April 6, 2022

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

https://empishthomas.com/2022/03/28/representation-matters-excellent-audio-description-of-the-harder-they-fall/

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.

January 5, 2022

Prioritizing for M&E's Future

In our ever-changing industry landscape, we have had to adapt in order to keep businesses thriving in a safe and healthy environment. Our industry leaders had to take a deeper dive into breaking free from industry traditions, preCOVID business models and environments.

Working from home/remotely has surfaced new challenges and benefits to business leaders and their team members, but it has forced an industry wide pivot to further embrace and develop technology to facilitate adapting to the new world we live in as well innovate and create new workflows, software and hardware in order to ensure the success of our business units, projects and our people.

Our new world has opened doors to remote, global partnerships which take advantage of a “chasing-the-sun” work schedule. Around-the-clock coverage can be achieved with team members working in various time zones to cover a workload without needing overtime, late shifts and avoiding potential burnout. Traditional work schedules have been adjusted to accommodate peaks and valleys of workloads through an employee’s workday. This, in turn, produced unexpected benefits.

MORE COVERAGE, PRODUCTIVITY ANDWORKLIFE BALANCE

Leveraging technology and remote work would cause a reduction in traditional business real estate footprints. With this reduction in cash outlay, more money and effort is being spent on ensuring connectivity and productivity is maintained (and in many ways)increased while benefiting from lower cash output for physical space needed to provide physical workspaces for employees.

By focusing on remote workflows, cloud solutions, and tools to facilitate off-prem workflows in a secure environment, we increase productivity, work-life balance and regain time to continue to innovate in order to set our sights on higher goals in our roadmaps.

What education and training are required for employees and executives at content wonders and service provider companies in navigating changes in the evolving ecosystem of connected supply chains in creation and distribution? Where will your partnerships (with customers, technology companies and industry groups) fit into your roadmap?

Evolution has been an underlying theme in our industry in our new world. The learning curves for safety protocols, remote workflows, meetings, social events and conducting day to day business had to be abbreviated in order to gain traction quickly adopted in order to keep our businesses alive. Amidst all these changes and challenges, we needed to increase knowledge and practical application of remote collaboration. We all had to learn how to better communicate and convey our ideas, feedback and instructions in a way that was digestible through a variety of channels in lieu of being in-person.

LEARNING WHAT’S NEEDED

Education and training for employees and executives in effective communication for in-person, virtual, and digital interactions is something that may not have been needed in a pre-COVID world. Or was it? Being an effective communicator is something that we read in a job description, but it is a key component of our day to day in media and entertainment. We want our audiences engaged. By this, they need to be listened to, captivated, connected and invested in our conversations. This level of engagement and connectivity ensures that we maintain the humanity in what we doin such a high-tech work environment.

Additional cybersecurity training for internal staff. Creating a video call strategy with clients to remain in touch and catch up to continue business opportunities and maintain sales growth.

And what matters the most to you and your partners going forward? Media and entertainment leveraged technology in new ways during the pandemic. Automation, remote sessions, workflows and processes, answer bots, forums, chatrooms, run books, online tutorials, education modules, marketplaces and seminars. The list goes on and on. Some key things to keep in mind during the midst of these amazing advancements are some of the main aspects of the very reason we are all in this business in the first place. Connecting with an audience and providing meaningful communication with sound, imagery and word.

With all this said, perhaps we should think in terms of the following? Humanity over technology; people over process; strive to effectively communicate and equally important, effectively listen.

Often we hear buzz words or the term “full transparency” in our corporate communications. It’s a good move in the right direction, but we move the needle even further. Do good business and uphold ethics and accountability for the products and services that are being provided. Conduct and run businesses with integrity and solidly built relationships. A healthy, safe, solid work community that provides support to the staff and promotes open communication. Continuously work to improve in keeping the company team members updated and aware of all wins and losses. We continue to come up with ideas to keep the staff engaged and inclusive whether working from home, remote hybrid or in office in order to maintain a strong feeling of community. We do the same with clients via email with more personalized status updates on wins and on social media for a broader outreach.

GOING FORWARD

Our industry has changed from the traditional workflows of the not-too-distant past. Film workflows to tape workflows to digital workflows. Today we have remote production, physical production, remote postproduction, virtual writing rooms, virtual sets and virtual happy hours. Some, if not all, of the aforementioned may become the new normal regardless of a pandemic.

We as an industry have learned, embraced and innovated new technologies, techniques and communication in order to continue to thrive in a challenging world, but it has also opened doors, broadened horizons, expanded and developed new and exciting global partnerships.

One day the masks will come off andCOVID-19 will live on as a cautionary tale and learning lesson for us all, but we as an industry have grown, rose to challenges in order to continue creating, entertaining and engaging the masses.

By Vincent Lavares, Director, Operations, IDC LA

October 18, 2021

IDC Helps Make Superfest Accessible with Blind and Low-Vision VO Talent

August 15, 2021

Hip Hop Just Got Its First-Ever Audio Music Video for 2.2B Visually Impaired People Around the Globe

August 5, 2021

International Digital Centre Earns Audio Description Honor

New York-based post-production and digital media processing firm International Digital Centre (IDC) has been honored by the American Council of the Blind’s (ACB) Audio Description Project (ADP) for its work in “empowering blind and marginalized talents” in the audio description space.

The Audio Description Achievement Award — awarded to IDC in the media category at the recent 2021 ADP conference — noted IDC’s work in contributing “to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs.”

“The awards committee certainly felt that describes [IDC’s] work to ensure the continuation of quality description, embrace and empower blind professionals in the field, and elevate voices from marginalized communities during the pandemic,” Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, ADP project coordinator and grant writer, said in statement.

IDC received the award due to its employment of blind and low-vision narrators during the pandemic, along with the launch of a new internal quality control program, which brought on a blind audio description expert to help polish scripts. Additionally, that AD department worked closely with a major streaming provider to update their style manual, adding guidelines for describing characters of diverse backgrounds and appearances.

“By including blind experts in the creation process, listening to feedback from AD consumers, and pushing platforms to incorporate AD, IDC has worked to elevate voices from marginalized communities to make sure they are amplified, heard, and represented in authentic ways,” IDC said in a statement. “We are proud to carry this work forward into IDC’s future.”

July 19, 2021

IDC Audio Description Department honored with ADP Achievement Award

IDC’s Audio Description department was thrilled to accept the 2021 Audio Description Project's Audio Description Achievement Award in the Media category, at the 2021 ADP conference. Each year since 2009, the ACB's Audio Description Project (ADP) has recognized individuals and organizations for their contributions to audio description, as nominated by their peers and users. Per the award guidelines, nominees must have “made outstanding contributions to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs” in their category. 

Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, ADP Project Coordinator and Grant Writer, noted: “The awards committee certainly felt that "describes" your department's work to ensure the continuation of quality description, embrace and empower blind professionals in the field, and elevate voices from marginalized communities during the pandemic.”

During a very challenging 2020, CEO Marcy Gilbert and department head Eric Wickstrom ensured the safety of writers and voice talent, continuing production through the creation of a secure remote recording studio. Eric also spearheaded an initiative to employ IDC’s first blind and low-vision narrators. By year’s end, the department had onboarded four narrators and piloted an internal Quality Control program, which hired a blind Audio Description expert to polish scripts. The AD department also worked closely with a major streaming provider to update their style manual with guidelines for describing characters of diverse backgrounds and appearances. 

By including blind experts in the creation process, listening to feedback from AD consumers and pushing platforms to incorporate AD, IDC has worked to elevate voices from marginalized communities to make sure they are amplified, heard, and represented in authentic ways. We are proud to carry this work forward into IDC’s future.


November 20, 2020

IDC Helps Launch the Entertainment Globalization Association

IDC is proud to announce our partnership in launching the Entertainment Globalization Association as one of 60 industry leaders focusing on outreach, education, and setting world-class standards in the nuanced world of localization.

In the words of President and Founder Marcy Gilbert, "I couldn't be more excited. We’re thrilled at this opportunity to keep raising the quality of globalization, so we can better serve our audiences, make universal accessibility the gold standard, and continue to bring the world closer together through storytelling.”


August 21, 2020

Know Your Narrator - Roy Samuelson Interview with Liz Gutman

August 19, 2020

Reid My Mind Radio - Eric & Liz Interview

July 20, 2020

IDC Produces First Netflix Project Featuring a Blind Narrator

With the release of the Netflix series "Skin Decision," the NYC headquarters of post production company International Digital Centre (IDC) is proud to launch their first Audio Description project using a narrator who is blind.

Audio Description department Director, Eric Wickstrom and head writer Liz Gutman set a goal at the beginning of 2020 to start onboarding and using narrators who are blind or low-vision.

Undoubtedly, the Coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges. However, with some quick thinking and the coordinated assembly of secure, remote recording studios on both coasts, audio description production has flourished.  At the same time, once their industry partners began to normalize a remote workflow, the time seemed ripe to begin reaching out to blind VO talent.

One of the things we pride ourselves on is our community engagement," said Wickstrom. Gutman agreed: "As the pandemic worsened, some in the disabled community spoke out on social media about remote working concessions being made so easily for non-disabled people – concessions that disabled people had been denied for years.”

It was when Wickstrom was connected with Thomas Reid, an accessibility advocate and the founder of the established Reid My Mind Radio podcast, that everything clicked. According to Wickstrom, "Thomas has a great voice, a professional home audio setup, and the necessary experience to do a great read for an AD script. It just made sense."

How has working with blind talent affected the workflow? "Hardly at all," said Gutman. "It depends on the individual, but it usually only requires some minor script reformatting on our end." With that said, there will be a learning curve as more blind VO actors are onboarded. Wickstrom explains: "We're sensitive to the fact that different people will have different needs. We're keeping our lines of communication wide open with all our talent, so that we can anticipate and smooth out any potential bumps as quickly as possible."

With that said, there are three more blind VO narrators currently working with IDC, and several more on deck. "Overall, it's been a really smooth process," said Wickstrom. "I'm only kicking myself that we didn't do it sooner." IDC's new goal is to have at least a dozen blind and low-vision VO talents in regular rotation by year's end, and an expectation to have multiple projects voiced by them each month.


June 20, 2019

M&E Journal: How ‘Local’ Is Leading the Way Toward a Global, New World in Post Production

Today’s streaming platforms, with worldwide volume and connections, realize that the process of adapting source material to foreign, special needs, or specific target audiences, is essential. M&E companies now have a distinct strategy to achieve the most effective results. This opens new revenue streams as well as optimizing the media production workflow and current business models.

Now, content producers creating in cross-platform technologies will often receive a list of preferred localization vendors. The most dedicated of these specialized post providers incorporate cultural norms and differences into all of their efforts. With highly skilled technicians and expert translators, they enable source material to resonate with greater impact toward their targeted audiences.

Localization is both an influential and powerful resource for commercial or informational purposes. It serves as a way to inform, train, educate, and, of course, entertain consumers both locally and globally. Partnering with a trusted localization vendor is a key component to ensuring that your creative messages will be delivered and understood.

Vendors are focused on not just maintaining industry standards but, rather, exceeding viewer and client expectations. When Netflix expanded its revenue streams by expanding its geographic markets, we at IDC helped facilitate in its wide-reaching localization efforts. By late 2012, Netflix had a presence in 40 countries and about 6.1 million streaming subscribers outside the U.S. Following an aggressive globalization push, Netflix is now available in 190 countries.

Its international subscribers grew to more than 62 million by the end of 2017, even exceeding its domestic audience. While Netflix’s proprietary algorithms are highly guarded, Cindy Holland, VP of original series for the streaming leader, did shed some light on the “taste communities” that help guide programming decisions.

Rather than focus on traditional advertiser demographics, Netflix categorized its subscribers by “taste communities,” those who gravitate toward the same shows and genres. “There are connections between content types … unintuitive things,” Holland explained last summer at the Television Critics Association press tour, noting that the company makes programming decisions based on analyzing the viewing habits within those taste communities. Netflix’s algorithm will also promote the shows that other subscribers in the same community enjoyed, making the connection on a global level even stronger, thanks to ever-enhancing localization moves to strengthen their processes.

Meeting expectations

That commitment to multimedia localization allows content providers maximum opportunity for both expansive and specialized access toward targeted viewership. Source data is now accessible in the most nuanced ways, adhering to specific standards that satisfy high-quality, international audience requirements. This dynamic delivery system is now far-reaching and culturally accommodating to new audiences on a daily basis.

Now that film and TV series are more regularly being translated into more than 30 languages, consumers are beginning to expect entertainment in their native tongue at the time of its original language release. Localization truly gives content the feel of custom-creation, be it to wide or narrow audiences.

With viewing option possibilities growing nearly as fast as the rate of content consumption, localization is essential. And, for the previously untapped audiences, it’s reminiscent of when film and TV went from black and white to color. For newer audiences, it’s akin to watching the visual enhancement jump from standard to high definition, and now, like the embrace of 4K and HDR.

The Realities of Remote Dubbing

ABSTRACT: Modern-day audio dubbing has become a far more intricate process than in years past. Requiring purpose-built equipment and applications that ensure frame-accurate precision is crucial toward creating a product that will immerse viewers of media not created in their native language. In the midst of the current global pandemic, that process has been challenging … and has advanced in ways that will undoubtedly enhance future productions.

The challenges of remote dubbing — both physical and technological — have come front and center during the pandemic.

The physical hurdles are the most obvious: under normal circumstances dubbing would usually take place in a purpose-built, soundproof vocal room. One likely designed by an acoustic engineer with everything from extra-thick walls and acoustic panels, to large video reference monitors and highly sensitive microphones.

Needless to say that luxury is very difficult to come by in the midst of a global pandemic and subsequent quarantining. Casting actors for dubbing is an art in itself and while some voice-over talent have home studios, most do not. So keeping the integrity of the casting process poses a dilemma that is contingent on the actor’s living quarters.

Blindly surveying a site for pre-production, or in this case an actor’s home, comes with many challenges. Each actor’s home setting adds to a kaleidoscopically variable list of obstacles. For instance a typical New York City apartment is often equipped with brick walls, hardwood floors, footstep noise from the apartment above and of course the ubiquitous noises of a big city. Most of the aforementioned would cause an audio engineer tasked with this challenge to cringe.


THE DIY METHOD

Fortunately, the DIY methods of home studio dressing have been around ever since nonlinear home recording first became a reality more than 20 years ago. Many of those methods — such as draping comforters on windows, laying cardboard on the floor, or even setting up shop in a closet — are very helpful toward dampening the dreaded noise reflection.

Along with remote recording spaces, equipment is another issue that can be equally as challenging in a remote environment. The microphone is easily the most integral part of the remote recording process. While professional recording studios use microphones that produce pristine audio, the makeshift home studio likely cannot provide an environment quiet enough to facilitate the hyper sensitivity of a high-end condenser microphone. There have been tireless debates as to the advantages and disadvantages of both Dynamic and Condenser (or Capacitor if you happen to be British) microphones, particularly in a remote studio environment. In short, a Condenser microphone will capture more nuances of an actor’s voice along with potentially undesirable room reflections. While a dynamic microphone will capture less nuance but also less room reflection and can also be considerably smaller such as a lavalier (clip-on) microphone.

Ultimately the most important factor is that the eventual-recorded audio be clean enough to use in the post phase, where some truly amazing things can be done to audio files today. However, the decision between a Dynamic or a Condenser microphone can prove to be vital and differ greatly depending on the room it will ultimately be used in. Some of our best results just so happened to be recorded with an inexpensive dynamic microphone which was handheld and recorded under-the-covers in a slumber party storytelling fashion.


THE TECHNOLOGICAL ISSUES

The technological challenges of remote dubbing are not quite as much fun to solve. Anyone who has ever used a USB interface to record into a computer has had to compensate for some level of latency. Even while moving at the speed of light, the internet has inherent latency as well (think of news anchors interviewing subjects remotely and their delay in answering the questions).

Add to this the fact that, during a quarantine, the entire neighborhood is likely to be working from home, saturating the same local internet lines being used to send audio halfway around the world while producing a frame-accurate, lip-sync dubbing session. Fortunately, nonlinear recording affords many methods to compensate for latency. However, the connectivity dropouts are a bit more complex and compensating for that requires more innovative methods.

There are products on the market, for example, that send audio from the actor to the receiving end (usually the remote studio) while simultaneously recording the audio from the transmitting end (likely the actor). Upon demand the engineer with the use of these technologies is able to synchronize the audio files in a way that will fill in the breaks in audio from the originating source. Recording software has come quite a long way in recent years. Moore’s Law is responsible for most of that. Though it should be mentioned that the necessity for remote video meetings well before the pandemic has forced the proliferation of audio and video quality enough to be able to handle acceptable latency with video transmission. Because video is so much more robust than audio, the resulting developed technologies were able to encapsulate audio, in particular, at a highly efficient bitrate with minimal degradation. As a result, remote audio recording has reaped the benefits of these codecs which require less and less overhead as each year passes. Today one can push uncompressed 192 Kbps, 384 Kbps or even 1,344 Kbps audio in 7.1 with enough bandwidth.

The final piece of the puzzle is, of course, the video frame. Modern dubbing is a lot less forgiving of a process than in years past. What was once acceptable is no longer. When producing a lip-sync overdub in a different language there are many factors that contribute to a strong final product. Aside from lip-sync accuracy, there are many functions that a Dubbing Director must relay to an actor for creative direction. Being in the same room and giving direction is a lot different than being remotely connected and gesturing to an actor 3,000 miles away, communicating with an engineer, and changing scripts on the fly while keeping pre-release material secure. Even with lightweight proxy video: latency compensation is by no means a simple task.

There are many technologies on the market today that address these issues. Some of those technologies such as Time Code Synchronization have been able to mitigate latency down to a single frame. However, to date there is not one solution that solves all of the issues without sacrificing one over the other. That is not to say that there are not some brilliant technologies that will continue to advance as we speak. The current pandemic has surely brought objectivity into light and has forced technology developers to work overtime in solving these issues. Our studios have taken multiple precautions to reopen safely and while remote dubbing may only be able to emulate an in person studio session, the technologies that have been brought to light will undoubtedly be incorporated into our studios. And as these technologies advance we will have gained confidence in their functionality as a result of our experience with them.