Joel Snyder, Audio Description Training: The 4 Fundamentals Summary

Observation: Learning to see

  • Describers must increase level of awareness and become an active “see-er”
    • Notice all the visual elements that make up an image
  • Describer must develop his/her visual literacy, notice the visual world with a heightened sense of acuity, and share those images 
  • *temptation to describe by assigning a label, by naming an object. Labeling is NOT describing, need to acknowledge how it is rather than what it is
    • “Seeing is forgetting the name of what one sees” - Paul Valery, French Poet and Philosopher
  • Nurturing more powers of observation builds foundation as a skilled describer 

What Not to Say..and When Not to Say It: Editing 

  • Art of audio description is describing far less than we see, not enough time to convey all that there is. 
  • Audio describer must edit 
  • Exercise in what not to describe
    • Make choices, decide what is not a priority for a description and convey what is most important. 
    • “Leaving out all but the essential” 
    • Leave out more than is included in the description 
    • “It is only selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things” -Georgia O’Keefe, American artist
  • Steps for choosing what to describe
    • Go from the general to the specific: Start generally and create a context then move to details to enhance understanding and appreciation
      • Provide visual perspective as appropriate and as time permits
    • Use color: United Kingdom’s Independent Television Commision (ITC) explains:
      • “Most visually impaired people have at some time seen colours and either retained the visual memory of colour or can remember the significance and impact of a particular colour…People who are blind from birth or from an early age cannot ‘see’ colours but they fi understand the significance of a particular colour by its association”
        • Ex: Mary O’Neil’s Hailstones and Halibut Bones
          • What is Black?
          • Black is the night
          • When there isn’t a star
          • And you can’t tell by looking
          • Where you are.
    • Include directional information: some audio description users will “see” if you tell them where to look. Directional pointers can help audio description users organize the information they hear.
    • Describe what is most essential:
      • “To accomplish more, sometimes you have to see less”
      • “Can I visualize what’s happening without becoming confused?”

The Words You Say: Language 

Audio describer is part journalist, faithfully relaying the facts: 
  • When/Where:
    • What time of day is it? (Light or dark? Cloudy or sunny?)
    • What is the location?
  • Who:
    • Who is in the image?
    • Names are less important than what someone looks like
    • Age:
      • What does he/she look like?
      • The things you see that prompt you to think the individual is a certain age
      • Shortcuts are also used: Ex- in her late forties, in his sixties, preteen, teenage
    • Hair/Build/Clothing:
      • Ex:
        • Cropped brown hair, long blonde hair, redheaded woman
        • Slim, tall, stocky
        • Dressed in a white pantsuit, wearing a blue floral dress, in a bright red sweater
    • Relationship:
      • Ex:
        • Taller, shorter
        • Mother, father, son, brother in law
        • (only note a specific familial relationship if it is known or has already been established)
    • Characters/people:
      • Describe individuals by using the most significant physical characteristics 
      • Identify ethnicity or race, vital to comprehension of content 
      • Citing race of nonwhite individuals sets white as the default and is unacceptable 
      • Race or color of skin should be conveyed when known or if it is important to the content
  • What:
    • Explain what is happening: what actions are most important for a clear understanding and appreciation of the images
      • Describe expressive gestures and movement. 
      • Refrain from what you think is inferred in terms of emotions. 
    • Be specific: specificity creates images in minds’ eye to a greater degree than a general reference
      • Ex: how many things are there? What is the position? Is the image a photograph, is it in color or black and white?
    • Remember that less is more: Clarity is the main aim of audio description
      • [Image being described] should be allowed to breathe from time to time. Allowing the atmosphere to come through. Weed out what is not essential
    • Be clear, concise and conversational: use everyday terms, limit use of slang or jargon
    • Remember point of view and narrative tense:
      • Deliver description in present tense 
      • Use third person to show neutrality and non-interference 
    • Consider your audience 
    • Consider the material: Use language consistent with content of material 
    • Avoid saying “we see, notice, or view” it is a given
    • Vary word choices
    • Use definite or indefinite articles appropriately 
    • Be careful with pronouns:
      • Only use when it is clear to whom or what the pronoun refers
    • Identify words that have multiple meanings:
      • Be sure the intended meaning is conveyed 
    • Avoid censorship:
      • Describers must convey all of the visual elements of the material being described, DO NOT censor any information for any personal reason 
  • Objectivity:
    • Being a “verbal camera lens” - objectively recounting visual aspects of an event 
    • Let listeners come up with their own interpretations on a commentary that is as objective as possible
    • Ex: Do not say “he is furious,” instead say, “he’s clenching his fist” 
    • “What you see is what you say” (WYSIWYS)
  • Imagination:
    • Describer must use language that helps others see vividly
    • Describer’s must develop their ability to see beyond what is readily apparent 
    • Use metaphor and simile:
      • Describe shapes, sizes, other essential attributes of images by comparing to items, objects, or areas that are familiar to the intended audience

The words you say and how you say them: Vocal Skills 

Make meaning with our voices
  • Pronunciation:
    • Prepare in advance, use transliterations to indicate pronunciation
  • Enunciation/Word Rate:
    • Speak clearly and at a rate that can be understood 
    • Try speaking descriptions to yourself to make sure they flow casually 
  • Consonance:
    • Voicer’s delivery should be consonant with the nature of the material being described 
    • Voice should match the pace (word rate), energy, and volume of material
    • Ex: Language and vocal delivery to describe a fight scene will be different than that of a love scene 
    • Allow the performance to set the tone and rhythm of the description, remembering the performance and NOT the describer should be the focus