'End of Watch' and 'Hit & Run' get special audio track

One-year old Open Road Films has committed to delivering “video description” with the upcoming releases of “Hit & Run” and “End of Watch” for customers who are legally blind.

The technology creates a secondary narrative soundtrack during pauses that occur in dialogue and sound during a film.

Open Road, formed last year as a venture between AMC and Regal, already included video description in “Lockout,” which premiered at Sundance in 2011 and was released in U.S. theaters last April through its deal with FilmDistrict. The enhanced descriptive service has been lauded by orgs that serve the blind community, and execs in the sector see it as a growing need.

Statistics from the American Council of the Blind show that the number of “audio-described” movies has risen steadily from a dozen in 2001 to 83 last year.

Open Road Films is committed to delivering stellar entertainment experiences to the broadest audience possible,” said Open Road marketing prexy Jason Cassidy. “By including video description with the release of our films, including the upcoming action comedy ‘Hit & Run’ and the action thriller ‘End of Watch,’ we’re able to provide a robust and engaging film going experience for the nearly 20 million Americans who are blind or vision-impaired.”

Rob Sleath, chair of the advocacy org Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers (ASIC), told Variety that such commitments are significant given the lack of theaters currently equipped with “video description” technology and films that feature the audio track.

“Penetration of video description is still pretty dismal, so it’s huge when there’s support announced,” Sleath said. “There’s a huge potential market that’s being missed. In all media, there’s just nowhere near enough available for the visually impaired right now.”

Diane Johnson, founder and chief executive of Descriptive Video Works, said it’s a field with plenty of growth potential, with forecasts of increased incidence of macular degeneration among aging baby boomers. “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a whole new audience,” she added.

Vancouver-based DVW — which supplied the video despcription for the Open Road titles — has supplied tracks to more than 300 features (dating back to “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The French Connection” and “Spartacus”) and 170 TV series including “I Love Lucy” and “South Park.” It employs a staff of 25, including writers to script and actors to perform the voice recording.

“One of the challeges is to write the script so that you don’t have actors stepping on each other’s lines,” Johnson noted.

Johnson noted that last Sunday was the deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission for the top broadcast and cable networks to begin providing a minimum of four hours per week of video described programming via 2010’s Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

“All of us that serve and advocate for the blind and visually impaired are thankful for the access provided by this initiative, and are encouraged by the number of networks and content producers who are stepping up to provide video description beyond the mandated hours,” she said. “Video description offers the blind and visually impaired an opportunity to learn more about the visual world and provides them with a better understanding and more dynamic television experience, helps them to enjoy a greater social connection through shared entertainment and fosters a stronger sense of independence.”

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