Audio Describing 'The Book of Love'

Book of Love, a Sky Original movie set in London and Mexico, tells the story of a writer, Henry Copper, whose romance novel becomes a phenomenon after translator Maria Rodriguez decides to spice up the story for the Spanish language version of the book. Much hilarity ensues as Henry embarks on a book tour with Maria acting as his interpreter.

In this movie, the voicing of subtitles is essential for audio description users; sometimes Maria deliberately misleads Henry with her translations, while the subtitles tell the real story of what’s being said. It features some whole conversations in Spanish between Maria, her young son Diego, grandfather Max and ex-partner Antonio. A charming and funny scene sees the hapless Henry attempting to befriend Diego with the aid of a phrase book. All of this required subtitle dubbing in addition to the description of visuals.

While voicing the subtitles, my goal was to make sure that visually impaired viewers could follow the story, including who was speaking, what they were saying and any important on-screen action. Where possible, I placed the dubbing cue a second or so after the actor starts speaking, in order for their voice to be heard first. I chose not to dub over some very simple Spanish phrases such as ‘Hola’ and ‘Gracias’, especially if this reduced the time that could be spent on important visual descriptions. Where a Spanish phrase was repeated a few times, I translated it once, then allowed the actor’s voice to be heard, since their emotional tone is an important part of the viewer’s experience that can communicate a lot about the different character’s feelings and relationships.

A really important decision we made as a team was that the audio description would be voiced by two different describers. I recorded just the subtitles, while my colleague Ciaran McLaughlin voiced the visual descriptions. We hope that by using two distinct voices we’ve made things easier to follow and more engaging for audio description users.

Not only was this movie a great challenge to audio describe, it’s also a chance to reflect on the responsibility that we have as ‘translators’ of visual material. While there’s really no such thing as ‘objective’ audio description, we do work hard to find language that evokes the tone of the visuals while staying true to the director’s vision and not overly embellishing anything. We’d certainly never follow Maria’s example!

By Jenni Elbourne, Audio Describer