Able communications team member Gabriella Evans sat down with captioner Sean Lydiard to talk about the 95th Oscars and Academy Awards and what it’s like to caption one of the biggest events in Hollywood.

Kia ora, Sean. Can you briefly tell us about how you caption a live event like the Oscars?

Tricky. Fortunately, with the awards shows, we often get rundowns in advance. I suppose that’s the main difference between captioning the Oscars and captioning live sport because with live sport, you turn up and see what happens. Whereas with the Oscars, we can predict the categories, who the nominees are, and have a vague idea about who we think might win. When the event is happening, the only main thing that can be tricky are the acceptance speeches because, of course, we’ve got no idea what they’re going to say, or who’s going to win. For some other things in the Oscars, we do get scripts in advance so it’s just a matter of typing it all out and having it ready to go.

What specific words and training do you have to do with/input into the captioning software for shows like this and how?

The main thing to input is everyone’s names and having them all ready to go. The titles of movies can be tricky, for example the movie Women Talking.  A title like Blonde will come out fine but something that may be quite difficult for the software would be The Banshees of Inisherin. Long titles like Everything Everywhere All At Once can be tricky too.

I’m feeling up to date with all the actors and everything else involved in the Oscars. But when it comes to the names of some directors, particularly ones who are not as well-known, it can be difficult. Then once the names of cinematographers, costumers, and all the other roles involved in the making of a movie come into play, it’s so many people and it can be hard to keep track. For captioners, we try to have tricky titles and names copied and pasted somewhere on the computer and ready to go ahead of time if we know in advance.

What is your favourite thing about captioning a live event like the Oscars and Academy Awards? 

This is my first time doing the Oscars but definitely the thrill of it all. I’m such a big fan of the Oscars anyway, I love awards season. If I wasn’t working, I’d be watching it from home if I could. There’s a real thrill of being part of anything that so many people are watching. I feel the same with some of the big sporting events. And of course, with less joyful things that so many people are watching like the coverage of the recent cyclones, or the Queen’s funeral. It’s so important to make sure we’re getting everything right and that it’s available to as many people as we can.

What are some of the challenges of captioning an event like this? And how do you overcome them? 

There’s a whole range of jargon that we’re not using on other things we caption regularly, like the news for example, which is what most captioners are trained for. There’s a lot of words that have to be trained into the software, such as titles of the awards like “Best Supporting Actress” for example. Trying to have all of that prepared can be tricky, but I feel that the true challenge is the actual doing of it. Fortunately, there is a lot that’s prepared in advance such as the presenters names and the names of those nominated in each award category.

As I mentioned before, a challenge that can be tricky is the acceptance speeches. During them, those accepting the award might be getting emotional and thanking people. Sometimes they thank people you have not heard about like their agent, and there can be moments of thinking “Have I spelt the name they just said correctly?”. And unlike offline captioning (where it’s not live), there’s no time or way to take a minute to Google their name. But the thrill of participating in our own small way in the joy people have when they’re making those speeches outweighs the trickiness of it all.

Sneaky question – which actors or movies do you hope win big this year?

I’m really hoping Michelle Yeoh and the whole cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once just sweep through and get all the awards. But if Cate Blanchett [lead role in Tár] wins, I won’t be disappointed. With the 2022 Oscars nominees, Glenn Close lost to Olivia Colman who was an out of the blue, incredible performance in The Lost Daughter. And it felt like “wow, we never expected this to happen”. And in a way, Michelle Yeoh could be that kind of person.

I’d be very shocked if she didn’t!

I think Everything Everywhere All At Once will be in for a good chance to win Best Picture. The only true surprise on the night will be whether everyone behaves or whether we might get a repeat of some of the things that happened in the 2022 Oscars.


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