On March 24, 1984, five teenagers from a variety of different social groups all received Saturday detention. Over the course of several hours, they learned they were not so different after all, and that their stories intertwined more than they had ever expected. They called themselves The Breakfast Club and then at the end of the day, they went their separate ways.
For the 35th anniversary of The Breakfast Club receiving detention, one of my friends decided to watch the movie and asked me if I would be able to understand what was happening onscreen, since there are lots of scenes that are highly visual. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to audio description and show how people with vision impairments can receive visual information about movies, as well as how popular movies sound with audio description added. Today, I will be sharing how audio description helps me understand movies, using examples from The Breakfast Club.
What is audio description?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. While it may not be as common as captioning, audio description can still help to fill in gaps of information for people with vision impairments, as audio descriptions play during natural pauses in dialogue. Audio descriptions are recorded by professional narrators, though it’s difficult to find any information about specific narrators since their names aren’t in the movie credits.
How I watched The Breakfast Club with audio description
When researching this post, I watched The Breakfast Club on three different streaming platforms with audio description:
- The first time I watched The Breakfast Club, I was on a plane and it was one of the featured movies on the United Airlines streaming service. The movie had been edited for content and language, so audio descriptions were given at different points than in the original movie.
- I watched The Breakfast Club again on Netflix before it was taken off of the streaming service in March 2019. To enable audio description on Netflix, go to the audio/subtitles options after opening the movie and select “English- audio description” as the audio language.
- Finally, when finishing my research for this post, I watched The Breakfast Club yesterday (March 24, 2019) after renting the movie on iTunes. Audio description automatically played since I had enabled automatic audio description in the settings of my iPad.
I was surprised to discover that even though the film was available with audio description on so many other streaming platforms, it was not available with audio description on the Google Play Movies store. This is why it is important to check if audio description is available before renting or buying a movie!
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Reading text and telling time
At the beginning of the movie, there are several text boxes that contain information about the names of the cast, the title of the movie, and a David Bowie quote that sets the theme of the movie. Throughout the film, any text that is important to understanding the movie is read out loud, as well as the time on the analog and digital clocks whenever they are in full view of the camera. Since the passing of time is an important theme in The Breakfast Club, I’m glad that they included this detail when creating the audio description.
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Since the characters learn each other’s names throughout the course of the movie, it only makes sense that the audio description use placeholder descriptions until the characters reveal more about themselves. The five main characters of the movie are described as:
- A geeky teen
- A boy in a letterman jacket with the name “Andy”
- A redhead girl
- A guy with long hair and sunglasses/a delinquent
- A girl with shaggy hair/the quiet girl
Since only one character changes their outfit in the entire movie, the clothing descriptions aren’t overly detailed. One of my friends was surprised about this, and ended up pausing the movie to give me a detailed description of what each character was wearing. Only significant items of clothing are described, with the most common being jackets since the style of each jacket distinguished characters from each other. It would be awesome to have a pre-description for a movie that talks about visual elements such as clothing and settings, similar to a Broadway play description.
Many of the scenes in The Breakfast Club involve the characters making different facial expressions to each other, or different gestures. These are the scenes where audio description is the most helpful, because it provides context for what is going on and allows the viewer to receive cues about emotional responses. For example, are they staring at each other in an angry way, a passionate way, or a frustrated way? The audio description tells me which it is.
Hey, where did that character go? Audio description provides information about setting changes by announcing the location of where a particular scene is taking place. The settings are not described in detail, they are just meant to help the viewer know where the movie is taking place.
Some examples of setting descriptions include:
- Spacious library (when first introduced), library
- Glass-enclosed office
- Hall closet
Scenes without dialogue
There are small scenes in the movie that involve characters doing tasks such as lighting their shoes on fire, sitting on a bookshelf, taking out the trash, getting chased down the hallway, and more. Since many of these scenes take place outside of the library, audio description helps me to know who is doing what, and why they are doing it. Since there are many pauses in dialogue during scenes, there is lots of audio description available, which is great for very visual scenes.
Towards the end of the movie, there is a small dance sequence where the characters each dance to music playing from an office. The audio description primarily focuses on the movement of each character’s arms and basic foot movement. Since the characters use very repetitive movements, the descriptions are very simple and do not distract from the music at all.
Does audio description make a difference?
Audio description definitely made a huge difference in my understanding of The Breakfast Club, especially in the scenes without dialogue. It also allows me to notice details that my friends might not have noticed when we were watching the film, such as when Allison was making a sandwich with several different ingredients and mixing them. Having access to audio description helps to increase my independence, since I don’t have to rely on a friend to describe to me what is going on.
I’m glad that I was able to watch The Breakfast Club with my friends and still follow along with what was going on. I hope that this post provides insight into how people with vision impairments watch movies and how helpful audio description can be!