The Art of Closed Captioning

The Art of Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is an art form. A very overlooked art form, perhaps, but an art form nonetheless. By elevating something as mundane as monospaced characters on the screen that only a small portion of our population ever see to the level of art, it helps us understand the real value of the process and it helps us value good captioning over poor captioning.

At Paladin Media Group, we recently created a video to explain why you should caption all of your videos. You can see it here. So in this post I won’t get into the higher SEO and broader audience (far beyond the hearing impaired) that captions afford your video. Instead, the purpose of this post is to discuss some of the intricacies of captioning that you may not be familiar with. For example, onomatopoeias. Go ahead and say it, it’s just a fun word to pronounce. Onomatopoeias are the written description of sound effects. So the onomatopoeia of “door opens” might be “creak” or “creeaaaak” depending on the actual sound effect used in the film.

A study was conducted by Gallaudet University that showed that “a combination of description and onomatopoeia was the preference of more consumers (56%) than was description alone (31%) or onomatopoeia alone (13%).” This means that when captioning your project you should include the description of the sound effect, which appear in all lowercase letters enclosed in brackets, like this [gun fire], as well as the artists interpretation of the sound effect, bam-bam—bam, or plink-plink—plink, or poof-poof—poof, depending on the actual sound of the gun. When making up spellings of these sound effects you can see where you might want to employ a creative brain over a sterile one.

Another subtle detail of Closed Captions is the hyphen. When should you use a single hyphen and when should you use two? There are specific rules for this, too. How should you space your captions? What if there is on-screen text where captions typically are placed? What if a voice is heard off camera? What about a character screaming? All of these are handled in a manner that a true caption artist will handle appropriately and consistently.

At Paladin most of the material we caption is between 3 and 5 minutes long, often times they are pretty simple with a single person being interviewed, but we recently set out to caption an 85-minute documentary film. Part of this film includes protests, street preachers, and angry crowds. Fortunately, with captions you can rely on the pictures of the film to help set the seen, but really trying to set the mood of the soundtrack through text on screen can be a huge challenge.

As we set out to accomplish this, we realized that the short videos we had previously captioned were very limited compared to the types of things we would encounter in a feature-length film. In our research we came across an incredibly valuable document that was created by the Described and Captioned Media Program. This downloadable pdf will give you an incredible amount of insight into the Art of Captioning. So whether you are setting out to caption your own video or if you’re just interested in the world of captioning, take a look at this great resource.

If you do have a project that needs captioning and don’t intend to do it yourself, please give Paladin Media Group a call. We would love to help.

Kent C. Williamson is a filmmaker, the founder of Paladin Media Group, and the father of six kids. His current documentary is Stained Glass Rainbows.