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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.