By Melissa Hope*
Descriptive Video Works is an audio description (or AD) company. We create descriptions of what is happening on screen to help people who are visually impaired enjoy the TV show or movie. This is a multi-part process that involves a writer with special training to write the script, then a narrator to record it, and then a mixer to add it to the show’s audio track so that people can enjoy it while still also hearing the dialogue, music, and sound effects in the show.
With AD becoming better known even beyond the blind community — more people are using it while driving or cooking so they can binge Netflix shows almost like audio books — this accessibility technology is a growing part of entertainment, and right now, we all need more entertainment!
Our Vancouver, BC, Canada studio has remained open. We never had a complete lockdown, but we knew we had to be very careful. We were prepared in case we had to close the doors completely as our clients and their audiences count on us.
Our writers already all work from home, so that was easy. Our administration staff was already partially remote, so we just made it 100 percent. We have all noticed the toll on our Internet connections since all of our neighbors are working from home, too. Virtual meetings have occasionally been interrupted by frozen images and dropped participants, but we’re a pretty flexible group, so we made it work. I was glad to have a nice office already set up in my basement so that when my spouse started working from home, he could have the ground floor and I could hide away downstairs. The only problem we faced was deciding who got the puppy’s company, as she makes a delightful co-worker.
As the possibility of a shutdown is always looming, we’ve made plans in conjunction with our clients to securely transfer files and do recording and mixing from people’s homes. We also needed to consider quality and how to make sure a home recording sounds as good as a sound booth recording — not an easy task! Some narrators have recorded demos in their closets to get the best sound quality possible.
Though we were ready with all those plans, we haven’t had to use them yet. Instead, we implemented strict cleaning procedures and divided up shifts and rooms to minimize the number of people using a given space. Unlike the past, where we’d often all hang out and chat, the recordists don’t enter the mixing suites and the mixers never enter the recordists’ areas or the recording booths right now, and there’s never two people working in the same room at the same time.
Some people are surprised to hear that we are very busy right now. Because we’re one of the last steps in production — since we need a completely finished product in order to create the audio description — a lot of shows we’re working on right now had completed filming before shutdowns began. In addition, broadcasters need to fill in primetime slots that would have been filled with live sports, so they are requesting AD on older shows.
There’s no sign of it slowing down yet, especially since we’ve been getting a lot of social media attention with several high-profile projects. We recently did the AD version of the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla trailer, which has been viewed more than 60,000 times on YouTube, and we’ve completed AD on all five seasons of Breaking Bad, which has been celebrated on social media. To quote one viewer: “Audio-described Breaking Bad on Netflix is the #accessible binge-worthy quarantine content I’m here for. Great stuff from Descriptive Video Works.”
We’re all happy to be working hard and to know that we will be able to continue to work if there’s a stricter lockdown in the future, but we miss each other too. Many of us are used to seeing each other in person at least a couple of times a week. One mixer had to start bringing his dog onto video calls with us because we all miss Toro the Chihuahua’s antics in the studio. And we’re starting to get creative with our video call backgrounds; lots of beaches, but also things like my niece and nephew’s artwork — I especially love a drawing that has a dragon flying behind me. Between video calls, we connect a lot by phone and text and remind each other that we’re not alone. I think that’s been key: we know we’re all in this together, and we know the work we’re doing is needed and appreciated. We’re very grateful for the adaptability and for the positive team that works at Descriptive Video Works; it really helps in this challenging time.
Melissa Hope is the Client Services Manager and Assistant Project Manager for Descriptive Video Works in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She is pictured above in her former craft room that has become her colorful and cluttered office.