Monday, September 27, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #6 Writing Audio Description


If you wondered what I thought I'd say, here it is.

Audio Description:


Today I’m going to talk about writing audio description. This is something required since 2010 for a set number of hours of broadcast material on the major networks. Meaning that lots of TV shows and movies have to include AD whether they want to or not. Details of the law can be found by searching for the 21 Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Since this is required by law and not something TV shows and movies elect to do, it often has very low budgets and the quality standards can vary. Some larger companies will include AD in their budgets as an incentive to get more higher paying work from clients. So like if you hire us to do all of the dubbing and subtitling, we’ll throw in AD on your project for practically nothing.

What is it?

AD is a spoken track on a TV show or movie which provides audible information to explain action for visually impaired consumers. Just like with closed captions for hearing impaired, there is another track you can access on your TV which will play the AD alongside the original program. Since this hasn’t been a requirement for very long, there are still some variations in how companies approach the writing of the AD.

Basically, you go through a TV show or movie and create placeholders between the dialogue where a narrator will have time to talk. Then you go back through and put in descriptions of the action in these gaps between dialogue and sound effects. After you write the AD, you need to go back through and actually speak the words, since it doesn’t really matter how great your writing is if no one could reasonably say it in the time allowed. Because you have to speak out loud, or at least mumble the words quietly, this can be annoying to your coworkers if you are in an office and not working from home, but there’s no way around it.


Here’s a brief audio description of some video shot around my house.

Orange feral cat Trapper and grey tuxedo feral cat O’Keefe sit on a table chomping on cat treats. House cat Hot Lips plays with a rock on the ground and then scratches herself. A pink hibiscus flower sways in a gentle breeze.


The companies I know that do this work are looking for writers - meaning they are looking for people who identify as “writers” and they are probably actively hiring right now. Since I haven’t been on the hiring end of this, I’m not sure how they determine someone’s writing skills. Also, since the written document is eventually going to be read, I would imagine they wouldn’t be sticklers for things like exactly correct grammar which are needed in some of the other English jobs, like DL and SL creation. And since this is targeted to native English speakers and not going to be translated, there is more leeway on writing informally and using slang terms than there would be in documents given to translators.

Tests and Training:

I trained to do this for one company. They required 4 days of tests, including reading of guidelines documents and watching examples. Since the four days didn’t have to be sequential and you had to wait for feedback after each day of testing, for me this spanned about a month of going back and forth to get ready to be hired for my first project.

I was recommended to the head of that department by a former coworker, but I imagine you can find job listings for AD writers and just apply.

The pay:

So. I did one episode of one TV show - still as sort of a test, but this time I was getting paid and then getting feedback on my work. For me, the pay was atrocious. It didn’t even matter how good or bad my work was, there is no way for that pay rate that I could justify accepting a second episode. This was pre-pandemic, but I think even with the loss of steady work during the pandemic, I couldn’t afford to do this.

Part of me feels like I let the company down or left them thinking I couldn’t handle the notes or adapt my writing style, when really I just couldn’t do this and afford to feed myself and my cats. If that was my only choice of work, I’d go back to answering phones at a temp job, pretty much anything else I could figure out.

Now, I’m not saying this will be the same experience for everyone. If you can afford to get through the training - for no money - and can hold out with the extremely low-paying work long enough to get really fast at writing the AD, this might be a good job for you. As with all freelance jobs, you are paid for the project and not based on how long it takes you to do. If you can devote a whole week to making $200 for several months at a time, you might be able to eventually get your speed up to the point where you can do that amount of work in a day instead of a week, even though there might not be enough work to then keep you busy for the whole week. At least it won’t be a tremendous waste of your time. Or, if you can get a staff job writing AD it might work out better where you would then be paid hourly.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: I’m going to go on a little tangent now, though. In California, there was a law called AB5 which went into effect in 2019 which has really messed up a lot of freelance work vs. full-time work. The law was meant to target companies like Uber and Lyft, to force them to give better pay and benefits to drivers, but it has ruined the lives of many other freelancers. It left a lot of companies with two choices about freelancers - either everyone who does a certain job, like writing AD, needs to be freelance, or they all have to be staff with no freelancers doing that job. Or, maybe, if there are a few staff people they can hire freelancers as long as the freelancers don’t reside in California. So I’m not sure if there are many staff writing jobs for AD left and if there are, they might be limited to part-time only. I really don’t know, I just know that AB5 has not helped anyone.

So, my advice, if you can find a full-time staff job doing this, it might be worth it. Otherwise, it is a lot of work and training for, at least in the beginning, a non-living wage.


The downside for me was the pay. Just not worth it for me to do more than the one job. I should have asked the pay during my training time, but didn’t and got stuck having to do a job that made me feel cheap and unappreciated.

This section (underlined) didn’t make it to the video: And, I just have to add this rant, one of the notes repeated during training was to not use the verb “to be.” If you’ve taken a screenwriting class, you know this usually means “don’t write in passive voice, avoid verbs ending in -ing.” This turned out to not be what they meant. The person who proofread (and changed every line I wrote) on my one and only assignment, added lots of words which ended in “-ing,” but literally didn’t put the “to be” conjugation with them. So instead of saying something like “The rabbit is jumping and grooming its ears,” it would say “Jumping, the rabbit grooms its ears.” I found this note to be contradictory and it really bothered me. I will always have a problem with this and hold a grudge.

Wrap up:

So, AD writing is out there, and because it’s the law, it will continue to be out there. And it might be something you would excel at, it just wasn’t a fast enough fit for me for the money.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - episode #5 Writing Creative Letters

 Here's the latest video on writing Creative Letters. Below the video, I'll post the script I wrote if you want the highlights without watching the video or if you want to see how different the actual video turned out from what I thought I was going to say.

Creative Letter Writing

Hi. I just wanted to start by saying that if you notice I’ve been a while between posts, I will often put something on my community page to let you know what’s been going on with me and why I haven’t been posting much.

 Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about writing something called a “creative letter.” This is another job in the International Versioning Department, and is used for dubbing.

The name is a little bit misleading. When you write a creative letter, you aren’t being very creative. You’re writing a technical document which assists in the casting of voice actors in foreign countries for the dubbed versions of the film.

A creative letter is an aggregate of a lot of information taken from the dialogue lists which have already been created with the addition of other items. If you are hired to write a creative letter, you should request a previous one to use as a template of how that client wants the information presented, so you aren’t starting from scratch.

The creative letter will include some basic information about the film - like how long it is, the main cast from the end credits, and links to the IMDb page and any official sites for the movie. There might also be some technical information, but that will be supplied by the client - like how they want the dubbed files returned to them and what casting approval might need to happen before voice actors are hired.

The most creative part the creative letter writer needs to write is a synopsis of the film. On some projects, this can be surprisingly difficult. The synopsis doesn’t need to go into all of the details of a movie, but it should cover important plot and character points. A synopsis can range between one paragraph and two pages.

 After that, the creative letter is divided into sections which include things like a list of the characters in a movie, the actor playing them, the actor’s credits, the actor’s age and the character’s age and then a description of the character and a description of the character’s voice.

The most difficult part of creative letter writing is describing the vocal qualities of the character. The description needs to include those vocal qualities which have to do with the character and differentiate them from the vocal qualities inherent in the actor.

For instance, is it important that a female character has a deep voice? Is she mistaken for a man over the phone? Or is it just that Emma Stone is the actress and she happens to have a deep voice?

So in a role like Emma Stone in Cruella, the creative letter would include a note that when Estella is acting like Cruella she intentionally lowers the tone of her voice, as if they are two different people. You wouldn’t necessarily need to note that Estella has a deep voice, but rather that there is a tonal change when she is in one persona or the other.

These character and voice descriptions are written for each character thought of as a “main” character. Sometimes that means even if a character only appears for five minutes, they need to have a section dedicated to them. Other times, a character who appears more frequently might be a side character and not require this information. The client can help guide the writer about which characters they expect to get this detailed treatment.

The CL then goes on to include word counts of how many words each character speaks - so the dubbing supervisor can estimate how long to book each actor into the dubbing studio. Every character who speaks in a movie will be included in the word count list, whether they speak 2000 words or just grunt one time.

The creative letter will also then include a section detailing any words or phrases which require special attention when the move it translated and dubbed. This might be something like a catch phrase that needs to be said the same way each time a character says it, or it could be alliterations which should be preserved during the translation. This is up to the discretion of the CL writer, although the client will often weigh in if they feel something has been overlooked.

The CL will also include a list of all of the on-screen text in a movie, because some territories might decide to have a character say the text rather than putting up a written translation of it. Like if someone is reading a letter and in the OV it is just shown as the letter, it might be read in a dubbed version instead of having text added to the picture.

There will be a list of songs and something called “ditties” which will have specific instructions from the client. Often if a song is by someone famous, that person has agreed to sing the song with the understanding it will not be replaced in the foreign dubs. So if someone like Selena Gomez stars in a movie and sings, you might have permission to dub all of her speaking but be contractually obligated to subtitle when she sings, leaving her voice and vocal performance in. This is information the client will give you but it needs to be in the creative letter.

A ditty is a song which doesn’t require full lead sheets. Maybe someone improvised something sing-songy and it doesn’t matter if the person dubbing it sings the same notes or key or anything, just that they sing those words or lines.

 That’s the basics of what goes into it.


Let me put up a little example of what some pages of a creative letter might look like.


The best creative letter writings I’ve worked with are professional singers. They are more in tune with hearing different vocal qualities and describing them. You don’t have to be a professional singer, but you need to have a good ear.


We didn’t test anyone in this job.


As far as training goes, it seems like there are two paths to learning this. If you find someone who writes creative letters, you can try to offer to help them out in exchange for them teaching you how to write one, or if you are in an English Department and have the opportunity to proofread CLs, if you are self-directed in your learning ability, you can figure out how to write them and then offer your services to the department.

The pay:

This is definitely a freelance thing and not enough money to pay your bills like a full-time job. Think of it as an enhancement. The CL writers I’ve known were also something else, like a dubbing supervisor, voice teacher or a loop group lead. Or they might be a member of the English department who gets to do this in addition to other things, like DL and SL creation. On the plus side, you will sometimes luck out with a very easy assignment.

There are sort of three categories of jobs.

The first is short things, like a trailer, TV spot or Interstitial will all pay the same. An interstitial would be something short which appears like on commercial bumpers or DVD bonus feature, so if you get an interstitial which has one line, you will get a good payday.

Then there are short films. They require almost as much work as a feature or TV show, because they will have a full run of characters. For instance, there are a few short films based on the characters from Frozen and Tangled. Luckily, the features were already done so a lot of information could be reused from those CLs, but had they not been done already, the labor involved in creating the CL would have been similar to a feature, for less pay.

And then there are features and TV series. Features and TV series pay better, but they require more work and have tight deadlines.

Features will also usually require a first version, for higher pay, and then revisions when new versions of the edit are done. The revisions are usually pretty easy and mostly just require updating word counts and text lists, since it is rare that new characters would be added between edits of a film, but they will have a very fast turnaround, of like one or two days.

TV series are usually very involved for the first episode, but after that the dialogue list editors will probably handle making any updates themselves, so the CL writer will not be hired for more than the first episode and maybe a few updates as characters are added or removed from the series.

I asked my friend who wrote CLs for a long time what she liked best about the work and here’s what she said.

1. Got to see new movies early

2. I found the input pleasant.

3. It allows you to use your ears, and training to describe voices, i.e. pitch, timbre, intent.

4. the Synopses were hard, but taught me to be a better writer.

5. I liked working with my boss!!!!


I didn't like to intense deadlines. I didn't like picky (client).  It got hard having to do all the subtitles as well.  I didn't like the grind, but LOVED the money!

Wrap up:

So, writing CLs is something you might be interested in adding to your arsenal of skills, but don’t expect this to be your exclusive full-time job. I don’t know of any companies that have someone on staff who just writes creative letters.

 If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

MAC 2021 Lunar New Year Lipstick Collection and Beauty Blog Rant

 Ross currently has MAC lipsticks which were part of the special-edition release for Lunar New Year 2021. I don’t know how your Ross handles cosmetics, but here’s what mine does… They used to keep them in the jewelry counter, but I guess that got to be a little annoying for employees, so they started putting them in locked clear boxes. You can see what they have and what it costs, but for things like lipstick, which is in an opaque box, you might not have any clue what the color actually is. At least this gives you confidence as a buyer that no one has tried on the makeup or accidentally left the lipstick extended while putting the cap back on. I guess maybe you can ask someone who works at the store to open the box so you can check the colors, but if you’re like me, you don’t want any interaction with people while you are out, even if it saves you some trouble and money by having a better idea of what you might buy.

 But this is the modern age! I saw these lipsticks and knew I was interested in them and took out my phone. Surely I should be able to quickly determine what colors they were by searching through beauty blogs. Surely…

 A few videos popped up at the top of the search, but I didn’t want to start watching potentially long-winded vlogs in the middle of Ross. The information I needed was just a list of color names, a picture of the color and maybe a description of the color to help me assess how good the pictures/my phone screen were representing things. A few blogs popped up, but they were so overrun with ads and pop-ups I struggled to even find if they really were about the lipstick I was looking at. Seriously, I understand wanting to make money from a blog, but at the point where you have an ad for every sentence or picture, you’ve lost readers and are NOT HELPFUL!

 One blog, which had the most useful information (which I only found after leaving the store and searching again when I wasn’t pressed for time) looks like it was Google translated from another language. The names of the lipsticks are all slightly off, but since I did do a blind buy on two of the lipsticks on my first outing, I could confirm that they were sort of accurate in their descriptions with a fairly simple puzzle of what the names of the colors were.


Turn Up Your Luck was listed as “Turn Up Your Rack,” a vibrant bright red.

Luck Be a Lady was listed as “Luck Bee Lady,” a smoky brown red.

Brickthrough was correct, but spelled as two words, a dusty rose.

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving was listed at “Healthy, Wealthy and Sliving,” a true red.

And Playing Koi was mistranslated as “Playing Carp,” losing the pun in the name, a vibrant orange coral.


Despite all the words I’ve used to express my dismay at how bad beauty blogs are, my thought here was to present a better version of the beauty blog about these lipsticks. Starting now.

MAC Cosmetics has released a limited edition set of colors for 2021 Lunar New Year. Packaged in vibrant boxes with graphics of goldfish on the colorful tubes, the lipsticks are available in five colors in the “powder kiss lipstick” formulation. The packages on all of the colors are identical.


Brickthrough is a dusty pink:

Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a traditional blue-red:

Luck Be a Lady is a brownish red:

Playing Koi is a bright orange coral:

Turn Up Your Luck is a bright pink-red. (I’m listing them in alphabetical order and they appear in this order in the pictures.)


The powder kiss lipstick formulation has a sweetener in it, so when you lick your lips you get a rush of sugar. They are also infused with a sugary vanilla fragrance. They glide on smooth and are weightless to wear. The color intensity deepens as you swipe back over your lips each time. Here I’ve swiped the colors on my arm. Each one has been applied twice - once lightly and once going back over it several times - so you can see how they darken with repeat application.


For my personal preference, I’ll be wearing Brickthrough the most, as a solid everyday color. I’ll wear Luck Be a Lady the second most, when I want something a little more intense, although the brown in it does lean a little bit to the orange side. For some reason, when I allow the girls at cosmetics counters to put makeup on me, putting me in an orange coral color is their favorite thing to do, but I’m unlikely to wear the orange/coral Playing Koi. I’m also unlikely to wear Turn Up Your Luck, since it is just a little too bright pink for me. Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving is a solid blue-red. For those out there who like a red lip, I think it is a winner. Maybe if the pandemic ever gets under control enough that I go out again, I’ll wear Healthy, Wealthy and Thriving for that extra drama of a red lip.


MAC no longer carries these limited-edition lipsticks, but you can currently (September 2021) find them at some Ross stores, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find them on websites like eBay for a while.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - September Book Report

 If there’s one thing I love, it’s a cozy mystery -- British preferred. I have seen every episode of Murder, She Wrote several times. I can watch Columbo episodes again and again. Agatha Raisin? Loved it. I’ve seen all of Poirot, Father Brown, Miss Fisher, Shakespeare & Hathaway, Rosemary & Thyme, Queens of Mystery and others. Not all of them work for me, but many do. So for my next book, I decided to not go for another memoir but to try a mystery novel instead.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a Poirot story by Agatha Christie, published in 1926. I got the audiobook version, read by Hugh Fraser, who happens to play Captain Hastings on Poirot. He did a terrific job of reading/performing this story, including doing a good Poirot voice.

A couple of things stuck out to me in this novel. First, I must have read it before. Actually read it. I knew who the murderer was almost immediately. I’ve only read maybe three Agatha Christie novels, millions of years ago, so I thought it would be unlikely that I would select an audiobook of one of those that I’ve read, but that’s what happened.

If you’ve ever read any Agatha Christie, then you will know that guessing the murderer is nearly impossible. She withholds vital information until the very end, or introduces a new character at the very end. One of my favorite movies, Murder by Death, has a speech near the end about the frustration of reading stories by a writer like Christie. I found a copy of the speech online, which might not be accurate, but you get the point:

“You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.” -- Lionel Twain

That sums up my experience. So when I watch an episode of Poirot or Marple, I don’t try to figure out who did it. That is an impossible task. I just enjoy seeing the detective at work. Christie is a good writer and reading or listening to her work is enjoyable.

The second thing that stuck out to me was how easy her stories are to adapt to TVs and movies, which is probably why they remain so popular. The novel sounded almost like someone reading a screenplay. The dialogue was complete. The characters were complete. The locations were visual and the story was engaging.

I tried to find the TV version of this story, but for some reason it isn’t available on the subscription services I have, and I don’t want to pay extra just to watch it. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now that’s where I’m at.

Overall, this was a great title to listen to while pulling up crabgrass in my yard, and I’m leaving the door open to listening to more stories written by Agatha Christie.