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What They Do

Insider Info

Captions are written words scrolled across the bottom of a TV screen that represent actors' spoken parts. They're described as "closed" because they can be turned on or off at the viewer's discretion. If you can see the captions without any decoding equipment, it's called open captioning, or subtitling.

A closed captioner takes a broadcast transcript and divides the words into captions or phrases. The captioner makes sure the words appear at the time the words are spoken. A computer encodes this information and combines it with the original tape.

Captioning can be online or offline. Online captioning is live, such as on a news broadcast or sports show. Offline captioning is done after the fact. Rear window captioning supplies dialog to moviegoers via portable viewers.

"To put captions on a 30-minute film, it takes about 15 hours, or even 20, depending on how complex the show is and how much research is needed," says Max Duckler. He owns a company in Minnesota that provides caption services.

Gary Robson, author of Inside Captioning, recommends making a demo tape to show employers that you can caption. Check the demo tape three times for errors, then have someone else check it for you.

"There's a difficult-to-define artistic quality in a good offline captioner, which manifests itself in how sentences are split between captions, how captions are placed and formatted and the smoothness of the timing," says Robson. "If captions are formatted and placed well, then the formatting and placement won't be noticed by the reader."

Although working as a closed captioner is not physically demanding, sitting in the same position for long periods of time can be tiring. Pressure to be accurate and fast can prove stressful. As well, workers risk repetitive motion injuries.

Closed captioners may work a standard 40-hour week. Or they may have to work overtime to meet deadlines. "If a show is going to air, you have to get it done no matter how long it takes or the hours involved," says Duckler.

You will be making use of the senses of hearing and sight on this job. This will make this career challenging for those who are hearing or visually impaired. Physical mobility is not a major factor, but manual dexterity is required.

At a Glance

Give viewers a look at what's being said

  • Manual dexterity is required
  • You have to be accurate and fast
  • Shorthand and court reporting skills are valuable


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