Thank-You Thursday Night: Audio Describers

If you watch much TV, you no doubt have run across the option for SAP (Secondary Audio Programming). Pushing the button or icon for this track, you will hear the program you are watching described. While this service has been available now for a couple decades, it is no less amazing to witness in action. Today, we say, “Thank you” to those describers who write and read the scripts that bring the scenes of a police drama like Blue Bloods or Bosch alive for us who cannot see.

Take a recent job overview from the Descriptive Video Service as an example of someone who provides their expertise in making scenes come to life for us. “Under the supervision of the DVS Operations Manager, the Describer is responsible for the development of written descriptions of the visual elements of dramatic, historic and family-oriented programs from selected public and broadcast network television series, feature films and environmental installations.  Descriptions will be created to fit within pauses in program narration and dialogue, or to describe the environment of physical spaces and the experiences found therein. Schedule flexibility will be necessary to accommodate workflow.”

As we have had our favorite voices narrate talking books for us over the years, we grow fond of certain voices who narrate our favorite movies or TV shows. Sometimes, the person’s voice tone matches the tenor of the setting. In a police drama like Bosch, you want someone who’s got a knack for concise, pithy description that conveys urgency. After all, the protagonist, Harry Bosch is himself a very serious, focused and driven person. Since many of the scenes in the show conveyed a sense of edginess, a more soothing voice describing the action would not do. On the other hand, if you’re watching a PBS documentary on nature, you expect the describer to convey the picturesque view of a forest, mountains, or tropical scenery.

Those who undertake the task of adding their voice to a TV show or movie fit their narration in the gaps where no pertinent dialogue is present. Sometimes, this happens at the time when opening credits roll across the screen. In the movie, Top Gun, the narrator describes the aircraft carrier with the F14 Tomcat ready to fly. During the roll of credits for Bosch, the skyline of Los Angeles comes into view, then zeros in on the action. The describer brings that into view for us who can’t see both in what he or she says but the inflection with which she or she speaks.

In the case of an action scene like a gunfight or car chase, sounds of shooting or the ebb and flow of music underlies the narration. This requires describers having a cadence that melds the important details for capturing the action while allowing for the gap between characters’ dialogue to dictate the time within which they can speak. Sometimes, that’s ten to twenty seconds or longer if scenes change without a word being spoken.

Often the workload for audiodescribers depends on the amount of shows being produced and which companies are requesting their work. CBS has taken quite the ambitious role in bringing audio description to us who are blind, most evening programming on their main network as well as Paramount Plus is now available to us who can’t see. That requires a lot of hours’ writing scripts and working in the narration for the secondary audio programming.

As for knowing which programs on TV and which movies may be audiodescribed, check out the American Council of the Blind’s audio description project.

So those who write the scripts and who describe them for us, we say, “Thank you.” You make our viewing that much more pleasurable.

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