our narrators voiced.

Allyson:

Arrival was my first. It sort of made me realize what I now know I like about description. The guys who wrote that script were not “Description Writers,” but they were the sound guys. They knew that movie backwards and forwards. They’d seen it over thirty times so they knew what was important to put in the copy. I only know that now looking back.

Audio: Allyson narrating Queen Sono

TR:

Allyson also narrated If beale Street Could Talk and can be heard on Queen Sono on Netflix.

Just this past spring, ESPN premiered The Last Dance. A documentary about The reign of the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. I’m not really a sports fan, but I do love a good sports documentary. Unfortunately, it did not include AD. That is until it was released on Netflix this summer.

Audio: Bill narrating The Last Dance

Bill:

being from Chicago, growing up in that time knowing that the Bulls were that championship team and we had two three peats. That was amazing to me.

TR:

It just so happens, Bill has a connection to sports.

Bill:

If you happen to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game, I’m one of the in stadium announcers there.

I’m not announcing the game, that’s actually the guy next to me. We’re not on radio, we are in stadium only. Whenever the teams go to a TV timeout, that’s when I speak because people in the stadium hear commercials or see promotions and I announce those.

TR:

In addition to The Last Dance on Netflix you can hear Bill on Money Heist and Project Power.

Audio: Inger narrating Hanna on Amazon Prime

If you’re familiar with The Neighborhood, Amazon’s Jack Ryan, Proud Mary or Once Upon A time in Hollywood then you probably heard Inger as she narrated these projects.

Audio: Tansy narrating See on Apple TV

Did you recognize Tansy’s voice?

As I mentioned to her, technically this is her second time on the podcast as her voice opened my episode with Joe Strechay and his involvement with Apple TV’s See.

Tansy:

Oh my God, well thank you, thank you very much. (Laughs)

Well, that’s interesting, ok, so now I have a question for you. If you watched See did you not know that was me by listening to me talk right now.

TR:

Ok, well, I didn’t. To be fair, yes, I could have had her full bio for the interview, but the interview wasn’t about specific projects. Tansy Alexander has voiced hundreds of projects over the years including Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and she’s even doing live narration for the WWE. or World Wrestling Entertainment.

When I asked her if any stand out she struggled a bit but mentioned one

Tansy:

Switched at birth series.

We are doing a show with Audio Description but we’ve got a daughter in the show who can’t hear so we got sign language going on. We also have to describe any sub titles. It’s all fascinating how it works together. One of the episodes was completely done in sign language, so there was no talking what so ever in this whole episode so we had to bring in other people to do some of the reading of their sub titles because I couldn’t do them all it was just too many. It would sound stupid nobody would know what’s going on.

TR:
Having people know what’s going on is important to Tansy.

Tansy:

A person who is not able to see what’s going on is left out of the discussion. You can access the show but you can’t access the whole content. It’s not fair. I’m about equity.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Why AD? Why do you enjoy Audio Description? And I’m assuming you enjoy Audio Description.

Inger:

Oh, I do actually!

It’s a number of things.

One, I’ve always liked reading aloud. It was actually how I got into acting was in grade school, when we had to read aloud in class I would get so into doing it and giving the different characters different voices that they started sticking me in plays.

When you have the opportunity to see how it effects people like when you actually have an audience or if you’re reading to a group of people, you can gauge how your words are affecting them. If you change the tone, change the pitch, if you change the pace. What that does to how they’re receiving it, how they’re taking it in how they’re being emotionally effected by what you say.

TR:

yet, there’s little immediate feedback in Audio Description.

Inger:

I like the aspect of knowing everything I’m doing in terms of entertainment or acting just being about being on stage. There is some part of it that you want to be service, you want what you’re doing to help somebody in some way. Whether you’re helping them to see something different about themselves or about how they view the world or particular groups of people or what have you. One of the things I appreciate about the descriptive narration is you feel like you’re at least doing something that you know directly helps a particular group of people have access to something that they might not otherwise have access to. To being able to more fully enjoy a television show or a film because you’re describing the action that’s going on. So it’s one of those areas where you can feel like you’re entertainment and service are merging.

Bill:

I take this very seriously and I want you as a consumer of Audio Description to know that. Audio Description is a responsibility. Someone is watching this movie or this TV show. If you don’t take that craft, if you don’t take what you do seriously enough then the person who’s listening to it is not going to have a good experience and they’re marginalized even more. Just because it’s provided doesn’t mean it’s very good. And I always strive for it to be good.

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Ladies & gentlemen, join me in saluting:
Allyson Johnson;

Allyson:

My social media handle is the same on everything @AllysonsVoice And that’s AllysonsVoice (spelled out)

TR:

Mr. Bill Larson

Bill:

On Insta Gram @BillIvoryLarson. Hit me up! let’s have a conversation.

TR:

Tansy Alexander

Tansy:

There’s links on my website TansyAlexander.com. TansyAlexander (spelled out)

And last but definitely not least, Inger Tudor. By the way, during the pandemic Inger began a cool project during the pandemic. The name really does capture the mission.

Inger:

“A Poem A Day Art and Love in the Time of Corona”

TR:

She continues to bring you exactly that. Every day a new poem read aloud. You can find it on her social media, Facebook, twitter and Insta Gram all @IngerTudor.

Inger:

IngerTudor (Spelled out)

TR:

Occasionally she’s even dropping some of her own original work.

Inger:

If you do check it out feel free to leave a comment about a poem or a poet or a topic you would like me to do a poem on.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Oh, you’re taking requests? (Laughs)

Inger:

I take requests!

TR:

As do I! Ahem!

— Music ends.

Four Voice Over Artists
Become Narrators for what we know as AD
they get interviewed for a podcast
And now become Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air Horns

Audio: “It’s official!”

TR:

I salute you all!

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And , you know I told you this before and I’m going to tell you every single time… ReidMyMind.com is R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines? There’s so much more to AD than what we hear. So, today on the podcast, we’re going to expand who we actually hear from on the topic. There are the “experts” but there are plenty more with something really valuable to contribute. Like, Alejandra Ospina, Liz Thomson & Chanelle Carson who share their expertise on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to Flip the Script to hear what’s on the other side!

Plus I’ll introduce you to someone from the other side who I’ve been turning to when I need a bit of help! Or maybe I really do just need some help!

Listen

Resources

Alejandra Ospina
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

Geez, this idea of trying to open the podcast with something different or catchy is just starting to get to be too much.

If only I had help. If only I had help, If only I …

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

Yes, oh great Kazoo. Didn’t you hear me calling you?

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

Bruh! Isn’t that your job. To be there to look out for a brother.

The Great Kazoo:

My dear fellow, I’m not only undependable, but I’m a bit of a Kook… That’s why I’m hear remember I’m being punished.

TR:

Really, punished? You act like I call you that often. It’s been a minute since I actually needed your help Bruh. Plus I looked out for you that last time. I sent a very nice email to your supervisor.

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

Oh, it’s like that son? Aight, forget you. I’ll just do the regular intro myself with you, nahmean!

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. I should clarify that a bit because I think it may get lost. People impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability? This includes all those experiencing disability directly. A person new to blindness for example. But it also includes their family members and friends. The teachers of the visually impaired, O&M & Rehab instructors who teach the white cane for example or other daily living skills. There are also those in supporting industries from technology, accessibility & of course Audio Description. I consider all of this to be summarized by impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. For the record, I think our entire society is all impacted by disability, but we don’t all happen to realize that or even feel that way. But don’t worry y’all eventually they’ll catch up with us. That’s on them. So let us just keep doing our thing!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning) Oh look, I don’t wish to stay here forever. And since I am supposed to serve you I will try. But take heed, don’t ask for more than you can handle, you may get it.

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

Maybe I don’t need help. I think I have an idea after all.

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning…) Well, see you tomorrow. Maybe. Laughs. Sound effects signaling his disappearance.)

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Today I’m bringing you excerpts of some conversations I had over the past few months with multiple Audio Describers. Specifically writers and narrators, each bringing their own perspective and background.

AD is still new. There’s no one “right” way. With there being so much more to Audio Description than what we hear, it’s past time we hear from a more inclusive set of people involved in the process.

So, this is the first in a series I’m calling Flipping the Script on Audio Description. You know, sometimes you just need to hear from another side.

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

Alejandra:
My name is Alejandra (American English accented) or Alejandra Ospina depending on your audience.

TR:

That’s what I’m saying! The Reid My Mind Radio Family like our world is diverse. And that’s how we roll!

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

My business cards have a long list of things, but I like to consolidate it into what I’m calling a Media Accessibility Provider. I do Close Captioning and I do transcription and I do translation and Audio Description and so I like to imagine the things I’m doing all sort of promote access to content. I don’t consider myself as often a content creator but I like to facilitate people getting to see or hear or know what they’re watching.

TR:

That makes me think Alejandra’s introduction to media access is personal.

Alejandra:

Having close friends and chosen family members that are visually impaired and I’ve spent a lot of time describing things for them so it sort of was a natural progression.

Related sort of anecdotally growing up as the primary English speaker in a Spanish speaking family I spent a lot of time explaining things to so the concept of explaining comes naturally to me.

TR:

That sort of hits home for me. My mom played that role for much of her family. One thing I know is that can be a great way to develop an advocate’s spirit.

Alejandra:

I was one of those folks that got on my high horse which isn’t very high, about having people on social media describe images and photos that they post. So I spent a lot of time in the last five years gently shaming or encouraging people to describe the things they post on social media and over time that has caught the attention of folks in disability community and communities of people that are doing this kind of work. And it was sort of a natural progression.

TR:

Next, one of the first Describers to provide a visual description of themselves. This prompted me to not only begin asking other describers to do the same but really to think about incorporating that going forward with all interviews.

Here’s Liz Thomson, who is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Disability Studies.

Liz:

(Spelling her name)
Liz Thomson. I would visually describe myself as a dark skin 5 foot 2 person with black eyes and black rimmed glasses. Currently I have a mostly shaved head with a band of 2 inch short black hair. I identify as someone who is disabled, also bisexual and queer. A Vietnamese adoptee. Mostly grown up and worked in the mid-west. I use they, them they’re pronouns.

TR:

you can say Liz had a fast tracked introduction to AD. Learning of it and experience it all in the same evening.

Liz:

One of my good friends who is Low Vision, he invited me to go to a Disability Cultural Program. At the very beginning of the program they ask if anyone needed headsets for Audio Description. He’s used to that and I think he typically takes advantage of that accommodation, but I had never heard of that. And so I was like hey you know I’ll try it out. So I got my headset. I believe this was kind of like an open mic performance.

TR:

It included things like poetry, dance or movement and other artistic expression. probably not the most traditional first experience with Audio Description.

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

My name is Chanelle Carson. I am a Freelance Audio Describer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m also the Senior Audio Describer at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas.

I’ve been working with the Smith Center for actually 8 years now. About 4, 5 years ago actually, during one of our pre shifts they just asked if anyone was interested in learning how to do Audio Description.

At the time I was 22 just out of college. I had been studying film with a focus on screen writing, I was thinking oh, this sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m a writer and at the time I was very interested in learning how to do voice acting.

Didn’t hear anything for a few months then they sent me and another woman off to get trained at Joel Snyder’s Audio Description seminar.

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

Was it kind of hard to take what you learned and go right into the live stuff?

Chanelle:

Oh yeh! It was extremely difficult going from the training to doing live theater because the training was so heavily focused on TV and film that sure the basic stuff like;
Don’t talk over the dialog, Blind people aren’t idiots – don’t worry about being too tender or politically correct with your description. What you see you describe.

Of course with TV and film when you’re doing description for that you have the lovely pause button. You don’t necessarily have that for live theater.

(Music ends!)

You can’t go hey guys I screwed up can we go back. (Laughs along with TR) So it’s very much having to learn how to do things on the fly.

TR:

Like Chanelle, Liz too completed the ACB AD Training. Similarly, the application was less about TV and film.

Liz:

I’ve done photography ever since I was in middle school. I did photo journalism at my high school newspaper, in college. As a photo journalist I was realizing I wasn’t adding Alt Text. I wasn’t adding description in my captions to make it kind of more integrated. I would add a caption but I wouldn’t add that photo description.

TR:
Today, Liz can take up to 25 minutes crafting an image description when preparing to upload.

Liz:

Sometimes people are like how can you do that? Do the in their eyes the extra time and labor to do the Audio Description. My response now is how can you afford to not.

TR:

Even if you put aside making the world a more accessible place for all (boring!) there are some real benefits:

Liz:

It makes me look at my images more closely. It makes me reflect a lot more on images that I shot.

TR:

That reflection could lead to a better understanding beyond the pixels. Photography biases for example.
Liz:

Not taking images of people with disabilities. Taking more images of cisgender men.

TR:

It’s not just about description – Liz is thoughtful about phrasing.

Liz:

Language is also fluid and socially constructed and also has different meanings over generations and time. Like modern and traditional. Well that means something very different now than it did in 1940.

My first draft will be one way and then I’ll look at it later on in the day and then I’ll change it. If I say something like traditional, then I have to ask myself well what do I mean and also what did I really see.

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

In addition to learning the sort of standard ways that one is meant to do Audio Description for video for things like Netflix and Amazon, I’ve also been thrown into the world of how do you break that open and describe differently in ways that are actually respecting the culture, respecting the art. becoming part of the art and not just being tacked on after the fact because somebody does not want to get in trouble for not providing access.

TR:

I find it very empowering to see a lot of that pushing of the boundaries around Audio Description coming from the disability community.

It’s no surprise that Alejandra has worked with Alice Sheppard and laurel Lawson who we featured here on the podcast. All sharing this way of looking at Audio Description as more than an access accommodation.

Alejandra:

I don’t have a specific background in writing, but I have a specific background in wanting to be right!
[TR in conversation with Alejandra:]

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

Given that I have a personal investment with my community and the people that I care about

TR:

That’s the Disability community. When you’re connected like that it’s more than a job.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being a job that you perform professionally.

Alejandra:

I have AD on for almost everything that I watch as well as captions. And there have been so many times where I’m like you know that’s not right, I don’t like that.

TR:

Word selection, maybe failure to fully describe what was on screen…

Alejandra:

We both know that a lot of it is in the timing. And again it’s because AD is added on after the fact. There’s some really interesting things that I’ve been able to consult with

I did a live Audio Description for a panel sponsored by the New York University Center for Disability Studies. it featured the short films of a film maker named Jordan Lord. They create autobiographical films but the AD is baked into the narration. It’s written in sort of a prose style and the shots sort of follow as it’s written. So it’s not something that you have to add on after the fact. The filming is informed by what the film maker has written. And it’s very interesting. I think more films should be made that way.

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

No, I haven’t. Four or five years ago I was in the Disability Studies program, another student was talking about her letter of accommodation and her relationship to disability and her own disability identity. She also had mental health issues and mental health things and I was like oh my God like I’m also part of this community and I didn’t even know.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

I don’t think people are talking about this, the identity of the describer or the person who does the voice, who writes it. They’ve made a huge impact on how I think about Audio Description and describe.

TR:

While working on an art gallery project, Liz and a colleague each drafted what they refer to as positionality statements. This included their bio’s and a statement about how they became involved in description.

Liz:

If you’re going to read a book, you might want to know a little bit about the author. You don’t have to.

We are not in a post racial world. I think it’s very important and necessary to know if you’re in an art gallery or theater you definitely need to know who’s writing that book or that script or who’s doing the painting, where they’re coming from.

TR:

Liz who completed the ACB Audio Description project training, refers to one of the lessons taught.

Liz:

In Snyder’s training even in his book, I don’t know about other people’s training and workshops but there’s about two sentences about race and that’s about it.

Basically, just to kind of paraphrase it says to describe race if it’s important.

TR:

The guideline refers to importance in regards to the movie’s plot. But like Liz says:
Liz:

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

It’s especially important to those who are marginalized . those who have been under or misrepresented on and behind the camera. Important to those who care about equity & justice. Important to those who want to see the real world which includes so much more than just white men. (My words, not Liz)

Important is subjective. So who should make the determination when it comes to consuming content?

I propose the consumer. In order to do that, Blind consumers need that information.

Liz:

If you are describing race you need to do it for all the people or all the characters not just the people of color because otherwise it centers whiteness. So I agree with that. What I’ve experienced though, race is not described. Even in for example, Black Panther or in some movies or TV shows that is predominantly people of color.

Chanelle:

Traveling Broadway shows, they are so white. (Laughs) I’ll be the first to admit and I am about as white as you can get. Thank God more recently we have had a lot more diversity in shows.

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

Hamilton is like the perfect example of this. Also Hades Town more recently.

I will absolutely go out of my way to make sure to point out that there are Black actors, Hispanic actors, Asian actors in a show just because I really want to celebrate the diversity of these shows going forward. I’ll do the same thing when I’m doing Circe Sol as well. The audience will always be very diverse as well so it’s great for someone who may not be sighted or may be Low Vision to be able to imagine themselves within that person in the show.

TR:

And if we’re going to change the way we think about race & privilege it’s just as important that non people of color also see and acknowledge & respect this diversity.

Like the saying goes, things are rarely black and white. There’s lots of shade in between. Those shades are important and often reveal other stories.

Liz:

If I do distinguish between someone who might be light or medium or dark skin, is that perpetuating colorism? I don’t want to perpetuate colorism. On the other side, probably when people in TV or film make casting decisions they are making decisions like that. Unfortunately!

TR:

Colorism or the practice of favoritism towards those with lighter skin has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. It’s not exclusive to the US or to African Americans but rather throughout communities of color.

Acknowledging a person’s color as description does not perpetuate colorism. A Blind viewer Wanting descriptive information about a person doesn’t make them a racist. Including editorial such as the prettier or menacing followed by color or racial identification, well that’s another story. It’s going beyond what’s required for Audio Description and providing opinion or analysis – which is the responsibility of the consumer alone.

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

I’m Hispanic, but I have a lot of experience code switching and ultimately being very white passing, both in my physical appearance and in my voice. And whether or not I realize it or admit it in different situations that’s opened different doors for me.

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

The two things are very separate, AD script writing and AD Voicing, but I’ve done some AD script writing for some Netflix shows as a contractor. Not particularly things that I found super exciting but they needed somebody to write a script and then I didn’t get to voice those things because AD Voice work is like any kind of performance and acting work, they sort of have to want you for the part.

I think it’s important for the voicing of Audio Description to match the tone and the content and the intention of the work. And I don’t see that happening. Not very often anyway.

TR:

And then, there’s physical access for the creation of accessible digital content

(Music ends)

Alejandra:
At a practical level, places that are doing audio production, voice recording and audio books, even our local library that handles recording for the NLS, booths are tight. Wheel chairs are not. This is not an experience that these places generally have. They’re not generally expecting a wheelchair user to come in to record and it’s unfortunately like everywhere else I’ve had to have this discussion. Yes, I use a wheelchair, yes we’re going to have to make adjustments to booths so I can get inside, you can just barely squeeze into the booth and you need space to do these things.

And I’m also very interested in Spanish language content AD as well because there’s not as much of it.

TR:

This raises the question of non-English access in general. Something I fail to personally remember on my own when thinking about access.

Chanelle:
Each studio sometimes has their own rules of stuff that you can or cannot say. You can’t say that they point a weapon at someone. You can’t refer to anatomy in certain cases like you can’t say chest you can’t say butt!

TR:

I’ve heard this about Disney. At first, you may think well, Disney produces a lot of content for children. So they’re being sensitive to the viewer. But remember, it’s on screen. And it’s not just Disney.

It’s not just the censorship that annoys me, but even in terms of researching this, we’d need sighted help.

Liz:

If we as describers similar to people who do interpretation with like ASL, if someone swears, the interpreter should interpret that. I think the captioner should caption that. Because that’s what the person said. So similar to Audio Description, I think we also have that obligation.

TR:

Whatever the medium, television & film, live theater, video games, museums, art galleries and yes, you too right now uploading your images and videos to social media – getting all of these content creators to know and think about Audio Description needs to be a goal.

The benefits of AD extend further than the consumer. We all win!

Chanelle:

Regardless of what I’m watching now if it’s a TV show if it’s a movie if it’s another stage show, I find myself kind of mentally describing it like I would do it for an actual performance. So it’s very much changed my view point of media in general.

TR:

I know I’ve heard some conversation around what qualifies someone as an AD professional. A specific number of training hours? Certification perhaps?

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

There are many folks who do this work because they have particular kinds of voices. Because they can crank it out because they’re smooth and more power to them.

I just am not that kind of describer because I have a very particular investment in my community and in the work that I am producing and that doesn’t mean that other folks aren’t doing high quality work. It’s just that what is informing their work is very different.

TR:

For an example of what’s informing her work, you can hear Alejandra narrating Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century right now on Audible. The book is available on Amazon and other outlets and it’s Alice y’all so it’s in a variety of formats because Access is love!

Alejandra does a great job narrating and I highly recommend the audio book.

Shout out to all of my guests for taking the time to speak with me;
Alejandra Ospina (Spanish accented pronunciation)
Available at SuperAleja.org that’s S U P E R A L E J A. O R G
The site Includes links to all social media.

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

You can find both on Facebook especially in the Audio description discussion group

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I have a couple more episodes that I’m including in this Flipping the Script on Audio Description series. I’m not publishing them back to back so if you’re interested in the subject and want to make sure you don’t miss the next installment, please allow me to make a suggestion.

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Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
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Barney Rubble:

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Fred Flintstone:

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Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

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Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

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