There are many challenges when it comes to writing Audio Description.
I’m going to focus on a few topics that can call for a change in scripting style and tone, cause endless confusion (and headaches!), or, in the case of the final challenge – induce sheepish grins.
1: CHILDREN’S PROGRAMMING
Should you presume that children would know what a ‘trebuchet’ is, and not describe and explain it? (the answer is no, you shouldn’t). How do you script a programme that has no dialogue – just animal noises? And what’s the best way to describe characters that don’t exist in real life, such as the seed-like Poc-Pocs in The Adventures of Abney and Teal?
Whether it’s for pre-schoolers or older children, we give a careful eye to the language used when scripting for kids’ shows. Simple words and short phrases are used when writing for a younger audience, and any complicated words or concepts that can’t be avoided are explained as much as possible.
And as for the animal noises? Check out ‘Timmy Time,’ which follows the adventures of Timmy the lamb and his barnyard friends. It’s 10 minutes long, but can have up to 60 descriptions (in comparison, a 30 minute soap might have only 30 descriptions.) We have to script over some of the ‘baaas,’ ‘woofs!’ and ‘meows’ – but we avoid going over noises with particular intonation (which mimics speech and conveys emotion.)
2: PLOTLINES AND STORY ARCS
Remember sci-fi drama series, ‘Heroes’? VERY complicated. With the extraordinary abilities of the show’s ‘superhumans’ to convey to a blind audience, as well as shape-shifters, dopplegangers, clones, time-travel, and the constantly shifting loyalties of resident bad guy/good guy, Sylar, ‘Heroes’ was a challenge to audio describe. So how do we keep track of all of the constant plot and character changes in shows with complex story arcs?
We have programme ‘templates’ – documents that we create to keep character and location screenshots, as well as recent episode synopses. Being tasked to write an AD script for ‘Heroes’ did induce what I call the ‘Sam Beckett’ moment – getting up to speed by looking at the template, speaking to colleagues, then writing an AD script that made sense. Oh boy…
Ah, sex scenes, always a challenge – scripting them, that is. The language used has to suit the scene (be it tasteful, or tawdry) as the AD is there to enhance, not distract.
A prime rule of AD is ‘say what you see’, and it’s a great safeguard to remember in this instance. For example, if someone’s eyes are rolling into the back of their head, then that’s what we describe and, much like a sighted person would, we let the audience infer from that what they want..
Do you think on-demand smartphone apps should offer an AD service? What about an ‘audio-only’ file, allowing ‘catch-up’ while on the go?
Mary Sweeney, Scripter, Audio Description