An audio describer’s job is like a narrator telling a story. Audio description (AD) is an additional commentary that describes body language, expressions, movements, locations, time of day etc allowing the blind or partially sighted viewer to hear what they might not be able to see and therefore not miss out on any relevant information or detail. It is a very rewarding role but like most jobs it has its challenges. My name is Penelope Parisi and I have been working for Sky as an audio describer for thirteen years.
One of the main day to day challenges that arise in the course of scripting a title is being able to, in sometimes very short gaps in the dialogue or sound effects, relay all the information of what you’d ideally want to impart (generally this is ..what is it, when is it, who is it and where is it) and to precis the information according to its relevance to the continuity of understanding. The way I approach a new programme be it, Film, Documentary, Sport, Drama, Comedy etc is to watch it first to get a feel of the genre, consider where am I likely to add AD, takes notes and jot down ideas as they come to mind. I do some research, websites like Internet Movie Data Base, IMDB are a very useful resource to help with characters names, cast and crew details, production companies, storylines, soundtracks, and filming locations. But what do you do when you’re offered a programme at 6pm on a Tuesday that you need to script and voice by lunchtime the next day, as it goes to air the following evening? This was my challenge a couple of weeks ago. So, I agreed to take on an American medical drama called 'New Amsterdam', but I’d never seen the show before and it was Series 3! Well, it really focuses the mind, that’s for sure. Luckily, I was given access to episode one to watch along with the scripts to refer to. So, this is how I went about the task in hand...
Step one...watch episode one first, making notes of the characters names and job titles whilst referring to the script
Step two...research the events leading up to the finale in series two as episode one series three starts off with an unusually long five-minute opening sequence with absolutely NO dialogue. Is what’s happened before relevant?
Step three...research series one and two as I had gaps in my understanding...for example how, why and when did the lead characters wife die, and has he since, as hinted at, had a love interest with one of the doctors, if so, what happened?
Step four...do some research on medical terminology, medical equipment, and names of departments within hospitals which vary to those we call them in the UK for example ED emergency department opposed to A&E accident and emergency.
Step five...start scripting and the complex decision-making process of what to impart whilst also considering the profile of the audience. Once this is complete edit and improve the language, check for grammar and repetition of words.
Step six....vocal warm up
Step seven...record the script, using the right tone of voice, pace, and inflections to match the mood of the piece. In New Amsterdam, the music selection has been very carefully considered, so it was very important to let the lyrics tell their story as well.
Step eight...listen back to the recording for clarity and any mistakes.
Step nine...with a couple of hours to spare send the completed piece to Sky to get ready for TX, transmission, at 9pm
What really helped the process was the high quality of the scripts and the excellent acting making my job to describe the action so much easier. Having access to the scripts immediately clarifies details and names, as accents can sometimes distort what you think your hearing. One of the perks of being an audio describer is that no two days are ever the same, tomorrow I will be scripting a reality show, and the challenges we face keeps the work exciting and the scripts descriptive, relevant, and fresh.
New Amsterdam S3 on Sky Witness
Audio Description by Penelope Parisi