Transcript[Opening Music]
Herb Merriweather:  Hello everybody. This is Herb Merriweather coming to you almost live from the creative cavern known around the world as The Hole. My credentials are sketchy, and my talent is limited, however, I have had the opportunity to get involved with some extremely talented people who lovingly instructed me and allowed me to flourish in the service of audio description, and I’d love to be able to share some of that information with you today.
Heh, heh, heh, that’s enough of that chit-chat, Sonny, let’s get this show on the road.
Okay then. Like the old boy said, let’s get this show on the road.
A brief description of audio description, or video description in some circles, is in order. Rather than go to Wikipedia – I love them so much – I chose to go to the Audio Description Project, an initiative of the American Council of the Blind, because of their first-hand experience on the subject. And I quote: Audio description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theatre, television, movies and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired. It is a narration service provided at no additional charge to the patron that attempts to describe what a sighted person takes for granted. Those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion. In theatres, in museums, and accompanying television, film and video presentations, audio description is commentary and narration, which guides the listener through the presentation with concise objective descriptions of new scenes, settings, costumes, body language and sight gags, all slipped in between portions of dialogue or songs. Unquote.
Audio description has been mandated by the federal government and is already being implemented in select broadcasting blocks. But of course, like all things extra and new, it’s an uphill struggle to expand its reach, even though its potential for good is limitless.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Many of Hollywood’s best films are being released with good description tracks on DVD and Blu-ray. More and more producers and directors are committed to opening their projects up to everyone. With television, films, stage plays and other media, there is a crying need for strong voices to teach, entertain and uplift. There is also a real need to get educated to the nuances of voicing between snippets of dialogue and long, cerebral scenic mountain tops.
Here are some ideas that just might help.
Go with the flow.
It’s a simple statement, but it holds a lot of weight in audio description. A snappy, fast-paced sit-com is going to flow quite differently than a tawdry melodrama. I’ve had a chance to voice description for various projects, including Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book – that’s the pre-Disney 1942 version that starred the iconic Hindi actor, Sabu – The Power of Few, another feature film, and The Neighbors, a television sit-com, and each of these projects presents a different stream, if you will, on which to flow.
Jungle Book’s challenge was to blend flash-back storytelling with long periods of scenery, vistas and prolonged action. Neighbors, on the other hand, lends itself to a quirky description, when talking about space aliens doing their best to assimilate. Power is a completely different animal. A gritty, conspiracy-filled drama told from five different perspectives. Approaching it like the others would be a huge mistake. Moving from quiet stealth to sporadic gunfire, this film demands a versatile voice going from secretive almost whispers to terse and sharp that fit the mood and scene.
Nunciate. Huh? Nunciate. What’d you say? Enunciate.
Oh, that’s right vocal thespians, clarity and quarks are the order of the day. Whatever you need to do to make sure your instrument is clean, clear and strong, do it. Now, now, I know there’s some eye-rolling. I see you. I hear you. “That ain’t nothin’ we do that for every job.”
Yes. Granted. But all things have levels. And when your stentorian tones are being heard right alongside Christopher Walken, well you want to be heard cleanly and clearly. And speaking of being heard … heard but not seen.
I know the old saying is: seen and not hear. But in audio description it’s reversed in a way that makes sense. The true objective in audio description is to help tell the story. Not be the story, or ruin it. You are not the award-winning actor whose every action you describe. So please, try not to upstage her with your best Betty Davis imitation. It’s a delicate dance to be heard and yet not be the main object of attention. This is where casting and your own versatility become really important. The right person has to be able to describe cosmic chaos without being overwhelmed, and talk about love scene without breaking the mood. If you work at it, you should be able to do both.
Well, the lights are flickering here in The Hole, and that means that either dinner is ready or the neighbor has found the extension cord again.
Thanks for your time, your patience and your perfect attendance.
To find out more about the opportunities in audio description you can contact the good people at the Audio Description Project for information and education.
Thanks for listening—and ‘Happy Voicing’!!



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