Donna Williams is a BSL sign language poet and passionate Whovian. Wanting to mark an event in Dr Who’s life, this is her signed piece about, well, his meeting a deaf character.
In terms of film-making, editing for sign language is different: you can’t cut away to b-roll and let the audio carry on underneath, there isn’t the combination of image, voice and music. Instead, the editor has to leave space at both in and out points to let the signs breathe, to allow the viewer time to get up to speed.
With subtitling too, there must be enough on-screen time for the subtitle to be read, and ideally it should come out at the endpoint of the sequence of signs, so that the thought or message in a sequence of signs corresponds pretty much exactly with the corresponding subtitle. In several cases here, I’ve extended some subtitles to cover a pause in signing, or to make it long enough to be read, when Donna is signing quickly. A good guideline is that a subtitle should be on screen long enough to be read twice.
Here’s how the edit works, you can see the clips on the left, the timeline on the bottom and the viewing window on the right. At one point I show the subtitles (the violet boxes above the timeline) which in this case are burned into the video. There’s a guide audio track which is not perfect but close enough to get the edit right – this audio guide isn’t used in the final version. You can see how the main track (of Donna signing) cuts away to quick shots of her room and her Dr Who ephemera collection, then back to her. In case you think you’re going mad, yes, you can hear a cat mewing in the background of the audio guide track…
Dr Who and the Tardis are copyrighted and trademarked to the BBC.