Year of Insight
InSight Oversaw the Release of More Than 50 Different Open-Captioned Movies Before
Its First Anniversary. Founder Nanci
Linke-Ellis Says She’s Just Warming Up.
by Alma Freeman
InSight Cinema is celebrating its first anniversary
in November, and although executive director Nanci Linke-Ellis
would like to throw a gigantic bash in its honor, she laughs
and says she simply has too much work to do to pull it
off this year.
Thanks to her tenure as executive director
of Tripod Captioned Films, Linke-Ellis’ name may be more familiar within
the movie industry than that of her new company. In 1998
she spearheaded, with eight Paramount-provided “Titanic” prints,
the first successful direct-studio distribution of an open-captioned
Before the success of the open-captioned “Titanic,” which
encouraged other major studios to re-examine the box office
potential of open captioning, Tripod mostly relied on donated
films. Between 1993 and 1997 the total number of films
donated to Tripod stood at 25, with three to five open-captioned
prints per title.
Linke-Ellis, who grew up in Greater Los
Lake, was by age 10 diagnosed as “profoundly deaf” and
began using hearing aids that enabled her to hear roughly
30 out of every 100 words spoken. In 1993 she lost her
hearing entirely, and the following year was fitted with
a cochlear implant. Today the device, which restored some
hearing, augments her ability to lip-read.
Born into a showbiz family, Linke-Ellis
was raised with an awareness of the power of the motion
picture, but it
wasn’t until she saw “The Bodyguard,” her
first open-captioned film, that she realized what she,
and some 30 million other deaf and hard of hearing (DHH)
Americans, had been missing.
“I literally pulled the car over and
cried after I left the theatre. … I understood every word, I knew who
the characters were,” she recalls.
In November 2002 Linke-Ellis left Tripod
to form InSight, a new non-profit open-captioned film distribution
Based in Los Angeles, InSight has already partnered with
10 studios and 35 exhibitors to oversee the release of
Despite her years with Tripod, Linke-Ellis
discovered the launch of InSight demanded its own learning
was trial and error getting to the point where we were
establishing a real voice and a real strategy as to how
we saw ourselves within distribution and exhibition – and
how we plan to find our place,” she says.
13 Tips For Those Venturing
Into Open-Caption Exhibition
all captioned-film showtimes in local newspapers.
Use the symbol for captioned films in the advertisement.
2. Make available at least one screening of a title
during the prime evening
times – remember,
the deaf and hard of hearing work and take their
kids to soccer practice too!
3. Add a mention of the forthcoming special engagement
on your recorded message as
soon as its dates are
confirmed. Speak slowly so that the telephone relay
operator can repeat the information to the TTY users.
(It’s often a hearing member of the family
who tells a deaf member about the screening.)
4. Be consistent. Once you post showtimes and playdates,
them. Also make showtimes and locations available
as soon as you book a print.
5. Use your Website to promote open-captioned films.
Links to the InSight Website can be easily arranged.
6. Establish internal e-mail mailing lists with
members of the deaf and hard of hearing community,
as well as English as a second language (ESL) and
adult illiteracy groups. If you need help in identifying
these groups, contact NATO, which can put you in
touch with a local chapter.
7. Give visual cues – clearly
mark the auditorium where the open-captioned feature
will screen, post
snipes supplied by InSight on movie one-sheets and
have available flyers to hand out after an open-captioned
screening notifying patrons of the next such screening.
8. Keep the auditorium lights up (at least partially)
until the show begins. Deaf and hard of hearing people
will not walk into a dark room. Lights also allow
the audience members to communicate.
9. Be in contact with local community members – ask
to have a local person involved with the deaf community
who could help out during open-captioned screenings.
10. Supply informational packets – explaining
the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing patrons – to
facilities that will be screening an open-captioned
selection for the first time.
11. Have pen and paper available at the box office
and concession stand to facilitate communication.
12. Review the NATO training tape "Serving
Patrons With Special Needs."
13. Be patient – this may be someone’s
first time to the cinema – and he or she may
be an adult!
Amid the tsunami that was this summer’s films, she
says, InSight was able to demonstrate – to both the
movie industry and members of the DHH community – that
a dedicated open-captioning enterprise was not only still
around, but back with a vengeance.
“For the first time ever, we are going
to be able to do this the way it should be done in terms
of how we book,
how we educate, how we identify and target audiences, how
we service the studios and how we service exhibition,” she
Another challenge has been dispelling some
of the myths surrounding open-captioned films and educating
hearing and the DHH community on the benefits these offer.
Open captioning converts a movie’s dialogue, noises
and sound effects into white text, and superimposes it
over the screen images. The sound is normal, and the captions
are visible to all. Unlike TV’s closed-captioned
text, the text on InSight’s prints is not surrounded
by clunky black boxes. Instead, says Linke-Ellis, captions
are more artistically integrated onto the screen, and are
so unobtrusive that they are actually welcomed by hearing
patrons who sometimes can’t quite make out certain
bits of dialogue.
“Many people who have stumbled into
an open-captioned film have discovered that they have really
enjoyed the experience.
I don’t believe that most people are offended at
all by captions – all the lessons that I have learned
over the past 10 years have debunked that myth,” she
Open captioning is likely to grow in popularity
as baby boomers creep into retirement age. According to
Help for Hard of Hearing People” Website, the number
of people experiencing hearing loss is expected to double
by 2030. Linke-Ellis predicts that aging Americans will
embrace open-captioned films as their hearing ability lessens,
and they begin to miss more and more dialogue. She also
points out that older Americans typically have more disposable
income and leisure time than other demographics, additional
factors that could increase the demand for open captioning.
InSight also plans to reach out beyond the
DHH community, to adult illiteracy groups and to those
for whom English
is not a first language. This latter group accounts for
nearly 30 million Americans. In the former category, there
are roughly 27 million illiterate adults, 12 million young
children learning to read and 4 million remedial and learning-disabled
readers. Many, says Linke-Ellis, could benefit from open
captioning. “Movies are what we have in common as
a country,” she says. “As a society these are
the threads that bind us now.”
Marcus Theatres head film buyer Mike Ogrodowski
has booked 137 open-captioned titles since 1998, but in
the last year,
he says, “InSight has moved everything up to a higher
With access to more prints from InSight,
his circuit is generally able to book an open-captioned
movie much closer
to the opening date of its uncaptioned counterpart. InSight’s
efforts also make it possible to post showtimes on the
open-captioned section of the circuit’s Website at
an earlier date, affording the DHH community more notice
and confidence in showtime reliability.
Ogrodowski has learned over time that the
most important factor in screening open-captioned film
selections is consistency. “We
play open-captioned prints on the same day of the week,
pretty much at the same showtime. … [We] keep it
very consistent and that’s the best way to reach
the deaf community – and you don’t want to
deviate from that,” he says.
From the beginning, Linke-Ellis remarks,
some of the most common complaints involved showtimes.
which screens open-captioned films at seven of its sites,
offers at least an afternoon and an evening screening of
each title, and tries to move the print to another location
with different showtimes. If someone misses the movie in
one town, he or she can refer to the Website and know it’s
going to resurface at another location with a slightly
Ogrodowski says he finds success in repeating
the open-captioned screenings at the same facilities, possibly
managers and staff are more sensitive to the DHH community
and more comfortable serving their needs.
Randy Smith, Regal Entertainment Group senior
vice president of human resources counsel, says that as
more prints, he is able to offer open-captioned films in
different areas of the country. During the week of Aug.
21, Regal offered open-captioned titles in 73 cities. Smith
agrees that consistency is an extremely important aspect
of screening open-captioned films, and since the core audience
tends to be smaller, it works better to have the films
at designated sites, rather than risk confusion by shifting
them around. He adds, however, that Regal does get requests
for different locations, and often honors those requests.
When a site is slated to receive open-captioned
prints for the first time, Regal’s film department sends
out a packet regarding the needs of the DHH patron. Smith,
who has been attending open-captioned screenings for years,
believes that adapting to the DHH community mostly requires
a little sensitivity and common sense. Staffers, for example,
will learn to make sure their mouths can be seen while
speaking, and to keep pens and paper handy at the box office
and concession stand.
“[Deaf] people are completely functional and can
do anything they want – it’s just a matter
of the communication breakdown,” says Smith.
In order to maintain the lines of communication,
Regal works closely with InSight to supply visual cues
the company’s new “InSight” one-sheet
snipes and stand-up marquees, listing open-captioned films
in local newspapers and linking its Website to InSight’s.
In addition, Smith notes that the circuit also offers at
least one showtime during the prime evening time as well
as one matinee.
Smith believes that the open-captioned film
world remains a work in progress, and that the biggest
hurdle, as with
any movie, is getting people to fill the seats. More open-captioned
films are available now than ever before, and Smith believes
that as awareness of this fact grows, so will audiences.
During InSight’s second year of operation, Linke-Ellis
hopes to bring a more diverse slate of films to open-caption
audiences, while making open-caption moviegoing more accessible
and spontaneous. At some point in the future, as digital
cinema becomes more prevalent, Linke-Ellis envisions a
bridge technology that would allow open-captioned movies
to become more readily available and accessible.
“The most important thing for theatres is that they
let their [DHH] patrons know that they really want them
and that it’s okay if [cinema employees] don’t
know how to sign, and it’s okay if your communication
is fractured,” says Linke-Ellis. “The very
fact that you’re attempting to service them because
you want them to come in and enjoy the show means everything
in the world.” .