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For anyone who loves learning the behind the scenes work that goes into Supernatural, this is a MUST READ.  As luck would have it, Ardeospina works for a close captioning company that captions episodes for Supernatural.   Thanks to the generosity of her employer VITAC and Warner Brothers, they permitted her to give us this fascinating tutorial on everything that goes into delivering the amazing dialogue and other sounds for the hearing impaired so they can enjoy this show as much as we do.  Enjoy this very informative article.

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100 episodes is a milestone achievement for any TV series. I think a large part of why Supernatural is still on the air is the dedication of its fans.  Of course, every show needs fans to bolster its ratings, but that's not what I'm talking about.  The Supernatural fandom is a passionate, wonderful, creative, intense, and at times frustrating group that cares deeply about this show.  As a result, we've been rewarded with 100 episodes so far, more to come in season 5, and a season 6 to look forward to.  As a member of this exclusive group, I thought the 100th episode celebration was the perfect time to share the unique way I became involved with Supernatural and also provide a glimpse into a small part of bringing each episode to your television.

I'd love to say I knew from the pilot that this show was special, that I've been watching from the beginning, but that is simply not the case.  In fact, I'm a latecomer to the Supernatural world.  I had never watched an episode until the season 5 premiere, "Sympathy for the Devil."  That's right.  To be honest, I was a bit confused at first.  I really didn't know what was happening at times and why any of it was important but I thought it was really compelling. I decided to check out the first season on Netflix.  After I decided those discs weren't coming in the mail fast enough, I went out and got all 4 available seasons on DVD, and that was that!  Now, of course, Supernatural is one of my favorite TV shows, and I absolutely love being able to write about it and discuss it with other fans and share all the drama and heartbreak with others.

None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for my job.  And how on earth does my job relate to Supernatural you might ask?  Well, I'll tell you.  I work as a captioner for VITAC, a closed captioning company based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.  My company has been responsible for preparing the closed captioning for Supernatural since the show started airing, so if you've ever watched the captions for this show on your TV, someone at my company prepared those.  And for "Sympathy for the Devil," the lucky captioner who prepped that episode was...me!  It is my job, on occasion, to caption Supernatural.  I get paid to watch Supernatural. And yeah, it is as cool as it sounds!  So I might never have started watching this amazing show if I hadn't been assigned to caption it at work.  So thanks, VITAC, for getting me hooked!

Captioning "Sympathy for the Devil" was great but it just got better from there.  I also got to caption "I Believe the Children Are Our Future," "The Curious Case of Dean Winchester," "Sam, Interrupted," and "99 Problems."

For those of you who aren't familiar with closed captioning, allow me to explain it briefly before I move on to talk about the process of captioning Supernatural itself.  In the United States, the term "closed captioning" has a different meaning than the term "subtitles," in regard to television.  Closed captions are for TV broadcast and are aimed at people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.  They cover all spoken text, as well as sound effects and music.  The captions are considered "closed" because you have to turn them on, or "open" them, via a menu button on your TV remote. Subtitles refer to text displayed on the video itself and generally are used when someone is speaking a foreign language or a speaker's accent makes them difficult to understand for the average viewer.

My company has two different captioning divisions: realtime and offline.  Realtime captioners caption live events like sports or news broadcasts.  Offline captioners caption prerecorded material.  I work in the Offline department.  Within my department, we have two different styles of captioning, as well: roll-up and pop-on.  Roll-up captions do just that: they are lines of text that roll across the bottom or top of the screen in lines that cover the entire width of the screen.  Pop-on captions pop-up in smaller blocks of text that are positioned in different parts of the screen based on where the speaker is standing.  Supernatural uses pop-on captioning.

Okay, enough about captioning in general.  Let's talk about what it's like to caption an episode of Supernatural.  First, Warner Bros. sends VITAC a copy of the video and a digital copy of the script for that episode.  The tape gets digitized so that I, the captioner, can download it to my work computer and work with it in a special software my company developed specifically for captioning.  But not just anybody can access the videos and open the scripts.  You need a special security badge to even enter my company's office suite.  To unlock your computer, you need to log in with a user name and password.  And then to open the software that gives you access to the video, you need a different user name and password.  Content is really protected so that only people with permission to access it can.

Once I have the video downloaded, I import the text from the digital script.  At this point, the script still has all the stage directions and acting cues and location descriptions in it along with the dialogue.  But the dialogue is the only stuff I need for the captions, so I go through the script and get rid of anything I don't need.  Once that's done, it's time to start what we call timing and placing the episode.

All Supernatural videos have an episode time code that displays on the video, and this helps me match up the dialogue to the exact time it's spoken.  You don't want your text to display before someone says something because you're giving away the dialogue!  And you don't want text to display too late because the person has already spoken. This is what I mean by "timing."  It's also important when timing the episode to try and match up dialogue with shot changes.  A shot change is when the show cuts from one shot to the next.  This is a perfect time to display a block of text because the eye sees the cut and the pop of the text at the same time, so it's pleasing to watch.  Try watching for this the next time you watch an episode.  Supernatural is pretty good about having their dialogue match up with shot changes.

While I'm going through the episode to time and place it, it's also my job to make any changes to the text to make sure it adheres to proper spelling and grammar rules, has the right punctuation, etc.  These rules are often special for captioning so that the text is easier to read.  I also have to keep an eye out for any changes in dialogue the actors might have made while filming or if they had rewrites and the script version I am using is different than the one they used for shooting.

Placing an episode involves taking the blocks of text, breaking them up into dialogue lines, and putting them at different parts of the screen depending on where the speaker is.  When I import the script, it starts off as bigger blocks of text that I need to break down into smaller lines.  This makes it a lot easier to read the text, and also allows me to visually show whether the dialogue is being spoken by a person on the left, middle, or right side of the screen.

Another important part of the show I have to pay attention to is sound effects.  A hearing audience will be able to hear when the Impala starts or when a gun gets shot or when a door opens or closes, but if these things don't happen on screen where you can see them, they need to be added in.  So you might see something like [ DOOR OPENS ] or [ TIRES SCREECH ] or, especially on this show, [ GUNSHOTS ].  Along with sound effects, I need to make sure to convey just how someone is saying their dialogue.  For example, if someone is really emotional while saying the line "I just can't do this anymore," I might use [ Voice breaking ] I JUST CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE to show that.

In the following examples, you can see some of the styles my company uses for captioning.  Spoken dialogue is in upper case to show that people are saying that out loud in a scene.  If someone is talking over a telephone, we can use lower case to show that they're talking but not on screen.  Words inside brackets are descriptor words, like sound effects and text descriptors.  Italics can be used for a number of reasons, from showing that text is being spoken on TV to italicizing an individual word for emphasis.

Now that you've got the general idea as to what captioning is all about, let's take a look at a couple scenes from "99 Problems" and discuss them in more detail.  First up, the scene where Dean, Cass, and Sam are sitting around the motel room talking about how Leah is not really a prophet.
 
Castieljokes
 
As you can see, the boys are being very nice to me here because they're sitting on the left, middle, and right parts of the screen, and they don't get up and walk around and switch positions.  This is very helpful for me because now everything that Dean says can be on the left, Castiel's dialogue can be in the middle, and Sam's dialogue can be on the right.

So to caption this scene, I first take the imported text from the script, which looks something like this:


WE WENT OUT LOOKING FOR -- YOU ALL RIGHT? YEAH. IT'S -- IT'S
 NOT MY BLOOD.  PAUL'S DEAD. WHAT? JANE SHOT HIM. IT'S STARTING
WHAT'S STARTING? WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? ON A BENDER.
DID HE -- DID YOU SAY ON A BENDER? YEAH. HE'S STILL PRETTY
SMASHED. IT IS NOT OF IMPORT. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT WHAT'S
HAPPENING HERE.


As you can see, the text is in a large block and needs to be divided up by sentence so that I can time it to the audio and place it on the speaker.  You also don't want long sentences stretching all the way across the screen because then that text is covering other people in the scene, so you're not sure who is saying the lines.  For example, you don't want Cas' lines covering Sam or Dean.  You want a good visual representation of exactly who is speaking.  So, going through that big block of text and breaking it up into nice, shorter captions, then placing it on the speaker results in something that will look like this:


WE WENT OUT LOOKING FOR --
YOU ALL RIGHT?

YEAH.
IT'S -- IT'S NOT MY BLOOD.

PAUL'S DEAD.

WHAT?!

JANE SHOT HIM.

IT'S STARTING.

WHAT'S
STARTING?

WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?

ON A BENDER.

DID HE --
DID YOU SAY "ON A BENDER"?

YEAH.
HE'S STILL PRETTY SMASHED.

IT IS NOT OF IMPORT.

WE NEED TO TALK
ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE.


And here's what the captioning for part of this scene looks like when I'm finished with it:







 


So far, we have Sam speaking at the right, a sound effect for Dean closing the door because you don't see him close it, and then Dean comes in speaking at the left.




 

 
This is an example of how placement is used to tell the viewer who is speaking.  We can't see Dean say "Jane shot him" here because the shot is focusing on Sam.  But because Dean's dialogue has all been on the left so far, we know that he's the one speaking.




 
And enter Castiel at center placement.  In this last shot, you can see how italics are used to emphasize a single word.

Comments  

DianeUK
# DianeUK 2010-04-14 03:56
WOW! I never even thought about how much WORK is involved! I will certainly be "watching" from a different perspective from now on. Thanks for this insight, and, keep up the good work. Its appreciated! Diane
Supernarttu
# Supernarttu 2010-04-14 04:05
Hi Ardeospina.
Wow. This is what you do? That is so cool! And a really clever way of introduction to this show, not many have a story like this :D

I've often thought about the susbtitling/cap tioning process, and of how it's made... And how cool it would be to do that. I've wathced a lot of movies and TV so it has fascinated me a long time. And frustrated since sometimes the subtitling just drives me nuts when they 'get it wrong' (as if I could do it better lol), esp. finnish subtitling of SPN, that's sometimes so bad I cringe...and then watch it with English subtitles (or captions depends on my DVD's).

I always figured that it must be very detailed and precise work. Plus you get to watch something fun and get paid to do it! Allthough I bet sometimes you get to watch something not-so-awesome, but if you love what you do, then every task is a dream. And it does sound like a very likable job :-)

How does the eppie selection go? They give you episodes of certain shows? You don't have like one show that you caption? Do you do just eppies, or movies, documentaries, news etc.? How long does it take to caption an episode? Do you do subtitling too or is it just captioning? I have to check out that website :-)

This was a really interesting read so thank you!
And thanks also to your company and the WB for letting you share :D
Karen
# Karen 2010-04-14 07:45
Hi Ardeospina
What a fantastic job. If only I could type half decently.
This was really interesting. I also wondered how this was done.
Seeing the preparation it takes, I can’t even imagine doing the live captioning.
That must be brutal.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Elle2
# Elle2 2010-04-14 07:58
Ardeospina, Awesome article!!!

I'm a court reporter, for four years now, 'tis a second career too, and while I do write in real time, I have not tested nor am I proficient enough to write real time for display or immediate release. I mostly do depositions for lawyers and public hearings etc.

I did do some captioning for a group that sent me their audio files and it was for hearing impaired folks mainly and was all via the computer but no where near as complex because it was all audio synchronization.

Very awesome for you to be able to share your work with us and give us the 'behind the scenes' look. The next time your episodes are showing on TV, I'll be sure to turn my captioning on and watch either Sympathy or Children or Curious Case or 99 Problems. I understand some of what you have to do.

Thanks for writing and no that my fingers are out there burning up the keys right along with you.

:-)
Julie
# Julie 2010-04-14 09:50
Ardeospina Thanks,
What a great article, especially for sad `geeks` like me who are fascinated by these sort of details and in knowing how things work or are made!
You have a wonderful job there, I can imagine it being very challenging too, such attention to detail and nuances often overlooked by the viewer and I would guess it`s not always as much fun when captioning other series!
BagginsDVM
# BagginsDVM 2010-04-14 12:46
Thanks for explaining how all of that is done! I've always wondered about it. You do have a neat job!
Randal
# Randal 2010-04-14 13:34
This was very cool and though one assumes captioning isn't merely punching up a computer program and letting a machine do all the work, there's definitely an art to what you're doing, matching everything up, making the text flow with the scene, with the cuts, a mixed media ballet.

We've all seen a crappy captioning job here and there, so the work you put in most appreciated. We're still jealous that you get paid to watch SPN, work or not. :D
maguie
# maguie 2010-04-14 15:02
That's really interesting!

I never thought of it like, like that complex,
And you get paid for to watch supernatural?, thats really cool. :-)

Can I ask you a question?
How many time before a Supernatural episode airs on tv, do you watch it and do the close caption.
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-04-14 18:37
Thanks for your kind words, everyone! I do have a pretty cool job, don't I? I'm a lucky gal!

Diane(UK), it is a lot of work, but in a good way. And it's never dull!

Supernarttu, cool that you watch captioning sometimes! I know that errors are made sometimes, but I also know that in the US at least, a lot of the crazy errors that happen occur when the caption file gets put on the air. There is something weird in the technology that makes strange things happen, so when there's weird formatting errors, chances are it's because of transfer problems not actual problems with the captioning. I don't know the process in Finland, though!

As for your questions, I'm sorry to say I can't answer them in detail. What I can say is I personally work in the offline department, which is taped shows, so anything that you would see on TV that is not a live broadcast, I might caption that. As for how long it takes me, it depends on how long the show is and how involved it is. And my company does some subtitling work, but I personally do not.

Karen, thanks! I have become a much better typist in my time as a captioner, I can tell you. And yes, the people who do the realtime captioning are very talented. I definitely could not do their job!

Elle2, that's totally awesome that you're a court reporter! We're speed typists together! I think that would be a hard job, actually, but a cool one. Unless the court cases are boring. Are they boring or fun?

Julie, it's not sad to be a geek or to know how things work! I say that as a card-carrying geek!

Dany, I do not want to trade jobs, thanks very much! Nice try, sneaky. I once saw a movie in Poland that was dubbed in Polish with one man reading all the parts, male and female, and it was horrible, so I can imagine that dubbing is really distracting. Subtitles are way better for that.

BagginsDVM, you're welcome!

Randal, it is more artistic than one realizes, really. Of course there are a lot of set rules we follow, but others are more lenient so that we can make a program flow better, like you say.

Maguie, it is really cool to get paid to watch SPN. I'll never get tired of saying that! As for your question, you certainly are allowed to ask, but I am not allowed to answer!

;-)

And bonus points to anyone who can name the SPN episode that was set in the same Pennsylvania city where my office is: Canonsburg, PA.
ElenaM
# ElenaM 2010-04-15 01:07
Thanks so much for sharing this!!! I've watched with the CC on a fair few times, its a lifesaver in a noisy environment or when the sound is fritzing, and thought it was really well done and accurate, but I had no idea how much thought and effort goes into the captioning. This is so cool!
Randal
# Randal 2010-04-15 10:52
Oh hell, that's easy, Pittsburgh: "the night is mine!"
elle2
# elle2 2010-04-15 11:46
Ardeospina,

My job is pretty cool. I got to do a double-murder trial once, even cooler, it was sent to me electronically and I got to watch the trial via video and produce the transcript from that.

Lots of times it's hit and run, slips and falls, sometimes it's cool things like corporate stuff (although that can be really boring sometimes, is a page a piece of paper or is it two sides or what...) then there's marital stuff and an occasional push and shove. I also get to do public hearings (which are very hard) and technical or expert trial testimony which can be fascinating but also quite tricky. Usually I get a report or the exhibits to pore through to get spellings and such and I often spend quite a bit of time on the internet looking things up and learning about geology to erosion to medical tests to how to make a product.

I often meet really cool people when I do things like patent or trademark infringements and I learned a whole lot recently about the Beatles and Liverpool, England which for a non-Beatle fan (just 'cause I'm a little young for that --only a little) it was pretty interesting stuff.

So all in all, it's pretty cool. There are of course the whiney ones that I wish to just say hey, chill. But in the end it's so much better than my former management career which was all whine almost all the time.

And hey, most of the time I'm working in t-shirt and jeans sipping coffee with no shoes on. Course, when the kitty runs across the keyboard....
elle
# elle 2010-04-15 12:22
Wow, great article! I used to use the close captioning a lot (in our old house, my TV was against the (thin) wall between my room and my parents room which meant low, low, low volume) but I never really considered what goes into it. This sounds like such a cool job! How did you get into captioning?

Thank you for the behind the scenes look! It was great!
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-04-15 16:13
How interesting! What a fascinating job you have. And you get PAID to watch the show. How lucky are you! :-)

Never realized how much work goes into CC. Thanks for sharing!
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-04-18 16:01
Ardeospina, thanks so much for this insight into your work - great stuff, really! A friend of mine worked in TV lending his voice in dubbing, and he once told me how much work goes into it (not our show, unfortunately), and close captioning is an art.
It's great that your boss allowed you to share this with us. I love the behind-the-scen es stuff. It also takes a bit of the 'putting on a pedestal' away, as this is also a business, apart from the fun we have watching the show, with normal people working there, and it is a huge group effort.
I'm always amazed at how many people are involved. And even with so many cooks, we get such a fine meal...

Thanks! Jas
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-04-21 21:12
Sorry I'm so behind in answering, friendly commenters, but I am so behind! Stupid weekend power outage. Ugh.

Anyway, Leslie, that's so cool that you watch with the captions on. I know things get wonky sometimes during the transfer from out files to the actual airing, so hopefully things look okay! We definitely put a lot of work into making the show look good, so I'm glad it's appreciated.

ElenaM, thank you! Captions really are a lifesaver when watching in a noisy room.

On the nose, Randal!

Elle2, it sounds like you really do get some interesting cases. But like you said, there must be some that are just so stupid. People in the US are so litigious. It drives me crazy sometimes. And working in a t-shirt and jeans is great, isn't it? I also have a very relaxed dress code, which is awesome.

Elle, I got into captioning because I saw an ad in one of the online versions of a Pittsburgh newspaper, so I applied, went for the interview, and there you go. I just got lucky, really. But for the online captioners, there's a whole different process, and they have a really detailed description at my company's website, if you want to check it out further.

Sablegreen, yep, it is pretty fascinating. It's never dull or boring, that's for sure. And I sure have learned a lot of trivia by watching all this TV!

Jasminka, you're welcome! Voice dubbing sounds like it would be a really cool job, too. I would totally do that if I had the voice for it. And it is amazing just how many people it takes to get a TV show to air, people you wouldn't even think about unless you knew about them, like we captioners! And like I said in the article, it's pretty amazing to be a part of it, even though it's a small part.
Maekyll
# Maekyll 2010-04-26 00:10
Ardeospina, great article! I'm currently in school for captioning, so when I saw closed captioning I had to read the article.

I'm glad that you typed it up because so many people don't understand how much work it takes behind-the-scen es, and I love that this fandom is interested in pretty much every aspect of this show, right down to the captions.

My current class assignment is to analyze the captioning styles of a TV show we like, and of course I picked SPN. ;-)

How do you like captioning? I'm currently wavering between captioning and CART as a career.
PKE
# PKE 2010-05-01 21:40
As a hearning impaired person who cannot watch tv with closed captioning, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now if there was someway to do this to movies in the theaters I would be happy. Thank you for your hard work.
PKE
# PKE 2010-05-01 21:42
Above statement should read without closed caption.. Sorry
Freebird
# Freebird 2010-05-02 06:46
Aerdospina, this was so interesting, thank you for sharing! Love to learn about anything behind-the-scen es.
The CC has helped me a lot to understand everyone in the show, when I was watching it in the US. At home I use the English subtitling on my DVDs. When watching the show online it's harder, since there are neither CC nor subtitling, and here's where the detailed episode guides from SPN-fansites come in. But I also have to say, that SPN has immensely enriched my English vocabulary :-)
Thanks again for writing this!
Lara
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-05-02 11:15
Maekyll, thanks! That's really cool that you are in school for captioning! And many people don't realize just how much goes into it, so it was my pleasure to be able to enlighten the readers. What a great choice for your assignment! It's always fun when schoolwork can be about something you really love. I really like captioning myself. But I don't know what CART is, so I can't compare it! What is CART?

PKE, you're very welcome! I don't usually get any feedback from viewers who use the closed captioning, so it's great to hear from someone who does. That makes it even more worthwhile for me, to know that my work does help people.

Freebird, I never thought about using captions to learn English or help learn English, but that's a great idea! And isn't behind-the-scen es stuff fun? I sure love it, so it was awesome to be able to share some for once.
Jaclyn
# Jaclyn 2010-05-03 19:45
Does anyone know where you can watch Supernatural online with closed captions? We need closed captions and missed it on tv last week, but CW does not offer closed captions online.

Ardeospina - is it possible for your company to add captions to the online videos, or work something out with the CW?
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-05-03 21:04
Jaclyn, I have no idea where you can watch online with closed captioning. Adding captions to online videos is something my company does not do at this time, unfortunately, and I have no idea if the CW would be open to adding them into their online streaming or not.

Which episode did you miss? Was it "The Devil You Know" or "Hammer of the Gods?" You might be able to find a transcript online somewhere, but that won't air alongside the episode. If you can't find one online, let me know and perhaps I can write up a transcript of the episode for you and Alice can publish it here, if she wouldn't mind. It still won't be the same as captions, but it may be better than nothing!
Maekyll
# Maekyll 2010-05-03 21:34
Ardeospina,

Sorry for not specifying! Depending on who you ask, CART stands for "Communication Access Realtime Transcription" or "Computer-Assis ted Real-Time". Basically, you provide a transcription for a deaf or hard-of-hearing client (like a student going through school or captioning meetings for a businessperson) . You can do it remotely if you want but mostly you follow your client to wherever they need you to be.

Right now I'm taking a class called "Alternate Careers" that compares court reporting, captioning, and CART so maybe I'll be able to make up my mind. ;-)
maekyll
# maekyll 2010-05-03 21:37
I just noticed PKE's comment...some movie theaters do offer captioning services. Search for "open captioned movies" or something similar in Google and see if there's a theater near you that offers this.

Example: http://www.regmovies.com/nowshowing/opencaptionedshowtimes.aspx
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-05-03 23:03
Maekyll, that's okay! You're probably so used to using that acronym by now that you don't even realize other people don't know what it is! And it sounds pretty cool, actually, and really hard. I don't think I would be able to do that real-time stuff. I think I would miss too much stuff. And good luck making up your mind! Not an easy choice, it sounds like.
Jaclyn
# Jaclyn 2010-05-04 13:29
Thanks. The episode we missed was "The Devil You Know". Hulu has open captioned videos for some shows, but unfortunately not for Supernatural :cry::.

I did some searching though and I did find subtitles for the videos that we are able to download and watch with them.