The month of October means the start of sweater weather as a slight chill begins to fill the air, fall leaves are in full color, and everything – and we mean, everything – is flavored with pumpkin. It also means that you can’t flip through the channels on your TV without finding some ghost-hunting or paranormal investigation show.
Ghost-hunting shows, like “Ghost Adventures,” “Ghost Nation,” or “Ghost Hunters,” typically follow a common formula – a team of paranormal investigators search all sorts of properties (usually in the pitch black of the middle of the night because, hey, why not?) using an array of ghost-hunting gadgets in hopes of catching definitive proof of spooks and spirits.
As you might expect, sounds play an important role in these types of shows, with all sorts of creaky noises – barely audible knocks, hushed whispers, and faint spectral footsteps – literally around every corner. As such, captions can be a real treat in helping pick up all the dialogue, both human and otherworldly, and letting everyone know what the investigators heard.
VITAC captions a number of these spooky shows, and our captioners are responsible for identifying all the noises that go bump in the night. The goal always is to stay accurate to the actual audio, and not interpret what we think we heard for viewers. Similarly, if the onscreen investigators react to something that isn’t actually audible, the captions won’t include a sound effect for the sake of remaining accurate to what’s actually being heard.
“There are times when you need to listen a little more closely, like when they’re whispering,” says VITAC offline captioner Sarah McLean, who has provided captions for a number of ghostly investigation programs. “Or sometimes, if they’re at a dilapidated or hazardous location, they wear masks that muffle their speech a bit.
“But, in my experience, there are usually subtitles if the audio is really hard to hear, and always a subtitle for any words or phrases heard through an EVP [electronic voice phenomenon] or other device. If worse comes to worst, if I slow down the video and/or turn up the volume, I can normally make out what’s being said even if it’s in a whisper or something. And if that doesn’t work, I ask for a second opinion from my fellow captioners. So, that helps.”
Captioners also include sound effects for any of the electronic devices that investigators use to make contact with spirits, such as K2 meters, EVP monitors, or spirit boxes. The trick, and skill, is determining exactly what noise a buzzing, static-y EVP or beeping ghost-busting box makes.
Thankfully, as is the case with other prerecorded programs, our captioners typically receive preparation materials and treatment sheets in advance that offer tips on how to identify sounds or spell the name of some ghost-tracking device they’re using.
“We’ve been working on these shows a while, so a lot of those things have been verified and worked into the treatments by now,” Sarah says. “And if something isn’t addressed in the treatment, then it’s just the captioner’s judgment as to how to identify it. That can get tricky because some of the devices make really strange noises that I sometimes have a hard time finding an accurate word for. Would that be considered beeping? Oscillating static? Some kind of pulsing or warbling noise? So, that’s definitely something unique to these shows.”
So whether you’re a supernatural enthusiast watching these shows for a few pointers or just in the mood for a good Halloween scare, captions help the action come alive, even if some of the show’s main attractions aren’t.
“I don’t mind working on creepy shows – I think they’re fun!” Sarah says. “They don’t spook me too much, but having to focus on all the little practical things that go with captioning them might make me a little detached. If I was just watching “Ghost Adventures” alone at midnight or something, it might be a different story!”