Big Screen, Small Screen: A practical guide to writing for flim and television in Australia

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Final Say. Long reads. Lib Dems. US Politics. Theresa May. Jeremy Corbyn. Robert Fisk. Mark Steel. Janet Street-Porter. John Rentoul. Chuka Ummuna. Shappi Khorsandi. Gina Miller. Our view. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Steve Coogan. Rugby union. Motor racing. US sports. Rugby League.

Movers List. Geoffrey Macnab. Tech news. Tech culture. News videos. 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. 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:. 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, the way Andrea dresses and the metamorphosis she undergoes is an important part of the narrative. In Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Col. And lastly, in Annie Hall Allen, 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. 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.

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. 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. The different settings of a filmic story are also linked to each other through editing see chapter 2. 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, , you proceed to create your description. First decide what must be included. For more information on how to describe, see chapter 2. 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. 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. 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. 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:. 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. 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 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.

First of all, a technique can have a denotative function, i. Film techniques can also have an expressive function. Specific colours can be used to reflect the mood of the characters cf. Film techniques can also have a symbolic function. 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.

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.

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. Another example of cinematography from The lady vanishes Hitchcock, : 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, : 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. 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. 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. 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.

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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. Intertextual reference refers to the fact that practically all texts, including films or television programmes, contain elements that can be traced to other 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. References may be to an extra-filmic item e. 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. 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 books and films.

Another example involving famous sayings appears in Col. 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. Even so, the challenge facing the sighted audience is similar in such cases, except if their interpretation is supported by visual markers. 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. This is an extra-filmic reference to "real life". However, references to other film genres and to scenes from previous movies are also common.

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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. 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 , , 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. If you have determined that the marker in your ST cannot be retrieved aurally and the other conditions cf. 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.

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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. Less explanation may be required if a fictional character says "Yes, we can! 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. 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, of frequent AD features simple sentences, present tense, third person pronouns :.

Example from The Hours Daldry, of a more complex style subordinate structures and higher register for literary film :. Example from Spy Kids Rodriguez, of succinct and precise language where time is limited and, immediately afterwards a more thorough description where time permits:. Example from Hero Zhang, 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. 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, 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. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Writing & Language

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.

The sound designer will then clean the recorded AD takes from any disturbing sounds e. 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.

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 introduction can be spoken by a single voice or it can be a combination of voices and sound bites. 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.

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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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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! 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.

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. 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. We highly recommend placing orders directly with us by email.

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