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Making Film Accessible

Roaring Girl is pioneering new approaches to film accessibility, making audio description, subtitles and sign language an integral part of the production process.

Director Liz Crow sits in a small studio recording audio description. She wears earphones and speaks into a microphone. On a small stand in front of her is a script and she is looking up to a monitor which plays the film. Beyond the studio window a sound editor sits at a mix desk.

About

Audio description, captioning and sign language (ACS) are increasingly used to make films accessible to audiences. However, current approaches often make a disappointing experience for both audience and filmmaker, with access produced as a neutral describer or an after-thought and rarely as a creative contribution.

We are pioneering new approaches to film accessibility, making ACS an integral part of the production process rather than an access ‘add-on’.

Audio description is an audio narration of visual elements for audiences with a visual impairment. Captioning transcribes/annotates and sign language interpretation interprets audio information for Deaf and hearing impaired audiences.

 

Awards

Winner, Plain Language Commission’s Clear English Standard for Apprenticeship Scheme, 1995

Commendation, eWell-Being Award, 2005

Nomination, New Statesman New Media Award, 2005

Governor of California’s Media Access Award, 2006

Superfest Merit Award Superfest, 2006

First ever public screening in India of an audio described film, 2007

Commendation for Innovation, Jodi Award, 2013

More Information

The Limitations of Now

ACS is rarely included within the production of the core film. If it is addressed at all, it is generally at the point of distribution, when the creative production of the film is complete. As a result, the film is generally shoe horned into an existing template that often bears no relation to, and may even undermine, the aesthetic of the film.

Film exists across genre, encompasses every subject, style and emotion. Yet, when it comes to access, there is still a one-size-fits-all approach. Sign language interpreters and captions are usually located in boxes to the right and base of the screen, whilst the main picture is shrunk and pushed aside to accommodate them. Audio description frequently seems just as removed from the overall feel of the production.

For Liz Crow, it was the experience of making Frida Kahlo’s Corset that made some of the limitations clear. The audio description was produced at the point of distribution by an outside agency and simply didn’t represent the film. “The priority of the audio description was to get across the narrative,” she says, “to describe but not interpret. In a film where every shot is composed and framed to convey meaning, description alone leaves the audience without crucial information. The very first shot, a close up of Kahlo’s eyes darting left and right is very distinctive and, in context, it builds a crucial sense of unease. To listen to the audio description, the character could just as well have been watching a tennis match.”

For the audience, the result is that the very methods designed to promote access can detract from the qualitative experience of the production. For the filmmaker, the access conventions available can misrepresent and undermine the vision they have worked so hard to create and communicate.

Pioneering New Approaches

In response, Roaring Girl Productions is using our own productions to trial imaginative and innovative approaches.

On Nectar, we worked closely with Films at 59 to bring ACS into the core of the creative and production process.

On Illumination, we experimented with the caption design, building captions into the action of the story.

On Resistance on tour, we worked closely with Art AV to programme ACS into the system so that the installation can play versions appropriate to different audiences.

Quality ACS benefits audiences, filmmakers and distributors, holding the potential for new and satisfied audiences.

We have documented this work in order to:

• Generate a dialogue between audiences, filmmakers, distributors and access facilitators
• Inspire others to experiment and push the bounds of ACS so that it works both technically and aesthetically
• Motivate others to make innovative use of existing and developing technologies in improving the film experience
• Encourage audiences to demand more of filmmakers and distributors, and for filmmakers and distributors to rise to that challenge.

Stills

  • Liz sits in a small darkened studio, wearing earphones and speaking into a microphone.
  • Liz sits in a post-production suite with an editor. In front of them are two monitors. One has a full-sized image from the film, with captions applied. The second shows two smaller versions of the same image, with an editing timeline below.
  • Old Walter sits in a comfortable chair gazing at his glass of whisky. Along the base of the screen, superimposed onto the picture, is the caption 'You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee', followed by a music note symbol.
  • On a monitor is a close up of Walter and Gloria. Liz holds a pen up to the monitor quarter of the way in from the right of the screen to demonstrate to the crew the space that will be occupied by the interpreter.
  • In a studio, Sherrie stands in front of a bluescreen backdrop, lit by strong film lights. A TV monitor faces her, playing the film, so she can time her delivery to the film.
  • Liz sits in a post-production suite with an editor. They face three monitors. On one of them is footage of Sherrie, shot against bluescreen.
  • The interpreter occupies the right quarter of the screen, superimposed onto the picture. Behind her, the picture shows a set of swimming lockers, but the action between the characters takes place within the rest of the picture. Along the base of the screen, superimposed onto the picture, is the caption 'Loughborough. I go to Loughborough'.
  • A group of people sit and stand in the dark of the Resistance installation surrounded by green banners. On a plain green area of banner, a projected image shows a woman signing. To her right the words of the speaker are projected onto the banner wall. In the distance is a spotlit banner, a montage of faces looking out to the viewer.

Further Reading

Press

  • Nectar was India’s introduction to audio description and has really set everyone
    thinking. We are now trying to promote the idea of audio description in India.

    AbilityFest
  • I was particularly impressed by how the film and documentary work at so many
    different levels – how the simple love story subtly intertwines with complex Deaf
    cultural, sign language, disability and access issues. Enthralling.

    Forest Books

To cite this page: Crow, Liz (2005) Making Film Accessible, Roaring Girl Productions [online] [Available at: http://www.roaring-girl.com/work/making-film-accessible/] [Accessed 21/04/2018]