Let me take you back to 2012.
It’s 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and I’m warming up to caption the cricket. A placid, second day test match, Australia are playing England right here in my hometown of Sydney at the SCG. I captioned the day before, so by and large all the material I needed to train into my captioning voice recognition software has been collated, tested, verified and sent to air previously. Besides a quick check in to see if any new players or commentators have been added to the roster, and a cup of tea on the boil, I’m ready to go. A sneaky look on the Cricket Australia website confirms no changes to the line-up, and no major stories have broken overnight that will be discussed. Shane Warne has been on his best behaviour and Brett Lee hasn’t released another sonic monstrosity in India overnight.
Things are looking good. This should be a cake walk, right? I’ve captioned cricket over a hundred times, and my co-captioner is even more experienced than I am. It’s a recipe for some award winning captions. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
*Cue thunder rumbling ominously heralding the approaching doom, like the smug belly-laugh of some vengeful deity who punishes people for being over-confident*
Commentator: “The Cricket has been rained out today. We cross now to a classic heritage match from 1981 – Sri Lanka vs the West Indies.”
*Cue the sound of my palm smacking into my forehead so hard it leaves a mark*
I am not prepared for this! None of my research is relevant! I have never heard of these players’ names and while they’re linguistically ‘interesting’, they’re profoundly foreign and my voice recognition software has no idea how to interpret ‘Bandula Warnapura.’ My life is OVER.
But the show must go on. I can’t let myself get flustered. Nothing will stop these captions. However, they will now have to be heavily paraphrased captions on account of the unexpected change in content. We all have our techniques for summoning our courage and resolve. My personal go-to would be imagining getting a phone call from the Prime Minister: “Mr Stiller, these captions are the only thing stopping the world from literally (not figuratively) exploding, I know you’re unprepared, but we need you, sir. Your country needs you. God speed.”
So the next time you see some weird captions, some missing captions or a general misrecognition, I urge you to consider this tale before you gather the villagers to storm the captioner castle with pitchforks and torches. Where the Ai-Media captioners are concerned, believe me when I say they’ve done everything they possibly can to get the best possible content to air.
Captioners fight these sorts of private battles every day. Sometimes it’s difficult audio quality. Sometimes it’s commentators that speak at warp speed. Sometimes it’s Mark Waugh enthusiastically talking about golf clubs and yelling over anyone who tries to interject. It’s never the same and it’s never something you can predict.
Written by Thomas Stiller, Captioner