The Great Wall
The Great Wall
Roy wrote this article on Medium.
Audio Description Narration for the film “Black and Blue”
ROY SAMUELSON, THE VOICE OF HOLLYWOOD
By Vic Gerami
October is ‘Blind Awareness Month.’ Many people in the Hollywood Industry, including film and television creators do not even realize that there is a service that films and television shows can offer that enable some estimated 26,000,000 Americans in the blind and sight impaired communities to enjoy their favorite programs. It is called Audio Description!
Roy Samuelson is leading the way as one of the top Audio Description Narrators in film and television today. His resume in this area includes the films Spiderman: Far From Home, Spiderman: Homecoming, Jurassic Park: Forgotten Kingdom, Jordan Peele’s US, First Man, Glass, Get Out, Atomic Blonde, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and many more. His television Audio Description credits include NCIS, Bosch, Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon, Marvel’s Runaways and more. In addition to his work in Audio Description Narration, Samuelson has been heard in national commercial television spots for Target, Ford, McDonald’s, State Farm, Direct TV, Quaker and more. He is also one of the main promo voices for LA’s KCRW/PBS Radio.
I was not very familiar with the inner workings of the industry, so I interviewed Roy to find out about his work, the industry and this other aspect of Hollywood.
‘Blind and low vision people are from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and tastes’
Modesty aside, how do you describe yourself?
A curious and driven work in progress.
Before we get to specifics, please tell me what you want the readers to know about the blind and sight-impaired people?
People who are blind and low vision are first and foremost people. Blind and low vision people are from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and tastes. And as with sighted people, blind and low vision audiences can smell condescension, and are particularly aware when treated as a yes-or-no box to check on an accessibility requirement. As a sighted person, I don’t speak for blind people, but I make sure when I do talk about my audience, it’s from my perspective, which includes the great opportunities for excellence and quality work.
What are the top stereotypes and generalizations about the blind and sight-impaired? How do you manage them in your personal life, as well as your career?
I think the biggest stereotype and generalization is that our blind and low vision audiences can sometimes be treated as if they are a charity, or to be pitied, or healed, or – particularly when specifically, not asking for help, thinking they “need help.” But when I speak with people who are blind or low vision, it’s speaking with another human, and it’s not discounting their disabilities either. I personally have had, and still have, many assumptions and stereotypes, and the more I engage and learn from people who are blind and low vision, I’m grateful to break my own assumptions and reduce generalizations.
‘One interviewer called it “conscious posting’
For those who are not familiar, what is Audio Description?
You hear Audio Description along with a movie or TV show. It narrates the visual intent. It’s like a sports announcer on the radio, giving the play by play of what’s happening on screen.
Audio Description is an audio track that is placed over the completed audio track so a narrator can be heard describing all which a blind person can’t see. The Audio Description is careful not to disrupt or interfere with the dialogue or any important sounds within the scene. Many movie theaters provide special Audio Description headsets for this service. At home, Audio Description can be utilized via special settings options on televisions and computers.
How did you come to be one of the top artists doing this type of work?
My voice over background and training, along with some lucky breaks, led me to this deeply complex world. Each time I’ve narrated a show or movie, I do my best to be a little bit better than I was last time. I’ve narrated over 400 movies and tv shows, and continue to focus on narrating the story, with excellence and quality. I also continue to study and work with some of the best in the business.
What changes have you seen in the industry in the last 10+ years pertaining to Audio Description? How have they effected your work?
Audio Description has evolved from a “it has it or it doesn’t have it” to a more nuanced appreciation of the emotional performance. Audiences have their favorite narrators, and are speaking up about quality, access, and even sound as far as the mix goes. Regardless, as for the narration performance itself, it’s a fine emotional line to dance along with. Too flat, or too much, and it takes the audience out of the emotional sense of the scene. I’ve found that as long as I ride that by focusing on the story, I’m able to give a performance that allows our audience to immerse themselves in the story.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start in this industry?
There are thousands of opportunities. A few simple steps (that are literally win-wins for everyone): when on social media, describe images or videos in the alt text. Instagram, twitter, and facebook provide that with just a few clicks away, and allows blind and low vision followers to understand what you are sharing. It helps you get a sense of why you are posting. One interviewer called it “conscious posting” and that sits really well with me!). This gets you into the mindset of describing visuals. You can also go to YouDescribe and find hundreds of youtube videos that need to be described. Follow along with audio description groups or hashtags. And continue to study – I particularly find cold reading and improv essential for voice over in general, as well as this kind of work.
As one of the most working voice over artists in Descriptive Narration, Samuelson has become an advocate for this service and for the community that his talent is benefiting. He actively engages on-line and on social media with those who rely on his voice to experience their favorite programs. He has become a liaison of sorts between the audience and the Hollywood Industry. For those without sight, Samuelson is as important to a film or television show as are actors like Brad Pitt and Emma Stone.
What change(s), if any, would you want to see within the industry, as well as the community at large to create more and better opportunities for the blind and sight-impaired?
The changes are already happening! One streaming service requires all Audio Description vendors to list the name of the vendor, writer, and narrator. Other streaming platforms are opting in to provide Audio Description above and beyond requirements. Auditions are becoming more common, which tells me that distinguishing quality – either the sound of the narrator, and/or the skills of the narrator, are coming into account. 250 of my imdb credits were removed because I didn’t appear in the visual credits, but I’m hopeful that will change as more narrators are able to list their credits there, as well as the Audio Description Narrators of America. New services coming out are not only providing Audio Description but also in multiple languages. And more producers, directors, distributors, and other decision makers are noticing that ignoring the 26 million American blind and low vision audiences are leaving money on the table.
‘Specifically, on social media, I personally believe providing text descriptions of images, videos, or links, which only takes a few seconds, makes our connection with blind and low vision friends normal’
What can the general public do?
Specifically, on social media, I personally believe providing text descriptions of images, videos, or links, which only takes a few seconds, makes our connection with blind and low vision friends normal. I’d suggest sighted commuters, people who cook, or need a break from staring at screens all day can give Audio Description a try. What is the experience like? How easy is it to turn it on or off? What could be better about it? And making requests that production and services provide Audio Description.
What is RIGHT in the industry?
I believe the more quality and excellence in Audio Description, the ease of accessing it, and the awareness of it are all moving in the right direction. Technology is already here and becoming more streamlined. The gaps are starting to close in in a good way. I was recently nominated for a SOVAS Voice Arts Award in the Narration category – this is the first time an Audio Description Narrator has had that kind of acknowledgement outside of the blind and low vision communities.
Who in Hollywood would you like to work with that you haven’t done so yet?
Oprah. Ang Lee. Jane Campion. Regina King. James Lassiter. Guillermo del Toro. Tom Hanks. Donald Glover. Charlie Brooker. Ben Vereen. Bryan Cranston. Shonda. Can I go on, please?
Any last thoughts?
Follow along with the facebook group “Audio Description Discussion” for lively conversations from audiences, narrators, writers, and decision makers. The Audio Description Project has thousands of listings, access instructions, and more information. Search #KnowYourNarrator and #AudioDescription on Twitter. And I shamelessly suggest visiting RoySamuelson.com.
MORE ABOUT ROY SAMUELSON
“I know that voice!” “That voice is so familiar!” Over billions of ears have heard the voice of Roy Samuelson, a leading and well-respected Hollywood voice-over artist. For over two decades, his deep, soulful and commanding vocal skills have garnered him incredible success behind the microphone, contributing to literally thousands of vocal promos on Los Angeles’ NPR station KCRW. Video Game credits include Nickelodeon’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES as ‘Raphael’, XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN and FINAL FANTASY: LIGHTNING RETURNS. Notable voice-over television credits include LAST WEEK TONIGHT, LIBRARIANS with John Laroquette and AMERICAN HORROR STORY opposite Jessica Lange. In other television and film projects, he often provides voice matches for top Hollywood stars.
Commercially, Samuelson has voiced Intel Tags during the SUPER BOWL and the ACADEMY AWARDS. Major brands work includes QUAKER, STATE FARM, DIRECT TV, FORD, TARGET, multiple spots for MCDONALDS and countless more. With vocal gifts only a select few possess, he can easily adjust the purpose of his voice – in STAND UP TO CANCER campaigns, he sounds like the warm voice of reason. For RENT A CENTER, he is your best friend. For SKETCHERS, he is your father.
Currently, Samuelson is gaining critical praise and garnering much work in the ever-growing area of Audio Description. Audio Description makes television programs, movies and other visual media accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. The narrator provides descriptions of key elements without interfering with the audio or dialogue of a program or movie. There is now a push in the entertainment industry to market Audio Description outside of the visually impaired community where fans can listen to their favorite films and television, much like listening to books on tape. Samuelson is leading the charge of this emerging concept. To date, he has recorded narration for over 150 network television episodes and countless dozens of blockbuster films.
Samuelson’s impressive resume of Audio Description includes blockbuster features like VENOM, FIRST MAN, GET OUT, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, SKYSCRAPER, EQUALIZER 2, SUPERFLY, PACIFIC RIM, UPRISING, INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, THE MUMMY, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, BABY DRIVER, FATE OF THE FURIOUS, ATOMIC BLONDE, KRAMPUS, STEVE JOBS, EVEREST, SINISER 2, JASON BOURNE, FURY and the IMAX features BACKYARD WILDERNESS, EARTHFLIGHT and BEAUTIFUL PLANET. He has also lent his vocal skills to the narration for such popular television programs as CRIMINAL MINDS, NCIS, LETHAL WEAPON, BLUE BLOODS and more.
Roy Samuelson may not be a name and face whose is easily recognized outside of the Hollywood entertainment industry, but his voice is one that most people have heard over and over. Whether narrating for the visually impaired for a film or series, delivering promos on the radio, adding his voice to scenes on your favorite program, Samuelson’s talent embodies the pinnacle of success in the Hollywood world of voice-over artists.
Original Elizabeth Warren video, and Audio Description mp3 below with script.
I believe Washington should work for you—not billionaires or Wall Street. I'm Elizabeth Warren, and I approve this message. pic.twitter.com/MSnFyiEJxu
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 2, 2019
Audio Description Script
An image of Mark Zuckerberg. if she gets elected president, then you go to the mat and you fight.
Text: The rich and powerful are afraid of Elizabeth Warren
They’ll tell you themselves
An image of a newspaper headline: Wall Street is freaking out at the thought of President Liz Warren
Liz Warren speaks at an interview
Warren – join the fight. Text Warren to 24477
Proud to produce and narrate the upcoming feature documentary “House Of Cardin”
Roy Samuelson is honored to be nominated in the narration category for the 2019 SOVAS Awards for his Audio Description narration work for the Universal Pictures’ film “Glass.”
Roy’s Audio Description audiences are primarily Blind or Low Vision. This narration work provides access to the elements of the producers’ or directors’ visual intent – for access and inclusion to 26 million Blind and Low Vision Americans.
Roy focuses on quality and excellence, and takes his job incredibly seriously. After narrating over 400 Audio Description films and tv shows, Roy is deeply honored personally, and collectively, that this work is being recognized, and celebrated, among other incredible voice talent nominees.
(It’s not without the efforts of #AudioDescription writers, editors, directors, and vendors, collaborating with streaming services, cinemas, cable companies, audiences, and many others that make this work with the highest standards.)
(Image link description: A recording studio with engineers, equipement, and two narrators behind glass in front of a mic)
Many years ago, I worked The Great Movie Ride in Walt Disney World, where guests would go through movie scenes with audio animatronics. I narrated the scenes as a host – and later, as a gangster who gets blown up. In a sense, this was my first experience with audio description.
For movies and TV shows, audio description (also known as video description) is a special audio track where a narrator voices the visuals relevant to the plot. It’s intended for blind and low-vision audiences to experience the film or TV show by hearing what’s happening on-screen, usually with narration in between lines of dialogue.
It works like a sports announcer on the radio, giving the play-by-play of what’s happening on screen. The narration describes visual elements, such as actions, settings, body language, graphics and subtitles.
I started working in audio description a little more than five years ago, narrating some IMAX and Disney short form titles, like Toy Story of Terror. Since then, I’ve recorded the latest two Spider-Man movies, Hobbs & Shaw, Glass, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and several network and streaming series like NCIS, Marvel Runaways, and Amazon’s Bosch.
What Happens Behind the Scenes?
My experience as a narrator is limited to being in a booth recording into a microphone. I watch the TV show or movie on a screen and hear the audio in a headset, and read from a script. The script is written by describers. Those describers take the original film and watch it, noting the essential plot points that are visual. They find the best words that don’t get in the way of the scene, and find the best place in the scene to put those words.
I arrive to the studio, I’m given the audio description script, and we start rolling. I’m reading the script having never seen it before.
While I know the general gist of the movie or TV show, I’m also along for the ride. My goal as a narrator is to get out of the way to not distract the audience from immersing themselves emotionally. In other words, if an audience is aware of me, I’m not serving the story. To serve the story, I need to ride the emotional elements, but not too much or not too little. I also have to keep an eye out for timing issues, reading quickly at some parts, and slowing down on others. And any surprises need to be revealed in a way that a sighted audience person would experience it.
Advocating for Audio Description
I’ve recently been connecting with blind and low-vision audiences and others, through the Facebook group Audio Description Discussion, the Audio Description Project, connecting on Twitter, and advocating for those producers or directors unaware of audio description. For those who aren’t aware, I find they lean in, with curiosity and wonder.
This is a market share of our industry that can reward all those who participate in it, and I do my best to find the positive steps being taken.
Roy Samuelson is a top Hollywood voiceover artist who has been heard in television commercial spots for Quaker, State Farm, Direct TV, Ford, Target, McDonald’s and more. He has been featured in hundreds of spots for Los Angeles’ KCRW-PBS Radio. Currently he is one of the leading voiceover artists leading the industry in Descriptive Narration, enabling members of the blind and visually impaired to enjoy film and television. You can learn more about his work on his website, RoySamuelson.com and follow him on Twitter.
Victoria G: What inspired you to become a voice actor?
Roy Samuelson: I enjoyed recording on tape as a kid. Once when I was doing an announcement for a performance, I learned about how I could use my voice to be clearer. Enunciation was something I never thought about. That blew my little mind. Then I learned about acting and improv. It all came together with a few different voice over workout groups in Santa Monica. I loved practicing, and stretching, and trying new things.
VG: What was your first voice acting job?
RS: In Disneyworld, I was on the Great Movie Ride. I had a mic and I read off a script. Does that count?
VG: What is your favorite project you have done?
RS: I just finished Audio Description narration for a documentary called “House Of Cardin” – it was filled with subtitles, which the narrator reads. It’s not dubbing, but there does have to be some distinguishing characteristics of the voice, especially when two people are talking to each other. I really enjoyed the challenge of that movie.
VG: What do you love most about Audio Description?
RS: Technically, I love to get in the zone, where the timing of the cues in between dialogue just flows like a dance. I get such satisfaction in being a part of the story like that. I also enjoy learning about better ways to serve our audiences, blind, low vision, or even sighted, and I do my best to make sure all audiences who hear my work are fully immersed in the story.
VG: Do you have any hidden talents?
RS: My superpower is seeing different people’s perspectives of the same thing. And I love to find the good.
VG: What was the hardest voice for you to do?
RS: My own. Hear me out! Most people only hear their own voice inside their head, and it can be jarring to hear one’s own voice on a voicemail greeting or listening back to some kind of audio. We are so used to hearing ourselves from inside our bodies, but everyone else hears us from outside our bodies! So that’s an adjustment that I’ve gotten used to years ago. Then there are words given to me that I have to make my own. Playing a character is fascinating, and I love studying different ways of doing that, following along with the intentions of what’s happening in a story or a scene. But to do my own voice, especially using other people’s words, it’s taken a lot of time and practice to be authentic and still get the story through.
VG: How would you describe yourself in three words?
RS: Curious. Driven. Sincere.
VG: What are your social media handles?
RS: twitter & insta @roysamuelson — facebook is @roysamuelsonbiz
VG: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
RS: My favorite part of this question is looking back at my life from 10 years ago and not even having the imagination to know where I’d be! But there are a few things that I found I was striving for, so I’ll answer like that: I see myself living a life that is filled with good consistency and surprises, growing into more deep and loving relationships with friends and family, and delivering my best work I can when I can. That sounds so esoteric, so I’ll add I’d like to swim with some otters and dolphins.
VG: What are three qualities every voice actor should have?
RS: Ongoing craft development. Human interaction skills. Business sense. (I still work on all three.)
VG: Do you have any advice for an aspiring voice actor?
RS: Yes! Do voice acting. You can use your smart phone and record yourself reading along to something and listen back. Visit social media groups who are focused on the kind of voice actor you want to be. Connect with working voice actors and get the lay of the land from them. Watch where things are headed in different markets. The opportunities are there to grow and it’s up to the person to take action.
VG: What’s next for you?
RS: I’m looking to find pockets of rest in the midst of a few different areas. I’m still working on advocating strongly for Audio Description, and growing that message. And the Audio Description series and movies are a whirlwind of opportunities to help boost that message. I also have a few video games that I’m voicing that I can’t wait to share.
VG: RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS What’s your favorite animated movie?
RS: The Point. The dog Arrow is my zen guide.
VG: What’s your favorite song?
RS: Ke$ha “Woman”. My cousin and I sing it quite loud and she can dance better than I do anyway.
VG: Do you have any pets?
RS: My muttweiler Steve and I had 7 great years together; even though he’s no longer here, he still brings me calm, kindness, and a gentle strength.
VG: Can you play any instruments?
RS: I haven’t picked up a trumpet since 12th grade. I bet I shouldn’t.
VG: Who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle?
RS: I’m partial to Raphael.
VG: What’s your favorite weather?
RS: Snowing outside the window near the fireplace. That summer cool breeze on the hammock in the woods.
VG: What’s your favorite pastime?
RS: Trapeze. I’ve only done that a few times, though, so stargazing.
Audio Description of campaign ad here (audio only)
(View other Pete Buttigieg campaign ad with Audio Description here)
Audio Description script, written by Hedy Burress
An image of Pete Buttigieg in Afghanistan.
A photo of an abandoned factory, and Pete shakes hands with constituents.
Pete listens and talks with voters from all walks of life.
Text: Pete For America dot com
Pete addresses a rally of people who applaud
NCIS, Season 17 – CBS
Episode Titles 379 – season
Film Daily interview text below:
Listen up! We have interviewed the voice of Hollywood himself, Roy Samuelson. Billions have had the pleasure of hearing this well-established Hollywood voiceover artist in action, but we’re finally getting to know the man behind the voice.
Roy Samuelson is known for his video game work: Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as Raphael, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns. He’s provided his soulful voice to a variety of films and television projects (American Horror Story, Librarians), while also voicing commercials.
Not only does Roy do voiceovers, but he also works in audio description, making visual media accessible for all. This service is for the visually impaired and additionally for fans who want to listen to their favorite movies or show, much like an audiobook. Roy has so far recorded narration for over 250 network television episodes and over 100 films.
You can find Roy Samuelson on Twitter @RoySamuelson along with his website.
Without further ado, let’s get on with the interview!
Tell us about your history as a voiceover artist. How did you start your journey?
I worked as a host and as a gangster that got blown up every 7 minutes. This was at The Great Movie Ride at the Disney Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida.
I memorized a script, and talked on mic as the moving theater of about 60 guests went through scenes of movies with audio animatronics: Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain, the Witch from the Wizard of Oz, and Indiana Jones. It was live audio description in a sense, narrating what was happening in between music, dialogue, visual, and other cues.
Who were your early influences?
I spent a lot of time with a tape recorder, and loved listening to radio announcers and watching The Muppets. I remember visiting a local radio station and feeling awed at how cool the mic is. By angling it diagonally and away from the mouth, you can remove the pop sound from “P” words.
What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on? What did you learn from it?
I have worked on audio description for almost 100 episodes of NCIS for CBS; I like the characters and the way they tell the story. It’s got some familiar parts to it, and always some surprises and twists. With that repetition, I continue to learn how to connect with the story on that show, because of those two elements: the familiarity and the twists and surprises, and find the best way to deliver my part of the narration in a way that works best.
Tell us about your career before voiceover.
I was in a touring production of social issue dramas that were performed in schools across the Eastern United States. We performed up to 7 shows 10 times a week. That kind of practice, performance, and engagement with the audience gave me a ton of different ways to engage with audiences.
During my first performance, I found out that talking down to kids doesn’t work, so finding ways that do work with communicating to the audience is still incredibly satisfying.
Tell us about your creative process.
I believe that ongoing coaching is essential to my creative process, so I study with as many voiceover, and other coaches. During auditions, I experiment by trying new ideas that are within the parameters of what is being asked. In sessions, I listen to the intent of what we are working for, director, producer, engineer, and executives, and bring myself to those intentions.
I love to deliver what’s asked and give some shades on top of that. Sometimes those risks pay off.
What tips do you have for newcomers to the industry?
Reach out to professionals, explore forums, and learn from their experiences, and not limit training only on the craft, but the business – the way they network with others, and how their day to day life works. The people who share their experiences from a solutions place, is important – how do they solve problems? These are the ones to follow.
When I started, I had many assumptions I made that seemed right, and I found that those assumptions I made were wrong sometimes, and I could have avoided a lot of time and energy wasted. Learning from others is a fast track and a gift.
What’s your next project?
I am very excited about working on a few characters in a video game, a satisfying role on a re-enactment podcast, and a few audio description series, and can’t wait to share them when I can!
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
Funny you should ask! This is such an important element of my career. Social media can give you access to what a potential mentor shares in their day-to-day life. Ask others if they know someone who could mentor you, having a referral like that can be best for both the mentor and you!
What’s your creative mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when hearing your voiceover?
I think the most important thing I want viewers to experience when hearing my voiceover is the story. I hope they feel fully immersed. If I am playing a character, or reading a narration, it’s so important that I don’t stick out. While people are enjoying a show, I don’t want them to think “Roy is doing such a great job”, but rather “This story is so cool and that character did that! Can you believe it?”
While watching a show, I hope people can dive in and immerse themselves into the story. That’s a really important part of the work I like to do, and I’m always finding new ways to do that.
Will you be working on episodic television VOs anytime soon?
I am voicing audio description on the final season of Criminal Minds on CBS, NCIS, and a few others I will be able to share shortly.
What filmmakers that you’ve worked with should be on our radar?
Ebersole Hughes company has some great documentaries; if it’s a study of The Shining, or Cher and her mom, or the drummer of Hole, or Jayne Mansfield’s rumored curse with the head of the Church of Satan, or the upcoming House of Cardin, there are some unique and brilliantly told stories to explore.
Who is your voiceover inspiration? What did you learn from them?
Bob Bergen has a career as the voice of Porky Pig among many many other notable roles. Additionally he has a smart and thoughtful approach to the career of voiceover. His website, classes, and social media presence are a primer for beginners and pros alike. I’ve learned about professionalism, excellence, quality, and practicality with every interaction with him.
Tell us about audio description. What is it and how did you get into it?
Audio description is a way for blind people to watch movies and TV shows. They use a special headset in the movie theaters or turn on a special audio track on their screen to hear a voice narrate what’s happening on screen.
You can think of audio description like listening to a sports game on the radio, giving you the play-by-play of what’s happening visually. It’s a way to include patrons in the conversation to experience a movie or TV show like sighted people do.
I got into audio description by recording a few short films and TV shows. I studied the nuance of the emotional delivery, and I like to find that sweet spot where it’s not too much and not too little.
The balance is so important to me! The more I work on that, the more I want to do more. And as with most voiceover work, different kinds of voiceover can help inform better ways of doing other kinds of voiceover. It’s all one big Venn diagram, and I love exploring those overlaps and those distinctions.
Tell us about the largest AD projects you’ve worked on and how you learned from them.
I’ve worked on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Hobbs & Shaw, Glass, Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and series like Lethal Weapon, Criminal Minds, the latest season of Bosch, and NCIS.
One of the things I’ve learned from doing these projects is what I call the dance. I read the audio description scripts while watching and hearing the movie at the same time. It’s an exceptional amount of information, and it’s important for me to go along with the emotional tone of the scene I’m in, but not too much nor too little. All these things together are invigorating!
I find that within the script, as long as I’m following the cues, I can best be a part of the story by letting go and getting into the flow. It’s a constant adjustment.
One example I think of is that a pilot flying from LA to New York is constantly adjusting settings because of turbulence or wind or whatever else comes up – so when these environmental interruptions happen, if the pilot remains rigid, she’s going to not land where she wants to.
The pilot has to stay on track by changing tack constantly. To me, that analogy is flow. I find that trusting that flow is a lesson I love learning every time I’m in the booth.
How does audio description help people with limited vision?
Audio description provides access to movies and TV shows. It’s not only about knowing the story, but also being a part of the conversation of TV shows and movies. It’s a way to experience the story like sighted people do.
Have you heard any feedback about your descriptions from visually impaired people? What sort of things do they tell you?
I’ve heard that the evolution of questions has grown from “Does it have audio description or not?” to “I like this narrator, because . . .”. That distinction between having it or not is so important, and now we are in a time during which the nuance of the performance is coming out.
Just like audiobook narrators can be either hard to hear, or easy to hear, audio description narrators can bring out different experiences to different people. I’m not going to be everyone’s favorite narrator, and that’s a good thing – I want to encourage that kind of preference. Where does that preference come from in an otherwise high-quality read performed with excellence?
The bottom line is whether during a movie or TV show the audience can enjoy the story and be immersed in it, or are they paying attention to the narrator? If they are paying attention to the narrator, it’s probably not serving the story. There’s a way to serve the story without being condescending, like reading to a child. Blind audiences deserve the respect that sighted audiences have when watching a movie.
Feedback is not just about the narrator; the writing (describing) makes a difference, and the engineering of the mix of the sound, and how that experience and that quality and excellence is important. And of course the audio description has to pass through, from cinema to streaming services. There are a lot of people involved behind the scenes!
How has a career in audio description affected the way you watch movies?
I’m more conscious of visual elements of the movie, and finding the best way to share those elements. The describers (the writers of audio description) have an artistic job like none other. Let’s do some quick math for #AudioDescription describers (the writers).
A picture is worth a thousand words, and one second of film is 24 frames per second; that’s over 24,000 available words per second. By that math, an average movie is just under 130 million words. A describer, the writer of #AudioDescription, has to choose which elements within those almost 130 million words are part of the producer’s intent.
From those nearly 130 million words, that writer must find a way to condense the best phrase to describe what’s happening visually. Oh, and also fit those words between dialogue in a way that a sighted person experiences it.
This is a professional service provided by describers! And being able to see these perspectives of audio description expand my perspective. I watch movies with a respect for these audio description roles, and so much more.
What’s a great experience you’ve had in your career that you’d like to share with us?
I’m enjoying connecting with blind and low-vision audiences on social media, and so many ideas are flowing. I love to focus on the win-win-win for all parties involved. As people become aware of this work, I get more passionate about how it is coming together for the benefit of all. That makes for smooth sailing.
(image link description: Spider-Man wearing a jacket, laying down, wearing earphones)
Heartsick by Stewart Schill
Including “Audio Description” in your production will enable the 26 million blind audiences in the US to enjoy your movie. We talk with Roy Samuelson, who narrates audio description for films like First Man & Spider-Man: Homecoming.
(2019 SOVAS nomination for Narration category) Glass Parking Lot Fight Scene with Audio Description
see updated article link here
Voice Over Talent Roy Samuelson Talks With Us About Audio Description For The Visually Impaired
On Jul 31, 2019
Roy Samuelson is a seasoned Hollywood voice over talent who has worked extensively in commercials, series promos and radio. Keeping up with the ever changing voiceover industry, Samuelson is leading the way as one of the top voices for audio description, enabling the blind and visually impaired the opportunity to enjoy both film and television. We caught up with this talented artist to learn more about his work in this field and constantly growing arena.
How did you get started in your career as a voice over artist?
Roy Samuelson: I started my career as a voice over artist at Disney World on an attraction called The Great Movie Ride. Sixty or so guests rode a moving vehicle going through the movies, different sets with audio animatronic characters. I had a microphone and narrated the script in between sound and visual cues. I then was the gangster, who takes over the vehicle, shoots bad guys, and gets blown up every 8 minutes. It was great practice to be on mic, and see the reactions to audiences in real time, so I could adjust my deliveries and see what worked best.
You do radio work, television promos, commercial voice over work and audio description. Do you have a favorite and why?
RS: I love all types of voice over. Each one has a specific special charge to me. Radio work, specifically commercials, gives me the ability to tell a story in 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds. I love delivering what the director and writer intend, and get at the heart of the emotion, and the story, and find some surprises. Television promos to me is very exciting for similar reasons, plus matching timing, so the technical aspect of it adds an extra fun layer. I find my biggest passion right now is in Audio Description – it combines all these other elements into one long form experience of showing a story.
What is audio description?
RS: Audio Description is like listening to a baseball game on the radio – you get the play by play of the visuals. For TV shows and movies, Audio Description is a special audio track where a narrator voices the visuals relevant to the plot. It’s for access to the main visual elements, and the narrator works around the audio or dialogue. Mostly it’s narration of the actions, settings, body language and graphics. I like to give it a slight emotional element so I can help carry the story along, without getting in the way of the story.
How does one access audio description in a movie theater?
RS: Movie theaters are great about complying with access. There are special areas for wheelchairs, closed captioning devices for deaf or hard of hearing audience members, and amplified headsets too. For Audio Description, a special wireless headset puts through the audio description track, so you can hear the movie, and also hear the description. Those headsets don’t make the movie louder, it’s a whole new voice to the movie.
How does one access audio description with television and streaming?
RS: TV and streaming services have all kinds of ways to turn on audio description. Apps for smartphones are usually just a few taps away. TV on cable boxes have special audio settings for accessibility. There’s no one way to get to it, and the Audio Description Project, and a few facebook groups, exchange information on how to access it, or who to call to figure it out. In most cases it’s pretty easy to turn on or off.
Do all television series and films utilize audio description?
RS: There are mandates from the FCC to require so many hours of programming per quarter of network shows, and that requirement increases. Most companies recognize the value and market share of blind and low vision audiences, and opt in to do a lot more. Sometimes the community makes a request or a demand, and companies are smart to heed those for everyone’s benefit.
What is the difference between audio description and descriptive narration?
RS: Audio Description is the preferred term to describe this service. There are some companies that use “Video Description” too. It means the same, so I’ve learned that staying with Audio Description keeps things a little more clear.
What is the difference between a narrator and a describer?
RS: A narrator of Audio Description is the voice you hear. She usually reads from a script that was written by a describer. The describer watches the original TV show or movie, and writes the script, to make sure essential elements are there, and that the words don’t get in the way of the story. That script usually has to fit perfectly, so there are a lot of challenges to writing for describers. It’s an amazingly crafted talent.
What sort of a market is there for audio description?
RS: Right now, the market for Audio Description, at least in the US, is around 26 million blind and low vision people. The number varies based on demographics or sources, but that’s a pretty high amount of people. With aging populations, it’s likely more people will be using Audio Description. It’s also great for sighted audience members; commuting for long times. Cooking. Or giving your eyes a break after staring at screens all day.
What advice would you give to a young voice over talent who wanted to get into audio description?
RS: Young voice over talents have a lot to choose from to get their information. It’s always useful to turn on Audio Description and get a sense of what you like and don’t like. Live performances sometimes also offer Audio Description. Explore the internet and see what comes up for Audio Description. The Audio Description Project is a treasure trove, and facebook groups like the Audio Description Discussion group, can be great places to learn from users and creators of Audio Description.
Where can people find you on social media?
RS: I’m on twitter and instagram @RoySamuelson – I use alt text in my Instagram images – and also on facebook at RoySamuelsonBiz.
Castle Rock Season 1 audio description, episodes 1 – 10
Text transcript below the link to the audio interview
RC: Today we are speaking with Roy Samuelson, voice actor extraordinaire known for being one of the voices on the NPR, He’s Raphael in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. He has been on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show, as Lightening Return on Grand Theft Auto and a whole host of other things. How are you today?
ROY: Hey I’m doing great RC, great to be talking with you.
RC: You’ve got this new project that you’re doing right now where you’re doing narration for blind, essentially on hit TV shows.
ROY: Yeah blind and low vision audiences have a special way to access tv shows and movies and it’s called Audio Description.
RC: How did you come into this – what was the catalyst to get you here with this version of voice acting?
ROY: I spent about maybe ten years with a group in Los Angeles that was mainly made up of writers, and they bring in 25 pages of their scripts every week so there’d be four writers every week for pretty much every Monday night for the ten years that I joined them. They’re still going on. It was all produced by writers who brought really quality stuff and they’d throw scripts in our faces and say “here you go.” It was really great cold reading practice and even more importantly than the practice it helped me focus on the actual story they were telling — because the feedback was all about the writing. And you know, I’d do my one line, and sometimes I was the main character and sometime supporting and, “Oh great, that was a lot of fun”. Then the feedback was all about the story and then I’d think, “oh I get it now”. The spotlight kind of changed from being on the performer to being on the story and that really helped shape lots. I know this is kind of a tangent, but to bring it back to Audio Description, the focus in Audio Description is all about the story. When I’m narrating the action that’s happening on screen, it’s almost like a radio announcer for a sportscast. What I’m doing is trying to do my best to be a part of the story, and not stand out. So in other words if an audience member is listening to me and saying “oh what a great performance Roy did”, I didn’t do my job. It’s gotta be about the story. And if they’re saying “oh wow that was such an amazing story — I can’t believe what happened with these characters”, then I did my job right.
RC: Well that fantastic. When I first heard the description of this I was laughing a little bit. Not because you know because I don’t want to insult anybody, but because it reminded me of something that happened in college. I was at the movie theater and this guy was on his cellphone giving the play by play of what was going on in the film.
RC: So that was the first thing that popped in my head going “yeah baby, the killer’s upstairs but he doesn’t know the killer’s upstairs so he’s going slow” and I’m like we all paid our twelve bucks to get in here man, you know save the play by play for later you know. This is something that is actually needed.
ROY: Yeah and it’s funny. You’re right. It’s almost unnerving for sighted audiences because it’s almost redundant. What a great example with that cellphone conversation. But the funny thing about it is the sighted audiences can actually enjoy it in a bunch of different ways. Now obviously the movie theater isn’t the best place to be experiencing that cause your eyes are on the screen but you know but for people who are commuting, especially in Los Angeles, you’ve got the 405 and some patches of the 101 where you know you’re back and forth. Just like a podcast or even just like an audio book, you can fully immerse yourself in a story that’s a tv show or a movie. People talk about it using it for cooking when they’re trying to keep their eyes on the on blender and the recipe, and even after a full day of staring at screens all day still want some entertainment, just by kind of close your eyes and adjust in so but you’ve got a really good point, I’m gonna call it redundant because sighted audiences use their eyes and then they’re hearing it, it can almost be too much.
RC: Yeah would it be great for cellphone addicts that are you know sitting there and supposedly in the moment, watching the movie but while scrolling through Instagram and Twitter?
ROY: That’s another thing. I think that’s a great example. I’m thinking off the top of my head. Your attention is kind of divided if you’re looking at images of one thing but hearing images of another. That might be…I’m trying to see how that would work, almost like an episode of Drunk History but for sense bombardment.
RC: Right. How do we avoid sensory overload when we have, you know, for the sighted crowd that’s watching with their, you know, seeing impaired relatives or friends?
ROY: Its kind of neat. There’s a couple of different ways. There’s a company called Actiview that has an app that syncs up with some movies so basically the blind or low vision audience member opens the app, the app hears the screen and if it’s one of those movies, it will automatically sync the audience description. So it’s kind of a great way for people to enjoy together a movie or tv show. As far as the Audio Description function? There are ways that you can turn it on. You know the same way I sometimes watch a movie with a friend on Netflix who has a tough time hearing. He turns on Closed Captioning and you know the first few minutes it’s like “ugh these words are distracting” but it’s amazing how quickly I get used to it. But with Audio Description it’s different. With Audio Description you’re literally hearing the voice of a narrator. It’s a little different than Closed Captioning. One thing that I imagine is a family of four people. If a parent has a child that has got low vision, this is a way that everybody can enjoy the experience together And there’s a way to do this. I see a future in Audio Description where it can be tailored to each individual. One person might have the Closed Captioning on, one person might have Audio Description on and one person might have just the original audio and original video.
RC: Right, Roy I just wanted to touch real quick hat you are cutting out a little bit, so I just wanted to let you know ahead of time.
ROY: Thanks so much. Yeah, I appreciate that.
RC: Yeah. My issue with the Closed Captioning was is that I’ll know be listening to the show and then I’ll start reading the captions and the captions don’t always match what’s happening on the screen and that always drives me a little nuts with the closed captioning. But with audio narration you’re not necessary you know giving the dialogue but you’re describing the scenery, the sounds, the rustling of the trees, that sort of thing?
ROY: Right, and it’s a little more specific. The only dialogue that I will narrate is subtitles. So for example if a character is speaking in a foreign language, I do English Audio Descriptions. If a character’s dialogue is in a language other than English I, translate those. But for the most part the Audio Description is of the essential elements of the story. So I guess back to the first analogy of when you’re listening to the play by play radio . The announcer’s probably going to be talking about the first quarter of the game, how they’re starting off, what’s happening in the game. The goal of Audio Description, is to basically give the audience what’s happening on the screen, and give them access to the visuals that are essential to the story. So there might be some leaves rustling if there was like a dinosaur about to come around the corner and its breathing on it, but for the most part it might give maybe just a brush stroke but, it’s pretty story centric.
RC: And how much emotion can you put into the description, is it very monotone low affect, or is it like they’re running through the woods and you’re adding to the drama because they can’t necessarily see it?
ROY: That’s a great question. I personally have my own opinion on this. The focus is on being in the story. There’s a character that celebrating something you know a big victory at the end of the movie, if I read it monotone and flat, it probably may take the audience member out. So I do turn up the emotional notches, maybe three or four, if you notice it, if I’m like “Yeah! He did it, he raises his hand in celebration”, you know that’s gonna be too much. But if it’s just “raises his hand in celebration” that’s also gonna be too much on the other extreme. It’s gotta be just right. So the comparison that I’ve started to use, is with foley. If you hear the footsteps, and it’s too loud, that’s going to take away from the story, but on the other extreme if there are no footsteps, you’re going to be like “why is that person walking so quietly?”. So anything that takes you out of the story is distracting. So, back to Audio Description. I think it’s important to find that emotional balance. And another extreme is if a character is dying on screen, I’m not going to say “he looks sad and looks in her face!” Saying that with a smile would almost be humorous because it would take you out of the story so sharply I think.
RC: Would also be sadistic if you were smiling through the she’s dying on the screen portion of the show
ROY: Yes, and I would say even in a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s probably a little too much.
RC: Now how far would we go with this, because you know, television is so much more prevalent and streaming sites are basically taking over the film industry, do we go all the way back to the 1950s with the Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, or is it just for recent TV series or Netflix shows, Hulu etc.?
ROY: I think it’s all of the above. And I don’t know the strategy of the companies that are making those decisions as far as distribution goes. There are two examples with Closed Captioning. Pretty much everything is now Closed Captioned, and for the most part, hopefully, the Closed Caption system is pretty accurate. The companies that I’ve worked for are pretty particular making sure that it’s not just that there aren’t typos or mistakes like you had mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of care that’s put into it. And it is. I think it is a skill with closed captions. Audio Description in evolving. I believe in England they have a very good system. I think it’s a mandate that everything has to have Audio Description if it’s airing on BBC. Don’t quote me on that as I need to double check the specifics of it, but they’re far ahead of us. The cool thing that’s happening now is that we have an FCC mandate that’s a very slow roll out. But it is a roll out so the network stations have a certain mandate where they have to have X amount of hours every quarter of prime time television that has to be audio described. There’s Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, that are pretty good about their original products having an audio description, and there’s a bunch of companies that are helping them with that as vendors. So, as far as the historical shows back to the Honeymooners, I’m not sure about that show specifically, but there have been been some pretty well known feature films that have been pulled from the archives that do have Audio Description, so it’s kind of cool. The focus is spread out in a good way.
RC: Now, did the notion of this come from director commentary on DVD and then Blu-Rays?
ROY: no the source, if that was it but it is very similar to that, the experience. There’s a, it’s called the Audio Description Project. If you Google it you’ll find a website that has the entire history of how it was created. There’s been some really strong advocates that have helped move this forward. Again the goal is to have blind and low vision audience members enjoy the experience that sighted audience members get to have, specifically with the intent of the story, like what story wants to be told. With this being such a visual medium, it’s important to include. I think there are 26 million blind Americans that can now experience this. So, it’s kind of a really neat history to the Audio Description Project.
RC: what is the technology has finally caught up to society.
ROY: (laughs) Yes.
RC: What I would find really interesting is if it went all the way back to George Millie and Charlie Chaplin films and did audio description of silent films.
ROY: Yes, of course! And that could be back to back Audio Description. That could literally just turn into being an audiobook.
RC: Yeah. How did you come into this? You know, was this something you had to audition for? Was this something you were in on the ground level with and were like oh this would be phenomenal, you know, I have a cousin or a friend or someone who has sight problems?
ROY: Oh gotcha. There’s two different sides to it. In addition to that screenplay workshop that I was talking about, my job at Disney World was pretty much live Audio Description. There were microphones. There were scenes we would go through movies, and each time I would kind of tone the message. I was telling the story. So that’s kind of the background. As far as getting the job, when I found out about it and learned about it I was 100% into it. It became this thing that was just, “Gosh, I have to do it.” And I was persistent. Hopefully not shovey persistent but I was like, “I really want to do this, this is something that’s in my wheelhouse and I’m really passionate about it.” One of my friends, who recently passed away, was sighted and he lost his vision during the last year or so of his life. And knowing that he was able to experience his favorite shows with Audio Description I think was the more personal experience that I had with it. It upped my level as far as my connection with this work goes.
RC: And this is something that seems like it should’ve been a no-brainer a long time ago. Why do you think that it took such a long time to get here?
ROY: Oh that’s a good question. I think it’s education. There are a lot of people in the industry, both on the consumer side (the blind and low vision audience members) as well as the people who are making content, who are just learning about it. My experience is that when I talk about what I do, who I speak to, whether it’s producers, directors or some of the net execs, they are kind of open just a little bit more. They’re more engaged in the conversation and it becomes “wait, tell me more about this. What is this again?” and there’s a real interest and a real kind of excitement for an opportunity they haven’t seen before. Now, obviously, there are companies that are already aware of it. I’m only talking about the people who may not. So I think as consumers of Audio Description, as well as people who provide it, become aware of it then it’s simply education and knowing about it.
RC: it’s kind of heartbreaking, let’s be honest, I mean. You’d think that this would be simple, yet I think people are waking up to it because, you know, we’ve had blind people and vision impaired people with us all throughout human history. I’m glad that we have closed captioning for the hearing impaired and now everything is getting there and I love the people are intrigued by this.
ROY: You know, even on the technical side, the difference between Closed Captioning and Audio Description is significant. A lot of people do make the comparison, and I’ve used the comparison a few times this interview. On the technical side, Closed Captioning is text. With Audio Description, it’s basically a fully produced audiobook. There is a script that has to be written, and it’s based on watching the content. It’s based on maybe even using the original shooting script, and then writing your own script on top of that. And those writers are called describers. That can be a little confusing because I’m describing as a narrator. But those writers really spend a lot of time to make sure that they are telling the story in a way that is the intent of the production. And then it gets passed to an editor, who goes through it again, and it gets quality controlled. Then then it comes to me, and I basically get the script shoved in front of my face, and we start rolling immediately. It’s a cold reading. And there’s an engineer who’s making sure that the levels are correct. There’s a director who is making sure that there aren’t any things that are coming across as strange. You know… homonyms. You can write a word and then you can read it with your eyes, but if you hear a word it can be misinterpreted. I can’t think of any examples of the top of my head. Wait, one had to do with the word awe, A-W-E. The way it read out loud just didn’t make sense, so they had to change it. But there are a lot of really committed people that are outside of the narrator, that are providing incredible quality work. And again, this is not to diminish the closed captioning, but the work of audio description is much more involved.
RC: It makes sense that it would be more involved, you know because where you have a one person describing the entire series or film, so much would go into it. What are the scripts like when you first get them? Because you said it’s a cold read. But do you get retakes, do you ever get dinged for other annunciation other than the word “awe”, and how it comes across on the screen?
ROY: Sure, and with that exmple, they re-wrote it, so that it was a ”look of awe”. Originally, they had it as, “she looked awed.” That was the example. So the text was, “She looked awed.” A-W-E-D, but when I said it, it sounded like O-D-D. so they had to re-phrase it. But yeah because it is a cold reading, you know, there are sometimes when it’s back-to-back action. And with that, there are going to be mistakes. And that’s just the nature of the business. So what they do with that, is they stop and they roll it back, and they give a little pre-roll, and then I just pick right up.
RC: And has there been a project that’s really stuck out, where are you were like, “Wow, I’m really happy to be on this one.” I mean every project you are happy to get as an actor, but like, sometimes something just sticks out even more, and you’re like “Yes, I get to be a part of this big event.”
ROY: Absolutely. And like you said, any opportunity to provide Audio Description is a great opportunity. And I do have my favorites. There’s a handful that I could name. Most recently, there’s a new Marvel movie that came out, with Spider-Man. And that was thrilling to be a part of because Sony pictures provided Audio Description for it. This is a film that a lot of people are aware of, and it’s great to be able to say, “Hey, this film has Audio Description.” Hopefully people can learn about it and say, “Oh, OK, this is something I can kind of make a connection to.” So here is this movie is that has Audio Description, and I know this movie. It kind of helps people understand a little more about what it is, and again, I think this goes back to education.
RC: and how do we get people more educated about this?
ROY: I think that there are a few calls to action that I like to talk about. The first is, if you know anyone who is blind or low vision, or who is commuting, or just complaining about staring at screens all day, that’s a great time to ask them, “Have you heard about Audio Description?” If there is anyone in the TV or film industry that you know, I’ve enjoyed it just going up and asking, “Hey, there’s this thing that I do, are you aware of it?” And sometimes it’s like, “Oh yeah, I am aware of it, but I’m not really sure how it works. Can you tell me some more?” These kinds of conversations build awareness in a way that benefits the blind and low vision community. You know, the FCC is making it a mandate, so it’s a requirement that has to be met, but understanding the reasons behind that requirement helps make the message less of an obligation and more of an opportunity.
RC: And for older people who aren’t text savvy, that can’t get the app, is there a special box that they can add to their television set at home?
ROY: Absolutely. There is a bunch of different ways to access Audio Description. And the Audio Description Project has a pretty lengthy list. So there are cable boxes that have settings that can be turned on or off, and even on over-the-air broadcasts—it’s called the SAP, Secondary Audio Program. That can be used for different languages outside of English, like Spanish, and it can also turn on the Audio Description. And that’s straight on the TV. The apps themselves? It’s usually just a tap or two away. And if people have different ways of streaming, once you are aware that it exists, it’s like, OK, it might take two or three minutes to figure out.” I think the companies are being very proactive about not making these settings menu list after menu list. So I think the Audio Description Project is the best place to go for a step-by-step description of how to do it. Someone who is starting to suffer from lower vision can call their cable company and say, “Hey, I’d like to find out more about Audio Description.” That can be a pretty straightforward phone call. So there are a lot of ways.
RC: OK. I mean, I’m interested in this, and just sitting down and giving it a shot myself, just to see whether I would enjoy it in the car, or whether it would be a distraction if I were at home, you know, multitasking, anything of that sort.
ROY: (laughs) Exactly. You know, I think about the times when I’m scrolling through video on social media, and I read the Closed Captioning and that kind of stops me and interrupts my flow, and I’m like, “Oh, I’m reading the Closed Captioning. And like you say, if you’re doing things around the house or commuting, hopefully it won’t be like the experience you had in the movie theater with cell phone neighbor, but by seeing it as, “Oh, here’s something else I could use it for,” instead of as, “Oh, this is so annoying. I’m already seeing it, why do I have to hear it?” Use that to your advantage.
RC: Well, that doesn’t bother me about hearing it as I’m watching it, it’s just the fact that it was opening night at the midnight showing, and here’s a guy giving the play-by-play to his girlfriend who was at work, who couldn’t make it to the theater. Why didn’t you just wait for her?
ROY: (laughs) Yeah, exactly, exactly!
RC: I mean, I eventually told the guy to shut up. I mean, he called me rude, but it’s still funny.
ROY: He called you rude?
RC: Yeah. (laughs) would something like this be full immersion in a movie theater? Like what would there be movie theaters that they do this in? Because, you know, people still love the movie theater experience, and if you really go when you don’t really see what’s going on, what’s the point of spending the $15?
ROY: Exactly. And Audio Description is available in most major movie theaters. It’s labeled with the logo A.D., and the distinction is, a lot of headsets are given out to people with low hearing, so sometimes when someone says, “Hey, can I have an Audio Description headset?” They might accidentally give an amplifier, which basically makes everything louder. Audio Description, obviously, is not for hearing, it’s for the visual elements. So basically every theater has it. It’s built in, and you ask for Audio Description headsets. There have been a few times movie theaters are not aware of it, and they’re becoming more aware of it, so simply by asking, that helps build awareness even for the theater companies themselves.
RC: I had absolutely no idea. This is fascinating.
ROY: It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?
RC: It’s totally cool, and I’m glad that inclusion is a part of this. Because it’s so weird that, like I said earlier, I would have assumed that this was a no brainer, for getting the Audio Description DVDs that should have been on Toy Story 3, since Toy Story 4 is out in theaters now. But I’m just so surprised that now it’s catching on.
ROY: Yeah, and this is been going on for more than a decade. I’ve only really started to advocate it in the last few years. I’m relatively new to the game, and I’m loving learning every day. Right now there are even advocates for video games, where people who are blind or low vision have video games they played that narrators provide giving special audio cues for them about certain elements of the game that allow them to play the way a sighted player can play.
RC: Wow. So like, audio cues that say, hit the X button here, hit the Y button here? Or, whatever, but for the Xbox or anything?
ROY: Yeah, and Microsoft I think just won an Xbox live audio description award, literally in the last few hours. So there is a lot of inclusion that’s happening on the gaming front as well and not limited to movies, TV shows and live performances.
RC: That would be really humbling, to get beat in a video game by a blind guy.
ROY: It’s like playing any other person. It’s great. That’s the point. I think you nailed it, because this is how everyone can experience something in a way that’s accessible. That’s great.
RC: Well, it’s all right, I got beaten up by a blind guy. When I was in college, I was training in judo, and our head Sensei was team USA’s Olympic coach back in 96. And so he brought the blind team to train with us and they beat the hell out of us. So we got beat up by blind Olympians, so that something, but when he told you he could feel the pressure on the mat shift, and he could realize that you were going to attempt something and he could counter it, I was like “Well that’s impressive.” Video thing on top of that is going to be even more impressive.
ROY: Absolutely, yeah. It’s great to hear of all of these examples of disability and how those are becoming a different kind of experience now. It’s great.
RC: Yeah. So the term, “differently abled”, I think, has become the norm, and I kind of like it, actually, because we all have different abilities. I just wish certain aspects of society would realize that. How do we go about, besides just education, just socially, how do we sit there and say, it’s a part of life, without having to hammer each other over the head with a Harley Quinn-sized mallet?
ROY: Sure. I am a sighted person, so I can see with my eyes, so my advocacy is coming from that perspective. I can’t speak for blind people or low vision people. But what I am doing is engaging on Twitter and other forms of social media to connect with blind and low vision audiences. The more I learn, the more assumptions are challenged. I have found that when I do speak with someone, my intention is to remember that it’s not that person’s job to educate me. If they would like to you, and they are open to it, I want to make sure that they know that’s their choice not something that I’m asking that of them. And for some reason, that’s an important thing. Also, to your point of the term “differently abled,” has become a new term. Disabled has become a term to almost embrace, in the sense that, “Hey, this is a disability, and there doesn’t need to be a stigma to it. You know, I don’t have use of my eyes but I do you have the use of other ways of dealing with things.” And again, I have to be really careful but I am not speaking on behalf of blind and low vision people. This is just one sighted person who’s learning as he goes along, the best way to communicate this message that is useful and helpful and, like you said with Harley Quinn example, isn’t beating the non-disabled over the head? There’s got to be a way to keep the message positive and still get accomplished what I think everyone wants to get accomplished, which is inclusion in a way that’s fair for everybody.
RC: Right. And my thing is, you know we’ll make a hypothetical person. Let’s say Tony his vision impaired. Well I don’t care that Tony is vision impaired, I just care that Tony isn’t a jerk. Is Tony cool? Can he hang with us cool then we can bring Tony along.
ROY: (laughs). Perfect. Exactly. And what a great message. It’s one aspect of it. It’s great!
RC: I thought we were like that for a while, until now everyone has to point out every single difference of our lives, and I think that’s kind of driving me crazy more so than anything. So the fact that you’re doing this without making it a point of, but this is for this group, and it’s only for this group, and you can’t enjoy it. What’s the point? You know? And I was going to say, we’re just all one big community.
ROY: Finding that that community does include differences, and finding ways to address that, that are kind of effortless. And I think of the example of the Americans With Disabilities Act, that requires all buildings have wheelchair ramps. Historically, I’m not sure how many decades ago, there was a time when a piece of wood was put on three or four steps and that was called a wheelchair ramp. But now, it’s a part of the building. And there are some beautiful designs where the wheelchair ramp is the focus and the steps are built around it. And it is gorgeous. These are not limitations, these are opportunities for incredible creativity. And I’m just using the wheelchair example as one thing. I think it applies to, as you said, Close Captioning or even Audio Description. I think there are other uses for it and it can only help those who appreciate it.
RC: I think you’re right. And it’s a no brainer but it was 35, 40 years ago when it became mandatory. So it’s just interesting to see how people are finally waking up to things that should have just been there from the beginning.
ROY: Exactly. That’s a great way of putting it. And again, the mandates are there, and it’s got to be happening. I think to your point, there are some other real advantages to this. This is a huge segment of our population that can have access to things that they might not have appreciated as much. I can’t help but think that’s an opportunity.
RC: And in doing this type of work, what have you become more appreciative of? Whether socially, culturally, or just in general with humanity?
ROY: That’s a great question asking one of my favorite experiences that I’ve had personally, with advocating for Audio Description for TV shows and movies. And like I said earlier– a quick tangent– you know, there is Audio Description for live action stuff? Live theatre has Audio Description options so it’s not just limited to TV shows and movies. But my specific focus has been on Audio Description for TV shows and movies. I have my own assumptions about what it means for a blind or low vision person to experience Audio Description. Sometimes I happen to be correct, but a lot of times I find that it’s really nuanced in a way that I might not have understood had I not really started to explore it. So in that little, tiny, very specific world of Audio Description for TV shows and movies that I’m advocating for, my experience of inclusion of the disability community in general, or even greater, has changed my assumptions in a way that I enjoy life more, overall, because of this exploring. So there are things that I might like to ask other people, that might not be disabled, and ask, “What are you curious about exploring?” Then I’d just dive into that very specific thing. And I can’t help but think that’s going to open up some other things in general. And again, this is just my experience. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s been so exciting. I really enjoy it.
RC: What I’m glad is that you’re enjoying it without joining the rage culture movement. You’re like, “Wow this is so fascinating, we should have done this before, let’s move forward,” rather than, “Wow, this is great, I love being a part of this, and now let’s shame everybody for not being a part of the movement because they had no idea about it.”
ROY: I can’t remember the exact quote, but there is something about what you’re saying that’s one of my favorite quotes, and it has to do with what you’re saying. And I got to say that a lot of people find fear and shame effective. I think it makes a blip. I don’t think it makes a tsunami wave. My approach is to not shame the shamers. What I’ve found effective for me is, though I may not get immediate results, the work that I’m doing is necessarily slow. I don’t think that I’m alone on this; there are hundreds of people advocating for this that are blind, that are low vision and those who are sighted. There are a lot of great advocates here. Each time someone takes just a small step– those little steps are building up the quality of the Audio Description, the excellence of it, and also allowing for more inclusion in the greater sense. I think that kind of slow boil in a good sense, for me, is effective. Again, I don’t want to shame the shamers. I just can’t do it that way. It doesn’t work for me.
RC: I mean, there are certain things I understand shame-wise, and there are other things, like, all right, let’s be a little more subtle about it. But I love your approach, especially in this regard. To slightly turn focus away from what you’re doing now. You’ve been one of the voices of NPR, you’ve done multiple video games and animation, other station ideas and commercials. How has what you’re doing now affected your work in those other areas?
ROY: What a great question. You know, my focus is on Audio Description. In the back of my mind, originally, I thought I’d start to be pigeonholed. In a sense, I am, which is fine. However this year alone, I’ve got a campaign for Toyota on a commercial. There have been more opportunities for booking, and as far as the voiceover work that I do myself, I’ve noticed my own shift, seeing the process from a different perspective by being involved in Audio Description. I’ve been learning about how the writers write the scripts that I read and learning about how the editors edit the scripts. Learning from the engineer what helps them. Explaining what the director needs. Learning from the vendors. How do you like to be communicated with? This is kind of– again with the microcosm instead of the big picture—when I submit auditions, I’m now sending them in a different way because of these little lessons that I’ve learned. You know, there are tons of really great books about voiceover. There are great resources online, podcasts, people blogging, There are forums for how to fix audio, and how to do voiceover performance. All of those contribute to a lot of growth in the quality of the voiceover industry specifically. I found that by learning those things and also applying them, and doing things that they talk about that it certainly helped me. And I thank my own experience with Audio Description. I’m honored to say that I was able to do 300 different TV shows and movies. In each of those experiences, I’m focused on, “How can I do better?” It’s a competition against myself? How can I compete against myself since this next project is even better than the last project I did? So the focus isn’t on the other people doing it. I’m supporting them as much as I’m supporting me. I really value all of our narrators. I’m competing against myself. And I think that that has helped better my own performances. And the results are showing in the other voiceover work that I am doing. And again, I don’t mean to say this as, “look how great I am”, the message that I really want to make clear is that that focus in that one direction has helped my voiceover career in a way that I never imagined.
RC: That’s fantastic, I’m glad to hear all of this. How many other narrators are involved with you in this field?
ROY: I don’t know all of them. I’d say I’ve connected with maybe a dozen. And they all have different experiences and backgrounds and commitments, and different ways of looking at it. So there isn’t really one way that everyone sees this work. There’s a lot of steps that are being taken with those narrators, that I think is increasing the quality of the work, and they’re committed to that, and that’s been really exciting to see.
RC: That’s fantastic. I mean this is such a great thing that, again, that has been neglected for far too long. I’m looking forward to bringing attention to what’s going on around me more so than before. Because we get so sucked into our own devices that we don’t even pay attention to the external world anymore. What’s one thing that you would tell somebody who has perfect sight or corrective sight with glasses and contacts about people with vision impairment that they should just be mindful of?
ROY: I think it goes back to treating people as people. Not making assumptions. There’s been one friend that I’ve connected with who started a Facebook group called the Audio Description Discussion. Just by talking with him on the phone and learning more about his experience, allowed me to kind of tailor the questions that I ask in a different way that. I don’t want to ask a question that’s based on my own personal sighted assumptions. I think that when it comes to engaging with anyone who has a disability or otherwise, it’s important to come from a place of asking questions that aren’t preemptively set from a certain perspective. I’m not good at this. I’m still working on this. I’ve done this, asking questions from a certain perspective, a lot of times and I’ve seen others do the same. Thankfully , I’ve got a lot of friends who can call me on it. And again, it’s not in a way that shaming me. It’s, “Hey, this is how that came across.” I think language does matter. I’ve made a career out of using words that other people write for me. and being able to explore how I can use my own words in a way that is supportive and kind, helps everybody along. I am a work in progress on that and I love the adventure of that. I’m not sure if I answered your question, though.
RC: No, you have actually. And a follow-up to that would be, what’s either a stereotype or just an assumption that you had that was shattered in working in this form voiceover?
ROY: I think I’m going to name two examples: One on the Voiceover side and also on the blind and low vision audience side. On the Voiceover side, I think it was going back to the focus on the story. And remembering that this is all about the story and that I, as a narrator, do my best work when I’m a part of that story. It’s not how great of a narrator I can be, but how great can I help tell this story. That is, bar none, the most important thing that I’m constantly striving for. As far as the audiences who are blind and low vision, I think the best way for me to answer the question is with one example that I’m thinking of, and I’m trying to figure out how to best summarize it in twenty seconds. I found it making sure that in the way that interact with anyone, whether they are blind, low vision, or sighted, is to treat them with respect that I like to be treated. Do unto to others as you would have them do unto to you. And that’s so easy to forget. It’s such a simple thing, but practical application can be a little tricky. And I think it’s engaging in that way. That kind of boils it down.
RC: That’s fantastic. Roy, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today. I’m greatly thrilled that we got to cover this topic, and I can’t wait to find out more about it. Where can we find you on social media if we want to connect with you?
ROY: I’ve got twitter, roysamuelson, on Facebook, Roy Samuelson Biz, and on Instagram I do use alternate text to describe the photos I post. And that’s also @roysamuelson. And I’d love to do another shoutout to my friend Kevin’s Facebook Group, the Audio Description Discussion.
RC: Okay, perfect. Roy Samuelson, it’s been a great pleasure speaking with you today. Hopefully we can meet up for coffee sometime soon and talk more about this, and just everyday life I guess. Thanks again for talking to me.
ROY: Pleasure. Thanks so much for talking to me.
RC: You got it. Take care.
Criminal Minds, Season 15 – CBS
Episode Titles 1501 – 1510
Under the Skin
And In The End …