The guidelines presented in this document are the result of a three-year (2011-2014) research project on audio description (AD) for the blind and visually impaired, financed by the European Union under the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP). The basic motivation for the launching of the project was the need to define and create a series of reliable and consistent, research-based guidelines for making arts and media products accessible to the blind and visually impaired through the provision of AD.
These guidelines are intended for AD professionals and students to help them create quality services, but they also consider those people that have come into contact with AD in their personal or professional lives and who wish to better understand the challenges of the practice. The guidelines can be read in their entirety, but their structure also allows you to pinpoint a specific issue and browse the relevant item chapter. The chapters have been grouped in three sections: section 1 is an introduction to AD and introduces some related concepts. Section 2, AD scriptwriting, consists of the guidelines for writing audio descriptions for recorded AD, cinema and television more specifically. Section 3, Information on the AD process and its variants, provides a good insight into the various steps involved in the production of a finalised audio-described product. The chapters in section 3 are informative and have been designed to give you a maximum of insight and knowledge about the whole AD production process in a nutshell. To conclude, the guidelines also have a number of appendices: an example of an AD script and an Audio Introduction, a glossary with key terms and their definitions and finally a section with suggestions for further reading.
These guidelines have been edited by Aline Remael, Gert Vercauteren and Nina Reviers (University of Antwerp) and include contributions from the following authors: Iwona Mazur, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu, Gert Vercauteren, Aline Remael, University of Antwerp, Anna Maszerowska, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Elisa Perego, Università di Trieste, Agnieszka Chmiel, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu, Anna Matamala, Pilar Orero, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Chris Taylor, Università di Trieste, Bernd Benecke and Haide Völz, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Nina Reviers, University of Antwerp, Josélia Neves, Instituto Politécnico de Leiria.
We wish to take the opportunity here to thank all people involved in the ADLAB project, in particular: Manuela Francisco (Instituto Politécnico de Leiria) for her work on the e-book version of these guidelines, the members of the advisory board for their constructive suggestions, Alex Varley (Media Access Australia) and Jan-Louis Kruger (Macquarie University, Australia) and all the user associations, organisations, museums, providers, companies from all the partner countries that were so kind to contribute to the project, and everyone else who contributed in some way.
Additionally we would like to thank Pathé UK for letting us use the AD script of Slumdog Millionaire, thank Katrien Lievois, as we are indebted to her research on intertextuality in AD ('Audio-describing cinematographic allusions', paper presented at the International Media for All Conference, Dubrovnik, September 2013) and mention that contributions by Iwona Mazur and Agnieszka Chmiel have been partially supported by a research grant of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher education for the years 2012-2014, awarded for the purposes of implementing a co-financed international project (agreement number 2494/ERASMUS/2012/2).
This introduction provides the necessary conceptual framework regarding audio description that you will need to make optimal use of these guidelines. It first gives a short definition of AD and its production process. Then it explains how stories are told in audiovisual materials, and introduces the main topics that are explained in greater detail in section 2, AD scriptwriting. Next a description of the target audience is provided, followed by a discussion of two thorny issues in AD: equivalence and objectivity. Finally, there is a section on how to use these guidelines.
AD is a service for the blind and visually impaired that renders Visual Arts and Media accessible to this target group. In brief, it offers a verbal description of the relevant (visual) components of a work of art or media product, so that blind and visually impaired patrons can fully grasp its form and content. AD is offered with different types of arts and media content, and, accordingly, has to fulfil different requirements. Descriptions of "static" visual art, such as paintings and sculptures, are used to make a museum or exhibition accessible to the blind and visually impaired. These descriptions can be offered live, as part of a guided tour for instance, or they can be made available in recorded form, as part of an audio guide. AD of "dynamic" arts and media services has slightly different requirements. The descriptions of essential visual elements of films, TV series, opera, theatre, musical and dance performances or sports events, have to be inserted into the "natural pauses" in the original soundtrack of the production. It is only in combination with the original sounds, music and dialogues that the AD constitutes a coherent and meaningful whole, or "text". AD for dynamic products can be recorded and added to the original soundtrack (as is usually the case for film and TV), or it can be performed live (as is the case for live stage performances).
Depending on the nature of a production additional elements may be required to render it fully accessible. In the case of subtitled films, the subtitles need to be voiced and turned into what are called Audio Subtitles (AST). Some films or theatre productions require an introduction (called Audio Introductions, AI) for various reasons. In the case of museum exhibitions, descriptions may be combined with touch tours or other tactile information. In all cases, websites can be used to provide additional information about a production or exhibition, provided they are accessible too.
The creation and distribution of ADs is a complex process that requires the collaboration of multiple professionals from different fields: audio describers, voice talents or voice actors, sound technicians and users. Even if each AD provider has its own best practice, the production process for film and TV series usually includes the following steps:
Figure 1: The AD production process
The main focus of these guidelines is on the AD scriptwriting phase (step 1). This process is more or less the same for all types of AD, from film to theatre and visual arts. But the production process for live AD obviously does not include steps 3 and 4. The recording process for audio guides with AD is also quite different from that for film.
One of the basic theoretical principles underlying the approach taken in these guidelines is that many films, TV programmes, theatre plays, etc. want to offer their audiences an experience that is driven by a story or narrative. Given their inherently multimodal nature, the stories told in these and other audiovisual products will only be partly accessible to blind and partially sighted audiences and it will be the audio describer’s task to provide the information to which these audiences do not have access, so that they can reconstruct the story told in the ST in the fullest possible way. This task consists of two parts that are also reflected in the structure of the different chapters in these guidelines: first describers must analyse their ST to identify what story filmmakers want to tell and what principles and techniques they use to tell their story. Then describers must decide what narrative elements to include in the TT or AD script and how to formulate the description.
The better audio describers know how filmmakers tell stories and how audiences reconstruct them, the better they will be equipped to create their AD. Therefore the following paragraphs will briefly introduce the main principles of story creation as performed by the filmmaker and of story reconstruction as performed by the audience.
It is clearly beyond the scope of this section to discuss all the narratological principles underlying story creation at length, but broadly speaking story-creation is a three-stage process in which authors or filmmakers combine elements from two main narrative building blocks. In the first stage the author decides 1) what characters to include in the story and what actions they perform or undergo, and 2) in what spatial and temporal settings these actions will take place. In the second stage, the author will decide how exactly the story will be told:
In the first two stages, the story is in fact an abstract construct and it is only in the third stage that the author decides how he will present it concretely. In the case of films and other recorded audiovisual products, this implies using different film techniques to decide what is shown (e.g. a close-up to depict a character’s emotional reaction to an event, or a panoramic shot to present a majestic landscape), how it is shown (e.g. a specific camera angle to represent the superiority of one character over another, a scene presented in black and white to signal this is a dream sequence) and what the relations between different shots are (e.g. a flashback to explain the movement of a character from one setting to another, etc.). One very important aspect with regard to these relations is that the author or filmmaker has to maintain continuity, i.e. that he must ensure that the techniques he uses to combine the various shots and scenes create a coherent and consistent whole. Not only do these techniques serve a narrative function, they are also used to determine the style of the ST and they ensure its cohesion.
In other words: story-creation is a highly complex process involving various stages and offering quasi endless possibilities when it comes to selecting and combining different elements. Only after a careful analysis of both content and style of the ST, can the describer create a description that mirrors this ST.
Stories are never created in a vacuum. They are made to be read, listened to or watched by an audience that follows a path that is opposite to the one followed by the author, described in the previous section. In other words: audiences are presented with the concrete narrative, and they have to interpret and process it to arrive at the original, abstract (chronological) construct that the author started from. In part this is an individual process, dependent on the individual audience member’s knowledge and background. To a considerable extent, however, this story-reconstruction by the audience is a more or less universal process that we have all mastered. Audiences recreate stories according to general principles and better insight into these principles can help describers decide what to include in their descriptions and how to formulate them in order to make the story-recreation process easier for the blind and visually impaired.
Basically, audiences reconstruct stories by creating mental models of them, i.e. mental constructs of who did what with and/or to whom, where, when and why. Again this introduction does not allow us to fully elaborate on the construction of mental models by audiences, but they can be presented schematically as follows:
Figure 2: mental models in story-reconstruction
Central in this representation are the actions that drive the story forward. Those occupy an essential position in the model, to which all other aspects are related. In other words, when audiences process and interpret a story, they will look at the actions that are being performed and combine them with other information from the story: the characters that cause and undergo them and the spatio-temporal settings in which they take place. In addition, they will process the temporal relations between the different actions shown, in order to reconstruct their chronological order. As the story progresses, audiences continuously update their mental model of the story, adding new information to it, confirming what was already there or what they inferred, and changing existing information or assumptions based on information they have received later.
Just like story-creation, this story-reconstruction is a highly complex process that can, in very generalising terms, be seen as comprising two levels. On a first level, audiences create frames that serve as a context for every event in the story. In these frames information on the characters that are present and the spatial and temporal circumstances in which the event takes place, take the form of general labels, i.e. “John”, “London”, “1997””. On the second level, additional, more detailed information is added to these labels: John is a dark-haired man in his forties, he lives in a flat in a specific neighbourhood. It is a sunny day in the summer of 1997. An example of a “frame” could be a character’s office, and an example of a representation, a detailed description of a particular office chair. Such a seemingly secondary element in the mise-en-scène can be important if it has a symbolic function.
When a new story event is presented, the audience will check whether it can be attributed to an already existing frame, whether an existing frame has to be updated (for example because the spatio-temporal setting has remained the same but characters leave the setting or new characters enter it) or whether a new frame has to be created (a new location, for instance). These frames form the basis for the comprehension of the story: when audiences cannot link an event (e.g. a murder) to a frame (e.g. a future inheritance) or cannot create a new frame for a certain event (e.g. an inexplicable change in relations between characters), they will no longer be able to follow the story (temporarily or permanently).
Translated to the context of AD, describers first and foremost have to make sure that their AD (in combination with the original ST) contains all the necessary cues to allow the blind and partially sighted audience to create a context for every event taking place in the story. In a second stage they select the more detailed information or "entity representations" that fit that particular context.
The primary target audience of AD consists of blind and partially sighted viewers. However, this audience is very diverse. Some people were born blind (a minority), some became blind early on or later in life (e.g. as a result of an illness). Others have different degrees and different types of visual impairment. In brief, the target group is composed of subgroups that are all composed of individuals with different visual experiences and a different knowledge of the world. For economic and practical reasons, AD today aims to cater for all of these, which means that part of the challenge is to find a golden mean that will make the ST accessible to all.
In addition, AD is being used by an increasingly large group of sighted viewers for an equally varied number of reasons. Immigrants may use AD to learn the language of their host country, children may use AD as they are acquiring languages, people with ADHD may use the information provided by AD to help them focus on the programme. All this means that some users will still rely on the visual information to some extent, whereas others might use the AD as a talking book. This has important implications for synchrony between AD, sounds/dialogues and images.
Audio describers are also viewers. This means that the filmic story as told by audio describers, will always be their own interpretation of the film. Different audio describers will produce (somewhat) different audio descriptions. In this sense, AD is similar to other forms of translation.
In Translation Studies (TS), equivalence is a term that is still used to refer to the relation between ST and TT but that is also regarded as problematic because such "equivalence" is very difficult to define and is never absolute. Any translation will have deletions, additions, reformulations etc. when compared with its ST. In the case of AD the concept is even more problematic: when is the verbal rendering of an audio-visual production "equivalent" to its aural/visual ST? No watertight definition is possible. On the other hand, AD does strive to give its target audience an experience that is comparable to that of the sighted target audience, which is itself composed of individuals who will all see the film differently.
However, watching films and TV series is also a social given: experiencing a film gives the blind and visually impaired an inroad into the social world of the sighted. Consequently, the AD is expected to respect the ST genre and the specific story it tells, allowing the aural filmic channels to contribute. In addition, watching a film is often a leasurely activity. This means that the AD does not merely focus on giving the information that is deemed to be missing, it also aims to create a pleasant experience for its users without overburdening their information-processing capacities.
Although "objectivity" is an AD aim that recurs in many of the earlier AD guidelines, no one ever sees the same film, as you will know from discussions with your friends. This is no different for the blind and visually impaired audience since it is just as heterogeneous as the sighted one. AD too is always subjective to some extent since it is based on the interpretation of the audio describer. Moreover, rendering images into words often entails making a visual piece of information more or less explicit, depending on the needs of the story, which always results in minor shifts in meaning. This is inevitable. It is also inevitable that the AD will "guide" the VIPs to some extent. Finding a balance between a personal interpretation and personal phrasing (subjectivity) and more text-based interpretation and phrasing (objectivity) that leaves room for further interpretation by the blind and visually impaired users is part of mastering the AD decision-making process and writing skills discussed in the various chapters of the present guidelines.
The previous sections have illustrated the importance of a detailed analysis of the text and the context in which it is produced in order to create a professional AD that is clear and engaging. This analysis consists of a close examination of the source material, including background research about the text and its production. This then feeds into the decisions that you as a describer need to make about what to include in the TT and how, keeping the specific but heterogeneous target audience in mind. All the decisions you make regarding the AD will always be co-determined by the particular context in which a given narrative event (e.g. the introduction of a character) occurs and often there will be more than one option regarding how to describe it. The purpose of section 2, AD scriptwriting, is to help you make your own decisions and identify appropriate strategies.
Each chapter in this section is dedicated to one particularly thorny issue regarding AD scriptwriting (Characters and action, Spatio-temporal settings, Genre, Film language, Sound effects and music, Text on screen, Intertextual references, Wording and style, Cohesion) and follows the same basic structure. First it defines its topic. Next a section called "Source Text analysis" helps you to ask the right questions about this topic. These questions will allow you to analyse what the productions communicate to their users and how they do it. In particular, they will help you to better understand how the film medium guides the audience’s attention to the core elements of the narrative. Such insights will help you distinguish those core elements from secondary elements of minor relevance; an essential skill since time for description is limited in AD. Finally, the section "Target Text creation" will offer possible strategies for deciding how to translate these findings into an AD script.
Then, you will be able to develop your own decision-making process that generally includes the following steps:
There are a range of possible strategies for describing a narrative event with different gradations in the explicitness of description, that are explained and illustrated in each of the following chapters. Generally speaking, though, they imply a choice between "objectively" describing what you see on screen (a strategy located at one end of the scale), naming what can be seen more accurately (located somewhere in the middle of the scale) or explaining what the visual element means (located at the other end of the scale). An example:
“A flashback” versus “Back in 1930”
“Her eyes open wide” versus “She is amazed”
Or a combination of these:
“Her eyes open wide in amazement.”
The purpose of section 3 “Information on the AD process and its variants” is to better understand your role as an audio describer in the entire AD process. It will help you understand the decisions made by specialists regarding the other stages of the AD process, for instance, regarding how to edit or what voices to choose for the recording of the script. As it is good and even desirable to be aware of the process as a whole, this section includes chapters on technical issues such as preparing the script for recording or the supplying of audio subtitles. This will help you identify your place as the AD scriptwriter in the bigger picture and will get you acquainted with technical issues, the challenges of AD for multilingual productions and variants on recorded AD. In addition, section 3 contains chapters of an informative nature on the most important AD variants (Audio Introductions, Combining AD with audio subtitles, Audio describing theatre performances and Descriptive guides for museums, cultural venues and heritage sites). The appendices in section 4 provide you with a detailed glossary and reading list for further study.
Characters and their actions and reactions are an essential part of a film narrative, moving the story forward. Characters have a physical body, but they also have traits, such as skills, attitudes, habits or tastes. If a character has only a few traits, then they are said to be one-dimensional, if they have many traits (sometimes contradictory ones), they are three-dimensional. In film, traits of characters are usually revealed quickly and in a straightforward manner.
We get to know characters through their physical appearance, actions, and reactions (manifested, for example, by means of gestures and facial expressions), as well as through what they say and how they say it. For instance, in The Devil Wears Prada (Frankel, 2006) the way Andrea dresses (and the metamorphosis she undergoes) is an important part of the narrative. In Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009) Col. Landa’s meticulousness is depicted through his actions: the way he neatly arranges writing materials on the table when interrogating LaPadite, the way he eats strüdel at a Paris café when he talks to Shosanna. In All About Steve (Traill, 2009), on the other hand, Mary’s emotional reactions reflected in her extensive grimacing and fidgeting are an important part of her characterisation. And lastly, in Annie Hall (Allen, 1977) the neurotic nature of Alvy Singer is mainly manifested through what he says and how he says it. But characters can also be revealed to us by the way others react to them as well as by their environment (see chapter 2.1.2 on spatio-temporal settings) or by means of film techniques. For example, in Away from Her (Polley, 2006), the main character’s developing Alzheimer’s is reflected by the "patchy" editing (for more information on film techniques see chapter 2.2.1).
When analysing your ST you can use the following checklist to identify the nature and role of the characters.
Having analysed the types of characters in a film and the functions they perform, you can now proceed to create your description.
An example of authentic characters from The Hours (Daldry, 2002):
An example of unrealistic characters from The Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001-2003):
An example of gestures from Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
An example of facial expressions from Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
All stories take place in particular spatio-temporal settings (in the remainder of this section referred to as "settings"), which comprise both a temporal and a spatial dimension. These settings are intrinsically linked to the characters and their actions (see chapter 2.1.1) as they take place in the story (i.e. there can be no actions without a setting). Settings are therefore one of the basic narrative building blocks (see chapter 1 introduction) and as such require specific attention in the description. In addition, the importance and function of time and setting may change in the course of the story These changes are signalled in the text by cues, i.e. various film techniques (see chapter 2.2.1), which describers must pick up when analysing the ST.
The different settings of a filmic story are also linked to each other through editing (see chapter 2.2.1) and the way they are linked can reflect different temporal relations between them. They can follow each other either chronologically or in flashback or flashforward. The time period that has elapsed between scenes will vary. We will refer to this time factor as that of temporal orchestration.
When analysing your ST for spatio-temporal settings and the connections between them, you can use the following checklist of the major spatio-temporal features to identify their precise nature.
Having analysed a given setting and its relations to the preceding one(s) and to the other narrative elements in it (such as the characters, see example The Hours (Daldry, 2002)), you proceed to create your description. First decide what must be included. For more information on how to describe, see chapter 2.3.1 on wording and style as well as chapter 2.3.2 on cohesion.
Genre is a way of classifying films, of identifying them according to specific repetitive formal, aesthetic or narrative features. There are many different genres in cinema: comedy, melodrama, action, thriller, western, etc. The label of a particular genre can help the audience formulate their general expectations of a film: in a musical, (part of) the dialogues will be expressed (and/or replaced) by songs, in a horror movie, there will be threatening music, startling scary moments, and ambiguous focalisation, whereas drama will most likely feature a confused and torn character. Nowadays however, it is more and more difficult to ascribe a given film to a particular genre. Most films mix elements belonging to different genres, thereby creating new definitions and hybrid categories (e.g. romantic comedies, science fiction horrors).
One genre that still is clearly recognisable and usually differs considerably from other, more narrative genres or fiction films, is the documentary genre, usually considered to be non fiction. Even documentaries have subgenres, but, generally speaking, they tend to be more informative, include more or less objective accounts of facts, historic events, social issues or natural phenomena. They often have an entertaining dimension too but this is usually secondary. From a formal point of view, documentaries more often rely on off screen narration and interviews.
When analysing your ST from the genre-related point of view, you can use the following checklist:
In terms of preparing the actual AD script, the ability to classify a given film as representative of a particular genre is of relative importance. Genre will be more important for determining global strategies rather than local ones and explicit references to genre in AD are rare, except in cases of intertextuality (see chapter 2.2.4). Nevertheless, establishing that your source film belongs to a specific genre can help you to set priorities. When creating your AD, you may want to consider the following checklist:
The accepted systems, methods, or conventions through which a film’s story comes to the audience, are known as film language. Film language is flexible and is based on the more or less conventional quality, form and combination of shots. It serves to communicate with the audience, to guide their expectations, to shape their emotions, etc. Film language also gives a film its distinctive shape and character, i.e. its style and its aesthetic value.
Film language is the sum of a combination of various film techniques that are all used simultaneously and that can be grouped into three broad categories: mise-en-scène, cinematography and editing. Mise-en-scène refers to what is being filmed in a shot and includes setting, costume and makeup, and staging. Cinematography deals with how shots are filmed and comprises their photographic qualities, framing and duration. Editing refers to the relations between different shots, which include a graphic, rhythmic, spatial and temporal dimension. In other words, film language determines the form in which the story is told.
Film techniques can serve four different functions: a denotative function (showing what is important for the narrative), an expressive function (rendering a character’s emotions or eliciting a mood or emotion in the audience), a symbolic function or a purely aesthetic function.
Film techniques usually coexist and a careful analysis is needed to identify and isolate them and their respective meanings. Not only do film techniques show the audience what is important in an image, they can also guide or confound the viewer's expectations depending on how clearly, consistently, coherently and conventionally they are used. They can be used to generate suspense or surprise and to elicit more longstanding moods in the audience. In other words, they determine both what is told and how it is told, and are therefore just as important as the actual narrative building blocks of the film. When analysing the film language of your ST you can use the following checklist to determine what film techniques are used and what their specific meaning is.
When you have analysed what film techniques are used in a certain shot/scene you can proceed to determine their function. First of all, a technique can have a denotative function, i.e. it can be used to guide the audience’s attention to the most important elements in the frame (e.g. a woman in a white dress surrounded by men in black tuxedos). Film techniques can also have an expressive function. Specific colours can be used to reflect the mood of the characters (cf. the Women in Love (Russell, 1969) example above) or they can be used to generate a certain emotion or mood in the audience (e.g. fast editing to create suspense). Film techniques can also have a symbolic function. In Away from her (Polley, 2006) discontinuous editing is used to symbolise the protagonist’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, film techniques can serve an aesthetic function, for example when particular colour schemes are used because they are pleasing to the eye.
Having analysed the film language and the film techniques used in a given shot or scene, you proceed to create your description. However, keep in mind that most cuts from one shot to another are left undescribed in ADs, especially when scene changes do not have a particular added meaning. In a short excerpt from The Hours (2002) which includes five scene changes, none is made explicit in the AD, which simply juxtaposes the description of the different scenarios: "As the woman’s head sinks beneath the water, the man drops the letter to the floor and runs towards the back door. The woman’s body, face down, is carried by the swift current through swaying reeds along the murky river bed, her gold wedding band glinting on her finger, a shoe slipping off her foot".
First determine what category the techniques you encountered in a shot or scene belong to:
Next determine the function the techniques serve. It is important to realise that a technique can never be dissociated from the function it serves and that this function will determine to a large extent if and how you will describe the technique:
Finally, decide how you will describe the technique. Basically you can decide to name the technique (“now in close-up”), to name it and describe its function (“a close-up reflects the fear in her eyes”) or only describe the function or meaning of the close-up (“fear is reflected in her eyes”). The decision of when and how to describe a technique will also depend on the film’s (director’s, genre’s, studio’s) style. If the technique is not significant, you can decide not to describe it. If on the other hand, a technique is very significant, occurs frequently, contributes greatly to the style, you might want to make sure that you convey that in your AD. If you need to mention the same technique more than once, use the same linguistic formulation throughout the AD text. Coherence and cohesion (see chapter 2.3 The language of AD) are important and can be maintained in AD also through a consistent use of cinematic language.
An example of cinematography from Déjà Vu (2006) rendering ATF agent Doug Carlin’s reaction when he sees the body bags on the quay after an explosion on a ferry kills dozens of people:
Another example of cinematography from The lady vanishes (Hitchcock, 1938): the properties of the shot, which determine the style of the film, could be described in various ways.
An example of Editing from Nights in Rodanthe (Wolfe, 2008): a man thinks about the day that drastically changed his life. He is lying on a bed and looks at a photograph that triggers different memories. The flashback could be described in various ways:
Sound in film comprises speech (in the form of film dialogues, voice-over narration and lyrics), sound effects and music. Sound effects and music may be used in film to create a mood, indicate a temporal or local setting (see chapter 2.1.2), enhance or diminish realism, create suspense, define a point of view (by manipulating the sound volume). Sound can guide the viewers’ attention and co-create the narration by highlighting specific visual elements that might otherwise seem secondary elements. The AD will become part of the soundtrack and rely on the information conveyed by its different components. It is important to ensure cohesion between these components (see also chapter 2.3.2 on cohesion).
In your analysis, it may be advisable to (also) listen to your film without watching the images to identify sounds that might otherwise escape you. When analysing your ST for sound to determine its usefulness for your AD, you can use the following checklist.
When analysing the sounds in your film, you can use the following checklist to determine whether and when they have to be mentioned in the AD, then how (much) to describe.
Text on screen refers to any type of written text that appears on the screen. Text on screen includes opening credits and end credits, titles, intertitles, and other superimposed titles. Other non diegetic elements such as logos and diegetic elements which are part of the scene (a letter, a text message or a wall poster, for instance) may also contain written language. Subtitles can also be considered as text on screen: they can either appear as part of the original film (especially in multilingual productions) or they can be a translation of original dialogues for other audiences (see chapter 3.3 on AST).
When analysing your ST, you can use the following checklist to identify the function and relevance of each text on screen.
Having analysed a given text on screen, you proceed to create your description and may consider the following elements.
The description of subtitles or AST is discussed in much more detail in chapter 3.3.
Finally, keep in mind that certain countries have laws and regulations concerning the use of credits and logos. This is particularly important when a certain text on screen, such as credits, is left undescribed or is paraphrased.
An example of a logo from from The History Boys (Hytner, 2006)
An example of a title from A Lot like Love (Cole, 2005)
An example of opening/end credits from The Ladykillers (Coen & Coen, 2004)
An example of superimposed titles, from Finding Neverland (Forster, 2004)
An example of a diegetic text on screen from The Counselor (Scot, 2013)
Intertextual reference refers to the fact that practically all texts, including films or television programmes, contain elements that can be traced to other texts. Readers’ or viewers’ understanding of one text therefore not only depends on the world knowledge that they bring to it, but also on their knowledge of how texts work and on their knowledge of specific texts. Text producers often include more or less explicit references to previous texts deliberately to generate an additional layer of meaning, which is activated by the readers or viewers who recognise the link. For the blind and visually impaired audience, these links may not be immediately accessible.
In the case of screen products, intertextuality is to be found in both aural and visual form, sometimes in a combination of the two. In all cases a relation is established between the marker, a textual allusion or reference in the text being read or viewed, and an element or elements "alluded to" or "referred to", the marked, in another text or series of texts. Film viewers who spot the marker of the allusion will relate it to their knowledge of other texts, and, more specifically, to the text with the marked element. Noticing the reference gives viewers a form of "intellectual" pleasure. The importance for audio describers is that they may need to enhance such connections.
A thorough analysis of your ST may reveal the presence of aural (e.g. music, lyrics, dialogue) and/or visual (e.g. shots, mise-en-scène, film techniques) intertextual markers. References may be to an extra-filmic item (e.g. a book), a film genre, or a specific film. You will have to decide how important the links are and whether or not you want to assist the visually impaired audience in recognising them. For suggestions on how to deal with references to extra-filmic space and time, see also chapter 2.1.2.Aural references
Verbal references, for instance in the dialogue, may be accessible to visually impaired audiences and may therefore not have to be described. For example, verbal intertextuality with reference to another film and book can be seen in the famous line "The name is Bond, James Bond", which appears in all the 007 books and films. Another example involving famous sayings appears in Col. Landa’s comment to Aldo Raines in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009): "Lt. Raine, I presume", referring to Henry Morton Stanley’s "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?". This is a well-known line with which the audience is presumably familiar, however, that will not always be the case.
Musical allusions may also be important. Some musical accompaniments re-occur in a series of films, e.g., the James Bond theme, and do not present problems, but the connection may also be between two films of different type, separated in time and harder to spot. Even so, the challenge facing the sighted audience is similar in such cases, except if their interpretation is supported by visual markers.Visual references
When dealing with visual references, it is important to determine what the visual marker is and how it refers to the marked. For example, visual intertextuality can be seen in parodies. In the film Love Actually (Curtis, 2003), Hugh Grant is clearly meant to represent Tony Blair as his car pulls up outside No. 10 Downing Street and his clothes and mannerisms ape the erstwhile British Prime Minister. This is an extra-filmic reference to "real life". However, references to other film genres and to scenes from previous movies are also common. For example, in the cartoon series Family Man, the aeroplane scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959) is re-evoked in animated form. In addition, specific visual elements can also have an intertextual function, for instance, in a feature film that places "real" characters in a comic book setting, such as in Sin City (Miller et al., 2005).Visual/aural references
In the case of intertextuality involving both aural, verbal and visual referents there is always a form of interaction between the two modes. An example of visual-verbal intertextuality with reference to an entire film genre occurs, for instance, in an episode of the comedy series Friends (episode 283, 1995), when Chandler finds his pal Joey dressed in a cowboy outfit, and greets him with "Howdy", harking back to hundreds of classic westerns.
When analysing your ST for any of these forms of intertextuality you can use the following checklist to determine the nature and role of the intertextual reference in order to decide whether it is desirable to make the link between marker and marked more explicit in your AD:
Limited research indicates that AD tends to explicate the marker in order to enhance its recognisability rather than to make the link between marker and marked explicit unless the film or scene becomes incomprehensible without it. However, having determined the types of intertextuality that occur in your film, you can now make a number of different context-based decisions regarding the best-suited strategy.Aural references
If you have determined that the marker in your ST cannot be retrieved aurally and the other conditions (cf. above) are fulfilled, you may decide to render the intertextual link more explicit. In cases of verbal-visual intertextuality (involving dialogue) or aural-visual intertextuality (involving music) make sure your AD covers the information from the visual channel that is lost to your target audience. The following checklist may be useful for TT creation.
Different degrees of explicitness are always possible. The one you choose is linked to your interpretation of the ST analysis checklist above.
An example of verbal intertextuality:
Less explanation may be required if a fictional character says "Yes, we can!", since this is a more explicit reference to Obama.
Another example of verbal intertextuality from Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009):
Examples of visual intertextuality from Stand Up Guys (Stevens, 2012):
Examples of verbal/visual intertextuality from Hitchcock (Gervasi, 2012)
Wording refers to the ability to choose the right words in the right places and to use them in the appropriate style in a given context. It is connected to how an author produces the most appropriate turn of phrase or finds the best way of "putting it". Style is the result of the word choice of authors, along with their choice of sentence structure and the appropriate use of figurative and idiomatic language. AD requires attention to both wording and style in order to fulfil its aim of making the visual both verbal and understandable to a blind or visually impaired audience.
An AD is a text type with its own features regarding wording and style that distinguish it from other texts. These features are determined by the following characteristics:
The particular features to be found in a particular AD, however, will depend on the contextual nature of the ST. So, when analysing your ST, use the following checklist to determine what needs to be taken into account.
After you have identified the contextual features of your ST, decide on an adequate wording and style. First, keep in mind the following general features of AD regarding lexis, grammar and syntax, that form the framework around which an AD is worded.Lexis
Then, on top of these basic elements regarding lexis, grammar and syntax, decide on an adequate wording and style specific to the nature of your specific ST:
Example from The English Patient (Minghella, 1996) of frequent AD features (simple sentences, present tense, third person pronouns):
Example from The Hours (Daldry, 2002) of a more complex style (subordinate structures and higher register for literary film):
Example from Spy Kids (Rodriguez, 2001) of succinct and precise language where time is limited and, immediately afterwards a more thorough description where time permits:
Example from Hero (Zhang, 2002) of visual storytelling, simile and metaphor and complex sentence structures:
Cohesion is a textual property that helps the receiver of a message to understand it with reasonable ease and find continuity of sense in it. It refers to the implicit and explicit links that hold together the different parts of the text. In the case of films and series, these links exist between words and sentences, but also between the spoken dialogue, the visual elements and the sounds and musical score. In some texts cohesion is abundant, in others more sparsely arranged. Without cohesive links, a text is difficult to follow and text receivers have to rely more on their background knowledge and inferences based on other textual cues to make sense of it. The importance of cohesion for audio describers is that they need to recreate these textual links in their description and must make decisions as to where to insert their descriptions to further support cohesion.
When analysing your ST to identify relevant cohesive links, you can use the following checklist of features to identify their type and nature.
In your analysis, focus on those links that need to be recreated in the AD to ensure that the "continuity of sense" is maintained. Intermodal links can be translated into links between description and sound or dialogue. Intramodal visual links can be translated in cohesive links between blocks of description. Exclusively aural links (between dialogues and sounds, or dialogue and music) are likely to be directly accessible to your target audience.
After you have identified the relevant cohesive links in your ST, determine whether they have to be recreated in the description or not (see also chapter 1 introduction on this decision-making process). Keep in mind that an essential part of a cohesive description is identifying speakers and sources of unclear/contradicting sounds (see chapter 2.2.2 on sound effects and music).
Next, determine whether the link in the ST is implicit or explicit. If it is an implicit link, decide whether it has to be rendered more explicit in the description or not. In some cases explicitation can be an appropriate strategy, particularly for intramodal visual links, that would otherwise demand too much inference from the target audience (in the example above from Bride Flight (Sombogaart, 2008) the Dutch AD renders the link between the man and the picture explicit: "(…) the man stands in front of the poster with his much younger image on it"). But keep in mind that explicitation can become patronising and risks giving away too much information. Next, proceed to formulate your description. The following checklist can help you decide on an appropriate strategy.Timing
Finally, cohesion is all about striking the right balance. Synchronising the description with actions, settings and sounds, and at the same time avoiding overlap with the film dialogue and the soundtrack, is often tricky. But this is the key to effective AD.
The purpose of this chapter is to give some insight into the importance of technology-based steps in the AD process, which is useful for AD scriptwriters. It is not meant to allow the audio describer to carry out all these tasks, but to make them aware of the whole process, which may influence the text and improve the product. Technical issues in the AD production process (see chapter 1 for an overview of the process) are:
In this chapter we will focus on the writing of the AD script and the issues that play a role during the process of transforming the written AD script to an audible AD soundtrack.
As you may write AD scripts for different clients make sure that in every case your deliverable contains all the information the client wants (in addition to the AD script) in the client’s preferred format. Maybe the client will tell you in which mode of operation to write your text: alone or in a team with sighted and blind or visually impaired colleagues.
In some cases you will be expected to work with specialised AD software, but often subtitling software is used and in some cases audio describers will simply use the time codes (usually consisting of four pairs of digits showing the hour, the minutes, the seconds and frame number of the actual image) generated by the software you use to watch the film. Be aware: some popular Internet video players like VLC may jump when you do fast-forward or backward and your image gets a different time code when returning.
Your AD script has to fit in between the dialogues, main music and sound effects. To make the recording efficient, the writer of the AD script is required to measure the time available for the AD. This is called "spotting" (you may measure the length of the gap between the dialogues and effects with a stop watch or just test if your sentence is fitting by reading it out loud). In some cases you may want to go over a sentence of the dialogue or some music or sound effects (which is possible for mixed AD, but more problematic for AD in cinema or live AD in theatre or opera, as the sound-volume cannot always be adapted in the latter cases).
An AD script that has been spotted usually looks like a long row of sometimes-short paragraphs or even sentences that all contain the following (see the example of an AD script in appendix 4.1):
In the next phase, your AD script is transformed from a written text into an oral one: you or your client will choose a voice talent, whose voice qualities match the film's genre and style. There is little or no research on which voices fit which film genre best, but often a voice talent will be chosen whose voice contrasts the voices of the dialogues (e.g. in a film with many male roles you may want a female AD voice) or is thought to fit the genre and style of the source material. If subtitles or text on screen must be rendered as AST as well, one or more voice talents may be called upon to read them out loud (see chapter 3.3 on AST). There are experiments with synthetic AD voices under way and the results vary depending on the software used and the language of the AD. There are proponents and opponents of synthetic voices and according to some they may be good for documentaries but not for fiction films.
The recording is often done at a recording studio or sound studio with a recording booth and besides the voice talent, a sound director and a sound designer (or sound technician) present. The sound director (this might also be a blind or visually impaired colleague) listens to the voice talent reading the script and decides if the AD is presented in a correct way with regard to intonation, speed and so on. The sound designer or technician is responsible for the correct technical handling of the recording, e.g. avoiding any disturbing noise or sound over modulation.
The sound designer will then clean the recorded AD takes from any disturbing sounds (e.g. smacking und harrumphing of the voice talent and rustling from paper sheets) and place it exactly in between the dialogue gaps of the source material.
The cleaning of the recording is the last stage of the process in the case of AD for the cinema. The sound designer will create a file with only the AD takes in it and this can be presented in the cinema through headphones synchronised with the original soundtrack coming out of the loudspeakers. The transmitting might be done through a wire system in the cinema or from the smartphones of the blind or visually impaired audience with a special AD transmitting application.
For AD on TV or on DVD another step is required: the mixing of the AD takes and the original soundtrack of the film. During the moments where there is AD, the technician may lower the loudness of the original soundtrack and together with the sound director find the balance between having a good audible AD and keeping the original soundtrack present. The result is a whole new soundtrack that is audible parallel to the film on DVD, where you choose it as one of the audio options or on the second audio channel of your TV set.
An Audio Introduction (AI) is a continuous piece of prose, providing factual and visual information about an audiovisual product, such as a film or theatre performance, that serves as a framework for blind and visually impaired patrons to (better) understand and appreciate a given ST. It can be created to enhance the AD of that ST, or it can be made to stand alone. The AI can be recorded and made available well before the viewing of the ST (on CD, via a website, etc.) or it can be delivered live, as is often the case in the theatre. The introduction can be spoken by a single voice or it can be a combination of voices and sound bites.
Before analysing your ST in view of writing an AI, it is important to decide the following:
Next watch the audiovisual product in its entirety and note down all the relevant information that needs to be included in the introduction. If the AD of the product has already been drafted, use this in your analysis. If necessary, look up background information about the production or, if possible, contact a member of the crew/theatre group/AD team for extra information.
As a framework for deciding what is relevant, consider the following possible functions of an AI:
The relative weight of each function depends on the type of product (film, theatre), the genre (see chapter 2.1.3 on genre) of the audiovisual product (complex historic films might have a stronger informative function) and on the type of AI (stand-alone AI usually have a stronger foreshadowing function).
There exists no template for the creation of an effective AI and putting together the types of information identified during the ST analysis depends on a whole range of factors, most importantly whether or not there is an AD and whether it has already been drafted. When the AD has not been drafted yet, make sure to finalise the AI after the AD has been finished, so you know what it does or does not include. Keep the following issues in mind when writing the introduction.Structure
Order the information in the most logical way, depending on the genre and nature of the production. Try to find a narrative thread to centre the information and to make the sections follow each other smoothly. The following elements can guide you:
AIs are written for the ear, just like ADs. Make sure your text is engaging and vivid and holds your audience’s attention till the end. Keep in mind that AIs are dense texts that contain a lot of information to process and remember. Therefore, your audience will appreciate a clear and straightforward writing style, with simple sentences, clear conjunctions and specific vocabulary. See chapter 2.3.1 on wording and style for more information.
For an example of an AI, see appendix 4.2.
Audio subtitling (AST) is the spoken rendering of the written (projected) subtitles or surtitles with a filmed or live performance. It makes productions that are not dubbed and in which foreign languages are spoken accessible to the blind and visually impaired. In the case of recorded AD for film or television, the spoken subtitles are mixed into the sound track with the AD. The original on-screen subtitles can be read by a computerised voice or by a voice talent or voice actor. If there is more than one person who speaks a foreign language in the production, two or more voices may be used for the AST to help the target audience differentiate between speakers. In the case of low-budget films, TV series or documentaries, producers may opt for only one voice reading the subtitles but using a different intonation for each speaker. The original subtitles are sometimes read as they are, sometimes they are expanded and/or adapted to resemble spoken language more closely and to include information from the dialogues that had been left out in the subtitling process. This is sometimes required for good cohesion between AD and AST. However, in some countries subtitles are protected by copyright and cannot be changed. The two most common ways for recording AST are voice-over and a form of dubbing. In the case of voice-over the AST starts a few seconds after the original dialogue, which remains audible in the background. This allows the target audience to identify speakers. In the dubbed mode, the AST replaces the original dialogues completely. This mode often involves more "acting" on the part of the voice talent.
The following checklist helps you to determine the possible scenarios for AST:
In both the cases 3) and 4), AST is required. The producer will probably decide what form the AST should take (see definition).
Today, the way in which AST is provided with audio-described films is not regulated and will vary from country to country. In other words, if you have received no instructions or translation brief for the AST and you decide that AST is required, you need to obtain information about the way the production team of which you are part has been organised.
Use the following checklist to determine what the production-set-up is.
In the case of situation 2), you are going to integrate the AST into your AD:
Rewrite the dialogue as narration fitting it into your AD and indicate the speaker. Make sure you incorporate all information required for your target audience to reconstruct the scene(s). For example: "Mark sits down at the table opposite his lawyer and they exchange greetings" ("they exchange greetings" replaces the dialogue "Bonjour!" and "Comment allez-vous?" ["Good morning" and "How do you do?"].
In the case if situations 3) and 4), you are the subtitler: determine your strategy based on the translation brief that you have been given, and time and subtitle the dialogues accordingly:
AD for the theatre resembles AD for film and television since theatre performances also tell stories and theatre audiences create story worlds in their minds, based on cues from the performance about its content, characters and spatio-temporal setting (see chapter 2.1). The main differences with film and television are:
When analysing your ST, keep in mind the features described in previous chapters for film AD: 2.1.1 characters and action, 2.1.2 spatio-temporal setting, 2.2.2 sound effects and music, 2.1.3 Genre, 2.2.4 intertextual references, 2.3.1 wording and style and 2.3.2 cohesion, but use the following features typical of theatrical productions as a framework for adapting the strategies wherever necessary:
The use of sound and lighting provide good illustrations of the specificities of theatre. Whereas in film, light and sound are often diegetic, the result of realistic elements within the story on the screen (a lamp, the sun, a car passing by), sound and light in theatre are more frequently extradiegetic, that is, used in isolation to represent elements that are not otherwise visualised on stage. Brown and green light beams on an empty stage, for instance, can be used to represent a forest, whereas the projection of a white square on a wall may suggest a door. Following the same logic, the chirping of birds alone can be used to indicate that characters on an otherwise empty stage are in a forest. Lighting in theatre also has a specific technical function, comparable to the shot change in film. A short spell of darkness can indicate the transition from daytime to nighttime, but it is frequently used simply to indicate a change in setting (and create time to switch the scenery). Sound, on the other hand, is typically artificial, as compared to film, since sounds do not necessarily resemble what they represent: the sound of approaching footsteps on a wooden floor, might actually represent a knight approaching a castle on his horse.
When drafting your description, take into account the strategies proposed in the other chapters in these guidelines. Additionally, consider the general tendencies specific to theatre to adapt the said strategies accordingly where necessary. Also take into account all necessary contextual information as mentioned in chapter 1:
Next, proceed to write your descriptions. It is useful to include them in the script of the play in between the relevant blocks of dialogue and to write down relevant sound or musical events in the margin for reference during live reading. The fact that a performance and its AD are delivered live has a great influence on the scriptwriting phase. Time constraints are extremely tight in theatre. Moreover, improvisation and unannounced changes are quite common, which means that descriptions cannot be timed accurately in advance.
Keep the following in mind:
The Dutch play Van de Velde: J’aimerai mieux de bouche vous le dire (sic) by Belgian theatre group Olympique Dramatique, is a good illustration of the nature of theatre from an AD perspective.
The scenery consists of a simple glass cage in a black iron frame on an otherwise empty stage. This minimalistic setting never changes and represents several locations, even if it does not (realistically) resemble any of these. At different times in the play it represents a psychiatric institution, a boxing ring, a prison cell, a bar. The design and material of the cage suggest a cold, clinical, solitary environment. Changes from one location to another are implicit and must be deduced based on context, background knowledge and dialogue. At one point, a boxing duel takes place in a large stadium, even though the stage and cage remain empty, one immobile, silent figure excepted. The actual match in the stadium only takes place in the minds of the audience, supported by dialogue and sound effects (cheering and sports commentary in voice over).
Descriptive guides (DG) comprise a variety of texts that may be rendered in writing or (oral) speech, presented in digital format on equipment such as audio guides, or provided by human guides during visits or tours to museums, cultural venues and/or heritage sites, among others. Like other forms of AD, DG’s are only a (small) part of a multisensory experience. A DG is an extra that has to fit in with the rest of the visit or event in such a way that it almost goes unnoticed. The DG cannot be the experience itself because people visit places to engage with what the place has to offer and not with the mediators/mediation technology.
Descriptive guides” can be broadly organised into the following categories:
Main differences between AD for cinema and theatre and DG
Descriptive guides differ from other types of AD types (i.e. AD for films or theatre) for a number of reasons:
Descriptive guides tend to combine factual information with description that need to be simultaneously accurate, clear and entertaining. Very often, there is no clear-cut ST as such (as happens with film) and the DG has to work within contexts that are multi-layered, that can be extensive (e.g. a castle and grounds) and changeable (e.g. gardens); encompassing and atmospheric (e.g. a temple); or minute and intricate (e.g. a work of art). And at times, the DG will lead to “seeing” through positioning, movement or touch. The diversity of contexts and possibilities makes it difficult to arrive at a set of guidelines which will cover all the possibilities, there are, however, basic elements that need to be addressed in all cases. Answers to these initial basic questions will provide the framework on which to build a DG.
All of the above parameters influence the content and style of the DG and must be taken into account. Usually, a DG starts with an overview of the place, object, building etc. including a few facts, followed by a description of what makes it special or unique. Then it goes on to fill in specific information related to the object/space, exhibition, etc. Facts come first and description brings the facts to life but in some cases it may work out better if facts and description are intertwined.
Other useful hints include: go from the general to the specific, in other words, highlight the main features of the object or space; keep your language clear, simple and direct but vivid and diverse.
This chapter is just a very brief introduction to a very complex form of AD. Interested in learning more? Check out the reading list and go to appendix 4.3 for more details.
(end of music, chopping sound)
In the warm light of the autumn sun. At the edge of a large meadow on top of a hill stands a little stone cottage.10:02:08
(1 loud chopping sound)
Nearby a brown-haired man is chopping wood. Next to him a young woman hangs out laundry. She pauses, listens... (faint car sound) and spots approaching vehicles. (music)10:02:29
The man stares at the vehicles. He wears poor clothes. Two girls hurry out of the cottage. To them:10:02:37
„Geht zurück ins Haus und schließt die Tür!“
To the young woman:
He sits down on the (chopping) block.
The vehicles come closer: three motorbikes escort a car. Hurriedly Julie runs to a water pump and fills a bowl. Her father takes a dirty handkerchief and closes his eyes for a moment. Then he glares at the vehicles.10:03:07
(piano and guitar)
Julie puts the bowl down in front of a cottage window.10:03:12
Julie puts the bowl down in front of a cottage window.10:03:12
Her father wipes his face. With a tired look he gets up and ambles to the cottage.10:03:25
„Danke, mein Schatz. Jetzt geh zu deinen Schwestern.“
The axe is stuck in the block. Julie turns to the door.
He glances in the window, then resolutely pours water over his face and his dirty, ripped shirt. The vehicles stop at a distance behind him next to some cows.
fast: A Colonel gets out of the car.10:03:49
“wie sie wünschen, Herr Oberst”
The Colonel crosses the meadow.10:03:56
„Ich bin Perrier LaPadite.“
The Colonel reaches out his hand.
„Natürlich. Nach ihnen.“
He makes an inviting gesture. (door) In the cottage. LaPadite and Landa step through the low door. The girls are looking at them seriously.
Audio Introduction for Inglorious Basterds, written by Louise Fryer and Pablo Romero Fresco
Welcome to this audio introduction to Inglourious Basterds, a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and released by Universal Studios in 2009. This AI lasts about 9 minutes. The film itself has a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes.
It was nominated for eight Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz, and Best Original Screenplay. The film is rated an 18, meaning it is suitable only for persons aged 18 years and over, and contains what the British censor describes as "strong, bloody violence". The DVD is not currently available in the UK with AD.
Inglourious Basterds – the words misspelt I.n.g.l.o.u.r.i.o.u.s. B.a.s.t.e.r.d.s. - is set during the 2nd World War. But while the locations are realistic and characters such as Goebbels, Hitler and Winston Churchill resemble their real-life selves, one of the lead actors, Christoph Waltz, has described the film as "a piece of art. Not a history lesson." It’s brutal but darkly funny and Tarantino includes plenty of anachronisms. The music includes Morricone’s Spaghetti Western-style themes lifted from other movies and the flourish of an electric guitar accompanies a character’s name as it flashes up onscreen, in bold, cartoon-style lettering. Other characters are identified, at various points in the film, as their name is scribbled in chalk over the shot with an arrow pointing them out. In contrast to Tarantino’s other films, like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, much of this movie is shot in unobtrusive, classic Hollywood style, and as close as he could get to glorious technicolour. This makes the moments where the camerawork deliberately draws attention to itself all the more remarkable. A doomed character walks forward in slow motion, crisply picked out as the background blurs. Or the camera closes in and lingers on a glass of milk, or a bowl of cream, bringing it to our attention. In a long tracking shot, the camera arcs around a table during a conversation, revealing the faces of those sitting round it from behind the head of each in turn. At one point, as a German Officer and a farmer talk in a farmhouse kitchen, they are shown from above, the camera slowly narrowing its view like an ever-tightening rope. Further into the conversation, the camera tracks down the farmer’s leg and continues on to reveal the area beneath the floorboards, as though the house were a doll’s house, open to view. When things turn violent, the camera doesn’t flinch or turn away but keeps a steady focus on the brutalities inflicted.
The film is divided into chapters – each announced in white letters on a black background in the manner of a silent movie. The chapters are self-contained, each with its own look and focus, and allow the plot to skip in time and place. There is also an occasional diversion within a chapter – Tarantino taking time out from the plot to insert a short information film, giving us the biography of a particular character, or technical details about, for example, the dangers of nitrate film, in a parody of a newsreel documentary, complete with authoritative voice-over, provided by Samuel L. Jackson, The words “Chapter one” are followed by an opening phrase that sets the tone of this fairytale yarn: “Once upon a time…in Nazi-occupied France”. It’s 1941. The scene? A sweep of French countryside and an isolated farmhouse on the brow of a hill. It’s home to Perrier LaPadite, a farmer in vigorous middle age. He's swarthy and stubbled, his clothes sweat-stained. LaPadite’s 3 teenage daughters are shy young women in simple cotton dresses. They talk in French, their words subtitled. When the German officer - Colonel Hans Landa - comes to call, the conversation turns to English. Landa is clean-cut, almost dapper in his officer’s peaked cap, grey uniform and gleaming jack boots. His short hair is parted on one side, brown with a hint of grey. Although Landa’s narrow lips often part in a charming smile, his bright eyes miss nothing. A teenage girl, Shoshanna Dreyfus, dirty and painfully thin makes her escape across the fields. We meet her again a couple of years later in Paris. But first we make the acquaintance of the Inglourious Basterds – a band of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers. Brad Pitt plays their hillbilly leader who hails from the mountains of Tennessee: Lieutenant Aldo Raine. Nicknamed Aldo the Apache, he’s out to collect Nazi scalps. When we first meet him, Aldo wears a khaki uniform, but in France adopts a rough tweed jacket and peaked, flat cap. Aldo’s about 40, with short brown hair swept back from his forehead and he sports a trim moustache. His movements are unhurried, he chews gum and sniffs tobacco. He speaks in a slow, southern drawl, a wry look in his clear blue eyes. There’s a rough red mark around Aldo’s neck, like a rope burn, and the name “Inglourious Basterds” is carved into the butt of his rifle.
Aldo recruits a band of 8 men – Jews who’ve fled the Third Reich. Among them is Wicki, an Austrian, tall and dark haired who acts as a translator; Stiglitz, who’s younger and stockier, with a craggy face, eyes narrow, hair razored to his scalp; and Donny Donowitz, nicknamed the Bear Jew – broad-shouldered, muscled and fiendish with a baseball bat. We first meet them in action in a wooded ravine, amongst the brick remains of an old German fort, with crumbling arches half submerged in undergrowth.
We catch up again with Shosanna in Paris in 1944. Under the pseudonym Emmanuelle Mimieux, she’s running Le Gamaar cinema. Shoshanna is now in her 20s, gamine and slim, with large features set in a finely-boned face. She has shoulder-length blonde hair which she sometimes wears up under a cap and she chooses boyish clothes for work. But she can look stunning, dressed up for an occasion, in a tailored red dress, and small black hat with a veil. Gold pillars flank the entrance to the cinema, and above it letters attached to a magnetic strip across an illuminated sign spell out the title of the latest film. Three sets of double doors lead into the terracotta-coloured foyer. Staircases either side sweep up to a balcony that overlooks the patterned marble floor below. Shoshanna is helped at the cinema by Marcel, a softly-spoken black man in his 30s. Marcel wears a cotton shirt with the collar undone and the sleeves rolled up, revealing his powerful biceps and muscular physique.
Shoshanna meets a German war hero Fredrick Zoller – a good looking, brown-haired young man in a Nazi uniform. Pinned to his breast is an Iron Cross. At a smart Parisian Restaurant with wood-pannelled walls and small tables with elegant place settings, Zoller introduces Shoshanna to important Nazi officers, including Goebbels – a small and rather mincing man with suspiciously black hair – and Hellstrom, who’s a major in the Gestapo. Hellstrom’s in his 30s, his face a little fleshy, his dark hair slicked back from his broad forehead. He wears a Gestapo officer’s long, black leather coat.
In London, Lieutenant Archie Hickox – an urbane, lean, uniformed officer with sharp cheek bones and a narrow moustache, a green beret pulled over his short, dark hair - is shown into the Prime Minister’s office. It’s a vast dark-panelled room with a polished wood parque floor, and a grand piano on a rug in the far corner. Churchill sits at the piano stool, a large, balding, jowly man with a lugubrious expression. He’s smoking a cigar and looks on, largely mute, as a General with a walrus moustache gives Hickox his orders.
Hickox meets up with the Basterds at an Inn in a French village. The lathe and plaster ceiling of the basement is giving way but in the bar, the stone walls are solid enough, and the roof is supported on heavy oak beams. Mismatched lamps hanging from the beams give off a dull glow. There are scrubbed pine tables and a spiral metal staircase leads upstairs. The landlord is assisted by a pretty young waitress, Mathilde, who has shoulder-length dark hair. There’s one other woman in the bar, Bridget von Hammersmark – a glamorous actress in her 30s. She has finely sculpted features and flawless skin, her lips and nails painted a sultry red. Bridget wears a tailored brown check suit, with a high-necked blouse and a matching trilby perched at a jaunty angle on her curled blonde hair. She smokes cigarettes in a tortoiseshell cigarette holder, with a studied pose, fully aware of the effect she makes on the men around her.
The main characters are:
The film is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino who finds himself a couple of small, non-speaking parts including the first scalped Nazi.
Below some initial hints for designing different types of Descriptive Guides.
Description of open spaces (cities, countryside, parks and gardens, zoos, playgrounds, heritage sites,…)
Description of architecture (buildings, rooms, indoor spaces,…)
Description of exhibitions (museums, galleries, collections,…)
Description of objects and artefacts (that cannot be touched)
Description of paintings
Description of photographs
Describing how to “see” through touch – 3D objects
Describing how to “see” through touch – 2 ½D objects (raised drawings)
Circulate (way-finding and navigation)
Describing how to operate and use audio guide equipment
Final (transversal) hints
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The following list includes all the films mentioned in these guidelines. If an audio described version is available, this is mentioned, including the language of the AD and the producer of the AD (when known).
A Lot like Love, N. Cole, 2005 [AD: EN])
Aanrijding in Moscou, C. Van Rompaey 2008 [AD: NL (Vrienden der blinden)]
Alice in Wonderland, Burton, 2010 [AD: EN]
All about Steve, P. Traill, 2009
American Beauty, S. Mendes, 1999
Annie Hall, W. Allen, 1977
Away from her, S. Polley, 2006
Back to the Future, R. Zemeckic, 1985
Bride Flight, B. Sombogaart, 2008 [AD: NL]
Brokeback Mountain, A. Lee, 2005 [AD: EN, DE]
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Hill, 1969
Cold Creek Manor, M. Figgis, 2003 [AD: EN]
Contagion, S. Soderbergh, 2011 [AD: EN]
Deja Vu, T. Scott, 2006 [AD: EN]
Down with Love, P. Reed, 2003
E.T. The Extraterrestrial, S. Spielberg, 1982
East is East, D. O’Donnell, 1999 [AD]
Finding Neverland, M. Forster, 2004 [AD: EN]
Friends, “The one with the breast milk”, episode 283, M. Lembeck, 1995
Girl with a Pearl Earring, P. Webber, 2003 [AD: EN]
Grown Ups, D. Dugan, 2010
Hero, Y. Zhang, 2002 [AD: EN]
Hitch, A. Tennant, 2005 [AD: EN]
Hitchcock, S. Gervasi, 2012
In the Name of the father, J. Sheridan, 1993
Inglourious Basterds, Q. Tarantino, 2008 [AD: IT (Senza Barriere)]
It’s Complicated, N. Meyers, 2009 [AD: EN]
Julie & Julia, N. Ephron, 2009 [AD: EN]
Loft, E. Van Looy, 2008 [AD: NL, The Subtitling Company]
Londyńczycy, Zglinski, 2008 [AD: PL (Künstler, I, Butkiewicz, U, & Zawadzka, M.)]
Love Actually, R. Curtis, 2003
Memoirs of a Geisha, R. Marshall, 2005 [AD: EN]
Nights in Rodanthe, G.C. Wolfe, 2008 [AD: EN]
No Country for Old Men, E. Coen and J. Coen, 2007
North By Northwest, A. Hitchcock, 1959 [AD: EN, DE]
Nosferatu, W. Murnau, 1922 [AD: IT (VITAC)]
Pride and Prejudice, S. Langton, 1995
Ransom, R. Howard, 1996 [AD: EN]
Rock of Ages, A. Shankman, 2012
Saving Private Ryan, S. Spielberg, 1998
Sexy Beast, J. Glazer, 2000 [AD: EN]
Shutter Island, M. Scorsese, 2010 [AD: EN]
Sin City, F. Miller et al., 2005. [AD: EN]
Slumdog Millionaire, D. Boyle & L. Tandan, 2008 [AD: EN, DE]
Spy Kids, R. Rodriguez, 2001
Standup Guys, F. Stevens, 2012
Talk to her, P. Almodovar, 2002 [AD: EN, DE]
Taxi Driver, M. Scorsese, 1976
The 39 Steps, A. Hitchock, 1935
The Birds, A. Hitchcock, 1963 [AD: DE (Arte)]
The Brave One, N. Jordan, 2007 [AD: EN, (Vickers, M., ITFC)]
The Notebook, N. Cassavetes, 2004
The Counselor, R. Scott, 2013 [AD: EN]
The Curious case of Benjamin Buttons, D. Fincher, 2008 [AD: EN]
The Devil Wears Prada, D. Frankel, 2006 [AD: PL (Laskowski, M.)]
The English Patient, A. Minghella, 1996 [AD: EN, DE (Arte)]
The Forgotten, J. Ruben, 2004 [AD: EN]
The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, D. Fincher, 2011
The History Boys, N. Hytner, 2006 [AD: EN]
The Hours, S. Daldry, 2002 [AD: EN]
The Imposter, B. Layton, 2012
The King's Speech, T. Hooper, 2010 [AD: DE]
The Lady Vanishes, A. Hitchcock, 1938 [AD]
The Ladykillers, E. Coen and J. Coen, 2004 [AD: EN]
The Lord of the Rings, P. Jackson, 2001-2003
The Lovely Bones, P. Jackson, 2009 [AD: EN]
The Ring, G. Verbinski, 2002
The Shining, S. Kubrick, 1980
The Water Horse, J. Russel, 2007
The Wedding Planner, A. Shankman, 2001
The Wizard of Oz, N. Langley, 1939
Tootsie, S. Pollack, 1982 [AD: EN, DE]
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, W. Allen, 2008
Women in Love, K. Russel, 1969