(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.