Inform & Connect is AFB’s ongoing podcast series created to foster togetherness and camaraderie within the blindness community through informal storytelling and learning about relevant and interesting topics.
Roy Samuelson has narrated audio description for over 500 films and shows, including NCIS, Star Trek: Picard, SONY’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Bloodshot, and Universal’s 1917, to name just a few. He brings decades of experience, training, and resources to this art form, and is passionate in informing, inspiring, and aligning with organizations who recognize the quality and excellence of this work.
Melody Goodspeed: To get started, I want to introduce you to our speaker today who is going to talk about Audio Description and how it really can enhance the experience for blind users like myself through movies, TV shows, and a lot of other areas that we’re going to explore. I just can’t be more proud to introduce Roy Samuelson, who has done over 500 films and shows. And he also, more than anything to me, just has the biggest heart and such a fierce advocate. We’re going to talk about inclusion, which is so important to both of us, to AFB, myself, and to Roy. So, without further ado, please welcome Roy Samuelson.
Roy Samuelson: Thanks for the great intro, Melody. Thank you for that. It’s great to be here and to be able to join everyone from AFB.
Melody Goodspeed: I know, I’m so glad you’re here and it’s so great to you that you’re such a dear friend. I feel like we’re just hanging out and having a good time together with a lot of fun people.
Roy Samuelson: Yes.
Melody Goodspeed: And can get into our craziness together, so I’m really excited about that.
Roy Samuelson: Virtual Party.
Melody Goodspeed: Virtual party. What I wanted to do Roy, is just talk about Audio Description. Can you just give everybody a little bit of overview just to kick us off about what Audio Description is?
Roy Samuelson:Sure. One of my favorite easy examples is that Audio Description kind of like a radio announcer giving a play by play of a sports event. So, what we do for movies and TV shows and series is give access to the visuals of what’s happening on screen, usually in between lines of dialogue. It’s important plot, elements, things that are happening on screen that you might not hear that are important to the story, or maybe some other little brush strokes of the nuance to allow our, specifically blind low vision audiences, but also for sighted people, to experience a film or movie in a way that’s a little more accessible.
Melody Goodspeed: One of the things, Roy, you and I talked about before about Audio Description that I loved, you painted a really good picture of this. When you were talking about Audio Description, you were talking about the clips in a film and you were saying like, “You know, a picture is worth a thousand words.” Can you describe it from there? Because I love the way you described that.
Roy Samuelson: Oh, that was a fun one. Yeah. The old expression, a picture’s worth a thousand words and every … Back in the … Most films, what? 24 frames a second. I’m sure that’s gone up higher. [Inaudible]
Melody Goodspeed: You still there?
Roy Samuelson: Sorry about that. Yeah, I just glitched out.
Melody Goodspeed: Okay.
Roy Samuelson: I’m not sure where I left off, but a picture’s worth a thousand words and in one second of film, that’s 24 frames, so that’s 24,000 potential words in one second of film. I don’t even want to do the math, what a 90-minute film would be. So, there’s thousands and thousands of words potential to describe what’s happening on screen. And I’m a narrator, I’m a sighted narrator who reads a script that’s provided to me. So, it’s these writers of Audio Description that really make these calculated decisions of what’s the most important thing for an audience to be able to best access the visuals and still not step on the lines of dialogue so that we’re not interrupting what’s being said. And it’s a really unique talent. These writers that are able to bring, I think excellence and quality that’s really … I think it’s amazing. So, that’s the example that I like to share with the writers.
Melody Goodspeed: Thank you. At that part, when did those writers come in the film series? Let’s talk about a film maybe that you done, and when does that part come in?
Roy Samuelson: Sure. And again, this is from my perspective. So, different companies have different ways of doing things, but in general, usually a film or a TV show episode is complete. In other words, all the audio is done. Sometimes they do little fixes at the end in post-production, whether that’s visuals or audio. And then the movie is complete essentially, except for the Audio Description track. And that is something that is created usually by a vendor, a very specific company that does this. So, the distributor or the film production company hands-off all these … the full project, the full element with audio and visual, the whole thing, and sends it to this company who then reviews the movie and watches it several times. Whether or not a blind advisor involved is at this point is … Some companies do that, some companies don’t at that point, but basically what they’re doing is making sure that all the visuals are included that are essential to the storyline. And then they write a script that specifically has, time code, in other words, a specific time within the movie where you have to have the narration, usually in between lines of dialogue or in between loud explosions if it’s an action adventure.
Melody Goodspeed: Well yeah, we wouldn’t want you to be yelling over loud explosions.
Roy Samuelson: I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
Melody Goodspeed: Speaking of that, you segued to such a perfect spot there. We talked about the narration speed and the writers that do that part, which to me is just an art form itself. But how do you then fit in as a narrator? What’s your role in this?
Roy Samuelson: Well, I’m given the script that was written by the writers. And again, there’s different ways of doing it, but I’ll give one example. I am watching the movie and listening to the movie while reading the Audio Description script, so I’m kind of joining you as an audience member on a journey. And if you can imagine watching a movie in a theater with a friend of yours next to you telling you what’s happening on screen, it’s kind of like what I’m doing. But where I try to bring the audience in is make sure that I’m not distracting them. In other words, my goal I feel, and based on audience feedback, is that I need to allow the audience to best immerse themselves into the emotional journey of what’s happening. In other words, if I’m distracting in any way from the audience’s experience of the tone of a scene or the emotion or whatever, then that’s going to take them out and prevent them from fully experiencing it.
Roy Samuelson: And a great example, if something’s happening on screen that’s really warm hearted, I’ll put my hand on my chest above my heart and feel what’s feeling there, but I don’t want to do it too much. On a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 would be, “She holds him in his arms!” That’s going to take you out. Yeah, it’s emotional, but it’s too much. But also, I’m not going to be like a Siri voice or an Alexa voice and say, “She holds him in his arms,” just like conversational. I think my responsibility is to find that sweet spot, that middle ground based on what’s happening on screen so that … My goal is if you’ve watched an Audio Description script and you didn’t think about the narrator, you were thinking about all the story elements and the characters and the oh, that was such a great moment when something happened, if you’re not even talking about me, then I’ve served the project and I’ve done my job. If you’re like, “Oh Roy, he reminded me of my ex-boyfriend, he’s annoying,” or something like, “Oh my gosh, that narrator was so great,” then I don’t think that we’ve served the story. We didn’t do our job. It’s trying to find that sweet spot, I believe.
Melody Goodspeed: Basically what you’re trying to do is to be able to provide that visual for people that can’t necessarily see that visual in a way that doesn’t overpower the storyline.
Roy Samuelson: Oh, that’s a great word. Yeah, it’s … And I think finding that sweet spot, it’s somewhere between a synth voice and a couch quarterback. It’s somewhere in the middle there.
Melody Goodspeed: Nice. Well, I have heard your work and you do a very good job of that.
Roy Samuelson: Well, thanks.
Melody Goodspeed: How is the conversation about Audio Description in industry changing?
Roy Samuelson: That’s a great question and it excites me to no end. You’re going to have to stop me because this is-
Melody Goodspeed: Okay.
Roy Samuelson: One of the things that I’ve noticed, especially in the last few years, is the conversation is changing from does it have Audio Description or not to some of the nuance that you and I are talking about. The quality and excellence of all the different people that are involved in Audio Description is really being talked about. I think one of the more specific examples is that historically Audio Description describers, well that’s a general term. They were called Audio Description describer. Well, what does that mean? Does that mean that they wrote it? Does that mean they narrated it? Did they mix it? Did they direct it? A describer historically would maybe do all of those roles, and now there’s so many different companies that are recognizing the value of what this is that they are starting to specialize. I’ve dabbled in writing before for Audio Description, but I’m not a pro. I’m very proud of the narration work I do, but it’s a very specific segment of Audio Description.
Roy Samuelson: Our audiences are definitely speaking up and saying, “You know what? There’s, there’s so much quality television out there, so much quality movies that we want that too. And the way that we get access to that is through the Audio Description track. And we want that,” excuse me, “we want that on the release date. So when a sighted person gets it, we should be able to get it too, we want the quality to be of a certain standard that isn’t something that was thrown together in a few hours. We want something that is professional.”
Roy Samuelson: And my favorite part, Melody, this is where I get too excited, is that a lot of the streaming services … There’s an FCC mandate for broadcast television for Audio Description, and that’s very slowly growing to where it needs to be. We’d love to have it at 100% and it’s getting there, but these streaming services aren’t under that requirement. And so, for some reason these streaming services are opting in to provide Audio Description, which tells me it’s not a mandate, it’s an opportunity. And they’re recognizing our what nearly 30 million blind and low vision Americans let alone across the world, that this is a service that’s being recognized as the value that it’s deserving. And that excites me to no end. I can talk for four hours, so you need to interrupt me.
Melody Goodspeed: No, you’re doing a great job. I love it. No, this is good because we’ve talked about this so much. But what I love, what you’re saying is is we’re looking at the whole person too, which I like about it because we … We’ve talked about how AFB, our mission is creating a life of no limits, and this is a whole person. And I love how the entertainment industry and what you’re talking about is really looking at the whole person because when you’ve worked all day or you’re at home, or we’re in our situation that we are where we’re social distancing, it would be nice just to be able to watch a movie and have conversations about it. It’s so nice for me to be able to say, “Oh my gosh, did you see that?” And be involved, even just normal conversations with your friends. And what your craft and your art that you’re doing and you’re so passionate about gives that to people, and that’s a gift.
Roy Samuelson: And the cool thing is there’s a lot of narrators and a lot of writers and a lot of vendors that are recognizing that. I think you used the word connection. It is … With those no limits, if there’s a popular TV show or movie that people are talking about, our audiences deserve to be a part of that conversation as much as anybody. And it is being recognized for that. So, I’m amplifying exactly what you’re saying, that that when it comes to no limits, one of the limits that’s being removed is that connection that we have. The Audio Description is filling a gap between the entertainment industry and our blind television audiences in a way that’s going to continue to grow.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. I really love it. So, there’s two … And before, because I want to make sure we’re careful of everyone’s time, but there’s two things I really want to get into before we get into questions. And one of the questions I have for you is when you specifically are doing work, do you include people that are blind or vision impaired in on your production? Which I already know this, but I’m going to let you take it.
Roy Samuelson: That’s a great question. One of the things that’s most important to me … I’m a sighted narrator as I said, and it’s not my place to speak for people. I want to amplify people’s voices. And so, one of the things I’m learning specifically on social media is nothing about us without us. And I’m not sure when I first heard of it a few years ago, but it really caught my attention. And so, when I do have a choice and I do have an opportunity to bring a blind or low vision expert guide along with the Audio Description, I make sure that they’re included. Whether it’s if I do have an opportunity to produce something with Audio Description, or even in my own advocacy of teaching other voiceover talents what Audio Description narration is. There’s a real sense, an obligation on my part, a joyful obligation to make sure that there’s a blind or low vision adviser that’s included in that class that’s making sure that they are contributing to our narrators in a very clear and very specific way, and that’s nonnegotiable.
Melody Goodspeed: That’s awesome. And what do you find in that inclusion, having someone who is blind or vision impaired in with you while you were in production work or teaching narrators, how do you find that helps? What do you see there?
Roy Samuelson: Well, it’s a really selfish thing on my part because the contributions are from a perspective that are from our blind and low vision audiences that know what they want and they’re telling us what they want. This isn’t a sighted person putting on a blindfold for a movie. It’s a very specific experience that us sighted people can’t replicate, so we need your voices, your blind and low vision audiences who have experienced what works and what doesn’t. On one particular project that I was working on, the script was written by a pro and we had an engineer who’s done thousands of projects, and during the recording session we had the advisors on our call, and every single one of them contributed very specific, necessary notes that elevated the quality of the Audio Description in ways that a sighted expert could never do. And so, this isn’t a token oh, let’s bring a blind person onboard. It’s a legitimate need for making sure that we do provide the quality and excellence that our audiences deserve.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. And how does that make it … What does inclusive design mean to you? Because we talk a lot about this, about building a life of no limits and also having that inclusion, and I know that’s something that you are super passionate about. And if you could talk to us a little about why you’re so passionate about that and how it’s changed you.
Roy Samuelson: Oh, sure. Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind is I’m still learning. I’m making mistakes and thankfully our audience is helping guide me and educate me and show me the way. But I’m also doing research. I want to make sure it’s not anyone’s obligation to teach me. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I’m learning what works best, and that’s got to be part of my job, whether as a narrator, any other role. So, inclusion to me is making sure that I’m listening to our blind and low vision audiences and what they want. The benefits to me are obviously I get really excited about it in case you haven’t noticed, but professionally it’s guiding my narration. Since I started engaging with our audiences, my delivery of Audio Description has changed, I believe for the better, because I’m listening to what works and what doesn’t work.
Roy Samuelson: Now, not everybody’s going to agree. There’s definite nuance in the same way that you might have a favorite actor who’s doing one project and you love her in it, but you find it another project that she’s involved in doesn’t work as well. Or you might have a favorite narrator that no matter what she does, she’s nailing it as an Audio Description narrator and you’re going to seek her out and whatever she does, I’m in. I love it. There’s a lot of … Again, back to my engagement with our audiences. It’s serving my ability to provide the best work that I can. And like I said, I’m not at the level I am … Right now I’m better than what I was yesterday and I’m going to be better tomorrow because I’m listening and making sure that I engage and find out what our audiences want.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. That is really … Thank you so much for that. And I want to be able to get … Can you tell us how we access Audio Description?
Roy Samuelson: Yes. I love this part. Melody, this is great.
Melody Goodspeed: I just love how you love every part of what you do, which is amazing.
Roy Samuelson: Okay. Oh, good. There’s a bunch of different ways to access it. If you have what I’m calling a regular TV, a not smart TV, there’s a way to access the SAP channel, the Secondary Audio Program channel, and that’s specifically for broadcast television. On streaming services, once you start playing a video it’s pretty standard. There’s a setting. In the same place where you turn on closed captioning, you can also turn on different languages as well as Audio Description. That’s usually under the audio section. One of the great resources that I like to refer people to is the Audio Description Project, which not only lists the over 4,000 original projects, 4,000 just last month, but also-
Melody Goodspeed: Nice.
Roy Samuelson: Right? And then it also says, “Okay, if you’ve got Xfinity, here’s how you turn it on. If you’ve got Netflix, here’s how you turn it on. If you’ve got an iPhone with Netflix, here’s how you turn it on.” Apple TV plus, the new streaming services, if you haven’t turned it on I believe it’s free currently just because of the pandemic. If it’s a fee I’m not sure what it is per month, but they launched with nine different languages of Audio Descriptions, so that’s not just dubbing, that’s Audio Description in nine different languages for all their productions. It’s fascinating. Disney Plus launched pretty much all of their content with Audio Description. Amazon and Netflix are also, as well as Hulu, are all providing original content. It’s really great to see all this. So to answer your question, sorry, I got excited again, go to the Audio Description Project. There’s a lot of different places that will show you how to turn it on and also how to turn it off.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. Yes, and I love those resources and we are going to be able to provide those resources to you guys too at the end of this. I really want to be mindful. We’re at 4:20 I want to be able to for people to have questions, but Roy, thank you so much for that. This seemed like two minutes, but every time we tried it seems like just two minutes.
Roy Samuelson: That’s how it goes.
Melody Goodspeed: I guess so. But no, this has been really great and I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this. And I just want to give a shout out to everybody who has joined us today and we thank you so much. I speak for AFB, we really thank you so much. And I think we need to [live 00:19:49] off with these people to give them a challenge, don’t you Roy?
Roy Samuelson: A challenge, Melody?
Melody Goodspeed: A challenge.
Roy Samuelson: What kind of challenge are you talking about?
Melody Goodspeed: I’m thinking that we need to have, if we have people that can see and are not familiar with Audio Description, that they also check out that and check it out themselves and see how they like watching a show. What do you think?
Roy Samuelson: Really?
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah.
Roy Samuelson: How about that?
Melody Goodspeed: It’s a good one, right?
Roy Samuelson: It’s a really good one. Specifically, I don’t know, I’m thinking about Audio Description Awareness Day that came out maybe-
Melody Goodspeed: Yes-
Roy Samuelson: Two ago that there was a … That was the launch of a similar challenge.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. Is there a hashtag for that maybe we could use?
Roy Samuelson: I think Steph McCoy and Juan Alcazar on Twitter and as well as some other people created the hashtag ADADchallenge, which is short for Audio Description Awareness Day challenge.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. That was on the 16th of April. I think it’s a good one.
Roy Samuelson: Okay. There we go.
Melody Goodspeed: There we go. So, we’re going to have-
Roy Samuelson: Oh my gosh, so much subtext here.
Melody Goodspeed: All right, well thank you so much. I want to open up, we are going to go ahead and Jerry here is going to, we’re going to open the floor up and he’s going to give us instruction on how we’re going to do that.