Multilanguage Service Coordinator
Where were you born and raised? When is the last time you were there?
Shaler Township, just outside of Pittsburgh. Almost my entire family still lives there, so I make it back often. I also make a point of going back each year for Shaler's homecoming celebration to root on the marching band's float. (You'll go downnext year, Chorus Float! You hear me?! Next year!)
What was it like where you grew up?
Shaler is just about the best place ever! We had areal tight-knit neighborhood with tons of kids. We could walk to baseball fields, parks, and a tremendous wooded area which included giant rocks and cliffs to climb as well as an awesome creek that was deep enough to swim in at one point. Plus it is less than 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, so you had sports, events, arts -- you name it.
What are some of the crazy fads you and your friends participated in? In high school, I helped to organize a game called "Assassin." Participants paid $1 to play. Every participant was handed -- in secret -- the name of a fellow player, your target. You had to isolate your target during the school day and announce to them that you were assassinating them. (Just announce it; there was no dart guns or any physical contact, but you had to do it away from anyone else hearing). The last person standing won the loot. My little game had become a yearly event that the classes behind me picked up on after I graduated, and they just recycled the info from my invitation.
Where is your favorite place in the world? Why? The comic-book store. There's nothing like being surrounded by the bright colors and like-minded individuals to discuss one of your passions.
What do you like most about working at VITAC?
I met my wife here! And she still works about 50 feet from me.
For more information about Dan's interests, visit:
VITAC was recently part of history again, captioning the first-ever women's UFC main event on February 23, 2013. Our resident UFC expert, Justin Weible, gave us the rundown.
VITAC has been quite lucky to be a part of the fastest rising sport in the world today, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The UFC has grown into one of the world's largest organizations in all professional sports, and here at VITAC, we've been lucky enough to see the evolution of the sport from its humble beginnings to the lofty heights that it's grown to now. We've seen the early days where two men stepped into the world-famous Octagon just to prove that their style of martial arts was superior, to the latest historic milestone in February.
At UFC 157, we saw two women compete for the first time in the promotion's history as "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey took on Liz "Girl-Rilla" Carmouche in the Main Event for the Women's Bantamweight Championship. Other promotions such as the now-defunct Strikeforce and Invicta fights have embraced the women's side of MMA, but the UFC had been resistant until now, saying that they weren't sure that enough people would be interested in women's MMA for it to draw.
However, Rousey has changed their perception with just six armbars in six fights. The first American woman to earn a medal in Judo at the Olympics, taking home bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, Rousey's aggressive style, no-nonsense personality, and good looks have won over UFC President Dana White, and on Saturday, February 23, she made history as the first women's champion in the history of the UFC and the first woman to headline a Pay-Per-View. She defeated Carmouche with only 11 seconds remaining in the first round to take home the win.
All in all, it's just another milestone for the UFC and another milestone that we at VITAC get to be a part of helping to make happen for those who need our captioning work. It's always exciting when you know that your services are appreciated and that you get to experience monumental moments such as these.
It should come as no surprise that the VITAC corporate NCAA bracket has correctly predicted every matchup in the men's tournament thus far. Its picks are culled from some of the most advanced, TV-attuned minds in the world, and with VITAC employees stationed in strategic remote location around the country, no Cinderella went unnoticed in 2013.
We observed, of course, the brilliance of Florida Gulf Coast in the regular season and foresaw far in advance that the 15 seed would survive at least until the Elite 8. We wept collectively around October of 2012 when it became painfully obvious to our television-centric brains that our HQ-heroes, the Pitt Panthers, would be chosen as an 8th seed in the West this year, only to lose in the first round to Witchita State. Number-2 Georgetown's first-round loss? Knew it all along. The upset of Gonzaga in the round of 32? Didn't upset us, because we already predicted it!
How far can this go? All the way to the championship! We can't reveal who our winner is, but we can say that it is almost certainly the actual winner. Based on a company-wide straw poll recorded and refined by our realtime sports experts Matt Schuman and Scott Harrington, the flawless bracket will be locked in the VITAC vault until the tournament is over.
We kid, of course. But VITAC does caption the tournament on TBS, TruTV and TNT, which means our realtime captioners get immense exposure to March Madness and intimate knowledge of player and coach names. More than they wanted? Of course not! Incidentally, the leaders of our just-for-fun pool are mostly realtime captioners.
Over 21 million Americ
ans are blind or have significant trouble seeing without correction, and while seeing-eye dogs have become familiar, if not common, sights, there is a less visible service that has existed for 31 years and is coming into prominence once again. Audio description is to the blind and low-vision community what closed captions are to the deaf and hard of hearing. Instead of spoken words being displayed as images, a professionally recorded and mixed voiceover describes significant actions in a TV program, or movie, or live event, so that the blind or low-vision viewer can understand what he or she cannot see.
An audio described program starts as a proxy video, or an approximation of the program that will air, which is sent to companies like VITAC that offer audio description. A script writer will first view the content and determine which details are significant and need to be described, keeping in mind the gaps in between the characters' dialogue where the narration will play. At VITAC, the script is then reviewed by a quality control expert who makes changes before the final copy is handed off to a professional voice actor. Selecting an actor is a delicate process -- His or her voice must be distinct from all the characters' voices, yet it must be appropriate to the content. For example, David Attenborough would not likely be chosen for "Care Bears." The voiceover actor reads the script using state-of-the-art, recording-industry-standard equipment, and when the QC specialist is satisfied, the tape progresses to the mixing room.
Using the recorded voiceover, a mixing specialist combines the show audio with the audio description recording, "dipping" or lowering the volume of the background noise or music to accommodate the narration. The editor makes sure that the voiceover, whenever possible,
does not overlap the dialogue of the show, and to do so, he or she can speed up bits of description so that a show with lots of dialogue can accommodate easy-to-hear descriptions. The mixer can even modify the pitch of the voiceover, so that a description sped up to fit a two-second gap, for example, will not suffer from the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" effect. Though the modulation process can be done by off-the-shelf computer programs like Avid or Final Cut Pro, VITAC employs a human for this task, as computer-mixed audio descriptions often result in sudden, jarring transitions between dialogue and description. This is just one of the ways VITAC ensures our industry-leading quality standards are met.
Finally, the quality control expert reviews the final file with voiceover to make sure that everything from script accuracy to good mixing and exports the file in any number of formats, including MP3 and AIF.
High- and Low-Quality Audio Description
Bad audio description is all too obvious for those who use the service, and is especially frustrating for its users since only four hours of described programming a week is mandated by the FCC. Imagine the outrage of someone who can only access 4-8 shows a week when one of those hours is poorly described! VITAC is dedicated to minimizing audio description errors and maximizing user experience, which is why we assign up to four individual to a single program. For an in-depth look on the perils of bad audio description, we turned to audio description expert Joel Snyder, who has over 35 years experience in the field.
"The best compliment a describer can get is 'I didn't know you were there,'" he says. One of the most common complaints is that the description is poorly mixed, so that the show audio is extremely loud while the des
cription is low or inaudible. By assigning a mixing specialist and multiple levels of quality control, VITAC minimizes the possibility of inaudible audio description. At VITAC, one show can take up to eight hours to complete.
A second indicator of bad audio description, Joel says, is poor script writing. Introductory phrases like "Now we view..." or "We can see..." are unnecessary, as these could apply to every on-screen action. More noticeably, perhaps, a bad audio description will tell the viewer what to think, rather than showing objective clues. Good description: "The man clenches his teeth and pounds his fist against the door." Bad description: "The man is angry." Because of its multi-layered quality control process, VITAC is able to avoid these pitfalls entirely.
History and Law
Audio description, is as easy to access as the closed captions, yet putting the mandates in place has been monumental struggle. Audio description was introduced in the performing arts world in 1981, but it took another 10 years for the service to become available for TV, when it made its television premiere on PBS. Years of legal struggle ensued, and after mandates for described programming came and went, they were reintroduced in 2010. Now it is federally mandated for four hours of programming per week on a handful of networks.
Luckily there is a simple solution for keeping track of the ever-changing mandates -- have your TV programming audio described when you have it captioned!
March 22nd marks Production Coordinator Appreciation Day, when the Realtime Captioners throw an all-day fiesta for the hardworking staff of Production Coordinators that make VITAC's excellence in live captioning possible.
It is a little-known fact that production coordinators do not exist at most captioning companies, not because they are unnecessary, but because they are the icing on VITAC's Realtime Captioning cake. They are the critical link between client and captioner, and spend their long and ever-changing hours at VITAC ensuring that every client receives the best possible captions every time.
How? By testing the captioners' connections shortly before they are scheduled to air, ensuring the broadcast is without hiccups, hangups, or down time, and making an IP-ready transcript within four hours of the broadcast's end. They are highly trained in VITAC's proprietary BCS captioning software and are masters of the B2B system that ensures that live programming transitions seamlessly between captioners.
Stories of their heroics could fill 1,000 volumes, but let it be enough to say that they are focused, dedicated, and above all, fun.
Have you appreciated your Production Coordinator today?
It is no surprise that VITAC and its services are growing exponentially. As the largest captioning company in the world, there are few captioning services VITAC has not perormed at least once in its 27-year history. At restaurants, in the gym, or on your home computer screen, it would be difficult to not encounter a VITAC caption somewhere in your daily routine.
Enter the Media Encoding Suite, VITAC's central command for file transcoding. Nearly every prerecorded file that VITAC receives enters and leaves through our encoding suite, whether the client is in need of offline captions, subtitles, or translation into 45+ languages. The most basic function of the Media Encoding Suite is to transfer a client's video file into a file that is compatible with our proprietary captioning software. After a captioner transcribes the file, times the captions, and places them on the screen to avoid graphics, the file is reviewed and then returns to the Media Encoding Suite, where the encoding specialists format it into something that can air on TV or the web.
The celebrities of the facility are Chuck and Randy, whose fingerprints end up on nearly every deliverable, be it HDCAM, MXF, or video cassette. The transcoding wizards handle thousands of hours of footage each month, in addition to providing a wide range of miscellaneous tech-support services that VITAC requires on a daily basis.
Please enjoy a tour of VITAC's new Media Encoding Suite:
Where were you born and raised? When is the last time you were there?
Born, raised and living in my hometown of Hornell, NY, just west of the Finger Lakes region, the most beautiful part of NY State!
Where you involved in sports, music, drama or other extra-curricular activities?
I played a little softball, skied and snowboarded, but I focused more on music and drama in high school. I was in show choir and all the plays & musicals. I started playing guitar at 11 and formed a couple different bands in high school, including an all-female band that I played lead guitar for at age 16. Our claim to fame was opening up for Foghat. Sad thing about that was I didn't even know who they were!
What is your fondest high school memory?
I didn't really like high school too much, but my favorite memories were jamming with my band on the stage in the auditorium after school.
What do you do to decompress? Write and play music. I'm a guitarist/singer-songwriter and have recorded five albums of original folk/rock/country music since 1998. I play a regular solo gig at a local bar once a month and used to play out about 8-10 times a month, until my baby boy came along two years ago. I've cut back since then, but still love performing. I also have a band that I get together every summer to play festivals in the area. I also live in the woods and love going for walks and enjoying the peace and quiet.
What do you like most about working at VITAC?
First off, the job itself. I love writing, perfecting my skill, and constantly learning new things from the various programs we cover. I also love the people I work with and how everyone helps each other all the time. And of course, I love the rare occurrence when I tell someone what I do and they share with me how I've enriched their lives or the lives of a loved one with the service I provide.
On March 1st, the six recipients of 2012 VITAC Employee Excellence Awards -- Nathan Appel, Franco Bonacchi, Terri Holman, Mary Quinn, Matt Schuman, and Tracy Ukura -- along with President Pat Prozzi and Human Resources Director Mark Panichella, flew to Phoenix, Arizona, for a cool four-day, three-night vacation at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. The agenda for the weekend included hot-air-balloon rides, croquet, and a visit to the Grand Canyon, not to mention the hospitality of the Biltmore, where every U.S. President since Herbert Hoover has made a stop.
The trip was not without controversy -- how would VITAC's 24-hour operation handle four days without its six most excellent employees? Among their many contributions, they had innovated video-conversion processes, organized realtime caption files for more streamlined accessibility, and upheld "we-can" attitudes through even the toughest times. Their above-and-beyond efforts had fueled VITAC's success in 2012, and the absence of all of them at once was unprecedented. As it turned out, the rest of VITAC's 313 employees were more than qualified to hold down the fort for four days while the rockstars of VITAC enjoyed their reward.
After a short flight, the VEE Award winners relaxed poolside at the Arizona Biltmore with a get-to-know-you reception (more than half of VITAC employees work remotely), followed by dinner at Wright's, a four-and-a-half star restaurant at the Biltmore Resort whose menu includes beef tartare and pan-seared foie gras. After breaking for the night, the award winners and their invitees enjoyed some of the Biltmore's many amenities, including six lighted tennis courts and three pools -- one with a 92-foot waterslide, and another with a dive-in cinema, where visitors can enjoy their favorite flick while floating in an innertube.
Saturday, the group split in two, with half embarking on a day-long tour of Arizona's natural wonders. After hiking the 1.3-mile trail along the Grand Canyon's southern rim, the group drove through an historic Navajo reservation and visited the Painted Desert. Along the way, they also got to see the sandstone formations of Sedona, taking some amazing photos and catching some much-needed sun. The other group toured the skies in a hot air balloon and enjoyed some stunning bird's-eye views. When they landed in the Sonoran Desert, the hospitality staff greeted them with a gourmet brunch!
On Sunday, the employees gathered for a team meeting before enjoying a gourmet brunch at Wright's with finger pastries and petite deserts. Luckily, they were not too exhausted from their weekend of ballooning, hiking, and dining to don their custom VEE Award polos afterward for a few games of croquet. What began as a friendly match turned competitive, due to the focus and determination that characterizes all of VITAC's best! After changing out of their polos, the group dined at Frank & Albert's ("Frank" referring to Frank Lloyd Wright, who served as a consultant during the Biltmore's construction), where they enjoyed another round of fantastic cuisine. After dinner, Pat presented each of the winners with a customized trophy!
For all who attended, it was a weekend to remember, and the 2012 VEE Award winners earned every minute of it!
It is a festive time of year at VITAC. Read Captions Across America day occurred on March 1st, and a second holiday (this time a week-long holiday) began just two weeks before -- February 17-23 marked National Court Reporting and Captioning Week across America, which celebrates the profession of court stenography.
Graduates court stenography school are already the cream of the crop -- some schools report up to a 90% dropout rate -- but VITAC captioners are truly the cream of the cream of the crop. Why is it so hard? Court stenographers/realtime captioners must not only be accurate, but fast, too, typing over 200 words per minute on their specialized, 22-key steno machines (pictured). The speed is demanding, and many stenography students complain of "hitting a wall," or reaching a point when their typing speed no longer improves.
Out of steno school, those who have met VITAC's speed standard of a 200-225 words-per-minute typing speed at graduation proceed to Amy Bowlen's rigorous boot camp. Amy Bowlen, VITAC boot camp director and realtime captioner extraordinaire, writes that "Even the most experienced court reporters may take years to develop their writing, dictionaries, and knowledge to the point that they are qualified to caption. And these are highly skilled writers."
The National Court Reporting Association observed the holiday by issuing the following resolution:
Whereas for millennia, individuals have wanted the spoken word translated into text to record
history and to accomplish this task have relied on scribes;
Whereas the profession of scribe was born with the rise of civilization;
Whereas in Ancient Egypt, scribes were considered to be the literate elite, recording laws and
other important documents and, since that time, have served as impartial witnesses to history;
Whereas scribes were present with our Nation's founding fathers as the Declaration of
Independence and Bill of Rights were drafted;
Whereas President Lincoln entrusted scribes to record the Emancipation Proclamation;
Whereas, since the advent of shorthand machines, these scribes have been known as court
reporters and have played a permanent and invaluable role in courtrooms across our country;
Whereas court reporters are present in Congress, preserving Members' words and actions;
Whereas court reporters and captioners are responsible for the closed captioning seen scrolling
across television screens, at sporting stadiums and in other community and educational settings,
bringing information to millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans every day;
Whereas court reporters and captioners translate the spoken word into text and preserve our
Whereas, whether called the scribes of yesterday or the court reporters and captioners of today,
the individuals who preserve our nation's history are truly the guardians of the record:
Now, therefore, be it resplved that the Senate designates February 17-23, 2013 as "National Court Reporting and Captioning Week."
Wisocnsin Congressman Ron Kind recognized the motion, and so it was proclaimed national Court Reporting and Captioning Week!