If there's one crucial takeaway from the fourth season of Stranger Things, it's that closed captioning is an under-appreciated art form. I mean, just look at this beauty:
New York Magazine tracked down the closed captioning artists behind such incredible descriptions as "tentacles undulating moistly," and ended up having a fascinating conversation with them about their craft, and how audio descriptions can serve different communities:
Karli: Since we're trying to create something that the deaf community can follow as well as we can as the hearing audience, our final decisions have to be made at the last minute when we have the full version. The deaf and hard-of-hearing community isn't just people who have been deaf from birth; it's also people who have lost their hearing or have partial hearing, so it's important to strike a balance of creating descriptors that describe the sounds but also evoke the emotion, so they can relate to these shows too.
Jeff: Especially on a show like Stranger Things where sound is so integral to the way the story is told. It's not an afterthought. Everything is done with intentionality, with purpose. I think the Duffers are keenly aware, it seems to me, of the tradition they're playing in. They're engaging in the great horror movies, the creature features, right? They know that the slow, steady escalation of a single solitary note can draw the anticipation and dread from that. They know what the value of a stinger is, so for us, it's crucial to have full access to that audio on a show like this, so we can then replicate that faithfully.
Karli: When it comes to a show like ST where you have something so fun and upbeat like when they're riding along in the pizza van, and then all of a sudden, something completely different happens, it's our job that the deaf community can still understand that complete switch of atmosphere and tone. If we aren't doing that, we aren't doing our jobs correctly.
I particularly appreciated their careful deliberation around the word "susurration."
Jeff: There's the scene where Henry/Vecna/001 is creating the Mind Flayer. I remember listening to the sound design and it reminded me a lot of the sound design of Arrival. The atonality is meant to get at an alien harshness, so one of the tags I used — and I chose this word because Karli and I wanted to go big; we wanted to bring our A-game — was "[unearthly susurration]". I chose "susurration" because it's an alien word that automatically makes you go, Oh, this is unusual, strange, and eerie.But also, I liked the fictive sense of it, like when you say "susurration," it feels like it's scraping the inside of your ears. Karli thought it was great but said, "Let's have 'unearthly' do the heavy lifting here. This is a bit much." And she was dead right!
It's worth reading the whole interview, even if you're not a Stranger Things fan.
Wet Writhing and Eldritch Gurgling: A Chat With the Stranger Things Subtitles Team [Savannah Salazar / Vulture]