Pre-Scripting Your Captions
By Gary D. Robson
There's more than one way to perfect captioning! Pre-scripting is every realtime captioner's secret weapon. Court reporters are used to not writing every single word. Briefing allows you to write a single stroke for a long phrase, and virtually every CAT system allows autoincludes, where you can insert a whole file with a stroke or two. Scripting is simply an extension of this concept.
If you've ever used a couple of strokes to insert a jury charge, swearing in, or a document being read into the record, then you already understand the concept of scripts in captioning. The biggest difference is that an autoinclude appears all at once, whereas scripts can be timed by the captioner.
Mechanics of scripting
Typically, script files are just ASCII text with special codes for formatting. They can be set to flow out like realtime, or to pop themselves onto specific locations on the screen, like credits at the end of a show.
Most professional captioning software allows you to segregate the script into individual pieces, usually referred to as "stories." You can feed out your scripts one line at a time from beginning to end, or jump around between stories.
I remember watching the captions at an NCRA convention where the guest speaker was deaf and very hard to understand. As I struggled to follow the speech, I noticed that the captioning was beautiful. The captioner wasn't missing a word. I also noticed that captions were coming up a line at a time rather than a word at a time, which is a sure indicator that you're watching scripted captions.
When I talked to the captioner afterwards, he explained that the speech was completely written out in advance, and he got hold of a copy. When he couldn't understand what the speaker was saying, he just followed the cadence and sent out lines of script.
Scripting the news
Scripted captions really took off with newscasts. Captioners dial in to the TV station's newsroom computer system an hour before the newscast and download the TelePrompTer feed that the anchors will read from. These scripts usually require a fair amount of reformatting and editing, as they contain camera cues, phonetic spellings, notes to the anchors and other miscellany. They can also have abominable spelling! Once the script has been loaded into the captioning system, the captioner can switch back and forth between sending out lines of script and writing realtime for the extemporaneous portions of the news. With most captioning systems, scripts can be fed and timed from the steno keyboard, and you can jump seamlessly between scripts and realtime.
Why go to all this trouble? Because a properly prepared script has no errors or misstrokes. All of the proper names are there and spelled right. Your captions are perfect. With a prepared script, Marty Block might never have referred to Artur Rubenstein as a world famous penis instead of a pianist when captioning a national newscast.
There's been a trend away from scripting in newscasts, however. At today's reduced salaries, broadcast captioners have to put in more hours on the air to make the same money. This doesn't leave as much time for prep work. Often, captioners jump from one broadcast to another with minutes, not hours, to prepare. Also, some stations don't want to make their newsroom computer available to "outsiders" like the captioning firm. As captioners use less scripting on the news, however, it has picked up in other areas.
When you hear that a show you're captioning is going to feature a singer, do you cringe? Do you find understanding the words to a song the toughest part of your job? Pre-scripting can save your sanity.
There are hundreds of Web sites containing song lyrics, and a quick copy-and-paste will transfer them to your captioning system's script editor. All you have to do is keep track of where the artist is in the song, and feed out the script -- even if you can't understand the words. You can even build a database of lyrics. Make a script file for each song, and store them all in one folder. If you don't know what song an artist will be singing, load their newest or most popular few songs. If you don't get the right one, make a note for next time.
But what if the singer improvises? Here's where your captioning system is put to the test. It should allow you to easily, with one or two keystrokes, jump forward or backward one line or one full story (terminology borrowed from the news). You can set story markers at each song, or even at each verse, and deal with skipped or repeated lines or verses with ease.
If you'll ever caption major-league sports, have the national anthem ready at all times -- in fact, it's a good idea to have both The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada! If you caption a baseball game, have Take Me Out to the Ball Game loaded and ready to feed. If you caption a show that uses theme music with words, load that too. A little prep can take you a long way.
Meetings and government work
If you caption City Council meetings or any similar proceeding, there are some script files you'll use on a regular basis. Many organizations open and close each meeting the same way, with something like the Pledge of Allegiance or a standard announcement. If you get tired of writing, "Members of the public are encouraged to speak. If you'd like to speak, please fill out one of the cards...," make it a script file.
Reading documents into the record is a nightmare for realtime captioners. People read fast when they're reading out loud -- much faster than they normally talk. See if you can get an electronic copy in advance of any proposals that will be discussed. Ditto prepared speeches. Even if you can't use the whole script, you'll have a chance to see what proper names and unfamiliar words might come up.
Scripting in church
Realtime captioning in your church or temple can be very difficult, or it can be a piece of cake. Some members of the clergy write out their entire sermon in advance. If you're lucky enough to work for one of them, ask for a copy of the file -- most will use word processors these days -- and you'll find yourself with very little realtime to write.
Similarly, most churches decide in advance what songs will be sung. If you can find out, have the words ready to go. In fact, this is an opportunity for you to provide an extra service. When the congregation is singing along, feed the words out a little bit early, and people won't have to pull out their hymnbooks. For more about captioning in church, see the sidebar, The Bible as a Script File.
A novel use for scripts in live events
Captioning a seminar, church service or meeting? You'll probably be set up at least half an hour early. Why not load up the schedule, name of the event, funding credits and other information as a script, and set your captioning system on auto-feed? You can let it scroll, feeding out useful information on an otherwise blank screen.
If you change your captioning system (and caption decoder) from caption mode to text mode, your auto-feed can fill the whole screen. Just remember to switch it back before you start the captioning! You might, being the creative marketing genius I'm sure you are, even load something like, "Transcripts available after the event for the low, low price of $19.95" or, "To caption your next event, just call Bubba Fastfingers at 555-1212." Of course, it's always a good idea to get permission before putting up sales materials.
Managing your script files
Your script file management strategy will depend a lot on the capabilities of your captioning software. When pulling scripts from a newsroom computer, it's often a good idea to edit the files in a sophisticated word processor like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. You can create macros to do those edits that are needed with every single script. For example, one station my wife used to caption for frequently used ellipses (...) instead of commas. One macro took care of that throughout the file.
Whether you edit the scripts in your captioning program or in a word processor, you'll want to make sure they're saved and organized well. If you need to leave your captioning program (or if, Heaven forefend, your system should crash), you'll want to be able to load all of the required script files quickly. Make sure the names of the files are descriptive, too. When you hear, "After this break, we'll hear Kinky Friedman perform his hit song, Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed, you've only got a minute to find those lyrics. You do have all of Kinky Friedman's lyrics on your computer, don't you?
A slavish devotion to perfection
As you work on your scripting, keep in mind that the script is only one tool in your arsenal as a stenocaptioner. There are times when pre-scripting will be more of a pain than it's worth. There are times when speakers will improvise so much that the script is close to worthless. But for all those other times when the script is available in advance, pre-scripting can be your secret weapon for perfect captions.
There's more than one way to perfect captioning!
Pre-scripting is every realtime captioner's secret weapon. Court reporters are used to not writing every single word. Briefing allows you to write a single stroke for a long phrase, and virtually every CAT system allows autoincludes, where you can insert a whole file with a stroke or two. Scripting is simply an extension of this concept.
|The Bible as a Script File
If you caption in church, you have the opportunity to use the ultimate script file: The Bible. There are numerous sources for the Bible in ASCII format, many of them free. After all, the copyright on the King James Bible expired a few centuries ago, and that's the version I converted to script format in the early 90's. The text of the King James Bible runs around 4-1/2 megabytes when formatted as a script. The NIV is a bit longer. I split the Bible up into individual files for each chapter of each book, with easy-to-remember names, like Job001.cap for Job chapter 1. The beginning of each file has a story marker (called a "story slug" in the news business) to make it easy to jump to in the captioning software. Each verse starts with its chapter and verse number. It was fairly easy to maintain the italicizing by doing my editing in Microsoft Word and using macros to make the changes. Similarly, each chapter/verse number is set out in bold.
Your captioning software may or may not be able to load all 1,100+ files at once, so you need to get an idea what book(s) the readings will come from. Most preachers will decide in advance so they can bookmark their Bibles, and they'll be happy to share with you. Load just the parts you need, and prepare for smooth and easy captioning!
About the Author
Gary Robson is a JCR Contributing Editor and freelance closed captioning writer, consultant and Web site designer. He has written three books about reporting and captioning. The most recent, Alternative Realtime Careers, is available from NCRA, and contains many marketing tips for captioners and CART reporters. Visit Gary's Web site at www.robson.org/gary/ for archives of over 100 articles he has written.
About the Author