Defying Description

As you probably already know by now, I moved to India two months ago to start a new job. As you may also have put together, that means I’m no longer working at my old job. Those of you who’ve been here a while know that I’ve waxed poetic about my previous job, talking about how I found it completely by accident and how it turned out to be exactly what I had never known I wanted to do. So, you can imagine that in September last year, when I heard that the company was going under and that we were all being let go, my reaction was more or less along the lines of this:


I feel ya, Michael Scott. I feel ya. Anyway, after our first intimation of the news, we had about two weeks in which to hope for a miracle, which did not come. Then, on my birthday, my boss called to talk about severance pay, and to inform me that it was effectively my last day. Needless to say, it was not a very happy birthday.

My first instinct was to take time off to come to terms with it, but, see, the thing is, I think that only works for me when I leave a job of my own volition. I had taken a nice, long break after I quit teaching, but doing so now felt wrong. I was energised, I was ready to go, but I had no job to do. Well, actually, that’s not true. I did have a job. Job-hunting, as everyone who’s done it will know, is a full-time occupation. People should get paid to do it, because it is more stressful than any job could be.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the sordid details. The main thing to take away from the period between then and now is that I looked for a similar job in Singapore, but just could not find one. Then I found out that one of the big companies in the industry had a branch in Bangalore, and the rest was just convincing myself to make the move. I’ve been at this new place for two months now, and while I’m still feeling my way around, I’m starting to feel like this might be an even more perfect match between person and job than captioning was.

So, what I do now is called audio description. It’s an access service in the same way as captioning is (click on those previous links if you want to know more about what that entails), but for people with partial or complete vision loss. What I do is write a script for all the bits that happen between dialogue that a person would need to know in order to follow the story. This script then goes on to a voice actor who narrates it, and this additional AD track is overlaid on the original file. (If you’re keen to hear what this sounds like, Netflix carries quite a few titles which are audio described – just pick the English (AD) option instead of English.)

Like captioning, audio description sounds fairly simple on the surface, but there’s a lot of nuance to it that may not be immediately noticeable to anyone not working closely with it. It’s just describing stuff, right? That should be easy. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. We’re often working with very tight spaces between bits of dialogue, making sure that none of it is obscured by our description. Artistic movies love having visually important scenes happening at the same time as dialogue or voiceovers, which makes it difficult for us to get a word in, literally. It’s important to be neutral and not bring your own interpretation into what you see, which involves distancing yourself a little from the material, which is surprisingly hard to do. Also, unlike captioning, which is verbatim, audio description leaves a lot of room for a writer’s input. So, where two different people captioning the same file would produce more or less the same output, that is far from the case with AD because it is so dependent on the individual writer’s style.

That last bit is why I feel like this job is probably more fulfilling than the previous one. The main attraction with that one was that I was working with media, which is true here as well. In fact, this company receives orders from even bigger studios and production houses, so, often, I have to keep from spoiling myself for things I’m actually watching independently. But where the last job was more technical, more focused on the following of specific rules, this one leaves more room for creativity. I’m still terrified of the word ‘creativity’, because I am not an idea person. If a job involves constant idea generation, I can almost guarantee that I will crash and burn spectacularly after the first month. My brain just isn’t wired that way (which is why even blogging is difficult after a certain point). What is within my comfort zone, however, is writing to a set of standards while being critical about my choice of words, about the use of language. At this job, I need to think about whether, when Character A is looking at Character B, they’re staring, gazing, glancing, eyeing, noticing, observing, scrutinising, considering or regarding the other person. Yes, I refer to the thesaurus a lot. (This shirt would probably be the perfect synergy between me and my niece at the moment.)

All that is to say that AD writing challenges my brain, while still not requiring me to step too far into the uncomfortable and nebulous waters of creativity. And for that, I am grateful. Grateful that such a job exists, and grateful that a series of events brought my life to a point where I’m able to do it for a living. I will never, ever take that for granted, because I know it takes a generous amount of luck to be able to do what you love and get paid for it.

I’ll leave you with clip of AD, for if you’re feeling too lazy to go the Netflix route I mentioned earlier:


4 thoughts on “Defying Description

  1. shemuses April 7, 2017 / 6:43 am

    Didn’t even know this was a thing, wow! And yes, sounds like a job you will enjoy 😀

    • Clueless April 7, 2017 / 5:17 pm

      You know, stuff like this just makes me realise how limited our worldview is, especially when it comes to jobs and careers. We only know what we see, but there’s so much beyond our imagination!

  2. peeves April 5, 2017 / 9:09 pm

    Oh wow, this *does* sound like a fun job. And right up your alley :). I’m totally imagining you agonizing over the perfect word to use at a particular spot.

    • Clueless April 6, 2017 / 12:05 pm

      You’d be surprised how accurate that mental picture is. The last job involved a lot of typing, this one basically has me staring blankly at a screen for most of the day.

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