As creators, we should strive to make our work as accessible as possible, and in context of this article, this means considering an often overlooked film and TV audience: people with hearing disorders. Closed captioning is easier than ever to do yourself, and if you’re interested in investing a little time to make your series more available to potential fans, I highly encourage you to do so. Plus, once your series is fully subtitled, you can reach out to the Captioned Web TV blog for a shout out! That blog also lists other ways to close-caption your videos if you aren’t interested in doing it yourself, and reasons why you should want to caption your series in the first place.
If you are interested in doing it yourself, below is a comprehensive, step by step “how to.”
Step 1: Log into your YouTube account and go to the following URL: https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U. Click “edit” next to the video you wish to close caption
Step 2: Select “English” or whatever language you want to close caption the video in, then click “set language.”
From here you have a couple of options.
Option 1 (my preferred)- Edit the auto-captions generated by YouTube.
For this, click the “English (automatic)” button.
You’ll be taken to the “view” screen, where you can see the existing auto-subtitles on the left. These are pretty hit or miss, so you’ll click the “edit” button in the upper right to get fixing.
[above] Becomes [below]
There are two ways to time the existing subtitle sections with the actual dialog/sounds on screen. One is to literally type in the start and end times next to where you’ll edit the text, and the other is to use the little timeline beneath the video to lengthen, shorten, and move around each section of text. I prefer the latter, and you can change the length of the text sections by hovering over the edge you want to change and dragging it shorter or longer. By selecting the section itself, instead of just an edge, you can move it around to better time it with people speaking.
You can add a new section of text with the field in the upper left. Once you’ve written what you want to add, click enter, and it will drop the new text into your timeline wherever your red timeline cursor is. You’ll probably need to use the drag method to position and time it correctly.
You can also split up sections of text by putting your cursor between the text you want to split and clicking “enter.” Perhaps the algorithm put two characters’ lines in the same section, or you just want there to be less text on screen at once.
Another trick you can use is clicking “shift-enter” to add a second line to a caption. This is useful to keep lines easy to read, but also to add a sound effect and line of dialog to the same moment or to indicate two characters talking over each other.
Important note: You can’t rearrange the text sections. If something gets out of order, delete one of the sections and add it again in its correct place.
From here, you can use these tools to edit the correct things the auto-captions collected and assemble your captions sensibly. Once they’re complete, you’ll click “Publish edits.”
This will bring you back to the main captioning page, where you should see two sets of captions listed- English (automatic) and English. Click into the English (automatic) again, click “unpublish” in the top right, then “delete draft.” This way the only closed captions available are the correct ones- the ones you just overwrote.
Option 2- Create new subtitles from scratch.
To get to this method, instead of editing the auto-subtitles, you click “add new subtitles or CC” then from the list of options, select “create new subtitles of CC.”
This takes you to essentially the same screen as Option 1, except there are no existing subtitles to edit. Below is a video of me adding a few subtitles to a Brains minisode as an example, to show you how the different tools work.
There are other options in the CC menu, but they aren’t as applicable for film projects, especially with more than one character speaking, because the computer can’t differentiate. Plus, film projects generally require some kind of sound effect description (for my show, I had to add in [zombie growls] a lot, or characters making sounds off camera) which isn’t something the computer can auto-sync.
Best practices for closed captioning
- If a character’s mouth isn’t visible while they’re speaking, or their mouth is pretty far away from camera, make sure to label their captions. Otherwise it’s difficult to follow along.
- If there are audio jokes or sound effects that enhance or tell part of the story, make sure to subtitle these as well! You can indicate effects by using [brackets] like below
- If possible, add extra time in your subtitles even if a character is done speaking, so it’s easier for people to read them.
- Keep your lines short- don’t try to cram all the words into as few sections as possible. Try to use line breaks to help pace the captions as you would listen to the actors talk.
- Indicate as often as possible when emphasis or tone is important. It can be hard to see and read sarcasm if it’s not indicated clearly.
- If a character says something inaudible but their mouth is still moving, indicate this somehow so viewers relying on closed captioning don’t think they’ve missed something. Even [inaudible] or [muttered nonsense] works!