Monday, March 4, 2013

Switched at Birth goes all-ASL tonight!

ASL is tough to do on TV and in movies. To get a full-face view of the signer, it requires a lot of camera cuts. When I go to ASL socials, it's even difficult to follow a conversation with two people across a circle; it can get a bit like watching tennis. What usually happens for tv is an arty shot with everything voiced. It's enough for hearies to know "someone's signing". For example, in Mr Holland's Opus, when the principal is showing the parents around the Deaf school, she signs and speaks, but the visual is entirely in silhouette as the three adults walk, backlit, down a hallway. Or when Marlee Matlin does an interview, the default camera angle, as for most interviews, is a headshot. Her hands go in and out of frame, making it difficult to watch the signing. And where is her interpreter? Ostensibly to the side of the camera, which is not the same eye-gaze (direction) as looking at the interviewer.

BTW, it's tougher than you would think to voice and sign at the same time. The words don't come in the same order, for one thing. Personally, I consider voice interpreting, from ASL into English, significantly more difficult than interpreting English into ASL.

I say all this to help you appreciate the difficulty and the importance of tonight's Switched at Birth going all-ASL! Kudos to the showrunners for making this happen. Here's a compelling interview with the show creator, Lizzy Weiss.
The concept of the episode is 'this is what life is like for a deaf person.' Every scene has at least one deaf person in it, that was our rule. We would never cut away to two hearing people, because they wouldn't be signing to each other, and we wanted to keep our concept. I guess we could have done a scene from the POV of a deaf person of two hearing people talking, but then we would not have captioned the conversation; we would have shown what it's like to be deaf in a world in which most everyone speaks only. We do scenes all the time in which we sim com, so the challenge was to do something different. Once we struck upon the concept of 'this is from the perspective of a deaf person', our 'rules' fell into place.

Interview available at
The Uprising episode of Switched at Birth airs on ABC Family (FIOS 199) at 8p tonight, Monday, March 4, 2013.

Full disclosure:
I have followed TV columnist Alan Sepinwall since I started compulsively following Chuck. I enjoy his insights and am glad for his access to showrunners and writers, but I particularly enjoy his interactions with the fanbases.
FWIW, I have not followed Switched at Birth to this point. But I am very excited for today's episode and I hope it engages me enough to continue to watch the show.
Additional info:
Huffington Post article

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