Behind the Scenes with Captioner and Writer D.J. Shoemaker

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by Johnathan Moore ©

We’re here to give you a peek into our offline department and what it’s like to write captions for prerecorded content! We recently sat down with DJ Shoemaker, Senior Offline Captioner, to chat about his work…

 

What’s your role here at VITAC?

Senior Offline Captioner, and once they make it an official position, Senior Executive of Dad Jokes and Puns.

 

In a few words, what does that entail?

Mostly I do transcription work for pop-on captioning, but lately I’ve been handling a wider range of responsibilities like roll-up, automation reviews, short forms, and reformats.

 

In general, what does your workday typically look like?

Since becoming a remote captioner, my day often starts the night before with downloading videos for my assignments the next day. Oddly enough, having the cheapest Internet package from my provider doesn’t allow for fast download speeds. My daily work shift itself doesn’t change much from one day to the next. My time is spent juggling scheduler assignments with short form orders that come in on a regular basis. I prefer the NFL ones, particularly deep into the offseason when the lack of games being played requires some creativity to fill up the air time.

 

What is the most engaging part of your role? What makes you laugh, if anything?

The most engaging part of my role is also the same thing that makes me laugh, and that is captioning cartoons. I thrived in the cartoon section of sound effects training because it’s the kind of assignment that gives me the most freedom in flexing my imagination, especially in a show like The Amazing World of Gumball where the pitch of their voices will change in an instant or when they make noises that can be as hilarious as the description itself. I tried captioning [ Leaf blower blows ] in a Gumball episode, but it didn’t make it past review. I’ve also recently been able to work on We Bare Bears, SuperMansion, and an episode of the new Samurai Jack series. Spoiler alert: it’s good.

 

What is the most challenging part of your role?

When I’m captioning a show set in a foreign country and there are no graphics for spellings. There have been numerous occasions where I found myself Google mapping an obscure village in Poland or mashing keys into Google translate in the hopes it might form an actual word.

 

What do you get up to when you’re not in the office?

A good portion of my off time is devoted to fiction writing. It’s what I got my degree in, and I managed to get one short story published in a lit journal a couple years ago. I’ve been looking for an elusive second publication ever since. Outside of that, you can usually find me wedding planning with my fiancée.

Offline, prerecorded, captioning, DJ Shoemaker

 

DJ is a creative writing graduate from Penn State Behrend who lives in Beaver County. When he’s not captioning, he splits his time between writing fiction, watching cartoons, or doing both at the same time.

It’s Game Time, and VITAC is Prepped for the Super Bowl

super bowl LI falcons patriots

It was just a few months ago that we were captioning over 50 college and professional football games per week, but now it’s come down to one… Super Bowl LI on FOX!

VITAC’s deep devotion to quality and accuracy in realtime captions involves ample prep, scheduling, and coordination, not to mention the precise, high-speed writing our expert team of all-human steno writers.

Our Realtime Captioners prep and research all the information they expect commentators to bring up from pregame, through gametime, to post-game.

It’s oddly not just game play that our captioners find difficult. Captioner Sara Ortega relates what she finds most challenging in football captioning, saying, “I find the most difficult part being the pregame, halftime, and post-game when you have to distinguish between the five main speakers—Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael, Jimmy—and then sometimes add in Jay and Mike and Rob. You can identify who you think it is, and then after you hear a sentence or two, you realize it’s somebody else.” Things can get pretty excited during the commentary breaks, so keen ears and quick fingers are paramount.

Keeping up with a cast of sportscasters is tough enough, then add the decades of players, coaches, and statistics being relayed. One of our captioners relishes the challenges. Donna Patton writes, “My favorite part is the name challenge. I can honestly say that I still have that excitement every time I am able to caption not only an NFL game, but anything having to do with the NFL. I don’t know if it is coming from a sports-oriented family growing up, or the challenge of trying to conquer all of the names of players, coaches, and announcers affiliated with the sport that I love, but it is a motivation that has me locked in.” Captioners not only have to prepare for the spellings of the teams they’re covering, but pretty much anyone who is playing, or has ever played, the game!

It’s not only the captioner who must furiously prepare for this weekend’s showdown between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. The year’s biggest American sporting event will be tested, set up, and monitored closely by a team of Realtime Production Coordinators and Sports Supervisors at headquarters. This team of specialized support is ready for any potential technical difficulty. Should anything unexpected arise, our team is highly trained in troubleshooting standard operating procedures, and our captioners possess redundant equipment and IP/encoder settings for the quickest solution possible. They’ve seen it all, and are paying close attention to keep captions churning for one of the most watched television events of the year.

 

And for those who aren’t watching for the sport of football itself, we can’t forget the advertisements and the halftime show. Last year, a 30-second ad cost close to $5 million, it was also the first year that every single ad included closed captions—a trend we look forward to seeing this year as well. VITAC production coordinators will also be busy preparing Lady Gaga’s song lyrics ahead of time for the captioner, to ensure they can be enjoyed by all. From game time to the ads, to the halftime show and trophy presentation, a well-executed Super Bowl takes teams of all kinds to pull off a good show, and ours will be there for an accessible, inclusive experience.

by Johnathan Moore ©