Podcasts Voice Over Experts The What, Why and How of Audio Description
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The What, Why and How of Audio Description

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Ever wondered how to get into Audio Description voice work? Maybe you’ve heard about the work but don’t know what it entails. In this episode of Voice Over Experts, presenter Herb Merriweather explains what Audio Description is and shares how thoughtful, detailed word painting helps the visually impaired to see beyond sound. If you’re interested in accessible media, Audio Description is a growing field that may appeal to you. Learn more now!

Links from today’s show:

Herb Merriweather on Voices.com
Audio Eyes LLC

Your Instructor This Week:

Herb Merriweather is a voice talent based in California who has a future so bright that he has to wear shades. Herb grew up in a musical family and counts his experiences in choral ensembles, bands and gospel music as having played an integral role in the shaping of his signature style, citing his sister, Gospel singer Rosalind Graham, as a major influence, inspiration and encouragement. Herb has worked with many amazing people over his career including the great Ruth Dickerson, a Gospel music historian and radio personality. Herb Merriweather continues to build meaningful relationships with those in his community and seeks out opportunities to be a voice in the wilderness.

Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
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.
Now before we go any further, I’d like to thank David and Stephanie Ciccarelli and their hard-working team for the opportunity to share some fabulous information and maybe recruit a few of you along the way. Heh, heh, heh, that’s enough of that chit-chat, Johnny, 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 Neighbours, 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. Neighbours, 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. Getting [unintelligible 00:05:06] 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 neighbour 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.
Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this voices.com podcast, visit the Voice Over Experts show notes at podcasts.voices.com/voiceoverexperts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you’re a first-time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes podcast directory, or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voice over career online, go to Voices.com and register for voice talent membership today.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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  • Teacher Dan Deslaurier
    March 18, 2015, 6:32 pm

    Thank you Herb for an extraordinarily entertaining episode of Voice Over Experts. Seriously, the field of Voice Over is so much more than the bright lights and glitter of movie trailers and car commercials, and I really do believe that there is no substitute for the human voice to reach, teach and serve others. Bravo Herb–keep up the Good Work!

  • Tim Miller
    January 24, 2016, 4:29 am

    Thank You!

  • Janell Dotson
    June 22, 2017, 5:55 pm

    I want to do audio description for the blind