Applications for voice work are many and multiplying and every few months I’m delighted to discover another avenue within my field. A couple of months ago, I worked on a pitch for a large Audio Description project.
You might have accidentally come across Described Audio, Described Video or Audio Description in your TV travels. It’s that separate narration track that describes what’s happening on screen during the natural pauses in the dialogue.
I admit the first time I came across that (accidentally at a hotel where it had been accessed and left on by a previous viewer) I thought it was some new take on television. An odd artistic choice, like reality TV, or the double narrators in Jane the Virgin. But no. “Bill put down his glass” and “Sally stamped out her cigarette” are actually post production narration tracks for the visually impaired.
Described Audio is different from narration. DA lists details that help one visualize the story, whereas a narrator is implicated in the story and actively gives an account of it.
My voice over friend Bev Standing has done Described Audio for Canadian TV networks. I asked about her experience with this type of narration.
Kim: Bev, is this work that you did from your home studio?
Bev: No, it was at AMI Accessible Media Inc in Toronto. I started volunteering there as a voice for “Described Video,” they called it.
Kim: How did you find them?
Bev: Through my agent.
Kim: Did you have to do anything special to prepare? Like, did they send you anything beforehand or was it more like ADR, you just show up and jump in?
Bev: The first time they asked me to audition, they sent a script, but it’s not like a normal script. It’s completely broken up by time down to the millisecond. With the words you’re going to hear on screen, then your words come in…then it skips to the next millisecond.
Kim: At this point, is it just the script or do you get a link to a video as well?
Bev: They send you the video to watch, so you can make your notes, when to be happy, scared, that sort of thing.
Kim: Should the DA Narrator have the same emotion as the on-screen characters?.
Bev: It’s storytelling, but you don’t have a lot to say. Like the line might be: “May 5th,” or, ”Walter Kronkite.” So, it’s hard to have an emotion with that.
Kim: But it’s not like a newscaster read?
Bev: Not exactly. You switch back and forth between factual and mood, and that switch it happens close together a lot.
Kim: Any other preparation?
Bev: If I had to prepare for like a 1 hour long documentary, I’d watch the doc, and check my words. If I didn’t know the pronunciation, I’d do my research. And I’d try to fit the words in ahead of time, to practice.
Kim: Are you directed?
Bev: When you go into record, there’s a producer/director and a sound tech in your headphones. a lot of the sound techs are visually impaired or blind. If you make a click or a mistake, they pick it out, they’re so tuned in, it’s amazing.
Kim: What was your favorite thing to describe?
Bev: I did 3 seasons of Matlock. That was fun to be part of a series, and it was more descriptive. Like, ”As Matlock walks down the steps of the court house.”
Kim: What else did you enjoy?
Bev: I liked the variety. There were PSAs commercials, very much in the story-telling vein. We did news, too. Alongside the visuals, they threw in facts at the same time.
Kim: Technically, is it like dubbing? Where there’s a white stripe or a rhythm band along with your script written out?
Bev: Yeah, they roll the video with the time code on top. If you have an in-cue at 6:16, you jump in at 6:16.
Kim: How long were your sessions? And what kind of content would you record in a typical session?
Bev: They were three-hour sessions. We might do one or two hour long shows in one hour. If we were recording PSAs, they might line up ten of those in a row. It’s very, very different from anything else I’ve ever done. And you never know what they’re going to send you.
Kim: Is it fun?
Bev: It is fun – a little nerve wracking – but the sound guys are phenomenal, they can adjust you. It comes out sounding great.
Bev Standing is a talented voice over actor with a heart big enough and warm enough to melt the polar ice caps. Kim Handysides (moi) also hails from the Great White North & (like Bev) traffics her own voice for a living.
Diana Birdsall says
What a compelling story. So interesting and something I never hear about! Wonderful article.
Kim Handysides says
I love finding new avenues for voice work! Thanks for commenting Diana. Much appreciated.
Marie Hoffman says
This was so fascinating. Never really thought about this genre but definitely makes sense–nice work, Bev and Kim.
Kim Handysides says
Thanks Marie! Appreciate you checking this out. 🙂
Leslie Ligon says
Thank you for this article, Kim!
Over the past 15 years, I’ve described for live stage productions, movies and television, and hope to do DV professionally, one day. (As the proud mother of two college age sons, I can say DV – which I was initially exposed to while watching movies with our older son, who’s blind – is actually what propelled my desire to finally get into voiceover.) There are so many of these that are done pretty badly; knowing how to keep the character of a scene is a huge part of a good DV voiceover!
As far as advocacy goes, I’m part of the TV academy for the Emmy Awards, there have been a lot of events that I’ve been to where I’ve met a producer, share with them what I do and inevitably the ones that are not aware of Audio Description lean in and say “Wait, tell me more about this, what is this?”. So, there’s a genuine curiosity and a discovery of this other element that is a part of their film that they might not know about. I’ve found that those that are aware of it, of which there are a lot, find a way to make sure it gets passed through from cinema to streaming service and make sure that content travels. It needs a restructuring of a lot of systems to let that pass through to happen. There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes from a lot of caring people. I have a lot of hope that this is growing in a positive direction.