Training for Non-Technical Cinema Employees

Accommodation, Closed Captions

“Kids on the internet can easily see when a US caption track is available. So it’s hard for mums of deaf kids to explain why they can’t see captioned ParaNorman, when deaf kids in the US can. My 11 year old really wanted to see it, but wouldn’t go because his brother, who’s deaf, can’t go. Without justifying, is it surprising that many deaf people download pirated films and an easily available subtitle/caption track from the internet, overlay it on the film and stream it to a TV?”

Accommodation, Closed Captions

In the UK studies on the issues began in 1999, coordinated with the British Film Institute’s Exhibition Development Unit, plus a series of multi-industry and advocacy group meetings. After much groundwork, Warner Bros, DTS, the RNIB, the UK Film Council (UKFC) and many other groups (detailed in footnoted report) worked to prove a technology concept. DTS donated 10 systems that provided narration via headphone, and open captions via an adjacent video projector. The event took place at several facilities in January of 2002 playing the first Harry Potter release, just two months after the 4 November UK premier.

Following this success, the UKFC arranged to get £350,000 from the UK Lottery and created the Cinema Access Programme, a 50/50 financing deal with cinemas. Seventy facilities put the DTS CSS or Dolby ScreenTalk system into service under this plan. These systems also required the added and ongoing expenses of creating caption and audio description files, then putting them onto discs matched to a time code on the film. Additional funding for these costs was required which came from the Print Provision Fund, and the Capital and Access Fund For Cinemas. (The dialogue-emphasized “HI” track could be “auto-created” in the audio processors without additional cost.)

At its peak there were about 200 DTS systems and 100 Dolby systems in service in the UK. In the next 7 years it became standard for the largest UK film distributors to caption/subtitle and audio describe nearly 100% of their output and the largest UK cinema chains would have at least one of their screens in each of their facilities caption and audio description accessible. The UK Cinema Exhibitors’ Association developed a concessionary card promoting assistance for disabled customers, including those who are blind or have impaired vision.

In reality, though, it was an odd mix. Smaller production companies and non-UK movies – for example, movies that the US studio didn’t think derive enough income for an open caption print to be created and sent – meant that the actual number of movies that were captioned or have narration available was less than 25%, some years lower than 15%, with many big movies left out. (One odd instance of this was Best Picture Oscar winner ‘The Kings Speech’ which was not available on the popular DTS caption format, though a handful of 35mm subtitled reels with burned in captions were available.)

Statistically, the objective – at least one accessible major movie screened per facility each week – gave an increase: 200 shows a week in 2005 to 1,000 per week in 2010, about 1% of UK cinema screenings.

The UKFC again arranged funding from lottery money in 2004, this time to jumpstart the obviously imminent digital transition for exhibitors in the UK. Through the diligence of the RNIB and others in the multi-industry group, the issue was kept alive – the specifications for the Digital Screen Network were the first to include Descriptive Audio in the essence of digital cinema.

The transition to digital cinema took nearly a decade before it reached 50% saturation, and 10 years for a complete set of specifications. These, among other things, created a standardized interface between media players, projectors, and the secure digital information that had to make it from hard disk storage to the audio and caption equipment. In the last years, new personal caption systems that emulated closed captioning were developed.

The transition brought turmoil. Narration tracks were not created for digital equipment with any regularity until 2012. Digital equipment wasn’t able to auto-create an enhanced dialog track the way that analog equipment often did. 3D movies were never delivered with captions and personal caption equipment had significant growing pains upon introduction. While exhibitors were preparing for much higher ratios of inclusive movie presentations, audiences were wishing for the good old days of 1%.

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