The Describer’s Dilemma, or the case of the vanishing retainers.

Last week I explored the serious issue of how to approach race and ethnicity when describing a show. You can read about it and leave your comments here.


Today, in a lighter vein, I want to share another aspect of doing descriptive video. Here’s the setup:


Several years ago, describing an episode of a series that was only on for two seasons, but which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, we came across a scene between two actors. One was the hero, after whom the series was actually named, the other was his love interest for that particular episode.


The director had chosen to shoot this scene from each of their points of view. So far, so standard. But here comes the rub… on half of the takes from her point of view, the actor looked normal, on the other half, he was wearing retainers on his teeth!


This was clearly a mistake. A pretty serious one from a continuity perspective, but one that nevertheless seems to have gone past the cast, the crew, the continuity person, the producers, the director and the editors!


So, from our perspective as describers, what is the appropriate course of action? If we find a glaring mistake (and as describers we’re pretty detail-oriented), are we to share that with the vision-impaired audience? What if that mistake, as in the case of the hero’s retainers, has absolutely nothing to do with the story? But, also in that case, what if it results in an audible change? The hero wasn’t able to speak as clearly with the retainers as without them…


We come across these little mistakes all the time. In the same scene, the same glass is full or empty depending on the camera angle. Clothes are tucked or untucked. Cars that show mysterious bumps that then disappear in the very next scene… One of the most prevalent of these, for the many shows shot in Vancouver and other West Coast locations, is the intrusive rain. In the same scene, it’s raining when he speaks, it isn’t raining when she does.


So, again, is it our job to point these out?


In general, I have tried to stick to what I see as my job: To tell the story as envisioned by those who made it. Yet, I could easily make an argument for having to describe the mistakes as well. After all, we’re trying to make the experience of watching the show as close to that of the sighted audience as possible.


But you have to admit, retainers that appear and disappear throughout a scene… that’s pretty funny.