The Fun Challenges & Obstacles of AD

The Fun Challenges & Obstacles of AD

As an audio describer (a person who creates verbal descriptions of visual information) no two working days are ever the same. Our team at Sky covers a vast array of genre’s including film, sport, documentaries, nature, arts, comedy, kids, syfy, reality tv, animation, games shows and many more. After fourteen years of working as an Audio Describer for Sky I thought that I’d tackled most of the challenges the role can present, for example a few years ago I was given a film entitled ‘6 Below Miracle on the Mountain’ the true story of an adrenaline seeking snowboarder Eric Le Marque (played by Josh Hartnett) who gets lost in a fierce snowstorm on his last run down a mountain in California’s Sierra Nevada. The film charts his eight-day battle to survive trapped on the mountain in freezing temperatures…Imagine my alarm when swathes of the 1 hour 38-minute-long film essentially features Hartnett wandering silently and painfully through the snow. This is not to say that the film is not compelling watching however I really had to dig deep to find multiple ways to describe the constant white snow laden mountainous scenery with little to no dialogue.

Then earlier this year I was given my first ever black and white movie called ‘Run for Your Money’ to audio describe, which dated back to 1949! Once I’d tuned my ear into the Welsh accent, the sound quality was obviously not up to today’s impeccable standards, I quickly realised that by being in black and white this immediately limited my ability to add a layer of description which colour affords. One of the golden rules of Audio Description is not to make assumptions so descriptions for example of hair and eye colour, clothes, landscapes, and weather conditions proved more difficult, guessing was not an option. Instead, I had to focus on actions, facial expressions, a sense of place and mood.

Over the last couple of months, I have also worked on the comedy series ‘Will and Grace’ the fast-paced gags and throw away one liners often leave you with little opportunity to explain the joke whilst also having to observe the rule of not masking other important sound sources. A faster delivery was imperative in this situation, whilst still maintaining clarity and diction. Any programmes with subtitles can add its own set of challenges reading them out which can often be from multiple actors can really draw hard on your ability to act and switch up your tone of voice whilst working in harmony with the piece and not becoming a distraction.

And my most recent challenge comes in the form of series two of The Flight Attendant’ where the female lead character Cassie (played by Kaley Cuoco) has five versions of herself, add the fact that they are usually set in flashbacks in her mind palace, setting the scene for these occasions was an extremely difficult task and often within tight time constraints but essential to describe to avoid confusion. After much deliberation, careful thought and planning I chose to identify the characters as Cassie, gold dress Cassie, drunk Cassie, perfect ‘together’ Cassie and teenage Cassie. Finally, to add insult to injury ‘Cassie’ had two other people wearing the same clothes as her and wigs to match her long blonde hair impersonating her, so seven Cassie’s to identify!!!

With all that said, these challenges and obstacles are what makes the job so interesting and varied, as we constantly strive to deliver the best viewer experience, we can bring to each title within every genre. Choosing vivid evocative language and troubleshooting is all part of the skill and craft of creating good audio description and I for one feel privileged to do this on a daily basis.

Written by Penelope Parisi