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Accessibility and audio descriptions at the London Porn Film Festival

The London Porn Film Festival

Last weekend was the first ever London Porn Film Festival - a weekend of queer and feminist porn organised by queer community Wotever World. I managed to catch four out of five screenings, and attended three Q&As to accompany my films that were showing. I really enjoyed myself, and would love to write in more detail about some of the amazing porn I saw - keep an eye on my personal blog, and hopefully I'll post some reviews and recommendations for new hot, kinky, ethical porn when I get the chance.

They accepted two Dreams of Spanking films: Please May I Come, Mistress, and the new fast-paced edit of Bitch, which I renamed Queer as in Fuck You. In honour of its screening I've released it for free on Dreams of Spanking, so if you couldn't make it to the festival, you can watch it without a site membership here!

Screengrab from Queer as in Fuck You

There was a lot of warmth and love for me in screening my work to my home community, a roomful of lovely queers many of whom I already knew. I think everyone else was feeling the love too, because the audience reception to both films was far and above the most positive response I've received so far. Everyone laughed at the jokes, got the little asides and comic moments, and enthusiastically applauded at the end - and I got lovely comments afterwards too from people who'd enjoyed the films. Perhaps it's a Londoner thing - all four performers in the films are from this city, and maybe there's a common sense of humour. But whatever the reason, I appreciated it.

Zak Jane Keir noticed it too, and has written a lovely blogpost about her experience seeing herself on the big screen for the first time

The other factor that seems likely to have made it easier for the audience to get the jokes was that for the first time, both films were subtitled, and we were screening to a roomful of native English speakers. Dreams of Spanking films are often dialogue-heavy, and these two are no exception. Neither has particularly good audio quality; Queer as in Fuck You was shot before I upped my game and started using external mics to enhance sound quality, and Please May I Come, Mistress was an unexpected and spontaneous shoot when I didn't have my usual equipment. A couple of German speakers in Berlin told me that they found the rapid, quiet speech during the interviews hard to follow, so I was very happy to subtitle it in French for La Fete du Slip in Switzerland.

London Porn Film Festival were even more on the ball with language and accessibility - in fact, they were the most accessible porn film festival I've ever been to. Filmmakers were asked to submit English subtitles and audio description files for every film, to improve access for hearing and vision impaired members of the audience. The audio description was to be "exactly the same length, down to the frame, as the video file, and match up with it".

When I first got the email asking me to create those resources, I was fascinated to observe a short, intense ableist response flare up in me. Rather than admiring the LPFF for their strong stance on accessibility, my immediate reaction was frustration, feeling that this extra, unpaid work would be fiddly, tedious and unwelcome. Particularly around the audio description, I felt something along these lines: I've already created this film in my preferred medium to tell this story, it's done now. I don't want to have to go back and retell it another way, a way I never designed it to be told, having to comply with someone else's specifications! It's going to be unrewarding, and screening films at film festivals is meant to be about MY creative satisfaction, damnit!

Writing it out now, it sounds ridiculous - and in fact it didn't take long for me to get over myself and realise that of course creating accessibility materials was part of my job, and it was an honour to help my work reach a wider audience of people who were interested in viewing it, but wouldn't normally be able to. In fact, providing these sorts of materials was probably something I should be doing as a matter of course. So I made a conscious effort to shake off the ableist and self-involved reluctance, and got down to it. There was only one problem: I had never made an audio description file before, and I had no idea where to start. 

The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Surely an audio description of the film would take significantly longer than the film, as visual information is communicated more quickly than speech? Should I use the original dialogue and music to retain the voices of the performers and add mood and atmosphere - but then, that wouldn't leave many gaps to insert description?

Luckily, the lovely folks at the London Porn Film Festival were ready to answer my questions. They explained that audio description is transmitted at the same time as the film with a loosely-fitting headset, so whoever listens to the AD will hear all the film sound, including music and dialogue, as well as all the sound in the AD. Not all visually impaired people are blind, and many can see part of what's going on on-screen, which is why the timings need to match up, so the AD makes sense with the visuals they're seeing.

In fact, the advice they sent me was so valuable that I asked their permission to repost it in full. Since I was new to this, it occurred to me that other filmmakers might be, too; and so this guidance might be useful to others who want to make their work more accessible to visually impaired people.

The AD file should be just voice. Of course, not being able to describe everything is frustrating. But a lot of the personalities of Zak and Charlie can be picked up through their conversation, and their relationship is discussed in detail - perhaps their physical appearance is secondary? Very often, you go after what gaps are available and fill those with what seems right at that time, and that's as good as it's going to get.

I work professionally with AD scripts for mainstream TV, and I prioritise in roughly this order, with everything above taking precedence over everything below:

1. Not running the script over any dialogue or plot-pertinent sound effects, e.g. doorbell ringing

2. Stuff that's mentioned in dialogue but not explicity, e.g. someone points at a chair and mentions it without saying "chair", at which point the AD would say "Jim points at a chair" or whatever.

3. Characters present. Names if they've been introduced, brief descriptors if not.

4. Location.

5. Actions.

6. Description of setting.

7. Description of characters' appreance and (non-plot-essential) clothing.

I'd say that in the majority of AD scripts I do, I rarely get below level five, and even then many actions that happen during dialogue will have to be excluded.

Armed with this information, I sat down and began the process of watching the films while noting down brief descriptions of actions every time there was a gap in the dialogue - and with these two films, there aren't many! I then did a second pass, reading my AD script aloud while playing the film again, and deleting anything that didn't fit. Once I had the wording down I set my mic up on my desktop, with the film soundtrack playing in headphones, and recorded the audio description at the same time as listening to the film audio. Finally, I laid the film soundtrack as a second track in Audacity and went through the recording and tweaked the timings of the audio description to make sure it didn't overlap any of the dialogue. Then I deleted the film soundtrack, and exported the audio description file complete with gaps in all the right places.

For two films, it was a long job, and sadly I don't have the resources to offer it as a matter of course for all Dreams of Spanking scenes. But it was an illuminating process. It enabled me to connect with my films in a new way, and perceive them as aural experiences, learning how they come across differently without the visuals. And it was fascinating to think about how visually impaired people might enjoy porn, and how pornographers might approach their work differently in order to create multi-sensory experiences that work on different levels for different types of viewer. It would be so cool to create a film that was just as effective an erotic experience if it was enjoyed aurally, or visually, as well as the combination of the two.

I'll upload the audio descriptions of Queer as in Fuck You and Please May I Come, Mistress to the scene pages, so you can try them out if you want to - and there are subtitle files for both films too, including both English and French for the latter. Plus, of course, if your sight doesn't permit you to fully enjoy Dreams of Spanking films visually, you would probably enjoy our audio spanking stories.

In the end, after a bit of a reluctant start, I enjoyed creating the audio descriptions for the London Porn Film Festival. And I was delighted when after the screening, someone came up to me after overhearing me talking to someone else, and recognised my voice from the audio description. They told me they'd really enjoyed it and they thought I'd done a great job with it. At the end of the day, that makes it all worthwhile.

Comments

deaf access

How about, if possible, find performers who can use sign language film a "Dreams of Spanking" scene with dialogue signed and an audio description.
How's that for access.

That's a great idea! I actually had an enquiry once from a Deaf performer who was interested in bottoming to me on camera. I was really interested in the possibility - but wanted to make sure that we could find a trusted (by them) interpreter who could facilitate communication between us, since I don't know sign language. That proved an obstacle in the end, as did the fact that they were based in the US and I don't shoot there very often. But two performers who both know BSL or ASL would be far simpler, and less risky!

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