What makes for good audio description?

Thanks to the generosity of our friends Oliver and Cheryl, Oliver and I had the pleasure of attending Superfest in October, on Zoom. One of my favourite parts of the weekend of films and panels were these comments from Thomas Reid, host and producer of Reid My Mind radio podcast, about what makes for good audio description:

Yeah.  So let me break that down into some of the components of what I think is good audio description and talk about it in that sense.  

Good audio description or AD has several components.

It’s about being respectful, meaning you don’t try to explain the plot because blind people can figure out the plot by themselves. You don’t over describe the movie. For example, when a phone is ringing, there’s no need to tell me a phone is ringing. I heard the phone. Right?  

So you don’t censor those things you find offensive.  Because if it’s on the screen and if it’s in the story, we should know about it.  Right? Good AD means good audio.  I shouldn’t have to ride the volume control up and down to hear the audio describer and then higher or lower to hear the actual film.  

You take the time to make that audio right.  Good audio description doesn’t step on dialogue.  Right?  

At its core it’s about providing access to the visuals.  Those who see the film learn certain information about a character that can be their color, sometimes ethnicity, or race.  Other indicative information about the person, it can be relevant to how they interpret that film.  

Blind viewers also should have access to that information.

It’s worthwhile reading the entire transcript, as Reid goes on to talk about the representation of race in audio description and reflects on the audio description of the film we’d just all watched.

There’s also a two-part series on Reid’s podcast, Flipping the Script on Audio Description (Part One, Part Two) that offers many additional insights.

In the spirit of Reid’s words, I’ve been working to pay more attention to the “alt tags” in the images I include here on the blog, using the same points to guide me.