7. Your script, scenario


A mainstream production (a book, video or instructional programme) that was developed for a hearing audience, will have a 'hearing' perspective. For Deaf viewers to really understand and/or identify with your production, a 'Deaf' perspective may be more appropriate.

Most Deaf adults are not fluent readers or writers. For Deaf people to be able to participate effectively in a production team a scenario and/or script will have to be supported by, or replaced with, a storyboard and/or visual 'mock-ups' on videotape or CD-ROM.

Scripts and scenarios for signing books productions may be different from mainstream scripts and scenarios in two respects:
  • they are written from a 'Deaf' perspective, and
  • they are not written, but recorded on video and/or visualised as a storyboard.

Deaf perspective  

Deaf people have a different 'viewing history' from hearing people. Many TV-programmes, films, and videos are not accessible for Deaf viewers, so Deaf people will not be familiar with their format. Many mainstream programmes that have been made accessible by means of open or closed captions will still be experienced differently by Deaf people, because they cannot hear the background music, the sound effects, etc. 
Because so much information in daily life is still inaccessible for Deaf people, what is considered 'common knowledge' in mainstream productions may not be common knowledge in the Deaf community.
Mainstream scenarios are written for and by hearing people, from a hearing perspective. Deaf people have a different view of life, a different thinking style, and possibly a different way of processing information. A scenario for a signing book therefore should preferably be written from a Deaf perspective, taking into account the characteristics of Deaf viewers. 

A two-step process  

At the moment, there are very few Deaf professionals who can write a script or scenario. Script-writing is therefore best undertaken as a two-step process: a professional hearing script-writer writes the script, a professional Deaf person then adapts the script to make it meet the specific needs of Deaf viewers. If both professionals are bilingual, then the script writing can of course be undertaken as a joint process. 
Several professional Deaf scriptwriters prefer the first step of the script writing process to be undertaken by a Deaf person, from a Deaf perspective. Only then will the end-product truly be a reflection of Deaf Culture, instead of a translated mainstream production.

Length of shots and scenes  

A script or scenario usually has to be divided into short paragraphs or sections that a signer can sign without difficulty and that can be filmed in one shot. How long these sections should be will depend on the text (breaks should be made in logical places) and on the ability of the signer(s) to memorise the text. 

Prologue, epilogue  

Many productions may need a prologue to introduce name signs and to describe the opening scene: time, location, persons involved, and context. In some cases, a longer introduction may be necessary to explain unfamiliar signs and/or concepts used in the video, to supply required background information, or to relate the content or message of the production to the viewers' personal situation. 
In educational/instructional videos, an epilogue can be added at the end of the video to summarise the main message(s) of the video, and/or to link these to the personal lives of the viewers.


In interactive productions on CD-ROM and DVD, instructions and feedback may be signed, in printed text, and/or by means of buttons and icons. Complex instructions should be avoided, or signed and demonstrated. 

In writing?  

Although television and video are visual media, written texts still play an important role in the production process. Some of their functions, from general to detailed, are:
  • A synopsis or outline: a short description of the production being made, including the objective, the target group, the format, and a summary of the content. Other information that is usually included in a synopsis: length of the production, title, and budget.
  • A treatment: a more detailed description of the format and content of the production, describing what the viewer of the end-product will see (and hear).
  • A scenario / script: a scenario or script also describes the end-product, but now from the producer's perspective. A script is usually written in two columns, with the left-hand column describing what the camera will record, and the right-hand column describing the lines of the actors or signers. 
  • A shot list: a list of the scenes and shots that will be recorded, specifying for each scene and shot: information on the location, the cameras and lenses used, lights, props, visuals, people involved, costumes, etc. 
If shots are not going to be recorded in sequence, a shot list will also include continuity checks to avoid unintentional 'jumps' between shots (e.g. a clock that jumps from 10 o'clock to 14 o'clock, or even backwards; glasses that are full, then empty, then half-full, even though no-one is ever seen drinking the water).

On video! 

Deaf members of a production team may not be comfortable with reading and writing. For them to be able to participate on a professional basis in a production team, written documentation (a synopsis, scenario, script, etc.) should be kept limited and replaced by or supported with visual information: a story-board, a pilot-video, or a 'mock-up'. 
For contract negotiations, for communication with (hearing) commissioners, for fundraising, for marketing, but also for communication within a production team, some written documentation will probably be indispensable. All written documentation should be translated and explained in sign language, for Deaf members of the production team.
As far as we know, all contracts are still in written language that only people with legal training seem to be able to read and understand. Maybe producers of signing books can improve on this situation by introducing contracts that are easy to understand for everyone, presented in sign language, and stored on videotape or CD-ROM?



BBC Education Productions 

At BBC Education Productions, all the scripting for sign language productions is done in BSL (British Sign Language) using a camcorder. To quote KerenaMarchant of BBC Education Productions (GB) during her presentation for the Signing Books Symposium in Hamburg 1999: 
"If we are adapting an English book, the team will work as a team to translate the book and agree on the translation. Obviously the presenter here is the key, as he or she will be signing the story and you cannot put signs into somebody else's hands. Many people can present an English (spoken/written) script, but with a signed script this is not the case. Each Deaf presenter will do the script differently and nobody will exactly follow another person's script. 
Because of the need to communicate the signed script, I translate it back into English for the Education officers and commissioners. This means that they are dealing with a translation, not with the actual script and as a consequence, problems sometimes arise. We have tried to use BSL gloss for the script, but this also presented problems. In one instance, the Education officer sent the script back, with the glosses corrected into 'proper' English sentences!"
Sample from a BBC script for a programme about how black people came as slaves to the Caribbean.
Source text:
   The slaves arrive at the Caribbean in a boat. They are unloaded. The rich white landowners inspect them and then buy them. Slaves work in hard conditions in the heat. They are not paid.
   Ship… arrive Caribbean. Ship (place by dock) 
   Hatch open. Slaves pull out! Pull out! Line up…
   White man rich… home land… look at line slaves 
   (POINT…POINT)… how much? (NOD – YES) (POINT) 
“If the programme/video is an adaptation of an English story book, we do it differently. Our aim is to translate the book into sign language (BSL) that is linguistically and culturally correct. This is difficult because spoken language English and signed language BSL are two different languages and their grammar, linguistics and culture are different. It is important that the BSL script is:
  • a faithful adaptation and that we have not diverted from the English story,
  • but is native BSL, not influenced by the English order.
The presenter and I sit down and translate the book, and gloss and camcorder in the same way as before. But now we script with the English book as well as with the gloss-translation, so we can check if we have moved away from the book. Because sign language is a visual language, we also work closely with the pictures in the book. We can use the illustrations to help with the placement of the BSL, and these form part of our script.”
Text in English book BSL Glosses
This is the owl who swooped in the night   OWL  STARE-AT-TEDDY. TEDDY SIT.
And gave the bear a terrible fright.   OWL STARE...FLY...TEDDY SEE WHAT? FRIGHTENED.
This is the bear up in the sky.   OWL FLY. CLAWS TEDDY. TEDDY (IN CLAWS UP). OWL FLY.
This is the owl who struggled to fly.   TEDDY HEAVY. OWL FLY (STRUGGLE). TEDDY HANG DOWN. OWL FLY (DIFFICULTY) UP.
“If we followed the English of the book, the story wouldn’t make sense linguistically in BSL – the BSL script would be grammatically wrong. We have the owl swooping on the bear sitting on a chair, and then all of a sudden the bear and the owl are in the sky! BSL has rules and they would be broken if we translated it like that.
In BSL you need to get the owl from the tree to the bear and the bear’s reaction, then the owl and the bear going into the sky. This is because signed languages are visual languages and in storytelling use grammatical conventions such as placement and role shift, which aren’t used in most spoken and written languages. One would never accept a script in badly written English, and the same of course applies to BSL.”